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Electronic Design

Bob's Mailbox

Dear Mr. Pease:

Your anonymous reader's letter that opened your column in the August 6 issue contained some information that was incorrect and may be misunderstood by the author of the letter.

He referred to a "Bill #1706," which would ban consultants in certain electronics-related fields.  He was not complete or accurate in his description.

The "Bill #1706" that he referred to is Section 1706 of the Tax Reform Act of 1986.  That section of the Act, sponsored by Senator Dan Moynihan, was proposed to offset a $60 million tax reduction of another section of that Act-all amendments had to be tax revenue neutral.

Section 1706 specifically applies to "an engineer, designer, drafter; computer programmer, systems analyst, or other similarly skilled worker engaged in a similar line of work."  The Act subjects them to common-law standards for determining who is an employee and who is an independent business person.  Previously, a "safe harbor" provision of the law permitted them, as independent contractors, to be exempted by the IRS from treatment as common-law employees with less generous tax benefits.

In the six years since the passage of the Act, independents have found that it has not affected them as seriously as first expected and has certainly not made the profession illegal.  What has occurred is that in order for independent consultants to be considered businesses, they must look like businesses and not employees.

Independents are regarded as a business by:

¯   acquiring a business license

¯   controlling the methods of doing the work

¯   being in a position to lose money-that is, not work hourly

¯   working when and where will get the job done most effectively, not necessarily where your clients wants you to work

¯   using your own equipment in your own office

There are many more of these points and it's generally agreed that no consultant can fulfill all of the points all of the time.

In addition, there's a bill currently pending in Congress to repeal Section 1706.

Bob, I assure you consulting is alive and well.

Mark C. Divecchio, Vice President, San Diego Chapter Independent Computer, Consultants Association, San Diego, Calif.

Thank you for educating us and getting the facts straight.  Many of us part-time consultants should get on your mailing list.-RAP

Dear Bob:

I enjoy your column a great deal.  Your offer to rebut Mr. Peter R.  Vokac's claims in the June 11 issue that all the world is digital was too tempting to pass up.

In the real world, every digital circuit I have ever seen is made up of analog circuits, with analog constraints, and even analog surprises.  When I hire a digital engineer, one of the important skills I look for is the applicant's ability to understand important analog concepts.  Without this skill, it is chancy to try to design real digital systems!  Perhaps Mr. Vokac was just having some fun teasing his analog engineer friends.

John Darjany, Griffin Technology Inc., Rancho Domingues, Calif.

I agree that most digital guys must have some expertise in various analog aspects of digital circuits!-RAP

Dear Mr. Pease:

I very much enjoyed your piece on "Muntzing" in the July 23 issue.  It reminded me very much of an occasion in the mid 50s while I was newsman, chief engineer, announcer, etc., at a S.F. Bay area radio station.  We had a popular disc jockey who had a habit of acquiring all sorts of goods by means of what later came to be called pay-ola.

I was invited to dinner at the DJ's home, full well knowing that he wanted me to "have a look" at a slight problem he was having with his TV/Hi-Fi set.  He mentioned that the TV didn't hold on vertical and that he had "TIGHTENED UP ALL THE LITTLE SCREWS THAT CAME OUT OF THE LITTLE CANS."

At that point, I almost refused to go, but he said that the picture seemed to be just as good as before he "adjusted" the set.  I was curious and succumbed to the invitation.

As you would guess, the set was a MUNTZ - the first I had ever seen - and sure enough the least critical to adjustment.  It had a minimum of tubes, about half what I would expect compared to an RCA 630 chassis or other quality set.  The trouble as I recall was a bad 6SN7, which I had in my tool box.

So my duty was done, the TV worked - not the best definition, and retrace lines were a little evident, but the owner was happy with the four local stations on VHF.  After dinner, he had the nerve to ask me to fix the record player before dessert.  It wasn't of MUNTZ origin, but rather a Webcor turntable with a GE variable reluctance cartridge courtesy of the station.  That was my evening - MUNCHING and MUNTZING.

Bob Morrison, Kensington, Calif.

I understand why you couldn't decide to visit this guy:  A clear-cut case of variable reluctance!-RAP

Dear Bob:

A while back you wrote a column about having people accountable for their work.  Here is an incident that follows that theme.

I was on an airplane in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The plane was performing pre-flight tests when a malfunction occurred.  The flaps would not go down, so the pilot taxied back to the gate.

Then the ground maintenance crew performed some tests.  They managed to get the flaps to move, but I could hear a sickly sounding hydraulic pump.

We had to wait six hours before the plane was repaired!

I could overhear two people discussing what was wrong with the aircraft in some detail.  One of the gentleman was the mechanic who made the repair.

The mechanic and his son got a free round trip ticket to St. Louis.  I think this was how the company rewarded his efforts.  However, he would "pay the price" if his work was inadequate.  I felt much more relaxed knowing the mechanic was willing to ride on a plane he fixed.

Mike Sutton, Fairborn, Ohio

I'm glad to see how some incentives really do help guarantee excellent workmanship.  And they instill confidence in the customer, too!-RAP

Dear Mr. Pease

After reading the letter from Robert A. Piankian in your "Mailbox" in the July 9 issue, I couldn't resist sending you my own thoughts on "fuzzy logic."

1.  Fuzzy logic is nothing but the multi-valued logic first enunciated (I believe) by Alfred Korzybski in the 1920s (?).

2.  Fuzzy logic, as it is practiced today, is actually an attempt to do analog computation by digital means.  As a result, it gives a limited number of discrete results, rather than a continuum of results, such as a true analog system would.

It is unfortunate that the originator of the name (in an attempt to be "cute"?) didn't choose a more accurate name, such as "continuous logic" or "analogic," or even the original "multi-valued" logic.  That choice has undoubtedly led to a lot of (probably subconscious) reluctance to use - or even to investigate - "fuzzy logic," because of the implications of imprecision.  A similarly unfortunate choice of a name was made in the case of the computer language LISP.  When one stops to think about it, doesn't the word "lisp" carry a connotation of immaturity ("All I Want for Chrithmath ith My Two Front Teeth")?

Afterthought: I wonder what the literal translation of the Japanese term for "fuzzy logic" might be?

You might be interested to know that I "cut my computer teeth," so to speak, on the electromechanical, analog, fire-control computers that were used in the B29, P61, and A26 aircraft of WWII.

Robert J. Nedreski, Owner, Nedreski Industrial Service, Erie, Pa.

Thanks for your comments and insights into the history of such logic.-RAP

Dear Bob:

Re:Pease Porridge and fuzzy commentary:

Pease Porridge hot

Pease Porridge cold

Pease Porridge in a pot much too old

Pease Porridge please

open up your eyes

something with a silly name

doesn't mean if flies

Fuzzy logic is not fuzzy

nor a fuzzy wuzzy was he

Fuzzy logic is making money

and to some that's sure nice honey

Pease Porridge hot

Pease Porridge cold

Pease thinking has gone to pot

because fuzzy logic is gold

The poetry is not perfect, but I think you get the idea.  Your thought is highly respected, but for such an uneducated comment referencing fuzzy logic (July 9 issue) to escape from your pen, well, it is unfortunate.

Camerone A. Welch, Director, Corporate, Communications, Togai InfraLogic Inc., Irvine, Calif.

You have piqued my interest, and when I figure out what to say about fuzzy logic, I'll be sure to let you know.-RAP


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