12-15-12 Hodgepodge

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Licking an Old Problem -- Again

The headline sounds interesting from a scientific standpoint and it quickly becomes apparent that the finding has real-world applications that can improve our lives. As we read, "USC Doctoral Student Unravels 'Tin Whisker' Mystery", we learn the following:

Little-known culprits of this electronic destruction, tiny killers that leave no evidence the human eye can detect, are microscopic strands known as "whiskers." These hair-like fibers of metal grow out of the tin used as solder and coating on many electronic circuits. The presence of these whiskers can cause short-circuits since they act as bridges to conduct electricity to closely-spaced parts, a problem expected to become more prevalent as devices are designed smaller and smaller.
The problem has been known since around World War II and, despite the phenomenon being incompletely understood, there is already a solution: mixing a small amount of lead into the tin solder. Unfortunately, the EU banned this practice in 2006 and we may well see, thanks to this improper intrusion of government, "miniature devices built after the ban ... failing en masse".

On top of the above problem, consider the question of whether this work was truly worthwhile. Perhaps this research was worthwhile for other reasons, but one can only wonder what other work wasn't done so the pursuit of the solution to a problem that had already been solved could go on.

Weekend Reading

"Supporters of the compensation ban have unquestioningly allowed their mistaken moral discomfort to warp the market and condemn many to an unnecessarily early death." -- Amesh Adalja, in "To Save Lives Allow Individuals to Sell Their Organs" at Forbes

"Rational distinctions are key to understanding the difference between a mentally reasonable person and one who isn't so reasonable, i.e., one who is prone to addictive or excessive behaviors." -- Michael Hurd, in "How Much Is too Much?" at The Delaware Coast Press

"[The new edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM)] will contain some enlightened changes." -- Michael Hurd, in "Rediscovering the Mind" at The Delaware Wave

"[T]he whacko-religionists and ethno-nationalists ... must be routed if Republicanism is to grow and win again." -- Richard Salsman, in "What the Republicans Must Do to Rebuild, and Attract Future Voters" at Forbes

My Two Cents

The Hurd piece about the DSM is interesting legally as well as culturally. Hurd notes that the new edition explcitly contains language intended to prevent its guidelines from being (ab)used as "legal definition[s] in courts."


A commenter to yesterday's post brought my attention to the above video. Funny and true!



Andrew Dalton said...

That's a great point regarding the solution to the tin whiskers problem. I've heard environmentalists dismiss concerns about regulating technology on the grounds that people (usually) find a different solution. What they don't consider (or what they evade) is that the money, time, and effort that scientists and engineers expend on complying with regulations are resources that could have been spent on achieving something new, rather than scrambling to get back to square one.

Gus Van Horn said...


Not only that, some environmentalist will find or invent an excuse to kneecap the new solution.

Seerak said...

There's a rather strange method of repairing circuit boards that I wonder if it would work as a preventative if done ever few years: heat the circuit board up in an oven up to the melting point of solder, to "re-flow" the solder on the entire board.

Motherboard Solder Reflow

I have a partially functioning R2D2 whose mainbaord I may need to do this treatment on.

Gus Van Horn said...

Interesting! I'll keep that in mind if I ever run across some completely mysterious failure. It's nice that you can use an ordinary oven for this.