Episode 71 — Design Avenues


avenuesWe talk with electrical engineer Chris Gammell in this episode, discussing design tradeoffs, parametric part searches, and the manner in which design work is being altered by component manufacturers.

  • Adam finds that he doesn’t have much choice in choosing between mechanical, electrical, and software components; bridges pretty much have to be constructed of steel and concrete.
  • Our guest is Chris Gammell, co-host of The Amp Hour podcast and founder of Contextual Electronics.
  • Chris decided to limit his purchases of Christmas Ale this year, but Carmen has already been stocking up on Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.
  • Supplyframe has hired Chris to help with the development of a new electronics component search engine, parts.io.
  • Big data supposedly allowed Target to determine that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father knew, although there are some who remain skeptical about the story.
  • Chris notes that some electronic component manufacturers release 500 to 1000 new products each year.
  • The Paradox of Choice suggests that buyers prefer fewer options, rather than more.
  • McMaster-Carr is a well-known supplier of industrial parts.
  • Prior to being purchased by Texas Instruments, Burr-Brown manufactured analog and mixed signal integrated circuits.
  • More and more software professionals are moving into hardware development as the barriers to entry continue to fall.
  • Roads and bridges in the United States are falling into disrepair, with the American Society of Civil Engineers giving the national infrastructure a grade of D+ in 2013.
  • Vertical search looks for information constrained to a particular topic or market segment.
  • Zillow is a vertical search engine that allows home buyers and real estate professionals to review home prices and availability.
  • Chris seems fascinated by the notion of a house having a Ferris wheel in the yard.
  • “Double-check your work because hardware will mess with your life.”
  • It is the goal of the Long Now Foundation to build a clock that will run for 10,000 years.
  • Fieldbus and CAN bus are networking protocols used to share data between computers and hardware devices.
  • Design decisions are now being made by the IC chip manufacturers, who increasingly move functionality into silicon.
  • Jim Williams was a prolific, self-taught, analog design engineer who passed away in 2011.
  • Chris will be kicking off another round of Contextual Electronics early in 2015.
  • Jeff inquires about the possibility of Contextual Electronics handing out digital badges, but Chris is pretty emphatic that badging will not be part of his future efforts.
  • Adam notes that certifications beyond an engineering degree and a professional engineering license are needed for certain areas of civil engineering.
  • Chris suggests that newcomers to the electronics field should check out the community portion of parts.io.
  • Our guest suggests that ageism might make for an interesting topic of discussion in a future episode.

Thanks to Nicholas A. Tonelli for use of the photo titled “Sinuous.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 70 — Awkward Engineer


typingIn this episode we chat with mechanical engineer Sam Feller about product design, power optimization, and drawing skills. Oh, and we talk about dunking cookies in milk… how can you beat that?

  • Adam continues working on a semi-automated system for brewing beer.
  • An xkcd comic suggests an optimal blood alcohol level for effective programming, otherwise known as the “Ballmer Peak.” There is at least a modicum of scientific evidence that this might be true.
  • Our guest for this episode is Sam Feller, founder of Awkward Engineer Creations, LLC.
  • While initially intrigued by its promotional pamphlet, our guest chose Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for his engineering education because of the project-based curriculum.
  • Sam built a roof-inspection robot for his senior project at WPI.
  • Looking for a creative outlet, Sam started Awkward Engineer as a “profitable hobby.”
  • Eliminating TV from his life helped Sam find enough time to start his business.
  • Field Notes was started as a “side project” by an advertising firm.
  • The first product that Awkward Engineer brought to market was the Panic Button light switch.
  • Although initial sales of the light switch were not encouraging, Sam’s product eventually got picked up by retail website Think Geek.
  • To get his product carried in brick-and-mortar stores, Sam had to create appropriate packaging.
  • Our guest took drawing classes to improve his ability to convey ideas, starting at a local community college, and eventually moving on to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt).
  • Sam feels that his ability to create CAD models is enhanced by his sketching skills.
  • While Moleskine is his notebook manufacturer of choice, Sam also likes drawing on stacks of printer paper.
  • Currently in development, the next major product from Awkward Engineer will be a voltmeter clock.AWK105
  • Initial development of the clock was carried out using a DigiSpark controller.
  • Careful attention to controller configuration and programming is crucial in allowing the clock to run for months on battery power.
  • Sam developed a transistor network to allow him flexibility in extending clock features.
  • Working with local suppliers makes Sam’s life easier, so he prefers to do so.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a listing of substances generally recognized as safe (GRAS) with regard to food products.
  • Sam encourages engineers wanting to head out on their own to get started.
  • Essays by our guest can still be found on the since-retired Engineer Blogs website.
  • Sam continues to blog on his Awkward Engineer website.
  • He can be reached via email: questions +=- at -=+ awkwardengineer.com, or on Twitter as @AwkwardEngineer.

Thanks to Sam Feller for allowing us to use the photo of him, taken by Emily Falcigno. Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 69 — Credentials


diplomaWe talk with Gary Bertoline about graphics communication, computer-aided design, credentials, and competency-based degree programs in this episode of The Engineering Commons.

  • Adam is less stressed now that he’s earned his professional engineer (PE) license.
  • Our guest for this episode is Gary Bertoline, Dean of Purdue University’s College of Technology. In addition to his administrative work, Dean Bertoline has authored a number of books on graphics communication and computer-aided design (CAD).
  • Graphics is a communication medium, just like language or mathematics.
  • Mental manipulation of figures and objects in three-dimensional space is known as spatial visualization.
  • Jeff is old enough to have taken a drafting course in college that required T-squares, compasses, and triangular scales.
  • Carmen expresses his desire that electrical engineers possess better drafting skills.
  • According to Dean Bertoline, computer gaming can help improve visualization skills. So now you have an excuse!
  • Ancestor to today’s CAD software, Sketchpad was a computer graphics program written in 1963 by Ivan Sutherland. (A YouTube video shows the software in action.)
  • Autodesk and Dassault Systems are large companies that have survived in the competitive computer-aided drafting (CAD) industry.
  • Many modern CAD packages include modules designed to assist with product lifecycle management (PLM).
  • Brian mentions the use of a STEP file, which is an industry standard (ISO 10303) for exchanging 3D model information. The acronym stands for “Standard for the Exchange of Product model data.”
  • HFSS is a commercial finite-element model solver for electromagnetic structures (owned by Ansys). Carmen isn’t sure of the acronym’s meaning, but Wikipedia tell us that it originally stood for “High Frequency Structural Simulator.”
  • Carmen’s “E&M” reference refers to “electricity and magnetism.”
  • Digital models can be made to behave as physical objects through the use of a physics engine, which is software that constrains the models to conform with “real-world” physical phenomena.
  • Professional credentials might take the form of academic degrees, academic certificates, professional certificates, digital badges, or physical artifacts.
  • Gary heads up Purdue’s Polytechnic Institute, which seeks to radically transform the undergraduate educational experience.
  • Purdue is one of 108 United States institutions listed by the Carnegie Foundation as being a very high research activity university.
  • Purdue University’s College of Technology was chartered in 1964, and it currently offers 30 undergraduate degree options across its seven academic departments.
  • The first Polytechnic was École Polytechnique, founded in 1794 and located in Palaiseau, France.
  • One can better understand the development and adoption of innovative technologies using the S Curve Framework.
  • Our guest walks us thorough some of his organization’s early experiences in establishing a competency-based degree program.
  • Jeff inquires whether competency badges might lead to employers defining their own unique sets of required competencies for potential employees.
  • Gary tells us that T-shaped professionals are being sought out by industrial firms.
  • Our guest mentions “Generation on a Tightrope,” a book that argues today’s students need a very different education from the one that their parents received.
  • Also mentioned is “Creating Innovators,” a book that explores how the educational process must change to encourage young people to become innovators.
  • Listeners will find additional information online about Purdue’s College of Technology, and the Purdue Polytechnic Institute.
  • Dean Bertoline can be reached via email at: bertoline -=+ at +=- purdue.edu.

Thanks to Jim Kelly for the photo titled “My Diploma.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

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