Archive for July, 2007


Health risks from laser printers

A new health threat brought about by IT manufacturers has come to light with the publication of a study from researchers at the Queensland University of Technology - - suggesting that the common laser printer can emit sufficient quantities of fine particles into the atmosphere to cause significant lung damage in office workers. (more…)


The electronic engineer

It’s becoming a bit of an old chestnut, I know, but it never ceases to amaze me the number of people who refuse to recognise the difference between the words “electronic” and “electronics”.

So, having been asked for the umpteenth time this week how many electronic engineers read Electronicstalk, I had to confess that I had no idea of the number – not because I was questioning the qualification of our readers, you understand, but because I don’t personally know any electronic engineers (ie engineers made from electronics), and I have no idea whether they would read our website in any case.

Engineers who specialise in the subject of electronics are electronics engineers. The word “electronic” is an adjective describing the nature of electronics.

Or am I wrong? Do any of you call yourselves electronic engineers?


After the floods

The the recent flooding in the UK and elsewhere is an inevitable consequence of global warming (and I don’t want to get into that argument here) then we will all be needing to heed some timely advice from networking specialist Wadsworth.

Lest we forget, ordinary insulated cables, whether carrying power or network signals, are not impermeable. And any cable subjected to immersion for any significant period of time can easily be compromised by water ingress. And the problem will be magnified if the termination of a cable - such as a wall outlet or network socket - is similarly immersed.

Expensive equipment saved from rising floodwater can just as easily be rendered inoperable by plugging it into damaged network infrastructure once the waters have receded. “We are concerned that many companies will simply ignore flood damage to the cabling infrastructure because it is not visible”, says Wadsworth Marketing Manager Paul Miller.

Miller’s advice is to thoroughly test all infrastructure before recommissioning, replace any terminations that have been exposed, and retest the system at six-week intervals to check for long-term damage.


The perfect game

I must confess I find it increasingly reassuring that almost every advance in digital “intelligence” seems only to serve to remind us just what an amazing piece of evolution (or creation if you wish) the human brain really is.

As a decidedly third-rate chess player, I was extremely disappointed with my first experiences with early mass-market chess computers in the early 1980s. And as subsequent experiments merely served to confirm that the computers and I were probably in the same league, I rather lost interest in the whole man versus machine debate.

That of course was untile the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue finally managed to defeat world champion Garry Kasparov (at its second attempt) in May 1997. However, it subsequently appears that it may have been a fluke. Why? Because no matter how powerfil Deep Blue may have been, it did not posess the knowledge necessary to analyse every possible move in every possible game of chess. It was as flawed as any human player, as recent developments have demonstrated.

Last week saw the public unveiling of the second incarnation of Chinook, a program developed at the University of Alberta in Canada, which is claimed to be the world’s first “perfect” draughts (or checkers) program. Why is it perfect? Because now it is based on a full analysis of the 500 billion billion possible board positions that might occur during any game of drafts.

The original Chinook was pretty good - it won the world checkers championship in 1994. But it wasn’t infallable. So its authors set about analysing all those possible moves in order to create a program that could never be beaten. And, according to Prof Jonathan Schaeffer, chair of the university’s department of computer science, they have finally succeeded.

So if a computer can finally be certain to win at draughts, how long might it be until a chess computer reaches the same level of perfection?

Well, don’t hold your breath. In contrast to the number of board positions in drafts, which equates to five with 20 zeros, the similar requirement for chess amounts to one followed by 45 zeros. So there may still be a place for us third-rate players for some time to come.


The dangers of hype

It’s not often that I can be bothered to keep track of an electronics company’s share price, but it would appear that the knives may be out for Apple.

And when AT&T, the exclusive US carrier to offer the heavily hyped iPhone, revealed that sign-ups had not been as brisk as expected, the knives went in and were twisted. That small news item has been attributed with carving a cool US $7 billion off Apple’s market value.

To be fair to Apple, much of the excessive hype in the lead-up to the iPhone’s release was self-generating. All the company did was to light the proverbial blue touchpaper and retire to a (seemingly) safe distance.

However, when a product generates as much pre-release publicity as the iPhone, it had better be the best thing since sliced bread - or its originator will suffer.

Apple may only have seeded the publicity. But the results may shake the company to its core.


The EU urges solidarity on mobile TV

Last week’s edict from the European Union encouraging member states to base their mobile TV systems on the DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting for Handhelds) standard was long overdue. But the full roll-out of services will remain stalled, in the UK at least, until the national frequency regulator Ofcom releases its next slice of the UHF radio spectrum - and that will not happen until late next year at the earliest. (more…)


What’s in a name?

Anyone who has ever tried to devise a name for a company will testify that it can be an extremely frustrating task. Once you’ve thought one up, you first have to find whether anyone else got there before you. Even then you’re not home and hosed: the name might just be too similar to another. And if you are doing this on an international basis, then the problems are not simply multiplied - a whole new class of problem can arise if the name sounds strange in a foreign language.

One classic example of this phenomenon came in the 1980s, when the then GEC Plessey Telecommunications decided to contract its name to GPT. No problem there, you might think, except that the French pronounciation of the three letters GPT sounds exactly as if the speaker is saying “I have passed wind”.

So today’s news that Intel and STMicroelectronics have chosen the name Numonyx for their nonvolatile memory joint venture is interesting in that (theoretically at least) the name should not cause offence anywhere around the globe.

The name - according to Intel and STM - was chosen to suggest the word ‘mnemonics’, those clever little abbreviations we use to help our memories. Let’s hope it’s not memorable for the wrong reasons!


Recycling to education

Today’s news that Yorkshire-based distributor Premier Farnell has donated around GBP 10,000 worth of equipment to the University of Leeds as part of its recycling policy is a shrewd move that many other companies should emulate.

The distributor has a long-running relationship with its local educational institutions, and has never been slow to co-opt funds from its principals - the Schaffner-Farnell prize for EMC related work at the University of York being just one example. So the decision to donate used evaluation kit rather than go through the process of repackaging for sale makes excellent business sense, and is a vast improvement on WEEE disposal.

With all the bad press that has been generated by certain so-called re-use schemes - whereby surplus kit has ended up festering in third world landfill - Farnell is to be applauded for remembering that the education system remains underfunded, and so any help is welcome.


Now you can comment on any news story

How many times have you been watching the TV news or listening to a bulletin on the car radio and heard an item that has moved you to yell “That’s wrong” at the top of your voice. But it doesn’t matter how loud you shout it: you never get a reply. (more…)


More calls for inclusive design

The Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB) has added its weight to the inclusive design debate with a recent report by its Chief Scientist, Dr John Gill.

The report, which is intended to pave the way for a disabled-friendly Olympics in London in 2012, urges the increased use of technologies ranging from from RFID to biometric systems to make the UK a more visitor-friendly environment for visitors with disabilities.

The report, “Accessibility for visitors”, can be downloaded free of charge here.

About the Author

Electronicstalk and this Editor's Blog are edited by Laurence Marchini

Laurence Marchini

Laurence Marchini began his career in the electronics press with the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1980, cutting his teeth on a variety of learned and member publications, ranging from IEE Proceedings to Electronics and Power. He moved on to join the launch team of the innovative weekly Electronics Express in 1986, and became Editor just 18 months later. Sadly, Electronics Express lasted just four and a half years, wound up by the infamous Robert Maxwell. However, Laurence had already jumped ship and joined the world of electronics PR with the agency of the 1990s, Smith and Jones Communications. It seemed Laurence was lost to the world of journalism. But after 11 years we managed to lure him back as launch editor of Electronicstalk. Laurence is married to Sally and has a young son, Alexander.

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