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The Design Awards Prompt Heated Debates

While I marvel at the improvements in technology and design, I wonder whether they have improved the quality of life ("The best product design," Annual Design Awards 2005, July 4). We can spend countless hours debating the advantages these new products provide; I still feel life was far more elegant in olden times. Take a cell phone, for example. It has become, sadly, one of our favorite friends. We are slowly drifting away from the notion of man as a social animal.

Srinivas Balla

Fairfax, Va.

I have been designing various products for many years and have always assigned several parameters to my designs: Will it do the job? Is it pretty? Is it robust? Is it affordable? A design that is functional and sophisticated with all the bells and whistles but costs way too much is not a good design, in my opinion. A $2,890 Hatbox Toilet? A $560 Barrel Grill? An $800 phone? And speaking of that, when will someone design a portable phone that just makes phone calls? (The one thing that would be useful -- allowing me to make quick voice notes on my portable phone -- no one ever seems to consider.)

Paul Burri

Santa Barbara, Calif.

It's amazing that while so many companies boast in-house design facilities, most of the products we use could have been designed better. If only they were developed and tested in collaboration with the final user, keeping their point of view, usage, and potential usage in mind. The most dissatisfying thing is realizing that one has bought a poorly designed car, cell phone...the list will not end!

Alik Khanna

Gurgaon, India

Having played guitar for 34 years, I believe your choice of RKS Guitars is way off the mark. The most famous electric guitar is not the Gibson Les Paul but the Fender Stratocaster. The Strat is made from alder and not from an exotic wood from a rainforest. What makes an electric guitar design good is not the fancy shape or color. Unless you collect guitars for art, guitars are judged by action and tonal qualities. Today the tonal qualities on a solid-body guitar are strictly driven by pickups, effects, and amplification. There are guitars with a metal frame only and no wood at all that still sound good.

If whoever wrote this review actually played guitar, he or she would find that controls mounted inside a groove are awkward to reach and therefore make transitions difficult during play. Also, while Dave Mason is a good guitarist, he is certainly not a thought leader in this area.

Robert Larson

Perkasie, Pa.

I hate Gibsons. Nevertheless, to compare that green thing in any way to a Gibson Les Paul is profane. If you want a truly innovative guitar, you should have reviewed the Squire '51 (Fender), released this year. It's very well made and looks fabulous. It sounds, feels, and plays great. Best of all, it is very affordable (under $200). In a marketplace with thousands of makes, models, and modifications, an instrument that does all that, straight out of the box, is truly innovative.

Martin Dyer

Pu'u Kapu, Hawaii

"A patent war is breaking out on the Hill" (Washington Outlook, July 4) properly focused on "patent trolls" as the most controversial issue surrounding the recently introduced Patent Act of 2005. It's unfortunate, though, that the injunctive-relief provision of the bill has garnered the majority of the spotlight. The bill includes many other reform provisions that are designed to greatly improve the quality of patents issued by the Patent & Trademark Office and the administrative and judicial systems for challenging them. These less-well-known provisions are the product of a coordinated, multi-year effort of many stakeholder groups interested in improving our patent system and, generally speaking, enjoy broad support.

Unfortunately, the controversial injunctive-relief provision, which had not been part of the discussions during that effort and appeared on the political doorstep only upon release of the working draft, stands to jeopardize progress on the quality issues. This is what I consider to be the real problem.

J. Matthew Buchanan

Fraser Martin Buchanan Miller LLC

Perrysburg, Ohio

Editor's note: The writer is a patent attorney and maintains a blog on the issue, Promote the Progress.

Contrary to the implication that "It's time to protect the Pentagon from itself" (Editorials, July 4), the Defense Dept. has processes in place that could actually work if they were only allowed to. The first line of defense against irresponsibility is the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) system, which is supposed to align both current-year and outyear budgets to national security needs. If PPBE were taken seriously, it would force the cancellation of a host of programs currently in development because there is insufficient money in the outlying years to implement them all. As a Pentagon analyst, Franklin "Chuck" Spinney exposed the fact that the numbers behind the massive defense buildup in the 1980s did not add up. Such visibility and candor applied to today's programs would help a great deal, but the Bush Administration has severely curtailed even the information it is willing to share with Congress.

Similarly, the handbook for Operation of the Defense Acquisition System (DoD Instruction 5000.2) states that evolutionary acquisition is the preferred approach to fielding new capability. It imposes a milestone review process to ensure programs meet objective criteria and independent cost reviews before proceeding through subsequent development phases. Unfortunately, the application of this process to a politically charged program such as Ballistic Missile Defense is dubious.

BusinessWeek is correct that Defense acquisition is broken. But it is not because a sound process does not already exist. If Congress is not able to make the existing system work, then it should not waste time trying to invent something new.

Harvey R. Greenberg

Colonel (Ret.) , U.S. Air Force

Westford, Mass.

Re "He's giving Hooters a lift" (People, June 13) on the chairman of Hooters of America, the following was recently overheard on a Hooters Air flight:

"Does this plane go any slower?"

Timothy B. McBride

McLean, Va.

Re "Cleaning is a blast" (Personal Business, July 4): I power-wash houses and driveways and pool screens for a living, so it was interesting to see your article about homeowners and their power washers. Many of my customers have bought power washers over the years, and it is telling that they are still my customers. I bring my machine and clean everything in sight, while their own machines sit idle. As much fun as it is to power-wash things, it is still work. In some cases, it's very nasty work. And if you use any sort of bleach (as any serious power washer does), part of the expense of owning such a machine is found in the clothes you ruin and the plants you kill.

My professional advice to homeowners is this: If you are going to buy a machine you will ultimately neglect, buy a cheap one. And store it next to the folded-up treadmill in the garage.

Don Marsh

Gainesville, Fla.

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