Thursday, April 1, 2010

Returning to "That Old Black Magic"

(with due credit to Harold Arlen, Frank Sinatra, and others).

I've been thinking for a while that I should update the sidebar on my blog site, to better explain why it is called "The World is Analog". When I started blogging, the title was perhaps more clearly aligned with the theme of my posts. "The World is Analog" (and for a while "Analog Insights") was primarily a discussion of issues affecting analog integrated circuit designers - a poorly understood field of expertise to be sure. (At least by the non-cognoscenti, of which there are many. I know, I've worked for a lot of them!).

Today, "The World is Analog" has a somewhat different meaning to me. I have retained the title because it reflects my personal perspective, both on technology and on life in general. I believe that the more that "digital" permeates our environment and is used to shape our experiences, the more important it becomes to keep a grasp of what is real... and that real world is analog.

All sensory experience, and the real physical world we live in is analog. Digital is just a convenient simplification, an abstraction in which one may overlook the details at one's peril, but that is inextricably analog at its core. Looking purely from a technical point-of-view, there really is no such thing as a "digital" integrated circuit. Transistors are analog, regardless of whether they are used for analog or digital functions. The silicon that they are built in still conforms to the laws of physics, and the logic circuits function according to the rules of electronics, thermodynamics, etc. There is no escaping that analog rules.

I have written several times before about how engineers who choose a career path in analog electronics have a more difficult path to endure. They must master multiple sciences; physics, advanced mathematics,electronic circuit theory, etc. The best of the practitioners of analog design deserve to be recognized for their artistry in applying the scientific principles along with their own creativity to produce the innovations that we all benefit from in our daily lives.

It is for that reason that I resent the use of the term "black magic", even if meant as a compliment by those non-cognoscenti who insist on treating analog design as something mysterious. Hard? Most definitely! "Black Magic"? That's an insult. Sorcery.. witchcraft.. evil purposes? Really?? Just because you don't get it?

So, where this all started today was a post by former EE Times editor Brian Fuller, on his blog "Greeley's Ghost". Don't worry Brian, I know you meant it as a compliment.

The point of Brian's post is a good one: marketing in the electronics B2B space is very different than what they teach in school. I know this very well because I lived it as a marketing manager. Even in my MBA program at San Jose State, where their tagline is "powering silicon valley", most of the marketing classes have a consumer focus. So, I think that the proposal that Brian wrote about is a good one.

Paul Miller, head of EE Times Group, is offering the industry a chance to help solve this educational dilemma. He proposed at the recent “Ad Hoc” dinner in San Jose that he’d drive the creation of a e-B:B marketing summit if there was enough interest. There was. (Ad Hoc, which is run by longtime industry publishing luminary Frank Burge serves this purpose on a small scale).

I know some marketing VPs who could benefit from this. Perhaps then they can better understand their target customers, and we can stop referring to my esteemed analog colleagues as "black magicians".


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