NASA has an incredible amount of wasted systems \["Electronics Missile Guidance Changes Tactics And Strategy," Dec. 4, 2000, p. 179\]. It comes down to jobs doing stupid things simply as required with the constraints of a limited budget.
There's little point in moaning about making aircraft carriers, etc. But I quite agree that there's little use or reason to manufacture them—except that it "employs" a large number of people, and apart from the fuel used, the rest of it is recyclable.
Alert Analog Readers
You commented in the letters page of the Feb. 5 issue that "surprisingly few alert readers noticed this simpler solution" regarding LED drivers and the Nov. 6, 2000 IFD. This isn't true. Only a few wrote to you about it, but most experienced analog practitioners noticed and moved on.
The first reason is that publication in your magazine of this sort of very poor design or reinvention of the wheel has been occurring more often than desirable over the last year or two, and it's happening almost entirely in the analog domain. Those skilled in analog electronics have wearied of pointing out these cases, and no longer bother. It's up to you to filter out the rubbish.
The second reason is that the overwhelming majority of young electronics engineering graduates these days are focused almost entirely on digital systems and microprocessors. They may have had one semester of analog electronics and probably almost no RF electronics. Their knowledge of analog circuit design is nonexistent, which is why you're getting so many very amateur contributions. For that matter, their knowledge of very high-frequency signal handling, as in CPU clock drivers and memory interfaces, is also poor.
I could cite countless examples of poor or just incompetent analog design that I have met recently in my own work, but I shan't bother. Ask a few other older and more experienced designers for yourself.
But I'm sure that the laws of supply and demand will eventually catch up. The scarcity will become a focus of government inquiries and conferences to no avail. Eventually, salaries will have to rise. A similar story is happening in the area of heavy electrical engineering—motors and generators.
California's Electricity Shortage
Even if I could spare a megawatt or two, I don't suppose it would make the slightest difference, would it? \["Hey Buddy, Can You Spare A Megawatt Or Two?" Feb. 19, p. 24\]. I'd have to send it to California over a transmission line, which means that somebody would actually have had to build something, and building anything has been made against the law.
While conservation measures have a role to play, it's a good thing that they weren't being followed as well as you seem to advocate. If all of the roofs were already white, all lights were CFLs, and so on, the supply system would be that much smaller. With blackouts happening and no waste to cut, it would have taken a full-scale national depression and maybe a large body count (haven't some already died in blackout-triggered car crashes and the like?) in order to cram demand down into a Procrustean bed that's much more tortuous than the one in which California will sleep.
As long as we continue to have population growth, conservation as the primary solution won't be anything but a recipe for slow starvation. It seems to me that the real problem—supply—may be unsolvable short of something akin to war. Yet until and unless the crazies are put down hard, the infrastructure problems will become ever worse until their ultimate collapse, and not just with the power supply.
One obvious way to save electricity is to eliminate wasteful outdoor lighting. Americans seem to be in love with the idea of buying energy and flinging it into the sky, or into people's eyes. Astronomers have complained about this for a long time; Mount Wilson Observatory is now useless, and Palomar Observatory is threatened by city lights. During the power failure following a recent earthquake, some Californians were frightened by the Milky Way, which they had never seen before!
There are more urgent reasons to limit wasteful lighting. First, as everyone has just realized, electricity isn't free. Also, irresponsible lighting can be dangerous. Floodlights often help burglars find their way around, create dark spaces for them to hide in, and blind onlookers with the glare. Brightness is not synonymous with safety.
And, people are just now realizing that outdoor lighting can affect wildlife, notably birds and sea turtles. The environmental impact of bright night skies is just beginning to be investigated.
We use lampshades indoors, so why not outdoors? Perhaps because streetlight design hasn't gotten past the "Look, ma, we got lights!" era. People want to show off their light bulbs rather than illuminate objects. If streetlights were better designed, then we wouldn't see them at night. Instead, we would see the streets!
Michael A. Covington
University of Georgia