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Goodbye 2019!

December 31, 2019

Here we are, another trip around the sun. Time to reflect.

For starters, it can’t hurt to be thankful. Returning to NYC for the holidays, never long enough to get re-acclimated to the population density, has a way of reminding me of that. In a “There but for the grace of God, goes I” kind of way.

I spent most of the year in a stable and loving relationship. That’s a blessing, really is.

Work was all right too. I did 2 things that were somewhat new.

One was an unremarkable OEM sensing device for a manufacturer of automation building blocks used by medical(ish) device manufacturers in the EU(ish). But it was my first properly built electronics project – I did firmware, fluid systems, and software before. It is now getting deployed and it all came together great(ish*). By the time it was done I was pretty sick of it, but it’s nice to have something work.

Second is one that maybe someone will find amusing. It is to be an OEM fluid system, for a minor but important function of a popular and rather pricy scientific device. In spite of well known rules of thumb of tech development, we’re gonna simultaneously have: low unit cost, low development cost, low part count, low consumption of a magic chemical that is involved, absurdly clean chemical purity, high reliability, fully automated / zero human intervention / idiot proof (in contrast to the previous technology), and improve the main performance figures of the previous technology by at least a factor of 3. It’s gonna be great. Did I mention low unit cost?

There are a couple of competitors who could also do the job.  The high price competitor (industry leader etc) happens to be a subsidiary of the customer, and was immediately rejected due to corporate infighting. The low price competitor was even more of a lowballer than we are. This is a good thing. They were initially chosen and went down in flames. So by process of elimination, and some other factors that don’t belong on the internet, that left us.

This year I built a handful of bench prototypes of the darn thing, to study the performance characteristics. As a consequence of the chemical purity, low part count, low price, and low chemical use, it is now a very delicate fluid system, but that’s what I’ve been doing for 10+ years so it’s all good. However, foolishly believing these were just bench prototypes for study, I omitted the parts that would be there to ensure reliability in previous production systems of this kind. To my horror, they not only “worked”, but were sold as-is (in spite of my protests), and the project is getting green lighted with an “official” cost estimate (also in spite of my protests) based on the incomplete prototypes. Next year will be interesting. Lesson to be learned, not quite sure what.

Anyway, in preparation for failure modes I expect will slowly materialize from what is now a too-aggressively cost-minimized specification, I became suddenly interested in thermodynamics. Mainly stuff relating to vapor-liquid equilibrium of mixtures that would be basic for a chemist, but was glossed over in my training as an engineer. But also the ways micro bubbles forming on axisymmetric geometry can end up with saddle curvature, and how this can have surprising (and if your luck is weird enough, actually relevant) stability implications compared to the more often studied spherical case. A trip down the rabbit hole and strangely fun. And I realized that attempting an impossible task but learning a lot** on the way is 100x more rewarding than succeeding at something relatively low risk. We’re all masochists. But I knew that already.

Also that the trick to living in a dilbert comic strip is good coffee. Blessed be the perks of the small college town.

Oh yeah this is my politics blog. Trump is still the same. The poll numbers are still the same. The official Democratic party is still the same, that is, mostly useless. Dronings are up, proper wars are down***. Election season is on. Many more people are taking Bernie/Warren seriously. That’s a good thing.

Also, it seems someone liked the bumper sticker on my car. I accidentally left a car window rolled down for 4 days (in the city!), and when I went to move it this morning, not only was everything was still there, including probably several $ worth of change in the center console,  but someone decided to deposit a pack of Bernie stickers and pins/buttons in the passenger seat where the window was open. Thanks!

That’s going to be it for 2019. See you on the other side!

* There was the part when I was directed to change to a cost-reduced manufacturer in the first production run. It was exactly as the folk wisdom of the industry foretold. The new manufacturer shipped the assemblies with unauthorized part substitutions in the one place they would make the most difference. One of those rare events that somehow doesn’t seem rare. [Like finding the power hooked up backwards, which somehow goes undetected until the same week when the customer is facing a deadline that they are behind on. “It was working and it suddenly stopped, I have no idea what happened – how long do you think it will take to fix it?”. Right.]

** Not the first time / another pattern of events that somehow doesn’t seem so rare…

*** Update: protesters are trying to set the US embassy in Iraq on fire. Not sure how to count that.

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  1. I wish you good success with your job. I appreciate your blog and especially appreciate your informed comments on technology issues, such as Tesla.

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