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Archive for April, 2013

What Would Tesla Do?

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

I’ve got Tesla on the brain this week, so I’d like to review some of the events in his life and their outcome with you. Don’t worry, I’m getting to a point.

Tesla is rumored to have attached a mechanical vibrator to a support structure of his building, tuned it for resonance, and caused the entire building to shake. He got the gadget turned off before the police arrived. Did he get arrested? No.

Later at his laboratory near Colorado Springs he built a giant Tesla coil that electrified the ground for miles around. People wouldn’t ride their horses near his lab because of electric discharges between the ground and their horseshoes. Was Tesla arrested for this? No.

At the same laboratory, one night his experiments pulled too much power from the town’s overtaxed generator. The generator caught on fire and was destroyed. Was Tesla arrested? No. He did, however, have to replace the generating system.

Tesla claimed until his dying day that he was in possession of a death ray. As far as his contemporaries knew, he both the knowledge and the means to construct such a device. Was his home stormed by police? No. At least not until after he died of natural causes.

Now, fast forward a few hundred years or so. Last week, a high school student, Kiera Wilmot, in Bartow, Florida mixed a few household chemicals in an eight ounce plastic water bottle and screwed on the lid. She was standing in a mostly empty hallway at her school at 7:00 in the morning. A bit later, the lid popped off the bottle making a loud noise, and some smoke poured out of the bottle. No one was nearby, no one was hurt, and no property was damaged.

Guess what happened next? The young lady in question was taken to the principal’s office where he ascertained she had acted with no ill intent.  He then proceeded to send her to the school’s resource officer. The resource officer expelled her from school, and then called the police. The young woman was charged with weapons felonies and will be tried as an adult. Make a science mistake, go to jail!

There was a complete abdication of responsibility by every single adult involved in this incident. Watch the news interview below where the principal of the school blithely says that it’s just unfortunate such a good student made such a bad decision.

He could have prevented the whole mess. He’s presumably in charge of the school. The school’s resource officer could have acted differently. The police could have accepted responsibility for their actions and refused to arrest her. The individual at the prosecutor’s office who made the decision to try the case as a felony and in an adult court also had the option to not act or to act in a far different and less severe manner.

We have a young woman who acted out of scientific curiosity and has paid dearly for her actions so far. I’m reminded of the culture of the dark ages where science and magic were indistinguishable, and anything out of the ordinary was treated as heresy. The punishment for such heresy was swift and disproportionate forcing rational thinkers underground. Is that really the society we want to live in? Have we let our fears and desire for security push us so far that we’ll jail a kid that made a harmless mistake with a few chemicals? Has our sense of personal responsibility to our fellow human beings become nothing but meaningless platitudes that start with phrases like “My job requires me to…”, or “The rules state that I must…”? Have we become so entrenched in our efforts to prevent kids from bullying kids that we no longer care about adults bullying kids? I for one hope not. I hope this catastrophic failure can serve as a rallying point for Americans to turn things around and begin to accept responsibility for their actions and for defending their personal freedoms again. I hope this serves as a lever to begin to push out unreasoning, unthinking authoritarian structures that have obviously gone far beyond ‘beginning’ to permeate our public institutions.

IEEE Comes to the H1-B Party about 6 Years Late

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

This just in on Reuters[1].  The IEEE believes that tech companies in the United States might be using H1-B visas to hold engineering salaries low.  Quoting from the Reuters artcle:

The 200,000-member U.S. chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers rejects the claim of a broad shortage of tech workers and opposes more H-1Bs.

“What these companies are doing is to replace Americans with lower-cost foreign workers,” says Russ Harrison, senior legislative representative at the IEEE.

Apparently the IEEE has finally seen what many of us have been commenting on since 2007 and earlier.  There may not have been a real engineering shortage since oh… 2003 or so.  Evidence of the farce, I mean faux, shortage has been leaking out around the edges  ever more persistently for the last few years.  Take the following video clip where President Obama is let in on the secret.

The episode that keyed me into what was going on happened in 2006.  I walked out of a large semi company customer of mine one night to find one of their engineers smoking a cigarette and looking wistfully across the parking lot at another office building in the company compound.  We’ll call the engineer Ted.

“Hey Ted, you doing OK?”
“Yeah, I’m all right, but the guys in building six sure aren’t.  Every last one of them lost their job today.”

I figured a design project had been cut, the semi industry is notorious for that.  A few months later though, I found out that building six was still full of engineers.  A few inquiries brought the whole story to light.  About six months prior to the layoff, each engineer in building six had been provided with an Indian engineer to train.  Almost six months to the day later, the American engineers were led, like lambs to the slaughter, to the HR office and told they could go home after signing the documents regarding the details of their severance package.  Shortage indeed!

Write your congressmen if you got ‘em.  According to Reuters another visa expansion bill is on the table.  You might just think of sending your representative this quote from the Reuters article:

But wages in the tech industry are rising more slowly than those in the economy as a whole. For example, pay for applications software developers, a specialty in high demand, have risen just 8.9 percent in the five years through mid-2012, compared with a 12.5 percent increase for all occupations in the U.S. economy.

“It is extraordinarily unlikely for a severe shortage to happen in a way that doesn’t result in very large wage increases,” said Kirk Doran, an economist at the University of Notre Dame who studies immigration and labor.

“We know what a labor shortage looks like: there should be both much lower unemployment than other professions and much higher wage growth. If either of these are not present, then I don’t buy the shortage hypothesis.”

A closing thought, if there’s not a shortage, but Congress has been told that there is, who perjured themselves before a congressional hearing?  The answer can be found on any number of CSPAN video feeds by the way.  I wonder if Congress will have the temerity to go after semiconductor and software industry executrices with the same fervor that they pursued baseball players on steroids.

1. Reuters story about the IEEE and immigration