August 14

Trivia: current follows the easiest path

A widely-quoted misunderstanding is that “[electrical] current follows the easiest path”.  This is incorrect, and destructive to a good understanding of electricity.  A simple example can demonstrate this is not true: plug a 25W light bulb into a power strip and turn it on.  Now plug a 75W bulb into the same power strip.  The 75W bulb is an easier path for current to flow (higher wattage means more current is flowing, which is due to a lower resistance, e.g. an “easier path”).  However, both the 25W and the 75W bulb stay on.

Current follows all the paths available to it, not just the path of least resistance.  However, the amount of current in each path will vary based on its electrical impedance and the energy available.

April 29

Some Stupid Rules

Maturity is knowing you were an idiot in the past.
Wisdom is knowing you will be an idiot in the future.
Common sense is knowing you should try not to be an idiot now.

We as a community (the internet) are becoming increasingly concerned with pointing out how something could go wrong, or the safety concerns of any project.  Whether the reason is an increasingly litigious society, a greater average degree of inexperience working with tools and materials, or other factors, any write-ups, instructions, or videos explaining how to create are invariably littered with commenter (if not the author) helpfully pointing out how they should be safe and not put an eye out.The fact is that everything we do, including doing nothing, carries a moment-by-moment risk of harming or killing ourselves.  This in mind, The Stupid Rules – the basic and overarching guidelines you need are:

  • Don’t be stupid doing projects: Don’t show off, don’t rush, don’t work drunk or high or sleep-deprived or impaired.
  • Don’t be stupid with new tools: When using a new tool, learn what it is and what precautions to take.  Get instruction, find a video, take it slow and focused the first few times, and initially follow the instructions and advice on how to use it.
  • Don’t be stupid with new materials and systems: Cutting MDF for the first time? Spray-painting? Wiring a breaker?  Stop and learn about what you are working with.  Get advice, find an instructional sheet or video, and follow the advice, precautions, and instructions on handling.
  • Don’t be stupid with familiar tools and materials: Working with 14 molar HCl all the time does not make it any less dangerous if you do something stupid with it.  Understand what precautions you are taking and why before you decide to violate them.

Bonus guidelines, once you have a handle on the cardinal Stupid Rules:


  • Don’t be stupid around other people’s projects (aka a hacked, modded, rough, or even final thing or system):  It may look cool.  It may look safe.  It is shiny and you want to touch it, play with it.  ASK FIRST.  It may be dangerous if mishandled, it may be delicate; it is always courteous.
  • Don’t be a whiny butt if you do something stupid: If you get hurt or something gets screwed up, learn why and fix it if you can.  Don’t whine and moan and sue some random manufacturer because they thought “don’t dry-hump our product” was a obvious enough that it did not warrant a printed warning.
April 29

We Be Wizards

“We are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit, crystal and scanner, holographic demons and invocations of equations. These are the tools we employ, and we know many things.” – Elric, The Geometry of Shadows, Babylon 5

Years ago, at the beginning of my education, one of the Masters charged our introduction to our craft began our class with the statement above:

“We Be Wizards”

Continue reading

August 13

Youth Happens

I learned something new today: a new way to be annoyed and offended!

An older coworker came to me and asked for a “p-clip”.  When I asked him what a p-clip was, he replied “Never mind, you are too young to know what that is.” and walked off. I found myself angry, and highly offended. Benadryl and allergies are making me more cranky than usual, but the reaction was stronger than I anticipated.

P-clip, p-clamp, cable clip
P-clip, p-clamp, cable clip

On reflection (after a few seething minutes), my reaction makes some sense: I was accused of being unhelpful due to the ignorance of inexperience with a single specific term plucked from a dozen different possible disciplines, each of which have thousands of general and specific terms that can vary by age, experience, and even macro- and micro-geographically, then was dismissed in a manner to say that I was not worth the time to educate.  I did take some satisfaction from finding out that the older coworker next asked the Greybeard (probably twice my age, all years in multiple fields), and the Greybeard did not know what the older coworker was talking about either.

As a side note, I was able to find out what the older coworker was asking after in the time it took to fire off a single search engine query – had he felt that he did not want to or could describe to me what he needed, a wait of almost fifteen seconds could have brought me up to speed.  This is perhaps one of the great generational misunderstandings: that the Millennials and later generations have grown in and with the tools to quickly reference, absorb, and integrate data points.  Debate will continue on how this will help and/or hinder the underlying social and intellectual fabric of the future, but the ability to reference a single new and possibly strange term are undeniable.

I did address my concerns to the coworker – he felt they did not want to “waste my time” explaining it to me, and was surprised and concerned that he had caused offense.  I think when he made the comment he thought he was being funny.

Did I over-react? I dunno.
But I did learn something today.

April 20

The Morality of Spare Change

The other day a man approached me in the parking lot as I was leaving the grocery store. He asked if I had a spare dollar for an emergency – he needed gas to get someplace.  I told him that I had no cash, as I did not carry any normally, apologized, and wished him well.

The brief conversation on the way home with my companion on this touched on addressing this sort of situation.  My companion was surprised that I even acknowledged the person.

I maintain that you cannot simply ignore a person.  To ignore them is to deny them the most basic human dignity: acknowledging someone costs you nothing more than a few moments of time, and to deny someone even the small concession of recognizing them as a human addressing another is cruel.

Yes, this will put you into the situation where you must address what the person is wanting.  It may be spare change.  It may be truly an emergency of the sort that the most basic level of humanity demands we render aid (such as dire and/or life-threatening circumstances), and indeed to form the habit of ignoring the pleas for help around us makes us ignore immediate demands of action, and denies us an awareness of our surroundings and the situation of the people in it.

Even if it is spare change or similar aid, you must look at the person who is asking for a quarter, or a dollar, or whatever you can spare, and  answer them.  This is a service to you as much as them – your answer forces you to assess yourself.  Can you spare money?  Will you?  Why, or why not?  Will you lie to this person?  Why or why not?  Do they make you uncomfortable with their request?  Why or why not?

Our lives are made up of moments that are revealing.  Choose to use them, to learn about yourself.  Reflect, find answers, and change slowly if you do not like what you find.

Attention must be paid.  To others, and to yourself.

January 16

Technology is insanity

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”*

Technology is complicated.  The devices we interact with each day are simplified interfaces concealing layers of devices creating systems of subsystems linking other subsystems with interlocking peripherals and a sprinkling of manufacturing variances and use-based fatigue.

And that is just the toilet.  Your cell phone is far worse.

Yet, every time you sit down to do a little paperwork in the one-man no-pants cube, you expect when you sign off, stand up and press that little lever, your contribution is processed.  On the whole, that turns out to be true.  Unless you filed a particularly large document, or the latest auto-potty forgets to flush this time.

We used to hold all of our technology to that standard: do something, get a result; repeat same thing, get same result.

Then came computers.
Then cell phones.
Then smartphones, a wondrous merging of the two.

Computers repeatedly reinforced the idea that you could repeat the same actions and get different results.  Not all the time, but occasionally doing something or even nothing would result in a change in state of your machine.  This being due to the layers of abstractions and interfaces that make this astoundingly complicated tool relatively easy to use.  Same thing, different results.

Seems a bit insane.

Cell phones introduced us further to this.  If you stand in one spot, unmoving, you could have a strong signal, a weak signal, or no signal, and this will change as you stand, motionless, changing no parameters.  Dropping calls, making but not receiving calls, delay times in minutes to days of texts, notifications not coming through – all variable events that seem to be entirely disconnected from any action you take**.

The insanity marches forward.

Smartphones are the pinnacle of this disconnect: they communicate constantly with cell towers and all the peripherals in their system, getting notifications, sending and receiving data, and generally doing lots of stuff even when you aren’t touching them.  You may be aware of this or not, but the seemingly arbitrary changes in behavior of your device are multiplied here.  You can do the same thing with your smartphone and get different results.

Insanity.  And you are not surprised when this occurs, either.

You are now expecting insanity.

This is why people get so very angry and frustrated at technology.  They don’t seem to have any control over making it work or not.  If you run a test where you give someone a task and arbitrarily punish them whether or not they do it correctly, they become frustrated, angry, defiant, and sullen.  Further, since it is arbitrary, it looks like an inability to use technology (a black mark in social standing).

So why does the world seem insane, populated by cranky and randomly angry people?  Hmmmm…

* Attribution varies, from Rita Mae Brown in her book Sudden Death to Benjamin Franklin to Albert Einstein.  Precise attribution is irrelevant in this case.

** There are rational, explainable reasons why these events occur – the fluctuation of the reported signal strength, for example, is dependent on your position, but also, the EM field around you, between you and the tower, objects between and behind you and the tower, tower load, and more.  This does not change the experience.

January 12


You might believe there is a certain irony in writing this here in this medium.  However, on reflection, I think you will find that it is not the message, and this is the most effective way to address this issue.  I mean, who reads street fliers?  You may have to look up from your entertainment.

Look, a segue.

I propose a bit of a challenge.  Unplug, and engage.  I highly recommend it, and when the introvert engineer is recommending you look around, perhaps attention should be paid.  Put down your devices, your media and infotainment, from any sort of escapism or entertainment or media stimulation.  I don’t propose anything crazy, like a week or even a day.  An hour is a good number to regularly do – think of it as exercise for your senses.  Choose an hour a day you normally would be able to entertain yourself (it is useless to say, for instance, an hour at work where you wouldn’t be allowed access anyway counts).  Better, choose something that you would normally seek entertainment for.  If you listen to music between classes, or check your favorite web updates on a commute (NOT while operating the vehicle, I hope), or would dive back into a book/ebook in the ten minutes before an appointment, refrain.  Don’t seek the distraction – instead look around and observe other people, your surroundings, the environment.

Whyever should you do such a mad silly thing, though?  Its a valid question.  I did and still often do fill gaps between events, and idle minutes stretching to hours on such entertainments.  One such entertainment is streaming comedy – continuous hours of a variety of such folk.  I find I don’t laugh much (apparently the live experience helps; or is it the live alcohol?); even so, all but the worst genitalia-airlines-and-racial-joke comedians have some grain of insight into human behavior and condition.  More, less, insightful, or useful depends on the recipient.  One such comedian (who I do not remember the name of) was remarking on the “dumbing” of modern Americans.  Among his other forgettable anecdotes, he noted that people of the last century had more down time on their brains – they did not have access to any sort of constant media.  He postulated that they thought more as a result.

I find his conclusion incomplete, but the line of reasoning was heading in the right direction.  Our brains need idle time.  Mulling time.  Random thought time.  We are social creatures.  Even me, an introvert engineer who frequently refers to the people around me by species.  We do need time in nature, even just seeing trees or grass.

Electronic, painted, printed, or even imagined substitutes are not equivalent.

My point?  Spend a little time each day being bored, being observant.  Allowing your brain to rest is healthy.  Observing your surroundings, the behaviors of people around you, feeds your mind like a book (albeit a rather obscured plot).