Podcast: Play in new window
We talk about context and learning with Chris Gammell, founder of the Contextual Electronics series of instructional videos.
- Adam’s favorite lab course in school was Bituminous Materials, which investigated the properties and characteristics of asphalt.
- Our guest, Chris Gammell, recently tweeted about Christmas Ale from the Great Lakes Brewing Company, and we inquire about his affection for this particular beer.
- Chris took a few photos inside the brewery during a recent tour:
- A list of Christmas beers (from a few years back) can be found on the Draft Magazine website.
- Jeff mentions a cooling jacket for brewing lagers that he originally saw on Kickstarter.
- Chris has recently launched a venture, Contextual Electronics, which aims to teach practical skills to those interested in electronics.
- An interactive teaching method, known as Peer Instruction, was created by Harvard Physics professor Eric Mazur to overcome the difficulty that experts have in teaching concepts to beginners.
- A book titled How to Teach Adults provided our guest with some insights about how to organize his instructional material.
- Chris surveyed listeners of The Amp Hour podcast to determine what subject matter should be included in his instructional videos.
- Some existing online resources, in the area of electronics, include Dave Jones’ EEVblog, the Curious Inventor website, and videos by Ben Krasnow, Jeri Elsworth and Alan Wolke.
- Conceptual Electronics is using the open source program KiCad for designing printed circuit boards (PCBs).
- Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are currently a popular topic in the education community.
- Chris has been working with a beta-test group of students to smooth out the rough edges of the course.
- Our guest took inspiration from instructional programs such as Destroy All Software and cadjunkie.
- Fedevel Academy offers a training program for Altium Designer.
- An introductory video program titled Getting to Blinky is available on the Contextual Electronics YouTube channel.
- Chris is quite pleased with his experiences using Vimeo for video distribution. He has already produced 150 videos for his instructional program.
- On a monthly basis, Chris gets together with the Charged Conversation group, comprised of electronics professionals from the Cleveland, Ohio area.
- One of our guest’s sources for marketing ideas is Seth Godin, who often talks about the power of story-telling.
- A project dedicated to creating all the tools needed to build a small village is Open Source Ecology.
- More information about Chris’s instructional program is available on the Contextual Electronics website.
- You can follow Chris on Twitter as @Chris_Gammell, and can listen to his weekly podcast with Dave Jones at The Amp Hour.
Thanks to Chris Gammel for allowing us to use a screen grab from one of his introductory videos as the main image for this episode. Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson
Podcast: Play in new window
Guest Erica Lee Garcia explains the role of process improvement tools such as Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, and Statistical Process Control in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.
- Although process improvement tools are widely used in manufacturing, not all engineers are familiar with their usage.
- Our guest is Erica Lee Garcia, a Professional Engineer from Canada, who is also the owner and CEO of Erica Lee Consulting.
- One might have expected Erica to go into civil or mechanical engineering based on her childhood activities.
- Erica majored in Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
- Our guest started her career working for a firm that produced powdered metal products.
- In trying to determine why conveyer belts kept breaking in a sintering furnace, Erica got her first exposure to the continuous improvement process.
- Six sigma is all about getting rid of variation, while the lean method is all about getting rid of waste.
- Statistical process control (SPC) is a control scheme used for process analysis and monitoring.
- Kaizen refers to a philosophy focused on continuous process improvement. The term has recently come to mean a concentrated effort in dealing with a particular issue over a short period of time; such an activity may also be referred to as a “kaizen blitz” or “kaizen event.”
- Dr. Jeffrey Liker, a professor of industrial engineering from the University of Michigan, published The Toyota Way in 2003. The book details 14 principles that provide the framework for Toyota’s continual improvement system.
- The Kaizen Institute and the American Society for Quality are organizations that promote the continuous improvement of people, processes, and systems.
- Erica has run into situations where engineers and accountants have wildly differing interpretations of the same underlying data.
- Adam asks how projects can continue to improve after all the “low-hanging fruit” has already been gathered.
- Bruce Tuckman introduced the “Forming — Storming — Norming — Performing” model of group development in 1965.
- The phases of a Six Sigma project are “Define — Measure — Analyze — Improve — Control,” also known as DMAIC, for short.
- Erica addresses how one might deal with non-normal data while engaging in process improvement.
- Process variations are designated as resulting from “common” and “special” causes.
- Jeff notes that the 2007 financial crisis has been partially blamed on fat-tailed distributions that were distinctly different from assumed Gaussian probabilities.
- Erica mentions a video presentation by Dan Milstein talking about the 5 Whys, a tool used in process improvement to determine cause and effect relationships.
- Brian inquires about the minimum production volumes required to justify initiating a continuous improvement project.
- Jeff raises the notion that Six Sigma may kill innovation. That position is refuted by Erica, who notes that there is a method of Design for Six Sigma.
- While the United States celebrates National Engineering Week for seven days in February, the entire month of March is set aside as National Engineering Month in Canada.
- Our guest believes that aspiration messaging is more effective than descriptions of day-to-day duties when undertaking engineering outreach.
- The Changing the Conversation campaign, sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering, is mentioned by Erica. She notes a video from the site, titled “If it weren’t hard, it wouldn’t be engineering.”
- Advice for early- and mid-career engineers is provided by Erica on her website, EngineerYourLife.net.
- Marc Garneau is a Candadian engineer, astronaut, and politician.
- Brian comments that engineering is a “world of niches,” in which engineers often have radically different duties and assignments, even if working in the same discipline, or for the same company.
- Erica can be found on Twitter as @engineeryrlife. She can also be contacted via her website.
Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the graph of a normal distribution probability density function. Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson
Podcast: Play in new window
Guest Sophi Kravitz helps us understand some of the issues involved with starting a one-person consulting firm.
- Jeff started out on his own in 1994, but had a rocky beginning before landing on his feet.
- Carmen fears that, left to his own devices, he would spend his days watching Seinfeld reruns.
- Our guest, Sophi Kravitz, runs her own business at MIX-E, LLC, where she consults in electrical engineering and product market analysis.
- One of Sophi’s projects was recently featured on Hack A Day.
- Both Carmen and Sophi contributed articles to the Engineer Blogs website a few years back.
- Sophi’s has a blog at SuperGreenDot.com, where she interviews people who have successfully left the corporate life to head out on their own.
- She also has a work site blog, where she talks about projects she is working on and conferences she has attended.
- Our guest became frustrated working on projects she wasn’t passionate about, so she struck out on her own in 2012.
- Before jumping out on her own, Sophi spent two years in a sales engineering job that allowed her to earn some decent money while working three days a week.
- A freelancer is someone who is not committed to a particular employer on a long-term basis.
- While scoping out the consulting business, Sophi looked for short-term engineering gigs on craigslist. She found few opportunities that were worth her while.
- Sophi shows a great deal of compassion in listening to the ideas of others, despite having been pitched on a few “perpetual motion” machines.
- Because she lost money each time she entered a “fixed cost” bid, our guest now charges on an hourly basis.
- Jeff suggests breaking projects into smaller phases when possible; Sophi notes that she is now asking for money to perform an initial “research” phase on larger projects.
- Sophi splits her time between working at clients’ sites, and working out of her own “lab.”
- When she’s looking for technical support, Sophi often relies on the Toymakers IRC.
- It’s important to keep current on tools and techniques, and to maintain industry contacts, even while engaged in a long-term consulting job.
- Although she prefers designing electronic circuits, Sophi is often hired to power up industrial machinery or write PLC (programmable logic controller) programs.
- While Sophi and Jeff wonder if there is any money to be made bidding on jobs through websites like Elance and Guru, other engineers have found ways to earn a living through online contracts.
- Our guest notes a website, FlexJobs, that seeks to match job-seekers with part-time and freelance gigs.
- When trying to determine how much to charge for her consulting services, Sophi turned to advice from Dave Young (prior guest on this podcast) and electronics hobbyist Ben Heckendorn.
- Jeff suggests that most consultants can bill for only about 1,000 hour annually. So if you want $80K in income, charge $80 per hour. Remember, however, you need to cover expenses out of that amount. So you may need to charge $100 per hour if you wish to maintain an income that is equivalent to a full-time job paying $80K in salary.
- From the interviews she conducted on her Super Green Dot blog, Sophi was surprised to learn how many people struck out on their own without an emergency fund in place.
- Jeff notes that employer-paid healthcare in the US results largely because of IRS tax rulings in the 1940s allowing companies to offer increased healthcare benefits even though wages were frozen due to the economic hardships of World War II.
- Sophi see engineering work moving slowly towards the freelance model, although she believes companies will always need to retain a certain number of engineers who understand the firm’s underlying technology.
- Electrical engineers Brian, Carmen, and Sophi start musing about electronics design software… and your humble scribe, a mechanical engineer, started to zone out. Something about products from Cadence, Mentor, and Altium were mentioned… I think. If you’re interested, you’ll just have to listen for yourself!
- It’s our guest’s opinion that gaining experience is more important than making money early in one’s career.
- Jeff reports participating in a recent Big Beacon twitter chat, and leading a discussion about “why engineers should adopt an artistic mindset.” Since Sophi started as a sculptor, she is able to make an accurate comparison between the work of an engineer, and that of an artist.
- Sophi’s largest sculpture was a 10 foot diameter fake birthday cake she created in 1998. It was displayed in the gusty winds of Fire Island the following year.
- Attending a conference in California, Jeff is urged by his roommate to wrap up the podcast so that they can go fetch an In-N-Out burger. (It was quite good!) Carmen started rattling off items from the not-so-secret In-N-Out “secret menu.”
- You can reach Sophi through her website, or follow her on Twitter.
Thanks to Sophi Kravitz for allowing us to use the photo of her and her HeartBeat Boombox as the image for this episode. Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson