Conservative Liberal

FDR would have been a Republican today.

Engineering perspective

Engineers are unique group of people.  They tend to try to dig into things in order to understand how they work.  They also tend to avoid jumping to conclusions and are hard to influence emotionally.  In a word, they are nerds.  So, here is a couple of articles brought to me by professional newsletters that I receive: Planet Analog and Power Management Design Line.  But first, an excerpt from the Editor’s note from Planet Analog:

…And now, the "long-story long" version–in alignment with the analog world, I’ve always preferred to be on the trailing edge of leading developments; in other words, not being an early adopter. And I am also very hesitant and skeptical whenever a hot new development is heralded as the answer to all your problems, whatever ails you. (We see this repeatedly in our overhyped industry and society.) Finally, I’m not a fan of using frequent (out)bursts of under 140 characters; I prefer a longer 500-word column (sorry, it’s now called a "blog") or even a well-reasoned, articulated, full-length essay such as Raymond Chandler’s skillful The Simple Art of Murder or George Orwell’s timeless Politics and the English Language. (These are available online, but I am not sure if these are "legal" versions due to copyright ownership, so I’d rather not give any URLs.)

Equally important, as an engineer, I subscribe to Shannon’s Information Theory, which says that less (news) conveys more (importance). I certainly don’t want to add unnecessarily to the already too-high level of clutter and commentary noise around us, which reduces the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), thus obscuring and sometimes even burying worthwhile messages.

But given all that, there is a place for Twitter, when used appropriately and judiciously. It’s another tool which we can use–where it makes sense. So that’s what I will try do, by tweeting when there is something I think will be of interest or noteworthy, and not tweeting simply for the sake of being "out there" and trendy. I promise!

Beyond Newton’s Laws and Maxwell’s Equations: one thing that engineers know (or learn) is that in addition the laws of physics we have, there are also other "laws" that should limit our hubris; among these is the "Law of Unintended (or Unforeseen) Consequences". This was nicely shown in an article I came across from The Wall Street Journal about how and why the use of low-flow showerheads may actually increase water usage, "Under Pressure: Bathers Duck Weak Shower Heads". Unlike some technically obscure or hard-to-understand examples, this is a wonderfully clear one. It’s a lesson worth keeping in mind whenever you or a co-worker explain, with absolute confidence and certainty, the implications of design decisions, especially in the area of user interface and interaction (but not limited to those areas only).

I just excerpted the part that did not contain any professional stuff.  But it does have a link to an interesting article about unintended consequences of stupid regulations.  Do read it.  Bill Schweber, the above-mentioned Editor, also supplied his own article on Global Warming:

I once heard that you should be skeptical of any discipline with the word "science" included. The reasoning is that the addition of "science" is merely a device for enhancing the credibility of a particular discipline. While that comment was made in connection with "social science," it also applies to climate science.

I’m not discussing here whether man-made global warming is real, or is part of other, larger forces, or not happening at all. What I am saying is that the discpline called climate science does not meet my standards for what can be legitimately be considered science.

Here’s why: I’m a strict constructionist when it comes to using the "s" word. Scientific theories are established by developing a hypothesis and a model, then verifying them by repeated experiments and control groups. In the case of climate science, researchers don’t have that opportunity, for obvious reasons.

Again, read the whole thing.  While majority of people are not engineers, engineering perspective can be useful for understanding things.  Finally, a bit of an explanation of the current Toyota problems, again by Bill Schweber:

We’re all aware of the two mega-recalls of Toyota vehicles. The quick and easy explanation is that "cars are too complicated" and "cars have too many processors and too much software."

Certainly, there is some truth to that (software-controlled cars creep me out), but the sticking-accelerator problem has nothing to do with electronics; it’s a mechanical problem with a mechanical solution. But the real problem which designers of mass-market, high-volume products really face is the law of large numbers. When you have tens or hundreds of thousands of a product out in the market, some of their incredibly obscure and subtle problems will eventually surface.

…………………………………………………………………………….

To those pundits in media who so quickly criticize the Toyota problem as a result of poor engineering and inadequate testing, I say "you have no idea what you are talking about." It’s only because the basic design is so good and reliable, and the number of units on the road is so large, that these problems can even have a chance to appear. The law of large numbers is tough to work around, and does not yield easily to amendments.

I still think that Toyota is a very good car, with solid and reliable design.  But the article explains to those, who are not engineers, a little bit of what is involved in designing and testing a mass-produced product.  So, again an obligatory recommendation to read the whole thing.

I really wish more people in this country got more interested in designing and making things.  Just shuffling money will not sustain this country.  Some time ago I posted an article by Jack Ganssle of Embedded.com about why he became an engineer.  Now he wrote another article on this subject.  He also referred to another article from EE Times.  Both articles are interesting.  But comments are just as interesting, if not more so.  So, enjoy.  See if you can relate to any of it.  I certainly can.

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February 25, 2010 Posted by | Engineering | Leave a comment

   

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