Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

Column Synopses

First paragraph of most recent columns and links to complete texts. For a ten year period (January 1993 -- December 2002), the Display Continuum columns were a regular feature in Information Display magazine, a publication of the Society for Information Display.

However, starting with the January 2002 column, the Display Continuum are being published electronically and are available only on this site.

Here are recent titles and short excerpts. Complete text is available for each column by clicking on date of choice.

July 2016 Twenty Two Years Later...

In December 1994, I wrote a column for Information Display magazine with the following title: "The Tour Bus with a Thousand Eyes". The theme of the column was to make some near-term predictions of what was likely to happen with Virtual Reality in just a few years. It is now twenty-two and a half years later. Is it happening yet? Let me know what you think after you read my words from over twenty-two years ago.

June 2016 Wasted Efforts…

Each and every day, I am forced to sort through several hundred incoming e-mails to find the few that are the “real” ones that I actually wish to read. The rest are various promotions or attempts to introduce viruses or malware into my computer. Many pretend to come from reputable retailers or banks but they are devious attempts to get me to click on an attachment. Since there is no way to be sure, even the legitimate ones end up being deleted.

May 2016 The Magic Box…

Do any of you remember the days when telephones were connected to each other with wires – and it was only the wealthier households that could afford a private line? The rest of us had to contend with party lines that connected two or more homes. A long distance call was beyond affordability for most people. Letters and telegrams (when the need was urgent) served as the primary communications method with friends and families in places that were often not all that far away – but still further than a local call.

April 2016 I'm Very Puzzled...

A new "Gold Rush" is on. Billions are being poured into the Next Great Technology. Of course, I am talking about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Every day we read in the popular and business press of the incredible new opportunities just around the corner, be it games, entertainment, education, business, or whatever else may come to mind.

March 2016 It Took More Than 30 Years…

It was just about 30 years ago that I was Program Chair and then General Chair of the Society for Information Display Annual Symposium. This is the technical meeting where display experts from around the world gather each year to present and listen to the latest developments in display technology.

February 2016 Virtual Reality "Really?"

The VR "gold rush" is on! This year is supposed to be the year when Virtual Reality becomes Real Reality. Venture money is over-flowing into the various start-ups that are staking out their place in what is expected to be the great new class of products. Even conservative publication like Consumer Reports are jumping on the bandwagon with a recent article titled:titled “’Reality’ as You Know It Is About to Change”. This article describes how VR will affect us in education, construction, empathy, socializing, sports, journalism, engineering, car design, and travel. Did they miss anything? Is the world as we know it about to go away?

January 2016 Raking Leaves?

While I was outside today doing my annual ?leaf relocation? project, I came to the conclusion that all leaves are not the same. So I decided that the white Christian leaves could have a nice center location in the pile I was creating in the far corner of our property. The Jewish leaves could be just off to one side. The Japanese-Maple leaves would need to be placed in a special campsite and isolated from the others. The Buddhist and Hindu leaves seemed to want a quiet spot where they could just rest in peace. And with a little extra searching, I was able to find just the right location for them. Unfortunately, the Muslim leaves would have to go back to where they came from. They should not be allowed to create potential problems for the other leaves. And then there were yet other leaves that didn?t seem to have any identification that I could discern. They just drifted about with seemingly no useful purpose whatsoever. Of course it took quite a bit longer to sort them all into these and yet other categories, but I can now assure you that the leaves are all much happier. Even the Mormon ones have found a spot away from the others and have started forming some sort of a tall structure.

December 2015 Lost Convenience…

A few weeks ago, I was on my way home to Seattle from visiting a client in the Bay Area. As I was relaxing on the airplane at the end of a busy day, I began to think about how my day had gone and how I had spent my time. Although the client was pleased with the outcome of the meeting, I had had to let them know that I would need to leave by 3:30pm in order to allow enough time to comfortably make my flight that was scheduled for 6:30pm. How did I arrive at that estimate? Well, it would take me about an hour to drive from the client’s offices in Mountain View to the San Francisco airport. Then it would take about a half-hour to check in the rental car and take the elevated train to the terminal. Then it could take at least another half-hour to check in and get through security. That would allow me roughly a half-hour safety margin for unexpected delays. The plane would board a half-hour before departure from the gate. Then there would be another 15 minutes of taxing for takeoff and finally I would spend the next one hour and 45 minutes actually in the process of traveling to Seattle.

November 2015 An Incredible Journey…

This past week, I had the opportunity to disassemble and examine a 75-inch Ultra-High Definition TV. At the 75 inch size, unpacking and handling this very large TV presented quite the wrestling match. This probably should have been a two-person effort, but over time I have learned how to handle even these large TVs by myself.

October 2015 A Future We Could Have Had by Now…

Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity and challenge to put into operation several new computers and then to make them work with new and existing printers, cameras, scanners, and various displays, including large screen televisions. And what a frustrating and time consuming experience it has been! Perhaps frustrating is even an understatement. Why should it take so much time, effort, and emotional stress to get a computer to recognize a printer and vice versa? Why do I need to hunt up a "Network Key" and enter it manually? Why do I need to struggle with a "format unrecognized" problem on a new large-screen "smart" TV? Shouldn't there be an easier way?

September 2015 And Suddenly It's 1993 -- All Over Again

In October of 1993, I wrote a column titled "Is Virtual Reality About to Become Real Reality?" In that column, I described a scenario of a home entertainment center that was set up to provide an immersive virtual reality experience. I went on to say "What better leading indicator could we have that there is high user interest and enough technology happenings for someone to publish a magazine about it?" My conclusion in October of 1993 was that, "The next several years will be very interesting because we can expect to see many new products introduced, most of which will not be commercially successful, followed by an evolution of one or a few standard platforms similar to what has happened in desktop and laptop computers."

August 2015 An Interesting Convergence…

When away from my office on travel, I occasionally like to take a look on my computer to catch up on the local news in Seattle. I will typically either access the Seattle Times Newspaper site or alternately the King5 Television station site. Both provide good coverage of local news, sports, and weather for the Seattle area.

July 2015 An Inevitable Outcome...

In a June 3rd article in the Seattle Times, the headline read "Instagram photo feed opens wide to ads". Who would have guessed? All those wonderful features touted by the social media sites are undergoing a change that was quite predictable and is now taking hold at an ever-accelerating pace. The pressure on the social media providers to continue to grow and to show increasing revenue and higher profits is now in full force. So these "free" services are finding it necessary to extract an indirect price from all users by pushing more and more advertising our way.

June 2015 A Beautiful Display…

Be it a cell phone, a tablet, a laptop computer, or a large screen TV, the display is the centerpiece of how we interact with these devices. Of course other features are important as well, but if we were to prioritize what is important I think most of us would place the display at or near the top of our list.

May 2015 With the Wave of a Hand…

Almost since the beginnings of television, we have dreamed of “hang on the wall’ displays. The CRT was bulky and although it produced good images there was always the future dream of displays that were like the artworks hanging on the walls in our homes. Many innovative approaches were tried to compress the bulk of the CRT into something thinner. Most failed. Finally, along came plasma panels and liquid crystals. Those two technologies allowed us to achieve our long-held dreams of flat-panel displays.

April 2015 The Miracle Liquid…

In the mid-60s some interesting work was done at Sarnoff Labs in Princeton that demonstrated the capability of a liquid crystal-like material to modulate light. It seemed that there might be some limited use for such a material – perhaps in simple numerical displays – possibly watches or instruments. Inherently, displays made with this new liquid were temperature sensitive, slow to respond, had poor contrast, and a limited viewing angle. The need to polarize the light in order to see the image caused significant light loss. To try to do a color display would require the addition of filters and even more light loss with less that 10% of the light getting through.

March 2015 Semi-False Prophets…

At one time or another, we have all wished that we could see into the future. On a personal level this may just be intellectual curiosity, but for many businesses it’s a matter of survival. Just ask Kodak and Radio Shack if you don’t believe me. However, even on a personal level it can be important in making career choices and perhaps planning ahead to retirement years.

February 2015 OLED vs. LCD not like LCD vs. CRT…

The CRT was the dominant display technology for nearly 100 years. There were, of course, other displays such as Vacuum Fluorescent, Electroluminscent, Projection, and Plasma. But the CRT was the “king of the hill”. As CRT technology evolved it became the only technology that could produce video images in full color. It created and dominated the television market for many decades.

January 2015 Download Overload…

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes what they are calling “The Music Comeback of 2014: Vinyl Records”.   In this past year there were 8 million of these platters produced and there could have been more if the aging equipment had been capable of making more.  How can this be?   Can’t we just get the same result with a quick  “download”?  


 

Decemeber 2014 It Happened – Finally…

It was some thirty years ago, and I was attending the annual Society for Information Display (SID) technical conference.  This conference always opens with a keynote session consisting of several presentations by industry luminaries.  The presentation I still remember was by an executive from one of the major US car companies.  His presentation focused on how electronic displays were going to replace traditional dashboard instruments.   Not only did he predict the extensive use of displays, his company brought an exhibit that showed several concepts for electronic dashboards.  There was great enthusiasm for the use of various display technologies – even “heads-up” implementations comparable to those used in military jets.

 

November 2014 It’s Been Nearly Six Months – Amaze Me…

Have we become like spoiled children with too many toys?   Are our purchasing decisions driven more by wants than needs?  This behavior has indeed come to the world of electronic products.  Soon we can expect that even six months will be too long to wait.  We will want new gratification every three months or less.  In the area of small-display electronics, this behavior of “what have you done for me lately” has already become our way of life.

October 2014 A Fantasy of Learning in 3D… 

“Just think – wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could enhance our children’s learning experiences by incorporating 3D technology into the classroom?   If only the manufacturers would get serious about this great opportunity, the world would be such a better and smarter place.  Of course it may take some effort to make this happen but isn’t it worth it?”

September 2014 Technology in Search of Art…

Many thousands of years ago, primitive man learned to use fire for warmth, cooking, and light.  As the centuries rolled by, the methods for building fires became more refined and more specialized.  Fires for cooking and warmth were no longer the same as the ones used for light.  The torches of early man evolved into candles that could be used in various locations to provide light as desired.   Soon candlelight took on sophisticated forms such as candelabras that were not only functional but also decorative even when not in use.   

August 2014 A World of Thieves and Pickpockets…

During the past week, I have been informed that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and several other well-known companies have an important position available and I have already been selected to fill it.  I have been informed that Southwest Airlines, Jet Blue Air Lines and at least one or two more have travel certificates ready for me to redeem – just click on the link.  I have been informed that virtually every major retailer, including Target and Walmart, is anxious to offer me a gift certificate -- if only I will click on the link and answer a few simple questions.  

July 2014 The Upscale Rental Car…

I didn’t ask for it.  But when offered, how could I say no?  The car I was assigned was a premium model and had every feature that one could imagine – and several that I thought would never be found in an automobile.  The day of the electronic vehicle has apparently arrived – at least in seriously upscale cars. 

June 2014 Make More Money – or Maybe Not?…

Every day I get at least one e-mail from Facebook with a list of people that I should “friend”.  About ninety-nine percent of these people I have no idea who they are or why they would want me to be their friend – or even distant acquaintance.  And conversely, why would I want them to be my “friend”?  I have no idea how they live, where they live, and what they do.  It naturally makes one wonder; why does Facebook care so much about my lack of friendships?

May 2014 A Surprising Vitality…

Over the last few years, flat-panel displays have achieved an amazing level of technology maturity as well as market penetration.  Liquid Crystal displays have taken over.  The CRT has been replaced.   Plasma panels are rapidly disappearing, and OLED is still a technology in evolution.   Consumers have mostly met their needs and/or desires for flat-panel displays in all sizes -- from the smallest cell phones to the largest televisions.  The image quality of these displays is better than we can appreciate in most applications.  So other than further price reductions and minor improvements, where do we go from here?

April 2014 A Ride into the Future…

I find myself in the fortunate position of not having to commute to and from work every day.   On those rare occasions when I have to be out on the road during rush hour, I find it difficult to accept that just about everyone else who is caught up in the traffic mess around me is having to do this each and every workday.  This seems like an incredible waste of human energy and resources.  During these daily “migrations”, what else is one to do except listen to some form of audio entertainment?  Fighting one’s way through the daily rush hour battle to get to and from work is not exactly a restful activity. 

March 2014 Accelerating Exponentially in One Dimension…

A few days ago, we dropped in at a popular restaurant for lunch.   As usual there was about a twenty-minute wait for a table.  I don’t mind this delay because it’s an opportunity to sit and relax and wind down from the morning’s activities.   In my contemplative mood, I began to watch the roughly dozen other people who were also waiting for a table.  And what do you suppose I saw?   Every person -- without exception -- was looking at the lit up display screen on his or her cell phone.   I was the only one who did not have a phone in front of my face. 

February 2014 Dreams Fulfilled…

Almost since the beginning days of television more than 60 years ago, we dreamed of and pursued the quest for televisions that would someday hang on our walls like fine-art paintings.  In the last 10 years we have realized this dream beyond our wildest imaginings.   Did anyone -- even 20 years ago -- expect that we would have flat-panel displays so large that we wouldn’t know where to find the wall space to place them?  And did anyone think that we would be analyzing these images by comparing them to the resolution capabilities of our own eyes? 

January 2014 Reality Sets In – But It’s Hard to Let Go…

Since my early teenage years, I have had an interest in photography.  It was stimulated early on when an uncle showed me how he printed black and white pictures in his modest darkroom located in the corner of a closet in a home they were renting.  I was fascinated by the process of exposing a sheet of paper to the dim light coming from the enlarger and then seeing the image appear in the developing tray.  

December 2013 Wishful Thinking…

The Christmas Holidays have evolved from traditions that date back many centuries.  While some of these traditions have roots in Christianity, others have been adopted from various European mid-winter celebrations.  The giving and receiving of gifts is one tradition that has grown over time to pretty much overwhelm all others.   Perhaps this has happened because children are such an important part of any family’s celebration and for them opening presents represents an important part of their lives.

November 2013 Dying Embers…

The glow of plasma display technology is fading quickly.  All those years of progress and ever-improving performance were not quite enough to stay ahead of the even more impressive developments that have taken place in liquid crystal technology.  Perhaps as soon as five years from now most consumers will not even remember that there was once a television with a display called a plasma panel.

October 2013 Data Tubes…

On a recent trip to my local bank, I pulled in to the drive-up window.  The open stall was the one furthest from the teller.  I took my check and deposit slip put them into the cylindrical transport tube and sent them whooshing on their way to the teller through a pipe that has differential air pressure.  Moments later I could see my check and deposit slip pop out inside the bank onto the teller’s counter.   So what’s so interesting about that?  It’s a technology that has been around for at least a hundred years.  And that is exactly what is so interesting about it. 

September 2013 The Concert…

It was a beautiful summer evening. The sun was beginning to set and the temperature was in the comfortable high 70s. One couldn’t ask for a better day to attend an outdoor concert at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery. The grounds of Ste. Michelle are park-like and reflect old-world charm. When strolling along the pathways past the chateau it is easy to fantasize being in France -- much like a visit to Versailles.

August 2013 The View Through a Window Frame…

Most of us have accepted by now the reality that 3D television has not been the tremendous success that many in the display industry had hoped to see.   It has clearly not been the “great new technology” that would have an impact on television sales similar to the transition from CRTs to flat-panel displays together with the transition from analog NTSC to digital HDTV.  In fact, 3D seems pretty much dead as far as consumer enthusiasm to go out and buy a new TV just to have this capability.  Sure, if it comes at no additional cost, no one objects.  But, day by day, it’s getting harder to find anything on a showroom floor that demonstrates what a 3D television viewing experience might look like. 

July 2013 How Much Did I Spend?…

There is a new trend that seems to be growing and spreading like a bad virus and I think I am not going to like it. 

For example, a few months ago I returned a rental car after two days of business travel and as usual I waited for the agent to print out a receipt.   However, this time I was politely informed that the receipt would be sent to me by e-mail.  My response to this offer was that I would prefer they give me the receipt right away so I can check to see if the charges match up with my expectations.  The requested receipt was printed for me and indeed there were no surprises.

June 2013 Looking to the Future – Stuck in the Present…

The incandescent light bulb has been with us for over a century.  It has served us well.  It is cheap to manufacture, uses readily available and benign materials, and gives off a pleasingly warm light.  The incandescent bulb’s biggest shortcoming is energy inefficiency in the visible spectrum.   However, that is not nearly as bad as some would make it out to be.  The rest of the energy that is not visible to us can help heat our homes in the colder months – which can be for most of the year in Northern climates.  Nevertheless, there has been a worldwide push to replace the incandescent bulb with something more energy efficient.  In the US, this push comes from a government mandate that, in effect, makes it illegal to sell incandescent bulbs of certain wattage ratings.  Over time, this mandate has been designed to broaden and encompass an ever-larger portion of the lighting product market. 

May 2013 An Unfortunate Consequence…

Printed trade publications are by now pretty much history.  And of course many other printed publications are struggling as well.  Trade magazines were and are typically free to qualified users.  This means they have to generate all of their revenue from advertising.  Before the Internet came along, companies needed the exposure that came from advertising and writing articles for these trade publications.  But now, with Internet search engines and the much lower advertising rates that electronic publications can offer, most advertisers have succumbed to the seemingly greater benefits along with lower cost of electronic media. 

April 2013 Was it HDTV?…

For several years now, the consumer electronics industry has been looking for that “next great opportunity” to create another round of consumer demand similar to what happened when HDTV came on the scene.  Some thought that 3D would have such an impact.  But it didn’t.  A few stragglers still think that consumer acceptance will happen any day now.  They are stubbornly clinging to the concept that 3D viewing will become popular – even with all its fundamental flaws that cannot be corrected by any currently known technology.  Given the realities of the marketplace, however, most television manufacturers have moved on to search for other opportunities.

March 2013 I’m Bored – What’s Next…

Have we become like spoiled children who need the continual stimulation of a new toy?  We find a new product that has been brought to market, we get all excited about it, but like with a new toy or a hit song we soon tire of what it has to offer and want yet something else to entertain us.  This desire for yet another new thing may be good for the economy but it has become a real challenge for many companies trying to out-innovate products currently on the market that are selling like the latest “hit songs”.  And of course the downside to this is that if a company does not have a broad product base, just one miss can send it into oblivion.  Keeping up with this ever accelerating pace is creating some fundamental changes in how companies do business and how they introduce new products. 

February 2013 Smart Appliances – In Search of a Problem…

With the advent of smart phones and tablet computers, we now find ourselves in the midst of a revival of the “electronic home”.  The Electronic Home concept had its birth at about the same time that personal computers became widely used as a consumer product.  Fortunately, most of us realized that connecting a home to a PC might not be such a great idea.  Since typical houses have a lifetime of roughly a hundred years and computers are lucky to last for five, having a home built in the late 80s now being controlled by an obsolete IBM PC running DOS really doesn’t make much sense, does it?  Living here in Seattle, we used to hear many stories about the mansion Bill Gates was having built on the shore of Lake Washington and how everything in it was computer controlled and automated.   I wonder how many times he has had to rip out and redo all of the electronics in his now more than 20-year old lakefront abode.  Of course for him that is not a problem but for most homeowners such obsolete and no longer useable control systems certainly would not enhance the value of their properties.       

 

January 2013 Taking Time to Appreciate…

Was Santa good to you?  Did he bring you a new tablet computer?  Or perhaps a new Smart Phone?  Or a Smart TV with a gesture-sensitive remote control?  Or a new laptop computer with both a touch-screen and a keyboard?  Or maybe a new desktop computer with the latest version of Windows?  Or did he go all out and bring you a flashy new automobile with a display screen (touch of course) that controls nearly every function in the car – as well as some that have nothing to do with the car?  Well, my Santa was not nearly as good to me.  And I am very glad.

 

December 2012 So quick to Change…

Across the street from our house is a wooded idyllic trail that runs along Lake Sammamish.  This is the perfect place to take a walk – with dog or not – to relax from a busy day of activity, to do a bit of quiet meditating, or to simply do nothing but enjoy the peaceful lake and forest canopy overhead.   It’s a blessing to have such an opportunity in the midst of busy suburban neighborhoods. 

November 2012 Fundamental Driving Forces…

Are there such “driving forces” that over time might guide and encourage the progress of developments in the display industry? 

October 2012 Back to the Future…

A few weeks ago, USA Today celebrated its 30th anniversary with a special edition that included a section on “The Next 30 Years”.  Along with this celebration they also introduced new graphics and a new layout for the appearance of the paper.  In our household, the immediate reaction to this “futuristic” look was, “what a horrible and unreadable mess” they have made of what was previously a comfortably readable and entertaining newspaper.   After trying to get used to it for a couple of days, we gave up and called to cancel our subscription.  Apparently, we were not the only subscribers to complain because they immediately offered us two weeks for free if we would reconsider.  The person on the phone said they were taking these customer responses into consideration and would use them to re-evaluate.  So much for trying to be graphically futuristic!  Why would I want to read a newspaper that looks like page after page of a non-stop infomercial? 

 

September 2012 A Fond Farewell to Home Theaters…

A house is built to last at least a hundred years.  Electronic products, on the other hand, have life cycles of typically no more than about five years.  Should we then be surprised that when we try to integrate electronic gadgets into our homes that the two may not live happily ever after?  

One good example of this is the home intercom systems that were so popular in the 1980s.   They were the “must have” item in every new moderately upscale house that was built.   But it took only a few years for them to begin to look dated and their usefulness quickly declined as other communication methods came on the scene. 

August 2012 Quicker and Easier…

The Information Society is upon us!   We have personal computers, laptop computers, tablet computers, smart phones, smart televisions, smart automobiles, and electronic readers of various kinds.  All these devices are supplemented by a plethora of places to store information -- including “the cloud”.  It seems obvious that with all these devices as our constant companions there should no longer be a need to use the old-fashioned storage medium – paper.  Should it not already be as extinct as the proverbial dodo bird?

July 2012 “Good Enough” gets better…

Readers of these columns may remember past discussions of how consumer products typically reach a stage of being “good enough”.  Once this level is reached there is little benefit for products that try to exceed these levels. 

June 2012 The New Photography…

A few days ago, I was looking through a large cabinet in my lab where I keep all my optical equipment.  Several shelves are full of 35-mm and 120-film format cameras.  They are all in near perfect condition and there are lenses of all focal lengths to go with them.  How sad to see all this meticulously constructed and carefully maintained precision equipment simply taking up space.  I think that one of these days I may return to taking photographs using film as the capture medium.  But am I being realistic or is this just wishful thinking?  I also have a complete darkroom with a wet-sink and all the chemicals for enlarging and printing photographs at least as large as 20 x 24 inches.  Is it likely that I will get back to doing darkroom work?  I look around wistfully at this ready-to-use facility and wonder if it isn’t time to just let it all go.  How sad it would be to take it all to the dump.

May 2012 Where is the Bottom?…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up!  Have I got a deal for you today!  Are you in the market for a new computer monitor?  Of course you are.  Well, I have an offer for you that you simply won’t be able to pass up.   Would you believe that I can sell you this beauty of a 20” full-color high-resolution computer monitor for just 79 dollars?  You heard me right – only 79 dollars!  I know this sounds too good to be true, but here they are.  Get yours while they last.”

April 2012 Better than 3D?...

The push to get consumers to accept 3D television continues. Market surveys tout the increasing sales and market penetration of TVs with 3D capability. But are consumers really on the cusp of universal acceptance -- or are we just kidding ourselves? When 3D is included as a feature at essentially no extra cost is that a meaningful measure of consumer acceptance and usage? Does the market data mean that the interest is really there or are we pushing something that has only marginal value at best? Perhaps it is time to admit that the need for polarizing glasses (active or passive) along with the greater than 2X reduction in image brightness, and the not-quite-right appearance of the images is something that consumers are not clamoring to have. One suggested solution has been to use some form of glassless technology but that too has major limitations. And no matter how well done, 3D images will still look strangely artificial.

March 2012 The Newspaper Wars…

Not so many years ago, Seattle was a city with two major newspapers.  The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (the Seattle PI) were both vibrant and appreciated by a wide readership in this greater Puget Sound region.  But as has happened elsewhere, subtle changes began to gradually intrude on this happy state of affairs.  One significant change was the dramatic drop in classified advertising revenue as people discovered the new and much broader marketplace known as Ebay.  Another major impact was the drop in employment ads.

Febuary 2012 Teetering on the Edge…

How far can you lean over the edge of a cliff before you lose your balance and fall off?  If you’re a foolish show-off, you might overdo your bravado and take a fatal tumble.  If you’re not quite so foolish but want to see what’s below, you might approach with more caution.  In that case you would likely not have a problem unless an unforeseen event occurs such as a rock that is not as solid as you thought and gives way under your feet.  Or maybe you just have a momentary dizzy spell, or a gust of wind suddenly comes up. 

January 2012 Unexpected Changes…

As one can readily see by observing the many failures of those who try,  predicting how technology will change our lives in the years to come is a devilishly difficult task.  One must not only be able to assess which technologies will be successful, but must also be able to unravel the even more challenging puzzle of how people will accept and decide to use the new capabilities that technology can offer. 

December 2011 Not a Creature Was Stirring…

Soon it will indeed be the ”Night before Christmas” and for all of us there will be a short and well deserved lull from the frenzied activities that took place to prepare for another Christmas morning.   What will Santa bring you and your family this year?  How many minutes will it take to open all the presents that have been so carefully prepared?   Will everyone enjoy the moment or will they quickly rush to their iPhones and spend the rest of the morning texting their friends?   And how about you?   What will be the most important activity of your Christmas morning?

November 2011 Business Cards…
In my desk, I keep a box with business cards that I have accumulated from various encounters over the years.  As new ones have been added to the front of the stack a chronological order has evolved.  A few days ago, I had occasion to add a few newly acquired cards to my collection.  Since the box was getting quite full, I decided to look back at some of the older ones to see what memories they might hold. 

October 2011 Push Marketing…
A few day ago, I read an article by a well-known display industry analyst who concluded that if anyone is still doubting the future success of 3D technology then they haven’t been paying attention because “that train has already left the station”.  Well, I may be one of those who didn’t get to the station on time because I continue to be a skeptic.  Maybe I’ll have to catch the next one, but will it be another train in 3D? 

September 2011 Who Would Have Guessed?…

For a moment or two, take yourself back to the early 1970s when we were all looking forward to the next Apollo mission taking men to the moon.  We watched our televisions with great fascination and excitement as those first human beings were walking and then riding around on the Moon’s dusty surface.

August 2011 Lost Convenience…

Seattle used to have two major daily newspapers.  They were natural competitors and worked hard to deliver an excellent product and provide excellent customer service.  However, as happened in many other metropolitan areas, over time these newspapers began to struggle to stay financially viable.  Soon, as advertising revenue continued to drop, the struggle became one of basic survival.  The classified ads that had for many years been a major source of steady income went away to the land of electronic communications. 

 

July 2011 Cloudy with a Chance of Information Rain…

Suddenly, “Cloud Computing” seems to be bursting out everywhere.  The basic concept has been drifting around for some time, but recently the computing skies have been darkening for an apparent gathering downpour.   What do these information clouds really hold?  Some info-casters say they will soon store all the information that our desktop and laptop computers currently store.  But why would I want to pay someone to store all the information that my local little-bitty cloud can currently store for free?  Do I want the extra assurance that this big cloud in the sky is somehow more reliable than my local cloud?  However, I’ve already given my own little cloud a companion backup cloud in case something goes awry.  Frankly, I’ve never found a good reason to trust those big puffy corporate information clouds drifting by.  They too can have their vagaries of when and how they respond to my requests for information rain or when they choose to pretend not to know anything at all about me.

 

June 2011 IF ONLY – in Stunning 3D

Perhaps you have heard or read some of the following:

“We need to come up with the next great technology advance to sell a whole new generation of flat-panel TV’s.” 

“3D TV will be the answer – if only we didn’t have to put up with those heavy and expensive active shutter glasses.”

“3D TV with passive polarizing glasses is the answer – if only we could find a way to not need glasses at all.”

“3D TV with auto-stereo is the answer – if only the viewer didn’t have to sit in a particular location to see the 3D effect.”

“3D TV with perfect auto-stereo is the answer – if only the image would show parallax shifts like a real scene as the viewer’s head changes position.”

“3D TV is the answer to achieving immersive reality – if only the image focal plane would shift with the object’s position.” 

If only we could do all this, then indeed we might be on the way to having the great technology advance that leads the way to a generation of new display products; the technology that make consumers want to rush out and replace their existing flat-panel TVs and computer monitors. 

.

May 2011 A Future Full of Surprises…

For a moment or two, let’s take ourselves back about fifteen years to the middle ‘90s, and let’s pretend that our job is to try to predict what new technologies and products will be available in 2011.   If we are correct, we will become rich and famous.  However, if we miss, we will also be rich and famous because we will write books about how computers will soon be smarter than humans and how we will achieve immortality by 2020 because of medical technology advances.  So even though there is no way to lose at this game, let’s give it a try anyway.

April 2011 To Love a Gadget…

Isn’t it great to see how many people have fallen in love with their smart phones?  They take them to bed each night and say goodnight to their phone as they are drifting off to sleep.  They greet their phone first thing in the morning as they are waking up.  And during the day they take it along wherever they go.   During their travels as soon as the plane lands they rush to get it out and gently caress the touch screen to elicit the latest messages.  They walk down the street so intently engrossed in the colorful images that they forget where they are and sometimes wander into oncoming traffic.  With such an all-encompassing and intimate bond can there be a love any stronger than this?    

 

March 2011 Whatever Happened to?…

Do you still read conventional printed newspapers?  I do and I find the Sunday editions especially interesting for all the extra inserts such as the supplemental magazines, comic strips in color, and the many colorful advertising brochures.  Surfing the Internet just does not create the same feel of random discovery that comes from browsing through all of this wonderful promotional material that helps pay for the rest of the paper.  Two insert categories that always catch my interest are, of course, anything to do with electronics or photography.  

 

February 2011The Soccer Ball…

Some years ago, I became involved in youth soccer, first as a coach and then as a referee.  Coaching, I didn’t like all that much.  However, refereeing suited me much better because the non-stop running allowed me to burn off the stress and tension that a competitive environment naturally engenders.  My first on-the-field experiences were with seven and eight year-old beginning players, but as the years went by I found myself working high school and then college games.  Eventually, I was qualified to referee at all levels including the adult competitive leagues.  And although some players may have disagreed, I think I achieved a decent level of competence. 

January 2011 The Christmas Piano…

Did Santa bring me a piano for Christmas this year?  Well, no.  We already have a very nice grand piano that I should play more often than I do.  However, what Santa did suggest was that we take this ordinary grand piano and make it into a “Christmas piano”.  So what we did was to decorate the top surface with a red and green quilt and three small statues of the wise men.  We then placed just a few presents nearby.  This was in lieu of the traditional decorated tree and other Holiday ornaments.  This new approach to Christmas was really very simple and elegant, but would perhaps be perceived as a bit too austere for most other folks.

 

December 2010 It’s Not Like HDTV…

Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming -- and the rush is on to create the next major consumer buying opportunity.  For the television market, many predict that the “next big thing” will be 3D.  Major manufacturers are working hard to get products to market. Their marketing departments are working overtime to create enthusiasm among consumers so they simply must rush out and acquire this exciting new technology.  The expectation is that 3D will be the next wave just like it happened with HDTV.

 

November 2010 The Modern Day Vacuum Tube?…

Do you still remember television sets with vacuum tubes?  Of course the CRT is a large vacuum tube and is only now disappearing from the scene.  But that is not the kind of vacuum tube that I have in mind at the moment.  I’m thinking of the ones that were replaced by transistors and then integrated circuits. 

 

October 2010 From Another Planet…

It was a late fall day in Washington DC.  I was taking a taxi back to my hotel.  It had been a productive but tiring day.  It was definitely time for some quiet time and peaceful contemplation.  Dusk was beginning to settle in as we slowly bumped our way along in the rush hour traffic.  I began to observe the rows upon rows of windows through which I could now see the typical desks and cubicles where people spent their working days.  Most were empty by now.  The overhead fluorescent lights illuminating these abandoned workspaces, still piled high with various documents, created a stark and lonely scene.

September 2010 No Time to Think…

A few days ago, I was out for a run on a scenic tree-lined trail that meanders along the shore of Lake Sammamish.  It’s a wonderful place to enjoy nature’s solitude with views of the lake, native vegetation, and Mt. Rainier off in the distance – and, yes, intermixed there are also houses and driveways.  However, for a densely populated suburban area this is about as good as it can get.   As one might expect, others also take advantage of this idyllic setting.

August 2010 The Hammer and the Nail…

I’m sure that you have heard the folk wisdom that “to a hammer everything looks like a nail”.  That saying is typically intended to apply to those whom we perceive to be of a narrow minded nature or stuck in their traditional ways of doing things.  But could such an unintended narrow viewpoint also affect the development of interesting new products?

 

July 2010 The Picture Phone…

The Picture Phone – it’s finally here!  It took fifty years but the future has at long last arrived.  My goodness, what took us so long?  Bell Telephone had the idea way back in 1956 and built the first laboratory test system that year.  By 1964 a more complete experimental system was far enough along to do public demonstrations.  The expectation was that soon the Picture Phone would become a widely used enhancement to regular voice calls.

 

June 2010 The Green Paradox…

We live on a planet of finite size and predictably limited resources.  If we run out, there is realistically nowhere else we can go to get “more stuff”.  We have known this for many years.  Thus, in order to accommodate our growing population we have to be careful how we use our available resources and we also have to be careful that we don’t destroy or poison the very space that we will need for our survival. 

May 2010 Hidden Agendas…

Wouldn’t it be great if we could foretell the future -- especially if we’re at a company trying to develop the next great display technology?   Being able to know well ahead of time what products consumers will fall in love with and “simply won’t be able to do without” would most likely provide us with an insurmountable competitive advantage.  But if we were indeed able to know what’s in our future, wouldn’t that mean that we can’t do anything to change it?  That would leave us as helpless observers of predestined events.  And that, to me, doesn’t sound like an interesting way to go through life.

 

April 2010 Do You Know What You’re Watching?…

It’s been some time now since -- willingly or not -- we all went through the conversion to digital TV.  This changeover coincided nicely with the rapid growth of flat-panel televisions and the correspondingly rapid demise of the CRT.   So the end result should be that now when we turn on our new large-screen flat- panel televisions we should be presented with gorgeous digital High-Definition images.

 

March 2010 Remember Virtual Reality?…

In October of 1993, I wrote a column titled “Is Virtual Reality About to Become Real Reality?”.  The column was written to assess the state of this developing technology that was predicted to become the new way that we would interact with our computers – especially for playing video games.  The concept was that we would all be wearing video headsets with motion sensors that would immerse us in the video game or any other viewing experience.  The headsets would give us full stereo (3D) vision and the head motion sensors would allow for the presentation of images corresponding to where we were looking so that we could fully immerse ourselves into the viewing experience.   As my column then observed, there was even a recently introduced magazine exclusively dedicated to this new medium. 

February 2010 Lost in “Feature-land”…

About a month ago, I brought home a new advanced-level digital camera. 

But, before proceeding, I should explain that photography has been in my blood since I was in grade school.  My first camera, when I was about 9 years old, was a folding bellows type that had a simple viewfinder, one shutter speed, and a two-position aperture.   In later years this modest beginning blossomed into an arsenal of 35 mm and 2 ¼ format cameras along with various wide-angle and telephoto lenses.  A darkroom with color developing and printing capability followed.  But acquiring equipment was never my primary goal.  The capabilities that were added were always in the quest for better image quality and the ability to capture photographs that could compare to those done by photographers even more dedicated to this art. 

January 2010 What’s Next?…

Sometimes the future is easier to predict than at other times.  A decade ago, while I was serving a two-year term as President of the Society for Information Display, I gave a number of display industry overview talks at SID conferences.  It was with considerable confidence that I predicted the growth of flat panel displays based on LC and Plasma technologies and the gradual demise of CRTs.  My predictions were not just educated guesses.  They were based on an analysis of the solid progress that was being made in the materials used for these displays and by noting the plans that the large Pacific Rim corporations were beginning to implement for the manufacturing scale-up of larger substrates.  In addition, there was rapid progress being made in refining and improving the image quality of the flat panels that could be produced with both LC and Plasma technologies.  Thus, it was not all that difficult to predict where the next decade would take us.  

December 2009 How Will We Remember?…

This morning I stood in front of my bookshelf and pondered.  Hmmm…  I was looking for something optics related.  It was in the general area of how light behaves in non-linear media.  Not having a precise idea of what I was searching for I didn’t quite know where I should begin.  A book that had been used as a text for one of my courses in graduate school soon caught my attention.  A cursory browsing through the pages quickly led me to several topics of interest.  As I perused, I began to recall some of the lectures and general concepts that had been taught in that course – quite a number of years ago.  Soon I was engrossed in a review of the topic of my current interest and the foundational concepts that were going to prove of great help in putting it all into proper context. 

 

November 2009 They Converged – Unexpectedly...

It seems like a long time ago – and yet it’s not so very long ago. Can you remember when your PC was mostly a word processor and a spread sheet creator, with maybe a few simple games thrown in for good measure? Then along came Windows 3.1, e-mail, and subsequent versions that added to and enhanced these basic capabilities.

 

October 2009 You Can’t Get There from Here…

Perhaps you have heard the story of the young man who stops his car along a small country road somewhere in New England to ask for directions from a crusty old farmer repairing his fence.  After a thoughtful pause, the farmer replies with a tone of finality, “Well son, you just can’t get there from here."

 

September 2009 Bump… Oh, excuse me.  Thump… Whoops.  Crash…

The above was the title of my column published in September 1997 in Information Display magazine.  The column opened with the following:  “The sounds you have just heard are those of the Information Society in full operation just a few years from now.  They are the sounds of errant information packets colliding with stationary objects, moving objects, and with each other.”

 

August 2009 Information Communication…

A few years ago, some innovative engineers among us must have decided that technology “convergence” was a good thing, and therefore, we should try adding a digital camera to a cell phone.  At the time, to most of the rest of us, this seemed like a really dumb idea.  Digital cameras were already compact and easy to carry about.  Cell phones were pretty good at making phone calls – although not as reliably as those with landlines.  So why would anyone want an inferior low-resolution digital camera as part of their cell phone?  If you want to talk to someone, use a phone.  If you want to take a photograph, use a camera.  Why combine these two distinctly different activities?  

 

July 2009 The $1000 Jar of Jelly…

A few years ago my wife and I were shopping for plants at a nursery to add to our ever-evolving landscape.  And by evolving what I really mean is that some plants unpredictably grow more and faster than expected while others don’t seem to do nearly as well – and for seemingly no good reason at all -- expire.  Among all of the decorative plants we were perusing at this large nursery there was one little bushy one that caught my eye – a red currant.  Now why would I want one of those?  Well, perhaps because it is a very well known and appreciated plant in my birthplace of Latvia.  There they are called “June berries” because that’s when they bear their incredibly bright red and perfectly round little berries that are attached to stems in row upon row like miniature ruby-red pearl necklaces.  A nice reminder of my heritage I decided. 

June 2009 Lost in the Noise…

Delete, delete, delete… Take a quick look, delete...  Another quick look, another delete…  Oh, here’s one that needs to be read…  Perhaps this next one I will get to later…     

And so it goes.  The electronic din is growing louder by the day.  My automated spam filter dumps nearly 500 messages each day.  But at least 50 junk ones get through anyway – on my e-mail service especially if they are in French.  But even those that may have a potentially useful message are mostly deleted because there is no time to read them.  Other more pressing e-mails are already coming in -- demanding an answer. 

 

May 2009 How Much Better?…

Tonight I am enjoying a few hours of quiet time in a well-known hotel in the heart of Washington DC.   The “travel sprites” have been especially kind to me on this trip since I have been given a suite that typically costs considerably more than the rate I am paying.  Because of this fortunate happenstance my accommodations are especially plush and pleasant and I am sure that I will be reluctant to leave these luxurious surroundings in a few days.

 

April 2009 We’re Not There Yet…

At the end of May, display engineers from all corners of the globe will gather in San Antonio for the annual SID Display Week.  There the newest research results will be presented and the latest progress in display technologies will be showcased.  Perhaps we will see an increasing use of LED backlights, higher frame-rate LCDs, and further progress in OLEDs, flexible displays, and pico-projectors.  And maybe there will be a few surprises. 

March 2009 Now, it looks so much easier…

It has taken us over forty years to achieve dominance with flat-panel display technologies.  Along the way, there were serious doubts that we would ever get there.  Only a relatively few years ago, the conventional wisdom within the display community was that LC displays would only be able to be made in sizes up to about 20 inches and that the larger size television displays would have to be either plasma panels or rear projection systems.   How wrong that turned out to be. 

February 2009 A Family's Evening Out -- In the Year 2024...

Jeff was happy to be turning into his driveway after another typically busy day working for a large electronics module company. Commute traffic had been heavy, as usual, and the last few years at work had been especially difficult with the demands being made by management to improve the capabilities of the latest micro-modules. The growing acceptance of these miniature plug-in modules, popularly known as "knowledge cubes," had really made his electronic packaging skills vital. It wasn’t much of a surprise that these hardware modules had, over the last few years, become the robust replacements for what had previously been done with downloaded software that had become ever more susceptible to viruses and hackers.

January 2009 It Can’t be Fixed…

Christmas has come and gone – all too quickly as usual. Was Santa Claus good to you? Did you receive a few new electronic gadgets and gizmos? Have you been able to uncover all of the multi-level menus and unravel all of the “features” built into these electronic wonders? If you have, you are in a very small and exclusive minority.

December 2008 Could This Be the Answer?…

As a reader of these columns, perhaps you have already noted that on several occasions I have expressed doubts about the anticipated commercial success of electronic books. In my travels, I have seen only a few in actual use and it’s not at all clear to me what compelling advantage they have or what existing problem they solve. A conventional book has always seemed much better suited to the cramped environment of an airplane -- or even as a comfortable object to curl up with in front of the proverbial fire on a dreary winter day.

November 2008 A Lesson from History…

It can be very beneficial to be able to predict the future. It makes business decisions ever so much easier. It makes career choices less risky. And it should improve the utilization of engineering resources. Why, for example, would any of us want to work on a technology that is doomed to never make it into a practical application?

October 2008 Finally, I Saw One…

For many months now, we have heard about a new product so popular and so in demand that it is, most of the time, “sold out”. Given such popularity one would expect to begin to see this item in widespread use. Since the key feature of this product is a new display technology, it’s natural that we in the display industry would have a keen interest in following its success. The product to which I am referring is, of course, the new electronic book reader from Amazon – the Kindle™.

 

September 2008 Elegant Simplicity…

A few days ago, I went to the store on a very simple errand -- I needed some shampoo and toothpaste. Now, I’m not a connoisseur of either of these items but I do know what brand is my favorite in each. A secondary goal in performing such errands is to accomplish them as quickly as possible. Thus, my expectation was that this task would take no more than a few minutes to locate the items and head for the check-stand. Ah, but life was about to throw me an unexpected and complicating curve.

August 2008 The Bumpy Road to Success – or – Avoiding the Potholes of Failure…

It took LCD technology roughly forty years to overtake CRTs for television applications. It took Plasma Display technology nearly as long. Now, the latest exciting display technology vying for a place in the television and computer display marketplace is OLED. But it too has now been in development for roughly twenty years. Along the way there have been many other attempts to develop new display technologies that either failed entirely or found more limited product applications. For example, the Texas Instruments DLP technology has done well as the light engine in conference room projectors. LEDs had, until recently, found only a modest market for large stadium displays and for a few electronic billboards. Other technologies such as inorganic EL and the various attempts at Field Emission Technologies have not yet become major commercial successes in spite of many years of serious effort.

July 2008 Are We Forgetting Something?…

We have entered the era when “green is in”. The elimination of toxic materials and the savings of energy have become important consumer issues. For us in the display community this trend started rather quietly some years ago with the push to eliminate Lead-based solder in circuit boards. Then someone noticed that CRT glass has Lead in it as well. So even though the Lead is chemically bound up well enough to be used in wine glasses and decanters, with no harm to users, the implication was that somehow this heavy metal could leach out and get into the environment -- and that this too was a “bad thing”. Then we were told that we should eliminate materials such as Cadmium, and more recently Mercury. In all of this earlier modest activity there did not seem to be any great urgency and consumers were certainly not making buying decisions based on which materials – or not – were used in televisions, display monitors, or other display-based products.

 

June 2008 A Look in the Mirror…

This morning I looked into a parallel universe that seemed very much like the one in which we find ourselves. As best I can tell, it’s populated by beings just like us and all the observable features appear to be precise duplicates of what we have here on earth. The large window through which I was looking showed a room just like the one I was in and on the other side looking back at me was someone who I would swear was my identical twin. My twin was able to replicate my every movement and stayed in front of his window for precisely the same amount of time as I stayed in front of mine. The only peculiarity I could detect was that the people in this other universe had their left and right hands mixed up – or maybe I’m the one who didn’t have it quite right. I tried to have a conversation with my other-world twin, but unfortunately I could only see his lips moving. The window into this parallel universe apparently blocks all sound. However, other people who moved in and out of the room I was observing also seemed to have identical twins in the world on my side of this window.

 

May 2008 So Wrong, and Yet So Famous…

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to see into the future?  No, I’m not thinking about the fortune-telling kind of predictions, but the more general understanding of how technology will evolve and how our lives will change as a result.  From a personal standpoint, this could be beneficial because we would know what to expect and could adjust our behaviors accordingly – or not.  From a business standpoint, it could be a significant competitive advantage to know which technologies will succeed and which will struggle. 

April 2008 The Power of a Story…

For even the most ambitious and work motivated among us, there comes a time when reading another technical journal or working on another e-mail becomes simply too much.  For me that sometimes happens after a long day of on-site consulting work while taking the last evening flight back to Seattle.  The last leg from Denver, or Chicago, back to Seattle can be the toughest part of the entire trip.  It is then when one begins to wonder how to spend those last few, exceedingly long, hours.

March 2008 Try and Try Again – Part II, In 3D

In the January column, we examined two products that seem to be in the “try and try again” category, namely the e-book and the tablet computer.  Then recently, I came across an announcement that literally shouts to be added to this category – the formation of a consortium to promote 3D for home entertainment.  Can it be?  Will we soon be watching TV in our homes in 3D? 

February 2008 And Then I Got Distracted…

It’s the 10th of January and, after a very early morning flight, I am now in Las Vegas.  I have joined the roughly 140,000 others to see how much I can see in one day at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show.  More specifically, I’m here to try to see the latest display product offerings.  But I am also here to try to understand why well over a hundred thousand people flock to this event each year.  I don’t expect any great surprises, but I do want to make a comparison of the CES with the smaller, but technically more sophisticated, SID Symposium.  

January 2008 If At First You Don’t Succeed…

The traditional version of the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”.  The expectation is, of course, that such persistence will pay off in eventual and well-rewarded success.  However, some time ago I heard another version of this saying that is perhaps equally valid, “If at first you don’t succeed, give up -- no sense making a fool of yourself”. 

December 2007 Speak to Me, Greta…

“Keep right, take the next exit, then turn right.”
“Continue for 200 feet, then turn left onto Main Street.”
“RECALCULATING!”.
“Turn right and continue for 100 feet, then turn right onto Main Street”.
“RECALCULATING!”
“Turn left, continue for 100 feet, then turn onto Main Street”.
“Approaching destination.”

“Thank you, Greta. My apologies that I was in the wrong lane and couldn’t get over in time to make the turn as you instructed.”

November 2007 Technology Momentum…

One of my memorable experiences from the time I spent in Princeton was standing on the platform at the Princeton Junction train station and watching the Amtrak Metroliner trains come blasting by at full speed.  The platform at Princeton Junction is quite close to the tracks so one gets to experience the full effect of a massive locomotive going roughly a hundred miles per hour.  The Shinkansen trains in Japan also produce this same sensation of unbridled power as they hurtle through stations just a few inches from the platform. 

October 2007 Technology Asymptotes…

Recently, I read an article about an exploratory effort in Japan by NHK to develop a new higher resolution television system.  The NHK Super Hi-Vision system is designed to deliver images with 8K x 4K resolution with a 16:9 aspect ratio.  As explained in the article, the objective is to be able to have a 100-inch display and not have the individual pixels be visible from a distance of one meter.  Wow!   Will we really be able to appreciate such spectacular images given that the current HDTV system is already better than the practical resolution of film images we have become so accustomed to seeing in movie theaters?   Pondering this led me to contemplate the broader question of whether there are limits when we no longer have the need or desire to push for further improvements – or perhaps the product is already so good for its intended purpose that we will not pay for anything better.     

September 2007 Flip Flops...

It was an early evening at a major airport somewhere in the continental USA.  After a long day of working with a client, I was tired – too tired to do anything else except anticipate getting on the airplane for my flight home.   The thought of doing more work-related reading or even something not quite as demanding was, frankly, beyond my capabilities at that moment.  Given that condition of mindless weariness, there is not all that much that one can do except sit and wait for boarding time to arrive.   Thus, I began to observe the people around me.  Some were similarly just sitting and waiting, other aimlessly wandering the concourse, and yet others rushing to try to make a delayed flight connection. 

August 2007 Modern Conveniences…

We are entering a grand new world of intelligent devices.  Cars that park themselves, appliances that do everything except insert the food into our mouths, and computers that give us near-instant access to nearly all the world’s knowledge.   Who would have thought, even just a few years ago, that we would be able to capture images of wherever we are and whatever we are doing and instantly and effortlessly transmit them to our friends and family.  Well, maybe not entirely effortlessly just yet, but that time will also soon be here.  The path into the next decade is set for us to be presented with products having ever more intelligence – devices created to do the thinking for us.

July 2007 Wearable Electronics…

There was a time in the not too distant past when the status symbol for a busy executive was to have a “car phone”.  This show of executive prowess was evidenced to the rest of us not-so-important managers by receiving calls from such higher-level executives as they traveled from location to location.  Then gradually, in the late ‘80s, the car phone became more common and affordable so that some of the rest of us could also get one as a show of our presumed importance and our need for location-independent communications. 

June 2007 A World Full of “Features”…

I have a cell phone that came with a ninety-page instruction manual.  It has a built in camera and lots of sophisticated “features” for storing phone numbers, various shortcuts for dialing, text messaging, and of course taking photos.  Of the ninety-pages’ worth of instructions, I regularly use maybe three.  For me it’s a phone, not a camera or an Internet appliance.  I haven’t taken the time to enter other people’s phone numbers or acquired any special ring tones. 

May 2007 It’s Not Working – Toss It…

Do I hear $275?  I’m bid $250, do I hear $275?  Going once at $250 -- Anyone for $275?  Going twice at $250.   Do I hear $275?   Going once, going twice, sold to the gentleman holding number 351 for $250.  

And so it was that the gentleman holding #351 took home a cart-full of computers.  Not just one computer, mind you, but 20 of them.  Similarly a number of other “lots” of computers stacked onto large roll-around storage carts were disposed of at this auction.   These computers were perfectly functional and only a few years old.  Nevertheless, their owners deemed them obsolete and ready for disposal.  They weren’t even considered suitable for resale on the used equipment market.  And I suppose that was reasonable, since the necessary software was most likely not included. 

April 2007 Adapt or Vanish…

One Saturday morning, a few weeks ago, I stopped in at a Seattle coffee shop that is renowned for the quality of its doughnuts and the selection of its specialty coffees.  This specialty doughnut/coffee shop is located in one of the older residential neighborhoods close to the core downtown area.  As such, it attracts the younger professionals who rent or own the apartments and condominiums that are the norm for this part of the city.  For these folks, a Saturday morning walk to get a cup of coffee and doughnut is a wonderful way to start the weekend.   The atmosphere in this shop has the feel of an old bookstore that is especially conducive to sitting for a while and just enjoying the pleasant smells of the steaming coffees and fresh pastries.  On a typically Seattle overcast day, this all creates a mood suitable for quiet and restful contemplation.

March 2007 And Suddenly it Stopped…

Joe was a man of modest means.  He lived in a modest home in a small community on the outskirts of a larger Pacific Northwest city.  Since his retirement from working in a paper mill, he and his wife of many years got by mostly on their monthly Social Security checks.  Their main source of entertainment was an older television set that was the centerpiece of their small but comfortable living room.   Each morning, Joe turned on the television shortly after they had had their breakfast and the TV stayed on for most of the day until they were ready for their daily late afternoon outing into town.  They enjoyed watching the game shows and their favorite “soaps”.   Their lives were not inspiring by most standards, but they were adequately comfortable with what they had.

February 2007 Shifting the Burden…

What good are bits when I need atoms!   It has not been all that many years since certain leading proponents of “computers for everything” pronounced that the world was in the midst of a fundamental shift from working with atoms (in the form of paper) to bits (in the form of computer data).  Those were the heady days of the paperless office about-to-arrive.   Of course, now we know that it didn’t exactly turn out that way.   Today we create more paper than ever. 

January 2007 The Game is Over – The Computers Won, Humans Lost…

We should have seen it coming, but the changes were so gradual and so subtle that it all happened without us taking much notice.   However, we cannot ignore the outcome any longer.  We humans have lost this game -- big time. 

Here’s what happened to me today to make me realize that the computers no longer find it necessary to hide their victorious plot.

December 2006 Santa Claus and the 3-D Disconnect…

3-D is coming!  3-D is coming!  We’re finally going to have all of our movies in 3-D!   At least so goes the self-serving promotional excitement among some display industry forecasters as well as entertainment industry gurus.  But didn’t we go through all of this once before about fifty years ago?  What’s different this time? 

Is the quality of the images so much better?  Is polarization technology now so superior?  Yes, the projected image quality is better, and no, polarization technology has not changed much at all. 

November 2006 What If You Could Have?…

What if you could have a laptop computer that was ready to use the moment you turned it on?  What if this laptop used so little power that it could operate for several days with no recharging?  What if this laptop had a display that you could easily read outdoors in full sunlight?  And what if you could buy such a product for around $150?  

October 2006 The Joy of Modest Means…

Jeff was a man of modest means.  He had a steady job, but it did not pay all that well.  He had a loving wife and two pre-school children.  They lived in an apartment in a typical suburban neighborhood.  They were comfortable but finances were always something they had to watch and manage with care. One day their 20-year old television -- that Jeff had purchased second hand for a very modest sum through a want ad in the Sunday paper -- gave out. 

September 2006 A Quiet Walk on the Beach...

Tonight, I went for a walk on the beach. Sally was with me and we held hands as we walked. We talked some, but not all that much. The sun was setting and the ocean was calm. A few other people were out doing the same. But there was lots of empty space for everyone to enjoy, and the peaceful mood of the setting sun was in control. The summer evening was cool, as is usually the case on the Oregon Coast. The coastal mountains on the opposite side added a certain intimacy to the openness of the broad sandy beach. The various homes and lodges that populate this section of the coast were beginning to glow in the dusk. Driftwood fires and the people huddled around them added to the romantic mood. During our walk, for us, the world was at peace.

August 2006 We’re All Thumbs – and That’s Good...

On a recent cross-country flight, I happened to be sitting across the aisle from a lady of rather large stature. No, I don’t mean that she was overweight – she was simply quite large in comparison to the typical Caucasian female. She was well over 6 feet tall and of large bone structure to go with her extra height. As our trip progressed, I found it difficult not to watch her as she worked on answering various messages that were stored in her Blackberry communicator.

July 2006 Could E-Paper Actually Turn Out to be Useful?…

Today, it is a beautiful sunny summer day here in Seattle. The temperature is in the high seventies and a few white puffy clouds are drifting by. Lake Sammamish is already at a nice temperature for water skiing. And what am I doing? I am sitting at my desk in my office writing this column. The view out my window is nice enough, but wouldn’t it be even nicer if I could be sitting by the lakeshore while I do this enjoyable task? That would make this the truly perfect day.

June 2006 Where Will it End?…

A few weeks ago, I arrived at the Atlanta airport after a busy day of meetings. It was late in the day and I was getting seriously hungry. Since I had only a few minutes before boarding my flight -- and knowing that I would not be getting anything more than a tiny bag of salty pretzels for the next four hours -- I decided to get a quick hamburger. All I wanted (and had time for) was a simple hamburger with no onions and no cheese. I walked up to the Burger King counter, and to my surprise, I was greeted with -- “new technology.”

May 2006 A Flash of Brilliant Light…

The dictionary defines the word “brilliant” as 1) sparkling, very bright and 2) as distinguished by qualities that excite admiration. Could we possibly come up with something that encompasses both of these meanings? And could that something be the next great opportunity for a new class of consumer products that rely on display technology?

April 2006 Change is Subtle – and Sneaky…

Just about every new technology start-up has -- somewhere in its business plan -- a description of the “disruptive technology” it is about to introduce. The idea behind this, of course, is that when the new products based on this technology are introduced they will “disrupt” whatever technology or product is already out there and lead to great success for the new company. This will, conversely, cause great consternation for those companies already in business – basically it will “blow them out of the water”. Technology prognosticators and futurists also seem to be in a never-ending competition to be the first to predict the next significant disruptive technology.

March 2006 Help, Quick, Before it’s too Late…

Or is it too late already? Do new technology companies get more than one chance at success?

In working with, evaluating, and otherwise participating in the evolution of new start-up companies, as well as those somewhat further along in developing toward real businesses, I have observed that there seem to be several identifiable phases that new companies go through.

February 2006 Elegant Simplicity…

I have owned the same medium-complexity digital camera for several years now. Mostly I use it in my lab to photograph experimental set-ups and the results of “lighting up” new display materials. I have installed a convenient cable connection that dangles from my desktop computer that makes it easy to transfer the photos from the camera for further analysis, retention, or in some cases sending to clients. But even after all this time of fairly regular use, there are “features” on this camera that I don’t know much about and haven’t learned how to use. I did try to learn a few, but without regular practice soon forgot. For these specialized features, it usually requires the help of the 100+ page instruction manual to unravel the menu-driven sequences through multiple levels of access.

January 2006 Virtual Unreality…

It would seem reasonable that after more than 100 years of various unsuccessful attempts, technically knowledgeable people would have figured out that there must be more to creating realistic virtual reality than simply adding a second view of the same scene.

A long time ago, at the dawn of the photography age, we already tried out various stereoscopic viewing devices for black and white photographs. The impression of depth could readily be observed but the scenes didn’t look “real”. Then, when movies came along, we tried again -- beginning with rudimentary attempts using red and green glasses to separate the projected images. That was good for about a one-time experience. Then, when color movies became the norm, the attempts switched to polarizing glasses. Again, the feeling of depth could readily be created, but it looked no more “real” than the early black and white photographs. Once again, it took about one movie’s worth of viewing to decide that this wasn’t going to be a lasting technology. What was it that was missing that prevented us from enjoying these experiences more? Why did all of these 3-D efforts fail?

December 2005 A Wonderful Uncertainty…

This year’s Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Merchants are doing their best to get us to spend, spend, spend. Some stores are opening at ridiculous hours such as 5:00 A.M. with special bargains to get people to stand in line for hours even before that. Fights are erupting as these grumpy sleep-deprived early risers try to get to the specially priced items that enticed them there to begin with. The “word” is out that this will be the year of electronic purchases and especially flat panel televisions.

November 2005 In Search of Something…

Have you ever wandered around a bookstore looking for something to spark your interest? Have you ever had to look for information on a topic that was unfamiliar to you and you didn’t know quite where to start? Or have you ever been looking for something but then got distracted by another item that turned out to be even more interesting? Or do you sometimes just like to look at the “new and different” because it can be an inspiration to you?

October 2005 Flexible Displays – Why?…
For over two thousand years we have had flexible displays. From my imprecise recollection of history, it would appear that papyrus roll-to-roll displays were around for quite some time before we decided to put written information onto “pages” in the shapes and sizes that resemble today’s books. Over many centuries, techniques for making these “pages” improved and new uses were found. Gradually, these flexible displays evolved into the variety of useful formats that we see today – books and magazines on paper, signs and banners on cloth and a variety of other materials, and even “wearable” flexible displays such as T-shirts and other articles of clothing.

September 2005 Appreciation at Last …

When I was in grade school and high school, I hated my name. I did not like my given name or my family name. I would much rather have had a nice common first name such as perhaps John or Robert, and an equally typical last name like Smith or Brown. When I was in the fourth grade, I envied my friend – John Smith – for that very reason. Now there was a name that no one could make fun of.

August 2005 Distorted Images…

After a long day of cross country travel that included a three-hour wait on a taxiway in Denver -- for the weather to clear in New York -- the uneventful taxi ride and check-in at the midtown hotel was a welcome relief. I like this particular hotel because it is close to Central Park and that gives me an opportunity to go for a run at the end of most business days.

July 2005 We Solved the Wrong Problem…

In spite of the soothing sounds of classical music coming from his clock radio, Jeff decided that he may as well get up and get ready for work. He expected today to be much like any other typical workday. He arose, showered, got dressed and checked his e-mail. After deleting the sixty spam messages that had accumulated overnight, he headed for his car and the drive to his office. While creeping along in rush hour traffic, he made a few quick phone calls and then stopped at a Starbucks for a latte and a breakfast roll. While having his coffee, he took care of a few more e-mails using the in-store Wi-Fi connection. Once at work, he had a brief meeting with his boss and then went on-line to search for several new components that he needed for his project. Having found what he was looking for, he noticed that he had only about one hour left to work out some design details and try a computer simulation that he thought might solve a pesky output mismatch problem.

June 2005 A Top Ten List…

This year’s SID Symposium in Boston (May 23 – 27) was an exciting place to be. The display industry is in the midst of a rapid scale-up of manufacturing capacity. Bigger – and then even bigger yet -- seems to be the driving impetus for the construction of new factories, for the sizes of the glass sheets used to make the new flat panel displays, and also for the screen sizes of the computer monitors and televisions that are being manufactured and delivered to enthusiastic consumers. Bigger, but also cheaper. Competition for market position among the giants of the industry is becoming incredibly intense. Everyone it seems is able to manufacture products of acceptable quality. That being the case, all that is left is to drive costs and prices ever lower. And since consumers have already demonstrated a willingness to pay a substantial premium for these “exciting new digital flat-panel displays,” we are seeing the brewing of a “perfect storm” -- a convergence of consumer excitement combined with an increasing capacity to supply products that are ever-closer to mainstream affordability. It is a scenario for almost unlimited growth, potentially encompassing most of the next decade.

May 2005 Lost Innocence…

A few days ago, I received an e-mail notifying me that it was time to renew two of my web domain subscriptions. From what I could remember, it has been about a year since my last renewal, so the timing was right and all the information on the notification seemed to be correct. The notification had the correct domain names and was addressed specifically to me. Nevertheless, when it came time to enter my credit card number, I thought long and hard about whether I should do it. Was this a legitimate request or another “phishing” attack? Would my credit card number end up in some identity thief’s computer who would then use it for a short-term shopping spree?

April 2005 There’s No Paper in the Office and No Film in Your Camera?…

If you want to get my immediate attention don’t send me an e-mail. Send me a fax. When a fax arrives, it just begs to be looked at. And it is so convenient to instantly see what it’s about. It’s real and something simply must be done with it or it just sits there in the middle of my desk staring back at me, taking up useful space. E-mail has no such desire for instant attention. It arrives – along with dozens of spam messages -- and can easily be saved for “later.”

March 2005 The Too-Small Windows Into the Information Age…

Last week was that annually-dreaded time when I have to get all of my business and personal records together so that I can spend a few hours with my “tax person”. Since my life consists of an intricately interwoven combination of business and personal activities, I decided a long time ago that trying to do this task on my own would be an exercise in futility. Either I would have to spend many days trying to understand the intricacies of the tax code or I would end up making errors that would put me in the “bad person” category with the Internal Revenue Service. Or worse yet, I would end up paying more than was required. Besides all that, I always appreciate working with someone who really knows what they are doing.

February 2005 Low Hanging Fruit…

Some years ago in a business development meeting with a Senior VP, it was suggested to me that in order to accomplish the short term financial results that the company needed, I should be focusing my energies on “finding low hanging fruit”. What this apparently meant was that I should be searching for those opportunities that would be quick to materialize and would not take much effort or resources to bring in. My unspoken reaction to this directive was: “Right… And just where do you think I am going to find this ‘low hanging fruit’?” Not too long after that, a new business opportunity came my way that allowed me to depart gracefully – never having found any of this easy-picking fruit than my boss seemed to think was so plentiful.

January 2005 So Easy to Forget…Happy New Year! Welcome to the second half of the first decade of the 21st century. For me, this new year – 2005 -- has a nice round-number feel to it. It’s also interesting to observe how quickly time does pass. A few days ago, I was reviewing a technical article and the author made a reference to something that happened in the “last century”. It took me a few seconds to realize he was referring to the 1900’s and not the 1800’s. I guess the saying that “time sure flies when you’re having fun” is getting to be ever more applicable.December 2004 A Few More Things to Understand…

Outside my office window, hanging from the branch of a small tree, I keep a hummingbird feeder -- well supplied with sugar water. Even though hummingbirds are supposed to be migratory, I seem to have acquired several that have decided to stay through most of the winter. I don’t think my feeder has anything to do with it, but just in case, I make sure that there is never a time when the food runs low.
November 2004
One Change Leads to Another?…

At the recent Society for Information Display Executive Committee meeting, Andy Lakatos, the Editor of the SID Journal, reported that the Journal is in the final stages of a successful transition to an all electronic publication. The Journal will no longer be published quarterly as a printed document but will now become a monthly publication available in electronic format to members and subscribers through the SID web site. At the end of each year there will, however, still be a supplemental CD sent to all subscribers. Electronic publishing will provide a number of significant benefits with more frequent issues and a greatly reduced time from paper submission to publication. There will also be links to provide immediate reference search capability. The Society will benefit by eliminating the costs of printing and mailing.October 2004 Do We Need a Number?…

The digital camera makers have it easy! All they have to do is specify one number -- the number of pixels -- and everyone instantly “knows” how good the camera is going to be at taking pictures. One megapixel used to be considered a good number -- but no more. Now the number has to be closer to ten megapixels before anyone considers it to be a serious product. Even what we call point-and-shoot cameras are now typically in the three megapixel range. But what about all the other important features, like the lens, the storage capability, the waiting time between shots, the time between when the button is pressed and when the picture is actually taken, battery life, and yet many other important parameters? If you really want to know, you can most likely find them somewhere in the product brochures, but how many buyers do this careful analysis? Surely a five-megapixel camera must be better than one rated at only four! So, why bother with all those other details, especially since there are likely to be more “features” than the typical user will ever comprehend, let alone put to good use. So isn’t it nice to have just one number that seems to say it all? September 2004 Please Don’t Stomp on My Flower…

Like new Crocuses poking their heads up through the cold ground of early spring, new ideas are very fragile. Just a touch of skepticism or an initially negative response from a person of authority can often be enough to stop further consideration. And even when the idea, and the person behind it, is strong enough to withstand these first assaults, subsequent critical reviews may succeed in squashing any further attempts to explore the potential opportunities that such a new idea may bring. The conclusion will be – “Well, we just couldn’t make a good business case, given all the risks and uncertainties.” August 2004 A Convergence Anomaly…

While waiting for my connecting flight in the Denver airport a few weeks ago, I was observing the interaction between what I presumed was a grandmother and her approximately eight-year-old granddaughter. The grandmother was taking photos of the child with her cell phone camera and then showing them to the granddaughter – mostly I think to pass the time. They were both having great fun with this activity, and it seemed that the grandmother was especially enthralled with this feature on her new cell phone. July 2004 Segueing into the Future…

Sometimes technology progress seems to resemble a random walk -- with many bumps into unseen walls -- rather than anything that can be planned or predicted. That is not a comforting thought for those of us who would like to be able to identify and develop new business opportunities based on new technology innovations. What is especially fascinating, however, is that these initial product introductions often stimulate further attempts at solving the same problem. These competing efforts provide choices that, when combined with consumer feedback, eventually lead to products that are truly useful and beneficial.June 2004 It Won’t be Long Now…

Last week, I went to pick up a few plumbing repair items at our local Home Depot store. As I approached the checkout counter area, I noticed that there was only one cashier open at this relatively slow time of day. Nevertheless, there were at least eight people waiting in line ahead of me to pay. Right next to this line of increasingly impatient customers was the new self-checkout area. One person was valiantly trying to use this new "faster and more convenient" method of completing the transaction. However, the items would not register properly and the automated system told him that he could not remove his bag until some additional step was completed. This person looked uncomfortable and embarrassed by the time a clerk finally came over to help.May 2004 Welcome to the Future…

EcolaIt happened so imperceptibly that we hardly noticed. We began our flat panel journey roughly 40 years ago with such modest beginnings that not one of us could see the exciting future that lay ahead. One part of our journey started with LC displays for watches and calculators. We then moved on to somewhat more complicated but still mostly segment-addressed LC displays for test and measurement instruments, and to the first low-resolution row and column ones for portable applications. We achieved a major milepost when the first lap top computers with monochrome LC screens became commercial products. However, the low contrast and poor viewing angle of these early passive matrix displays made them just barely adequate -- even for the rudimentary word processing and spread sheet programs of that time. The developers and promoters of competing display technologies were of course more than happy to point out these severe deficiencies, and yet others, such as limited temperature range and poor speed of response. But ever so gradually, with creativity and persistence, LCD developers were able to overcome each and every limitation. The introduction of TFTs was a big step, but so were the various techniques that allowed for wider viewing angles, improved contrast, and better color gamut. As each year slipped by, the LC displays got better and bigger. Nevertheless, we still continued to look to the CRT as the standard for comparison. Overall it could still claim to have the best display quality.April 2004 Presumptuous Assumptions…

I’ve never been much of an enthusiast for the computer-controlled house or the internet-driven kitchen. Nevertheless, in spite of all the good wisdom that I have tried to offer over the years, the topic still seems to intrigue those looking for how to extend the use of personal computers, or for new uses for the latest high-tech products. What is especially interesting is that many of these efforts are based on the presumption that houses and kitchens will continue to be designed and lived in much as they are today, and just need to be more automated and/or more "interconnected."March 2004 It must be hard to explain…

It was only a few years ago that display companies did marketing studies that concluded that for flat panels to have significant penetration into the CRT-dominated display industry the costs would need to be no more than about 25% higher than those of comparable CRT products. A few "strange" voices were also heard to suggest that flat-panels could be sold into office environments based only on their smaller footprints. The proposition was that this would be useful to increase worker density even further. But even the space planners promoting these ideas would typically include other cost savings features such as lower energy utilization. So what happened?February 2004 My Great Idea…

The other day, I had a really great idea. It was one of those moments of pure inspiration when the solution to a difficult problem suddenly comes bubbling forth, and it seems that nothing can hold it back. There is an emotional high that accompanies such a creative moment – that instant when all the pieces seem to fall into place and the solution to a difficult puzzle is deemed complete. But what should one do with such brilliance? It must, of course, be shared with others or it will wither and die from lack of use. January 2004I Want it – Now!...

As we celebrate the beginning of another New Year, many of us will let out a sigh of relief that the annual stampede to acquire new material possessions has come to a temporary end. It’s really quite amazing that a Holiday intended to celebrate "peace on earth and goodwill toward all men" can cause so much stress and frustration. And all of that just to try to create a few moments of intense joy that dissipates about as quickly as a puff of smoke in a windstorm. This concept of instant and intense gratification has not been with us for all of eternity. In fact, it is a relatively new phenomenon that grew along with the promotion and wide acceptance of credit cards -- and the now-acceptable concept expressed so wonderfully and accurately by the phrase, "I’ve maxed out my credit". This of course means that one has borrowed well beyond all reasonable limits and even the credit card companies have finally put a stop to further purchases. The unfortunate end result can often be personal bankruptcy. December 2003 Minor Details...

Each year, around the beginning of December, we enter that time of year – a period of about one month duration -- known as the "Serious Christmas-Shopping Season". During this time, hopeful recipients are making final additions to their lists of what they want Santa to bring them, while those who have taken on the designated Santa role are frantically seeking those exactly-right items that they hope will fulfill the most fervent fantasies of their list-makers. November 2003 Read Me a Story…

"It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly,…" So begins the ultimate – but yet to be completed – mystery story as authored by Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy in the well-know Peanuts cartoon series. Of course, this is meant to be a spoof on how the "perfect" mystery story should begin. Nevertheless, these few simple words – hardly more than one short sentence – evoke images of Halloween-like haunted houses, shutters banging in the wind, lights flickering and then going out, and an event that is about to happen that fills us with curiosity, anticipation, and a tinge of fear. "Suddenly what? Don’t you dare stop in the middle of this sentence!" How can so few simple words evoke such powerful images? Indeed, we seem to be able to create mind pictures with the tiniest hint of stimulation. For example, somewhere I read that smells can be powerful memory stimulants. I believe it. The smell of certain foods, burning candles, mothballs, moldy basements, new mown grass, all can bring back memories embedded many years ago. We humans (since I don’t know about Snoopy the dog) seem to have the wonderful ability to create images and fill in details where none is provided. October 2003 Uh, Oh, I Think We’re in Trouble…

The recent acceleration of the occurrence of computer viruses, worms, and spam on top of software that is already frequently unstable got me to thinking and worrying about where all this is likely to end up. And I’m afraid that I didn’t come up with a very pretty picture. In my ponderings, I tried to imagine what would happen if the rest of our technology-based products behaved similarly. I thought about cars that would abruptly quit and have to be restarted (rebooted?) about once each day, but at unpredictable times -- of course. I thought of refrigerators and furnaces that randomly changed their temperature settings or quit working altogether because some scoundrel was able to send an electrical glitch over the house wiring. I thought about door lock that had to be "updated" every few weeks because flaws were discovered that allowed thieves to enter. I thought about telephones that would ring 20 or 30 times each day with recorded messages offering sex-enhancement devices or fraudulent riches through the transfer of foreign funds. I thought of television sets that drop channels or quit responding to remote controls and need the periodic installation of "patches" to keep them working? But none of these imaginary scenarios was able to capture the totality of the computer software problems with which most of us are currently struggling. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it’s going to get even worse before it gets better.September 2003 The Gray Scale of Obsolescence…

I don’t like, or find credible, the predictions made by most futurists. They seem to be driven more by the need for publicity than by a careful analysis of what is really likely to happen. This typically means that the more audacious the prognostication the more likely it is to be picked up by the popular press. One recent example is the prediction that we are on the threshold of immortality. Of course, I can’t prove to you that it can’t happen and I may even wish that it could. But most changes are not nearly that dramatic. In fact, other than cataclysmic events of nature or self-destructive behaviors such as wars, change often creeps up on us so gradually that we don’t even notice it happening. Even dramatic improvements in technology become common place in a few short years. Consider, for example, the catalytic converter and the collision-activated air bags for cars. It still amazes me that someone could come up with the idea of inflating a protective balloon while the collision is happening and make it sufficiently foolproof to be used in a consumer product.August 2003 The Glamour of New Technology...

Gee whiz, this new technology stuff is exciting! But I don’t know much about it. However, I’m a journalist! I’m supposed to write a flashy – but balanced – article. So let’s take a crack at the new flat-panel displays.

Was it a scenario perhaps like this one that led to a recent syndicated article in our local paper? The title of the article was "The skinny on flat TVs" with the sub-heading, "Appeal of new television screens also comes with fragility, price". The article was authored by a Bobbi Ignelzi, writing for the Copley News Service, and appeared in a special section of the paper dedicated to the latest Seattle Street of Dreams homes show. The year the Street of Dreams was extra "dreamy" featuring homes with prices ranging from $1.3 million to $2.2 million. I suppose for these prices, one should expect to encounter at least a few items that fit into the wishful-thinking category. So why not flat panel displays? July 2003Seeds of Change…

From an engineer’s perspective, it’s really quite amazing how many real-world situations are so highly non-linear. We scientists are great at observing and measuring, and then making projections based on all the data we have accumulated. But what about that proverbial "straw that breaks the camel’s back"? How do we learn about limits of materials, technology boundaries, or even the perversity of human behaviors until we encounter them? And are we sometimes misled by the comforting thoughts of "Well, it’s still working!" or "I haven’t seen any problems so far."June 2003How Big is REALLY Big?...

A few days ago, I read that Samsung had just announced that they have decided on the size of their seventh generation mother-glass for TFT LCDs. The planned size of these next generation TFT arrays will be 1,870 x 2,200 mm. For those of us still mired in inches and feet when thinking about display sizes, that translates to about 74 x 87 inches, or if we speak in the even more familiar diagonal-size terminology that is approximately a 114 inch diagonal piece of glass. Wow! Now that should be large enough for even the most ambitious home entertainment system aficionados.

May 2003Out With the Old..

Digital cameras are in! Film cameras are old fashioned. LCD computer monitors represent great new technology! CRT monitors are obsolete. PDP TVs are glamorous! Large-screen CRT TVs and projection sets are lower priced compromises. The new technologies must be incredibly better to cause such dramatically rapid shifts in consumer buying patters. Right? Are we sure about that? April 2003Hundreds of CRTs and One Plasma Panel...

Let's suppose that a large manufacturer of flat panel displays has appointed you to be in charge of their new business development activity. Your assignment is to find one or more new markets of significant size where your company's broad line of FPDs (both LCDs and Plasma panels) can be successfully introduced. Top management has told you that they do not care if this market is one where CRTs are currently dominant or if it is a completely new application of displays -- as long as it is not simply an expansion or extension of existing FPD product markets. Obviously, that eliminates such lucrative growth areas as laptop computers, PDAs, and cell phones. March 2003 Not Enough Time – Limited Resources…

The other day, I was talking to an attorney friend. He showed me how dramatically the PC, in combination with the Internet, has changed his way of working in recent years. He has been an attorney for over fifteen years and for him the last two to three years have been the culmination of a changeover that started about ten years ago. Basically, he is now doing all of his extensive reference searches from his laptop computer. No more trips to the legal library. No more ordering of printed documents. No more semi-random searches that result in only a few bits of useful information. Patents are now located by searching on key words. The ones of interest can be instantly downloaded. And within each patent, once again, a search by key words (or even parts of words) will often quickly locate the most interesting information. February 2003Romancing the Money...

The methods of science and engineering are based on careful observation of cause and effect, deductive thinking, analysis of data, and thorough and repeated testing of all conclusions. Any desire or expectation for a particular outcome must be suppressed until the data can unambiguously support the proposed hypothesis. This is all well and good when doing scientific research. January 2003If at First You Don't Succeed...

The traditional version of this saying has an ending that is intended to be inspirational and to encourage repeated and determined effort -- "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again" -- presumably until success is achieved. However, I have heard a second version that may at times be more representative of reality -- "If at first you don't succeed, give up, no sense making a fool of yourself!" Recently, there have been a number of new product introductions that seem to fit the second version better than the first. These products fall into a category that some technology prognosticators have described as representative of "technology convergence". They also often have a direct or indirect effect on the implementation of displays. Let me start with a brief description of three of them.

December 2002 Christmas Presents...

Merry Christmas, joyeux Noel, frohliche Weihnachten -- my sincere Holiday Season Greetings to all of you in the worldwide Display Community. The tradition of an annual celebration and gift exchange, during the later part of December, has spread far beyond its origins as a festival of light during the darkest winter days in the northern hemisphere, and later the commemoration of the birth of the spiritual leader of the many Christian religions. For children everywhere -- and adults also -- the idea of receiving and giving lots of presents on a designated day has serious appeal. November 2002 The Next Generation Displays – for Work, Home and in Between…

As we look ahead to the future prospects for display technologies, we see many excellent opportunities. The rapid increases in computer capabilities and communications bandwidth have accelerated the need for excellent displays. New improved displays are needed to interface all the information that is being created and transmitted at ever greater speeds and in ever growing quantities. October 2002 More on Rows and Columns...

In the June 2002 issue the subject of this column was the fundamental difference between CRTs and all flat-panel displays -- the difference being that all flat-panel displays that exist at this time require row-and-column addressing, while CRTs do not. In describing the various ways of modulating the electron beam that writes the information onto a CRT phosphor screen, I posed the questions "Why do we write the image from left to right? Why not scan back and forth with a triangle waveform?" Well, being the knowledgeable group of readers that you are, I received quite a number of interesting responses. As we discussed this topic via e-mail, it occurred to me that your letters were beginning to form an interesting story all in themselves. Therefore, I have decided to dedicate this month's column space to your stories. My modest contribution was to arrange the letters in the sequence that seemed to have a logical flow to it. So here we go -- with seven of the most interesting letters about how to write images onto a CRT screen. September 2002 Choices are Good...

Most of us thrive on the excitement of exploring, the stimulation of being surprised, and the freedom to make our own choices. Without some ambiguity and uncertainty, our lives can become boring and stale. Is this a leftover remnant from the survival-driven origins of our species? I think not. It has indeed been with us since our cave-man days, but it is not a transient phenomenon to be solved by technology or by ever more abundant earthly comforts. The very nature of human existence has the built-in uncertainty of a mostly unpredictable ending point. Thus, it behooves us to have as many interesting experiences as we can during our current visit to this planet Earth. August 2002 The Goodness Asymptotes...

As usual, the airport rental-car bus driver dropped me off in front of the "preferred" customer building and told me that my pre-selected car this time was in space E-12. For me, as a "frequent renter," this has become a familiar process. Basically, it goes as follows: get in the car, show your driver's license at the gate, and adjust the seat and mirrors while driving to find the exit from the airport. But on this trip my experience was not quite typical. The car assigned to me was not the usual bland model with cloth interior and cup holder covers that are so flimsy that they most likely broke during the first or second rental. Instead of dull gray cloth, the seats were tan leather, the car was a burgundy red and the layout and quality of the instrument panel was as good as any that I have seen -- even on the most prestigious brands. The subsequent driving experience matched this initial impression of a quality product. The car handled precisely. It was well behaved at all speeds available to me. All the control functions were easy to understand and I could operate them without distraction while driving in dense freeway traffic. I soon realized that I was treating this car with the same care and enthusiasm that I would lavish on one that I had purchased. July 2002Trends in Time Management...

Welcome... Welcome... Please do come in. I am so glad you could join me for this month's column. As I told you when we spoke briefly by phone, this month I am going to write about how the latest developments in "wearable" electronics are improving everyone's productivity. As we delve into this topic, I think you will see that technology has just begun to scratch the surface of new opportunities. With further improvements in cell phones, PDA's, and portable computers with wireless modems, and the displays that we will use to interface with them, there will be no end to what we can do. Oh, sorry... but I am getting way ahead of my story. June 2002Rows and Columns...

There is a fundamental difference between CRTs and all flat panel displays -- yes, besides the obvious one that no one has yet come up with a commercially successful flat CRT. What I am thinking about is that all flat panels that exist today require row-and-column addressing, while CRTs do not. April/May 2002Guiding Principles...

The year I was completing graduate school and beginning to search for my first "real job," opportunities abounded. For graduate EEs, the times were good. I ended up with more than a dozen interview trips and close to that many job offers. It was also my first opportunity to learn about companies large and small, and how I would likely be treated should I choose to become an employee. The differences were significant. In some companies, there was little expectation that I would make a useful contribution during my first year. Others viewed me as just another "warm body" to fill an immediate staffing need. Fortunately, a few were much better. At Motorola, my interview day was not going well until late in the afternoon when I met a group leader who decided to test me with some technical questions. I had to reach deep at that late hour to come up with answers, but after one false start, I managed to arrive at the correct derivation for a semiconductor device performance problem with which he had challenged me. After that, I could do no wrong. Instructions were sent to the human resources manager to put on a major push to get me hired. Years later, I sometimes wondered how different my career might have been if I had chosen this path.

March 2002 Nothing to Think About...

It is an early spring morning. On this sunny Sunday, nature has already begun to awaken from winter's rest. Yellow Daffodils and purple Crocuses are trumpeting the arrival of warmer days. But, I have nothing to think about!

February 2002 A Great Race...

As Phil, Ken, and I stood a few feet in front of the 40-inch LCD panel, we did what all serious display engineers would do. We tried to identify every possible flaw and defect. Yes, the display was not perfect. There was a slight amount of background non-uniformity, apparently due to a step-and-repeat process used in the manufacture of the very large TFT array. There was also a barely detectable "shimmer" in scenes with large areas of a single color. However, overall our consensus was that this was a display we wouldn't mind taking home with us. Resolution, brightness, color gamut, contrast, and video response -- all were more than adequate. In fact, the conclusion was that this would become an excellent product once the transition from the few industry-show samples to volume manufacturing was completed.

January 2002Friends in Important Places...

I have a friend and former colleague. His name is Bill. Bill is a great friend to have because not only is he a warm and caring human being, he is also a fount of practical knowledge on just about every subject that I have had the opportunity to explore with him. Should you wish to rebuild an antique piano, Bill can tell you how. Are you having problems with the brakes on your old Toyota? Ask Bill. He will likely have some useful advice to offer.

December 2001 Fear of the Unknown...

Yesterday, I met our next door neighbor at the end of our driveway while we were both performing the unglamorous weekly task of putting out the garbage. He told me he was glad to have a short break because he was feeling eyestrain from staring at his computer monitor screen all morning. He next asked me what I thought of the new flat-panel monitors. His reason for asking was that he was concerned that the "radiation" from his CRT monitor was beginning to affect his eyesight. When I asked him what kind of radiation he was concerned about, he really had no idea, but had read somewhere that CRTs create electromagnetic fields that could be harmful.

November 2001 Great and Noble Tasks...

"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble."

-- Helen Keller

I too would strive to do great and noble works, but those seemingly endless details hold me back every time. And even with this quotation sitting on my desk as a constant reminder, the specifics of each situation often overwhelm me. Consider the following examples.

Each month I commence with enthusiasm and anticipation to write a great column. Of course, the first step in doing this is to bring up a blank screen on my computer. And each month, that's when reality sets in and the mismatch between hoped-for greatness and the details of how to get there suddenly become alarmingly challenging. What should I put on that blank screen first? What should be the title? What's a good opening sentence of this presumably great and insightful message? Even after I have conquered those first hurdles, the rest of the words don't always flow the way I would like. But then, after some fits and starts, perhaps involving the abandonment of entire paragraphs, there is enough of interest to inspire me to at least finish what by then no longer feels all that great, but is at least what I consider the best that I know how to do for that month. Will greatness arrive next month or will I have to wait maybe until next year?

October 2001 I'm From the Year 1957--Surprise Me...

Let's imagine for a moment it is the fall of 1957 and you are sitting in your high-school algebra class. Being the really smart kid that you are, you are bored silly with the slow progress of most of your classmates. After all, how difficult can simultaneous equations be? Why can't we get this topic out of the way so we can move on to something more challenging? Your gaze wanders outside to the green grass of the athletic field and to the warm fall sunshine. And without much effort you drift off into a momentary snooze -- using the well-practiced position of crossing your arms while pretending to be reading your math-book. The end-of-class bell jars you awake, but unlike similar previous occasions, you find yourself more than momentarily disoriented. You are not at all sure where you are and where you are supposed to go next.

September 2001 Are We There Yet...

The two girls, three and six years old, were peacefully observing the freeway traffic and the California landscape gliding past from the back seat of their parents' minivan on a typically-sunny Saturday morning. Their parents had decided to take a drive to explore a new area about fifty miles from their present home in the east bay. It was beginning to look more and more like there might by an interesting new career opportunity developing there. A new display start-up with a rather strange name, but with lots of investor money, had made Richard an offer that he just might not be able to turn down. And it was beginning to look like his wife Emily could also advance her career by a move to this new location.

August 2001 It Takes More Than One...

Earlier today, as I was returning home on one of my running routes that requires a six-hundred-foot climb from downtown Issaquah back up to the top of the hill where we live, for the sake of variety and maybe hoping that a new way up the hill would make it seem less steep, I tried a new street. I don't just mean that I tried a different route to get home. This street is really new, with still-black asphalt and pristine concrete sidewalks in attractive s-curves, winding from the new shopping center at the base of the hill up to the top, past apartments and condominiums still under construction -- hundreds of them. As I looked at the new stores below me and the as-yet-unoccupied housing units sprouting on both sides of this winding street, it suddenly struck me that no matter how hard I worked -- even for my entire lifetime -- I would not be able to construct these stores and apartments solely with my own efforts. In fact, I would not be able to complete even the one large home-improvement store that now lay below me where only six months before had been a bare patch of newly-graded ground.

July 2001 The Four Minute Mile...

Some years ago, after completing graduate school and settling into my professional career, I decided that I should add some physical activity to my otherwise sedentary lifestyle. The specific motivation was a week long camping trip to the Yosemite Valley and the realization that my hiking and climbing abilities were not nearly what I wanted them to be. Thus, I selected an exercise program that was intended to build my aerobic capabilities by gradually increasing the distance walked/jogged while reducing the time required to cover that distance -- more commonly known as "getting in shape." The stated goal was to be able to run a distance of one-and-a-half miles in under twelve minutes after three months of training.

May/June 2001 In the Year 2001 Plus 25...

Twenty-five years can seem like both a long time and a short time. In the last twenty-five years, some things have changed dramatically, yet others are much the same. Often, when we look back at history, the progress of events gives the appearance of the predetermined and obvious. I can still remember a time when I was a young student in school thinking how wonderful it must be that all great leaders seemed to know, from the day they were born, that they would become successful and influential people. It was my conclusion at the time that there could not possibly be any such persons among my classmates because none of us had such wonderful insight. It was not until many years later that I learned the future is much more uncertain than the past.

April 2001 Wishful Thinking...

Is there a point at which one can properly assert that unbridled optimism has crossed over into wishful thinking -- or maybe even a denial of reality? I am beginning to feel that way about some of the next-step opportunities being proposed for the Internet and personal computers as control centers for our homes and for our lives. Here are the disconnects I am trying to reconcile.

March 2001 And the Children Shall Lead Us...

Quite some time ago, in the twelfth year of my life, I had the thrill of accompanying my parents on their annual Christmas shopping trip to Wichita, Kansas. I distinctly remember that the distance was 211 miles and that it took just over four hours to get there. This particular year turned out to be an extra special one because my objective was to come home with a Lionel electric train. I had saved every penny for most of the previous two years for this occasion and had worn out several Lionel catalogs -- studying each page over and over again. With the additional contribution my parents had agreed to make as that year's present, I would have just enough to get the modest set I had selected.

February 2001 Going Shopping...

Sometimes even those of us who do not watch TV very much begin to think about having a newer one. The 27" set that has served us well for the last twelve or so years is beginning to feel like it could use some younger companionship. A larger screen might be a nice added benefit.

January 2001 Getting it Right...

October 6, 2000 -- It is already past 11:00 pm, and I am determined to respond to a few more e-mails before retiring for the evening. I must still pack my suitcase for an 8:00 am flight that will take me by way of New York to Moscow for the FLOWERS 2000 Display Conference. Suddenly, in the middle of an e-mail that must reach my Russian colleagues before my arrival, the house plunges into darkness, followed by a deep explosion-like sound somewhere off in the distance. I momentarily ponder if this is an unexpected but effective demonstration that the speed of electric current in wires exceeds the speed of sound in air.

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