Category Archives: Thoughts

An Engineer’s musings

Clean Windows

In my work area, I have a large number of windows. I like to look out of them to see how the outside world is doing while I work. The weather passes through and they get wet. They get dirty and smudged. The view gets occluded and not as clear. I am fortunate to have windows because they brighten mine and everyone’s days as we work.

Periodically you will find me outside cleaning my windows. I clean them because I know that I will feel better with a nice view. I clean them because others that work with me also enjoy looking out of clear portals.

I usually wait until it rains to help wash the grime and grit from the windows. The drops of water that stick allows my squeegee to glide off the crud and corrosion. I’ve become a aficionado of different types of rain that I can go out in and clean my windows to the world.

Of course, there are those who always ask, ” Hey, come do my windows next!”. The first couple of times it is funny and pleasant. Now I don’t respond to the same people who year after year make the same joking and half serious request.

I do my windows because it is a good thing to do. They want their windows cleaned because they don’t want to make the effort (or so I judge). Not once in ten years has anyone come to ask for equipment so that they can clean their own windows.

I sometimes wonder if they believe the effort of cleaning is beneath them. I’ve stopped thinking about it though. I just enjoy the clean windows and the sun when it shines.

My 2 cents – an Engineer


A plan

If I submit my my project/poster/part on Friday, can I get it by Monday morning?

This sort of question is asked of all shops, makers and doers in many different forms. I receive questions all the time asking how fast we get a job done. This query can imply many things that the person asking the question may not have considered.

-It asks how good we are.
-It implies that your project is most important.
-It asks us to take the blame for not getting your project done.
-It says that you do not plan and have not planned.
-It says that we have nothing better to do with our weekend.

Look, engineers often get caught by deadlines. It happens. We get caught up in the minutia that is our life’s work and forget that completing a project in an organized manner is important. The makers of this world understand this dilemma. It has existed for millennia. However, the knowledge of this dilemma does not create a convenient excuse for you.

“An emergency on your part does not constitute an emergency for me…”

So, what are you going to do?

This problem can be split into two parts. Immediate damage control and long term solution.

Immediate damage control is where you admit that you didn’t plan and were honestly caught by a deadline. This admission needs to be made to your boss not to the shop/maker/machinist/or administrative assistant. You will be chastised and some sort of corrective action will occur. But, it is better to accept the consequences of your decisions than to hide them until they are dragged into the light of day.

The long term solution is more painful at first. You have to plan.

My 2 cents – an Engineer

We are the first to come and the last to leave…

This time of year always leaves me a little maudlin. Students I’ve known for years are now leaving to start a new life. It is an exciting and scary time for them. They are now adults who will succeed or fail based on their own efforts.

I see the seniors walking around. They stand a little taller. Their weight is on their toes. They seem a little more alert and attentive. The end of their life and a new beginning is coming.

We all look forward to seeing this as an educator and guide. We all talk about their lives to come while we are teaching them in the classrooms and labs. Their eyes glaze over because it really didn’t matter at the time…but now, every word seems to have meaning and value.

Jackson Browne plays in my mind every time.

Fall is coming though. New students are coming to have their lives changed.
Another year is passing and life is going on…

My 2 cents – an Engineer

The HEIR project

I see many things happening in Marquette’s College of Engineering. This is one of the many projects happening in the college that excite me.

What is interesting about this project is that many of the robot components were manufactured in the DLC Shops. Each part was made, remade, analyzed and remade again with the knowledge that the hard work would produce something meaningful. The students driving this project are succeeding beyond everyone’s expectations. Take a look and imagine what is possible…

If you want to help, this group is currently crowd funding for attending RoBoCup 2014.

It is a good cause…

My 2 cents. – An Engineer


Android Apps and getting started…

Android Apps and getting started

by Adam Stroud

Have you ever been curious about making your own android application, but intimidated by the prospect of coding? I know how you feel, and after taking the leap, I’d like to report back that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, it was one of the best leaps I’ve ever made.

Like any skill, you need a great project to work on in order to develop and hone that skill. Without a doubt, android app development is an incredible platform to work on for several reasons:

  • Android apps are built with Java, which is universally accepted as the best language to start coding in
  • Google made the android platform, so all of their code is open source and free
  • Since it is free, millions of people tinker with android development. This means that millions of people post what they’ve learned and troubles they’ve run into on websites like

Your phone or tablet is more powerful than your laptop was 5-10 years ago. In addition to its raw computing power, it has touch sensing, a microphone, cameras, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and a compass. Does your laptop have those? These user-interface features make the possibilities endless in terms of developing a unique app that you can get excited about and show your friends and employers. For all you civil and mechanical engineers out there: I’m sure you’ll knock the socks off your interviewer when you tell them you know how develop applications. Wow! That guy can program too?

So what can you do to get started? Hit up YouTube for some beginner tutorials or follow this link for a nice step by step tutorial:



Smartphones Getting Smarter

Smartphones Getting Smarter

by Ed Barry

Since the mid 90’s we have had more computing power in our phones than NASA did in the first Apollo mission. What have we been doing with all of that technology? We launch birds at pigs and send smiley faces to each other. Although things are changing now, companies like Sony, Motorola, and Samsung to name a few have begun creating interchangeable accessories for their smartphones; and no I’m now talking about sparkly covers and stylish key chains. The Nokia Lumia currently has a 41 Megapixel camera built in, but it’s quite bulky.

The new idea is to make a camera lens to increase the phones capability without adding to its size. Other attachment such as microscopes, high powered microphones and HD web cams are in the work or for sale already. This means that you would not have to pay for all these features up front, you can pick and choose from these advanced features. Don’t trust it or don’t want to spend the money?

Watch the video in the link posted below for a DIY on a homemade microscope for under $10 you can make at the Discovery Learning Laboratory, with just a few cheap items and basic training. Microscope Turns Mobile

So what does all this mean? Well I think with the rate our phones are advancing, it is making the PC industry a little nervous. The question becomes now is where does it end? Let us compare; the human brain needs energy to fire electrical impulses as does a smartphone, although there are limits on the energy consumption on the smartphone we have a pretty strict limit on the energy we can consume and actually use.

Researchers at Cambridge have been working to determine how the internet and smartphones affect our memory, and so far it seems that we do not retain as much information when we search it on a computer or we have a large dependency on the computer for our answers. This is a problem but it is also a solution. As it seems we are at capacity with the amount of information we can store and use in our brains, maybe augmenting some of that information to the computer isn’t a bad thing. On the other hand as generations proceed how dependent will we become on the computer?

This dependency can be a good thing if you ask almost any user of Chegg or Wolfram Alpha though I think John Connors would disagree. If you don’t know who that is, I guess you will have to rely on a computer for the answer. All things considered, whether it is good or bad I think only time will tell.


Dickinson, Boonsri. “Scientists Figured out Why We Can’t Get Smarter.” SmartPlanet. CBS Interactive, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.

GRIFFITHS, SARAH. “The DIY Smartphone MICROSCOPE: Turn Your Mobile into a Piece of Expert Kit Using a Block of Wood and a Laser Pointer.” Mail Online. GlamEntertainment, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

The Poppy Project

by Adam Stroud

While 3D printing is hot topic, I thought I’d post this interesting example of how 3D printing is allowing engineers to do research that would otherwise be pretty out of reach.

The Poppy Project is a humanoid robot made mostly from 3D printed plastic in Paris. The thing about this robot that is so cool is its incredibly human-like walking capabilities. The robot uses bent femur-style legs (much like humans) that would be very difficult to machine out of aluminum or whatever other material you wanted to use. With 3D printing, the Poppy Project gave this robot curved thigh sections that are strong enough for repeated walking impact.

You can do anything you want with 3D printing, so you might as well get really creative like these folks!

Check out the Poppy Project here: