Six Things

Quick! Name 6 things we take for granted, but without which our world would be quite different! Read all about it here.

I’ve been racing through a great read: How We Got To Now, by Steven Johnson. He describes 6 innovations that shaped our world. I wish I had a job writing about stuff like that! Making connections from hither and yon. It reminds me of the series “Connections,” with James Burke, on TV long ago. (Johnson’s stories are also from a series: on PBS.)

Medieval Monk with Glasses, 1342
Medieval Monk with Glasses, 1342

The first chapter is about glass. It’s impact in everything from windows to lenses, to fiber optics. The writing is loaded with fascinating facts. Johnson proposes that while Gutenberg’s printing press made books available to the populace at large (making them affordable, both to buy and to print), it was lenses that made it possible for the majority of people to read. Up until then, with more than half the population far-sighted, it would not have been practical to buy a book and bring it home and read it. This assumes one had already gone to the trouble of learning to read, which was not taught in schools, there being no public schools in the sixteenth centuries!

One aspect of glass that Johnson glosses over (pardon the weak attempt at a pun), is how glass made possible windows. Not windows in homes, which he does describe. But windows in vehicles.

I propose that, although the steam engine and the internal combustion engine made possible long distance travel, none of that would have gone far (okay, a better pun) without glass for windows. One can make a powerful engine, a vehicle, even a carriage way (for trains and then cars). But without windows one would be limited to about 20 miles per hour. Beyond that, the force of wind – and inclement weather – would have made piloting the vehicle impossible. And what about air travel? I suppose one could have an aircraft with a periscope.

There would have been no need for an interstate highway system. No aircraft industry. No long distance vacation travel, except for the wealthy.

It’s fun to contemplate such a world. Maybe a good plot line for a sci-fi novel. Or on a world not made with a silica crust.

So, the next time you look out the car window at the rain pouring down, think about the fall of Constantinople in 1204. Confused? Read the book.

P.S. I noticed this on YouTube (of course): World without Glass. Hah!

P.P.S. Johnson writes that glass making would not have been possible without 1,000 degree furnaces. Those would not have been possible without ceramic bricks. From whence did furnaces evolve? Although no one knows, it may have been from ceramic glazing or metalworking.

Virtual Reality – Where will it end?

Okay, I’m still on the subject of Virtual Reality. In our newspaper, the venerable San Jose Mercury News, there’s a big article on the Business page, right up front: “Rent-a-Reality”. (I found the article here, but not yet on the SJMerc’s own page.) The story is about how some amusement parks have combined their rides with virtual reality goggles, to put the physical sensations of roller coasters and the like into a new world of attacking monsters and such.

In concluding the section on Six Flags’ coaster ride, the author, Ryan Nakashima, writes: “Pro tip: go around twice, once with the header on and once without…”

Yeah, I can imagine how captivating the VR experience might be!

But the article goes on with examples of fans being teased by a VR image of their heartthrob, all for $18; and one of shooting at ghosts at the wax museum in New York, for $55.

James Brooks, of the Associated Press, writes of the London experience that “Museum officials say they aren’t worried these experiences might one day replace traditional museums.”

Well, let’s see. Children today are spending more and more time in front of screens of one sort or another. Once VR goggles come down in price and the software and networking challenges are solved (all of which is inevitable), what will hold children of all ages back from spending more and more time wearing goggles, and living in imaginary settings?

How about put on some real goggles and go swimming with your friends? Or run around in the back yard, getting sweaty and stinky for real? Or go climb a real mountain and experience the real thrill of heights and depths of Nature’s creations?

I guess once we perfect virtual reality experiences, we won’t need real wild animals or real national parks or real mountains to climb.

But then maybe it won’t matter because – as Stephen Hawking recommended this week – we ought to be planning to leave the planet anyway.

Pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Thank you, Joni.

In the Groove?

Work feels good. And it’s not just because it’s new, challenging technology. It reminds me of…

Back at work. It feels good. It feels normal.
Somehow, a lot of my life’s track has been to stay in the groove.
The groove of working on a career, in a field with my experience, bringing home the bacon (pardon the mixed metaphors), and balancing life.
Ironically, I’ve come full circle.
I started my engineering career at Eastman Kodak Company.
Now I’m working at a phenomenal camera company, Light.

I’ve been reading a few scientific articles related to my new job. It’s amazing to see the engineering (and scientific) efforts devoted to enlivening a field that’s mostly remained unchanged for 150 years!

Yes, engineer can be exciting.

Addendum #1: Interesting how others have tried to make a slim camera as good and portable as an SLR: Kodak Disc Camera 4000 (ca. 1982)

kodakdisccamera-4000According to my sources, the original, lab samples of the film duplicated the quality of SLR photos, Kodak having solved the problem of making extremely small grains. But apparently it was terribly hard to manufacture, and so the pictures were not what people expected. So, back to the drawing board.


Addendum #2: This arrived in the mail yesterday. $5 on eBay!

kodakinstant8000Nice little collection starting. I hope it doesn’t get out of control.


One of the most exciting days in my career was when I was awarded my first patent! It was a great confirmation of the thrill I feel at being faced with a problem, wrestling with it for days or weeks, and then coming up with a practical solution — and, in these cases, ones which no one else used before. Enjoy reading!

I’ve been awarded 10 unique U.S. Patents to date. The following list is pasted in from the USPTO Search Engine:

1 9,274,992 Cable with circuitry for communicating performance information
2 9,210,206 Messaging to provide data link integrity
3 8,964,979 Identification and handling of data streams using coded preambles
4 8,930,692 Mechanism for internal processing of content through partial authentication on secondary channel
5 8,793,723 Detection of encryption utilizing error detection for received data
6 8,692,937 Video frame synchronization
7 8,644,334 Messaging to provide data link integrity
8 8,458,343 Signaling for transitions between modes of data transmission
9 7,558,326 Method and apparatus for sending auxiliary data on a TMDS-like link
10 7,555,693 Auxiliary data transmitted within a display’s serialized data stream
11 7,143,328 Auxiliary data transmitted within a display’s serialized data stream
12 7,123,307 Clock jitter limiting scheme in video transmission through multiple stages

9,274,992 is on its way, with a plaque to be mounted alongside the others!

Program Management


In each phase of my career when I took on a program management role, I reached out to the experts on the team to learn more in-depth about their fields. When leading a multi-national effort on multi-chip modules, I had hours-long sessions with a senior engineer to refresh my memory about signal integrity and packaging issues. When pushing new standards for high-speed interconnect chips, I had many, many lessons from analog engineering about PLL design, and with digital engineering about encoding techniques, encryption, pipelining, etc. Most recently, leading a project to produce test equipment, I dug into the software design with the help of the programming team to discuss partitioning the code, overlays, call-backs, compiled versus open source issues, etc.

In all of these cases, my involvement as an engineer with each team went above being the program manager, and generated a lot of trust and confidence both for them and for myself.

Continue reading “Program Management”


First Invention

Faced with a problem at a server company, I came up with a solution which lead to a patent – my first! Not only was it gratifying to be creative in that way, but also to do so while in Sales, not in Engineering!

The company had been trying to solve the customer’s requirements with our current chip offering. There had been many meetings. I took the problem home with me in my head, and wrestled with it. I made some drawings, wrote up a brief description, and then presented it to the team. They critiqued it from a technical, risk, and cost point of view. It passed muster, and we presented it to the customer. It used only chips which we already had in production, and actually reduced the system cost for the customer.

I built a demonstration of the solution, using a series of our own PCB’s interconnected with cables. Unfortunately this customer had other issues with the program, so the idea never went to production.

But the company gained in reputation by providing a timely, creative solution. And I gained, on recommendation from a senior engineer, by filing for and being granted a patent!

Continue reading “Patents”