For many, this time of year is a blur of images, as retailers and shoppers embrace the holiday season, as companies on calendar fiscal years race to finalize budgets and close books, and weary workers plan to clear their remaining vacation time before the start of another year. For some, who have learned to sidestep this onrush of images, this is a time for contemplation of the year passed, of goals made and met, and of promises broken.

The microwave industry can be thankful as a whole, for it has survived another difficult business year. Some companies enjoyed success in some segments of their markets, such as automotive and medical electronics. For some, military business has been improving. But the majority of microwave companies are still feeling the "fallout" of the soft communications market that has curtailed growth in the industry for the last three years.

Microwave engineers individually should also be thankful for their gifts. After all, if not an endangered species, the microwave engineer is certainly a rarity in an electronic world dominated by wired and wireless networks and computers. Microwave engineers are special among electronic architects, since they have learned to think in terms of parasitic capacitances and inductances that are imaginary to lower-frequency engineers. They have learned that transmission lines do not simply connect two points on a circuit board; these lines have electrical values as well and must be considered in to total equation.

Microwave engineers can also be thankful for the fact that their design tools have never been better. At one time, for example, that workhorse of microwave test instruments, the vector network analyzer, was available from only one or two suppliers. But competition has brought numbers, and with it improvements in the performance of these analyzers, with more features and function per dollar than ever before. Add software to the mix, with readily available mature tools for linear and nonlinear circuit simulation, planar and three-dimensional electromagnetic (EM) simulation, SPICE time-domain simulation, and mathematical analysis software, and today's microwave engineer should be thankful for a full tool chest.

Of course, all these design and test aids are nothing without imagination and ingenuity, and these are among the gifts that lead many to a profession as a microwave engineer in the first place. With opportunities emerging in the next several years in many markets, including automotive (communications systems and millimeter-wave radars), medical (wireless data and telemetry), industrial (wireless sensor networks), military (on-going system upgrades, new systems), and homeland security (communications and surveillance), microwave engineers can be thankful that their gifts will be needed for some time. From all of us at Microwaves & RF, may you enjoy the gifts of health and happiness during the holidays.