Tags: engineering



Feet on the Ground, Eyes on the Stars: The True Story of a Real Rocket Man with G.A. “Jim” Ogle

I listen to a lot of podcast episodes. The latest episode of the User Defenders podcast (which is very different from the usual fare) is one of my favourites—the life and times of a NASA engineer working on everything from Apollo to the space shuttle.

You know how they say it doesn’t take a rocket scientist? Well, my Dad is one. On a recent vacation to Florida to celebrate his 80th birthday, he spent nearly three hours telling me his compelling story.

News | Voyager 1 Fires Up Thrusters After 37 Years

I want to build websites that perform this well.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

Over-engineering is under-engineering – Baldur Bjarnason

Following on from that link about the battle between control vs. using what the browser already gives you, Baldur sums up the situation:

To pick a specific example: the problem with an over-engineered form is that the amount of code required to replace no engineering (i.e. native form controls with basic styling) is enormous and almost always only partially successful (i.e. under-engineered).

They are under-engineered because they are over-engineered—tried to replace native controls.

And so we get two schools of engineering thought:

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Control everything, even though that means reimplementing everything in JavaScript.

If, as it’s starting to look like from my perspective, these two communities are incapable of learning from each other, then maybe we should start consider some sort of community divorce?

We get HTML, CSS, and SVG. We love that shit and you just keep stuffing it into the JavaScript sack whenever you are left alone with it.

You get to keep WebGL, Shadow DOM, WASM, React, and Angular.

(I know which group I’d rather be in.)

This Future Looks Familiar: Watching Blade Runner in 2017 | Tor.com

If you subtract the flying cars and the jets of flame shooting out of the top of Los Angeles buildings, it’s not a far-off place. It’s fortunes earned off the backs of slaves, and deciding who gets to count as human. It’s impossible tests with impossible questions and impossible answers. It’s having empathy for the right things if you know what’s good for you. It’s death for those who seek freedom.

A thought-provoking first watch of Blade Runner …with an equally provocative interpretation in the comments:

The tragedy is not that they’re just like people and they’re being hunted down; that’s way too simplistic a reading. The tragedy is that they have been deliberately built to not be just like people, and they want to be and don’t know how.

That’s what really struck me about Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go: the tragedy is that these people can’t take action. “Run! Leave! Go!” you want to scream at them, but you might as well tell someone “Fly! Why don’t you just fly?”

The Coming Software Apocalypse - The Atlantic

The title is pure clickbait, and the moral panic early in this article repeats the Toyota myth, but then it settles down into a fascinating examination of abstractions in programming. On the one hand, there’s the problem of the not enough abstraction: having to write in code is such a computer-centric way of building things. On the other hand, our world is filled with dangerously abstracted systems:

When your tires are flat, you look at your tires, they are flat. When your software is broken, you look at your software, you see nothing.

So that’s a big problem.

Bret Victor, John Resig and Margaret Hamilton are featured. Doug Engelbart and J.C.R. Licklider aren’t mentioned but their spirits loom large.

Beyond Curie—a design project celebrating women in STEM

Beyond Curie is a design project that highlights badass women in science, technology, engineering + mathematics. 

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

This wide-ranging essay by Nick Nielsen on Centauri Dreams has a proposition that resonates with my current talk about evaluating technology:

Science produces knowledge, but technology only selects that knowledge from the scientific enterprise that can be developed for practical uses.

Then there’s this:

The most remarkable feature of how we got from the origins of our species to the complex and sophisticated civilization we have today is that, with few exceptions, none of it was planned. Technology was not planned; civilization was not planned; industrialization was not planned; the internet was not planned.

The Ray Cat Solution

A website dedicated to one of the most, um, interesting solutions to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage problem:

  1. Engineer cats that change colour in response to radiation.
  2. Create the culture/legend/history that if your cat changes colour, you should move some place else.

There are T-shirts!

Trump: A Resister’s Guide | Harper’s Magazine - Part 11

You, the software engineers and leaders of technology companies, face an enormous responsibility. You know better than anyone how best to protect the millions who have entrusted you with their data, and your knowledge gives you real power as civic actors. If you want to transform the world for the better, here is your moment. Inquire about how a platform will be used. Encrypt as much as you can. Oppose the type of data analysis that predicts people’s orientation, religion, and political preferences if they did not willingly offer that information.

Rogue One: an ‘Engineering Ethics’ Story — SciFi Policy

This article examines what I thought was the most interesting aspect of Rogue One—the ethical implications for technologists.

Don’t dismiss this essay just because it’s about a Hollywood blockbuster. Given the current political situation, this is deeply relevant.

Technical Credit by Chris Taylor

Riffing on an offhand comment I made about progressive enhancement being a form of “technical credit”, Chris dives deep into what exactly that means. There’s some really great thinking here.

With such a wide array of both expected and unexpected properties of the current technological revolution, building our systems in such a way to both be resilient to potential failures and benefit from unanticipated events surely is a no-brainer.

The Woman Who Put Men On The Moon [Comic]

Margaret Hamilton:

Never let fear get in the way! Don’t be afraid to continue even when things appear to be impossible, even when the so-called “experts” say it is impossible. Don’t be afraid to stand alone, to be different, to be wrong, to make and admit mistakes, for only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.

Journal of Design and Science

A new publication from MIT. It deliberately avoids the jargon that’s often part and parcel of peer-reviewed papers, and all of the articles are published under a Creative Commons attribution licence.

The first issue is dedicated to Marvin Minsky and features these superb articles, all of which are independently excellent but together form an even greater whole…

Design and Science by Joi Ito:

When the cybernetics movement began, the focus of science and engineering was on things like guiding a ballistic missile or controlling the temperature in an office. These problems were squarely in the man-made domain and were simple enough to apply the traditional divide-and-conquer method of scientific inquiry.

Science and engineering today, however, is focused on things like synthetic biology or artificial intelligence, where the problems are massively complex. These problems exceed our ability to stay within the domain of the artificial, and make it nearly impossible for us to divide them into existing disciplines.

Age of Entanglement by Neri Oxman:

This essay proposes a map for four domains of creative exploration—Science, Engineering, Design and Art—in an attempt to represent the antidisciplinary hypothesis: that knowledge can no longer be ascribed to, or produced within, disciplinary boundaries, but is entirely entangled.

Design as Participation by Kevin Slavin:

The designers of complex adaptive systems are not strictly designing systems themselves. They are hinting those systems towards anticipated outcomes, from an array of existing interrelated systems. These are designers that do not understand themselves to be in the center of the system. Rather, they understand themselves to be participants, shaping the systems that interact with other forces, ideas, events and other designers. This essay is an exploration of what it means to participate.

The Enlightenment is Dead, Long Live the Entanglement by Danny Hillis:

As our technological and institutional creations have become more complex, our relationship to them has changed. We now relate to them as we once related to nature. Instead of being masters of our creations, we have learned to bargain with them, cajoling and guiding them in the general direction of our goals. We have built our own jungle, and it has a life of its own.

Access Optional - TimKadlec.com

It will come as no surprise that I agree with every single word that Tim has written here.

Girls Imagineer the Future | Curiosity Hub Event

Jacqueline Currie is running Robotics/Bioengineering/Computing workshops for girls (ages 6-16) this Saturday at the University of Brighton.

Check you’re wearing trousers first by Robert Heaton

Some cautionary tales of over-engineering solutions before doing some quick user-testing to establish what the real problems are.

It’s a pleasant delusion to believe that all our problems require hard solutions.

RayFish Footwear - Grow your own sneaker

I’m trying to figure out which forthcoming sci-fi work this guerrilla marketing site is promoting—featuring customised shoes from bio-engineered stingray—but I’m not having any luck.

Solve for X: Neal Stephenson on getting big stuff done - YouTube

Neal Stephenson speaks at Solve For X on the relative timidity of scientific (and science fictional) progress in our current time.

We Solve for X: Neal Stephenson on getting big stuff done

Project Icarus

A joint effort by the Tau Zero Foundation and the British Interplanetary Society to research the design of an interstellar spacecraft.

An Archaeological Approach to SETI

The search for Dyson spheres.