Obsolescence Comes in Assorted Flavors
I am an intense follower of technological trends.
But, I can’t tell you when the 8-track tape died - probably not even within a decade. I don’t know when the last dial telephone left our abode. I really have no idea when the points-and-condenser distributor went the way of the dodo, or during what year the final line of FORTRAN was punched into the last card. I couldn’t even make a good estimate of when the last non-novelty VCR was sold, or when the laserdisc finally went forever out of production.
New technology arrives in our lives with a bang and departs with a whimper. The long tail of obsolescence lulls us to sleep as once-innovative bright ideas fade slowly to black. One day, a device seems an indispensable part of our day-to-day lives, and, another day, we notice that we haven’t seen or thought about one in a very long time. There is no press release, advertising campaign, or breaking newscast announcing the departure of doomed inventions. People do not camp out and line up around the block in hopes of being the first to experience the end of an era.
Engaging More Senses
I did a lot of typing in college. Even as an engineering student, I still had to take humanities courses, which meant writing papers. And, as cash was in short supply, I found that I could leverage this skill by typing papers for others.
I had an electric typewriter (no, I’m not that old) and the special keys for Spanish, French, and German, making me versatile. And so I got pretty good at blind touch-typing. In other words, I would simply look at the paper to be typed and proceed without glancing back at the results. In fact, I found that I could get into a zone where my fingers would be blazing away with no mistakes – that is, until I realized that and started thinking, “Wow, this is going really well,” at which point it started falling apart as my brain started to try to micromanage my fingers (like the centipede trying to think through how it can walk).
This week's Fish Fry takes on Black Friday* -- no coupons needed, and no standing in line necessary! In honor of today's annual celebration of America's shopping obsession, we go behind-the-scenes to check out the engineering ideas (big and small) that drive this gift-giving season. Dianne Kibbey (element14) rolls in with a shopping cart chock-full of innovation from element14’s Smarter Life Challenge, and Rich Hoefle (Microchip Technology) delivers the goods on the world’s fastest single-core 32-bit MCUs. (Can you imagine our holiday gift-giving season without MCUs? Neither can I.)
Assigning Blame After Accidents
In Britain a four-year-old boy was allowed to starve to death, and his body wasn’t found for two years. After his mother was sentenced to prison a few months ago, an inquiry was held into how the various local agencies and the police had dealt with the matter. I have no knowledge as to how competent the inquiry was, but when the report was published, it was violently attacked by the press and by government sources because no individual was blamed.
“So what has this to do with electronics?” I can hear you asking.
Sloppy Coding Practices Led to a Fatal Crash
You’ve probably heard by now about the lawsuit against Toyota regarding its electronic engine control. The jury found the automaker guilty of writing fatally sloppy code, and, based on what the software forensics experts found, I’d have to agree.
This case is fundamentally different from the “unintended acceleration” fiasco that embroiled a certain German carmaker back in 1986. That scare was entirely bogus and made-up, and it was fueled by an ill-considered “60 Minutes” exposé that aired in the days when Americans watched only three TV channels. Sales of the affected cars plummeted, and it took more than two decades for the company to recover. An engineering spokesman for the carmaker told reporters, “I’m not saying that we can’t find the problem with the cars. I’m saying there is no problem with the cars.” He was dead right – there was no problem with the cars – but the remark was viewed as arrogant hubris, and it just made the situation worse.
Plays to its Base with AD14
The headline new feature for Altium’s newly released Altium Designer 14 (AD 14) is “Rigid-Flex Support.” True, rigid-flex is there, and it’s cool, but the headline might lead the casual reader to miss some very important changes that are happening at Altium. Altium has a new focus and a new mission these days. The Altium folks are going back to their roots, playing to their base, and trying to re-establish a strong partnership with the engineers the company was created to serve - the common, hard-working, in-the-trenches, everyday designers who are trying to create cool stuff but who don’t have the resources for the fantastically-expensive, enterprise-oriented PCB solutions from the likes of Mentor and Cadence.
For the past several years, Altium has been a bit like that genius ADD kid in the back of the classroom - full of brilliant ideas, but not at all focused on what is going on in class at the time. Altium has suffered from, if anything, an excess of forward-thinking vision - leading their customers with fascinating new design paradigm ideas and features, but failing them somewhat in delivering rock-solid implementation of the day-to-day, pedestrian PCB design capabilities needed for plain-old place-and-route. The rub on the street about Altium was that they were too focused on the flashy and not enough on fixing old bugs.