Friday, May 25, 2007

I have a phone!

Thanks to email and cell phones, having your permanent number disconnected isn't the disaster it once was. Still, having the new number makes me feel a lot more grounded and stable.

If I'm in your address tool of choice, please update it with the following permanent information:
+1 425 402 1608
PO Box 82441
Kenmore, WA 98028

All other information you may have is now obsolete. As always, the About Us page is the definitive source for current contact information.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

See you on the other side

Time to shut down for the upcoming move. I expect to be mostly offline until after Memorial Day, but will have access to email. That is probably the best way to reach me. For up to date contact information, please visit the About Us page.

Friday, May 18, 2007

When everyone wants to know you

There's an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine about independent musicians in the Internet era. Many of them are only able to reach an audience at all because of the Internet, but at some point the fan intimacy that made them successful becomes a huge burden. I can understand that. Ten emails a day from readers would be fantastic, but a hundred? A thousand? How do you balance that kind of load against the solitude that creativity demands?

(Link by way of 43 Folders.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Follow the money

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Tom Abate compares the fabless-foundry model in the semiconductor industry to the division between content creators and printing presses in the publishing business. It's a good analogy, even if I don't quite see why you would want to compare two industries when the general public doesn't understand either of them. Better to describe the semiconductor industry more clearly and leave publishing out of it.

Anyway, his underlying point is that the movement of semiconductor manufacturing out of the United States risks "hollowing out" the US semiconductor industry. Where manufacturing goes, he argues, R&D and the rest of it eventually follows. Unfortunately, SIA president George Scalise's suggestion that tax incentives for US fabs are the solution completely misses the underlying dynamics. As Big Steel learned a generation ago, protectionist tactics may slow global trends, but can't stop them.

A better way to look at it might be to realize that profit and growth are more important than control of specific market sectors. American metallurgists began to come back when they turned to specialty metals, like titanium. These metals are more difficult to work with than steel, so companies could differentiate themselves by their capabilities rather than their costs.

Similarly, the foundry model works to the extent that semiconductor manufacturing is commoditized, and commodity markets inherently favor the lowest cost producer. Rather than struggling to hold on to such a business, the US semiconductor industry might be better off looking for areas where technical capability is, so far, inadequate. Don't think of it as abandoning manufacturing, think of it as akin to Intel's transformation from a marginal DRAM company to an enormously successful microprocessor company.

(I keep meaning to write about these ideas for the Back Story section. That, like much else, is on hold pending the move.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Holistically redefine collaborative models with process-centric imperatives

Attention Mac users! Do you envy Windows's deep connections to the corporate world? Is your life a constant struggle to deploy paradigm-shifting modalities that maintain your facade of conformity? Suffer no more! Simply install the Corporate Ipsum Dashboard Widget, and have all the corporate lingo you could ever need at your fingertips. Freeware.

Comment Policy

With a political debate breaking out, things may be about to get heated around here. Seems like a good time for a preemptive repost of the Comment Policy:

Comments are the sole responsibility of the author. I will not edit the content or attribution of any comment, but I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason. Obscenities, personal attacks, and irrelevance to the topic at hand are the most likely reasons, but I may add others without notice as circumstances or personal whims dictate.

I'd also like to remind anyone who objects to this policy, or to the editorial policies of any other site, that the Internet is a big place. In my corner of it, I make the rules. If you don't like them, you can very easily set up shop in your own corner and make whatever rules you like there.

On the software side, Movable Type flags anonymous comments as junk and does not notify me that they've been posted. If you want to be sure your comment appears in a timely manner, sign it. Movable Type also logs the IP addresses of all commenters.

Red states, blue states, and literacy

Someone left a lengthy response to yesterday's post on literacy. My reply got too long to wedge into the comment box, so I decided to make it an independent post. You might want to read yesterday's comment for context first.

The overwhelming majority of the country was purple, not red or blue, in the 2004 election. Which is to be expected with only a 3% popular vote margin nationwide.

The literacy study didn't break things down to the level of individual publications, so there's no way to tell (from this data) whether people are reading The Nation or The National Review. Presumably a bit of both. Access to the Internet in particular means access to a vast array of opposing views, which can only help informed debate.

Even a bad New York Times article contains more facts than a good Fox News (or CNN, or CBS, or pick your favorite TV news) story. That's simply the nature of the medium. You can fit far more information into 3000 words than you can into three minutes. (Try it. Read the front page of any newspaper aloud for three minutes and see how far you get.) As for bias, well, the most recent major embarrassment for the Times involved Judith Miller's blatantly pro-administration reporting.

The statistics correlating social ills with voting are actually quite interesting. For example, Massachusetts, a blue state if there ever was one, has lower teen pregnancy, divorce, and crime rates than ultra-red Texas. That probably has more to do with other social variables than with politics, but provides at least one counter example to the claim that pro-Bush areas have fewer social ills. (Yes, some of the statistics quoted are a little old. Anyone who can find links to newer data is welcome to post them.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

People are reading after all

I knew there was something I liked about the place. For the second year in a row, Seattle topped the list of America's Most Literate Cities in 2006. So maybe my previous observation about the lack of books in Seattle homes doesn't tell the whole story. My other two favorite cities, San Francisco and Boston, came in at #9 and #11, respectively.

The political component of the survey is also very interesting. It seems to suggest that people who learn about the world through newspapers, books, and the Internet soured on Bush much earlier than people who learn about the world through television. The top 15 Kerry-voting cities ranked, on average, more than 20 places higher than the top 15 Bush-voting cities on most literacy measures.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Anyone got $600 million?

$1 per installed Watt is the holy grail for solar panel producers. At that price, payback time is about five years and solar energy becomes a realistic alternative for average users. Achieving that price requires significant cost savings: April 2007 module prices were nearly $4.90 per watt.

Yet researchers at Hewlett Packard argued, in a study funded by NREL (PDF file), that such dramatic cost savings can be achieved by any company willing to invest in large scale manufacturing, even absent major improvements in the underlying solar panel technology.

Gigawatt scale production facilities could expect to see huge savings both from more efficient manufacturing of intermediate components like glass sheets and aluminum rails, and from better equipment optimization. The equipment optimization piece is where companies like Applied Materials come in. When you sell (or buy) 100 identical systems, non-recurring engineering costs are a much less significant fraction of the total, and yield goes up.

The study estimates the capital cost of such a facility at $600 million or so (2004 dollars). That's a hefty chunk of change, but certainly within the reach of any company that can spend $3 billion for an IC fab.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Trying to multitask

Let's see. I spent one week in April traveling, and another in bed with some kind of bug. Given that, I think my total of 8550 words is actually pretty good. That gives me 53,350 for the year. I don't have high hopes for May, since I'll lose at least another week while moving. We'll see what happens.

New address

Effective May 21, our new address will be:
Thin Film Manufacturing
PO Box 82441
Kenmore, WA 98028

The phone company warns that the more effort I invest in publishing the new number, the more likely it is to change. Meanwhile, the old one still works and will forward to the new one. For up-to-date move information, including phone and courier details, please see the About Us page. All electronic contacts stay the same.