by Dan Charles, SIG Manager
WELCOME to the inaugural issue of Eureka! Read and enjoy.
I would like to thank our editor, Susan Witter, along with David Blyth, Diane Forsyth, and Laurie Nichols for investing the time and effort needed to make this newsletter possible. These people are participating at a level that makes the difference between a valued resource and just an additional five dollars of tax deduction and a résumé end note.
Our SIG name says Emerging Technology. The topics covered may include nano-technology, affordable tablet PCs, and new uses for duct tape, but our real mission is to help you become a better technical communicator through the opportunities we offer. We want you positioned to be more selective about jobs, expect a higher rate of compensation, and hold your own with decision makers and subject matter experts.
During the past several years, we have offered a list-service forum where members can go to ask technology planning type questions and share new findings with others. We now offer this newsletter as another source to share, and an additional opportunity to publish and reach an audience. More opportunities for growth, development, and success are waiting to be mined; we just need help digging them up.
Here is a list of things you can do to make a difference:
- When you stumble on to a technology new to you, share it on the list-serv at http://lists.stc.org/cgi-bin/lyris.pl?enter=stcetsig-l. (For that matter, join the list-serv if you haven’t already, by going to the above link.)
- Email Susan Witter (email@example.com) with story ideas, offers to write articles, offers to edit articles, and so on. Help make this newsletter something to look forward to.
- Gripe, suggest, question, and share anything you have to say about the Emerging Technology SIG to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), our membership director, Rachel Hutchinson (Rachel_Hutchinson@mercmarine.com), or our online survey at https://www.stcsig.org/et/survey/assessSub.asp.
Choose one, choose two, but follow through. Make your ET SIG membership something more than a tax write off and résumé item.
Dan Charles holds a BA in Writing and a BS in Electronic Media. He has been a reporter-photographer, medic, and sales representative before joining the world’s largest producer of land-based animal protein products more than six years ago. During that time he has helped deliver reference and training materials in a variety of formats ranging from print manuals to web-based training. Dan enjoys reading (nutritional labels, magazines, fiction, non-fiction, and so on. He will read any form once.) and adventure racing.
The journey begins
by Susan Witter, Eureka! editor
“WE HAVE found it!”* An editor, a mission, a name, a handful of perceptive writers, and some great topics. We’re happy to present to you the first issue of Eureka!, the forum for members of STC’s Emerging Technology SIG. My special thanks to David Blyth, Diane Kistler, Laurie Nichols, and Dan Charles for helping get this newsletter off the ground.
Here we hope to offer to you:
- Strategies for choosing applications and training that best fit your needs
- Side-by-side comparisons of new products (preferably sticking to generic features without getting too Consumer Reports-ish)
- Background on trends in technology
- Special topics on new technology across the sciences, especially how people are adapting their documentation to meet its demands.
Within this framework, we anticipate a broad range of coverage. Stay tuned!
*The translation of the Greek word, Eureka, is, I have found it! It has always been one of my favorite words, and I thank Katherine Estes for suggesting it.
Susan Witter, an independent technical communicator, runs Sound Ideas in the Pacific Northwest. She has been communicating technical information for 20 years. With an MLS (Masters in Library Science) degree from Syracuse University, Susan applies the principles of access and information retrieval to everything she does and specializes in structuring information. When not working she enjoys her family, helps her husband with their addition-remodel, and dances.
by Diane Kistler
Imagine . . .
a CPU the size of a wristwatch that operates 100 billion times faster than today’s fastest PCs. Thanks to the popularity of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), foldout wallet-size keyboards and other peripherals keep getting smaller and more powerful.
Engineers are already experimenting with pliable chips to create flexible computer screens. We may be seeing screens that fold out, fan out, project onto wearable eyeglasses, or other exciting new ideas that remain as sparks in the mind of a researcher. The big news is that some things are getting bigger, while others are getting smaller—much smaller.
Several teams are researching various possibilities to increase computer performance in memory, speed, size, cost, and aesthetics. MIT Technology Review (TR) (May/June 2000) explored several approaches. TR’s special issue of 100 most promising technologies included intriguing, fascinating articles, but the one that really grabbed my imagination was about molecular computing.
One of Intel’s founders, Gordon Moore, declared that the number of transistors that could be miniaturized onto a chip would double every 18 to 24 months. Moore’s statement was more of an engineer’s rule of thumb than a rule of physics (Rotman, 2000). We keep pushing chip technology, by various methods trying to defy Moore’s Law in order to build smaller, faster, cheaper, and more powerful computers. Miniaturizing transistors and cramming them closer and closer together has physical limits, though, and we are very close to reaching those limits. Moore’s Law may be coming to an end, unless we can overcome the physical and practical limits of transistor proximity, leaking electrons, and heat dissipation.
Computer chip limitations
The Pentium IV chip squeezes more than 40 million transistors onto a single piece of silicon. As we continue to seek more unique ways to satisfy our quest for miniaturized lightweight portable products, we face increasing production costs and nature’s physical laws. Not only is production of minute transistors exponentially expensive, the technology has physical limits as well. Transistors need room to dissipate heat and electrons have a tendency to leak and drift through barriers. Silicon chips are designed with bands of allowable drift space. When we place devices too close to each other, electrons leak energy, invading nearby devices (tunneling), and can easily misrepresent information, even when current is turned off.
When we scale down to the atomic level, rearranging atoms, we are at the nano scientific level. Nanotechnology is a broad field encompassing many types of research. Basically, nanotechnology means scaling down to less than 1,000 nanometers.
One nanometer is the size of three atoms and “ten nanometers is 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a strand of human hair.” (Neumann and Blachere, 1999). To see a graphic representation, link to the PDF brochure, Nanotechnology: Shaping the World Atom by Atom. (This PDF file takes a few moments to download due to the graphics, but it’s worth the wait.) Scroll down to page 3. The brochure explains, “The bottom of this letter “l” spans about one million nanometers.”
The Foresight Institute, ardent followers of the late Newtonian physics scholar and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, encourages nanotechnology research and provides numerous links to papers, opinions, books, speeches, and other websites.
Read the inspiring 1959 Caltech talk on nanotechnology by Richard Feynman (often referred to as the world’s greatest physics teacher).
Molecular electronics, a specialized area of nanotechnology, brings together chemistry, electronics, physics, electrical engineering, and lots of imagination. Molecules are about a thousand times smaller than the tiniest transistors.
Since 1990, Mark Reed, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Science at Yale University, and James Tour, Professor of Chemistry at Rice University, have been collaborating on molecular electronics, along with an extended team at Penn State. “If a conventional transistor were the size of a printed page a molecular component would be the period at the end of a sentence.” (Katz, 2000) Because molecules are so small and dissipate very little heat, we can pack them in close proximity.
Building chips with molecules rather than transistors offers more advantages than just size. When power is turned off, transistors can retain memory for only a few milliseconds without refreshing. That’s why we must reboot computers every time we turn them on. Conversely, molecular devices can retain information for 10 minutes or so. Ten minutes doesn’t seem like much now, but imagine the potential for improving molecular memory. Huge amounts of storage capacity could be scaled down to the molecular level.
Assembling molecular structured devices
How can molecular devices be assembled, given their diminutive size? That’s easy: on an etched metal wafer in a special solution, the molecules spontaneously self-assemble. They arrange themselves in large numbers, in perfect order, row by row, attaching themselves to the wafer. “It works beautifully – and it works every time.” (Rotman, 2000)
David Allara, Professor of Materials Science and Chemistry at Penn State, pioneered research in the area of chemical coatings and reactions to surfaces, self-assembly, and molecular memory retention. Dr. Allara’s work provides the crucial foundation for current advances in molecular technology.
Paul Weiss, Professor of Chemistry at Penn State, researches the limits of logic and memory at the nanometer scale, as well as how molecules conduct energy.
Their important contributions continue to provide valuable solutions to some very tough problems. Link to each of their sites (see SOURCES below) and explore further.
While transistor-based chips require increasingly huge and expensive fabrication facilities, we can make a year’s supply of molecular-based chips in a simple beaker. From David Allara, “You simply dip the pad into a solution and the molecules jump onto the pad.” (Chang, 2001).
Not ready for prime time
Many challenges continue to vex researchers. Although computing with molecules is promising, the technology is not ready for production. One tricky problem is that molecules do not automatically turn on and off. Hewlett-Packard, along with a UCLA research team, is making some breakthroughs in this area. The team created a molecular switch by placing a molecule between two cross wires, but the switch could not reset itself. A year later, UCLA scientists created a molecular switch using two interlocking rings that could be switched back and forth, off and on (Chang, 2001).
Can we build individual molecules to perform functions? According to Mark Reed and James Tour (Reed and Tour, 2000), chemists, physicists, and engineers have demonstrated that individual molecules can conduct and switch current as well as store information.
Mark Reed reveals his vision during an interview with Discover magazine associate editor Fenella Saunders. Here’s an excerpt:
Reed: People think very linearly, but it is the right-angle turns that really are the most interesting. Some of the uses we are going to find for these electronics systems: I think even our wildest imaginings might be too conservative.
Saunders: What excites you most?
Reed: Controlling nature, one atom at a time, and being able to get it to dance the way you want it to.
Mark A. Reed:
James M. Tour: www.jmtour.com
David L. Allara:
Paul S. Weiss: stm1.chem.psu.edu/~psw/Weiss.html
Chang, Kenneth, “Clever Wiring Harnesses Tiny Switches,” New York Times, July 17, 2001. stm1.chem.psu.edu/~psw/news/NYTimes011701MolrSwitch.html
Overton, Rick (email@example.com) “Molecular Electronics Will Change Everything,” Wired, Archive 8.07, July 2000. www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.07/moletronics.html
Reed, Mark A, and James M. Tour, “Computing With Molecules,” Scientific American, June 20, 2000.
Rotman, David, “Molecular Computing,” MIT Technology Review, May/June 2000. web.archive.org/web/20000510092940/http://www.techreview.com/articles/may00/rotman.htm
Note: This will display an overview. You must register with MIT Technology Review to access the entire article.
Saunders, Fenella, “Master of the Micro World,” News of science, medicine, and technology, Discover, September 2000.
Richard Feynman’s Caltech talk: www.zyvex.com/nanotech/feynman.html
The Foresight Institute: www.foresight.org
“Breakthrough of the Year – Molecules Get Wired,” Science, December 21, 2001. www.its.caltech.edu/~heathgrp/press/breakthrough.pdf
New Chip Technology, Science Friday, Archives November 5, 1999 (60-minute Real Audio recording). www.sciencefriday.com/pages/1999/Nov/hour1_110599.html
“Yale Research on Molecular Switches May Lead To Smaller, Cheaper Computers,” Science Daily News, November 19, 1999. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/11/991119075852.htm
Diane Kistler is a consultant technical writer. She currently serves as past president of the Metro Baltimore STC and editor of bayline, the chapter newsletter. She holds a BS in Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland, and also attended Control Data Institute for Electronics and Berklee College of Music, majoring in Arranging and Composition using the Schillinger mathematical method.
She has an insatiable curiosity about science and technology and realized her longtime dream of working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. She was a member of the Mars Observer Laser Altimeter II (MOLA-2) project, a successful ongoing mission of the Mars Global Surveyor, and also redesigned and updated the Geodesic Site Catalogue. Ms. Kistler lives in Columbia, Maryland, a suburb of the Metro Baltimore–D.C. area, sharing her home with two cats, Rudolph and Flower.
copyright 2003, Diane Kistler.
Future shock: why should I care?
by David Blyth
MY GRANDMOTHER once told me the biggest change she saw in her life was getting running hot water in her kitchen. My Dad said it was TV. I might offer mine as the Web.
It took us 10,000 years to go from flinthead axes to running hot water; and 60 years to go from hot water to the Web—less than my father’s lifetime. Each generation faced the same question: what is changing and how does it affect me?
The question is at the heart of Alvin Toffler’s trilogy. To quote Toffler himself:
Future Shock looks at the process of change—how change affects people and organizations. The Third Wave focuses on the directions of change—where today’s changes are taking us. Powershift deals with the control of changes still to come—who will shape them and how.
Let’s just look at the first book, Future Shock, which came out in 1970. Quoting Toffler again, “Future Shock…argued that the acceleration of history carries consequences of its own, independent of the actual directions of change.” Too much change can damage us.
The flip side of change is transience—nothing lasts. We’re familiar with this in our own profession: by the time we finish the document, the document is obsolete. Toffler states that the shortening development cycle in technology is the engine driving today’s change and transience. (Believing this in 1970 was not necessarily a “no duh.” ) Ideas are created, turned into reality, and distributed faster and faster.
If technology is the engine, then knowledge is the fuel. The inventions of writing let us keep ideas. Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type 4,000 years later distributed them faster. Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web 19 years after Future Shock was published just proves the point. Ideas are now distributed worldwide, virtually instantaneously.
Toffler’s prediction record is somewhat spotty. In my judgment, his observations on society are more accurate than his predictions of technology. For example, in the year 2002 gay marriage is marginally accepted, but we don’t have an underwater city. I believe that there are three factors which limit his prediction success rate:
Future Shock (published in 1970) and Powershift (1990) were written at local peaks of social and technological upheaval. The overall rate of change may be lower than Toffler expected.
Conversely, humans may be more adaptable than Toffler realized.
There’s a limit to how fast technology can distribute. First, both companies and individuals demand a return on investment. Second, it takes time to replace products, especially hardware. Third, even innovative companies can internally resist radical changes; it takes time to resolve the political differences.
But Toffler’s purview is global change, not individual predictions. He tries to look at trends. The message on that level is simply that the changes we see are far more organized than they first appear.
I don’t always agree with Toffler, but he thinks like I do. Globally. Putting together the pieces in a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Isn’t this what technical communicators do all the time? We share an equal goal with Toffler: to see how changes are connected and to learn how to control our own situations.
What I remember the most about my grandmother is her utter calmness in the face of radical change. Reading Toffler can be another way for us to gain the same power.
David Blyth has a BA in Cognitive Studies and an MA in Education. He’s also studied Physics, Literature, and History – “who we are and why.” He’s been a Technical Writer for 15 years, but says “I really write UNIX scripts to design doc systems.” He enjoys philosophy, science fiction, poetry, and games.
Keeping [some] information at bay
by Susan Witter
FOR A LONG time now, implicit in our tasks as users of technology is the sub-task of weeding out unwelcome information with as little fuss as possible. We do it daily, when we rebuff telemarketers, flip past magazine ads, change channels during commercials, and trash junk mail (whether delivered by the postal worker or our internet service provider). Now, if we surf the web much at all, we encounter yet another venue for unwanted information: the advertising pop-up.
It can arrive on our desktop simply because we chose to go to a commercial website that it sponsors, making more work for us as we try to absorb the information we do want. Though it is both highly visible and intensely irritating, the “spontaneous” pop-up only scratches the surface of tracking files trying to find us.
While specific information such as name, email, and passwords are not available to a web site, sites do have access to information such as the IP address of our computer, what browser we use, screen information, and referring URL (site we came from before visiting this site).
Recently on ETSIG-L (our list-serve), we enjoyed a refreshing discussion thread about how to foil those ubiquitous pop-ups. Here’s a summary of what surfaced.
First, a solution for the most irritating problem—pop-ups. A company called Panicware (www.panicware.com) makes Pop-Up Stopper, a free utility that stops pop-ups from opening. Once you’ve installed it, you hear an “alert” sound (which you get to choose) whenever a popup window attempts to open and is foiled. If you click on a link to a pop-up you want to open and hear that noise, you can use <ctrl> or <shift> with your mouse click to disable the stopper for this one time, allowing that one pop-up to open. From Panicware’s home page, drop down the Quick Links list, and choose Pop-Up Stopper FREE. You can also purchase upgraded versions of the product for a pittance. Those upgrades allow you to activate and deactivate pop-up control, choose audio and visual notifications, and allow pop-ups from specific sites, all right from your browser toolbar; and manage cookies, clean files, create easy Hot Link bookmarks, and remove web bugs, tracking cookies, and other dangerous files from your computer.
Another popular utility is Ad-aware from Lavasoft (www.lavasoftusa.com), a free multi-spyware removal utility that scans your memory, registry, and hard drives for known spyware components and lets you remove them safely. Lavasoft also offers Ad-aware plus, “for those who want to support us.” The suggested support fee is even more of a pittance than for the upgraded Pop-Up Stopper.
Zonelabs (www.zonelabs.com) offers ZoneAlarm for free, with for-pay upgrades structured like those for Pop-Up Stopper and Ad-aware. ZoneAlarm offers log filtering, protection from some email viruses, levels of trust, and so on.
ZDNet, www.zdnet.com, operates a worldwide network of web sites that offer content, services, and commerce opportunities that enable IT professionals and business influencers to gain an edge in business. For one contributor, this was her source for finding out about both Pop-Up Stopper and Ad-aware. An interesting side-note is that advertisements are clearly marked as such on their site.
Another ET-LISTer recommended any tools by Steve Gibson (Gibson Research Center—www.grc.com). Steve’s original DOS product, SpinRite, is still selling like hotcakes. SpinRite prevents mass storage systems from crashing or warns the user of pending catastrophe. If SpinRite is not used until after a crash, it skillfully picks up all the pieces, recovers your data, and puts everything back together again. New offerings include ShieldsUP! (which quickly checks the security of your computer’s connection to the Internet), LeakTest (which ensures that your PC’s personal firewall cannot be easily fooled by malicious “Trojan” programs or viruses), and GRC NetFilter (which “monitors all Internet activity to selectively block malicious and annoying content and prevent the abuse of the technologies which were designed to help us, not hurt us”). He also offers other utilities such as UnPlug n’Pray, ID Serve, and Wizmo. Some of these are available as freeware, and some have a modest cost assigned. Steve Gibson is a certifiable genius (check out his résumé, buried in his site), and Gibson Research Corporation is a recognized leading developer of personal computer software and significant ongoing contributor to the personal computer industry.
I thank MJ Plaster, Mark Hanigan, Diane Kistler, and Claudia Bramkamp for providing the information via the ET-LIST.
All of the logos used here are registered trademarks of their companies, and are included only to give visual association with the product(s) described.
Taking the “dis” out of “disabilities”
Special Needs SIG Seeks Support
by Daniel Voss
JUST A reminder as we creep towards the STC’s February 28 member renewal deadline: the Society’s newest SIG, the Special Needs SIG, is still looking for new members to support them in their twin mission to (1) assist technical communicators with disabilities in the practice of our profession and (2) to provide all technical communicators with information that will help them make our communication products more accessible to users with disabilities. A detailed mission statement is available at the Web site.
The SNSIG has already made significant progress: a comprehensive Web site (see www.stcsig.org/sn/index.shtml); an online newsletter (first edition is posted at www.stcsig.org/sn/newsletter.shtml); and extensive support to the 49th STC Conference, including publication of Guidelines for Persons with Special Needs and an Addendum thereto, a successful progression, and several articles in the Proceedings (conference materials available at www.stc-orlando.org/prodev/49notes/SNC.asp).
But there is much yet to do, and to accomplish it, the SNSIG needs more people. It is looking both for Active members, to join their initiatives; and Patrons, whose affiliation will help the SIG secure the budget it needs to fulfill its objectives.