Monday, May 31, 2010

High integrity software resources from the FAA

A frequently overlooked source of good material on high integrity software development is the Federal Aviation Administration's Air Software site.

For example right now you can get a free CD from them, while they last. Always nice to see that our taxes do, on a rare occasion, produce something that can be used:

"Presentations from the 2009 Software & Airborne Electronic Hardware (SW&AEH) Conference are still available on CD. To request a CD, send [the FAA] an email with your name and mailing address."

The item worth pointing out the most, on the Air Software site, is:

Object Oriented Technology in Aviation (OOTiA) Handbook, Published October 26, 2004.

The languages C++, Ada95 and Java are covered. However what is more important is the introductory material and reasoning behind Object Oriented Technology. This is Must Read material for someone pondering switching from C to C++.

The OOTiA is also an excellent introduction to proper software development mentods.

The Handbook does make the common error of confusing Concurrency with Simultaneity, giving the errant definition of: "Concurrency is the process of carrying out several events simultaneously."

'Concurrently' in the context of Embedded Systems means "Apparently at the same time", while 'Simultaneously' means "At the same time". The distinction is subtle but extremal important to creating correct real time code. A small single core Micro will never be executing different instructions simultaneously, yet it will be doing many things in hardware such as ticking timers and receiving characters via a serial port simultaneously.

Just because we might be able to use Object Oriented Methodologies in our systems, does that mean that we should? Volume Two of the OOTiA addresses this, as do a couple of articles from Embedded Systems magazine: Nuts to OOP and Michael Barr's rebuttal.

"Adoption of C++ does not suddenly transform C programmers into object-oriented programmers. A complete change of thinking is required, and C++ actually makes this difficult. Many of C’s problems affect the way that object-orientation is implemented and used in C++."
"Going object-oriented for the wrong reasons: There are "many more misunderstood, misguided, or just downright bad reasons for going object-oriented". These include (but are not limited to): wanting to cut back on development staff, thinking OOT will significantly reduce the need for testing, thinking that your project can be completed five to ten times faster using OOT, thinking the use of OOT will reduce project risk, and wanting to be able to build future products simply by plugging software components together."

Volume Two also covers one of my pet-peeves Identifying Dead and Deactivated Code. Volume Three gives details issue of dead object code. Seeing lines of dead source code, code commented out with "//" in C code, irritates me to no end. What is worse is there is no comment as to why the code was commented out, then left in the source file. If you do really need to comment out code use "#if 0 #endif when working in C.

There are two standards that try to illuminate some of the darker corners of C++, to make the language safe to use in Embedded Systems, MISRA C++ and Joint Strike Fighter Air Vehicle C++ Coding Standards. The fact that we have to have such standards implies that we are using the wrong tool for the job. The question becomes is there a safe tool, ie: language for hard real time systems? Erlang comes to mind for soft real time systems.

In looking around I did stumble across a 'safe' version of C# called Spec# from Microsoft Research. Alas it looks like a dead project, and the likely hood of it working on a small micro is zero.

Introduction to The Boost C++ Libraries

Boris Schäling has created a book that gives an introduction to the The Boost C++ Libraries.

Boost provides free peer-reviewed portable C++ source libraries. Many of which will be part of the new C++0x standard when it is released some year.

"This book is an introduction to the Boost C++ Libraries which complement the C++ standard by adding functions helpful in practice. As the Boost C++ Libraries are based on the C++ standard, they are implemented using state-of-the-art C++. They are platform independent and are supported on many operating systems including Windows and Linux by a large developer community.

The Boost C++ Libraries enable you to boost your productivity as a C++ developer. For example, you can benefit from smart pointers which help you to write more reliable code or use one of the many libraries to develop platform independent network applications. Since many Boost C++ Libraries are going to be incorporated into the next version of the C++ standard, you can prepare yourself starting today."

I use the Boost libraries extensively myself when developing Windows or Linux based code. Alas I've yet to find a C++ compiler that I'm happy with that will run on small embedded micros, that would allow me to take advantaged of Boost.

Just because we can, does that mean we should?

Some inventions like Voice Mail and the iPad Steering Wheel Mount, really should never have been invented.

One site claims this is the patent of the Steering Wheel Mount, however that time line does not fit.

Just because we can make dangerous and destructive products, does that mean that we should? Having been run off the road by a Texting-Teen, problems like these are all to real.

My personal view of Apple's products is more along the lines of this patent: GB1151321. If I'm going to fork out Big Bucks for a product, I'm going to use it anyway that I see fit, but Apple says I can only run their "Approved Apps". No thanks, I'll wait for something Open Source based.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Life is short. Even shorter when you are disabled. Accessibility Considerations.

I had already planned on writing this blog entry today about the new GNU Accessibility Statement, when I found out last night that a friend and fellow hardware designer, firmware developer had passed on.

My friend was wheel chair bound, having no use of his legs, and almost no use of his arms, yet if you only knew him by email or the telephone you would have no knowledge of this.

The estate asked me to pass on this message, to anyone that might put his circuit board making equipment to good use:

LPKF ProtoMat S62 for sale

"I am looking to sell our circuit board plotter. I'm selling the plotter, press, computer, vacuum pump, UV lamp and miscellaneous consumables for $20,000.00."

Plotter and peripheral equipment produce multilayer PCBs, eight layers seems to be the max, up to 9 in x 12" in size, with plated through-hole support. It took me about four hours to make a four layer board the first time I used this system, myself.

I know the equipment was well take care of, and cost about $60k+ when it was bought new in 2006. Sold only as the complete set and you must pick it up in the Pittsburgh/Cleveland region, due to the weight, which is several hundred pounds for the press alone. May be able to get it delivered via one of the principles pickup truck if necessary.

Send email if you are interested.

For full disclosure I was offered a commission to sell this, which I declined, just want to see the family move on with their lives, and funerals are far more expensive than most people realize.

While you can have a $800 funeral prices that run into the thousands of dollars are more typical. These prices come as a surprise to the grieving, when they are not thinking clearly, and often do not have money set aside for this inevitable part of life.

Life is short, we never know when our number is going to be up...

The AxTk accessibility toolkit based on wxWidgets is also something I want to mention.

"AxTk is built on top of wxWidgets and will help you create a menu-based, highly accessible user interface with speech output, mainly for use by visually impaired people. The menu provides a very uniform method of navigation. By menu, I don't mean a menubar or context menu that you find in most applications; instead AxTk uses a list control, refreshed as required to reflect the underlying menu structure. The menus is dynamically extended as the user navigates through the application, and modal (blocking) menu selection is supported when necessary. An example of this is the AxFileMenuItem component, which shows a file hierarchy when clicked and sets a string value to the selected path."
"The GNU Project has published an initiative to create features that can be used by people with low vision, deafness, learning and reading disabilities, and for people with mobility and other physical issues who can use an on-screen keyboard."
"According to the United Nations in 2005, there were 600 million people with disabilities in the world. To use computers, many of them need special software known as “access technology”. Like other programs, these can be free software or proprietary. Those which are free software respect the freedom of their users; the rest, proprietary programs, subject those users to the power of the program's owner."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Counterfeit ESD products. Guide on EMC for Functional Safety.

Interference Technology of ITEM Publications, has released their 2010 EMC Directory and Design Guide - Digital Edition. [Alas the Digital Edition is an annoying FlipBook that does not render correctly in Opera. Using FireFox you can find the link to the PDF version.]

Several interesting articles, but there are two in particular I wanted to bring to your attention:

  • The Dip Tube by Robert J. Vermillion.
  • The IET’s Guide on EMC for Functional Safety by Keith Armstrong.

To the first one you've got to be wondering whats a Dip Tube? Properly rendered as DIP, Dual Inline Package, it makes more sense to you I'm sure. Those long plastic rails that our ICs are supplied to us in from the factory. It seems that not only do we have to worry about counterfeit parts. We now have to also worry about real parts coming in counterfeit anti-static protection, making the real parts unusable junk. Also offers some words of wisdom on reusing anti-static protection. The words are "don't do it".

The lengthy second article is an introduction to the Guide on EMC for Functional Safety, August 2008, ISBN 978-0-9555118-2-0. Available from The Institution of Engineering and Technology as a PDF, or as a real book (colored chemicals on dead trees). Checklists are found here.

The guide is a 9-step Process to Functional Safety taking EMC in to account. It even includes useful checklists to aid project management, design and compliance assessment.

I'll quote Mr. Armstrong introduction directly:

"Electronic complexity is increasing with no end in sight, increasing self-generated noise levels, while the feature sizes in silicon integrated circuits continue to shrink, making them emit more noise while at the same time more susceptible to noise. The use of electronics in safety related applications is growing very rapidly indeed, with (once again) no end in sight.

We have already reached the point where the normal testing-based approach to electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) is totally inadequate where safety is concerned, as current media interest in automobiles with malfunctioning 'electronic throttles' shows. [The Toyota problem seems like a classic case of Priority Inversion to me.]


It comprehensively describes practical and cost-effective procedures for both management and engineering, and can be used immediately to help to save lives and reduce injuries, whenever electronic technologies are used in safety-implicated products, systems or installations of any kind. It is so practical that it even includes useful checklists to aid project management, design and compliance assessment.


The IET Guide can also be used to improve reliability, for example in high-reliability, mission-critical, or legal metrology applications.


EMC immunity testing is never sufficient on its own for safety I hope I have shown that EMC testing can never be sufficient - on its own - to demonstrate that functional safety risks are low-enough, or that risk-reduction will be high enough, over the life-cycle of an EFS, taking its physical and climatic environments (including wear and aging) into account. The number of variables is simply too large. Test plans could be drawn up which would provide the necessary design confidence, but no-one (even governments) could afford their cost, or the very long time they would take. But we’ve been here before! In the 1990s it was realised that testing was not sufficient to demonstrate that software programs were reliable enough for use in safety systems. After many hundreds of man-years of work by academia and industry, the result was Part 3 of IEC 61508."

While on the subject of EMC, Mr. Armstrong is a frequent contributor to the EMC Journal freely available from the Compliance Club. Do check out the past archives of the Journal.

Software Human Capital in DoD. Four year degrees not recommended. StartUp Visa Act.

The May/2010 issue of CrossTalk, the journal of Defense Software Engineering, just out, is all about "Software Human Capital". Articles cover Software Competencies, Software Practitioner Recruiting, and one on distinguishing between software professionals and "amateurs", among several others.

The overall theme of the issue is that the DoD can not find enough knowledgeable people to create and maintain the software and firmware of today's complex modern weapon systems.

The article on professionals vs. "amateurs" is the one I find of most interest. How many of us have seen the job ads that say "Must have knowledge of X" but never tells us what actually needed to be done?:

"On the topic of hiring competent staff, professionals must be dismayed at the high proportion of job advertisements, over a substantial period, focused on low-caliber skills. For instance, experiences with a specific programming language or a particular requirements management or design tool are often cited as essential skills. With regard to requirements, the major skill is always in the specification: Tool proficiency can inject quality into requirements management, not the specification thereof. A skilled engineer will be trained to specify atomic, consistent, structured, and testable requirements..."

I do fall in the 'dismayed' category myself.

Characteristics of Software Professionals versus Amateurs:

Professional Amateurs
Views the overall task as an engineering discipline. Describes the overall task as an art or carft.
Promotes a holistic, life cycle view. Holds an implementation, coding bias.
Places emphasis on the application or problem domain, and presents architectural solutions. Places emphasis on the technical details of the solution domain to the detriment of the customer or user.
Learns principally from published engineering literature. Learns principally by emulating colleagues.[All depends on the colleagues in my view.]
Encourages compliance with industry standards. Prefers improvised, local procedures.
Employs quality criteria to manage projects. Manages projects via schedule alone.
Conveys an outward, discipline focus. Conveys an inward, project focus.
Exhibits a balanced approach to risk. Adopts a naive approach to risk. [Always go with the lowest price, no mater the costs.]

The legacies of Adam Smith and Robert Owen are an important reminder to us that people are at the heart of commercial and social success. In our rapidly changing technological world, it is worth considering their centuries-old wisdom. Perhaps there is an opportunity for our organizations to look again at the value, rather than the cost, of their people assets. When people are viewed truly as vital assets, then investment in them is sure to deliver a mutually beneficial corporate future. This will, in turn, lead to greater customer satisfaction.

To present opposing view points to professionals education, as Cass Sunstein: Internet Mandates, Spread the Link Love wants to force us bloggers to do, here are a couple differing views on our education system:

On this hand we have College for all? Experts say not necessarily: This graduation season, some experts challenge whether four-year degree is path to success:

"The notion that a four-year degree is essential for real success is being challenged by a growing number of economists, policy analysts and academics. They say more Americans should consider other options such as technical training or two-year schools, which have been embraced in Europe for decades [Isn't Europe's economy about to go under from massive debt? Seems like a poor reason to copy them.] ..."Our national system is, 'Do you have a degree or not?'" - John Reynolds, a Florida State sociology professor said. "That doesn't really measure if you have skills."

All the job ads I see always start or end with "must have BS degree". HR has no interest in finding out if you can really do the work or not if you don't have the BS. Does that make us professionals or amateurs?

On the other hand we have StartUp Visa Act of 2010 (Introduced in Senate) S 3029 IS, that says we don't have enough smart entrepreneurs in the US, that we have to bribe them to come here to start small businesses. "To establish an employment-based immigrant visa for alien entrepreneurs who have received significant capital from investors to establish a business in the United States."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Building Security In Maturity Model, comparative security study for your security initiative

I just came across something called the Building Security In Maturity Model (BSIMM), pronounced "bee simm", study that should be important to us all which is security. If you don't have a software security initiative, you need one. This one has been released under a creative commons license. We can use BSIMM as a measuring stick to determine where our approaches to software security currently stands relative to other firms. I recognized a couple of the names listed has participants in the study as being involved in the Embedded Space, we need to see more.
"The BSIMM is a study of real-world software security initiatives organized so that you can determine where you stand with your software security initiative and how to evolve your efforts over time."

Maxim Infusion Pump Design Application Note

To continue what seems to be turning in to a series on Infusion Pumps, Maxim has just released (May/10th/2010) Application Note 4675 Important considerations for insulin pump and portable medical designs by John Mossman.

"Abstract: This tutorial discusses critical considerations requiring attention when designing an insulin pump, including FDA regulation, form-factor requirements, and power-budget constraints. It also provides summary coverage of self-testing, flow sensing, alarms, and electrostatic-discharge variables."

The App. Note gives a good high-level description of what kind of hardware needs to go into an Infusion Pump design. Weak in the area of firmware.

Past blogs about Infusion Pumps:

What has been your experience with Maxim's delivery performance? I've worked in two companies where designing in Maxim parts is outright banned, because of them not delivering parts on schedule, consistently. To bad, as on paper Maxim makes some parts that would really be useful in designs.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

New NIST Handbook of Mathematical Functions, Kiss My Math! Speed Learning Math

Forty Six years in the making, the U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released the Digital Library of Mathematical Functions (DLMF) and its printed companion, the NIST Handbook of Mathematical Functions, edited by Frank W. J. Olver, Daniel W. Lozier, Ronald F. Boisvert, and Charles W. Clark. This is successors to the NIST's most widely cited publication of all time. The full announcement with video may be found here.

"The new 36-chapter tome is designed to be the definitive reference work on applied mathematics' "special functions," the term collectively used to describe the most important and widely employed mathematical functions. Special functions appear whenever natural phenomena are studied, engineering problems are formulated, and computer simulations are performed. They also crop up in statistics, financial models, and economic analysis."

The digital library is available at Its 967-page printed companion, the NIST Handbook of Mathematical Functions; ISBN 9780521192255, is published by Cambridge University Press.

Not directly related, but worth mentioning is there is a new fellowship program at NIST, which is being administered by the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado. Selections begin at the end of May 2010, and will continue at least initially on an ongoing basis.

Having never be particularly found of our broken Schools Systems, I'm always looking on the look out for unusual and more importantly interesting ways, of teaching mathematics in a Home School environment.

One such Math System is the Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics.

You can download a copy of the long out-of-print book The Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics by Jakow Trachtenberg, A. Cutler (Translator), R. McShane (Translator), Rudolph Mcshane (Translator) from Scribd's.

Trachtenberg's system teaches us how to do complex mathematics in our head quickly, even for those whom are 'Math Challenged' and can't never seem to get a grip on memorizing multiplication tables.

An other interesting take on math comes from actress and author Danica McKellar, best known for her roles on the television series The Wonder Years and The West Wing has published her latest book Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss.

Ms. McKellar's books are specifically aimed at young girls, in the grades seven to nine.

Ms. McKellar's previous book was Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail.

While Ms. McKellar's books are aimed specifically at girls, Real Men and Teenage Boys, know that a good foundation in mathematics is one of the prime ingredients to becoming wealthy. So you boys need to put a plan brown wrapper on the book, then suck it up in study-hall, and you might just end up setting next to that hot girl of your dreams in Math Class...who said math was of no use? :-)

  EMACS function to print Multiplication table from my .emacs file, alas it has been in there for so long I no longer have the name of the person that wrote it originally:

(cond (t
       (defun mult-table()
         "Prints a formatted multiplication table."
         (switch-to-buffer "*MULT*")
         (insert "Multiplication table:\n\n")
         (let ((i 1))
                                        ; Start of table.  Print header.
           (insert "     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10\n")
           (while (< i 11)
             (setq j 1)
             (if (< i 10)
                 (insert (format "\n %d " i))
               (insert (format "\n%d " i))
             (while (< j 11)
               (setq k (* i j))
               (if (< k 10)
                   (insert (format "  %d" k))
                 (insert (format " %d" k))
               (setq j (+ j 1))
             (setq i (+ i 1))

Thursday, May 6, 2010

200,000 Infusion Pumps ordered destroyed by FDA, due to software defects and other problems

As a following up our my previous blog on Infusion Pump problems, I thought I'd point out that the FDA says one model is so bad, it has order 200,000 of them to be destroyed:

FDA Issues Statement on Baxter’s Recall of Colleague Infusion Pumps

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to Baxter Healthcare Corp. on April 30 ordering the company to recall and destroy all of its Colleague Volumetric Infusion Pumps (Colleague pumps) currently in use in the United States. This action is based on a longstanding failure to correct many serious problems with the pumps. The FDA believes there may be as many as 200,000 of those pumps currently in use.

An FDA analysis of these adverse events has uncovered software defects, user interface problems and mechanical and electrical failures

Additionally, the FDA is ordering the company to provide refunds to customers or replace pumps at no cost to customers help defray the cost of replacement.

Infusion pumps are devices that deliver fluids, including nutrients and medications, into a patient's body in a controlled manner. They are widely used in hospitals, other clinical settings and, increasingly, in the home because they allow a greater level of accuracy in fluid delivery.

Hospitals and other users of Baxter’s Colleague pumps will be receiving further instruction and information from Baxter and the FDA regarding their transition.

The FDA has been working with Baxter since 1999 to correct numerous device flaws. Since then, Colleague pumps have been the subject of several Class I recalls for battery swelling, inadvertent power off, service data errors, and other issues. In June 2006, the FDA was obtained a consent decree of permanent injunction in which Baxter agreed to stop manufacturing and distributing all models of the Colleague pump until the company corrected manufacturing deficiencies and until devices in use were brought into compliance. Since then, Baxter has made numerous changes to the Colleague pumps but these changes have not corrected the product defect leading to the permanent injunction.

On April 8, 2010, Baxter submitted a proposed correction schedule to the FDA that stated that Baxter did not plan to begin the latest round of corrections to the adulterated and misbranded pumps until May 2012. The proposal also stated that Baxter does not anticipate completion of the proposed corrections until 2013. On that schedule, a device with known safety concerns would remain in use on patients needing specialized care until 2013. FDA found this proposal unacceptable. The 2006 consent decree gave FDA authority to take any action it deemed appropriate. The FDA has determined that this action is necessary, as Baxter has failed to adequately correct, within a reasonable time frame, the deficiencies in the Colleague infusion pumps still in use.

Therefore the FDA is now ordering Baxter to:

  • Recall and destroy all Colleague infusion pumps.
  • Reimburse customers for the value of the recalled device.
  • Assist in finding a replacement for these customers.

Infusion pumps, including the Baxter Colleague models, have been the source of persistent safety problems. In the past five years, the FDA has received more than 56,000 reports of adverse events associated with the use of infusion pumps. Those events have included serious injuries and more than 500 deaths. Between 2005 and 2009, 87 infusion pump recalls were conducted to address identified safety concerns, according to FDA data.

An FDA analysis of these adverse events has uncovered software defects, user interface problems and mechanical and electrical failures. Problems with infusion pumps are not confined to one manufacturer or one type of device.

In response, last month the FDA announced a new initiative to address safety problems associated with infusion pumps. As part of its initiative, the FDA is moving to establish additional premarket requirements manufacturers will be expected to meet, in part through static testing in FDA’s facilities before device submissions. The FDA is also holding a May public workshop on infusion pump design, and the agency is raising public awareness of the issue among health care workers and patients.

For more information:
Questions and Answers About the Baxter Colleague Recall, Refund, and Replacement Action

Sunday, May 2, 2010

FDA says commercial software kills, but Open Source won't?

In the last couple of weeks the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to take on the external Infusion Pump industry. Saying that these devices have harmed to many people, because of bad interface designs, and bad software.

  • "Software Defects. Many of the problems that have been reported are related to software malfunctions. For example, some pumps fail to activate pre-programmed alarms when problems occur, while others activate an alarm in the absence of a problem. Other software errors can lead to over- or under-infusion. In one case, a software problem called a “key bounce” caused an infusion pump to occasionally register one keystroke (e.g., a single zero, “0”) as multiple keystrokes (e.g., a double zero, “00”)."
  • "User Interface Issues. There have also been numerous reports of confusing or unclear on-screen user instructions, which may lead to improper programming of medication doses or infusion rates. For example, the design of the infusion pump screen may not make clear which units of measurement (e.g., pounds versus kilograms) should be used to enter patient data, leading to inappropriate dosing."

An infusion pump is a medical device that delivers fluids, such as nutrients and medications, into a patient’s body in controlled amounts. Infusion pumps are in widespread use in clinical settings such as hospitals, and in the home.

The FDA is going to be holding a public meeting May 25 and 26, 2010, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Persons interested in attending the meeting must register by 5 p.m. on May 18, 2010.

"The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is announcing a public meeting regarding external infusion pumps. The purpose of the meeting is to inform the public about current problems associated with external infusion pump use, to help the agency identify quality assurance strategies to mitigate these problems, and to solicit comments and input regarding how to bring more effective external infusion pumps to market."fu

The public meeting will be held at the Hilton Silver Spring hotel, 8727 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, MD 20910.

To correct these Infusion Pump problems the FDA has started their Infusion Pumps Improvement Initiative.

The FDA has partnered with the University of Pennsylvania to create the Generic Infusion Pump (GIP) project. This project is to develop a set of generic infusion pump (safety) models and reference specifications that can be used as a reference standard to verify safety properties in different classes of infusion pumps. They supply an example State Machine among other things.

While I think that the FDA University Partnership is a good thing, I have blogged in the past about the split between industry practice and academic research, where I ask How do we get safe software from Academia that deals with real world economics of real hardware?. I've sat on Government committees in the past where I was the only person who actually had to ship a product. Without input from people doing the work on the ground directives from-on-high usually result in impossible to meet requirements, that allows one to ship a prodcut. Lets hope that this Open Source initiative saves lives.

The FDA offering its in-house expertise to help prevent malfunctions in infusion pump software. "FDA’s software experts are proficient in static analysis of software code, which can help to identify programming errors. In its letter to infusion pump manufacturers, FDA is offering manufacturers the option of submitting the software code used in their infusion pumps for analysis by agency experts prior to premarket review of new or modified devices, in order to facilitate the early detection and correction of any design defects."

The FDA is launching a new infusion pump website, which features basic information about infusion pumps and commonly seen problems. The site also describes actions that patients and professionals who interact with infusion pumps – including hospital staff and administrators, as well as home users – could take to help prevent safety problems. FDA encourages all users to report infusion pump problems, in order to help the agency develop a better understanding of the risk-benefit profile of these devices and take appropriate actions to enhance patient safety.

Something else the FDA has started to take on is Home Use Medical Devices. Homes can present design challenges that we as designers do not think of because we see them so often they do not enter our conscious mind, such as Cat Fur. For example cat fur in a patient's kidney dialysis tubing entered the patient's body and caused peritonitis, a potentially life-threatening infection of the membrane that lines the organs inside the abdomen. [Was the cat fur left over from the static tests?]

A more generic problem in the medical arena is Alarm Fatigue. Having just spent a lot of time in the hospital with my late father, I know how annoying, and how often the various medical alarms are turned off or ignored. Philips warning letter illustrates the point: Switching the alarm source from Heart Rate to Pulse without considering that ECG and arrhythmia alarming is not available in this mode about bad interface and Alarm Fatigue.

Over at Safety Leaders you can find a lot more information on medical mistakes such as the documentary, Chasing Zero: Winning the War on Healthcare Harm.

Writing 4 engineers

Clive Maxfield is starting a mini-series on proper grammar and punctuation in technical writing over at TechBites: Writing 4 Engineers: Introduction and Index.

People that have to write technical papers, or people that write blogs [Oh, you mean Me?], as part of their job, or to get a job should check it out. I know of one person that lost out on a job opportunity because they used the word "there" rather than "their" in their resume cover-letter.

Max even devotes an entry to Unit Qualifiers, something that I've blogged about previously.

Max touches on Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, which I'd put on your Required Reading list. Spending a few minutes at The Apostrophe Protection Society is also worth your time.

I'm sure that you agree with Mark Twain who said: The English alphabet is pure insanity.. Spelling doubly so.

Eye stold dis frum anodder net. Candidate for a Pullet Surprise Often called "An Owed to the Spelling Checker" by Jerrold H. Zar:

I have a spelling checker - It came with my PC. It plane lee marks four my revue Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it, Your sure reel glad two no. Its vary polished in it's weigh, My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing, It freeze yew lodes of thyme. It helps me right awl stiles two reed, And aides me when aye rime.

To rite with care is quite a feet Of witch won should be proud. And wee mussed dew the best wee can, Sew flaws are knot aloud.

And now bee cause my spelling Is checked with such grate flare, Their are know faults with in my cite, Of nun eye am a wear.

Each frays come posed up on my screen Eye trussed to bee a joule The checker poured o'er every word To cheque sum spelling rule.

That's why aye brake in two averse By righting wants too pleas. Sow now ewe sea why aye dew prays Such soft wear for pea seas!

There is a solution to this whole mess, and it is the Unifon Alfubet. How do we change the world to system based on logic?

Always remember that a Thesaurus is a dinosaur with a really good vocabulary...

Psst. Want make a quick five grand? Tell us how to Measuring and Predicting the Performance of an R&D Organization. Deadline May 30th 2010

"Measuring and Predicting the Performance of an R&D Organization: The [InnoCentive] Seeker is looking for new ideas on how to measure and quantify the performance of an innovative R&D organization. In addition, the Seeker is interested in identifying a model to predict the future success-likelihood of an R&D organization, based on a pre-defined set of performance criteria. The goal of this Challenge is to preserve and increase the value of an R&D organization within a company."

The above is something that I came across this week. As someone who has worked, and currently works, in R&D departments, I've got to wonder what the motivation for that idea might be? Does "preserve" represent the R&D's own attempt at proving its value to management? Does "increase the value" represent the Bean Counters attempt to get money out of a department for this quarters, short sighted, bottom line? We can only speculate. If you do have an idea, for doing such measurements they are willing to reward you $1000 to $5000.

My question to you is how long should pure research take? In all of my own years in R&D I can't really think of any pure research that was done for the sake of learning something new, that has not been known before. It has always been about product development, something tangible that could be shipped at the end of the month or the end of the quarter, or before the next show deadline.

We all have research ideas, my own would be to study the past work of James Harris Rogers for communications, and low energy plasmas for energy. Alas few organization are willing to foot the bill for pure research that may lead to nothing, or lead to the next technological revolution.

As few employers are willing to fund ideas, there are at least two "services" that I know of where we are offered money in exchange for our ideas, when they match up for what someone else needs: InnoCentive and Yet2. [Make sure you're not violating any terms of your employment contract, by participating with such services.]

InnoCentive describes themselves as "the global innovation marketplace where creative minds solve some of the world's most important problems for cash awards up to $1 million".

Yet2 says their "mission is to help you identify and capture the full value of your intellectual assets. Intangibles such as intellectual property (IP) comprise as much as 75% of the market value of many companies. Yet, many companies do a less-than-optimal job of leveraging and extracting value from their IP."

There was one particularly memorable Yet2 opportunity where the Seeker was offering $5000 for something that I would think would be worth billions, if it was to ever be created. If I was to repost it here no family or spam filter would ever let it through... What actually makes it memorable was how low an amount was being offered for something that would be so valuable.

Today's [May/2nd/2010] Yet2 headline is interesting as well:

"Seeking: Ideas and protocols that can differentiate terrestrial life from indigenous exobiological life -- If you found a microbe on Mars, how could you tell if it was indigenous or if it had hitched a ride there from Earth?"

If you really want to find out about Life On Mars, make sure you read up on Erich Von Daniken, Zakaria Sitchin, and Immanuel Velikovsky.

Exobiological life, Microbial life on Mars, Zakaria Sitchin, Erich Von Daniken, Immanuel Velikovsky, Research and Development, Indigenous Life, Yet2, InnoCentive

Dilbert for only $19.99!

Now for the earthshaking import blog post, you can now legally use Dilbert cartoons for use on your web site, and in your documentation, for less than $20. Buy them from the Official Dilbert Strip-O-Matic.   Scott explains why:

"The old way of licensing Dilbert was so cumbersome that I spent a lot of time convincing people they shouldn't even try. My end of the conversation usually involved something like "Just use it without permission and don't tell me about it." When pressed for an explanation as to why doing such a seemingly simple thing would be a nightmare, I launched into my explanation of copyright protections, lawyers, contracts, approval processes, and all the phone calls, faxes, e-mails, and cursing involved to get a tiny license for a limited use. It was a good way for me to experience self-loathing with a dollop of someone else loathing me at the same time."

As someone who did go through that old "cumbersome" process to properly license the past strip on getting requirements from the customer, I wonder if I can get a refund of the difference in price? Probably means dealing with the Accounting Trolls...;-)