Category Archives: Engineering

The career of puzzle solving, how things work, making things work together

How to Rate Your Skill at Anything

On a technical forum I stumbled upon, I found the following 1-10 rating guide pretty useful (and funny) in trying to figure out how to measure your ability at programming or any skill/tool for that matter.  Thanks to Adam Jaskiewicz for this great analysis.

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10 – You don’t know that you don’t really know anything.

9 – You’re just bragging, and you probably aren’t as good as you think you are. Even if you are really this good, you lack the political skills to see what picking a “9” says about you. That, or you’re pretty well-known/worshiped in the industry (i.e. you wrote a book once, and it has a nickname like “The __ Book” or an acronym that most developers would recognize instantly), and not afraid to throw your name around.

8 – You’re [sic] damn good and you know it, but you’re smart enough to realize the stigma of picking 9 or 10. You’d better be able to back it up.

7 – You’re very good, but you know you have a lot to learn.

6 – You’re competent, and have a lot to learn, but aren’t very confident in your abilities. Are you sure you aren’t a 7?

5 – Decent junior dev. You’re just out of school, and smart enough to realize you don’t really know anything about real-world programming, but you know how to hack together code.

4 – Mediocre junior dev. You’re just out of school, but your basic coding skills leave something to be desired. You had a hard time just passing most of your programming classes, but for some reason decided you still want to pursue a career in software development. You also don’t really believe in yourself, so why should an interviewer?

3 or below – If you have so little confidence in your programming ability, why are you applying to programming jobs?

So the “correct” answer is probably 5-7, depending on what kind of job you are interviewing for. An 8 has enough experience that she wouldn’t be asking this question.

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Facebook Just Pulled a Chrome with Facebook Home

Facebook Home Welcome Mat - A Take Over Strategy

Facebook Home Welcome Mat – A Take Over Strategy

So, back last year Mark Zuckerberg was pretty clear that Facebook would not build the all-amazing ‘Facebook Phone’ that blogs have waxed eloquent about. No, software was the puzzle they were focusing on … not hardware. But today, I saw where Facebook pulled a trick from Google’s playbook in taking over an ecosystem with their own ecosystem. The Zuck calls it Facebook Home – and it is a pretty cool idea for the company with an IPO anniversary coming up in May. See the video below for

Sabbath Story: Where You End and God Begins

Hot air balloon taking off while four people watch

How much can we plan for and organize – and how much do we have to say, ‘God, you have it from here’ because I have no idea where you are taking me?

Once upon a time, there was a little boy engineer that wore glasses. He was a pretty smart little boy, able to figure out how things worked, was good at solving puzzles, and really liked to draw – but he had a problem with trust. One Friday afternoon, the little boy engineer asked his mommy whether she could make her super-amazing-scrumptious potpie for Sabbath dinner that night. She said she could … but only if daddy bought some vegetables from the store on his way home from work.

Since the little boy engineer absolutely loved his mommy’s super-amazing-scrumptious potpie, he thought and thought about what was the best way to talk to his daddy. He knew his daddy really liked mommy’s super-amazing-scrumptious potpie too, but that daddy sometimes forgot to go to the store on Fridays. So the little boy engineer wrote down his plan to make sure that daddy went to the store.

The plan was pretty detailed and the little boy engineer thought he had it all Continue reading

I Got to Drive a Tesla Roadster: Their EV Marketing is Spot On

Driving the Tesla Roadster is like being strapped to a rocket. Pure awesomeness. I am in one of the ‘Coolest Toys on Earth’.

Who, in their right mind, would turn down an offer for driving a Tesla Roadster? Who would not want to own this all-electric sports car if they could afford it? The answer: everyone I know – especially those EVangelists at Plugin 2012. I unfortunately can’t say the same thing about the Volt, LEAF, Focus Electric, and the handful of other models of electric vehicles out there. You know why – Tesla made a car that was worth something to the higher class folk, which then created desire in everyone else. All the other AutoOEM’s missed the mark, unfortunately, and are fighting an uphill battle – but in the next three years will finally ‘get it’.

I have heard and seen Volt and LEAF owners get crazy frustrated with people who ask the simple questions about their cars – how much was it, how much range do you get, can you take it on trips? Then with very little thought, these inquisitive people say something like, “Well I could buy a $23K Prius for that and do everything else that limits you. Why did you buy that?” Talk about an irate EV owner – yikes!

Have you ever compared a Porsche 911 to a Prius?

Have you ever asked why the owner of a Maserati bought one, and not a simple Dodge Neon (if they still sold them)?

The funny thing about electric vehicles is that Continue reading

Technology and Marketing Review of the Nest Learning Thermostat

The Nest Learning Thermostat fought the odds of being just another thermostat, and wow’d everyone. In my recent purchase, frustrating setup, and review of the product, I created below two other executive-summary-style reviews on the technology and the marketing behind Nest’s Thermostat product. Some are surprising, some are downright aggravating, and some are areas for growth for either Nest or the industry.


  • Nest displays energy usage in units of ‘minutes’ HVAC is on, not kWh
  • Nest learns and shows users how long it will take to get to temp
  • Manual schedules override the learned schedule, rather than ‘assist’ it
  • Auto-away is performed once it learns how often you generally walk around it
  • The thermostat has a Zigbee chip that has not been marketed, used nor mentioned by Nest, relying on wifi to do communication
  • Nest’s mobile apps are narrowly focused on temperature control, and have not expanded to energy … yet
  • Thermostat simplifies energy savings by showing a green leaf indicator
  • The communication method of the thermostat talking to their server actually makes it incompatible with some home routers
  • The first week of ‘training’ creates very cold mornings in winter until it realizes when to preheat the house
  • The thermostat does not Continue reading

iPhone : App :: EV : kWh

Nissan Leaf exhibited at the 2010 Washington A...

One of the many EV's hitting the roads worldwide. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

If you took a large standardized test such as the SAT or maybe helped your child with homework in their logic class, you might recognize the “A is to B as C is to D” construct of the title. The interesting thing about the Electric Vehicle, or EV for short, is that much like how the iPhone taught people what in the world an ‘App’ was, the EV is poised to actually teach people like you and me what a kilowatt-hour, or kWh, represents and means in our life.

Most of North American households that receive a bill in the Continue reading

What was GM thinking?

Solution: Blue Caulk on ‘Gutter’ and a Serving Tray

GM designed Buick Regal – 1999 model year – and every time it rains, it pours … INTO MY PASSENGER FLOOR BOARD.

It has driven me mad – in fact with recent crazy-storms one night, it poured so much that I literally had 2 inches of standing water when I opened my car the next morning – sitting there on the passenger floor board smiling up at me. Not good.

I finally did a search and found I was not alone – here, here, and most helpfully here. And you know what the cause of it was? Bad design.

Someone did not do a thorough job on their FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis … another one of those Industry Speak terms) or because of other factors counted it a risk worth taking. Directly under the windshield, GM placed an air vent and cabin filter which is directly above the blower motor that sits above the passenger side floor board. So, if the drain for the cowl (the area directly below the windshield wipers) gets plugged OR the small gutter seal gets moved around that ‘redirects water away from the air vent’ – water runs freely into the cabin of the car. It stinks … literally. Doing the FMEA, I would have scored it an 8 in Severity (Customer very dissatisfied), 3 in Occurrence (I guess .1%), and 7 in Detection (The problem is not tested for on the manufacturing floor and hard to test for since it involves time working the gutter loose) – which gives us a Risk Priority Number of 168. Anything over a hundred is generally considered ‘important to fix’. Oops.

But no worries GM, you have bigger fish to fry, and after getting a little creative, tried my ‘Appalachian Engineering’ to this puzzle that apparently applies to Buick Regal, Buick Century, and Pontiac Grand Am from ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99, ’00, ’01, and ’02. I came up with the above solution – using none other than a throwaway plastic food serving tray and RTV gasket maker. The serving tray I cut up into an extra ‘shield’ to fit above the air filter.

See the video below for some more details on my personal experience. Better instructions on how to remove the cowl are here from an air filter manufacturer.

New Series About Electric Vehicles

It’s interesting how an industry I knew nothing about just a few years ago has now become my industry. And now … I want to help it.

There is a plethora of mis-information in the Electric Vehicle industry – not for the ones that live it day by day – but the managers, reporters, and enthusiasts that aren’t as well connected and plugged in as I have had the opportunity to be. I’m talking about the people that touch it often enough for it to be relevant, but not enough to be considered an expert. In the little part of the world where I romp – I would love change the world. I am that excited about using the knowledge, a good douse of experience and a passion for teaching to spur me on to help this industry to progress from the enthusiasts to the early adopters and over that big … scary … chasm.

Curve showing Innovators, Early Adopters, the chasm, and the mainstream

The 'Acceptance Curve' for any new technology or trend - this one thanks to Tim Barcz talking about Flickr

As part of an exercise in video production, editing, story telling and teaching, I will be using my industry as a way to prepare for bigger projects. I model this exercise after the little experiments and sketches that Leonardo da Vinci would practice with when he was working on a larger project. For many of his works, he would have little ‘problems’ to work out – how to position the person, how to lay the hands, how the cloth would fold on the person – and he would go on tangents trying different approaches, researching, watching other people, etc.

This video series is exactly that – a tangent, albeit a worth while one that has mini-goals in and of itself, part of a preparation for a bigger goal that is still cooking in the ol’ noggin.

New projects are fun … so let’s go!