We Think We are Improving

Posted by bob on August 10, 2020

Various electronic design magazines have been a part of my life since college. A friend had shared that I could get a free subscription to one of these, even though my electronics career was just barely starting. The knowledge I gained from pouring through the pages of these publications seemed to consistently put me a half step ahead of some peers whose major interests lay elsewhere. I was lucky enough to love electronics in general. Making a living by playing with all of those neat toys (oops--I mean tools) was almost beyond my wildest imagination.

Trade magazines (and their web-based descendants) are a strange business. Their customers are the advertisers. Surprise! The readers are not the customer for the magazine. Instead, the reader’s eyeballs’ are the product. Magazines deliver this product using the strategy of offering lots of interesting and informative free content to those readers. Strangely, some of the advertisements become a portion of the interesting content. Many times, the readers also contribute content to the publication.

One thing I noticed many years ago about the various publications (Electronic Design Magazine, EDN Magazine, EETimes among others) was that some of them included columns by various experienced editors or contributors. Sometimes humorous, sometimes solemn, and almost always informative, I found myself growing quite attached to these folks.

These included George Rostky, Frank Burge, Bob Pease, and Jim Williams as some of my favorites. Sadly, all in that list are now deceased. The only person from that list that I ever met in person was Bob Pease. I once kept my 16 year old son home from school and drove 120 miles to Cincinnati so that we could share the experience of listening to Bob Pease speak at one of the National Semiconductor traveling lectures.

These days I find that I really appreciate various writings from Jack Ganssle, Lou Frenzel, Paul Rako, and Bill Wong.

In my post about fortune cookies, I cited a favorite fortune that said, “If your friends are not making fun of you, then they are not really your friends.” So you have to understand that the following story comes from great love and respect, even if I am gently kidding some folks I consider to be friends.

About 4 months ago, I received an email from Electronic Design with the subject line, “We’re improving. Have you checked us out lately?” I probably clicked on one link that looked interesting (I think it was something about snubber capacitors) and then deleted the email.

Then I received another email with the same title. It seemed to have the exact same content so that new email went quickly to the trash. This cycle seemed to repeat for many days.

One day, my curiosity got the better of me and I pulled back the original email from trash and compared it to the newest one. It was exactly the same length, included the same links, and appeared to be absolutely identical. Okay, this is getting interesting. I created a folder called, “We think we are improving” and pulled all of the previous copies from the Deleted Items folder and moved them to “We think we are improving.”

Recently, I received the 120th copy of that same email.

We Think We are Improving120e.jpg

 

I wonder if somebody in Electronic Design’s subscriber outreach team created a script that nobody realizes is still churning out these emails? Am I the only person receiving this zombie email? Will it ever stop? Will they eventually put some new article links in there? I certainly receive other email newsletters from Electronic Design that point to new content.

About a month ago, a couple of days went by with no new “We think we are improving” email. I started to worry. Are my friends at Electronic Design okay? Was this a new symptom of COVID-19 despair? Did they conclude that they just aren’t improving enough to continue to trumpet the same 3 articles? Nope, just as suddenly the daily email started up again. It wasn’t enough to make me think that all was right with the world again, but in a very strange way it was re-assuring.

Perhaps the bigger lesson (besides my desire to tease my virtual friends) is that we all need to believe that we are improving. We need to work every day on making ourselves better problem solvers than we were the day before. We need to vacuum up knowledge, advice, and humor from experts. We need to find better ways to clearly document what we do. Let’s all keep improving, even if we don’t send other folks a daily reminder that we are doing so.