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Real Life Debugged » Engineers

Archive for the Category ◊ Engineers ◊

I got a check from the Department of Defense that represents Your Tax Dollars At Work.  You paid for me to recommend where some of that defense money goes.  I tried my best, and I hope you’re happy with my performance.

Whatever your opinions or political leanings, I think we all agree that the effects of war on our warriors and their families is tremendous.  And we hear stories how returning soldiers and veterans don’t receive the best possible care.

Let me tell you about some of the medical research being funded.  Real research and development projects aimed directly at the most significant medical problems.  A huge new challenge is dealing with IEDs - Improvised Explosive Devices - causing blast injuries.  Those who survive often suffer lost limbs, traumatic brain injury, PTSD.

I’d like to tell you about where the money is going, and how the government decides to spend it.

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What if Wilson informed House: “When I moved the code around, I found three subtle bugs that had probably been annoying users for months.”  Or what if House entered the room and tossed his team a stack trace?

John S. Danaher dreamed up a Debugging is Fun episode of House, likening their problem-solving skills in medicine to our problem-solving skills in software.

Debugging? Yeah.  Dediseasing? Nah, doesn’t sound to sanitary.  Yeeech.

I was psyched because that’s my book - technical mysteries for engineers packaged in individual episodes like House or CSI.  Cool!

And now, a preview of House, PE.

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Subtitle: Another digression about talking with those silly customers

I had a discussion with a good friend the other day - we’d spent years fire-fighting embedded systems gone wrong. During many all-nighters and several 110-hour weeks, our deepening ire became sharply focused on the idiocy of using zillion-line industry standards as product requirements.

On that project, there was no “customer need” or requirements document. I’d never met a customer. That was 12 years ago. It hasn’t changed much, he admitted. Now, as it was then, buggy products are still late.

Then I was approached by a university to redo their senior design program. Cooool - I got to indoctrinate brand-new engineers to the entire industry-standard process: starting with customer needs and requirements. “Back away from the keyboard,” I told them. “TALK to the customer.” And you know what? They got it!

To my delight, my best teams delivered beyond the customers’ expectations, and one won a national design award for their work. (Their story is below)

If graduating engineers can do it, why can’t we?

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The stereotypical learning style for engineers is that of visualization - we learn through seeing. Pictures and diagrams, watching facial expressions, doing practical projects. The other two learning styles are auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (feeling). Since ~65% of the population are classified as visuals, proposed changes in education include adding more visual elements to improve learning.

And here it is in practice! While searching for a recipe online, I found Cooking for Engineers. Lemmee jump to the punch line - here’s the summary for Shrimp Scampi.

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In the same issue of JackGanssle’s Embedded Muse newsletter where he reviewed my book, he let me rant on about the state of computer science/engineering education and its disconnect with industry needs.

He had mused in an earlier newsletter article when (and what type of) programming languages should be taught at the university level. He proposed banishing all such courses until Junior year so students can learn more about decision-making, methodologies and real design, rather than just cranking out code. His article struck a real nerve with me.

I blathered on for a bit, but apparently coherently enough that he decided to print my response.

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I was reading a post about the danger of cutting innovation efforts and R&D costs in this radically crappy economy - kinda like the farmers’ saying about not eating the seed corn. Seems a no-brainer to me that while forward-looking efforts might be optimized, long-term strategy and activities should not be compromised or curtailed.

You tech companies want a hint? Bag the next generation 140-button electronic gadget remote control that manages every electronic device in the house, washes your dishes, and vacuums the rug. Instead, gimmee a 15-button remote control in a fashionable color that doesn’t require me to turn on the lights to find the button to pause my DVD.

You want a rant? Here ya go.

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An Engineers’ Guide to Cats
Thursday, January 01st, 2009 | Author: lisaksimone

Engineers are some of the greatest and most creative people on earth. While stereotypes about us abound, we are also capable of making complete (?) fun of ourselves.

Many hard-and-fast logical engineering types believe that aliens use cats to spy on us. Cats are incomprehensible. But really, figuring out a cat is just like debugging any other unknown…observe, hypothesize, test, and validate.

This film is a wonderful introduction to the sometimes aloof and generally lovable felines of the 4-legged variety. From the YouTube site, this film carries the following introduction:

Two professional engineers illustrate the proper care and practical benefits of cats. None of the cats, humans, or engineers were mistreated in the making of this film.

It is one of my favorite videos!

It is quite possible that my husband secretly supports this instructional video, even though he is very vocal about his thoughts on cats - he prefers them breaded and fried.

You know, like W.C. Fields … “I like children - fried.

Category: Engineers, Humor |  Tags: | Leave a Comment