Posts Tagged ‘ engineering ’

Everyone is an expert …

[tweetmeme] We all have our little areas of specialty. My sister can tell you all about public speaking. My very good friend can yap at you for hours about project management. I can make computers do stuff and find sort of interesting information online. Specialties, you see. You probably have one or two of these yourself, isn’t it ?

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A popular idea exists among engineers that we call the DRY principle, which stands for Don’t Repeat Yourself. When we’re implementing a piece of functionality in one place and then find that we need the same piece of functionality in another place within the engineering we are trying to achieve, the best practice is to draw it once and make it accessible to the entire site engineers. There are several reasons this is a good idea, but the big two are that the more times you do the some thing, the more likely you are to make a mistake and engineering the same thing twice is a waste of time and effort. Same is true with email. I can’t count the number of occasions I’ve described the difference between Interfacing and Integration to coworkers and curious barroom chums. My IT Friend has been asked about fixing computers, many times. Part of being an “expert” is sharing that knowledge with other people, right?

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So why in the hell do we keep writing the same 4-paragraph email to every joker who asks us about our specialty? If there were ever a case for having a blog, this would be it in my opinion – a place where you can write out those long-winded essays about the best way to make sheer kourma or draw a perfect circle or even whats the easiest way to learn excel. Whatever your particular flavor of knowledge happens to be, surely there are more people that are interested in it than the one dude to whom you just spent the last hour composing the email in question.

So, try this out. Next time you’re tapping out 2 single-spaced pages to your Aunt describing how to set up her mobile for some function, consider emailing it to something like Posterous instead; then, fire Aunt Gertrude a link to the page. Now, not only will your Aunt have all the related knowledge her head can tolerate, Google will probably stop by and maybe send some other interested parties your way. And the next time somebody hits you up about it, you need only send them a link to that thing you already wrote instead of retyping the same email all over again!

With the amount of knowledge that exists among those still running around this planet and the amount of email that gets routed around the world every single day, I’m guessing that we could all take advantage of this at least occasionally. If you do it, I’d love to hear about it and maybe grab a nugget or two of whatever speciality is kicking around in your head!

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Invisible text … made visible for Mobiles – QR Codes

In one of my earlier posts, I had showcased a very interesting Business card, the augmented reality business card. Right next to the 3D picture of the person was another 2 Dimensional code which was also displayed and a few guys asked me about it. That was of course the QR code, and I was surprised to find that not many people knew about the humble QR code. So this post is dedicated to the QR code. Although invented in 1994, the QR code which was then heralded as the ‘next big thing’ and the ‘replacement to the age-old Barcode’, this technology did not really take off worldwide as it had the potential for.

qrcode

The main difference from the bar code is that since it’s actually a 2 D  matrix, it can contain far more information (up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters), and the scanning device is any 3G camera phone with proper QR software installed. A smaller version, Micro QRCode, holds up to 35 characters.

The QR Code is a way to use the camera of a mobile device to capture a bit of data, be it text or a URL. The user snaps a photo of the square bar code and an application on the device makes the translation. It is bit of a fringe technology and the primary reason being not all Mobile Phones ship with an application built-in, and even when it does, they do not really advertise it.

QR codes are now mainstream in Japan, and have been for a few years.  Originally developed by Denso-Wave, QR codes gained a foothold in print media in Japan at the end of the last century, and international recognition with the publication of an ISO standard in 2001.  Since then, QR codes have become ubiquitous in Japanese print media, outdoor advertising, and even on the occasional T-shirt. Sushi bars use them to track plates of sushi consumed by their customers. They appear in Japanese bus shelters posters, linking travelers to a site that provides up-to-date information on bus arrival and departure times. In fact there is a Blog from Japan where all the posts are in QR Codes. Check this sample of a post.

Here is a How to video to use your Bar code scanner built into the Nokia N95

Now with mobile penetration increasing world over the QR code is making a slow comeback into the world through Mobile Marketing. But people have not only used it for Mobile marketing but further with creative used of this technology. Some examples that I came across are :

  • Business Cards – a QR code could take people to your company’s website or your profile on LinkedIn.
  • Google Maps and QR Codes Mashup.
  • Memorial at graves ?
  • Mashup Augmented reality with QR Codes, not only the business card that was on my earlier post. Check out this.
  • Booking Appointments – some businesses such as doctors’ offices and hair and beauty salons are using QR Codes to enable their clients to book appointments over their mobile phones. This is great if the office is closed when you pass it or if you’re in a rush and can’t wait around to make your appointment with the receptionist.
  • Adminstration – online interactive Canadian passport application forms have integrated a dynamic QR code that changes as you complete the form. The code stores all the applicant’s information and when scanned by the government processing centre, to accurately upload the applicant’s information and to allow for much faster application processing times. This video shows how the code works and changes over time.
  • Event Ticketing
  • Opt-In Marketing – For permission based marketing solutions, companies can offer a free download in exchange for a prospect’s email address or cell number.
  • Marketing Collateral – learn more about a product or service, whether via a general website or dedicated webpage, or with the power of multi-media via a video presentation.
  • Retail Signage – show current sale events, promotional discounts, download mobile coupons to the mobile device and so much more.
  • Invitations / Event Announcements – gather further information or RSVP on your mobile device.
  • Real Estate – a quick scan of an MLS listing, or from a ‘For Sale’ sign, brings up an instant virtual tour of the property.

Check out some of these Youtube videos here to check them out.

You can check out some of these free online QR Code generators to make your own free ! Yes Free !!

Engineering … what is it ?

To put it in short

Engineering is the application of understanding.

An engineer encounters a problem, researches the causes, investigates ways to remedy the problem, and then designs and implements a solution. I always thought that the engineering course that we all undertake is not really about the subjects that you are learning. Well not 100% at least but definitely is to kindle the part of your brain which is responsible for Analytical thinking. And after going through the grueling 4 years of the engineering course, I think that I really have got only that from the college.

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I mean not a disregard to the lecturers who tried their very best to get the subjects into my head, but its a testament to what was the course material that they had actually picked for the course. Frankly, COBOL for programming, nothing to do with present day circuits and instrumentation techniques that were used in manufacturing over 10 years ago. Thats not really ideal, having said that, It is still that information that definitely  triggered the analytical thinking part of my brain.

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Over time I have tried to answer the question “Why do I enjoy doing what I do so much?” and have finally realized that it’s not one particular aspect.  Instead, it’s the process as a whole.  For an engineer, a project is a complete scientific discovery from start to finish. Curious about the problems, Learning how to solve it, Understanding the pros and cons of the solution, expressing it with sketches and finally applying the solution to the problem. Interestingly though, I have just found that even most of hobbies that I engage in all follow this progression.

  • Photography – Curiosity of looking at light and frames
  • Gaming – directly involves lot of problem solving skills
  • Paper craft – well am still a novice, involves 3D modelling of paper
  • Blogging – Just started blogging seriously

In almost every way, I think these are simply different names for the same thing. Engineering in its basics provides us engineers a lot of joy just to see even an unconventional solution working. You can check out this site for a lot of such haphazard solutions which are not ideal but do the job nevertheless : http:/www.thereifixedit.com. Named appropriately.

Change as an engineer

For the longest time I thought that change is for the good, why would anyone make a big deal of change. Being in an industry where people work for years and years, I would always think of the “Oldies” as some sort of mental blockers in accepting that their landscape is changing. Their reluctance to accept new technology etc is something that we all know of but even people, they would be very skeptical to accept even new people.

On the contrary, they also know that, if we all resisted change all the time, we as designers of course would not be able to improve and advance technology.  Change is, without question, inevitably necessary to evolve our products, procedures, efficiency etc. If the guys making the first car would have never changed or evolved we would have amazing gas guzzlers that would provide 1 km per gallon and would cost a few hundred thousand, wait the American cars still do that. 🙂

Working in a similar landscape I realized that we engineers go through rigorous scientific process when making decisions.  We rely on experiment, trial, hard data, user experience, cost analysis, potential and future benefit, and product efficiency to evaluate new tools, products, and design flows.  As one can imagine, this often takes a hefty chunk of time and effort.  We engineers decide to put in the time and effort now, and plan on using the eventual choice for many recurring projects.  It is a significant investment for both the engineer and the company to evaluate and make these difficult choices.  The motivation for change must be painfully obvious and very compelling else the inclination towards it is not even there.

Like they say necessity is the mother of all invention, we believe that laziness is the key to all efficiency. Quite frankly. I can state maybe 2 examples to show this. One being my computer, where the shortcuts, look and feel, customization of menus, bookmarks etc are meant to maximize my computer using experience. And when I say that I mean get all my stuff with the minimum effort. Even the routine excel files that I use are all with formulas, etc to ensure that I am able to provide the required reports etc with minimal effort. Maybe that is why most of us DO NOT like anyone to fiddle around with our computers. Even the place where I used to live as a bachelor was a small 8sqm studio which was made up to accommodate most of my whims and fancies at that time. It was also an efficiency masterpiece to be able to enjoy all of my stuff with minimal effort. Again what might seem as laziness to a lot of people is definitely the efficiency of the process.

I also do believe that engineers do embrace change, but it takes  a lot for them to do so. Like it is aptly put there should be painfully obvious to make the change.

Engineers should embrace change if it provides an immediate opportunity to increase their own personal skill sets.   This applies to learning new software, new programming languages, new management techniques, and of course new design methods. In the industrial world, new products and materials can provide unforeseen improvements to high-tech designs.

The long-term gains available should be embraced by the engineer, given appropriate runway and deadlines.  This is where upper-management normally misses the boat. When all is said and done, the goal is to make money.

The Management’s mantra to lower costs is not entirely evil; it should be everyone’s goal to help the bottom line.  Again, the key is balance.  If there is a significantly cheaper option available, whether it be software, tools, or parts, it should be evaluated in detail by the company’s best engineers.  It is up to them to determine the technical capabilities of the new toy.

And these things are something that I am now getting to see while slowly moving up the corporate ladder. I wonder would it have made a difference if someone had spoken to me during my college days I mean made it more management type discussion then I might have adapted accordingly. Well that Is something of a discussion that needs to be taken another time. For the time being it is clear we as engineers are as stubborn as a donkey on some issues. And yes I am admitting it, finally.