Archive for October, 2004

Getting the Lead Out

October 28, 2004

I just received a new Toshiba Tecra M2 laptop running the newest version of Sun’s spiffy Java Desktop System.

I ran across an amazing statement in the Toshiba Resource Guide that came with the system. In the section discussing the AC adaptor (I know, I know– who ever reads this stuff?) I came across the following warning in reference to the power cord that runs from the AC adaptor to the wall outlet:

WARNING: Handling the cord on this product will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.

I’m hoping this is just a sad, sad case of CYA rather than an actual health problem that anyone needs to worry about.

While this is a silly example, there is a serious issue here: that of hazardous materials involved in the manufacture of electronic products. RoHS (Removal of Hazardous Substances) has become an important initiative in the computer industry. The initiative, which is being driven by legislation passed by the European Union, is focused on a number of harmful materials beyond lead. Article 4.1 of the EU Directive states:

“Member States shall ensure that, from 1 July 2006, new electrical and electronic equipment put on the market does not contain lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE).

For those wanting to understand RoHS in more detail, I found a good site here that has the text of the Directives as well as some background and tutorial material. Sun’s statement on RoHS is here.


The Language of Terror

October 22, 2004

Language is powerful. The words we use to express ourselves reflect our own view of the world, but they can also serve to reflect the agendas of others if we are not careful in our choice of words.

Consider, for example the country known as Burma or Myanmar. The use of the name Myanmar legitimizes an illegal government that has refused to yield power despite having lost an election in 1990.

In a small way, we legitimize the gang of murderous thugs who call themselves al-Qaida every time we use that name. We need to name them on our terms, not theirs.

Call them something else. They are Killers Of Innocent Civilians. So call them “al-Koic” or “the Koic”–or anything else other than what they named themselves.

A Scanner Darkly

October 18, 2004

Well, a scanner in the dark, at least. I’ve been experimenting with using my Epson 1200 scanner as a direct-input photographic device. You know: put the object on the platen, leave the cover open, and scan.

Here are some of my first efforts. I haven’t done any retouching other than zeroing out the background to eliminate the annoyingly persistent little dust motes that the glass platen attracts so well.

hydrangea leaf

This is the first object I scanned–a hydrangea leaf from my back yard.

hydrangea leaf detail

Here’s a close-up chopped out of the original 300dpi scan, which shows the kind of nice detail possible with this technique.

I found this cicada husk while pruning a bush in our backyard.

cicada husk

This scan of an acorn shell is my favorite.


After scanning a bunch of objects, I decided some human experimentation was in order and scanned my face by staring down into the scanner. It was difficult to stay still and to keep my eyes open as the scanning head passed by. To me, this looks a bit like some of the shots through the faceplate of Dave Bowman’s spacesuit in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Also, there is definitely some significant distortion introduced as the object gets further from the platen–my head isn’t quite that shape and my ears don’t usually protrude like that.

josh's face

The Dynamics of Innovation

October 8, 2004

The following diagram is adapted from a truly great book on innovation entitled, Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation by James Utterback of MIT. Hokey title, but well worth reading. For those of you familiar with The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, know that the latter was based on work done for a PhD while the former is the result of 30 years of research into innovation. Not to denigrate Christensen’s work, which is also well worth reading. In fact, you certainly shouldn’t use the term “disruptive technology” without having read Christensen — the term is so over-used that it is losing much of its real meaning.

Back to Utterback. Here is my version of one of his graphics:

the dynamics of innovation

As time progresses and a market matures, the mix of innovation that is important for a product changes. Product Innovation is what us technologists think of as “innovation” — the next cool thing or next cool feature. But what about the term “Process Innovation”? We don’t often mix those two words in polite company. What’s it mean? It’s about EXECUTION. In the most traditional sense it refers to innovation in the manufacturing process, but there is a more general lesson here for engineers as well: How you do things can matter as much as, if not more than, what you are doing.

As is often the case, no one size fits all. Sun, for example, has products at various points on this evolutionary curve. Where do your company’s products fall?