Express Yourself


When Engineering Fails the Obviousness Test

Way back in the day, Arsenio Hall did a number of comedy routines called “Things that make you go hmmm…” in which he pointed out any number of humorous examples of seemingly obvious examples of bad ideas, poorly named products, etc.  In engineering circles we sometimes classify these as ideas which fail the obviousness test – as in “It should be obvious to the most casual observer that this is a bad idea”…

I’m posting this from Taipei, Taiwan where the PCI-SIG Developers Conference Asia-Pacific Tour 2013 just wrapped up.  A few funny things happened to me on the way to this particular forum – which gave me the idea for the title.  I should hurry to reassure everyone that it was nothing related to the show itself which failed my obviousness test!  In fact, this was an exceptionally successful Developer’s Conference.  We had over 200 attendees here in Taipei, with another 130 or so last week in Tokyo.

I was particularly pleased because this Taipei event is the first time PCI-SIG offered the Members Implementation track in Asia.  (For those that may not know – PCI-SIG generally presents information on the specifications themselves, while the Members Implementation track allows anyone from a PCI-SIG member company the chance to present on ways they actually use PCI-SIG technologies like PCI Express.)  I’ve had many opportunities to present for PCI-SIG here in Asia (wearing my PCI-SIG hat I like to say), and this trip I got to do both my traditional PCI Express Basics and Background session and a short overview of the new M.2 and OCuLink form-factors.  This time though I also got to “wear my Synopsys hat” and present my Migrating PCIe Designs to M-PCIe material.  I had one of the tougher time slots – right after lunch with a room of engineers who just ate an excellent meal from the Westin Taipei’s kitchens, but it seemed to go quite well.  A good number of attendees came by afterwards to see the M-PCIe demonstration platform I described.

Visitors to Synopsys' Booth at Devcon Taipei 2013
Uchi-san and William explain M-PCIe demos to APAC Devcon attendees

That actually takes me back to the title of this blog posting and engineering efforts which fail the obviousness test…  Since Scott got dragged off to visit some customers we used the video Scott instead and ran a loop of his Intel Interoperability video.

Scott "presents" by video in Taipei
“Video Scott” showing our M-PCIe Interoperability Demo

Now in Tokyo I just hooked my laptop up and let it play the video, but that was a drag because I had to keep connecting and disconnecting the monitor when I wanted to use my laptop between exhibit times.  Hanging out in Taipei over the weekend I got the bright idea to purchase a standalone video player and use that instead.  Of course since Mandarin is the most common language in Taipei, my new player came configured with that as the default language.  Not being able to read Mandarin, I stumbled through the various settings (at least easily identified by the “gear” graphic) looking for something that said “English” figuring the list of languages would include each in it’s own language!  Bzzzzt!!  Wrong!  I saw something like “英語”, “西班牙人”, “中國的”.  When I finally got the player configured in English, it gave me an English list of languages  (“English”, “Spanish”, “Chinese”).

Wouldn’t the obviousness test dictate that my choices be “English”, “español”, “中國的”?  Thus each language’s native speakers would see his/her own language listed in a way s/he could actually read it!

Actually if truth be told, my first encounter with failed obviousness tests this trip was on the flight over – on the new Boeing 787.  Make no mistake, the 787 is a very cool airplane, and the geek engineer in me absolutely loves the idea of the electro-chromatic windows, but did no one on the design team ever actually fly transoceanic in a 787 before releasing these???  It turns out I’m not the only one to complain about this – but the darkest setting on the windows doesn’t make the cabin actually dark.  Worse, I was in a window seat on the sun side of our Los Angeles to Tokyo flight – so I had this bright blue disk of sunlight in my eyes the whole way.  Again, the obviousness test would seem to be to actually try out new features before shipping them!

Thanks for reading Express Yourself , and thanks to all the attendees in both Tokyo and Taipei for making this Developers Conference such a success!  As always, please subscribe and feel free to leave a comment with any other obviousness test failures – especially if you feel there are any related to PCI Express!


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