October 5, 2012
Last week I went to the Open Hardware Summit with a skeptical eye to the ability for someone to generate a realistic business model when giving away everything they design. How can one pay the engineers to design a product when the competition get the same design files without having to pay them? And I’m not alone in the fear that an open design will result in a ‘fast follower’ will dominate the market and leave a pittance to the innovator.
But I’ve found that it’s more nuanced that simple protection of an idea. First, people will copy designs no matter what license is used. Second, there are additional methods of offering value to a customer beyond the physical product and the price point. I talk about it in my latest Element14 Article…
…The reason I was so excited to attend OHWS was the license’s requirement disallowing the use of a non-commercial clause. This clause means that the designer cannot limit others’ use of the design files for commercial purposes. Many people worry that a design can be copied as-is and produced at a lower price than the designer offers thanks to reduced R&D costs. I am not yet sure how valid the concern is, however the outcome is currently being defined which makes for a very exciting time…
September 28, 2012
I love the experience of cracking open a new design platform and seeing what it can do, and how it can be used. However there are so many out there! What about the individual options are the best for attacking a project? How can one ensure that the experience will be the best possible, preventing an immediate hate of the platform? I write about all of this on Element14′s news section…
Thanks to the NYC Maker Faire this weekend, there has been a lot of discussion of new project ideas becoming a reality. With the wide array of different development platforms that are coming out for FPGAs, Microcontrollers, and even complete computing solutions, there is always a system out there to be explored. It can be intimidating to approach such a wide array of possibilities, so what is it that makes for the best first projects?…
September 18, 2012
I love watching how the growth of spaces like my own Denhac develops as people begin casually making things. Recently Denhac held a surplus sale and I think it really pumped up interest and made the space all around better. There were a few things that I noticed made it a success, so I wrote an article at Element14 about what was so great…
….The sale gave the space an opportunity to quickly figure out if any of the unused donated equipment and books are worth anything. What’s the best way to find out what something is worth? Sell it! It also allows the community beyond the membership circle to grab things that can be used for cool potential projects. I know that it can be difficult for hackers to let things go. All members have 10 projects on the pyre that could potentially use the spare parts, but there’s just not enough time to make it happen! Encourage the members to either start the project or let the parts go to someone who is ready to use them…..
August 22, 2012
One of the harder things about teaching kids to be adults is how to ween them off of the protection that adults provide. In my most recent E14 article, I talk about the ways I’ve seen high schools censor the internet while operating the BlueStamp Engineering program. While there’s no ‘best’ solution for everyone, I believe taking a risk-averse approach can do more harm than good:
The technical fields have a problem in the training of the next generation of students: internet censorship. It represents a hesitation in the move from information being something that can be controlled to the free passing of ideas, and it places education in direct conflict with the demands of industry.
There are two ways I’ve seen internet controlled by high schools during my involvement with the BlueStamp Engineering program:
- White list: Administrators decide on the sites that are appropriate for students and only allow them to access approved information.
- Black list: Find sites that are known to be problems for high-school aged students such as facebook, porn, etc. and block them while leaving the rest of the internet available.
August 9, 2012
I’m just coming off of BlueStamp Engineering’s 2012 season, and I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve observed while teaching students new to coding with microcontrollers. It can be tough getting a project started when one doesn’t know what is going on, so this article should help someone understand at least a few of the options and why people might chose one microcontroller family over another.
…As with any engineering solution or teaching method, there is no single best approach, and I’ve had varying levels of success with a few different systems. My canned response has always been:
“The best way to learn a new system is by recreating another person’s project. So if you don’t care about the microcontroller, I suggest finding a fun project and using whatever system the original designer used.”
However I’ve noticed several differences between the microcontroller platforms that students have worked with, each with its own strengths and weaknesses…
July 16, 2012
I was recently thinking about how little time exists between a design being ‘completed’ and when it needs to be revised. Obsolete parts, bugs, manufacturing equipment changes, manufacturing locations and volumes will all drive changes to a design. Sometimes is makes a mockery of revision control systems.
My most recent Element14 article highlights the work maintenance and legacy engineers do when crisis hits, and how that can make for a great career opportunity.
I’m always happy to say it: maintenance people are the ones who keep the world turning. This isn’t worth noting because their job is fundamentally harder than other jobs. It’s not because they do something that others cannot. It’s because theirs is a craft of delivering, and delivering now. In addition to having the skills to take another person’s work (or errors) and make them sing again, these men and women need to respond instantly and be at the top of their game until the job is done.
June 29, 2012
Whenever I have even a little extra time while traveling, I try my best to make it out to hackerspaces, surplus stores, or events that has people creating exciting things. My last trip to Houston is no different, so I wrote about the great making community out there…
…Happy with my EPO outing, I couldn’t refuse the suggestion of checking out the local hackerspace, TXRX. They have an open house every Friday for members, friends, and strangers from other cities to come by and check it out. I was floored. Even though they have only been running for ~3 years, the space was excellent, the members were active, and I saw no fewer than 3 projects being worked on.
June 21, 2012
This last weekend Sparkfun showed once again their commitment to their customers and community. They setup a course and organized an excellent competition for hobbyists and engineers to race autonomous vehicles — both cars and planes….
Sporting many barrels (which were light enough to be pushed all over the place) and a hoop that gave those bots that went through it a 30 second time reduction, there was plenty for the cars to worry about. Believe it or not, the surrounding creeks and pond was as big of a concern for the airplanes as it was for some of the cars. But my personal favorite part of the course was what I call the ‘Danger Zone.’ As the videos show, we were standing where all of the navigation failures occurred. Nothing better than being chased down by one robot, only to be run down by ANOTHER robot! But I’ll let my favorite videos take it from here (all of my videos can be found on my youtube channel).
May 3, 2012
I’ve always been interested in topics of failure, motivation, and rewards. Especially in the context of personal achievement in the design process. When speaking with a friend over a couple beers which were his reward for doing everything that could be done in a failing situation, I suggested he take a different approach when placed in tough position…
……..In our attempts to set timing expectations with our managers/customers, it is a common practice to add 2x or 3x more time to a scheduled plan just because there are going to be countless failures from unforeseen problems. That means that at least 50%-66% of engineering time on a project is spent failing. Without giving ourselves an occasional pat on the back for our effort, how is one to cope with such a consistent dosing of failure?
By Stacking The Deck.
It doesn’t matter what one does to succeed, just that the success-to-failure ratio is kept within a range that makes a person feel good about their time on this earth. This is where hobbies save us……
April 27, 2012
Another Denhac talk is all set for Saturday 4/28/12 1:30pm at 975 E 58th Ave, Unit N Denver, CO 80216! I wrote all about what I’m planning to talk about in my lastest Element14 article:
…..We decided that it would be fun to keep it going with more talks on electronics! While everyone seemed to dig what I had to say, I think there was probably too much talking/drawing and too little showing. Remember, this is meant to be as fun as possible! To address this, I thought lecture #3 should focus on electronic measurement equipment. This will give me a chance to bring in a bunch of equipment, talk about each unit, and put the concepts we talked about on display with a few demo circuits. The best part is that with multiple devices, the attendees can spend some time playing around with the stuff, looking at their datasheets/prices, and asking me about them. Nice!…..