July 26, 2011

Engineering: It's an addiction...

I have sort of an addiction to "doing" stuff, solving problems in particular is a thing that I really get a kick out of. It was bug that I got a long time when my grand-father would (try to) teach me how to correctly bend wood beams to make the structure of wood boats. I found it fascinating as it takes a bit of understanding of the basic "fabric" quality of wood and how the fibers are disposed in the beam to bend, what temperature it requires and such. An absolutely fascinating art.
Later, my college buddy Matthieu Bourgeois totally infected me with the chess bug. I never quite got even nearly good at it but I did read a lot of books he recommended and found the mechanics, tactics and even philosophies behind it truly mesmerizing. 
More recently, I had the privilege to work a little bit with Kohsuke Kawaguchi (of Hudson and now Jenkins fame) who is an engineer in a league of his own. He decided to create an eXtreme Feedback Device for his Hudson builds and I soon followed suit with an XFD of my own. That introduced me to 2 things:
  - the USB bit Whacker which is an ingenious and cheap little device making it easy to go from the logical world of software engineering to the "magical" world of physical computing.
  - sparkfun.com where he had sourced the bit whacker. And THAT was the beginning of an eye opening journey for me into the world of electronics which had to that point seemed to be way over my head.

Being such a hacker by nature, I soon started to abuse the bit whacker to do other things than simple XFD. I created a "weather station" for OpenDS, the project I was officially working on at the time. I will try to post some pictures and description of this weather station as my original blog just got wiped by Oracle (nice,btw). 

I then got so into it that I bought a couple of picaxes because it's a microcontroller that's easy to start with AND it's roughly $8 with taxes, so no harm if I can't wrap my head around making it work. With the first picaxe, I made a water game for my kids that sprays water from underneath my deck.There are four rows of sprayer heads, 4 heads per zone. I'll post a video of it running tomorrow. All that to say that this was really the start of a great journey.
I soon wanted to do more advanced stuff and looked into arduino. The only issue is that wireless is a pain, most options being way too expensive for the occasional DIYer.

Enters JeeLabs. Once again I run into an awe inspiring engineer, driven and getting stuff. I have been addicted to his daily weblog where he shares his experience with various projects he's working on or goes about explaining the basics of electronics in his "easy electrons" series, which in itself is worth the read for the software engineer I am. We're so "removed" from the physical world that it's really helpful, if you're considering starting an electronics project, I recommend to check out his easy electrons blog posts. 
Anyway, what's amazing is not WHAT he does but HOW he goes about it, trying to actually understand what's going on. He doesn't claim to know everything and admits when he doesn't, and you can walk the path with him to get to the point that it all makes sense. It's all about the attitude!
That prompted a purchase from moderndevice to source his electronics goodness and get crackin' with the next project.
Props JCW!
Keep posting, I'd be a total downer if you stop ...


  1. Arnaud,

    You can find some description of your OpenDS Weather Station, with a picture, here: http://ludopoitou.wordpress.com/2009/10/05/directory-engineering/



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