|Jack Ganssle's Blog
This is Jack's outlet for thoughts about designing and programming embedded systems. It's a complement to my bi-weekly newsletter The Embedded Muse. Contact me at email@example.com. I'm an old-timer engineer who still finds the field endlessly fascinating (bio).
For novel ideas about building embedded systems (both hardware and firmware), join the 35,000 engineers who subscribe to The Embedded Muse, a free biweekly newsletter. The Muse has no hype and no vendor PR. Click here to subscribe.
Millennials and Tools
June 19, 2019
When we were kids, my siblings and I would challenge each other's physical strength. The goal: to be able to pick up dad's toolbox.
In retrospect, that homemade green wooden tote probably weighed 10 kg. It contained just the basics, as he always had a shop that was loaded with both hand and power tools. He never hired help around the house; he even completely rewired and replumbed at least one of the homes we lived in. Till just five years ago he said he'd never leave their single-family house, as he couldn't move away from his tools. Ultimately, the unhappy realities of aging prevailed.
Around 1980 I was visiting an uncle in Boston and he asked me to fix something. I was astounded to discover that he didn't own a screwdriver!
I'm puzzled that millennial moms were left out.
A little googling suggests that many in that generation lack manual skills. It seems many have never changed a light bulb, let alone shingle a roof.
Some claim that modern goodies are just so complex that DIY skills are no longer adequate. There is some truth to that. I've rebuilt countless engines but have no idea what I'm looking at when raising the hood of my Prius. Yet most house repairs are the same as ever. Drywall has changed little; wiring is still a readily-gained skill. Plumbing is possibly easier than ever with snap fittings like the Shark Bite (though the number of types of fittings is mind-boggling). 2x4s are still 1.5x3.5s, and nail guns eliminate bashed fingers.
I still have the hammer I bought at age 8. The claw is broken and the handle has been replaced several times, but not a week goes by it doesn't get some use. Most of my other tools were lost, first in a 1978 shipwreck and then again in a similar event in 1992, but all have been replaced.
My philosophy is to buy the best tools can afford, and to get any that will ease a job. Cheap versions always disappoint, and the dollars spent on expensive ones are quickly forgotten. Our garage is my shop, and it's fairly bursting with tools and materials. Some lie idle for years; others are in constant use.
One of my frustrations with the modern world is that so many people seem to be victims of technology. They have no idea how anything works. The TV, the circuit breaker box, even the radio are all effectively magical devices. Some technical shaman waved incense and chanted incantations ("the local oscillator is mixed with the IF, the signal goes to the detector and is then amplified") and these devices somehow spring to life. It's true that some of these things are complex. It's hard to understand that those mysteries don't intrigue most of us.
I suspect most people reading this are engineers, so I'm preaching to the choir.
Basic repair skills are important. Replace that switch. Patch the drywall. Fix the leaky faucet. None of this is hard. With YouTube and a zillion web sites the information needed has never been more available. Home Depot has every tool needed, at a price far cheaper than hiring a contractor.
I want to be master of my universe, to understand how things work, and to fix things when they don't. Sometimes pros are needed. Our well failed last year which required heavy equipment to dig deep. We had to hire concrete people to build our new barn's foundation. Specialized skills and equipment will always be needed.
But I find it sad that so many are unwilling, or even worse, unable, to tackle their own projects.
Feel free to email me with comments.
Back to Jack's blog index page.
If you'd like to post a comment without logging in, click in the "Name" box under "Or sign up with Disqus" and click on "I'd rather post as a guest."
Recent blog postings:
- How Projects Get Out of Control - Think requirements churn is only for software?
- 2019's Most Important Lesson. The 737 Max disasters should teach us one lesson.
- On Retiring - It's not quite that time, but slowing down makes sense. For me.
- On Discipline - The one thing I think many teams need...
- Data Seems to Have No Value - At least, that's the way people treat it.
- Apollo 11 and Navigation - In 1969 the astronauts used a sextant. Some of us still do.
- Definitions Part 2 - More fun definitions of embedded systems terms.
- Definitions - A list of (funny) definitions of embedded systems terms.
- On Meta-Politics - Where has thoughtful discourse gone?
- Millennials and Tools - It seems that many millennials are unable to fix anything.
- Crappy Tech Journalism - The trade press is suffering from so much cost-cutting that it does a poor job of educating engineers.
- Tech and Us - I worry that our technology is more than our human nature can manage.
- On Cataracts - Cataract surgery isn't as awful as it sounds.
- Can AI Replace Firmware - A thought: instead of writing code, is the future training AIs?
- Customer non-Support - How to tick off your customers in one easy lesson.
- Learn to Code in 3 Weeks! - Firmware is not simply about coding.
- We Shoot For The Moon - a new and interesting book about the Apollo moon program.
- On Expert Witness Work - Expert work is fascinating but can be quite the hassle.
- Married To The Team - Working in a team is a lot like marriage.
- Will We Ever Get Quantum Computers - Despite the hype, some feel quantum computing may never be practical.
- Apollo 11, The Movie - A review of a great new movie.
- Goto Considered Necessary - Edsger Dijkstra recants on his seminal paper
- GPS Will Fail - In April GPS will have its own Y2K problem. Unbelievable.
- LIDAR in Cars - Really? - Maybe there are better ideas.
- Why Did You Become an Engineer? - This is the best career ever.
- Software Process Improvement for Firmware - What goes on in an SPI audit?
- 50 Years of Ham Radio - 2019 marks 50 years of ham radio for me.
- Medical Device Lawsuits - They're on the rise, and firmware is part of the problem.
- A retrospective on 2018 - My marketing data for 2018, including web traffic and TEM information.
- Remembering Circuit Theory - Electronics is fun, and reviewing a textbook is pretty interesting.
- R vs D - Too many of us conflate research and development
- Engineer or Scientist? - Which are you? John Q. Public has a hard time telling the difference.
- A New, Low-Tech, Use for Computers - I never would have imagined this use for computers.
- NASA's Lost Software Engineering Lessons - Lessons learned, lessons lost.
- The Cost of Firmware - A Scary Story! - A hallowean story to terrify.
- A Review of First Man, the Movie - The book was great. The movie? Nope.
- A Review of The Overstory - One of the most remarkable novels I've read in a long time.
- What I Learned About Successful Consulting - Lessons learned about successful consulting.
- Low Power Mischief - Ultra-low power systems are trickier to design than most realize.
- Thoughts on Firmware Seminars - Better Firmware Faster resonates with a lot of people.
- On Evil - The Internet has brought the worst out in many.
- My Toothbrush has Modes - What! A lousy toothbrush has a UI?
- Review of SUNBURST and LUMINARY: An Apollo Memoir - A good book about the LM's code.
- Fun With Transmission Lines - Generating a step with no electronics.
- On N-Version Programming - Can we improve reliability through redundancy? Maybe not.
- On USB v. Bench Scopes - USB scopes are nice, but I'll stick with bench models.