Compass Bicycles: Why not “Made in U.S.A.?”

This article is a really thoughtful answer to a common question. It’s an interesting predicament for those (like me) who think we should build more things in America. And it offers further proof that the anti-globalization, anti-trade policies championed by many candidates in this year’s election–guilty parties include Trump, Cruz, and yes, Sanders–are a completely wrong and disastrous solution to the problem of declining industrial output.

April 19, 2016 April 19, 2016 engineering by Scott No Comments

As if I needed more proof that 2015 will be a crazy year.

January 30, 2015 January 30, 2015 engineering by Scott 1 Comment

If you are an engineer and you’re really bad at what you do, read on! Choose your industry and I will predict your fortune:

Home routers and cable modems

You have a fascination with blindingly bright, narrow viewing-angle blue LEDs flashing incessantly in dark rooms.

Automated teller machines

You like needlessly loud fan noise, antiquated displays with bad viewing angles, parallax error between buttons and UI elements, obsolete operating systems, and input lag while performing simple tasks.

Printing (err… 2D printing)

You enjoy unpredictability. While your colleagues made precise, error-free image deposition possible, you worked tirelessly to ensure that only sometimes can the printer be detected on the network. To make sure the driver is cumbersome to install. To obfuscate the front-panel UI. And to guarantee that the printer drops off the wireless network periodically. You like to keep the users guessing.

Home security systems

The 1980s called. They want their beige plastic and 2-line alphanumeric LCDs back.

Heat-sealed clamshell packaging

You are a bad person.

February 18, 2014 February 18, 2014 engineering by Scott 1 Comment

You don’t want one of these in your house. It’s supposedly the best, most modern, most efficient oil-fired boiler you can get and, in defiance of all sound reasoning, the previous owners of our house opted to invest in it just a couple of years ago.

Energy Kinetics boiler

The heat hasn’t worked reliably since we moved in. Over more than six service visits in the last two months, the root cause has been variously diagnosed as: out of fuel, bad fuel, fuel line improperly run, clogged fuel filters, dirty combustion chamber, unstable chimney draft due to blockage, improperly sized burner nozzle, bad CdS photocell, bad pressure switch, and improper fuel/air mixture.

They changed or adjusted everything. It’s possible that everything was indeed broken. Doing my own diagnosis, I even found stripped gears in the motorized zone valve controlling the flow of hot water into the radiators, which was causing all kinds of additional problems (like the house heating to 90 degrees when you take a shower on a warm day, and the boiler controller “timing out” on startup on cold days).

Interim solution: a Raspberry Pi (purchased 30 minutes before closing at the local Micro Center) that I wired to the boiler controller. Now, when the boiler shuts down prematurely, my phone receives a notification within seconds. And I have a detailed, timestamped log of odd behavior for the service guy.

Raspberry Pi boiler monitor

Finally, a breakthrough last night: a buildup of “scale” inside the combustion chamber was blocking the pressure switch port, causing unstable pressure readings. You should see the amount of solid pollutants that accumulate inside this thing. Why does anyone in the city still heat with oil?

January 19, 2014 January 19, 2014 engineering by Scott 1 Comment

The recovery of the SpaceX Dragon capsule

Photo credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News
(via Spaceflight Now)

I had the good fortune to witness one of the final launches of the Space Shuttle last year, and it was an awesome experience. The Shuttle was an incredible vehicle–a triumph of engineering–with an infinitely complex and expensive support infrastructure.

So I was pretty excited when I saw this photo of the recovery of the SpaceX Dragon capsule today. Why? Because of the guy on the ladder. Specifically, because that ladder is clearly a regular ladder wrapped in foam pipe insulation and blue masking tape. If this had been a NASA project, he would be using a $10,000 custom climbing device made by Boeing. Instead, it looks like a late-night project supported by the local True Value store. It speaks volumes to what is possible.

This is the future of space exploration.

June 5, 2012 June 5, 2012 engineering by Scott 3 Comments

How to divine a potential supplier’s reputation from a datasheet:

  • Detailed graphs and charts: +5 points
  • Accurate mechanical drawings: +5 points
  • ISO 9001 certification: +5 points
  • Typeset in Comic Sans: -1000 points

January 4, 2010 January 4, 2010 engineering by Scott 1 Comment