College project WTF

My sister is studying Bioengineering at the University of Michigan. She was showing me her group project. As a UM engineering grad I could not believe my eyes. One big WTF. Here’s the whole story:

The goal of the project is to develop a portable ultrasound machine that can be used in remote parts of the world – Africa, Amazon forest, rural India – you get the idea. The project is founded by on of the profs, and he wants the machine to be battery powered and as light as possible. Although my sister is a freaking genius, no one in her group is listening to her. The group tried to be too cool and use solar panels and was unwilling to consider alternative power sources.

Light lithium ion battery they spent most of their cash on is very light and portable. It holds charge for a long time. But… you cannot use it while it’s charging. They totally messed up the connections too. So when the machine is recharging (takes “only” 7 hours), it cannot be used. Even if you plug it into the wall socket, the way everything is wired you just cannot use it. WTF? Imagine not being able to talk on your cell when it’s being charged. A complete nonsense.

Solar panels don’t produce that much juice. You need many of them, which makes you sacrifice the portability. Then you need 7+ hours of constant sun to recharge the battery (remember you can’t use the device while it’s charging). What if you want to recharge at night? What if sun is not visible? What if it rains? Instead of the panels my sis wanted to use a crank, or a system of pedals. Throw in a large capacitor, and you can use this any time. Even without the battery. The group’s argument against it? You’d have to provide food for the operator, because he or she would get tired when cranking/pedaling. I’d rather have that and be able to use the machine in any weather and at any time. Sometimes too much technology isn’t good, and old fashion solutions seem most logical.

It’s far too late to implement any of our suggestions. Let’s hope that they get at least a decent grade for the effort…
I guess you can’t send a biomed engineer to do electrical engineer’s job.

Windows Forms on Japanese XP

Today at work we ran into an interesting issue. Our Windows Forms-based application worked perfectly on the English Windows XP, but it looked weired on the Japanese version. It was quite noticable – size of some UI controls differed by about 2 pixels and the entire layout was out of wack (of course we probably should have been using some sort of layout manager, but that’s a different story).

After spending hours debugging this thing we came to realize it was a font problem. WinForms uses Microsoft Sans Serif by default, and its size can be a bit larger on east-Asian systems (I imaginge it’s hard to read the pictograms when the font size is small). The solution was simple – all we had to do was to change the font to “MS Shell Dlg” which is an alias to a default system font. That fixed all our sizing issues. Important thing to mention is also that we had to type the font name manually in the resource file; for some reason the designer would not let us select the virtual font.

Let’s hope that when we switch to WPF all such issues will be taken care of by the layout managers.

EDIT: We were actually able to go back to not specifying the font (using the default) and just applied the DPI AutoSizeMode property to the form.