Episode 129 — Noticing

We are joined once more by Dave Goldberg, author of A Whole New Engineer, to discuss the critical engineering skills of noticing, listening, and questioning.

Thanks to Flavio~ for use of the photo titled “Before it Started Barking.” Notice any similarity between the dog’s nose and the ironwork? Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 128 — Industrial Academic

Dr. Dave Vandenbout offers up his insights on choosing between academic and industrial careers in this episode of The Engineering Commons.

  • Carmen wastes no time in revealing his secret method for stress-testing CMOS chips.
  • X-ray systems can be useful in locating bad solder joints hidden underneath a ball grid array (BGA) integrated circuit.
  • Our guest is Dave Vandenbout, an electrical engineer who founded XESS Corporation twenty-three years ago. Dave also has experience as an engineering professor and industrial researcher.
  • In Episode 103, Ones and Zeros, Dave explained the various types of programmable logic devices available to electronic designers.
  • Our guest notes that, in his experience, industrial organizations tend to be hierarchical and well-funded, while academic organizations tend to be relatively flat and less well-funded.
  • In academic circles, an overhead rate is the percentage of research funding that goes directly to the university to pay for supporting services that are not directly related to the research effort.
  • Jeff notes similarities in the experiences encountered by entrepreneurs and newly-employed professors.
  • Carmen notes a blog and podcast by Jon Ellis (a.k.a. Prof. Gears) that discusses the ups and downs of life as a tenure-track academic.
  • Two of the larger funding agencies in the United States are the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency (DARPA).
  • On average, Dave found a student’s grade point average (GPA) to be a poor predictor of research performance.
  • Although once rare in the engineering field, more and more engineering PhDs are taking jobs as postdoctoral researchers (post-docs) in preparation for academic careers.
  • In the United States, most tenure-track academics start their careers as Assistant Professors.
  • Tenure is a contractual right, granted by an academic organization, that provides legal protection against dismissal without just cause.
  • After six years, assistant professors not granted tenure are asked to leave the university (normally after a one year appointment). Those receiving tenure are often promoted to the position of Associate Professor.
  • Full Professor (or just Professor) is the top academic rank at most universities.
  • An h-index is a numerical ranking that attempts to measure an academic’s influence and contribution within a research field.
  • Dave comments that every graduate student wants to be a professor, and every professor wants to be a graduate student.
  • A recent Science Magazine article notes that only two of five influential cancer studies could be replicated.
  • Donald Knuth is a professor emeritus at Stanford University, and the author of a multi-volume text on algorithms, The Art of Computer Programming. He also developed the TeX language for typesetting mathematics.
  • Dave is excited by clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) techniques that allow for precise genome editing.
  • Our guest can be reached on Twitter as @dvbeisme.

Thanks to U.S. Army RDECOM for use of the photo titled “Army scientist bolsters nanomaterials research with Singapore.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 127 — Technical Writing

We talk with iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens about documenting and sharing technical procedures, especially those related to the repair of consumer devices.

  • We start this episode by catching up on some past episodes…
  • In Episode 111, “Environmental Engineering,” we talked with Bronwyn Bell, an environmental engineer from Western Australia, who is now featured in an episode of the Discovery Channel show “What on Earth?” (Bronwyn’s segment starts around the 29 minute mark, and lasts about 6 minutes.)
  • Listener Matthew wrote to say lubrication could have a large effect on how long a bearing might spin, and the video in Episode 115 showing different spin times might not be representative of quality. He pointed out that an ABEC standard exists for bearing tolerances.
  • Via Twitter, and in response last episode’s conversation about refining diesel fuel, listener CAD Noob shared an short film from 1946, titled “The Inside Story of Gasoline.”
  • Our guest for this episode is Kyle Wiens, the CEO of iFixit, an organization that publishes free teardown and repair guides, primarily for consumer electronic devices.
  • Kyle graduated with a Computer Science degree from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo (also known as Cal Poly).
  • iFixit was the first company to supply Pentalobe screw bits in their repair kits.
  • A flathead screwdriver remains a versatile tool.
  • Kyle has been involved in the founding of Dozuki, a software company that provides clients with an online documentation platform.
  • Farmers have been fighting to retain the right to repair their own tractors.
  • The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) criminalizes acts that bypass measures put in place to protect copyrighted materials.
  • Our guest has also been involved in establishing The Repair Association, an advocacy group dedicated to representing and promoting the repair industry.
  • A free tech-writing handbook, co-authored by Kyle, can be found on the Dozuki website.
  • Carmen mentions the book “On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction,” by William Zinsser.
  • In 2015, Kyle wrote an article titled “Everything Falls Apart,” in which he argued for repairing, rather than replacing, consumer products.
  • Our guest still catches flak for his 2012 article in Harvard Business Review, titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.
  • A documentary about fixers is in the works, although no release date has yet been set.
  • iFixit still needs a repair guide for a Slinky. Brian notes that Egon Spengler (a character in the movie Ghostbusters 2) would have some insight on this topic.
  • Kyle can be reached as @kwiens on Twitter.

Thanks to zphad1 for use of the photo titled “trip5a.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd