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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Small is beautiful
Small is beautiful 
Keywords: Internet, Nanotechnology, Microtechnology
Over the past few issues, my major concern has been one of security. It is some time since I discussed Web site design. Regular readers, from a few years ago, will remember my concerns about the speed of downloading Web sites. They may also be able to recall that I promoted the use of meta functions to improve search engine performance. Things have changed, but not all that much.
Let us keep in mind an inescapable fact: only about 5 per cent of users connected to the Internet have broadband connections. As a case in point, I do not have one, although I requested it nearly 3 years ago. DSL hardware, at the exchange level, is simply not available where I live. The same applies to many countries; for example, my daughter in Switzerland cannot obtain an ADSL connection, even though she lives in a dormitory village just outside a large city. The same applies to cable systems. So, I appeal to everybody who designs a Web site, or who orders a Web site to be designed, to remember that the vast world uses telephone line modems which are limited in speed and bandwidth. Furthermore, in some developing countries, these may be operating at much smaller rates than you may guess. It is certainly not unknown to have connections at 14 kilobits/second or even less. I am lucky, in one way, that the cost of online work is low, at CYP 0.20/hour (GBP 0.22, USD 0.35); my daughter is less so at CHF 4.80/h (GBP 2.10, USD 3.30) during working hours. So, do not forget that your viewers may be paying through the nose for the privilege of looking at your site.
Of course, if you can be absolutely sure that every single one of the persons you wish to view your Web site has wideband connections, then please feel free to ignore my remarks! What I would recommend to all others is to check your Web site out with a telephone line modem; if you find that the download times are excessive, then you know that something has to be done if you do not wish to antagonise those who come to your site. Bear in mind that the patience of surfers is limited and that they will often abort a visit if they cannot see what they wish to see within a matter of 15 s or so.
This general message has not changed over the past years, although the reasons behind it are slightly different. Please allow me to give a few hints about how to attract more people to your site.
A couple of years ago, I ranted against those with enormous numbers or sizes of graphics, especially on the Home Page. This is still valid and I recommend a total graphics size of less than 30 kilobytes. As an illustration, just open Google available at: www.google.com. No matter how much ever slow your connection is, it will come up rapidly, simply because the page has been well designed. Yet, the title is in the form of a graphics. What else do you notice about the page? It has no unnecessary advertisements, while the links are in text form.
The important thing with graphics is to minimise them. Some Web site authoring programs will allow you to physically reduce the size of a graphics and then automatically reduce the file size to commensurate with the physical size. This technique can make dramatic improvements to the download time. Another possibility, where a photograph or a detailed drawing is required to be shown, is to simply have a thumbnail image linked to the full-sized one. This can also be done automatically with some authoring programs.
There is nothing new about what I have said up to now. What is perhaps new is what I detest most! This is the Home Page with a Flash image. I would guess that I abort downloading a site nine times out of ten, if I see a Flash image starting to load, without a link to bypass it. I always know that I am in for a long wait if I let it go on. My advice is to avoid Flash like the plague; if you must have it, make absolutely sure that your viewers can disable it. The same applies to video techniques.
Another problem which appears very regularly is that many designers like to show off their prowess by doing everything in enormously long scripts. More often than not, there are simpler methods of achieving the same ends. In fact, it is probable that, if a Home Page has more than a few kilobytes of script, it is very badly designed.
My faithful readers will remember that I used to rant about not having meta keywords and descriptions. These are somewhat less important today because the spiders used by search engines for cataloguing their links are much more sophisticated, by parsing the real meaning of the text in the pages of a Web site. It is still useful to have them, although they are far less essential.
No matter what it is, a good Web site is always legible. This means that the text should appear with a good contrast against the background, have an easily read type face and be neither too large nor too small. Personally, I dislike white text on a black background, or anything similar, because I do not find it easy to read. The only excuse for a dark background is to show off a gallery of photographs, but certainly not for text. I am not over keen on pure white backgrounds, either, because they can be somewhat dazzling; a muted light shade is better. If you have a pattern or a watermark in the background, please make sure that it does not interfere with the legibility of the text.
What should the Home Page contain? The most important thing is, of course, a menu of some description, which will link you to at least to the important pages of your site. Text should be fairly short, half a screen at the most, giving a very brief description of what the site is all about. If it is for commercial purposes, then I strongly recommend that the full name and address, telephone number, fax number and general e-mail address be added to the Home Page. The telephone and fax numbers should include the international dialling codes preceded by a plus sign, such as +357 22 532 762.
Other pages can relax these rules somewhat but, if a page is excessively heavy, it is a good idea to warn users of the fact in hyperlinks, especially if the link goes to a file, such as PDF documents or streaming video. Talking of video, the recent fine imposed on Microsoft by the EU, for their media player may be a two-edged sword. Much as I detest Microsoft's policy of imposing their applications technology as part of their operating systems, it must be admitted that their Window's Media Player 9 is good (perhaps apart from the hideous "skins", designed, I think to appeal to 5-year old kiddies) and a distinct improvement on the Real and QuickTime competition for streaming. Unfortunately, the WMV format for the video is not yet universally cross-platform, as the others are.
May I make one last appeal? On your Contact us page, even if you have a form for doing so, please, please, please, also give the e-mail addresses of your key personnel or, at least, departments. Filling out forms, often requiring a lot of irrelevant information, is much less "user- friendly" and time consuming than a quick e-mail; worse, it does not leave a copy in the sender's Sent e-mail box, so he has no record of what he said or when he said it. Also, make sure that every message received, whether by e-mail or via the form, is answered (not by an automatic acknowledgement, which only wastes bandwidth) within one working day or two, at the most. There is nothing more frustrating than to send a message requiring a response, and not to receive one – and it's very bad for your corporate image (I have blacklisted suppliers and potential ones for just that). If you do not have the answer immediately at hand or you cannot give a valid reply do not hesitate to say so – at least, the receiver will know. Do not just ignore an e-mail. And do not, for Goodness' sake, do what a supplier has just done to me; he acknowledged my order via his secure Web site by ordinary e-mail, complete with my full credit card details, for anyone to use.
The proponents of nanotechnology claim the name as being descriptive of the scale of the nanometre (10−9m). Microtechnology, by extension, must mean to the scale of the micrometre (10−6m) or micron. At the time when the term microelectronics was invented, this was probably about the size of connections in an integrated circuit, with individual transistors several micrometres across. Today, of course, the component size on, say, a Pentium microprocessor is more than an order of magnitude smaller, with millions of transistors on a single silicon chip a few millimetres across. So, where are we today, with our cutting edge technology? Certainly, we can say that IC manufacture, and what is commonly called nanotechnology, is very much sub-micrometre, but still mostly in the decade of 10-100 nm, although 1-10 nm is also used. We have never used the term of millielectronics, as far as I know, to describe devices with a scale of the millimetre (10−3 m), although both printed circuits and thick film hybrid circuits belonged to this category at the time. However, in the meanwhile, even these have been well transcended downwards by more than an order of magnitude. I therefore, propose that these terms have become fuzzy in their meaning.
I suggest that this journal has also become a victim of this fuzziness. When it was named Hybrid Circuits, there was little doubt about its scale. Today, its range of published papers has advanced from thick film hybrids and similarly scaled PCBs, through COBs and MCMs, to CSPs and even the semiconductors themselves. I am not suggesting that this polytomy  is evil because we shall certainly see the fuzziness expand in the future, simply because our verbal scaling is very coarse, three orders of magnitude being the common factor. This long digression into semantics is simply an excuse to say that this journal covers, under its title, electronics from well over the micrometre to well under! This gives me the excuse to make my reviews cover any relevant subject from, say, 10−4-10−9 m. For this issue, I'm going to the bottom of the scale.
This is the site of the Nanotechnology Council of the IEEE. It consists of 20 society-members. This site is not very informative to anyone who is not a member of the IEEE, because any technical information is available to non-members at a cost of about USD 400/year with four issues per year for their transactions. However, conferences are organised, in addition. It is perhaps important to note that this group covers all aspects of the subject, not just the electrical implications.
Not to be outdone, the British IEE have a Professional Network for Microsystems and Nanotechnology. This is open to non-members, but requires registration. As I happen to be an MIEE, I was able to have a look at their site without any hassle. They have a fantastic online library of presentations, papers and other documents, available for all to see. The document I selected for you to look at is a survey of the current situation of the technologies in the UK with a comparison to a similar survey conducted in Germany. This is indicative of a lack of perception about this up coming industry, especially among politicians. One thing is very clear: Europe is lagging way behind the USA and Japan/Asia and this is the forecast to improve very little in the next 10 years.
The French Research Network in micro and nano Technologies is a network to co-ordinate the funding for innovations in the field by the French Government and in industry. The rules are interesting as they mandate that projects be organised conjointly between a public laboratory and a company, even possibly from outside France. There is virtually no technical information, but a form is available to subscribe to a newletter in hard or electronic copy. For those versed in the language of Baudelaire, la version originale at www.rmnt.org/index.html is much more informative with lists of meetings and other data, including details of how the réseau is organised. Also, all the accepted projects have an abstract describing what they are about.
Plate 1 Nanosysinc Home Page showing the simple and effective design, although it may have been better to have a variable width panel to prevent the waste of space to the right. (This image has been electronically enhanced to improve the contrast within the panel, for better legibility.)
This site is an excellent source of information on how the properties of nanometre materials differ from what is normal at "super-nano" size. One graphic illustration is shown by fluorescing due to quantum confinement in semiconductors. A photograph shows the range over almost the whole visible spectrum as the size of cadmium selenide "dots" is increased from 2 to 8nm (Plate 1). By using different semiconductors, as well, the wavelength can be adjusted from about 350 to 1,500 nm. I would like to quote part of the company's mission statement to complement what I have just said:
Nanosys is an industry leading nanotechnology company developing nano-enabled systems based on a platform technology incorporating patent-protected, high performance, and highly integrated inorganic semiconductor nanostructures. These systems are being applied into major industries that include energy, defense, electronics, healthcare and information technology.
Apart from the site content, the Home Page design embodies most of what I have suggested in my prologue: small total graphics content, meta keywords, small scripting, etc., all making for rapid downloading. The major part of the text is also on a good, light grey, background, unfortunately, the text itself is also grey and the contrast is barely sufficient. The only other point I would make is that there is no address on the Home Page.
It would seem that this company produces welding, cutting and milling tools for nanometric applications. Unfortunately, the Web site is far from complete, as I write this, so that I cannot give any judgement on the technical content that will, hopefully, appear. Again, the Home Page is well designed with minimal loading times, small graphics and small scripts: still no indication of where the company is. However, I did come across a beautiful oxymoronic word, "nanoscopic", on this site!
Want to see an example of what not to do? This Home Page has about 50 kilobytes of script and a very modest 80 kilobytes of Flash imagery – it could have been far worse – plus about 160 other graphics (many very small and used frequently). Unfortunately, at the time I viewed it, the server that was on was slower even than my poor Internet connection, hence it took a good minute-and-a- half before I was able to see everything. If I were a purchasing manager, I would have switched to a competitive site long before I was able to see what was on offer here. I am not a purchasing manager, but a site reviewer, so let me tell you whether it is worth the wait. This company offers metrology devices for nanotechnology, such as atomic force microscopes and profilers. In addition, they have a programme of deposition and ion beam etch equipment. A good point is that they have a separate secure Web site (equally slow) for ordering consumables such as probes and other accessories.
It took me a wee while to find out what this site was all about. The Home Page is quite succinct, stating simply, "The leader in bringing Small Tech products to the global marketplace", nothing more. After surfing where I could, I deduced that Ardesta is a cross between a holding company and a provider of capital for a dozen firms in various aspects of nanotechnology. Their exact definition is not made clear on the Web site. The range of fields of activity in the network is very wide, covering medical, semiconductor, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), chemical analysis systems and many others. There is not a great deal of technical information available, though.
This is the site of an exhibition and conference which will start on 24 February 2005 in Las Vegas. At the time of writing this paper, there are no details of the conference papers or a list of exhibitors, but these will certainly follow. I would hazard a guess that this will become interesting in the months to come, for those who are already in the industry or are intending to be, as well as clients.
Well, do you think that nanoelectronics and its associated mechanics are the technology of the future? If you do, you may be wrong. They are already the technology of the present with such everyday applications as airbag triggers, implanted insulin dosers, blood analysis systems, microbiological detectors, hard disc drives and hosts of other jobs.
1 Small is Beautiful: title of a book on economics by Schumacher, E.F. (1973), probably taken from an earlier popular expression.2 Yes, the word polytomy exists; it means branching in several directions from the same point.