I've enjoyed Tom Mahon's column and some of the postings on his Web site (www.reconnecting.com). Regarding "A zoom-lens mentality" (Feb. 7, page 56): My late father was involved in programming some of the first computers that displayed "computer images"-photographs of people that were converted into ASCII text. I believe he thought the application provided people with enjoyment while bridging the gap between the digital and analog worlds. But I believe he would be disappointed by the trends, cited by Mahon, to drive technology just for the cool factor or to apply it for weaponry.
There are some organic applications of technology-visual apps, music, even the distribution of spiritual materials. A recent EE Times article referred to a chip that will put a "film grain" look on some HDTV 24p cameras ("Go with the grain, film R&D chief urges, for art's sake," Feb. 7, page 6). It's like everything we dreamed of; we're cashing in for some immediate need that we can't even identify.
We engineers work at such a frenzied pace sometimes that no one ever stops to ask, "Should we?" I agree with Mahon that the trend toward 24/7 connectedness is not healthy. It does not lend itself to creativity. Yet as Mahon said, no one-especially those in leadership positions-even questions it.
I find Mahon's writings thought-provoking, and I hope to impart the same ethic of "questioning technology" to my children.
Worrying about performance-as little as possible
Regarding George Woodward's letter, "Whizzy chips are great, but not if system bungles their use" (see Feb. 21, page 29): I once heard the phrase "as little as possible" used to describe the cars an American car company sold. Starting from the little red wagon, this company would work its way up to the minimum car that it could build before customers would opt for a different car.
If the noisy television Mr. Woodward describes had been sold during audio's heyday, its audio performance would have been clearly specified, because the consumer would have shopped on the basis of audio quality. But since that golden age, the quality of audio equipment has fallen to an appalling level.
For example, I ripped out the Bose stereo from my Infinity and replaced it with choice components, including a '70's-era Sanyo amplifier, the PA6110. Sanyo was so proud of the specs that it had printed them in big white-on-black letters on the case: full power bandwidth, 20 to 20,000 Hz; 50 watts into 4 ohms, 0.05 percent THD; 70-volt/microsecond slew rate. I looked around and found few other amplifiers capable of 0.05 percent distortion-and none capable of 70-V/microseconds slew rates. Yet the $200 list price for the 30-year-old-plus amplifier is about what they get for a far-inferior amplifier today.
I challenge Bose engineers to offer a response of a technical nature in defense of nonstandard interfaces, poor technical performance and high cost.
Complacency and the "as little as possible" mentality have taken over the audio industry.
In another article, "Falling in love with an op amp" (Feb. 21, page 54), Stephan Ohr points out the continual advances in analog performance at the chip level. But this improved engineering at the chip level is countered by indifference at the system level.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Don't blame students for declining EE grad numbers
Ron Wilson concludes in "The design-outsourcing effect" that "the bottom line on outsourcing will not be cheaper labor or boiler-room operations; it will be that the United States has failed to train enough engineers for the next generation" (see Nov. 8, 2004; page 39).
I would rephrase this. The bottom line is that U.S. companies are encouraging engineering students overseas and are discouraging students in the United States from entering engineering.
More than 400,000 engineers have been laid off in the past few years. In the meantime, companies have somehow convinced Congress to extend the H-1B program, which encourages engineers from overseas to come to the United States at a reduced U.S. salary, learn the best U.S. design practices and then take them back home.
The article appears to say the problem is that U.S. students are not going into the field, but U.S. students have a better grasp of the problem than most of us. They know where the money and the jobs are, and that they will no longer find them in engineering.
Senior Hardware Engineer
Hammerhead Systems Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.