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Interesting Tidbits of Information

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June 13, 2003 - From a letter to the editor of the Wall St. Journal:

"Perhaps the greatest madness of all is to see life only as it is, and not as it ought to be..."

- Cervantes -

The True Cost of Softwear

May 2003 - From an item in the 15 May issue of EDN magazine.

There's a lot of talk about "open source" software going around. This EDN item discusses Linux' "low cost of acquisition", and "zero marginal cost of deployment". It quotes Wind River Systems' research into the costs of embedded-software development, with interesting statistics.

Embedded Software Development Costs:
   04% - acquisition and deployment licensing fees
   48% - new software development
   48% - other costs:
              - selection
              - integration
              - testing
              - maintenance
              - manufacturing
              - derivation for follow-on projects

The author presents these statistics to demonstrate that licensing is a very small part of the total cost of software development and ownership, but we note that the numbers also show just how little actual testing is done, or even planned!

In our opinion, this lack-of-testing is an even larger problem than licensing costs. And software developed by committee is no answer. The broad tendancy to sell junk, to let the user do the testing, is symptomatic of the chaotic state of the software actually in use in our society.

The old maxim was: "GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out", but these statistics suggest a new maxim for the Twenty First Century: "G-PIG: Garbage Processed by garbage Is still Garbage".

Unfortunately, although the software community knows how to do it right, it will not, until Society intervenes and demands fiscal responsibility.

Fortunately, something is being done, by concerned professionals in the software industry. See our CSDP news item for more information about socially-responsible software development.

Six Ways to Catch a Lion

May 2003 - Submitted by a Client. Thanks, Paul and Serdar!

1. Newton's Method
Let the lion catch you. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Implies you caught the lion.

2. Einstein's Method
Run in a direction opposite to that of the lion. Due to higher relative velocities,
the lion will also run faster, and soon get tired.
Now you can easily trap it.

3. Schrodinger's Method
Set up a cage. At any given moment, there is a positive probability that the lion will be in the cage.
Just wait, then close the cage.

4. Inverse Transform Method
Place a spherical cage in the forest, and enter it. Perform an inverse transform with respect to the lion. Lion is in and you are out.

5. Thermodynamic Method
Construct a semi-permeable membrane which allows everything except lions to pass through it.
Use the membrane to sweep the entire forest, entraining the lion.

6. Integration Differential Method
Integrate the forest over its entire area. The lion is somewhere within the result.
Now partially differentiate the result with respect to the lion, to trace out the lion.

Patterns in our phone number

March 2003 - A Client recently noted that our phone number, 503.245.0325,
contains the pattern "50324, 50325". A type of lilt, or cadence.

Although we had not noticed this, we had noticed that folks have trouble understanding the "0325", expressed by itself. The leading zero seems to interrupt comprehension.

We will begin expressling our phone number in this new pattern, to see if it is more easily communicated.

Prime Numbers now identifiable

November 2002 - The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a professor in India has solved a problem that had eluded mathematicians for millennia!

According to an article in the 4 November edition of the Wall Street Journal, Professor Manindra Agrawal has developed a method to determine with complete certainty whether or not a particular number is a prime number.

Prime numbers are those numbers evenly divisible only by themselves and "1". Although small valued primes, such as 5 or 17, are easy to detect, mathematicians have never before had a method to determine if an extremely large value is prime.

Although significant in itself, this work may have an unfortunate consequence for Internet security.

Internet browser software includes an encryption scheme to protect your surfing from prying eyes.
The encryption scheme uses large prime numbers to encode your messages. The encoding involves multiplying two, large, "secret" prime numbers. To decode your messages, the Bad Guys must factor the product, to obtain the original primes. Although presently possible, such factoring is too time-intensive for practical application.

This challenge is termed the factoring problem, and Professor Agrawal's work may provide a shortcut. Mathematicians around the world will now be applying his work to the factoring problem. Their eventual success could threaten Internet security and force a revision of the encryption methods.

Duct Tape is Good Medicine!

October 2002 - Researchers have found that ordinary duct tape, combined with a regimen of soaking and scraping, is a better method of wart removal than freezing the wart.

According to an article in the 15 October edition of The Oregonian newspaper, this research was performed by Dr. Dean Focht III, of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and conducted at Madigan Army Medical Center, near Tacoma, Washington.

The study began with 61 patients between the ages of 3 and 22 years old, and 51 of the patients completed the study. Of the 26 patients treated with duct tape, 85% banished their warts, compared with only 60% of the 25 patients who received a freezing treatment. Once begun, the treatments continued for up to 2 months, or until the wart disappeared.

The researchers in Tacoma did not test other types of tapes, older adults were not tested, it is not known if the warts will reappear, and the article did not mention whether the patients had difficulty adhering to the regimen.

Results of the study originally appeared in the October 2002 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Although not involved in the Tacoma study, Dr. Anthony J. Mancini, a Pediatric Dermatologist with the Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, is quoted as achieving similar success with a different form of duct tape therapy.

We recognize that this could be a sticky subject for the FDA, so you may wish to stock up, before duct tape is deemed a controlled substance!

A Spanish-American War Cellphone Tax?

September 2002 - An article in the Wall Street Journal explains that the 3% Federal surcharge on our phone bills was first levied in 1898, as a temporary tax, to finance the Spanish-American War!

Yes, we had telephone service 'way back then, when it was considered a luxury. Today the tax still appears on all bills for local, long-distance, and wireless telephone service.

Gee, how did our forefathers know in 1898 that we'd one day have wireless telephones, or long-distance service?

This is an excellent illustration of the need for sunset clauses, in ALL tax legislation, at ALL levels of government.

Walking in a sales person's shoes

September 2002 - According to the Chicago Tribune News Service, our nation has 23 Million sales people, and times are hard for them.

A recent national survey by the trade publication "Sales and Marketing Management" notes that FY2001 bonuses and commissions for sales staff dropped by 18.7 percent, while their salaries increased by only 2.1 percent.

A Rule of Thumb for controlled-impedance layouts in FR4

To achieve a 50 ohm microstrip trace in FR4 material, the ratio of the trace-width to the dielectric thickness must be approximately 2:1.

So, for example, if the dielectric is 0.005 inches thick, then the width of a 50 ohm trace will be roughly 0.010 inches.

This tip Courtesy Dr. Eric Bogatin, in the Sept 2002 issue of Printed Circuit Design magazine.

Hometown Statistics

Interesting statistics about Portland, OR, from an article on page B1 of the August 21, 2002 edition of the Wall Street Journal:

Population: 1,918,009 souls in the metropolitan area, and 529,121 folks in the city proper.

Median price of an existing single-family residence: $181,200 US.

Top five employers: Fred Meyers (department stores), Providence Health Care Systems, Intel, Oregon Health Sciences University, and Legacy Healthcare Systems.

Unemployment rate: 7.5% of the workforce, as of June 2002.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Portland has a higher cost-of-living than the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles, among others.

Raging against Technology: another reason why documentation is critical

Do you argue with your machines? Ever win?
...We doubt it, and so does Carmella Esposito.

Carmella is a free-lance technical-support consultant and former United Nations translator.
She is quoted in the June 4, 2002 issue of Wired magazine:

"We noticed that if a manual said 'Do not ever do this', we would then get many calls
from people who had broken their machines by doing just that."

She explained that the callers evidently read the documentation, took offense to its tone,
and "had an argument with the product".

We don't recommend this behavior, but our writing experience suggests that even the best User's Guide cannot correct fundamental deficiencies in product design. This is a major reason why documentation, and the technical writing function, are key to most projects.

Automotive Inflation

According to an article in the August 11, 2002 edition of the Wall Street Journal, the 1917 Ford Model T measured 11 feet 2 1/2 inches from bumper to bumper, whereas a 2002 Ford Expedition is over 17 feet long.

The U.S. Senate passes a "Spam" Bill

20 May 2002 - The Wall St. Journal today reported that the U.S. Senate has passed its version of privacy legislation banning "spam" email.

The privacy Bill, sponsored by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D., S.C.), would require "online" businesses to obtain consumer consent before the online businesses could collect sensitive, personal information on issues such as health, finances, religion and sexual orientation.

The Bill includes a provision drafted by Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D., Calif.) designed to address complaints from the technology industry that "offline" businesses were excluded from the Bill. Under Sen. Boxer's provision, the FTC must develop privacy rules for offline businesses such as direct marketers.

Businesses with 25 or fewer employees are exempt from the Bill.

The privacy Bill would require electronic marketers to include in their spam a working return address allowing recipients to refuse future messages.

The privacy Bill also prohibits false "subject" lines and authorizes misdemeanor criminal penalties for those who intentionally disguise their identities when sending spam email.

The privacy Bill also permits the FTC to impose civil penalties of as much as $10 (US) per message, to a maximum of $500,000 (US), which could be tripled if the courts find that the violations were willful.

A more limited measure is circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Italy May Ban Fossil Fuel Car Sales

According to the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association's February 2002 newsletter, OEVA NEWS, Officials in the Lombardy region of Italy, centered around Milan, are faced with pollution levels five times Italy's legal limit. To combat this problem, the Officials are planning to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars in three years. Milan already bans automobiles on the weekend and restricts their use during the week. Two-thirds of the Italian citizens reportedly support the plan.

Non-Profit Orgs: who are you funding?

According to the IRS's FAQ list: "A 501(c)(3) organization may not engage in political activity, but other organizations, such as 501(c)(4) organizations, may engage in political activity so long as that is not their primary activity".

Who invented Spread Spectrum?

Like us, you may have assumed that the frequency-agility behind what we now call spread-spectrum radio was originated by the U.S. Military, or perhaps a "Ham" Radio Operator?   Certainly it must have been someone with a technical background.   Nope.   It turns out that actress Hedy Lamarr patented the idea way back in the 1940s.   See the article in the ISA's monthly InTech magazine, March 2000 issue, pp22.   Or check with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

Got gas?

American drivers aren't pleased with rising gasoline prices, (averaging $1.80US/gallon in Portland, OR as of March 2000).   Duh.   Last year they staged the first annual GASOUT, with talk of repeating it again this year.   The idea is to buy no gasoline between APRIL 7, 2000 and APRIL 9, 2000, to demonstrate American "solidarity" against whomever sets the prices.   Wow! Another conspiracy!

To be honest, we don't recall a similar rapid price increase in the Spring of 1999.   And we hope food prices don't also rise...

That's Phat?

The fat in ordinary margarine appears to be the most harmful for our hearts.   Trans-fat, made when vegetable oil is altered through the process of hydrogenation, is also used in shortening and baked goods.   A Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that heart disease risk is cut by replacing the trans-fats in our foods.   See The Wall Street Journal, 20 Nov 1999.

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