Are We having Fun yet? The secret to learning is known to every child below the age of five.
All too soon the public schools rob them of that knowledge. _Bummer!
That Secret is so simple that when we hear it we say, "yea, of course,"
and quickly forget it and move on.
When I first joined the faculty of the ECE Department I was warned to
never use the words, "Fun" or "Play" when talking with the other faculty
members about teaching techniques. All too soon I found out the truth of
that warning, also to never ever mention "Hobbies," in the same vein.
By now you've figured out that the ‘great’ secret to learning, it is
to "Enjoy" learning, to have Fun learning, and, yes, even Play. _Especially
Curiosity, genuine Curiosity, about the subject is a powerful motivator
to learning. I believe if one can determine what a person is the most curious
about, that is the subject they will have the least trouble learning.
It has been my experience that learning by way of a Hobby is the easiest
and the most 'Fun' way to learn, it adds the important ingredients of curiosity
and enthusiasm, without which, learning can be "a tough row to hoe." Of
course, IQ doesn't hurt, but curiosity and enthusiasm act as very large
All of this is by way of saying, in order to make it through a tough
course, turn it into a Hobby! And, begin before you start the course...
is the Art of Doing, with what's Available"-
Goes Up, Must Come Down Henry Ford
had a simple, but BRILLIANT idea on how to keep Industry "Honest" and prevent
them from Polluting the Nation's Waterways.
His Idea was
to Require that Industry discharge waste water upstream from their freshwater
let Your Fingers do the Walking How about
the Architect who built a high-rise office building complex and did not
He only planted
grass--and he was roundly criticized: "What could he have been thinking?"
Six weeks later
he returned and installed sidewalks--right where the tenants had worn
pathways: taking their route, not the architect's.
5% Solution Or, how about
ARCO? Los Angeles needed to further reduce auto pollution, over and above
the California standard, and do it cheaply. To reduce emissions just one
or two percent more--if possible --would create an enormous financial burden,
not to mention technical difficulty.
instead of trying to "ring-out" that last one or two percent from all of
the newer modern automobiles; they bought up and destroyed 3000,
Old model, polluting automobiles.
Since one old
car put out 30 times the pollution of a modern auto, it was the same as
removing 90 thousand modern autos from the streets. Or, it is like reducing
every modern auto's pollution--in the city of LA--by roughly five additional
percent. It only cost between 3 and 4 million dollars. Want to guess how
much it would cost--us all--to further reduce modern automobile's pollution
Please A factory owner in a small town in the mid 1950s was retiring.
That day he picked up the phone and spoke to the operator, as he had
done every weekday for the past twenty years. She recognized him as, “that
nice polite voice” that called a little before noon for the time. He told
her that he was retiring and that he wanted to thank her for all the years
she had given him the correct time without once complaining. She said that
she was glad to do it, although she wondered sometimes, why he didn't do
as she did, just set the clock when the factory whistle blew at noon.
This is about something so near perfection in design and implementation,
that nothing ever broke or wore out. Until on its 100th birthday it all
fell to dust. No single part or material was weaker or stronger than any
other: thus when any part failed they all failed.
Try topping that!
one deserves a Category all its Own!
an Oregon middle school a number of girls were beginning to use lipstick
and would put it on in the bathroom, where they would press their lips
to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip
The Principal decided that something had to be done, so she called all
the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the custodian. She explained
that all these lip
prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean
the mirrors every night. To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the
mirrors, she asked the custodian to clean one of the mirrors. He took out
a long-handled squeegee, dipped it into the toilet and then cleaned the
mirror. Since then there have been no lip
prints on the mirrors.
are teachers and then there are Teachers...
one Also deserves a Category all its Own!
Solutions in the Darndest Places (An
old Broom still Sweeps Best) A
friend, who is a Physical Therapist, visited a new patient who lived out
in the country; an elderly lady with limited mobility who used an old broom
for support in getting around. The old broom was bowed from years of use.
To replace the old broom, my friend set about finding the right "appliance"
among her arsenal of canes, walkers, etc. As she would try what seemed
appropriate, things were steadily going down hill; everything she tried
seemed to only make things worst.
my friend, who is very good at her job, decided that the patient really
knew best what "Worked," so she returned the old bent broom to her.
This is a Great
example of the definition of Engineering: Finding the
for the Problem! And most importantly, being open to all possibilities
in finding that solution!
The Easier Way: In
my younger days, I use to repair television sets for a living. But I gave
it up after a short time because of the stress of dealing with my customers.
Years later, a friend and I were comparing notes about our days as TV repairmen.
I related how it really bothered me, when returning a set to the customer's
house, usually in the daytime, and how the "lady of the house" would say
how the picture had been so much better before the set broke and before
I worked on it --no matter what the problem had been.
said that had also been his experience. but that he had found a surefire
cure that worked every time. He described how he would get behind the set,
and while turning the Vertical Hold control--rolling the picture first
one way and then the other--he would ask the Lady of the House to look
at the "pictures" and tell him which picture looked the best. At this point
she would get real serious and tell him: "no ... no ... go back one; one
more... That's it ... No ...back one more. Oh ... yes... that's it ...
that's it ... a perfect picture!"
a Broken Washing Machine to Me On kwajalein,
Island--somewhere in the pacific ocean--an engineer friend of mine, who
was married and living in dependent housing, had a problem with his washing
machine. It made a strange noise, and he couldn't diagnose it. Since he
lived in the middle-of-nowhere, he mailed a tape recording of the strange
sound to the manufacturer. After a couple of weeks, in the return mail,
he received the correct part with instructions.
Troubled with Break-ins A young woman,
living alone in New York City, was continually having her apartment broken
into. Each time there was a break-in she would add one more door lock,
but to no avail. At seven locks, she got the bright idea of only locking
some of the locks and leaving the others unlocked. It worked! No more break-ins:
The burglar would unlock the locked locks, but would lock the unlocked
1836, Congress wanted to close the Patent Office; it said, "everything
that could be invented, had been invented; there was nothing else left
K I S S
(Keep It Simple Stupid) Any "Yo Yo"
can make it complicated. More than likely, the simpler the solution: the
smarter the designer. Simple is Beautiful.
and the Light Bulb: Once upon
a time in the East, Thomas Alva Edison had a, newly hired, young engineer
determine the volume of one of his light bulbs. The young engineer went
off with calipers and notepad in hand to do the task. Three days later
he returned with the answer--carried to the 3nd decimal place.
the bulb, broke the neck off, filled it with water, then emptied it into
an empty beaker. And, comparing the results, he held up the beaker alongside
the answer written on the engineer's notepad, and asked, "Aren't the answers
about the same?" They were nearly the same. He told the young engineer
that sometimes the simple way is more than ample, and other times it isn't,
and the trick was knowing which was which.
Smokies are Everywhere In fighter
competition between the services, because their--million-dollar--Hostile
Warning Systems in their multi- million-dollar airplanes, were less than
reliable: some F-4 pilots went out and bought $100 "Fuzz-Busters" to detect
is Mightier than the... During the
Apollo program, NASA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing
an ink pen that would write reliably in zero-g. The Russians, facing
with the same problem, used pencils.
be Real Some sophisticated
aircraft simulators use a $10 million dollar Cray computer to generate
real-time graphic images for the pilots. However, there are some simulators
that use a remote controlled TV camera that dollies on X & Y overhead
rails in a diorama. These images are as realistic (sometimes, more so)
than the $10 million system--at a fraction of the cost.
What looks easy, may be easy, ... or Not! Underestimating
a project or design can be disastrous, not only to the project, but to
you, your reputation as a designer, and the horse you road in on. I keep
on learning the same lesson: if it looks like "Duck Soup," it is more often
My Way is
Best or Bust! Most problems
can be solved in more than one way. And, every way has some advantages
and some disadvantages. Optical solution is great, except it may have a
problem with ambient light; magnetics are also great, except unexpected
stray magnetic fields can cause you grief. Use thermistors, "yea, that's
the ticket," except ambient temperature is a problem, and on it goes...
the old saying:
all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail."
To Use or
Not to Use a Microprocessor Use the technology
or scheme that is appropriate for the problem at hand. Be careful that
you're not guilty of having an idea looking for a home.
said that: if you do find real justification for using a computer in your
design, and if there is spare computing power left over: there is a phenomenon
of force multiplication--a step function of efficiency, if you will--whereby
all new functions to be added to the "system" are virtually free. This
is a very powerful concept!
Softheaded Look at your
design from several view points: think of the design in terms of its expected
lifetime; future costs of production; revisions of present and future functions,
etc. Ask yourself: "Self, am I designing a million dollar dead end?" Often
I can "do a job" faster, using hardwired "stuff," and avoid the time consuming
design of a microprocessor based system with its necessary lines of code;
and, it may be absolutely the right approach. However, I may pay a fatal
penalty for that "speed to market." I can--and have--ended up with a "house-of-cards,"
that will come tumbling down around my neck--and other body parts. Dedicated
or hardwired is not flexible, if it were, one would call it softwired.
Ten pounds of shit in a one pound bag is sometimes possible, but where
do you put that eleventh pound that invariably shows up?
If You Don't
Think Too Good, You Shouldn't Think Too Much When you have
a design problem: The first thing you don't do is read how others did it.
The first thing you should do is several preliminary designs, using only
yourself as a resource. This approach--while seeming counter intuitive--will
pay off big time! You will get insights into the problem that using "cookbook"
solutions prevent. Einstein said, to him, reading stifled original thought.
Though most of us are below Mr. Einstein's level of competence--in his
field, or pasture--he did have a point. Once you have an idea you like,
it is very difficult to think of other ways to do the same thing. But the
trick is to think of all the ways of accomplishing the task, before you
pick a favorite.
I Satisfied with That Design! At the design
stage: when you have a design that you are satisfied with, you stop thinking
about it in a critical or adversarial way. In fact, you become blind to
its faults, and defensive if anyone scrutinizes it with a critical eye.
Hence: Design Reviews. You have to have them, to find the land mines that
the designer invariably overlooks--before he steps on it.
we don't change or improve a design for some pretty dumb reasons: something
as simple as not having the part, and being too Damn lazy to order it;
or "Gee, that's too much trouble, I'll have to re-draw that whole thing..."
I'm not suggesting that These are conscious articulated decisions, they
are more like underlying motives. You must guard against listening to that
still small voice coming from your left shoulder (Satan), but must, instead,
listen to the little guy on the right shoulder (Angel).
Isn't Always Good Enough It is not
always the best technical idea that is chosen: either by management or
the buying public. As a kid I believed that if you built the better mouse
trap, the world would beat a path to your door. Say, I better remember
that, I might have just coined a phrase. In this life the idea chosen from
the several out there, are usually chosen based more on political considerations
than on technology--or common sense for that matter.
My Idea, I Thought of That A lot of people
think of the same idea, but usually only one person takes it to the "Market
Place." Don't get caught up in the "What If," syndrome. You can bet: of
those ideas you say, "Gee I thought of that...," You can pretty-well bet,
there are several other people out there who probably had the same idea,
and, like you (and me) they too--just stood there. However, you should
be proud of the fact that YOU--independently--had an "original idea." This
Entrepreneuring And, the
next time you come up with a "good" idea, don't just stand there--do something!
As I look back over my fifty-mumble years, there are few things that I
regret having done; but, I can tell you: there are a bunch of things I
regret having not done! But, it's like when the eager young reporter was
interviewing an elderly farmer--in northern Maine--asked, "Have you lived
here all your life?" The old man replied: "Not yet!"
It is All
Things to All... Behind DOOR
# 2, is the trap of designing your "widget" to do or be everything to everybody.
Or you make eighteen different models for all those customers--you know
who I mean, those customers that live mostly between your ears. The point
is, know your market, and one model, aimed at the largest demographic first.
Don't just imagine who's out there, know who's out there and what they
want, and will buy. Don't give them what you want them to have: give them
what they want.
of America The path to
the poorhouse is littered with thousand-dollar electronic stethoscopes
(>250 at last count), that doctors didn't want. They learned all their
sounds in medical school on old run-of-the-mill acoustic stethoscopes,
these Hi-Fi sounds meant nothing to them. Gee, did anybody ask the doctors
-- other than Dermatologists--if they really wanted, or needed, or would
ever use these things?
Words "All my friends
think its a great idea." "I think I'll go borrow lots of money, setup a
production line, hire lots of people, manufacture it and sell it--to all
my friends--both of them."
Syndrome In the military,
when one becomes a Second lieutenant, they are recovering from OCS, and
have mixed emotions about their self image and what it means, being an
officer. But, by the time they become a "First lieutenant," they think
they have all the answers, and become a real Shit! Their main problem is
they have no idea what there is to know, and how very little of it they
know. If they are real lucky, by the time they make Captain or Major, they
will have had enough encounters with the sharp edges of the "Real World,"
that they will be worth, not shooting!
anybody see an analogy here? Could he be talking about recent graduates?
Who made him say that? ... Satan?
following multiple choice questions:
in technology will depend most, on your:
Making like a 110 ohm resistor
(Br Br Br)
High GPA & Graduate degrees
All of the above
No-Cloths Good, understandable
writing, is more important to personal advancement, than knowledge in your
field... What a Bummer! But it's true. No matter how Brilliant you are,
or think you are; Or how big a "Bull Shit Artist" you are--or think you
are--you will be judged first by your writing. Perception is everything:
if you sound intelligent; therefore, it follows: you must be intelligent.
Somewhere your fifth-grade english teacher is laughing out loud!
All you require
to succeed in life is your sheep-skin, a word processor/speller, and a
of Steps People who design steps seem somehow
to do a poor job. The stride of the average user is rarely taken into account:
the height of the step, or its depth, or both dimensions, seems--more often
than not--to be wrong. A classic example are the steps on the campus of
NCSU leading to Haroldson Hall--in front of the library. These steps were
designed to look esthetically pleasing, but they were a disaster. They
were dimensioned such that you ended up stepping up or stepping down with
the same foot. Eventually someone got smart, and "mashed" the steps down
into an incline.
Another old saying:
"If it wont Run, Chrome It" (for you
Right now, there is a technology
revolution going on in bandwidth and data storage. When I first read the
numbers, I thought I had picked up an April-first issue of the magazine.
Up until several years ago, 1.5 Gbits/s was about the maximum data rate.
That was over a fiber link that had to be repeated every 20 kilometers.
The repeaters were buildings with large bays of equipment to convert the
received light waves into electrical pulses: demultiplex, check for and
correct errors; reformat and re-multiplex the data; and again modulate
as light onto the next 20 km span, and so on... until it reached its destination(s).
pulses & Dispersion-Shifted Optical Fiber A Soliton pulse is a very short
and intense burst of light, lasting less than 80 psec, at a wavelength
of ~1330 nm. When a Soliton pulse is applied to Dispersion-Shifted optical
fiber, there is a nonlinear response by this special optical fiber to this
intense light. The equation defining this nonlinear response has two dominant
factors: one that intuitively says the 80psec pulse will get longer or
stretch over time and distance (reducing the data rate); the other factor
predicts the spreading of the bandwidth of the signal (increasing the data
rate). As long as the Soliton pulses' level stays above some minimum level,
both arguments of the equation remain valid, and cancel out. The Bell Lab
researchers state that a Soliton pulse has not reached its ideal form until
it has traveled at least 6000 km.
Through Yond Window Breaks, it is the... Now along comes Soliton pulses,
Dispersion-Shifted fiber, and Erbium-doped optical-fiber amplifiers. And,
the world will never be the same again! AT&T/Bell labs has not only
demonstrated, but is delivering: optical fiber systems with data rates
exceeding 25 Gbits/sec at over 19,000 km, with error rates <10 -10
errors (pseudo random sequence, with no error detection or correction coding).
Think about it: that's 25 9 bits/sec, or 3.1 billion bytes per
second, or about 780 bibles (old and new testament) per second, or five
music CDs per second, or a full-length movie every 21 seconds--you name
it: its "Gang Busters."
Instead of massive and expensive
repeaters spaced every 20 km, Eribium-doped optical amplifiers are used
to amplifier or boost the light signal (regardless of encoding or protocol
being used) about every 30 km to 100 km. The Erbium-doped optical-fiber
amplifiers are 30 meters of coiled optical fiber, a 10 - 15mW IR LASER
diode (~1330nm) and a few assorted optical filters and beam splitters--and
fits in a container smaller than a lunch box. And, if that wasn't enough:
these optical amplifiers have Bandwidths of > 40THz.
Good Also, recently a LASER diode pumped
Fiber Optic LASER has been demonstrated yielding pulses as short as 17
femtoseconds. Boys and Girls, that's fast! 1 fsec is to one second, as
1 second is to ~32 million years. Another way to view a femtosecond: light
travels around the Earth ~7.5 times in one second; take one sheet of paper,
divide its thickness into 170 parts: that is the distance light travels
in 1 femtosecond.
CD ROM about to increase in density from ~600Mbytes to >18 Gbytes by
using shorter wavelength LASER diodes (visible red, green, and soon blue;
and eventually, ultraviolet).
In 1994, Bell Labs has demonstrated
a 3.5 inch hard drive with 50,000 Mbytes of storage. That is equal to a
box of DD/DS 3.5 inch floppies, nearly 8 feet on a side (an average room).
More recently, they have demonstrated density ~ 45Gbits/in 2
data rates, on optical fiber, operating at distances up to 19,000 km @
rates < 10 -10, No Errors!
--using Soliton pulses on Dispersion-shifted optical fiber with
Erbium-doped-fiber optical amplifiers every 30km to 100km.
--More recently: No repeaters were required!
Optical Amplification, yielding Bandwidths
> 40-THz, using Erbium-doped fiber pumped by 1330nm a 15mW diode LASER.