Tag Archives: drawing

Episode 74 — Ideas Without Words

lightbulbElectrical engineer Bob Schmidt joins the discussion of how engineers convey important concepts without using words.

  • Beyond writing down a few words to remind him of key details, Brian likes to dive straight into analysis or development when he has a new design idea.
  • Brian often uses LTSpice to analyze electrical circuits.
  • A debate ensues about the importance of being “neat” while making design sketches, and how the purpose of such drawings differs between mechanical and electrical engineers.
  • Our guest for this episode is Bob Schmidt, who previously joined us to talk about “Troubleshooting in Episode 48.” Bob is the author of “An Engineer’s Guide to Solving Problems.”
  • We mull over Chris Gammell’s recent comment (at 9:39 mark) that the NPR radio show “Car Talk” was never specifically about cars, but rather about the process of troubleshooting automotive problems.
  • Jeff shares a troubleshooting story related to replacing a water spigot on the outside of his house.
  • Carmen, Brian, Adam, and Bob take turns telling their own horror stories about plumbing.
  • The importance of eye protection is emphasized by some misadventures endured by Brian and Carmen.
  • Jeff shares a quote by Heather Martin about the relationship between drawing and thinking.
  • Our guest argues that “Ideas with Fewer Words” would be a more accurate description of how engineers use figures and diagrams.
  • Bob is especially irritated by engineers who fail to include units on their graphs.
  • Block diagrams can be useful in organizing thoughts about system inputs and outputs.
  • Jeff shares his experience of trying to implement IDEF0 for documenting manufacturing processes.
  • While whiteboards are good for gathering group input, Bob emphasizes the need to quickly save the results before the whiteboard can be erased, causing critical notes to be permanently lost.
  • Jeff and Bob lament the difficulty of keeping track of one’s ideas over the years.
  • Describing a figure as it is drawn on the whiteboard can help promote a common understanding of the figure’s meaning, claims Jeff.
  • Mind maps can help organize seemingly unrelated ideas and thoughts.
  • Bob creates lists in Excel to capture his ideas.
  • Dan Roam’s book, “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures,” is mentioned by Jeff.
  • Bob and Jeff talk about drawing on paper napkins; is it just an “engineering” thing?
  • Our guest shares his success in using “annotated photographs” to share information with colleagues.
  • Forward looking infrared (FLIR) images have proven useful for Brian in his professional work.
  • Bob notes the growing interdependence of all the engineering fields.
  • Coming out of college, Jeff interviewed with Cray Computer, and was disappointed to learn that they mostly needed help with thermal issues.
  • Jeff shares another troubleshooting story, this time related to his problems establishing good TV reception.

Thanks to Ramunas Geciauska for use of the photo titled “Idea Bulb.” 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.