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Follow those other engineering endeavors

Designers now are very busy folks, everyone knows that. But the corollary of this situation is that they often don't have time to keep up with other interesting developments.

If you aren't doing so already, follow the developments and design of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter , at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mro, which successfully reached, and went into orbit around, Mars last week. The engineering of these space vehicles is the antithesis of the short-life-cycle, mass-market products which now get so much attention and are driving our industry. And while no books have been written about the MRO mission yet, you can get a sense of what a Mars mission design is like from the recent excellent book about the successful Mars Rover missions from Roving Mars : Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet by Steve Squyres.

Other recent items of interest I have seen include an excellent article on “time” and the implications of precision measurement, in the March issue of Physics Today . Among the subtle points made in Time Too Good to Be True by Daniel Kleppner, at http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-59/iss-3/p10.html, is that as these atomic clocks get increasingly precise, one of the factors that affects them is the local gravitational field (Einstein's Special Relativity). Thus, to compare clocks at different locations, their height must be known to a fraction on a meter—not trivial at all. And the piece also points out that generating precise oscillations is one challenge, but counting them to make a clock is an equally difficult challenge.

Finally, some excellent content is either behind a registration wall or requires a paid subscription. The Wall Street Journal had a very interesting update on the structure of water, in Sharon Begley's Science Journal. The March 10, 2006 item, The Structure of Water Isn't Certain After All; Marketers Take Note , (paid subscription only, sorry) showed that many of the established ideas about the physical structure of the water molecule are turning out to be oversimplifications or even plain wrong. Who would have thought that?! In addition to the obvious scientific impact, the author also shows the implications that this development has for makers of beverages such as sports and vitamin-enhanced drinks.

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