Someone has slipped by a decimal in the report "LSI Designs Bring MPEG-4's Potent Multimedia Performance To Fruition" \[Feb. 19, p. 107\]. To fit 31 million transistors onto an 8.8- by 8.6-µm die, the linear dimension available to each transistor would have to be something less than 0.00158 µm, assuming they fit into a square array of 5568 by 5568 transistors. This doesn't compare favorably with the process dimension of 0.18 µm. A die size of 8.8 by 8.6 mm would make more sense.
Government Role In Tech Writing?
This letter is in response to "It's Time We Bring Back The Profession Of Engineering Writing" \[Jan. 8, p. 46\]. I have a BA in English, an MS in electrical engineering, and two years of technical writing experience. I would also like to see a renaissance in engineering writing, but I see problems, at least for me.
I wrote instruction manuals for electronic hardware. The only entity that could afford to pay hardware tech writers for clear and thorough manuals was the U.S. government. These manuals contained an introduction, theory of operation, preventive and corrective maintenance, and parts lists. They also had malfunction tables of "symptom, problem, correction," plus numerous illustrations containing schematics and mechanical assembly and disassembly drawings. The government wanted to make sure that the users could operate and maintain the equipment.
On the other hand, the manuals for consumer electronic equipment are anything but thorough. They sound as if they were written by persons whose first language wasn't English.
All technical writing ads I currently see are for jobs to write instruction materials for software. The instruction sheets accompanying computer programs that I buy are, to my mind, very unclear. Many sound as if they were also written overseas.
The government is financing only a small fraction of what it used to buy. Thus, the jobs to write hardware manuals are far fewer. So, my talent and experience don't count for much. Consequently, a renaissance in technical writing might do little or nothing for U.S. engineer-writers who honed their skills on radar or sonar instruction manuals. Nevertheless, I'd like to see an increase in engineering writing.
Selling Your Inventions
While I don't have many, I make a fair income from my patents \["Do You Possess The Necessary Elements To Successfully Invent," Jan. 8, p. 148\]. I make dozens and dozens of inventions, yet I have the brains to not patent all my bright ideas, but only those which I can sell.
I agree with your analysis entirely. I sold my first profitable invention by going into business selling it. My biggest problem is that I would like to invent something worthwhile—that is, a genuine benefit to mankind, not just a better product. The guy I admire most is the inventor of the flush toilet. Imagine the number of lives he saved by improving urban hygene.
I'm most impressed by the extent to which modern technology creates a mass of expertise in the most unlikely splinter-size fields. For an "outsider" to have a good grasp on what's going on in a new (to the inventor) field is a major undertaking. I wonder if "inventing" is as much some sort of brain defect as a virtue. Can an inventor ever be a "satisfied" person? How many ventures that ultimately did nobody any good began by someone saying "What if...?"
Raymond N. Auger
Lawrence J. Kamm's reply:
First, I congratulate you on actually being a profitable seller of inventions. There are few. Second, I agree with everything you say except for your last paragraph. I don't know all about human motivation, except that it seeks more than the survival that satisfies most other animals. A desire for power (sometimes in the form of money), egotism, etc., results in effort. That effort can be in politics, business, speculation, science, literature, or invention. The desire to invent a public benefit may be a socially valuable form of egotism, such as philanthropy.
Understanding Creative Burnout
In "Creativity Burnout: Are Too Few Trying To Do Too Much?" \[March 5, p. 28\], you speak to the heart of the matter on what burns engineers out. You're right that few of the causes are controllable. I don't believe education can address this issue. The point of creativity is to make something new using a completely fresh viewpoint. Some can't do this kind of thinking. Schools can't teach what has not been invented.
Businesses could help by hiring those with a track record of creativity and quick learning rather than academic credentials and buzzwords. Too often, organizations attempt to hire those with previous experience in technologies too new to have any practitioners. Burnout isn't caused by too much invention. It's caused by too few people to implement new ideas, and too much inertia and NIH that discourages new ideas. Businesses would do well to better understand creativity and invention. There's no shortage of creative people. There's a shortage of businesses wise enough to hire such people and maintain an environment conducive to their talents.