Episode 135 — Target Audience

In this episode of The Engineering Commons, the gang discusses tailoring a presentation to meet the needs and interests of your intended audience.

  • Adam’s favorite form of communication is an old-fashioned face-to-face conversation.
  • The data throughput of smoke signals is a bit too slow for Carmen’s needs.
  • Jeff suggests flag semaphore as an alternative means of communication.
  • When Carmen suggests that engineering involves “blowing stuff up in the lab,” Jeff and Adam insist on additional details.
  • The group sarcastically agrees that PowerPoint is the answer for solving all communication problems.
  • Brian notes the difficulties of trying to dig into technical issues when the audience is a mixture of technical experts and non-technical stakeholders.
  • A discussion ensues concerning why engineers end up in meetings, and the communication objective of various meeting types.
  • Adam pounces when Carmen utters the phrase “controlling the narrative.”
  • Dwight’s Speech” (YouTube) from the US television show “The Office” is referenced by Brian.
  • Brian points out that, in an effort to be honest and transparent, engineers tend to highlight the limits of their knowledge when dealing with non-engineering colleagues.
  • An article titled “Consider Your Audience” is mentioned by Carmen.
  • Carmen also references an article with presentation tips for engineers.
  • It’s important to present information in a manner that is easy for the audience to follow, rather in rigid chronological order, notes Jeff.
  • An intentionally bad PowerPoint presentation (from the University of Wisconsin) is mentioned by Carmen.
  • A possible middle ground between minimalist presentations and fully-detailed reports are the concept of Slidedocs.

Thanks to Forgemind ArchiMedia for providing the photo titled “2013-0703 北科大建築營建築講座 – 楊恩達主講 21.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 134 — Twenty Forty

Adam, Carmen and Jeff discuss how engineering might change by the year 2040 in this episode of The Engineering Commons.

  • Adam hopes to move a little higher into middle management over the next decade… unless he wins the lottery and can immediately proceed to retirement!
  • We begin by looking back 23 years, to what engineering was like in 1994.
  • Carmen was a wee bit young to be an engineer in 1994, but does recall the first season of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers aired that year.
  • There were no “smart” phones in 1994, as the iPhone wouldn’t emerge until 2007.
  • Notebook computers were starting to appear in the early 1990s, although Windows 95 had yet to be released.
  • Also in the early 1990s, individuals could begin connecting to the internet through local internet service providers (ISPs), rather than dial-up services like Compuserve, Prodigy, or America Online (AOL).
  • Jeff recalls getting much of his design information from paper catalogs during this period, with the rare opportunity to use FTP to electronically obtain a spec sheet.
  • Hard drive space cost $2,000 per gigabyte (GB) in late 1993.
  • In 1994, software was still being loaded onto personal computers using multiple 3-1/2 inch floppy drives.
  • Jeff mentions the Engineer of 2020 report from the National Academy of Engineering, as well as the Grand Challenges for Engineering.
  • Will we have direct “brain-to-internet” connections by 2040?
  • Carmen wonders aloud if advances in computing power and artificial intelligence might make the majority of today’s engineers obsolete by 2040.
  • Well before 2040, we can expect robots to displace a lot of blue-collar workers.
  • Jeff notes that the number of startup businesses has been declining in recent years (at least in the United States).
  • We discuss how 3D printing might influence engineering activities, and manufacturing, over the next two decades.
  • Adam describes similarities between 3D printing and concrete deposition via slip forming.
  • Consideration is given to how mass customization might influence engineering and product design between now and 2040.
  • Adam argues that, even with advanced computing resources, engineers will continue to play an important role in applying engineering theory and intuition to “edge cases” that can’t be fully explored by software algorithms.

Thanks to Dragan Brankovic for providing the photo titled “future.world.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 133 — Embarrassed Engineer

This episode finds the gang discussing engineering projects that went awry, but did not result in the loss of human life.

  • While map makers include trap streets to catch copyright violators, Adam reassures us he’s never been asked to physically construct such a street.
  • It seems that mapping software sometimes makes traffic worse.
  • At the turn of the century, computer programmers had to deal with the lack of a four-digit year field. This was known as the Year 2000 problem, or Y2K.
  • Carmen learned of Y2K from Nick News, which featured Linda Ellerbee.
  • Computers will face a date problem again in 2038, when a signed 32-bit integer can no longer store the number of seconds since January 1, 1970.
  • Brian shares the story of a drilling accident at Lake Peigneur in Louisiana.
  • We learn of Carmen’s adventures when learning to measure line transients at work.
  • Carmen also shares some information about active and passive oscilloscope probes.
  • Jeff relates the near loss of Space Shuttle Discovery in July 2005, as told by Wayne Hale, a former Space Shuttle Program Manager.
  • The Mars Climate Orbiter is mentioned by Adam as having been doomed by unit conversion errors.
  • Please don’t take our comments about “freedom units” seriously… we’re just joking.
  • A hogshead is a liquid volume equal to 63 gallons, or about 240 litres.
  • In comparison, a cord is a unit of dry volume used to measure firewood in the United States and Canada, occupying a volume of 128 cubic feet, or 3.6 cubic meters.
  • A missing hyphen led to the loss of the NASA spacecraft Mariner 1, launched in 1962.
  • Brian mentions the process of metrication, a conversion to metric units of measure.
  • Confusion over whether pounds or kilograms of fuel had been added to an Air Canada 767 caused the aircraft to lose power at altitude, and to be forever known as the Gimli Glider.
  • We learn about the USS Yorktown being incapacitated for nearly three hours in 1998 when a crewman accidentally entered a zero into a data field, resulting in a buffer overrun.
  • Carmen describes the panic he experienced when his first evaluation board wouldn’t work… and his relief at discovering the problem was a layer omitted during integrated circuit fabrication.
  • Jeff describes how the Kansai International Airport, built in the middle of Japan’s Osaka Bay, is sinking into the ocean.
  • Tilting of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was stabilized during a restoration between 1990 and 2001.
  • A giant concrete test load, known as a Schwerbelastungskörper, was built by Albert Speer in 1942 to determine the feasibility of constructing large buildings on Berlin’s marshy ground.
  • The gang speculates on the wisdom of following advice given in an article titled “Your Foolproof Guide to Moving on After You Messed Up at Work.”
  • Brian recommends Jocko Willink’s TED talk on “Extreme Ownership.”

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for providing the public domain photo titled “Train wreck at Montparnasse 1895.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd