Archive for May, 2008

The Final Frontier

I just finished watching the keynote speaker at a local stop of the EDA Tech Forum, a Dr. Steve Chien of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech. What made his keynote address so interesting was not that Dr. Chien was a great speaker, which he was, it was the topic: Move Over HAL – Autonomous Spacecraft. The concept is using artificial intelligence to control space craft when communication with earth is far too slow. The details of the AI implementation was not really discussed in talk, but that did not stop most people walk away with a good impression of the presentation.

There’s something about space that gets engineers fired up. Space is where technology and engineering is king. There are undoubtably many political and monetary discussions in the lead-up to approving a space-related project at NASA. But once the budget is approved and the project is rolling, the engineers take over. Engineers are creating the vehicle that humans will interface with the far reaches of the unknown. Who knows, maybe that same vehicle will be the first to reach extra-terrestrial life.

But that doesn’t mean that the engineers who work on large space-related projects are that different from the rest of the world’s engineers. We all face interesting and unique problems, and need to solve them within budget and on-time.

One part of the Dr. Chien’s presentation was a video about the Mars Rover’s entry, descent, and landing (EDL). A very good video, it was actually put together in 2003 before the first Mars Rover landings. The video includes narration by the engineers who worked on the system. It’s interesting to hear them excitedly explain the systems they’ve created.

So I think it’s a good idea to watch this video, and be inspired. Engineers sometimes need to be reminded to be excited about what they do, and how important their job really is.

Internet Jargon

I needed to look up what “nom” meant in internet jargon, and came across this article.  Just interesting and thought I should share.

Question:  what’s with Fordham’s date system?

Biofuels – Environmental Disaster?

My friend and colleague, Don Scansen, (who maintains an excellent Tumblr site, Scansen Uncensored and also writes the SemiSerious blog) pointed out an interesting IEEE article about the water it takes to produce fuels. As America continues to push for ethanol/biofuels as a way to be less reliant on foreign oil, what are the costs to the nation’s water supply? We’ve already seen one negative effect of biofuels–rising food prices around the world. Add that in to the staggering amount of water that is uses to create the fuel and the negative effects far outweigh the positive of slightly cleaner emissions. Should we not just stop ethanol/biofuel production right now?!

Long Term Thinking

I believe the lack of long-term thinking causes many problems in society today. 

Our elected officials only think about promises that will get them elected.  The next four years is then about just that – the next four years.  Doing enough to get elected again.  And it’s not all their fault.  Most voters only care about what the government can get them in those next four years.

There are parallels in the business world.  CEOs are brought in to publicly traded companies with a single goal in mind–increase the stock price.  With the housing bubble bursting, we are hearing about CEOs who have invested in sub-prime mortgages because of the high returns in the short-term with no thought to their sustainability.   

That’s why I find the Long Now Foundation so interesting.  They are really trying to get people thinking long term about all kinds of issues.  I’m just finding about them myself, but at first glance it looks interesting.  Here is a link to their site.

Long Now Foundation


Dubai–Next Silicon Valley?

I am always intrigued by regions that try to replicate the innovative atmosphere that exists in Silicon Valley in California.  I am a current denizen of Silicon Valley North (I’m not sure they use that term anymore) and have also resided in Cambrige that once called itself the Silicon Fen.  I’ve also heard of numerous other regions such as Silicon Glen and Silicon Alley.  I even did a wikipedia search on the Silicon type names and was able to find a list of such places around the world.   Some areas are more successful than others, but all are trying to achieve the critical mass to create a world-class center for research and innovation.

It now looks like Dubai wants to do the same thing.  Patrick Mannion, Editor in Chief of TechOnline, is in Dubai tracking the International Electronics Forum and has some interesting comments from some of the decision makers there.    It’ll be interesting to see how Dubai does with all their money but current scarcity of engineering talent.   Here is a link to Patrick’s blog:  IEF puts Dubai in electronics spotlight

Clinton vs. Obama on Technology

I really wanted to explore what the two Democratic Candidates want to do about Technology.  I found a few articles, but nothing really meaty.    Alternative energy seems to be the focus (both for the environment and  as an alternative to oil), with a little bit on education.  Research and development–keeping America in the forefront of innovation–does not really seem to be on the radar with this election.

Link:  On the issues