Wednesday, January 25, 2012


You're going to fuck it up. We both know that you have no idea what you're doing. Success is about coming up with a strategy that can tolerate what a colossal failure you are.

For instance, 'relentlessness' is a solid strategy for engineering. You will put the part in backwards and fry the whole circuit. It will teach you to design more resilient circuits and add fail safes. You will weld the part on upside down. And the moment you do, drop everything and go out to get a grinder. If you waste even a minute thinking about what this means for the rest of the project, you will fail at this project. If you do this often, it's why you fail often. You can ask questions like 'why did I do that' in the shower or when you're staring at the ceiling after sex.

'Completing projects' is not a realistic strategy for engineering. For starters 'finishing' isn't a goal you can realistically take action on or achieve. You don't know what it's going to take to finish. You're never built this device before. You're learning as you go. You don't know what you're doing, stop expecting to have benefits like 'predictability' or 'quality'. You will not because you're a fucking novice at this. And if you're not a novice at this task, it's time to stop being a human factory, that's what machines are for.

Focusing on completion when you're doing work you haven't done a million times before will only demoralize you when you watch your self-imposed release date and intended design slip and slip from under your feet. It will demoralize you. Expecting success will make you feel like a failure when you have no idea what you're doing. Which is exactly the position you're in when you're learning. So don't expect success. Expect progress.

Stop trying to predict. Stop trying to 'finish'. You don't know how to do that. Just make progress. If you make continuous progress, finishing will coming on it's own.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Man fork

My friends and I were talking about grill tools. There's a claim to be made that grill tools are too classy, too costly, too fragile, and too fucking small.

Having not thought about the problem at all, I don't see why I can't make one tool that handles all my camping-cooking-fire needs for less than $10 and an hour's work.

I've always found it's important to gather requirements by having outlandish fantasies of greatness.

I don't want to have to change tools between killing zombies and roasting their bodies in the heat of a post-apocalyptic office-tower conflagration. It'll need to save me time while I'm drawing "don't worry, I got this shit" in fire-lit letters on the abandoned highway with their smoldering bodies. And then I'll want to use the same tool for cooking bacon and pancakes in the morning for the gun-slinging nuclear scientist after we begin the re-population process in the back of a tank.

So I'm imagining kind of like a really big fork. With, eh, I guess a spatula on the other end. Strong enough that you could play baseball with it.

So what do we have lying around here to work this out with? Some 6"x20ish" 16 gauge steel plate, 4'x1"x1/8" angle steel, and a 2'x1/4" steel rod.

Of course we're going to need a lot of bad-ass industrial equipment to turn that pile of steel into awesome. Moments like this are why I live with a 90Amp MIG welder in my kitchen.

But first, let's start with the band-saw next to the couch. I'll only need a few cuts but they're going to be a bitch to do without this machine. If you're about to do this holding a chunk of steel over a cardboard box with a hack saw... then I know exactly how you feel because I did that shit for like 10 years. It sucks. If you're going to get one metal-working tool... well fuck, you should actually probably get the welder because no amount of elbow grease is going to melt that fucking steel. But if you get two tools... get some vice grips. Eventually get a band saw. These things are a fucking there-is-no-god-but-engineers-saved-my-ass-send.

It's a good thing the neighbors play a lot of video games because it makes me feel better about the 10 minutes of deafening metal-on-metal screech at 7:00 on a Sunday night.

So now we've got the parts we need. Time to haul the grinder out on the deck. If I'm going to build a cooking utensil capable of felling a horseman, it'll have to be razor sharp. Hell, I might even use the 'fine-grain' cutting wheel. For the pronged end, I'm thinking just two spikes with 30ish deg points. For the flipper/shovel, a light bevel will do fine and maybe even rounding out the edges. Don't want to rip those fluffy flap jacks while the lady is watching. It'll be important to show some finesse after the tough and tumble I showed her up against that nuclear weapon I've been carting around. (It was a perfect choice for an engagement present.)

Now it's time to get some weld on. The 16 gauge steel can't take much heat so I'll have to turn it down a little. Also, to hell with clamping things down. It's a man-fork, not a microscope. Just put the pieces nearby each other in the configuration needed and paint with the welder. Sure it'll be a few millimeters off but that hardly matters. Besides, this whole thing is supposed to take less than an hour.

Sent some sparks around, quenched it in the nearby snow, and now I've got a real ass-kicker. One cheap and easy to make tool that will kick the ass of any store-bought grill utensil.

Go forth and fabricate!