Things of beauty

When you buy and use a USB thumb drive, as they’re called, do you wonder what’s inside that bit of plastic?

Above is a 1 megabit (approx.) Large Scale Integrated Circuit (LSIC) containg many individual memory chips to make up the 1 MB of Random Access Memory (RAM). Notice that it’s four rows of eight squares. We tend to think in terms of powers of two, and eight is a good number.

I find these images beautiful:


This one is the printed circuit board layout which holds the ICs and all the associated circuit components. Look at the beautiful complexity! Human hands did this. Computer software plays a bug part in laying it out, but a human wrote that software anyway.

2014-03-18-edne-gp-mentor3f23bdd1bf5d3475098138a87a56d3bf9 C0386-Figure1 dsp_zoom Interviews_FEL_layout layout_fulladder




A silicon wafer about 20cm in diameter containing hundreds of individual integrated circuits, before they are cut apart. The rainbow colours are because there are very thin layers of silicon which the light can penetrate and be reflected from the layers below, just like an oil film on water.

I’m not sure why – maybe it’s Engineering Week or something – but engineering as a career was the topic of discussion on Life Matters on Radio National this morning. I’ve got to hand it to Natasha Mitchell, she has a degree in engineering so she’s qualified to speak. I wish I knew what branch of engineering:

  • Mechanical
  • Civil
  • Structural
  • Mining
  • Petroleum
  • Electrical
  • Control and telemetry (SCADA)
  • Electronic
  • Communications
  • Computer
  • Information Technology
  • Aeronautical
  • Biomedical
  • Aerospace
  • Nanotechnology
  • Chemical
  • Process
  • Manufacturing
  • HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning)
  • Highway

As they said in the interview, all people can think about when you mention engineering is train drivers and mechanics. As shown above, it’s a huge field and if you can’t find a niche in one of those, you must be brain dead.

But my line, electronics, is especially the future proof way of job security. (I don’t have a degree, but I have a three year full time Technical College Diploma.)


Software design of an integrated circuit on a PC. As you can see, this is Windows software. You could do this yourself at home.

Look at all the jobs and professions that are either disappearing or being taken over by computers and automation. Even journalists are now a disappearing breed, replaced by software that can write reports!. Anything in finance is also under threat.

Electronics engineering is future proof. When you’re the person who designs the systems that automate the world, and you’re the only people who know how they work, you’re in job security plus.

Electronics is FASCINATING. There must be few other vocations where your job can also be your hobby. I loved my work and I was proud to call my self an electronics technician. And I had job security in spades. I never feared being laid off, as many were at Channel 7. Sure, I was offered voluntary redundancy and I took it, but it wasn’t because the work disappeared. They just wanted to get rid of older people and staff numbers in general. The poor guys remaining just had to take on my former workload. The work hadn’t gone away, it wasn’t made redundant.

The depressing thing was listening to the engineers being interviewed this morning. Of four people including the host, all had engineering degrees, three of them were women, one woman had a PhD, one woman was a Reserve Bank board member and the one bloke was a professor of engineering. All of them were lamenting the low level of interest in engineering as a career in Australia, the poor standard of maths teaching in schools, the low level of computer programming being taught in schools and that all the Asian countries are bursting with talent in these fields. We are going to be left way behind – we already are! As well, there’s no interest in investing in new technology in Australia. How can there be when the Coalition government is actively discouraging it.

I can’t see things changing. This country is being left behind, anyone with any drive has to go overseas and the expertise we need depends on migrants, often from Asian countries. No hope, I’m afraid.


Integrated circuits (microchips) on a silicon wafer about 20cm in diameter, before being cut up and separated. Each individual IC would be smaller than your little fingernail. They are too small to be picked up except by little suction devices.

As I was saying …


World Health Organisation

“The former UN chief, Kofi Annan, has said Australia is a ‘free-rider’ on other countries’ efforts.”

“The economic benefits for a country from tackling climate change easily outweigh the costs, according to a study that seeks to highlight the incentives for individual nations to take urgent action to cut emissions.

“Countries stand to gain more than they would lose in economic terms from almost all of the actions needed to meet an agreed global warming limit of no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, according to the paper published by two research institutes at the London School of Economics.

“It is the latest research to underscore the apparent economic gains from limiting emissions, which include new jobs and improved health, even before the benefits of preventing dangerous climate change are taken into account.”  [The Guardian 13/7/15]

For goodness sake, taking action to mitigate climate change is a winner. Australia could be a leader – we have all the scientific and engineering expertise.

But ignoring climate change or actively sabotaging efforts to control emissions of CO2 will have harmful effects so bad that they will be irreversible and will damage the country and the world in hugely costly respects. It will not be possible to fix the problems. Already, we are being warned that sea level rise is occurring much faster than we expected. Good luck if you live on a canal side home in Mandurah.

What is so hard to understand about this?

The answer is money, as it always is. Top level executives of coal, oil and gas, mining, CO2 emitting companies are being paid huge salaries, in the millions of dollars, and they are dedicated to seeing their companies continue to produce their massive profits. Those massive profits go in dividends to shareholders. Who are the shareholders? Most of them are very wealthy people who would shout blue murder if there was any change. The remainder are owned by superannuation funds, and that’s you.

The only way any change is going to happen is if ordinary shareholders, that is members of super funds, demand action. That is, that super funds must divest from the CO2/polluting industries. This is the “Keep it in the ground” movement, where prominent people are demanding that major companies and educational institutions divest their shareholdings from the bad industries. This is the only way we’re going to make any progress in this. It only started about six months ago but it’s starting to have some effect. Read The Guardian to learn more.


On Friday night I was running late and I thought I’d buy a Chinese takeaway for once. It would be more than three years since I did this. Why? It’s full of fat, fried this and that, white rice, all the things I’m not supposed to be eating. And I don’t.

Anyway, I ordered sezchuan squid and wontons. Total cost $22. It was bloody awful. A barbecue sauce flavoured mess of sliced celery and capsicum with chewy squid. The wontons were just folds of rice pastry, with no filling at all! Just deep fried. I threw them out. I could only eat about 1/3 of the squid and that went out too. What a waste of money on awfully cooked food. Never again from that place (Quinns).


I was listening to ABC News Radio this morning and the interviewer was talking to a woman in Bali about the ash cloud preventing flights. First, she asked the woman to say when the ash cloud would move away – how could she predict that with any accuracy? Then she asked the woman to say how long the volcano would continue erupting and when it might stop. What??!! What a dumb question. No-one can answer that question. Dumb questions.


Trouble sleeping in recent months. No problem getting to sleep, but I wake after about two hours and can’t get back to sleep. Sometimes I lie there for the whole remainder of the night without getting back to the land of nod, and feel terrible as a result.

So I take valerian to help. Up to now I was taking 1.2g tablets and I think they helped. But not enough, so I switched to a new brand, Blackmores 2g tablets. Wow, they really work, too well actually. I wake about 4.30am for a pee but I get straight back to sleep and don’t wake until 8 or 9am. Then I feel a bit hung over, lasting most of the day.

So it’s a puzzle – do I take the lower dose and suffer waking periods, with lots of daytime sleeping to catch up, or do I take the higher dose and wake late, feeling I’ve slept well, but losing the morning due to late waking and a hangover?

I might buy a fresh bottle of the lower dose tablets in case the existing 100 tablet bottle has lost its effectiveness – I’ve had it more than a year, I’d guess.


Hah! I’ve been increasingly frustrated by my Logitech remote controller seeming to be low on battery charge. Constantly resetting itself and failing to control. So I figure it needs charging up. I put it on charge via the USB connector for many hours.

Each time, no good, it won’t hold charge. Bah! So this morning I thought I’d have a look at the battery. Duh! It uses two AA alkaline batteries. Replace them and bingo – it goes again. I call myself a tech? Duh.