Dear Colleagues

As a young lad or lass - can you remember your first project? I clearly remember my first one - building a crystal radio. Laboriously purchasing all the components (which admittedly weren’t many – a few capacitors/coils/resistors/ headset and a torturously long piece  of wire for the antenna). It was simply amazing when everything clicked into place after some wrestling with the soldering iron and a few recalcitrant wires and I had strung up the antenna over the roof of our home. And I could then tune into a radio station with no power supply at all – everything powered by the radio signal – simply incredible. Admittedly after a drawn out fiddling first with the components and variable capacitor – sometimes referred to as tuning.

There was however an irritating “mains hum” on my audio due to the 50Hz interference from the power to the home and this had to be dealt with by painstakingly improving the earthing connection after getting mixed advice from various other techs. My first taste of troubleshooting and optimising the design while trying to understand the main issues.

Optimising the Design
I then went further and built a radio powered by a tiny solar cell (from RadioShack) – this all 45 years ago. I found it all quite amazing – a lifeless bunch of components creating a living machine which was useful. And powered by the sun with nary in a battery in sight. The first glimpses of sustainability in those early designs. And the challenges of reliability of power when the sun disappeared behind a cloud.

Perfection is ever so elusive
You can surely also remember the troubleshooting and optimising to get to the supposedly perfect solution. Well – it is never perfect – one can spend aeons on adapting the design and improving on it. And troubleshooting is a key element in the process.

Engineering your way to success
This process is the reason why we are all in engineering. The obstacles are quite huge and the sense of the unknown is always lurking around the edges. Most other people look at us blankly when we describe our successes and our wrangling with the problems in the design. But the satisfaction is huge and boundaries are always retreating as we understand our designs and deal with the unexpected problems.

We use our positive powers and technical knowledge to make something out of nothing. To build something useful for the community. We always resist the “almost finished but let’s ship it” syndrome which the marketing department love.

As Robert A.Heinlein remarked so wisely: One man’s “magic” is another man’s engineering. Supernatural is a null word.

Thanks to Cees Links of the IEEE for an inspirational article about WiFi.

Yours in engineering learning