Nimbly Use What Is Available Now Rather Than Wait for Adoption of Perfect Global Standards

(p. A9) For more than five decades, Don Bateman led teams of engineers at what is now Honeywell International in creating and enhancing technology that warns pilots of impending disasters.

The result is an array of software and equipment, much of it mandatory, that squawks warnings and flashes digital admonitions if a plane is heading into a mountain, a ridge, a radio tower or some other obstacle.

. . .

Rather than waiting years for global industry standards to be adopted, he always wanted to use whatever technology was available immediately. Ratan Khatwa, a former Honeywell colleague of Bateman, recalled his advice: “You’ve got to work like farmers,” using whatever is available now rather than waiting for perfection.

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Safety Engineer Helped Pilots Avoid Crashes.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 3, 2023): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 30, 2023, and has the title “Don Bateman, Champion of Airline Safety, Dies at 91.”)

“Engineering Is Achieving Function While Avoiding Failure”

(p. A21) Dr. Petroski, a longtime professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University, adapted the architectural axiom “form follows function” into one of his own — “form follows failure” — and addressed the subject extensively in books, lectures, scholarly journals, The New York Times and magazines like Forbes and American Scientist.

“Failure is central to engineering,” he said when The Times profiled him in 2006. “Every single calculation that an engineer makes is a failure calculation. Successful engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail.”

. . .

“Even though I had three degrees in engineering, and had been teaching engineering and was registered as a professional engineer,” he told The Times in 2014, “if some neighbor asked me, ‘What is engineering?,’ I said, ‘Duh.’ I couldn’t put together a coherent definition of it.” His best effort, he said, was, that “engineering is achieving function while avoiding failure.”

Pencils proved a prosaic object for Dr. Petroski’s failure analysis.

. . .

“By asking why and how a pencil point breaks in the way it does,” he concluded, “we are not only led to a better understanding of the tools of stress analysis and their limitations, but we are also led to a fuller appreciation of the wonders of technology when we analyze the aptness of such a manufactured product as the common pencil.”

Two years later, he expanded on the journal article with “The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance,” a 448-page tour through its invention and evolution — with brands like Faber-Castell, Dixon Ticonderoga and Koh-I-Noor among them — that included a chapter about the pencil-making business of Henry David Thoreau’s family in Concord, Mass.

Thoreau, best known for writing about his experience living simply in the woods in “Walden,” was a self-taught pencil engineer who learned about the graphite and clay mixture that made European pencils superior, and who helped adapt them to his family’s pencil manufacturing.

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Henry Petroski, Whose Books Decoded Engineering, Is Dead at 81.” The New York Times (Friday, June 23, 2023): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 22, 2023, and has the title “Henry Petroski, Whose Books Decoded Engineering, Dies at 81.”)

Petroski’s best-known book is:

Petroski, Henry. The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. New York: Knopf, 1989.

Latest High-Efficiency Air Conditioners Focus on Cutting Humidity

(p. B4) Air conditioners make people cooler and the world hotter. A slew of startups are launching new products to break that cycle.

. . .

Companies such as Blue Frontier, Transaera and Montana Technologies are raising money from investors including industry giant Carrier Global and Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures to develop more efficient technologies. Many of those efforts focus on the humidity rather than the heat, using new materials like liquid salt to dry out the air.

. . .

Blue Frontier aims to separate humidity and temperature control using a liquid salt solution that was developed with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The solution also stores energy, reducing consumption at peak times, when electricity grids are strained on hot days.

The salt solution is an industrial version of the little packets that absorb moisture to keep products dry during shipping. The solution is heated up, releasing water and boosting the concentration of salt, making it more absorbent. This can be done when electricity demand is low and effectively stores energy until cooling is needed.

When air conditioning is needed, the solution is brought in contact with air, absorbing water and removing humidity. The air is cooled within a component called a heat exchanger using a high-efficiency method to lower air temperature by exposing it to water. The dry air absorbs the water, lowering its temperature and the temperature of the heat exchanger. That air that absorbs the water becomes warm and humid and is moved outside. At the same time, air that moves through the chilled heat exchanger flows into the room that is being cooled.

After raising $20 million from investors including Breakthrough last year, Blue Frontier is trialing ACs for businesses. “Air conditioning could be a solution to the problem rather than being the problem,” Betts said.

. . .

“The climate problem is only going to get worse if we continue to add the same types of air conditioners to meet that demand,” said Sorin Grama, CEO of Transaera, which is developing a new AC using highly absorbent materials that remove humidity. The company raised $4.5 million from investors including Carrier last year and is currently making prototypes.

Grama co-founded Transaera with a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor after working in India for a refrigeration company and seeing that air conditioners were too expensive for many consumers in the country.

For the full story, see:

Amrith Ramkumar. “Companies Race To Build a Better Air Conditioner.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 29, 2023): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 28, 2023, and has the title “The Race to Build a Better Air Conditioner.”)

New 98% Reflective White Paint Can End Global Warming

(p. A1) In 2020, Dr. Ruan and his team unveiled their creation: a type of white paint that can act as a reflector, bouncing 95 percent of the sun’s rays away from the Earth’s surface, up through the atmosphere and into deep space. A few months later, they announced an even more potent formulation that increased sunlight reflection to 98 percent.

The paint’s properties are almost superheroic. It can make surfaces as much as eight degrees Fahrenheit cooler than ambient air temperatures at midday, and up to 19 degrees cooler at night, reducing temperatures inside build-(p. A12)ings and decreasing air-conditioning needs by as much as 40 percent. It is cool to the touch, even under a blazing sun, Dr. Ruan said. Unlike air-conditioners, the paint doesn’t need any energy to work, and it doesn’t warm the outside air.

. . .

. . ., scientists have been urgently working to develop reflective materials, including different types of coatings and films, that could passively cool the Earth. The materials rely on principles of physics that allow thermal energy to travel from Earth along specific wavelengths through what’s known as the transparency or sky window in the atmosphere, and out into deep space.

Jeremy Munday, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Davis, who researches clean technology, said this redirection would barely affect space. The sun already emits more than a billion times more heat than the Earth, he said, and this method merely reflects heat already generated by the sun. “It’d be like pouring a cup of regular water into the ocean,” Dr. Munday said.

He calculated that if materials such as Purdue’s ultra-white paint were to coat between 1 percent and 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, slightly more than half the size of the Sahara, the planet would no longer absorb more heat than it was emitting, and global temperatures would stop rising.

. . .

While humans in such hot and picturesque places as Santorini and the aptly named Casablanca have long used white paint to cool dwellings, and municipalities are increasingly looking to paint rooftops white, Dr. Ruan said commercial white paints generally reflect 80 percent to 90 percent of sunlight. This means they still absorb 10 percent to 20 percent of the heat, which in turn warms surfaces and the ambient air. The Purdue paint, by comparison, absorbs so much less solar heat and radiates so much more heat into deep space that it cools surfaces to below-ambient temperatures.

For the full story, see:

Cara Buckley. “A Coat of Paint May Hold a Key To a Cool Planet.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 13, 2023): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 12, 2023, and has the title “To Help Cool a Hot Planet, the Whitest of White Coats.”)

In “Hashing Things Out” to Save Lives Bateman “Could Be a Pit Bull”

(p. 20) Don Bateman, an engineer who invented a cockpit device that warns airplane pilots with colorful screen displays and dire audible alerts like “Caution Terrain!” and “Pull Up!” when they are in danger of crashing into mountains, buildings or water — an innovation that has likely saved thousands of lives — died on May 21 [2023] at his home in Bellevue, Wash.

. . .

Bob Champion, a former scientist at Honeywell who worked with Mr. Bateman, said in a telephone interview: “Don had a true passion for saving lives. He was a peach, but behind closed doors, when we were hashing things out, he could be a pit bull.”

. . .

“He never lost his childlike wonder about flying,” Ms. McCaslin said by phone. “He did a lot of his great work from his 40s on.”

. . .

Mr. Bateman told the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation in 2011 that in the late 1960s there were fatal accidents nearly every month, during which a pilot would “fly into something, like a mountain, or go in short on the runway.”

. . .

Determined to do something, Mr. Bateman developed — and in 1974 patented — his first ground proximity warning system: a small box that integrated data from within the aircraft, including the radar altimeter and airspeed indicator, and gave the pilot a 15-second warning of an approaching hazardous condition.

. . .

In the 1990s, the system improved exponentially. Engineers working with Mr. Bateman added GPS and critical terrain data, including topographical maps of Eastern Europe and China that had been charted by the Soviet Union as far back as the 1920s; they had been acquired in Russia at Mr. Bateman’s request.

“We knew, as engineers, that if we could get the terrain data, we could do an awful lot,” he told The Seattle Times.

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Don Bateman, 91, Engineer And Pioneer Who Invented A Cockpit Warning System.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, June 4, 2023): 20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated June 8, 2023, and has the title “Don Bateman, Who Kept Airplanes From Crashing, Dies at 91.”)

In Blackberry Movie “The Excitement of Disruption and the Thrill of Creation Become Tangible”

(p. C9) In Matt Johnson’s “BlackBerry” — a wonky workplace comedy that slowly shades into tragedy — the emergence of the smartphone isn’t greeted with fizzing fireworks and popping champagne corks. Instead, Johnson and his co-writer, Matthew Miller (adapting Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s 2015 book “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry”), have fashioned a tale of scrabbling toward success that tempers its humor with an oddly moving wistfulness.

. . .

. . ., we’re in Waterloo, Ontario, in 1996, where Mike Lazaridis (a perfect Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (Johnson) — best friends and co-founders of a small tech company called Research in Motion (RIM) — are trying to sell a product they call PocketLink, a revolutionary combination of cellphone, email device and pager.

. . .

The corporate types don’t understand Mike and Doug’s invention, but a predatory salesman named Jim Balsillie (a fantastic Glenn Howerton), gets it. Recently fired and fired up, Jim sees the device’s potential, making a deal to acquire part of RIM in exchange for cash and expertise. Doug, a man-child invariably accessorized with a headband and a bewildered look, is doubtful; Mike, assisted by a shock of prematurely gray hair, is wiser. He knows that they’ll need an intermediary to succeed.

Reveling in a vibe — hopeful, testy, undisciplined — that’s an ideal match for its subject, “BlackBerry” finds much of its humor in Jim’s resolve to fashion productive employees from RIM’s ebulliently geeky staff, who look and act like middle schoolers and converse in a hybrid of tech-speak and movie quotes. It’s all Vogon poetry to Jim; but as Jared Raab’s restless camera careens around the chaotic work space, the excitement of disruption and the thrill of creation become tangible.

For the full movie review, see:

Jeannette Catsoulis. “When Geeks Clash With Suits, They’re All Thumbs.” The New York Times (Friday, May 12, 2023): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the movie review has the date May 11, 2023, and has the title “‘BlackBerry’ Review: Big Dreams, Little Keyboards.”)

The book that is the basis of the movie under review in the passages quoted above is:

McNish, Jacquie, and Sean Silcoff. Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry. New York: Flatiron Books, 2015.

Growing Research Suggests Neanderthals Were More Similar to Homo Sapiens in Behavior

(p. A16) Neanderthals might be getting a bad rap. In the movie “Night at the Museum,” when the exhibits come to life after sundown, the Neanderthals are depicted as dimwitted cave men who grunt and bash rocks together in futile attempts to generate a flame. When Ben Stiller’s night-guard character gives them a lighter, one promptly sets himself on fire.

Popular culture has often depicted our Neanderthal cousins much like these museum cave men—also-rans and unsophisticated brutes whose nomadic-hunter lifestyle precluded them from social gatherings and might have contributed to their demise.

But the past decade or so has changed our understanding of Neanderthals. A growing body of research shows these extinct relatives—who overlapped in time and space with anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens—were similar to us in many ways. Recent studies suggest Neanderthals altered the landscape around them with fire and were sophisticated hunters who could exploit a variety of prey in groups larger than paleoanthropologists once thought.

Studies show the species used fire to cook, constructed tools to manipulate meat and stone, built structures and made jewelry. They swam and dove for shells, which they used as tools and beads, and distilled birch bark to make tar. Neanderthals decorated and engraved bones and used red ochre—a natural clay pigment—to alter surfaces.

“The more we learn about Neanderthals, the more similar they look to us behaviorally,” said Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London.

For the full story, see:

Aylin Woodward. “Scientific Discoveries Elevate the Minds and Skills of Neanderthals.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 11, 2023): A16.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 10, 2023, and has the title “Neanderthals and Us: We’re More Alike Than Once Thought.” The wording in the last sentence quoted above is from the print version, rather than the shorter online version, of the sentence.)

Biden EV Goals Depend on “Troubled” Business Model for Fast Charging

(p. A13) President Biden’s EV ambitions will hinge in large part on the availability of public places to plug in and repower cars reliably, a network that largely doesn’t exist. Building it won’t be easy.

While the government is (p. A2) pouring billions of dollars into developing a national highway charging network, many companies aren’t sure how they will make money off the nascent business. Fast charging requires expensive utility infrastructure and projects often encounter supply chain hang ups and long wait times to connect to the grid.

. . .

The business model for fast charging has been troubled because there aren’t enough EVs in most places yet for charging to turn a profit. Yet EV advocates say many drivers will only be comfortable purchasing vehicles if rapid charging is widely available.

Utility companies and gas stations have been arguing across several states about who will own and operate EV chargers. The expensive utility bills that can result from delivering quick jolts of power have been a particular point of contention. Meanwhile, the young companies that provide charging gear and services have struggled with equipment on the fritz, vandalism and driver payment systems, a frequent source of failure.

For the full story, see:

Jennifer Hiller. “Fast Electric-Vehicle Chargers Get Boost, But Hurdles Lurk.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 14, 2023): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 13, 2023, and has the title “Fast EV Chargers to Nearly Double on U.S. Highways Under Expansion Plan.” In the first paragraph quoted above, the online version has “Mr. Biden’s” instead of “President Biden’s.”)

Bell Labs Allowed Tanenbaum to Pursue Any Research that Interested Him

(p. A11) One evening in 1955, Morris Tanenbaum’s wife was playing bridge with friends. Dr. Tanenbaum, a chemist who worked for Bell Telephone Laboratories, the research arm of American Telephone & Telegraph Co., saw a chance to dash back to work to test his latest ideas about how to make better semiconductor devices out of silicon.

He tried a new way of connecting an aluminum wire to a silicon chip. He was thrilled when it worked, providing a way to make highly efficient transistors and other electronic devices, an essential technology for the Information Age.

“I don’t think I needed a car to get home that evening,” he said later in an oral history recorded by the IEEE History Center. “I was flying high.”

Dr. Tanenbaum’s pioneering work in the mid-1950s demonstrated that silicon was a better semiconductor material for transistors than germanium, the early favorite. He earned seven patents.

He later served as a senior executive of AT&T and helped manage the breakup of the phone monopoly mandated by the 1982 settlement of a Justice Department antitrust suit. At the signing of the consent decree, Dr. Tanenbaum cried gently, according to “The Deal of the Century,” a history of the breakup by Steve Coll.

What pained him most was the fate of Bell Laboratories, which had invented the transistor in 1947 and allowed him, as a young Ph.D. chemist in the early 1950s, to pursue basic research even if it didn’t promise near-term financial rewards.  . . .

“Bell Laboratories, the world’s premier industrial laboratory, was destroyed, a major national and global tragedy,” he wrote later in an unpublished memoir written for his family.

. . .

Hired by Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. in 1952, he was told to look around for a research project that interested him. Researchers were allowed to pursue nearly any project “potentially related to some Bell System problem or future opportunity,” he wrote later. “What more could a young person expect?”

He zeroed in on studies of potential semiconducting materials. The first transistors were made from germanium, but that material was expensive. Silicon is abundant and thus cheaper. It also helps prevent overheating of circuits. Early efforts to use silicon for electronic devices hadn’t worked well, though. That was a challenge for Dr. Tanenbaum and his colleagues, including Ernie Buehler.

They weren’t alone in finding ways to use silicon. Gordon Teal was doing similar work at Texas Instruments Inc. in the mid-1950s. “From that moment forward, the world was focused on silicon,” Dr. Tanenbaum wrote.

Though AT&T made early breakthroughs, other companies, including Intel Corp. and Texas Instruments, charged ahead with better and faster microchips that transformed the world. AT&T was busy trying to defend its telephone monopoly. On the silicon front, Dr. Tanenbaum said, “we kind of dropped the ball.”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Chemist Helped Put Silicon in Microchips.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 04, 2023): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date March 3, 2023, and has the title “Morris Tanenbaum, Who Helped Put Silicon in Microchips, Dies at 94.” The fourth paragraph quoted above appears in the online, but not the print, version.)

The book by Col mentioned above is:

Coll, Steve. The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T. New York: Atheneum Books, 1986.

Taiwanese Engineers Who Built Dictator Xi’s Computer Chips, Are Voting With Their Feet for Taiwan’s Democracy and Freedom

(p. B1) TAIPEI, Taiwan — The job offer from a Chinese semiconductor company was appealing. A higher salary. Work trips to explore new technologies.

No matter that it would be less prestigious for Kevin Li than his job in Taiwan at one of the world’s leading chip makers. Mr. Li eagerly moved to northeast China in 2018, taking part in a wave of corporate migration as the Chinese government moved aggressively to build up its semiconductor industry.

He went back to Taiwan after two years, as Covid-19 swept through China and global tensions intensified. Other highly skilled Taiwanese engineers are going home, too.

For many, the strict pandemic measures have been tiresome. Geopolitics has made the job even more fraught, with China increasingly vocal about staking its claim on Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy.

. . .

(p. B4) For now, Mr. Li is staying in Taiwan, working for an American chip company operating there and siding with the invigorated patriotic sentiment and the ethos of individual liberty.

“The advantage of working in Taiwan is that you don’t have to worry about officials shutting down the whole company because of one thought,” he said. “The atmosphere is very important. At least I can watch all kinds of programs criticizing the governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait without worrying about being arrested.”

For the full story, see:

Jane Perlez, Amy Chang Chien and John Liu. “Taiwanese Who Built Up Chip Sector in China Are Fed Up and Going Home.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 22, 2022): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 16, 2022, and has the title “Engineers From Taiwan Bolstered China’s Chip Industry. Now They’re Leaving.” The online version says that the title of the print version is “They Built Up China’s Chip Sector. Now, They’re Going Home to Taiwan” but the title of my national edition copy is “Taiwanese Who Built Up Chip Sector in China Are Fed Up and Going Home.”)

New Guineans Bred “Pretty Tasty Bananas Without Formal Knowledge of the Principles of Inheritance and Evolution”

(p. D2) Wild bananas, or Musa acuminata, have flesh packed with seeds that render the fruit almost inedible. Scientists think bananas were domesticated more than 7,000 years ago on the island of New Guinea. Humans on the island at the time bred the plants to produce fruit without being fertilized and to be seedless. They were able to develop pretty tasty bananas without formal knowledge of the principles of inheritance and evolution.

For the full story, see:

Oliver Whang. “Fruitful Research: Yes, We Have Lots of Bananas, but Not the Ones You’re Looking For.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 25, 2022): D2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 17, 2022, and has the title “The Search Is on for Mysterious Banana Ancestors.”)