Tag Archives: Podcast

Episode 97 — Next Hundred

hundredAdam, Brian, and Jeff discuss where the podcast should venture during its second hundred episodes.

  • Adam claims to be better at long term than short-term planning.
  • Listener feedback is encouraged as we try to sort out what topics to cover in upcoming episodes.
  • Tutorial episodes (for example, Nuts and Bolts) seem well-received, but require substantial advance planning. Additionally, there are limits to how “deep” we can dive with an audio podcast.
  • Podcasts that regularly dive into technical subjects include Pragmatic and Security Now.
  • Brian notes Dan Carlin’s voice, which can be heard on the Hardcore History podcast.
  • Jeff would like to see a steady stream of working engineers appear on the podcast during coming years.
  • “War stories” have benefited Brian during the course of his career.
  • Brian suggests using LinkedIn to reach potential guests for future episodes.
  • A possible new feature for the podcast would be coverage of current engineering events; say, the recent landing of the Blue Origin rocket.
  • One of the classic television “debate” shows was CNN’s Crossfire, which premiered in 1982.
  • While there are only 8 engineers in the current US Congress, there are 202 lawyers among the 435 Representatives and 100 Senators that make up that legislative body.
  • Jeff acknowledges his home state once came close to passing a law that would redefine the irrational number pi as being 3.2.
  • Adam notes that the degree of curvature is frequently used in civil engineering.
  • Vanity publishing has been around for many years, although it is much easier to be self-published these days.
  • We discuss a recent episode of The Amp Hour podcast where Chris and Dave answered live questions.
  • Brian insists we should avoid participating in “Hangout-a-thons.”
  • In recent episodes there hasn’t been much discussion of the trend toward shorter employment periods for engineers; Jeff wonders if this could provide an area of focus in the future.
  • Most people lose interest in new music after the age of 33.
  • Jeff has never been fond of disco music, especially the 1979 hit by Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell.” (YouTube)

Thanks to Ervins Strauhmanis for the photo titled “Money.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 50 — Art of Engineering

cells_320x200We talk with systems engineer Mike Parks about the intersection of art and engineering in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • Adam finds that his beer brewing talents exceed his drawing and singing skills.
  • Our guest for this episode is Mike Parks, a systems engineer, Navy veteran, and licensed professional engineer with over 16 years of experience in solving a wide range of technical and engineering challenges.
  • Mike developed an early fascination with technology while in Boy Scouts, then had a chance to serve as an intern with the U.S. Naval Academy’s engineering school as a high school student.
  • Our guest got his bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).
  • During college, Mike enlisted in the Civil Engineering Corps Collegiate Program, where he was able to apply his skills toward automating buildings and infrastructure facilities.
  • Mike was involved in assessing the damage caused by hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.
  • These days, Mike works a civil servant for the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Maryland.
  • In his off hours, our guest runs Green Shoe Garage, an electronics design business and technology consultancy. The name derives from Mike’s childhood passion for Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers.
  • Mike still wire wraps his prototype circuit boards.
  • Among his many efforts, our guest has also written a few Android applications, using MIT App Inventor. He has more recently been using Android Studio.
  • Mike started his podcast, S.T.E.A.M Power, to encourage students to pursue technical careers.
  • Passion is the driving force behind the “A” portion of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics), according to our guest.
  • Mike notes that cell phone inventor Martin Cooper was inspired by the communicators shown in the science fiction television series, Star Trek.
  • The concept art of Ralph McQuarrie, especially his work for Star Wars, impresses our guest.
  • In recent weeks, Mike has been recording his podcast on Google Hangouts to produce a video version.
  • A quirky story, recently covered on the S.T.E.A.M. Power Podcast, was a mathematical proof showing that the sum of all the numbers from 1 to infinity is equal to -1/12. Carmen is a fan of the Numberphile website that produced the video showing this result.
  • Mike is working on a book for technical leaders, tentatively titled “Don’t Let the Bits Byte!” He’s hoping to self-publish the book before year’s end.
  • A hackerspace that recently opened near Mike’s home is the PaxSpace facility.
  • To provide some perspective on career opportunities in engineering, Mike has produced a few YouTube videos on the subject. These include:
  • Mike encourages individuals to look outside of the narrow vertical career tracks that are often offered to technical professionals.
  • Mike can be found on Twitter as @mbparks, and on Google Plus as +MikeParksPE.

Thanks to Mike Parks for his original artwork, titled “Cells.” Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 2 — Feedback

This episode we talk about the feedback that engineers receive about their work. How do you deal with feedback and how should it be interpreted?

  • Steve Wozniak, of Apple Computer fame, is of the opinion that designers are like artists, and they should work alone. Thus, he seems to imply that outside feedback should be ignored. His thoughts on this issue are more fully developed in his book, iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It.
  • Jeff notes that while being a ‘maverick’ designer is exciting, everyone can benefit from outside opinions to help them see things in a new light.
  • It’s far easier to get buy-in from management for out-of-the-box ideas during the conceptual phase, than it is during final product design.
  • Dan Saffer recently posted a humorous presentation titled “How to Lie With Design Thinking.” While talking about web design, he skewers those who promote non-quantifiable aspects of “design thinking” over the hard work of actually doing design.
  • IDEO, founded by designer and entreprenuer David Kelley, is almost synonymous with design thinking.
  • Customers often don’t know what they want. They may cling to the first solution they think of, regardless of implementation issues, and will frequently ignore underlying design problems that are, in fact, causing the purported difficulty.
  • Chris describes using Voice of the Customer to determine a customer’s preferences. A related methodology is Quality Function Deployment (QFD).
  • Noting the linear thinking of customers, Chris references an xkcd comic about a “smart” engineer offering to turn the dial up to “12.”
  • Jeff urges taking feedback with “a grain of salt.” Lots of smart people have differing opinions. Look to friends and family for emotional support, not managers and business colleagues.
  • When things go badly, Jeff proposes that one should take heed of the “45-minute rule.”
  • Chris tells us about what it means to be “Shanghaied.”
  • A lack of feedback may indicate a need to reassess the importance of a project.
  • Delayed feedback is worse than no feedback, as it indicates that opinions have remained hidden until such time as they can only be used as a bludgeoning tool.
  • Chris notes that nobody says, “It’s just engineering,” to justify questionable behavior, although the phase “It’s just business” is frequently used in that manner.
  • Contentious interactions between involved individuals are always a possibility, despite efforts to “iron out” difficulties up front.
  • Jeff mentions the “curse” of the mechanical designer: anyone who’s ever changed a spark plug thinks they can do a better job of designing physical objects.
  • Chris announces a name for our podcast; it will henceforth be called “The Engineering Commons.”

Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to subscribe to The Engineering Commons so you hear about our latest shows and posts!

Thanks to CathodeRayJunkie for the feedback picture.