November 17, 2013

Little and Big Engineers

On Thursday, I met with probably one of the most brilliant people I will ever meet... ever. I spent most of my time studying him during our meeting and realizing it was a once in a lifetime event for me.

Those who know him well, think nothing of it. But I don't know him well, so I am in awe.

We had a presentation to give on a big project we've been working on. My boss asked me to give it, but I deferred. I was there to answer any questions that were thrown our way, but as far as I was concerned, this was my boss's show. He needs for people to see how dang smart and together he is. I care not what they think of me.

And what I left with was... the most brilliant man in our industry knows what we do, has heard of us, and fully appreciates what we do. I am hoping that the others in the room were listening, for what I do for a living is considered a low job in the engineering field.

Working logistics is considered... an insignificant job to engineers who design. Structures, designers, test, that's where the 'glory' is. What I do is considered a necessary evil.

But it is a job *I* personally love and am damn good at. My boss is even better. And according to the brilliant man we met with, HE completely got it and spent an hour going on about what we do, how we do it, and how the other engineers in the beginning of the product didn't understand how our jobs were so dang important, and if there was doubt, do go out and talk to our customer in the field... the guy using our product, and they get it.

So it was a great meeting. He's amazing. And not just because he'd heard of us and knew what we did... but because... he


Saturday was spent with the Boy Scouts, teaching DC Circuits to 200-300 4th grade Cub Scouts. From 8AM-4:30PM... I was teaching.

I came home beat last night and had to force myself to stay awake to an reasonable hour. Going to bed at 7PM was going to be a death knell for the next day.

A couple things that I experienced for the first time:

If you ask 100 4th graders who invented the lightbulb:

30% will answer Thomas Edison.

30% will answer Benjamin Franklin.

30%-1 will answer Albert Einstein.

The 1 child will combine the two wrong answers of Franklin and Einstein and come up with Frankenstein. And will shout it loudly.

The other 10% will stare blankly at you because they either don't know what a light bulb is or they have NO CLUE who invented it.

We have circuit boards that were made for each kid to play with. It's just a bunch of parts I bought at Radio Shack that we hot glued to peg board.

It is comprised of a switch, a battery pack (2AA) and a lightbulb. I explain closed and open circuits. After I'm done, I let them play with them, moving the alligator clips (attached to wires) around to created different closed and open circuits.

I go around individually to make sure every kid understands the concept and why things do or don't work, trouble shooting when the light didn't go on, but they think it should.

We have nails, paperclips, straws and toothpicks, explaining and allowing them to experiment with what will and will not conduct electricity.

And so I stood with my circuit board with the switch and as I gave my 1 minute schpiel I said, "OK, so let's talk about the light switch in your bedroom..."

And a young man raised his hand and said "I don't have a light switch..."

Me: *blink* I'm sorry. You don't have a light switch?

Cub Scout: No.

Me: What do you do, just wander around in the dark?

Cub Scout: No... I clap my hands and the lights go on. I clap them twice and they go off.

Me: *blink* Really. I'm going to say, you win. I've been doing this for five years and I've just never had anyone tell me that before.

Cub Scout: Yup. I live with my grandparents.

Me: Well, I'm just going to have to do some research on how clapping opens and closes that circuit behind the walls. Now I have some research to do.

All the parents and I just looked at each other. Wow.

So I'm researching the clapper.

Posted by Boudicca at November 17, 2013 09:57 PM

You have 101% of 100 4th graders there...

Posted by: K-nine at November 18, 2013 02:41 AM

We really need to talk more often about the weekends.. I was there with the youngest... And our afternoon class finished early... we could have come by and seen you. He would have loved it.

Posted by: vwbug at November 18, 2013 05:58 AM

Knine missed the 30%-1 part.

Sounds like you were volunteered to act as a Den Mother. Aren't your boys kind of old for that?

Did you cover bot serial and parallel circuits? Two lights and two switches?

Then too you could have had them build crystal radios, but then there probably aren't any good AM radio stations in your area that still play music. I know there aren't any around here.

The station I grew up with went from Top 40s (60s & 70s), to Adult Contemporary (80s), to Urban Contemporary (80s-90s), to Country (92), to Adult Standards/MOR (93)to All Talk (00s). No fun for youngsters to listen to with their crystal set.

Posted by: The Thomas at November 18, 2013 05:10 PM

Knine- Yeah, you skipped one.

VW- I'm always there except for last year. Last year I had a marker dedication to go to.

Thomas- Our BS Troop always does the engineering badge for the Webelos. It's all our parents plus some of our senior and Eagle scouts. It's just what we do. I do DC circuits. We have a traffic engineer that does AC. We have an engineer doing bridge building and he does an EXCELLENT job. There is an assortment.

I have to keep it simple. I talk some with the kids about circuits in series and parallel and some of them have had it already in 4th grade science by the time we get them in November. But I have to push through 5-10 groups of 10 kids in two sessions, one morning and one afternoon. One year we had 15 groups of 10 kids in 2 sessions... it was nuts.

So the peg board circuit board we make is very simple, something they can play with, not break. One of our Eagle Scouts is my techie, so if a kid breaks it, he fixes it, while I keep teaching.

The first year I was asked to join, all this crap was thrown in the middle of the table and it was a dang free for all. Small electrical fires were starting, the smell of burning plastic permeated the air, and I was looking for a first aid kit. So we had to control the environment a bit better...

Posted by: Bou at November 18, 2013 09:11 PM

Ah... So I did. Tricky putting 30% - 1 as opposed to 29%. What can I say... Me and Bones. Caught up in the story and not the math.

Posted by: K-nine at November 19, 2013 01:16 AM

Ah the smell of burning bakelite in the morning.

The first thing a young engineer learns (as well as the mother).

Posted by: The Thomas at November 19, 2013 09:22 AM

I just read something this week on website of a person who helps people look for jobs. The idea is that all jobs are important and should be done right.

The example was along the lines of "Okay so you aren't a C-level executive looking for a job, maybe you put screws in airplanes. If that's what you do, you better be very good at it or the plane will fall out of the sky. This is an important job."

Oddly enough, when I saw the statement, I thought of you. :)

Posted by: Teresa at November 19, 2013 01:51 PM

Eventually, kids won't remember what light switches are. Now that you can set your home up to be run from your iPhone, light switches will become a thing of the past. We've already started setting up most of our lights on a remote, and at some point even plan to switch out our front door lock with one you can control with the phone.

Just like cassette tapes and records, land line phones, paper maps, etc....what will the world be like for kids 20 years from now? Funny to think about.

Posted by: DogsDontPurr at November 19, 2013 02:05 PM

When I was acting as a scout leader, I heard some truly amazing engineering ideas coming form young people who had not realized yet that there is a box that typically one thinks inside of. I had one one young man, about 12 yoa, explain to me how he had an idea for a new fire extinguishing product. His idea was :

I can create a hard polymer shelled spherical container, and put a block of dry ice inside of it, and the polymer container would be engineered so that once the temperature on the outside was such that all of the dry ice inside had sublimated into CO2 the pressure inside and temperature outside would cause the shell to crack and - POP - the CO2 would rush henceforth into the conflagrating room, and EVERYBODY knows that CO2 is heavier than air, thus will push all of the existing air out, and with it the O2 required for the fire to burn and - VWOOP -the fire would be extinguished ......

He had me until I asked what his method of deliver would be.

Catapult. Through a window.

Posted by: Web at November 21, 2013 11:04 AM

Knine- It's all good!

Teresa- OK, I'm taking that as a compliment!

Thomas- I swear, you mention fire and all the Scouts want part of it. There is something about Scouts and burning crap.

DDP- Actually, you are completely correct and I'd not thought of it that way!

Web- You made my day. That's one of the funniest dang things I've read in a long time. It captures everything about being that age...

Posted by: Bou at November 21, 2013 09:42 PM