Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stranded Microwaver in Europe

Brian Battaglia is the Sales and Marketing Manager for Integra Technologies, a leading manufacturer of high power rf/microwave transistors (i.e. LDMOS). He e-mailed his friends and acquaintances today to say that the volcano in Iceland that has shut down air travel in Europe has stranded him in Rome during a business trip. I asked Brian if he would like to share his story on this blog for our readers. Break out your violins fellow microwavers, here's his tale of "Whoa in Rome".

[from Brian's e-mail]


I don’t know much about blogging but I always have stories to tell.

One week in Europe including Sweden, Rome and Italy. After a few days in Stockholm at the S.E.E. (Scandinavian electronics event) my flight arrived in Rome on Thursday last week. Upon landing I checked my blackberry and saw several messages – from my mom, girlfriend and boss – concerning the volcano eruption which I had not heard about yet. I may have been one of the last flights out of Sweden since this was big news by the time I landed. Somewhere between baggage claim and customs I found the VP of Amplifier Design of Integra who had just arrived from Los Angeles and we made our way to Rome. We had meetings on Friday and were not planning on leaving until Sunday so the volcano seemed like a temporary disruption that would clear up soon surely by the weekend.

On Friday we visited Selex Systemi Integrati a big customer for high power RF transistors globally. The cancellations started expanding across Europe but we weren’t leaving until Sunday and that seemed far away. Saturday was site-seeing (St. Peters/Vatican City/Pantheon/Trevi Fountain) in Rome with plans to leave the next day if the skies opened up. Sunday morning the news seemed hopeful as the no-fly zones were intended to be removed that night. However it soon became apparent that the European agencies were being extremely cautious and the delays kept coming. The stress of the situation mounted quickly – another hotel night accommodation – same hotel, same room, a little over double the price! New tickets purchased through US travel agency that showed flights leaving EARLY Monday morning i.e. 6:30AM. This meant ordering taxi for 3:30AM and 2:30AM wake up calls.

A quick check of the Internet near midnight brought bad news – additional delays over all of Europe. Although we booked on a US domestic carry the flight was routed through Amsterdam. KLM of the Netherlands wished to start flying on Monday but the government would not allow it. This meant cancelled flight and cancelled taxi, however, my Italian must not be so good since the wake-up call still came! The problem is that the airspace has not been cancelled for a few days…no what they are doing is saying everything will open in 12 hours and that has been repeated for the last five days. So every time you check it seems ok but as the 12 hours get closer it moves another 12 hours. It reminds me of the bar back in NY with a sign saying “Special: Free Beer Tomorrow” and when you return the next day of course the same sign in place.

For clothing first you use your casual dress which soon runs out, then back to your business clothes which eventually run out, so today I am wearing a soccer jersey with the name of the local team captain on the back. With decent Internet connections work can still be done as hot ash does not stop emails from piling up. All and all I don’t expect much sympathy from friends, family and colleagues with being stranded in Rome for a week: history at every turn, great fashion, food and wine. Wednesday is Italy’s National Birthday and all museums were free. Thursday is my birthday and Friday we have flights back to US via Chicago via Chicago. Maybe.

Good luck Brian, we hope you make it home in time for your birthday.

Engineer leaves his work behind in a bar

OK. Here’s the story as I initially heard it on American Public Media’s “Marketplace”, driving home from work yesterday.

Last month in Silicon Valley a very important cell phone was left behind at a bar -- what is widely believed to be a prototype of the new iPhone that Apple's officially going to release in a couple of months. The phone wound up in the hands of Jason Chen, the editor of the technology website

In the news report, this phone was described at one point as Apple’s new 4G phone. Which initially grabbed my attention since I immediately thought they were talking LTE (whoa, that’s news), but I have since come to realize, that they were talking 4th generation iphone operating system. Oh well, it was still worth visiting the Gizmodo site and getting the skinny on the whole story and what the web site reporter’s investigation of the phone revealed before they returned it to Apple.

Turning back to RF/microwave related concerns, I reviewed the gizmodo story with an eye out for relevant information. Here are some snippets about the new iPhone that relate to its radio. Among the most visible changes, is one of functionality over looks. The back is entirely flat, made of either glass (more likely) or ceramic or shiny plastic. Why the plastic back?

"The plastic back is the most obvious of the design choices. The iPad, with its all aluminum back, has seen its Wi-Fi reception radius reduced. The iPhone 3G version comes with a large patch on the top, probably big enough to provide with good reception. But the new tiny iPhone doesn't have the luxury of space: It needs to provide as much signal as possible using a very small surface. Industrial designers and fashionistas might be dying to get rid of the plastic back, and go iPad-style all the way, but the wireless reception is the most important thing in a cellphone. A necessary aesthetical-functional trade-off."

The “editors” then took apart the phone. Once open, they noticed that the battery takes up around 50% of the phone, give or take. Diving deeper became much trickier. There are a total of around 40-50 screws inside the phone, positioned at various angles that were almost frustratingly impossible to get to. The main logic board is one very weird piece of this puzzle. Unlike the iPhone 3GS teardown, which revealed a large logic board along with another part down by the dock connector, this design only has something maybe 1/3 of the size, along with one or two extraneous parts. Basically, the guts have shrunk drastically. The board was encased in metal all around so nothing could get through. EMI or IP protection?

Unfortunately, the editors failed to report on the front-end technology, changes to the antennas, power amps, switch modules and other RF components, etc. Oh, well, that’s information for a different audience than they were writing for, I suppose. We need a microwave editor for that. I'll have to ask my publisher for the new iPhone when it's available legally. The chances of me getting one are about as great as me being able to rip it apart.

Perhaps the bigger lesson is not to leave your work behind at the bar.