Tag Archives: design

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 56 — Analog Footsteps

VacuumTubesWe discuss the legendary engineers of analog electronics with Linear Technology’s Todd Nelson.

Thanks to Rony B. Chandran for his photograph titled “Vacuum Tubes.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.