Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I recently attended a meeting at my daughter’s school to help promote Science, Math, and Relevant Technology (SMART).  Despite having excelled at math and science in high school, earning advanced degrees in engineering and technology and working in the computer industry for 15 years, I felt a little intimidated.  The people at the meeting were engineer’s engineers.  I place these people in the top 10% of working engineers in terms of breadth of experience and excitement about technology.  I know a handful of these guys at work.  These guys have a solution to everything and are equally comfortable coding, laying out circuit boards, machining small parts, replacing car brakes or remodeling a kitchen.  The only constraint is time and money.  They have the knowledge or feel confident getting the knowledge.

I don’t fall into any of those camps.  At different times in my life, I felt like I did and that is disconcerting.  As I don’t fix many things at home, I fear my kids will not be exposed to rolling up your sleeves and getting a job done.  I want to dip a toe in the water again and decided to order a “Snap-Circuits” electronics kit.  This should provide a fun afternoon or two of simple circuits, making things light up, make noises and move.  I also started walking through a tutorial on how to write Python script.

These are baby steps towards a couple of bigger projects, which include experiments with Arduino microcontroller boards and setting up a Raspberry Pi based computer.

As a child, I remember the excitement of my Dad getting us a TI-99/4A for Christmas one year.  I spent countless hours programming the thing to do some pretty simple things like graphics and playing music.  To save a program, you actually used cassette tapes, which is just hard to fathom.

Even in high school, we did a lot of BASIC and PASCAL programming.

However, I have let technology pass me by.  I can write macros in Excel and can read through HTML code, but have no confidence manipulating it.  The last thing I built using instructions was a Lego kit.

I want to have some fun going forward and be able to support my kids if they decide they want to automate their rooms by having an alarm clock that opens their blinds, slide open the closet door and turn off a ceiling fan.  In 1985 when “Back to the Future” was released, this may have seemed pretty crazy, but nearly 30 years later it seems like it should be something I can do.

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