The (Internet) dream is over

Company material being released today on the Web contains little technical information about products or technology.

Company material being released today on the Web contains little technical information about products or technology.

by Andy Wilson

My brother, who works for a magazine-publishing company in England, obviously wants to be fired. His last editorial ranted about how every piece of information you ever need to know is now available on the Internet. Why bother reading trade publications, such as this, when you can key a few words into Google and obtain all the information you need? His editorial, while thought-provoking (which it was obviously meant to be), was not well reasoned.

In the early days of trade publishing, editors vied for an "exclusive"—a technical product introduction from giants such as Intel, AMD, Motorola, and TI. Massive PR efforts from the Regis McKenna agency and others fueled technical papers that were well written, technically correct, and needed little technical editing. A work force arose devoted to supplying editors with exactly what they wanted.

But things change. Today very few informative press releases are written, and those that are seem to be written by high-school graduates who have failed in both English and science. Even "communications representatives" with "advanced degrees" produce material that contains little technical information about the products or technology from the company they are supposed to represent. And it's always those people who call and ask why their "information" does not appear in the magazine. It's a sad reflection on the "greed is good," "make it quickly," or "impress your employer" attitude imbued in us by an MTV-based culture that promotes an attitude that education is superficial.

Here at Vision Systems Design, we try to cut through the clutter and present you with a meaningful look at engineering. By providing you with stories about what systems integrators can do—and have been through to get there—we hope to add value to your systems-integration task.

Unfortunately, in every business, mediocrity cannot be avoided. After having written about vision-systems design for a number of years, I have developed a few "friends" in the industry. And the stories that they tell me are not very nice.

The problem really starts with products that are not properly technically documented. This results in situations in which a developer cannot judge how a product will operate once it has been deployed. It may result in the product being inoperative when used for specific purposes.

While camera and frame-grabber vendors may, for example, tout compatibility "standards" such as Camera Link, the reality is completely different. If only I could publish the e-mails describing MSB (most significant bit) dropout errors and driver problems associated with performing a "simple" camera-to-frame-grabber connection.

The result is that the burden of integrating what may appear to be simple-to-integrate products is placed firmly on the shoulders of the system designer. In an attempt to configure machine-vision systems, developers are often faced with hours of telephone calls to product vendors asking for technical support. As a precaution, systems integrators should always ensure that the product they intend to purchase is properly documented.

At Vision Systems Design, we "always look on the bright side of life." As Winnie the Pooh would say, if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all. And so, in this publication, we describe the problems and solutions involved in systems integration by interviewing people who do just that. We give their names and contact information.

Yes, it's something you can obtain on the World Wide Web—on our Web site. And it's value-added. But if it sounds a little bit too rosy, just contact those systems integrators we talk to and ask them about MSB dropout. Then call me. I need a few good laughs...

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