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Greetings

This is my first post on Tech Talk, so I should probably introduce myself for those of you who haven't followed my career as closely as I have. Congressman Rick Boucher, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet introduced me to his panel recently as "a network engineer and a blogger," and I can wear that label with pride; alternative viewpoints have also been expressed.

I've been designing, implementing, and debating networks and network architectures for a few years now: if you use an Ethernet hub, a Wi-Fi access point, or a UWB system (unlikely,) you've used systems and standards that I had a hand in creating. My chief technical interest for lo these many years has been the design of network systems that support a diverse mix of applications well, an area that we often call Quality of Service.

Those of use who work with QoS can't help but notice a sudden interest in our line of work by lawmakers beginning around 2005. This is when net neutrality became a legislative hot topic, thanks in large part to some provocative statements by a couple of now-retired telco CEOs.

A number of content indexers got nervous, and lawmakers responded in 2006 with a number of bills aimed at protecting this heretofore unknown right. These bills - Snowe-Dorgan is a good example - generally reached into the business model of ISPs and carriers with a ban on fee-based enhanced QoS offerings. This struck me as counter-productive so I entered the fray.

Subsequently, I've testified before Congress and the FCC, debated the set of issues around network regulation with a diverse crowd of lawyers, engineers, and advocates, and generally tried to raise public awareness about an issue that few engineers grasp all that well. I'm currently writing a white paper that puts some of these issues into their proper historical and technical perspective.

We've just elected a president who campaigned in large part on his tech literacy, and he's putting a team in place that will probably take a more activist role in promoting the wider adoption of advanced networking technologies, something that most of us IEEE members would probably like to see. We see the evidence for this in the various pots of money created by the stimulus plan for broadband, health IT, and Smart Grids. Grants and subsidies can go a long way toward improving infrastructure if they're administered properly, and I think we can assume that we all want to see that too.

When politicians mess with technology bad things can happen on the regulatory side, so we all need to keep an eye out for overly zealous attempts to manage business models. I've met most of the Obama tech team, and like and respect all of them, but there are a few among them who've adopted viewpoints that concern me. There's a tendency in Washington to confuse cheerleading with technical awareness. We'll dig into that later.

In subsequent posts, I'll cover some recent events in which I've taken part, and I'll cover some of the topics I've mentioned above. Let me close by thanking Harry Goldstein and the Tech Talk crew for giving me this platform.

East Meets West in Corporate Culture?

By Suhas Sreedhar

Outsourcing jobs to third-world companies has been a fairly polarizing issue in the past, and those ardently in favor of it and against it will probably continue to debate its merits for many years to come. But for all practical purposes the issue is passé. Outsourcing has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen. A more interesting question is, what impact can it have on corporate culture?

At Paprikaas Interactive, an animation studio based in Bangalore, India, I found an interesting answer. Outsourcing has the potential to help to combine the best of eastern and western business practices, resulting in companies that are competent as well as creative.

[Please see Animation Nation, Part I: Dreamworks Goes to Bangalore and Animation Nation Part II: Bollywood Sets Its Sights on Feature Films.]

Many offshore subcontractors, especially ones in the IT industry, are technically skilled, but they mostly operate within a stringent, chain-of-command structure. This makes some sense since it's the big client companies that are the arbiters of the end product. However, a rigid structure does have its drawbacks. While many Western companies encourage employees to express their opinions and speak their minds, employees of Indian companies tend to remain reticent and deferential to their superiors. This becomes a problem, especially in creative fields like animation, where the final product is a combination of the best efforts of many individuals.

At Paprikaas, the executives seemed determined to change this mindset. When I met with Creative Director Veerendra Patil, he told me that while he's proud of his employees' technical skill, discipline, and punctuality, most of them treat their work just as another 9-to-5 job. They take one-hour lunch breaks at exactly the same time every day and always look to their superiors to make decisions and set deadlines.

Patil wants the employees to take "creative ownership" of their work, meaning that they'd stop seeing their projects merely as tasks to complete and instead view them as pieces of art they can personally be proud of. It also means that they'd set their own reasonable deadlines and budget their time appropriately in order to meet them.

The same goes for the supervisors in the company, who are being encouraged to take on more responsibility and make more decisions themselves, instead of constantly going up the chain for answers. In order to help catalyze this change in attitude, supervisors are required to alternate between working on projects and training new employees, the latter of which gives them greater experience in being in a top advisory role.

Finally, the relationship between colleagues and bosses is also something Paprikaas execs want to change by promoting more discussions and debates about ideas and encouraging artists to speak out and challenge their superiors, as long as their intent is to help create the best product possible.

If Paprikaas succeeds, it could represent an interesting merger of corporate cultures. Combining quality and discipline with individualism and free expression sounds like a promising formula. But can it happen? And will it necessarily translate into a better bottom line? For Indian animation to thrive on its own, it might have to.

Suhas Sreedhar is a freelance journalist who has previously written for IEEE Spectrum about the future of music. He recently did some blogging and webcasting while working as the assistant director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Boeing Gets Contract for Flying E-Bomb?

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ILLUSTRATION: JOHN MACNEILL SOURCE: CARLO KOPP

E-Bomb Anatomy: This hypothetical e-bomb design shows how gigawatts of power are generated to supply the device that produces the high-power microwaves. The bomb's destructiveness depends on the microwave source and target's vulnerability to electromagnetic attack, among other things, but a 10-GW, 5-GHz HPM device would have a "lethal" footprint 400 to 500 meters across.

 

On Friday, Boeing announced a $38 million contract to create a nonlethal, high power microwave (HPM) "airborne demonstrator" for the Air Force Research Laboratory's acronym-ready Counter-electronics High power microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP).

An HPM bomb creates an electromagnetic pulse capable of disabling electronics, vehicles, guided missiles, and communications but leaves people and structures unharmed. These weapons have been pursued for decades, but the main obstacle has been portability: The HPM devices are simply too big and too unwieldy, and it's been tough to make them smaller than about 3.5 meters long because of the complex equipment inside that converts stored electrical energy into microwaves. Recently, however, researchers have found new ways to get the devices small enough to mount on an unmanned aerial vehicle or a Humvee.

But the Air Force isn't the only one looking for HPM goodness.

On April 15, precursors to future HPM e-bombs were tested at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The tests mark the first time such a device has been shrunk to dimensions that could make it portable enough to fit in a missile or carried in a Humvee or UAV.

The USAF's December 1 statement of objectives for CHAMP implies that the final goal will be either a cannon that can be mounted on a jet or a UAV, or missiles, based on references to "a multi-shot and multi-target aerial platform that targets electronic systems."

That's interesting because the other problem, besides size, is the fact that there is no such thing as a "multi-shot" HPM device. That's because the source for the high power microwaves is usually an explosive like C4. That means the whole thing blows up. Not exactly "recoverable."

But the device that makes the microwaves can also be driven by a nonexplosive power generator that doesn't blow up the whole kit and kaboodle. (Again, however, adding size) The ultimate goal for HPM researchers is to create a portable directed energy weapon--a microwave cannon. According to Flight Global,

the USAF also had previously shown interest in modifying a 2,000lb-class Boeing joint direct attack munition (JDAM) with a wingkit and an HPM warhead for CHAMP. However, the requirements calling for a recoverable aerial demonstrator equipped with an HPM payload appear to preclude this option.

But apparently Boeing has solved the problem some way, if that $38 million is any indication.

Boeing will create the test aerial vehicle that carries the HPM weapon. The high power microwave source will be supplied by Ktech Corp., a "specialty products" manufacturer (translation: defense contractor) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sandia National Laboratories will provide the pulse power system.

Now it's just a horse race to see whether the Air Force or the Army will be the first to roll out an HPM system. 

Related:

Dawn of the E-Bomb

Portable E-bomb to Be Tested

Astronauts Wrap Up Repair Work on Hubble Telescope

Astronauts from the shuttle Atlantis completed their work on the Hubble Space Telescope today, bringing new functionality to the aging platform.

In a trying 7-hour spacewalk inside the shuttle payload bay, Mission Specialists John Grunsfeld and Andrew Feustel installed new batteries, replaced guidance sensors, and placed new thermal blankets around the telescope's electronics. Then they closed Hubble's compartment hatches and bid a personal farewell. The finished repair work marked the last time, in all likelihood, that anyone will ever touch the orbiting observatory.

"This is a really tremendous adventure that we've been on, a very challenging mission," Grunsfeld said while preparing to reboard the shuttle cabin. "Hubble isnâ''t just a satellite -- it's about humanity's quest for knowledge."

In today's spacewalk, Grunsfeld and Feustel worked in Hubbleâ''s Bay 3 to replace the second of two 460-pound battery modules, according to a statement from NASA. They also replaced one of the telescopeâ''s fine guidance sensors, which are used to provide pointing information and also serve as a scientific instrument for determining the relative position and motion of stars. Working efficiently, the two had time left to complete the final task, fitting the New Outer Blanket Layer to the exterior of the telescope's Bay 5, Bay 8, and Bay 7, which normally face in the direction of Hubbleâ''s orbital travel.

During their four previous spacewalks, the Atlantis crew installed a new camera and light-splitting spectrograph, replaced Hubble's positioning system, repaired two instruments and attached a docking ring so a robotic spacecraft can be sent to remove Hubble from orbit at the end of its operational lifetime, expected now to last as much as a decade more.

NASA said the astronauts will release the telescope back into orbit and begin their journey home tomorrow.

Grunsfeld waxed eloquent when the time came to leave the newly upgraded telescope behind him: "On this mission, we tried some things that some people said were impossibleâ'¿. We've achieved that, and we wish Hubble the very best. It's really a sign of the great country that we live in that we're able to do things like this on a marvelous spaceship, like space shuttle Atlantis. I'm convinced that if we can solve problems, like repairing Hubble, getting into space, doing the servicing we do, traveling 17500 miles per hour around the earth, we can achieve other great things, like solving the energy problems and climate problems, all of the things that are in the middle of NASA's prime and core values. As Drew and I go into the airlock, I want to wish Hubble its own set of adventures and with the new instruments that we've installed that it may unlock further mysteries of the universe."

Down at NASA's Mission Control in Houston, a flight manager replied simply, "This is a real great day, a great way to finish this out."

The Business of Nanotechnology and Solar Energy...Such as it is

Last week Nanosys offered up an odd press release to announce its forming of a new wholly owned subsidiary called QD Soleil that would focus the companies nanotechnologies in the area of solar panel cell design.

For those of you not familiar with the brief history of Nanosys they are known primarily for their â''seminal estateâ'' of intellectual property that includes over 500 patents. And likely to a lesser extent for their failed attempt to get a $100 million IPO on the back of $4 million in revenues a few years back.

This distinctly biotech strategy of building a business model on staking claim to as much IP as you can possibly can I have commented on before. But aside from this phenomenon there were a couple of other bits to this press release that really struck me and are initially indicated by the use of the word â''designâ'' in the first sentence.

It seems that the new company is not really going to produce solar cells based on Nanosysâ'' nanotechnologies but offer up its â''portfolioâ'' for licensing to larger companies to exploit in solar cells.

But the press release really migrates into strange territory when Josh Wolfe, co-founder and Managing Partner of Lux Capital, points out "The acquisition of QD Soleil would be an ingenious way, especially in this environment, to take a focused approached to innovation and R&D."

This marks a first for me where a company puts out a press release on the creation of a new subsidiary only to come out and say explicitly in the release that it would make a good acquisition target. Okay, I have seen this kind of maneuver before but only implicitly, not using a financial pundit as a mouthpiece for your real aims.

I guess we have just taken another step further into seeing how a company without much in the way of products and just IP generates revenues.

IEEE 125th Anniversary: How It All Got Started (Part 2)

As mentioned yesterday, the IEEE is celebrating its 125th anniversary. The modern institute is a descendant of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, founded in 1884. So let's take a look at how it all began.

The idea for such an enterprise was proposed in the spring of 1884 by N. S. Keith, of Philadelphia, an inventor and electrometallurgical engineer. Aware of the impending International Electrical Exhibition in Philadelphia in the fall, Keith reasoned that professionals working in the electrical field should organize in time to officially welcome visitors from other nations on behalf of the United States. So he mailed a notice to others who shared an interest in electrical inventions.

This first call for participation read in part:

"The rapidly growing art of producing and utilizing electricity has no assistance from any American national scientific society. There is no legitimate excuse for this implied absence of scientific interest, except that it be the short-sighted plea that everyone is too busy to give time to scientific, practical and social intercourse which, in other professions, have been found so conducive to advancement."

It continued by stating that such an organization should be open to "electrical engineers, electricians, instructors in electricity in schools and colleges, inventors and manufacturers of electrical apparatus, officers of telegraph, telephone, electric light, burglar alarm, district messenger, electric time, and of all companies based upon electrical inventions."

To form such a group, Keith organized a formal meeting on 13 May 1884 at the offices of the American Society of Civil Engineers at 127 East 23rd Street in New York City. The attendees drew up a charter and named themselves the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. They then elected a slate of officers, headed by Norvin Green, who was the president of the Western Union Telegraph Co. Supporting him were six distinguished vice presidents: Alexander Graham Bell, of Washington, D.C.; Charles A. Cross, of Boston; Thomas A. Edison, of New York City; George A. Hamilton, of New York City; Charles H. Haskins, of Milwaukee; and Frank L. Pope, of Elizabeth, N.J. Other institute officers elected that day included industry leaders such as: Charles Brush, of Cleveland; Elisha Gray, of Chicago; Edwin J. Houston, of Philadelphia; and Theodore N. Vail, of Boston.

These first managers of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers were giants in the new field of electrical machinery, representing almost every aspect of its success to that time. Some had already founded major corporations that exist, in one form or another, to this time, such as AT&T and General Electric. The officers were so top-heavy with men (yes, only men) who had invented themselves into prominence that the leading trade publication of the era, Electrical World, described the new institute simply as a "group of electricians and capitalists."

Still, they charted a course for electrical engineering in America that has grown with the country as much as it has helped the country to grow -- and extended that success to the world.

For that, we thank them for their foresight.

[Material for this column provided by Engineers and Electrons by John D. Ryder and Donald G. Fink, IEEE Press, New York, 1984.]

IEEE 125th Anniversary: How It All Got Started (Part 1)

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) turned 125 today. Technically speaking, the IEEE arose from a merger of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) in 1963. Still, the older and bigger parent, the AIEE, held its first meeting on 13 May 1884 in New York City to become a professional society for electrical engineers, which were quickly growing in numbers in the wake of remarkable breakthroughs in technology in the late Nineteenth Century.

To commemorate the occasion, the IEEE is carrying out a series of activities to promote the profession of engineering and reach out to the public around the world to encourage greater understanding of the work the institute carries out (for more information, please visit Celebrate IEEE's 125th Anniversary). To that end, the institute has announced that this is Global Engineering the Future Day, an opportunity to increase awareness of technological advancement, especially among students, who represent the future and will be the people that make the technological breakthroughs of the Twenty-first Century.

In today's Spectrum Online, Editor-in-Chief Susan Hassler has written a column, Engineering the Future at IEEE, in which she looks forward to the next 125 years and the amazing developments that lie in store for the young. "You will learn, if you havenâ''t already, that a universe of opportunities to invent new technologies and make a difference in the world remain wide open to the curious and adventurous willing to take chances and follow their dreams," Hassler counseled students.

Still, the past is prolog to any remarkable achievement, especially to one that has gone on for more than a century. So it bears remembering that this institute started from humble beginnings and originated with a passion for education and professionalism among only a handful of individuals. To review that origin, we'll take a look back at the founding of the organization tomorrow in this space.

It's a truly fascinating story.

[Please also see IEEE Celebrates 125 Years of Engineering the Future in today's Tech Talk section by Spectrum Online's manager, Senior Editor Harry Goldstein, for more on Engineering the Future Day.]

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Wants You to Make a Video about Electronic Waste

17175.jpgToday I herded the obsolete or dead electronics in my officeâ''an ancient external hard drive that connects to no inputs on my current computer, an LCD monitor that has become excruciatingly hard to read, bunches of old power supplies and dead rechargeable batteries, a tangle of redundant cables, and that box of empty printer cartridges Iâ''ve been meaning to drop off somewhereâ''into a pile of electronic waste. This wasnâ''t random busywork; on Monday our neighborhood is getting a free e-waste pickup from One World Recycling. Last time I tackled the electronic waste that accumulates in my house (an obsolete iMac, a few dead VCRs), I had to take them to Green Citizen and pay a recycling fee for the non-display hardware, so I donâ''t want to miss this opportunity.

This pile of e-waste offers another opportunity, if I can just figure out how to turn next weekâ''s recycling day into a catchy 90-second movie, because the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is offering cash for the best videos about the e-waste problem and responsible recycling.

So far, I donâ''t have any brilliant ideas. But if you do, here are the contest details:

Videos can be no longer than 90 seconds and must show the human and environmental impacts of e-waste, the toxic chemicals found in e-waste, and what it means to recycle responsibly, and encourage others to communicate about the e-waste problem and the use of responsible recyclers.

You submit your video on YouTube, and fill out a separate entry form. Information on both is on the SVTC web site. The deadline is June 12, the current date of the analog television shutdown, which may create a wave of electronic waste. First prize is $500.

IEEE Celebrates 125 Years of Engineering the Future

Happy Birthday, IEEE!

IEEE, the world's largest technical professional society, is commemorating its 125th anniversary today with a variety of activities including the first IEEE Engineering the Future Day. Follow all events on the IEEE 125th Anniversary Web site.

Engineering the Future Day, which takes place on IEEEâ''s â''officialâ'' anniversary date, recognizes the contributions and impact that IEEE, its members and engineering and technology professionals have made for the benefit of humanity.

Designed to raise public awareness of the diverse opportunities in different technology fields, Engineering the Future Day is part of a series of celebrations in major world cities throughout the year in an effort to increase awareness of technology advancements around the world. IEEE groups from Belgium to India, to Australia and Panama and around the U.S. have local celebrations planned for today, and additional celebrations are planned for throughout the year.

Today also kicks off two competitions that were launched in conjunction with IEEEâ''s 125th Anniversary:

IEEE Presidentsâ'' Change the World Competition â'' Beginning on today IEEE members and the public may cast their vote for the peopleâ''s choice award in the Presidentsâ'' competition from among the 15 finalists posted on the Web site. The competition, which invites students or teams of students to identify a real-world problem and apply engineering, science, computing and leadership skills to solve it, closed 28 February. Prizes will be awarded to the finalists in June.

IEEE Engineering Your World Competition â'' Kicking off on Engineering the Future Day, this contest, open to everyone, invites individuals to submit videos of how they use science, engineering or technology to make their living spaces (i.e. â'' dorm, apartment, car, work area, etc.) more livable, fun and convenient. A panel of judges will select the top five entries which will compete in online voting competitions. Details will be posted today on the IEEE 125th Anniversary Web site.

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