What’s on the Web?

While there are plenty of technology, science and engineering sites on the internet, I’ve often wondered how many are truly all that useful to engineers engaged in practical day-to-day work – designing bridges, embedded computer systems or machines that can automate factories.

Most sites that cover the so-called field of ‘technology’ only seem concerned with the latest games console, some new version of an internet browser, what’s going on at social networking sites, or where to buy a 3D TV.

For the most part, the ‘science’ sites aren’t that much better – unless you are interested in discovering where to find the nearest black hole, how to biomimetically copy a reticulose pseudopod, or why nanoparticles will eventually cure cancer.

Even turning to the sites that purport to cover the field of ‘engineering’ can prove frustrating. Many of these modern sites now seem to offer little in-depth engineering detail, preferring instead to present bland, uninteresting and often trivial information.

So last year, in an effort to write a piece that I thought would have more appeal to such an audience, I interviewed the chief engineer at an engineering SME to produce a detailed technical article describing a new electronic system he had developed.

It was a very interesting system indeed and I knew that my article would immediately appeal to an engineering readership, as I had worked hard to cram it full of as much technical detail as I possibly could.

After I had finished writing the article, I sent it back to the folks at the SME out of courtesy so that its engineering team might read through it to ensure that  I hadn’t made any technical gaffes in my rigorous detailed description of the system.

While the engineers at the company enjoyed the piece and found it to be an accurate description of their work, the folks in the marketing department were not so delighted with the result. The article – they felt at least – went into far too much technical detail – so much, in fact, that they were concerned that if their competition should ever read the piece, they might easily be able to reverse engineer the system!

Needless to say, I was a tad upset by the whole situation, but nevertheless recognised that to publish the piece as it was would not only jeopardise the company’s business, but destroy my reputation as a fair-minded chap. So the article itself went unpublished. And it remains to this day with the company, which has only ever used it as part of a technical manual for customer use.

But the whole exercise taught me a lesson. Before I rant about the lack of technical detail on sites again, I should remember that the journalists who run these sites are not entirely at fault. The folks in the industry – who have now become so cautious about providing any level of in-depth technical details about their new systems – are equally to blame.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Electronicstalk

Dave’s comments form part of the weekly Electronicstalk newsletter, which also includes a round-up of the latest electronic products and services for engineers. To subscribe click here