09 December 2005

Fascinating. Zaphod Beeblebrox has apparently been named president of Iran. (For those who aren't Hitchhiker fans, Zaphod's role as President of the Galaxy is to distract attention from those who actually have the power.)

Posted 03:56 PM

The cab driver who took me to the airport Wednesday was listening to the hot new CD from Ghana. This inspired me to do some looking for African music on Rhapsody, and I'm now listening to a sampler.

I mention this because it seems to me that one of the underappreciated benefits of online information is the simplicity of sampling. My local music store actually has a pretty sizable African music section, but with no idea of who's who in that genre, I'm not likely to plunk down $15 for a CD. Subscription models like Rhapsody (for music) and Netflix (for movies) make it very easy to experiment. Small quantity purchasing, possible at iTunes or Amazon, is a little riskier, but still reduces the financial pain of making a bad choice.

Of course, your local ice cream shop has known about free samples forever. The difference online is that the range of goods available is enormous, and it only takes a few clicks to translate impulse into action. That's fabulous news for everyone from Vermont artisan cheesemakers to English tailors and African musicians.

Posted 02:01 PM

08 December 2005

One of the more interesting papers at IEDM this year was about a flexible braille display. Developed by Prof. Tokao Someya's group (page mostly in Japanese) at the University of Tokyo, it uses organic thin film transistors to drive plastic actuators. A device like this can bypass text-to-speech software and render a text file in braille directly, making computers far more accessible to blind users. It's IEDM paper 5.1 for those with access to the proceedings, but it doesn't seem to be online yet.

Posted 06:03 PM

Blinding flash of the obvious department. In IEEE's Institute quarterly, (PDF file, see page 16) Moshe Kam, VP of IEEE Educational Activities, observes that:

In the view of many young people, women especially, engineering represents a collection of majors that promise hard work during college, often in a tense and demanding atmosphere, with the prospect of ultimately gaining a stressful job of questionable permanence.

Put that way, is it any wonder there's an engineering shortage? Kam also points out that anyone with the intellectual wherewithal to succeed in engineering is likely to find plenty of opportunities in law, medicine, or business as well. Worth reading for anyone interested in engineering education and recruiting.

Posted 02:56 PM

07 December 2005

IEDM: 2 minute tour

I've been at the IEEE Electron Device Meeting all week. As usual, an excellent meeting, with far too much stuff to cram into a single post. Look for articles about advanced transistors in early 2006.

Still, a few trends are pretty clear:

  • Strained silicon is the industry's savior, especially at 65 nm. Gate oxide scaling has reached an end, pending the introduction of high-k dielectrics, so mobility engineering is the only route to improve performance. Strain is complicated and expensive, but it's all we've got.

  • Speaking of high-k, it isn't happening. Not at 65 nm, and I would be very surprised to see it at 45 nm. Not only is there still no consensus on the appropriate gate metal(s), but there aren't even any clearly leading candidates.

  • NiSi gates are likely to appear at the 45 nm node, and a few companies will adopt them at 65 nm. But NiSi doesn't work with hafnium dielectrics.

  • Immersion lithography is likely at 45 nm, but dry lithography appears to be adequate at 65 nm. As one person put it, "look at the ASML roadmap to see where lithography is going."

  • A whole variety of more radical enhancements seem to be on the back burner or abandoned altogether. Globally strained silicon wafers haven't delivered sufficient enhancement. FinFETs appear to be too difficult to manufacture. Fully depleted SOI wafers don't appear to be required.

  • Flexible electronics are finding a variety of real applications, from smart dressings for hospitals to tactile displays for the blind. This niche will be an interesting one to watch going forward.
  • Posted 03:14 PM


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