Viewfinder: Tricked Slices of Rock

I had an interesting conversation when I was in Sudan working for our charity; One Media Player per Teacher (OMPT). The organization trains teachers to use audio-visual equipment to improve the quality of education in hard-to-reach places. OMPT helps teachers to use camcorders, portable media players, loud speakers and tiny video projectors all powered by batteries, and recharged by small solar panels or hand cranked generators.

A man asked me why he should trust the products coming from the USA. He was skeptical of our motives and perhaps afraid of outside influence. I told him that most of the products were, perhaps, designed in the USA, but actually made in Asia. He was still skeptical. He asked why he should trust these devices that don’t look like they belong in his world. I agreed that the camcorder’s plastic outer casing was indeed out-of-place in Sudan. I tried to help him understand that the really important stuff is on the inside. I speculated that someday, a camcorder would become available that looked more like it belonged in this world. Perhaps the outer casing would be made of wood, a gourd or a seashell. Perhaps a brass lamp would be a better form factor. He was a little more curious and asked what was inside the camcorder, so I removed some screws and took it apart to show him. Most consumer electronics products have printed circuit boards inside of them, so that is exactly what he saw and asked why he should trust the printed circuit board made by someone in the USA. I explained that it used surface-mount technology and was assembled by a machine, perhaps in a place like Singapore. He then asked what was designed in the USA and I pointed to the silicon chips on the printed circuit board. I suggested that some of those might have been designed or manufactured in the USA. He continued to be suspicious.

He had never seen a camcorder, a portable media player or a video projector before and it turned out that he was quite frightened about what these things could do. I took this opportunity to explain the details to him. The charge-coupled device is a chip that converts light into electrical signals that are sent to an endec chip that encodes the signal into video. The next chip is hidden inside of an SD video card, where the video is remembered or stored. During playback, the signal is pulled from the chip inside the SD card and sent to another endec chip inside of a video projector where it is decoded and then sent to yet another chip, liquid crystal (LCoS) on silicon. A bright light is shined on this last chip and it bounces off to be projected onto the wall. Using these products, we can transport the teaching of wise people from one side of your country to another. They can be used to transport knowledge to places where wisdom is missing.

He was intrigued and asked about the chips. “How can they do all of these incredible things? What are they made of?” He asked. I explained that they are made of silicon and that they were essentially very thin slices of rock. He asked how a thin slice of rock could do these incredible things. I explained that a semiconductor company essentially tricks the thin slices of rock into doing these inconceivable things. I told him that he is right to see this as unbelievable. These are really miracles that may have been discovered in the USA, but are now being made in many other places and used all over the world to help make people smarter.

He paused and looked long and hard at the silicon chips. He tapped on them to confirm that they were thin slices of rock. He then asked, “These have been tricked into do the things that you describe?” As I nodded my head he said, “The people in my village are poor, hungry and some are often sick. I want these thin slices of rock that have been tricked to help make the people in my village smarter”. At that moment, I knew that he trusted me.

Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

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