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The Edison In You: Simple Steps to Becoming a Great Engineer
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The Edison In You: Simple Steps to Becoming a Great Engineer


Engineers typically take many years to learn the tricks of the trade. Experience is of course the best instructor but it is also a slow process. This presentation is not a shortcut to success but it …

Engineers typically take many years to learn the tricks of the trade. Experience is of course the best instructor but it is also a slow process. This presentation is not a shortcut to success but it does give the essential pointers to speed up the process.

What does it take to become a great engineer? How did Thomas Edison ever manage to design and patent more than a thousand inventions? Does one have to be born a talented engineer? Or as Edison put it, is it enough to simply work hard to achieve success? Are there patterns in engineering creativity and innovation? These questions and more will be answered in this presentation. The basic premise is that anyone can become a great engineer. There is indeed a secret formula for success except that this is no longer a secret. The lives and achievements of great engineers serve as guiding lights from which all modern day engineers can benefit. This presentation distils the experiences of great engineers the world has known.

Though meant for engineers with an experience of three years or less, more experienced engineers are also likely to benefit from the many real-world examples used throughout the presentation. Examples used in this presentation range from speech coding to turbo codes, from telegraphy to 2G, from Ohm's Law to iPods.

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  • 1. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comTHE INFINITE BIT• A book about digital technologyfrom the days of telegraphy tomodern Internet• Narrated in simple languagewithout mathematical proofs orequations• Buy it on Amazon.comWebsite:http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comToday’s presentation is based onresearch done for the book.
  • 2. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comHave You Read Any of These?
  • 3. The Edison In YouSimplesteps tobecominga greatengineerArvindPadmanabhanVersion 1.1
  • 4. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comWhat About Edison?• Incandescent lamp, phonograph, electricpen, carbon microphone, quadruplextelegraph, kinetoscope, mimeograph,fluoroscope, stock ticker, rechargeablebattery• More than 1000 patents• Set up a laboratory in the cellar at 7• First business venture at 14• Duplex telegraphy (1864-1872)• New model of R&D: first R&D lab• Emphasis on hard work• Undaunted by failures1847-1931
  • 5. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comSome of Edison’s Inventions
  • 6. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comGreat Engineers
  • 7. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Essence of an Engineer• Solve problems• Design systems• Provide solutions• Build things• Innovate• Improve lives
  • 8. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.com• What’s this?– Identity, exploration, understanding• If I do this, what will happen?– Trigger, action, event, sequences• What makes things happen?– Cause-effect, dependence, relevance• Can I control this?– Mastery, designAn Engineer’s Questions
  • 9. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comUnderstand RequirementsUnderstandRequirements
  • 10. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comEdison’s First (Useless) Patent• Electric VoteRecorder– U. S. Patent 90,646on June 1869– “If there is anyinvention on earththat we dont wantdown here, that isit.” - Congressman– “Anything that won’tsell, I don’t want toinvent. Its sale isproof of utility, andutility is success.” -Edison
  • 11. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comFamous Remarks Gone Wrong• This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriouslyconsidered as a means of communication. The device isinherently of no value to us. – Western Union memo, 1876• Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste oftime. Nobody will use it, ever. – Thomas Edison, 1889• Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. - LordKelvin, 1895• The wireless music box has no imaginable commercialvalue. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody inparticular? – David Sarnoff, 1920s• I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. –Thomas Watson, 1943• 640K ought to be enough for anybody. – Bill Gates, 1981• I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernovaand in 1996 catastrophically collapse. – Robert Metcalfe,1995
  • 12. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comBlack’s Negative Feedback PrincipleHarold Black1847-1931
  • 13. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe iPod Innovation (2001)• Ultra-thin hard drive– 1.8’’ hard drive, 0.2’’ thick– Makes iPod fit in a pocket, 5 GB, 1000 songs– MP3 CD: $150, holds 150 songs• FireWire connectivity– Copy 1,000 MP3 songs in just 10 minutes– USB needed 5 hours– 30 times faster than the competition• Battery– 10 hours of continuous playback– Rechargeable lithium polymer– Recharge to 80% within an hour via FireWire
  • 14. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Right Perspective
  • 15. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comContinuous ImprovementUnderstandRequirementsContinuousImprovement
  • 16. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comEngineering is IterativeQuestionExploreDesignCreateAssessImprove
  • 17. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comParalysis by Analysis• Too much information• Waiting for more information viaadditional research• Distributed decision-makingprocess• Considering too manyalternatives• Too afraid to fail• Highly analytical at the expenseof intuition• Striving for perfection
  • 18. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comIn Pursuit of Perfection?TIME TOMARKET
  • 19. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Morse RegisterEngineering is rarely aflash of insight. Mostoften, it is a series ofimprovements.
  • 20. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comTransistor: Revolution or Evolution?Audion 1906Vacuum Diode1904Semiconductors1870s-1950s
  • 21. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comImprovements to GSM
  • 22. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comAccommodate ConstraintsUnderstandRequirementsContinuousImprovementAccommodateConstraints
  • 23. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Classic Case of PCM
  • 24. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comTradeoff in Linear Filters
  • 25. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comExamples of Tradeoffs
  • 26. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comConstraints Always Exist• Engineers don’t try toeliminate constraints– Work with and aroundconstraints– Constraints can betechnical, economic,social, environment,political, ergonomic• Engineers don’t aimfor perfection– Attempt for precisionwithin known limits– Closer to the constraint,more challenging thedesign
  • 27. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comCreatively DifferentUnderstandRequirementsContinuousImprovementAccommodateConstraintsCreativelyDifferent
  • 28. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comBeing Creative• Think outsidethe box. Butexactly how?• Don’t look forsomething.• Habit.Circumstance.Peer pressure.Comfort zone.
  • 29. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Great Cipher• xx• Prior art– Cipher at the level ofalphabets– Monoalphabetic cipher– Polyalphabetic cipher• Enhanced Mono– 17th century in the courtof King Louis XIV ofFrance– Cracked only in the 19thcentury by EtienneBazeries– Cipher at the level ofsyllables
  • 30. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comCombine and ConnectConcatenated Code (1960s)Turbo Code (1990s)DavidForneyC. BerrouA. Glavieux
  • 31. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comEdison Effect (1883)• The InventiveParadox– Explore and lookbeyond borders; focus,keep things simple.– Bad ideas aresometimes good ideasnot pursued; wherethere are many roads,accept that some arenot worth exploring.
  • 32. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comSerendipity• The accident of finding something goodor useful while not specifically searchingfor it• Harold Black struggled with feedforwardamplifier for 4 years.• Idea of negative feedback came while onthe way to office on a ferry from NewJersey to Manhattan• Let the subconscious do the work.Engineer must be observant at all times.New York TimesAugust 6, 1927
  • 33. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comCross-fertilize IdeasThe good effects of cross-fertilization aretransmitted by plants to the next generation.CharlesDarwinInnovation comes from peoplemeeting up in the hallways orcalling each other at 10:30 atnight with a new idea.Steve JobsDuring the war, we all had to learn things wedidn’t want to learn to get the war won, sowe were all cross-fertilized. We wereimpatient with conventions and had oftenhad responsible jobs very early.RichardHamming
  • 34. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comFourier Inspires Ohm’s LawJoseph Fourier(1768-1830)Georg Ohm(1789-1854)Hot ColdHeat FlowThermalConductivityHighPotentialLowPotentialCharge FlowElectricalConductivity
  • 35. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comSmart Work EthicUnderstandRequirementsContinuousImprovementAccommodateConstraintsCreativelyDifferentSmartWork Ethic
  • 36. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comDon’t Work Hard, Work Smart• Incremental milestonesbuilding up to specific goals• Realistic, measurable goals• Plan and prioritize• Build a team– Get wrong people off the bus• Focus: quit what-not-to-do– Apples LISA (83-86) replacedwith Macintosh (84)– IBM sells PC business toLenovo (2004)
  • 37. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comSpanners and HammersGrace Hopper1906-1992Engineering in many ways is first acreation of tools before the productsthemselves can be built.
  • 38. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comBoeing 787 Dreamliner
  • 39. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.com20 Most Important ToolsForbes, March 2006• Abacus– Chinese, Japanese– At times, faster than anelectronic calculator– Ancestor of slide rule• Telescope– Hans Lippershey (1608)– Engineering aids science– Galileo discovers Jupitersplanets, analyzes sunspots
  • 40. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Cumulative Effect• Compound interest is themost powerful force in theuniverse. - Albert Einstein• U235 nuclear fission– Add one neutron, you get twoneutrons out– Neutrons at generation n: 2n• John Tukey (Bell Labs)– “You would be surprised how muchyou would know if you had worked ashard as he has for as many years” -his boss
  • 41. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comAim for More Than OrdinaryIf you dont work onimportant problems, itsnot likely that youll doimportant work.RichardHammingIt is better to do the rightproblem the wrong waythan the wrong problemthe right way.
  • 42. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comProblems for the 21st CenturySource: NSF, 2008x
  • 43. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.com15 Global Challenges
  • 44. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comMorally ResponsibleUnderstandRequirementsContinuousImprovementAccommodateConstraintsCreativelyDifferentSmartWork EthicMorallyResponsible
  • 45. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Manhattan ProjectOtto HahnLise Meitner• Discoverers of nuclear fission• Germany had the science but not thetechnology• The project (1942-1946)• US, UK, Canada• Szilárd, Wigner, Einstein, Fermi,Frisch, Hamming, ShockleyI will have nothing to dowith a bomb!
  • 46. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Bhopal Disaster• December 1984, thousands dead, halfa million affected• Engineering and regulatory errors• Primary cause was water seepage• Temperature and pressure gauges notworking• Refrigeration shut off• Gas scrubber shut off• Alarm system failed• Plant located near residential andpopulated areasBe a responsible engineer.Avoid shortcuts. Follow the process.
  • 47. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comHubbles Optical FailureGrinding of Hubbles primary mirror at Perkin-Elmer, March 1979.• Hubble telescope was launchedin 1990; primary mirror failuredetected on the third day.• Cost of US$ 1.5 billion. Repairedin 1993 at a cost of US$ 250million• Spherical aberration of 1/50thofhuman hair thickness• Perkin-Elmer took 2.5 years topolish it. Problem was knownduring tests but assumed testequipment was imprecise.• Perkin-Elmer did not emphasizethe problem due to competition• NASA did not manage thedelivery well
  • 48. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Common Scapegoat• Air Inter Flight 148, 1992. 87 dead.9 survived. Crashed into amountain. Occurred during descent.• Many disasters blamed on humanerror were later found to be due topoor engineering design.• Confusion between settings bydegrees and fpm. 3300 fpm was setinstead of -3.3 degrees as desired.• Display screen too small. Rapidtransition to new generation aircraft.It was human error.
  • 49. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comIEEE Code of Ethics1. Accept responsibility for decisions2. Avoid conflicts of interest; disclose them when theyexist3. Be honest and realistic on claims/estimates4. Reject bribery5. Educate on technology and its application6. Improve competence and disclose limitations7. Criticize honestly to correct errors and attribute credit8. Treat everyone fairly9. Avoid injuring others by malicious action10. Assist colleagues in their professional development
  • 50. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comUser FocusUnderstandRequirementsContinuousImprovementAccommodateConstraintsCreativelyDifferentSmartWork EthicMorallyResponsibleUserFocus
  • 51. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comPerception Gap: To Ask or Not toAsk?Source: BarnickelDesign, 2012• Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wantsso long as it is black. - Henry Ford• If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to getthe other person’s point of view and see things from thatperson’s angle as well as from your own. - Henry Ford• You cant just ask customers what they want and then try togive that to them. By the time you get it built, theyll wantsomething new. - Steve Jobs• Some people say, give the customers what they want, butthat’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’regoing to want before they do. - Steve Jobs• Youve got to start with the customer experience and workback toward the technology–not the other way around. - SteveJobs• New Coke 1985 formula: lasted only 3 months• Microsoft product hiccups: Windows 3.0 (1990), Vista (2007),8 (2012)
  • 52. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comUser-centric Design
  • 53. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comSolutions versus Systems• Customization• Complex interfaces• Incompatibility• Performance issues
  • 54. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comBeyond EngineeringUnderstandRequirementsContinuousImprovementAccommodateConstraintsCreativelyDifferentSmartWork EthicMorallyResponsibleUserFocusBeyondEngineering
  • 55. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comWho Invented the Telephone?• History remembers not those who justinvent in their garages and attics, butonly those who take their inventionsout into the open world.Graham Bell1847-1922Antonio Meucci1808-1889Elisha Gray1835-1901
  • 56. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Three Wheels
  • 57. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Person In You• What do I really want?• Am I happy at work?• What are my core values?
  • 58. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Three CirclesSKILLNEEDINTEREST
  • 59. Arvind Padmanabhan © 2013. http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.comThe Eight StepsUnderstandRequirementsContinuousImprovementAccommodateConstraintsCreativelyDifferentSmartWork EthicMorallyResponsibleUserFocusBeyondEngineering
  • 60. E-mail: arvindpadmanabhan@yahoo.com.sgThis presentation is available on