Roger Caffins' letter, "Alert Analog Readers" \[April 2, p. 54\], was spot-on. Unfortunately, the problem he highlights is only the latest symptom of a much wider problem. Many of your readers have followed Bob Pease's articles about fuzzy logic, and I think this is another manifestation of the same syndrome. Why? Because fuzzy logic in the vast majority of its applications is nothing more than a crutch for those who don't understand control theory and control systems engineering. Perhaps even worse, it has become a marketing tool that's driving its use in many products. So in these cases, it's a fashion accessory—there to catch the eye, not for any practical reason (let alone those quoted). As consumers we all know this will happen, but as engineers we should know the difference.
I can't believe that your magazine would print such an article as "Man-In-Space Is An Ambition Whose Time Has Passed" \[April 2, p. 152\], unless the magazine was looking to spur a lot of letters to the editor.
Mr. Kamm obviously forgets that, since its inception, the manned space program has continuously provided "trickle-down" benefits in many areas of life, especially with regard to the medical field. Remote monitoring of human vitals, treatments for disease, and advanced prosthetics (to name only a few) can all follow short trails directly back to the manned space program.
As a lawyer friend of mine likes to say, "You can buy an expert witness to testify anything you want the court to hear for the right price." I would expect to see such drivel as this column in a left-wing political magazine, not in one read by the very people who developed the tools that are saving lives today. It's irresponsible for any magazine to take potshots at a branch of engineering that is so responsible for the improved lives of innumerable people.
Not everyone will agree with the opinions spouted by all of our columnists, and in this case, I take your side. I feel that there are many trickle-down benefits from the space program. But in this era, the advances made in remotely controlled systems and their relatively low cost in comparison to manned exploration makes one wonder whether there have been enough trickle-down benefits to justify the costs of the manned flights and future manned activities. I think that anyone who has directly benefitted from any type of medical procedure that had its roots in the space program would answer with a resounding yes!
Many other technologies and products that have ended up in the consumer's hands also had their origins in the space program. Will just as many benefits come from the next few decades of space-related research? It's hard to predict. The quantity of developments might slow a little, but I think the impact of each new development may be more profound.
Respond As An Engineer
Lawrence Kamm's indictment of the manned space program is regrettable in raising the tired strawman of the "biggest porkbarrel in history." This program has cost almost nothing compared to the benefits it has produced. The unmanned space program he lauds wouldn't exist without it. Its stimulation of the imagination in this country, and creation of prestige for this country from outsiders, makes it more worthwhile than almost any other government project.
The Soviet Union, which everyone amuses themselves by lambasting, knew better than anyone the value of prestige. Its launch of Sputnik spurred us to achieve something far beyond the ordinary. The purpose of government spending is to purchase what's needed but couldn't or wouldn't be paid for by individuals. Hopefully, President Bush won't throw away this jewel of our national imagination.
In another vein, Paul Schick's editorial response to the California energy crisis \["California's Electricity Shortage," April 2, p. 54\] was odd indeed. The letter suggested that we do nothing except build until there's no green left and wait for the inevitable energy war. That's hardly the response of an engineer, someone who should solve problems with what's at hand. We have an astounding amount of wasted energy that could be "unwasted," which I suppose is equivalent to the dirty word "conserved." It's high time engineers realized that products and services aren't well engineered if they waste resources.
Light Pollution Crisis
Lack of quality control for outdoor lighting is having a significant impact on environmental quality. An odd note of interest is that public agencies are fostering light-pollution problems through their own programs. For example, shoreline lighting practices on waterfront structures permitted by the Army Corps of Engineers, state agencies, and local wetlands boards are causing adverse impacts to the wildlife habitat they're supposed to protect.
These same shoreline lighting practices are compromising boating safety at night. Boat operators must navigate waterways using the universal channel markers that can't be seen at night due to the excessive glare from shoreline lights. This causes groundings and accidents. The U.S. Coast Guard and local marine police all agree that shoreline lights are a safety nuisance. They point the finger at local governments as being responsible for regulating shoreline lights. Local governments point the finger back and say it's the federal and state agencies' fault because they regulate boating safety.
The bottom line is that all of these environmental and boating safety agencies recognize the problem but aren't doing anything about it.