Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Ninety Third Post: Hurricane Katrina

It is sad to see the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina on the news. There is so much that will have to be done as President G.W. Bush said:“This recovery will take a long time. This recovery will take years."

This is a tragic event and we can only help by sending our prayers and donating to our favorite charity.

But think about the water in New Orleans. They are below sea level there. And one expert says that the levies will have to be repaired and the water pump out before any restoration can happen. I expect to see some massive engineering endeavor here. Here we are all going to see what America can do when she pulls together. That is in both engineering and in aid.

References: (on the web):

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Intellectual Property

Ninety Second Post: Intellectual Property

When designing things, taking photographs, working with many people, or selling an item, the designer must be aware of intellectual property. This has only increased since computers showed up. Music, movies, and software are all intellectual property. The question arises how does one learn the laws when it is ever changing and complex law. The answer is it isn’t easy, but the designer is required to know the basics of the law. The designer only benefits by knowing it.

One thing in the United States of the last 40 years has been the outsourcing of jobs to other countries. Now our engineering and computer jobs are in jeopardy. There has been companies that offer engineers from developing countries at a cheaper rate. Basically the only thing saving the United States’ jobs is the fear of losing intellectual property. That is our “trump card.”

Another thing in America’s favor is that the structure of our jobs is already in place. Developing countries are starting their projects from scratch. They rely on contracted companies for their management.

Of course one thing that might stop such programs early before they grow is the quality of America’s workers. We must take the opportunity to support our workers and educate our young scholars. We have the best engineers and still have some of the best manufacturing workers. It is time to stop this thing before it gets bigger.

References: (See more about the problem at: )

Monday, August 29, 2005

Amazon Shopping Cart

Ninety First Post: Amazon Shopping Cart

I was shopping online at Amazon today and made a great discovery. (Actually the discovery was posted on every page I surfed.) Amazon sells food. They have sold food before, but this was all types of food.

Well finding food was a good find, but as I began to fill my shopping cart I noticed something. You can only add items to your cart one at a time and only by pressing the cart button. This may not seem unusual, I just wish you could add more items to the cart faster. But here is a weakness of Amazon if you could send a request for more items to be added to the cart, the computer would go haywire. It would be similar to a DOS attack. Of coarse, you would have to have some know how. But if it were known what instruction the “add to cart button” used, you could use it to send a few million things to the cart at once.

I’m not a hacker and don’t recommend trying to crash Amazon. I shop there all the time, but I bet this is the reason when shopping online that you have to manually add items. They have probably predicted this kind of attack and have some sort of server side code to prevent this. Sometimes it is just interesting to think about how these websites we visit work.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The digital pen is mightier than the mouse

Ninetieth Post: The digital pen is mightier than the mouse

A friend of mine recently ask if he should get a digital tablet. I explained that it depended on the medium and type of art he was going to do. The digital tablet is nice, but sometimes a good scanner is more practical for original art.

But at the site, the artist uses a digital tablet for all the artwork and he is using Flash for coloring. If you, the reader, use Photoshop or another paint program, a digital tablet is a good investment. Not only does it let the user draw to the screen, it is fun to do. It adds another dimension compared to drawing with only a mouse.

Sometimes a scanner is more practical, because it is easier to draw with pencil and paper than to use the tablet. The scanner is a bridge between digital and traditional art. The scanner is the method for comic book art. These like the computer itself, are just tools. The user must find the one that fits their needs.

Also the Pittsburgh Post Gazette had an article about 3 or 4 months from today’s date that featured Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert. He had a condition that hindered his drawing. So in order to correct the problem he started drawing with a digital tablet. The drawing tablet saved his comic strip. He was able to draw and produce more funny cartoons.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Game Making Learning Curve

Eighty Ninth Post: Game Making Learning Curve

Making games involves concept art, 3D modeling, level design, and programming. All are so vast that each has to be learned separately. Each is its own field. So where do us amateur game builds start to learn.

First the concept art requires knowledge of traditional drawing and art. Level design require some imagination combined with basic architecture design skills. 3D modeling requires both art, imagination, design, and knowledge of how to work the 3D computer program. Programming is probably the most difficult (for most people).

Yesterday I started to study 3D modeling more in depth. I already know the interface of 3D Studio Max, I just need to learn modeling techniques. Extrude, spline, mesh, polygon, and patch are all modeling techniques that I have a basic understanding of. But, there is one technique I have yet to learn and that is called nurbs. I clicked to edit nurbs and a menu with 30 choices appeared. The first modeling techniques I learned are pretty much easy to start modeling right away. So I will learn nurbs in the later chapters.

Programming is another art in itself. Haven taking some high mathematics I pictured games as being highly related to physics and calculus. The truth is that they are, but there is more to it than formulas. There is a reason the call them “programming languages.” Programming is a language itself. Computing higher mathematics is cumbersome. Usually there is a plug in that lets the user do the calculations, but programming is more than math. It is based on logic and structure. I can be fun, but it has a high learning curve to master and be able to write the programs that we use every day.

I will post what I learn on the blog. I am interested in a sculpting tool that lets the artist model in 3DS Max as if they were using a block of clay. It is something that Maya has also. Until then: May the Creative Force be with You.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Down Time

Eighty Eighth Post: Down Time

Sometimes when you, the designer, have some down time. This usually occurs in times between projects. Even if you are an amateur, you need to find good ideas for the next project. It is here in this down time that the important development of the next project begins.

This is also the fun part where you search for new ideas by reading, web surfing, working on a car, or through some experience you have. There are lots of projects to work on, but it is now that you determine the one that interests you the most. Choosing the right project is just as important as how you work on the project you chose.

I am in between projects right now. Not all projects are in a form to be posted on the web. I want to set up my model train set, I am tinkering with e in math, and I want to design a mechanical part. All are good projects and will lead to more ideas. Sometimes small projects create ideas and lead to larger projects, so start thinking about new projects when you are working on the small ones.

The thing to remember is that ideas lead to more ideas. They increase exponentially. So hopefully you can find the path among all these ideas that leads to a answer if not a discovery. Each idea represents a computer on a network. There are infinite computers and the challenge is finding the right connection that leads to or creates a discovery. But once you reach that connection it doesn’t end there because there are many connections to see and routes to travel.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Looking for design projects in all the right places

Eighty Seventh Post: Looking for design projects in all the right places

I have been looking for design projects that require a little more than a first look. So, this post has to deal with where to find good design projects. I am looking for projects in a book. I am looking for the sort of book that would be used as an undergraduate design program. I am also interested in taking a design course over the Internet, but haven’t found any such classes, yet.

The problem is other than art classes design course are harder to find over the Internet. This challenges us as designers to be more creative and find our own problems. It isn’t a fact that us, you, the reader, and me, as designers cannot find a problem or challenge, it is that we are looking for the right problem that challenges and interests us. I have found websites that have projects and a few books such as the magazine Make, but I still hope to find a design book that offers programs or a course on the web.

But when a specific the ideal design resource is yet to be found you must make your own. I have a lawn tractor that has a working engine. I want to take it apart, but it back together, and see how things work and see if there is any way I could make it better. Design projects are everywhere. The designer just has to put the elements in the right order. So the right book can’t be found. Make you own design exercises and projects. Write your own design book or create a website. We are going to design!

As far as my current math project, developments are slow. I am going to be working on other math problems, but this one is good to but on the site of the drawing board. But in the mean time I will be searching for design resources on the web. And May the Creative Force be with You.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Visualizing what we want to build

Eighty Sixth Post: Visualizing what we want to build

I was recently talking to someone about bridges and they said that they cannot visualize a building in the place of trees where it is going to be built. So, they continued, they wouldn’t be good at design, engineering, or art.

This is a common opinion of those who haven’t been introduced to some sort of art or design. Most people can imagine what the building or design they want to see in there mind, but it doesn’t mean they can look at a hill and get a complete picture of where the building is going to look like as if it were already constructed. To do that the builder would have to be a virtuoso in design.

Mostly a design starts with the needs of the project. It is then calculated and drawn on paper. Most of us do not have the knowledge or training it takes to design a bridge, but the elements of design are the same for even simple projects. The designer will find that although they lack the training of bridge design everyone can picture the bridge in their mind. That is all that matters. That is were all designs start.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Online Class or Online Content

Eighty Fifth Post: Online Class or Online Content

Recently, I have been considering taking an online class at the Art Institute Online, but for video game design there is so much content available on the net. The class offers instructors, learning structure, and a class to participate in. The only trouble is that it is over a thousand dollars for one class.

Well I weighed the options and decided to do just learn from books and Internet resources. I’m sure the Art Institute offers a great program, but there are just to many free resources that I haven’t used yet. This is a fact probably affecting many online courses. Unless there is a need for an instructor then the information can be found for less money if not free.

And for those of you who were curious about the circle gets a square math problem, the placement of the 45 deg. angle at the center of the bottom quadrant and the placement of the 30 deg. angle at the center drawn to intersect the tangent of the upper quadrant seems to still be a significant measurement of the square. But I am still trying to use it to explain the arc length. A solution may or may not be found. I am interested in comments you, the reader, have to discuss this and any math problem on the site. That is what the message board is for. Till then... May the Creative Force be with You

Monday, August 22, 2005

Hacking or trying to hack something

Eighty Fourth Post: Hacking or trying to hack something

The book series Hacking Exposed are one of the first books to put actual hacking into a do it yourself guide. Other books on hacking give you history and some old stories but lack on the “how to.”

Though it covers ways to hack it is more designed on explaining how to defend the users own computer. Often the methods of attack leave the question of there being a better way to accomplish the same task. For example when looking to bypass user passwords. It gives the method of password guessing. There has to be a better method than password guessing or a computer would never be hacked in the first place.

But what the book lacks in techniques it makes up for with resources on the web that really teach about the computer. And the user can learn a lot if they take the time to do research. But this book is mainly for learning computer defense from hackers. This is not a “how to” guide on attacking someone else’s computer.

Also, I may be adding a video on math to Constructors Corner. It will be about a unsolved problem. I have seen video classes over the net and decided: Hey I can make one of those. My only problem is bandwidth. I am uploading using dial-up. So stay posted to Constructors Corner and May the Creative Force be with you.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Building Bridges

Eight Third Post: Building Bridges

Today I looked up the Smithfield Street Bridge and found an excellent article at: The bridge is actually a combination of 3 bridges, built at different times. It is Pittsburgh’s first river bridge. It has some interesting history.

I have tried my math problem and again it doesn’t work. Having a square describe a circle has some interesting applications, but I don’t know with the given of an arc that it can be solved by its own solution and not utilized Newton’s Method or change in the radius with Pythagorean Theorem. It is the same trouble as before with most solutions of circles relying on the radius. I think there is something to be found between the relationship of a 30 deg. and a 45 deg. angle. The 30 deg. angle is set at the center and the 45 deg is set the distance of 1 radius below, putting it at the lower quadrant. There may be some tricks here that have to deal with percent of the radius. Also were the angles cross (the 30 and 45) may have something to deal with length. (Note if this stuff doesn’t make complete sense it is because I have condensed my description into a single paragraph.)

Also, just because we haven’t found a way to determine the radius or square based on the arc doesn’t mean that there are not other simple measurements made by a square that are useful when working with a circle. This is just a problem to tinker with in spare time.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Making Money from Web Sites and some other stuff

Eighty Second Post: Making Money from Web Sites and some other stuff

Ever try to make money from a web site or promote your business or sell a service? It isn’t very easy to do. With millions of the same web sites it is hard enough to get traffic on your personal website let alone a business.

I am writing about this because I just listened to Buzz net Internet radio show from They have a dilemma of how to offer free content and still maintain enough income to pay for the business. The problem occurred because people are using the site and not supporting it. Which is bad because they offer learning products much cheaper and convenient than traditional education. It is a great source to learn who to do 3D models and make video games.

My proposed solution would be to have a $5 to $10 dollar a month content charge a month and then offer learning packages that can be purchased. I’m sure they have their own ideas though. They are trying to get into online classes. The only problem with 3D Buzz is that it requires broadband. It would be nice to purchase learning packages on cd. I write about 3D buzz here because they are a great place to learn at a cheap price. Unfortunately, I have dial-up and cannot download most of the classes. I can only use the message boards.

On another note, I was reading Exploring 3D Modeling with 3DS Max 7 and noticed a picture of Pittsburgh’s Smithfield Street Bridge done by an Art Institute student. The picture showed a good view of the city, but I do not have an image to scroll around in. I believe the bridge is a little over a hundred years old. It has excellent architecture design. That is probably why the student chose it.

In a few days I may add something to the math problem I recently posted. When you work on the problem it appears impossible, but when you look at the given it seems there has to be a basic math solution somewhere. Any way, what I have may not work. But until then: May the Creative Force be with You

Friday, August 19, 2005

Reverse Engineering

Eighty First Post: Reverse Engineering

Sometimes rather than build something from scratch, the designer or engineer will build upon other’s work. It is considered bad design to reinvent the wheel while other more practical means are present.1

This is a more common, less expensive design process, but it just sounds less fun. Does this mean after graduating college, the designer is just copying stuff from textbooks? It probably doesn’t. It can be beneficial to use a known design and modify it to meet the need of the design.

But let’s talk about the fun part of using others work. Suppose the designer has to find out how a machine, computer program, or circuit works by studying the product itself. In other words reverse engineer it. This sounds like it is more fun.

Doesn’t everybody do a little bit of reverse engineering themselves. When we were kids we would play with toys until they broke and after they broke we would take them apart and try to fix them or just see how they worked. Or maybe we started a junk collection in the garage full of gadgets that can surely be used for something.

Ok. There is some issues with reverse engineering. Many companies wanting to protect their developments and research. For the most part reverse engineering by an individual is only for fun and pursuit of knowledge and not to steal other’s work.

Were can we see reverse engineering. We see it in computers and video game systems. It is possible to by mod chips for X-box and Playstation. This came from someone reverse engineering the game systems.

Rather than try to use reverse engineering to hack electronics to do the things we want them to do, there are other dimensions to reverse engineering. Suppose you were teaching a shop class or more specifically a technical drawing class, it would be an excellent learning tool to show the student a mechanical part and have them draw how they thought it worked. Then take the machine apart and see the works and see how it differed from the students version.

There are many reasons to reverse engineer. This is why open source code is important for learning and development, because improvements happen more as people share more thoughts and ideas. It isn’t just limited to computers and software either. Basically the designer is seeing how something work, learning from it, add improvements and original work, and then sharing their findings to make improvements to the community.

References: 1: Mechanical Design of Machine Elements and Machines: A Failure Prevention Perspective, Jack A. Collins, Wiley 2003

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Making Educational Products and Games

Eightieth Post: Making Educational Products and Games

I was recently read a column in the Sept. 6, 2005 PC Magazine (page 8) about how all the educational software has disappeared. All but the traditional products have disappeared. That and Microsoft Student is one of the only choices for young students. The writer went on to ask why there is dozens of titles of first person shooters on store shelves while the education software is hard to find.

His point is valid. There does need to be more educational software. But just maybe, this lack of development opens the door to the independent developer or amateur game designer. A team of college students or a group of teachers teaming up to build a tool that promotes learning or is just a puzzle game or adventure. Something like Zelda or Tetris appear to be games but are actually learning tools. Of coarse the needs to be software that applies the topics learned in class. Math, reading, science, and art are the easiest to teach by software and the most popular. All they need is something that intrigues the student and captures their interest.

But let’s not forget how tech-savvy today’s children are. They have grown up with computers. They are bored by the simple programs they are taught in school. They can understand the programs older students use and are often more knowledgeable then the teachers think. Simple programs like a world editor (such as the Unreal Editor) or games like Block Land in which the user creates there own world. What I’m proposing is software developers to make an art studio or game design studio for kids, but we already have programs like Paint Shop Pro, Photo Shop, and Paint that they already know how to use and there are many programs that anyone can build simple worlds. So making educational games is more challenging and designing one has more value than first thought, but we must be able to see the value of the software that is already out there.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Work Tips

Seventy Ninth Post: Work Tips

I was in the barber shop a while back and I over heard the man getting his hair cut talking to the barber. He was talking about his grandfather who used to work above the mines on the surface fixing the equipment. There were periods of time while nothing needed fixed and it didn’t seem like he was working hard. So one day when nobody was looking, he took a small, obscure part from a pump and hid it in his pocket. So when the crew went to use the pump it didn’t work. Workers tried to fix the pump but had no clue as to what the problem was. So the man’s grandfather went to do his job. He looked at the pump as he had no clue as too what the problem was. After he put the part back, he started it up and acted like had just preformed a miracle. (This may not be the exact words of the story, but the point is clear.)

This is just one example of how a little hype can improve the worker’s reputation. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Geordi La Forge is talking to Scotty from the original Star Trek:

Scotty: “You told him (Picard) it would take an hour. How long will it really take?”
Geordi: “It will take an hour.”
Scotty: “What? Your supposed to tell him it takes 2 hours and when you get it done in one he’ll think you’re a miracle worker.”

It is little tricks like these that make work a little bit more fun. A bet we could all think up little schemes like these. That is if we haven’t already used them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A few more math tricks up my sleeve

Seventy Eighth Post: A few more math tricks up my sleeve

Today I posted a math problem on Constructors Corner that I have no solution to. I didn’t like the write-up either. There were good ideas proposed there but none work. But as a have written before a good problem is equally good as a solution. I hope that the write-up is clear enough were you, the reader, will be able to tinker with it yourself.

I have pretty much exhausted my efforts on this problem for now, but I have one more proposed solution up my sleeve. A math technique which just might solve this problem using elementary mathematics. Or the proposed solution might lead to another equation that leads to infinite solutions. (the dreaded 0 = 0). So don’t let the fact the problem isn’t easily solved on first inspection deter you from trying to find a solution.

I don’t want to revile my last card until I am sure if it works or doesn’t work. So until then keep posted to Constructor’s Corner.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Finally updating math problem to Constructor’s Corner

Seventy Seventh Post: Finally updating math problem to Constructor’s Corner

Today I read about “k” and what it means as a spring constant. It has to do with mechanical failures of machines. Math problems are just the same. You stretch them with numbers and eventually something in the “math machine” is going to give and the solution will be uncovered.

That is at least what I am hoping will happen. I have tried literally hundreds of attempts at finding a simple solution. None have been successful and I have learned I have been approaching the problem in the wrong way. I am going to post it on Constructors’ Corner so that my work will be recorded and maybe someone will see something I missed.

What is the problem. It has to deal with determining a circle from a square. It has many uses such as finding curves and describing graphs. The key factor here is that it is based on math below Calculus. I already have a hunch that it is possible, but before you, the reader, take the challenge of the problem, determine for yourself if you think a solution is possible. Even if we do not find a solution we might learn something and have fun calculating are theories.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Safe experiments with electrolysis of salt water

Seventy Sixth Post: Safe experiments with electrolysis of salt water

I was looking for ways to make hydrogen and oxygen from the electrolysis of salt water. I haven’t ventured far from a simple D-cell battery and two wires. I still want to experiment but want to design a safe mechanism. Some of the experiments on message boards are using a battery charger to create the cathode and anode in which the oxygen and hydrogen come from. It just sounds dangerous.

So as a little challenge I want to design a system or find a better way through researching books so that I can conduct a little, tinkering experiment. The main concern here is safety. Battery chargers plus water without the proper equipment is dangerous. The second design consideration is containment of the gases with an easy way to store and release them. All this plus the need of the equipment to be portable and easy stored.

This is no easy design task. There are many reasons for wanting to produce hydrogen and oxygen especially from a renewable resource such as water. The hydrogen could be used as a fuel and the oxygen we breath could be used to make air for underwater exploration. Of course these uses are more advanced that my little experiment, but all inventions start somewhere.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Importance of good blueprints and assembly instructions

Seventy Fifth Post: Importance of good blueprints and assembly instructions

Once in Ancient China a little boy was playing with chop sticks. He was so loud it made his father go to his room and yell at him. As he approached his son, he was amazed that his son had just invented the drum sticks. LOL (Only kidding. See post 73)

Today I just built a car tent from “Cover It.” The instructions weren’t completely wrong, but there were little glitches in the instruction. Enough of them weren’t explain clear enough that installing the canvas cover was pretty tricky. We finally finished the entire tent after 8 hours of hard work in the heat. This little building adventure reinforces the idea that instructions need to be as simplified and as detailed as possible.

Drawings or pictures that show the correct view, correspond with the instructions, are in the right order, and correctly describe the step’s actions are all traits that make good assembly instructions. Unfortunately these instructions take time and effort to make and there are usually common parts that different buildings share in there construction. That means the builder may have the same blue prints that show the assembly of many buildings. The instructions we had to build the car tent could have explained how to put the canvas on better, but the instructions were good enough that we were able to figure it out.

A little project lets the builder respect those whose job it is to build. The engineers and construction workers do it every day. Usually when I build something that came from the store such as a shelf or table I build it wrong and have to tear it apart and start over. But for those workers pouring a foundation, it has to be correct the first time every time. Next time you, the reader, see something being built, notice the method it is being constructed. Construction is a process that has evolved over time. You may notice the workers moving at what seems to be a slow rate. It seems that they will never finish. But remind yourself that they are moving at a slow and steady rate. Everything they do has to be planned and then created.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Coordinate Systems

Seventy Forth Post: Coordinate Systems

In algebra we learn about the coordinate plane system. This is finding coordinates from their x and y distances on the plane. This system is useful because of how it describes the placement of coordinates. Also, there are many other things in it such as slope and x and y intercept. And it has applications from targeting to graphing.

Of course, the coordinate plane can be expanded upon to make it 3D. And there are other systems such as polar coordinates which are coordinates based on there distance and angle from each other using a circle as reference.

But it doesn’t stop there. You, the mathematician can devise your own coordinate system to fit your needs using any shape or function. Usually the basic plane coordinate system is enough, but maybe the mathematician just wants to get creative or needs help solving a problem. But whatever the reason it is possible to create your very own personal coordinate system.

References: “Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 2001"

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chop Sticks

Seventy Third Post: Chop Sticks

In Ancient China a family was sitting down to read outside after dinner when a father noticed his 4 year old son playing with chop sticks. His son was still struggling to learn how to use them. The father watched patiently while his son held both ends of the chop sticks in the palm of his and turned them. After watching many times the father finally came over to show his son the correct way to use chop sticks. The father grabbed the chop sticks and griped them with his thumb and index finger while separating them with his middle finger. The father then looked back at his son and yelled because he wasn’t paying attention. But that is when the boy pointed to the ground near where they were standing. The father’s eyes widened with surprised. Etched into the dirt were many circles of different lengths. His 4 year old boy had just invented the compass.

LOL. Of coarse this story isn't the “official” history of the compass, but it shows the simple creation of a powerful tool. It shows that even the simplest invention can add something unique and special to world. So when you are working on a project, no matter what it may be, remember that some of the greatest, complex things come from the most ordinary things.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Modeling 101

Seventy Second Post: Modeling 101

It is common to work with orthographic drawings (perpendicular to the drawing plane) in technical drawing. So why can’t these drawings be easily transferred to a 3D image on the computer without being completely redrawn. If we extruded two surfaces of the drawing and took the part where they intersected would that create a start for the drawing?

The answer is no. This would work if the computer knew how far to extruded the lines. That is if the computer knew to what depth to extrude the shape. There has to be a way to tell it which line of the front view corresponds to which line of the top or side view. It would also work if one of the views was broken down its shapes and extruded the given distance. There are probably CAD programs that do this and there are simpler ways to model, but it would be nice to build a fast, rough model.

If the computer could be told which line units with another line than it might be easy to create a curved surface with contour lines. Curved lines or circles used to define the curve that is similar to what you would see on a map. (I haven’t tested it.) This is similar to a technique called “edge looped character modeling.” This technique defines the character by loops along there muscles, bones, and contour. This technique is preferred against other techniques because it smooths the shape and makes the geometry easier to work with.

But lets not forget 3D started with clay. The tools of the 3D object made of clay and the software are different, but the result is the same. So next time you, the reader, are working with a 3D object just stop and think how could you teach someone or use a computer to make the object.

References: (For edge loop modeling): 3DS Max Game Development Series Volume 1 DVD

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The most powerful of the drafting tools

Seventy First Post: The most powerful of the drafting tools

If the instructor of a class gave a drafting test and only allowed one tool out of a triangle, a scale, a straight edge, a French curve, and a compass which would you choose considering it is not known what kind of drawing will be on the test?

You should pick the most powerful and most versatile of the drafting tools: the compass. The compass is so powerful. Not only can it draw circles and curves, it can be used for many geometric constructions such as dividing lines and determining angles.

The compass is so useful in geometry that it is allowed to be used on tests. If you, the reader has never tried the compass for math before get an intro to technical drawing book and practice the constructions. Basically any math that isn’t pure theory can probably use a compass to explain it or use as a visual aid.

So next time you use a compass don’t just look at it as the tool that makes circles look at it as a scale with the ability to measure proportions, a pair of dividers, and a template that creates all the basic shapes. All those uses plus it is the thingy that makes circles.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Looking for Design and Engineering surprises

Seventieth Post: Looking for Design and Engineering surprises

If you are some type of designer (even an amateur like me) or scientist you should always be looking for some type of problem to solve or way to do something better. With this method however, there is the question of where this problem comes from. The designer will be the one to find which problem they work on, but which problems are the right ones that will lead to a solution and are worth spending time to work on?

Again this seems to be the judgement of the designer, but what about us amateurs? Where do we get our ideas, since no major company is funding our research for a problem the company wants solved? For us amateurs most of ideas come from finding problems to the things were encounter in our daily lives. The things we read, the things on tv, and working with different pieces of equipment such as a car, socket wrench, etc are all ways for our imaginations to work on new ideas.

The best solutions often come out of a problem that fills some sort of need. People run into these problems every day. To find a worthwhile problem to work on, many solutions are often found when people share there ideas and problems.

Imagine if there was a website that contained nothing but people sharing problems and working on solutions together. There could be a list of top ten problems and solutions. Both the problems and solutions would be well documented. Everything would be open source and all the World’s problems would be solved.

It all sounds great, but there is one minor problem: People want credit and profit for their solutions. For example someone invents a better way to capture hydrogen. It would end the dependence on oil, but the inventor would want people to pay to use his method. Fuel use might become as dependent on his company as it were on fossil fuels. Also some would seek to steal the inventors method. The oil companies would not be happy about lost profits. So something that could help the world has just become a tangled mess.

I have been recently looking for books that teach engineering or industrial design. It is surprising how few books are available. What I was looking for is a book that proposes problems that need some sort of design or solution. The best book and best value I have found is the magazine “Make.” It has projects and proposes problems that need solution. Still I want a decent textbook format that deals with design. I’ll keep you, the reader, posted on what I find.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Old Games

Sixty Ninth Post: Old Games

I have been playing old 8-bit NES Roms on the Sega Dreamcast. When I was a kid I was an expert at these games. Now that I am older, I thought I would like the games because they are the classics. Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Mario, etc. This just isn’t so. The games stink.

I don’t know why I didn’t notice this when I used to pay $50 per video game, but these games are all based on the same principle: jump, shoot, and move across the screen without being hit. It is the same thing in every 2D side scroller. Sure there are some RPGs but there interfaces are terrible and for playability reasons it is hard to get into the game. So every eight bit game is just like Mario Brothers. Basically the only games I like are Mario Brothers, Tetris, and Zelda.

Today’s games add more elements to the game. They are 3D, but it isn’t just 3D that makes a good game. The elements I am talking about are easier user interfaces, Internet and multi-player games, real time strategy, first person shooter, intelligent AI, and more puzzles and thinking than just shooting and jumping.

I realize that today’s games evolved from the early games, but how did us gamers ever get addicted to games that couldn’t be saved. Games that took a day to finish and had to be finished in one setting. I didn’t like starting back at the beginning of the level once you continued. Didn’t we realize that once you bought one game the others were just the same jumping and shooting movements.

I think today’s games are better than there ancestors. Not just because of the graphics or 3D worlds, it is because of game play. Plus today’s games give you tools to customize or build your own game, so that it is more than just playing a game it is about design. I know that many still like the old games and would disagree, because those are the games they grew-up playing. I am going to keep my opinion that today’s games are better, but who knows how today’s games will look 10 years from now.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Monkey Vines

Sixty Eighth Post: Monkey Vines

Here in Pennsylvania we have vines that grow in the woods. Long vines which are probably wild grapes that reach high into the tree branches. These vines wrap themselves around and weave in between the high branches. Sometimes if the hiker is lucky, they will find one in a clearing that dangles before a small hill. Here the hiker can cut the vine a little above the ground and swing from it. (The root is in the ground allowing the swinger to cut above it leaving a vine that can swing from the tree.)

These monkey vines are fun, but they are a challenge to find, but it gives children a reason to go exploring in the woods instead of just playing video games. It is something the hiker can teach the younger explorer. It is just something simple that friends can enjoy together.

If you are going out to find monkey vines bring a saw. That is because of movement the vine can be difficult to cut. Also check to make sure the vine is strong enough to hold weight. Sometimes when you swing on monkey vines it pulls down the branches it is attached to.

Usually monkey vines are found together in the same area. This is usually where there is a clearing underneath the trees. Just be safe when using the vines. And if you do find that hidden treasure of money vines, you, the hiker, and your friends will have a fun place to swing from trees.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Back to School #5

Sixty Seventh Post: Back to School #5

Tip 5 has to do with the work the student does in class. During lecture or recitation the student should be keeping a notebook of all the material covered and the material they are assigned to do. Obviously the student is going to be collecting notes in a notebook, but the tip is to keep that notebook for years after the class is over.

The student is going to forget some of the content covered. A notebook is the student’s own personal course outline. What better format for the student to understand than their own work. When it is time to get a job or apply the knowledge learning in school, the student will need reference. A reference that would be difficult to find from just one source other than the collection of notes. It is a simple tip, but the first time the student uses the notebook for reference in the future, it will be worth all the hard work.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Back to School #4

Sixty Sixth Post: Back to School #4

Tip number 4 is used if the student is learning math. It is a simple one. Simply read the theory before doing the problems. Don’t just read the theory work through its profs and work the sample problems before knowing the answer.

The tip seems very basic, but on the first math test the student will see what a good understanding of the theory will let them perform better. They will have a better understanding of the lecture thus reinforcing the material learned. This is a simple tip, but doing it should raise the student’s grade.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Download Service for those on slow Internet connections

Sixty Fifth Post: Download Service for those on slow Internet connections

Everyone knows that dial-up Internet is slow. Sure you can surf the web, but there is just too many files such as movies, programs, games, etc that cannot be downloaded. My proposed solution is form some technology company to create a download service. So instead of downloading files over your modem they will be downloaded directly to the tech companies server. The tech company will then transfer the downloads to disk and then send it to the user via “traditional mail.”

It seems like it would take a week to get your downloads, but that is better than not getting any files downloaded at all. For a small price, you could get your download. The only problem might be copy right law, but the files were given on the Internet for download. The tech company is only providing a download service similar to going to the library. It is selling the service not the content. There is just so many possibilities here.

Back to School #3

Sixty Forth Post: Back to School #3

We all know what plagiarism is. It is stealing someone else’s work and saying that it is your own. This is a serious offense. It tarnishes your reputation and discredits your work. In college it is so serious of an offense that you may not graduate.

But what would be called if you sited a source and what you wrote was of your own creation. It is sort of a “reverse plagiarism.” Why would the student do this? The answer is because they needed so many sources and it was quicker to write original work than it was to research the subject.

I don’t recommend doing this for several reasons. First to make it work the student has to be knowledgeable about the subject. Second it is a sort of fraudulent work as plagiarism. Besides it may save your grade if you are working on the paper the night before its do, but the grade usually gotten is a C.

So this relates to keeping a “running knowledge.” The student should be working on their assignment from the first day it was assigned. And under no circumstance should the student use plagiarism or reverse plagiarism for any reason, especially for a major paper.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Back to School #2

Sixty Third Post: Back to School #2

Sometimes at school it is rare but sometimes there are open book tests. The first time the student encounters one of these test, they are excited. All the information other than lecture is contained in the book, so it makes sense that this test is going to be easy. But assuming a test will be easy just because you have a book, is a trap that might just catch the student.

The second back to school tip is to avoid open book tests at all costs. The explanation is simple: just because you have a book of theory and problems doesn’t mean that the answers are given simply by looking in the book. This hold true especially with math and science or any critical thinking exam.

Secondly, even if the answers are in the book there isn’t enough time to look them up or read through the chapter to get a better description. There are some test, like the test used from engineers to get there license, that allow the test taker to bring any reference book that they want. Test givers know the secret about open book tests which is a book is a reference only and the test taker has to apply that knowledge to answer the questions on the exam. Simply put: avoid open book tests whenever possible, because the level of difficult is usually greater than a regular exam.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Back to School # 1

Sixty Second Post: Back to School # 1

This month is back to school so I will give a few tips on my personal experience and what I have learned from high school and college.

The first tip is one many students learn the hard way and must cram all the lessons into one night before finals. Doing that isn’t fun. It is very stressful, and it is impossible to cover all the information. So what should a student do? The answer is simple but takes some discipline. The student must keep a “running knowledge.”

Running knowledge means that instead of waiting a week before a cumulative final to study, the student studies in little segments after class and completes the assignments. Basically instead of trying to learn the information in a week, it is learned around an hour each day.

This seems like simple information, but it is surprising how many students don’t do it. In order to master the subject and get high grades this must be done. So instead of “party now study latter,” it is “study, study, study.” And maybe do some partying when the student is done studying. (Sort of like when Dexter from the cartoon “Dexter’s Laboratory” went to college. That is where the last two quotes are excerpt from.)