Sunday, 4 September 2011

Electronic hygene

Anti static precautions are a bit like washing your hands.

You can't see static (well apart from when it is enough to spark), and the damage is usually latent - at the microscopic level but causing things to fail days or months later. The failure cannot always be linked to the cause because of the time gap, and people are bad at large scale statistical analysis in their head.

So, in many ways just like germs. When they were first suggested people dismissed it. You can't see germs. The damage caused by germs (infection, etc) is usually later: days, weeks, in some cases like AIDS, years later. The cause cannot easily be linked to the effect in your head.

As you may imagine, you don't need anything like the levels necessary to see a spark in order to damage components on a chip a few nanometers wide. Just as you do not need to see food rotting to know it may be "off" and be bad for you.

It is only because we have science that we can see the actual problem in both cases. Using microscopes. Analysing data over large scales and time periods. Doing controlled tests. By scientific methods we can see the problem and the cause and effect. We can provide guidance to reduce the risks.

For germs, we all know them - we wash our hands. We keep food in the fridge. We learn to tackle the invisible threat from an early age and then we don't question it. We trust the science is right.

What is strange is that there are people out there who (like early surgeons when germs were first discovered) do not believe or, more surprisingly, do not care!

Seems there is no telling some people. Maybe the germs analogy will help some understand though. I hope so.

Thanks to Olorin on A&A irc for the inspiration on this.


  1. Of course there is some irony in that if something is a rumour, and not science, like harm caused by using wifi in schools, then you have supposedly rational people like MPs spouting how it should be banned. Maybe if static damage was a rumour denied by scientists it would get a cult following!

  2. Sure, the doubters exist. But you'd like to think they don't work at places like Novatech :) I live just outside Portsmouth, so I've dealt with Novatech a lot over the years. Years ago, after bad experiences with built PCs from them, I came to the conclusion that buying stuff from them was fine, as long as their involvement was limited to them selling you a sealed boxed product that they'd stored in a warehouse. Anything their technicians had had their hands on was probably better purchased elsewhere! Ok, maybe that's a bit much, but you get where I'm coming from.

  3. I always remember my old man telling me about his time at DEC, and the fact that they sent _ALL_ employee's on a static training course, and this reduced the cost / time spent replacing components on customer systems by around 85% - that's a significant number. especially when you remember just how big DEC was at the height of it's business.

    Static isn't a joke, as you said, though, there's good and bad tradesmen in all areas, and it really is a shame that some of these people give the rest of us a bad name!

  4. Oddly, though, I've never had any problems with it... Electronics tends to be pretty reliable. Hard drives fail, power supplies fail.. but not CPUs, RAM chips and other things I've handled (which pretty much always end up getting thrown out because they're obsolete not broken).

    It's possible there are other factors, like I've normally touched earth at some point already when opening the case.