Before we get to the topic, let's talk about the U.S. presidential election.  One of the most important aspects of a democracy is the peaceful transition of power, a US tradition over our 240 year history.  Peaceful transitions have not always been the norm.  Below is a relevant song from 1962, by Allan Sherman, where he reviews some French history, up to and including events of January 21, 1793. 

He was the worst.... since Louis the First.

That video has a bad habit of being taken down for copyright reasons.  If it is missing, just search on Allan Sherman King Louie.

I am biting my tongue on what to say about the 2016 election, let's just see how it all turns out.  But if I was able to ask a question at one of the debates, it would be this:  

Donald, let's  suppose you  and Melania are playing bridge with Vladimir and Lyudmila. You were the dealer and are about to open the bidding.  Neither side is vulnerable.  You and Melania follow the Goren system.  Your hand has even distribution, with at least one stopper in each suit, and contains 17 high-card points.  What would you bid?

Apologies and an explanation to the 95% of the readers that don't play cards. Put down your Pokedex and join the rest of us sometime!

Dish Network

If you are paying attention, this paragraph meets my "must occasionally talk about microwave a related topic", because DBS television is carried over a Ku-band signal.  As many of you know, there are a lot of options for watching free or nearly video out there, including Hulu, Roku, Amazon Prime, and Netflix... but one of the hardest things to do is to get rid of the Dish Network.  Whenever you are on the phone with the Dish call center and telling them you want to cancel, the price goes down by 50% for three months, and you think "why not keep it for a while".  But then the bill comes next year, you hesitate to sign an $700 check, and call them again.  This time you mean to get out.  Then you find that in order to escape without incurring a significant charge, you will have to return your ten-year-old receiver to them in the original shipping carton.  They are not going to resell it, this is just another way of messing with you.  They never ask for the dish and LNB, as there could be legal problems asking a homeowner to go up on a ladder and remove an installed unit.  Here's a potential ticket to escaping their clutches (but I'm not admitting that such a conversation actually took place because it would be wrong to tell a lie...): tell them you have cancer and only a few months left and you want to "get your affairs in order".  Shockingly, they might ask if they can get in touch with another member of your household who might want continue the service and perhaps be interested in extending the contract to include a "sports package"... At this point you might firmly tell them you live alone.  There might be no mention of returning the receiver, as they might not be able to bill a dead man if it doesn't show up.   In a few minutes you could be done, you could confirm by switching on your television and watching the Dish channels go dark in just a few minutes. To be safe, if you had them on auto-pay on your MasterCard, now would be a good time to report your card stolen and get a new number.  As for the receiver, you might leave it plugged in for a while.  It could come back to life whenever there is a "free movies weekend"!

Dish Network was recently described as America's third most hated company.  Down there with AIG, Goldman Sachs and Halliburton, an elite club. 

Read about our earlier adventure with a chromed dish directed energy weapon...

Deliver what the customer wants

In the big picture, you should always consider what a customer wants, rather than what you want to offer him/her. A common mistake is to get so excited by your own new and half-baked technology that you want to show it off without considering all of the ramifications.  More about that in a sec, my mind often wanders...

A decade or two ago, Clayton Christensen was a best selling author, with his ideas about "disruptive technologies".  He created an entire junk science for managers.  His books sell millions of copies, by working the "top down" approach.  If you convince the CEO of $50B company that The Innovator's Dilemma contains magic crystals of knowledge, the next thing you know, he will buy a copy for every one of his/her employees.  Call it the Marriott effect... why do you think there is a Book of Mormon in every one of their hotel rooms?  Do you request this amenity when you are booking on Could they make my night time reading The Origin of the Species? No, because in this case, you are not the customer.

Anyhoo, Christensen is off on a new kick, which is customer satisfaction. Competing Against Luck is his new book.  Satisfy a customer need and you will be successful.  Why didn't anyone else think of this?  In CC's world, the customer is still the CEO of a large company, and I am sure he will have a hit with his target audience.

Now on to an example of not "listening to a customer":

Solar Roadways is promising to replace asphalt with solar cells across the country, to wean us off of fossil fuels. The customer is all of us, as we are heading off into uncharted territory of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  It would be great to have green energy that make electricity forever, for free. And all those millions of miles of pot-holed roads are the perfect place to do the install, right? On top of this, the Solar Roadways product includes LEDs that supposedly can make visible lane markings during the day (think about that from conservation of energy) and provide have heaters to melt snow.  Reminds me of a story my Mom told me about when Mayor Curley visited MIT to ask about using flamethrowers to melt snow.

 It all sounds so good, especially when pitched to the simple American Idiot that just wants to listen to music through wax stained ear buds and wear a baseball cap backwards.  But they have raised over $2M on Indigogo, based on this video.

Solar freaking roadways...

 Solar arrays have been a darling of the renewable energy club for years, and are fast becoming a large slice of the world power pie.  Only recently, the net energy by installed PV slightly exceeds the total energy used to manufacture it. In the cheapest possible solution, PV takes four years to pay back its sunken energy cost.  This based on an large field install with large-scale power inverter and tilting the arrays to track the sun in at least one dimension, if not two.  Based on that payback that we should only increase PV capacity by 25% each year, or we will be increasing CO2 while the infrastructure is being built up.  With Solar Roadways, let us project that the payback energy is 12 years, because the added infrastructure of placing high-voltage transmission lines along a highway in order to collect the energy (not mention the energy cost of ripping up existing roadways), which puts that net CO2 problem much worse if you tried to do this on a grand scale. The average age of a roadway when it gets resurfaced is 13 years.  Will Solar roadways last longer than that? Why would you expect something that is complicated to last longer than something that is not? What happens when that glass traction surface gets worn down and makes emergency stopping impossible? Ever hear of a snow plow?

Read this article to dive into PV math:

What about smaller installs, like solar power from a parking lot?  Think about that.  Cars are parked during the day are blocking sunlight... 

There are plenty of other reasons why Solar Roadways are a bad idea, as the following video will tell you. It is a tragedy so bad, it becomes a comedy.


The real problems of solar roadways are that they will never pay back the energy that was needed to produce them.  So, what was the point of it all?  If you want to reduce CO2 emissions when building roads, consider cold, in-place recycling.  Try to imagine this equipment ripping up a solar roadway, five years after it was installed, seven years before it provided a net energy benefit, two years after the entrepreneurs that started the idea fled the country after being asked to testify in Congress...


So, is PV energy all a hopeless scam foisted by lobbyists, fueled by government subsidies and profited mostly by installation scammers?  No, it is not.  But the path forward is to make PV cells in countries that have natural gas rather than coal plants (i.e., China needs to clean up their act) and deploy them where they make the most sense (i.e. areas of limited precipitation), in particular the southwest of the United States and in these five Chinese deserts.  Installations should be kept simple (but include tilt mechanisms), large scale arrays in one place are much better idea than a linear array along a highway that requires massive infrastructure to support it.  With some common sense, you can keep the customer (all of us) happy and reduce or at least slow down the increase in carbon in the atmosphere.

What does this have to do with microwave engineering?  If you are offering your customer a fancy new semiconductor process that includes silicon, InP and GaN on a single substrate, you might consider that he/she would have been happy with a multi-chip module that would cost one tenth as much money. I'll be designing that lower-cost module, and I want to thank you for being non-competitive.


Check out the Unknown Editor's amazing archives when you are looking for a way to screw off for a couple of hours or more!

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