Friday, June 26, 2009

Computers Make Us Stupid?

I recently received this from our Jan 09 antenna expert Dr. Raines and thought it was a relevant subject these days:

"Computers Make Us Stupid"

That was a key point, and a direct quote from Prof. Pat Winston of the Electrical Engineering Dept., made to over a thousand returning alums at the MIT reunion on June 6. Looking back over recent events, it certainly seems that this was not an idle, abstract, or rhetorical observation.

On Monday, in Washington, DC, the worst Metro commuter train crash in its 33 year history claimed 9 lives and caused many more serious injuries. The most recent evidence suggests that the train was being driven by an errant computer. When the operator tried to apply the emergency brakes and override the computer, the computer prevailed.

A few weeks ago, an Air France plane disappeared over the Atlantic en route from Rio to Paris. The latest theory is that an airspeed sensor iced over and confused the computer that was flying the plane. As an amateur, instrument rated pilot, I know firsthand that the Airbus aircraft are the fly by wire type, that is, almost entirely operated by computers. From the time the airplane taxis to the takeoff position until after it lands and is on the ground, it is controlled by a computer. A pilot in the cockpit once told me, "We aren't really pilots. We’re just computer jockeys."

Almost two years ago, the entire world banking system approached a complete meltdown from which we are still suffering. The best explanation so far is that derivatives caused it. Warren Buffet calls them “weapons of economic mass destruction.” Well, it wasn't just those derivatives. It was the derivatives coupled with computer controlled trading so that billions of dollars were exchanged in less than a second with each trade.

The evidence suggests that computers are making us stupid as a society. Conversely, perhaps, a dumbed down society is complacently giving up thinking and control to computers. We are turning over major functions and decisions to computers. But who programs the computers? Perhaps, as Forest Gump astutely observed, stupid is as stupid does.

I feel like this has been an ongoing issue since the first electronic calculator was developed. Many people do not bother to perform easy math calculations in their head because they know they can use a calculator.

But on the other hand, computers have greatly advanced our knowledge and standard of living. New hardware and software have accelerated our technology at a fast rate. Our July cover story addresses how RF/microwave software has changed the industry over the years so look for that in mid-July.

What do you think???

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reader's Choice

With coverage of the IMS 2009 behind us, now is a good time to take a quick look at what visitors to the Microwave Journal web site have been most interested in (based on page views).

Why now?

Well, the IMS is a time of heavy activity for both company product releases and a curious industry that wants to know who is doing what. So here's the quick run down of the ten most visited web pages since the third week of May.

1. The IMS 2009 Multimedia section. About 1600 "readers" came to see our video interviews shot from the exhibition space. We interviewed representatives from about a dozen companies, covering topics from EM simulation (Ansoft, Agilent and AWR) to miniature passive components (Anaren) to high-voltage LDMOS transistors (Frrescale). We heard about the Narda strongest link contest and why AWR had 3D glasses at their demo stations.

2. Over 1,000 people came to our new products report, proving customers (or competitors) have inquiring minds.

3. Our third most popular feature this month was a news item entitled " Development Report of Power FETs for Solid-state Power Amplifiers from GaAs to GaN Devices". This is timely with all the GaN news coming from the show and our cover story for June - The New Power Brokers. 900 visitors

4. Many site visitors went directly to the news item of choice via our online show daily home page or through a link in our newsletter, but a number of you browsed the master listing of all show news, making it our fourth most visited page at 700 page views.

5 and 6. Our cover stories from the May issue: "IMS in Boston: Reflections from the Past" and June: "The New Power Brokers" were next in line. Our cover story usually takes the top spot each month, but with competition from Show product news and splitting the reporting period over two 2-week periods, these two items slipped in ranking but still had over 1200 page views combined.

7. News of Andrew's expansion of a production plant in China was a popular item among our readers with about 600 page views

8. The technical feature from our May issue: "Frequency Generation and Synthesis: Cost-effective and Power-efficient Solutions" was the only technical article (apart from white papers which were not part of the review) to make the top ten list. Despite appearing in the magazine and online for several weeks, readers were still interested in the subject and continued to click on this feature.

9. More news in the top ten, this time "Rohde & Schwarz at Femtocells World Summit 2009 in London" with well over 500 page views

10. And finally.... The Puzzler. Clearly, microwave engineers like to have fun too.

So while everyone was busy this past month traveling to Boston for IMS and then digging out from a back-log of action items or perhaps you were back in the office the whole time holding down the fort, some of you managed to find the time to stay informed via Do you think this top ten list accurately reflects the industry's interest?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Crystal Oscillators Threatened by Si Timing Devices?

I am having IMS2009 withdrawals but came across this ABI Research release that states the crystal oscillator is threatened by a new set of devices grouped under the label "silicon timing solutions." According to research director Lance Wilson, "There’s a growing battle for market share between silicon timing solutions and the traditional quartz oscillator and its derivatives. Right now, silicon timing solutions have about 20% of the market, but ABI Research forecasts that percentage to nearly double within five years."

Virtually every device that contains an IC or generates a radio signal needs these devices. The incentives for equipment manufacturers to switch to silicon timing solutions? They are generally less expensive, more robust, and can integrate other functions onto the chip. But although great strides have been and will be made, they do not yet equal crystal oscillators in accuracy and stability.

In order to maximize their long-term chances of holding market share, many crystal oscillator vendors are focusing on military, aerospace and industrial markets where accuracy is at a premium and buyers are somewhat less price-obsessed. Silicon timing solution vendors, on the other hand, see fertile territories in mainstream computing and consumer electronics with MIDs and netbooks two particularly active new segments.

What do you think???