Welcome dear reader!
A little background: What I originally planned to do when I was in college as a computer science major was of course to be a computer programmer. A couple things conspired against me, though:
- The primitive state of debugging tools in 1991 led me to the conclusion that I would kill myself after my first year on the job if I was a programmer for a living, having just endured 4 years of semi-pointless academic programming exercises, and:
- I discovered rather late in college that I really, really loved the digital logic and hardware side of things more than the software. But nobody wants to hire you to build stuff in the physical domain if your degree is in computer science, rather than electrical engineering (and well they shouldn’t). I did have a lot of fun, though: All of my independent study/senior project time was spent building MIDI data transformers for my drum machine, and a cheap-to-build DMX512 theatre lighting controller that anybody could stick in a PC of the era, with its own onboard NEC V20 processor (x86 clone with better multiply/divide performance) to calculate dimmer fades, run chases, and that sort of thing. At the time, pulling off that level of functionality at that kind of price was reasonably cool stuff. DMX-capable lighting boards cost many thousands of dollars at that time and were extremely specialized. Mine could be built on a PC-XT add-in card for under a hundred bucks. Now, 20 years later, you can buy one of those as a USB device for well under half that, not even accounting for inflation – practically anybody (so inclined) in even the smallest theatre can get access to some pretty awesome technology using nothing more than a typical laptop.
Well, that was all fun and everything, but spending another few years in school to get another degree so I could keep doing hardware and playing with the toys was just economically infeasible. Since I also had a few really good job offers, it wasn’t really much of a debate: I hung up the wire wrapper and off I went to the world of software, as a “Program Manager.” Leap forward 20 years or so… I’ve now spent the last 20 years managing projects (granted, much more so at the technical end, than at the more mundane schedules-and-cheerleading type of work), but still not a whole lot of real grunt-work engineering, other than as a hobby.
If you’re reading this, then you probably know that over the last few years the whole “maker” DIY movement has really taken off, and there’s been a huge democratization of building electronic hardware, spearheaded by folks like Ladyada, Sparkfun, and Make magazine, Burning Man, SXSW, and so on. It ain’t just for geeks any more. Since graduating, I’d built a few kits over the years like the old classic PAIA Vocoder (which sounds like complete crap, by the way), a Nixie clock, and a few other little toys, but given what you can see on any average day now on Instructables or in Make, eyes were really opened to just how much room there is for creativity in this space way beyond traditional consumer electronics. I’ve therefore spent the last couple of years boning up on my underlying electronics knowledge in hopes of designing a few simple things myself, and not just assembling other people’s kits! I’ve finished a few projects now, and have a several more in the incubator.
I have also, luckily, been able to recently finagle my way into a job in my company that bridges the software and hardware worlds rather nicely. While being known mostly for software, my company also makes a few rather successful consumer electronics products that you’ve undoubtedly heard of, and so we have a team that designs and builds manufacturing test equipment to make sure those things work properly before we send them off to Wal-Mart. This has been a real kick for me, because now I get to blend my PM skills with learning just an absolute ton about what it takes to build consumer electronics, at a positively enormous scale, in the real world.
So that’s me, and my hope with this blog is just to share a few things I’ve built or am currently working on, what I’ve learned that they didn’t teach me in school, and tools I’ve found useful (or not). Just sharing ideas, links, and knowledge! So welcome, and drop me a line…