Where it Came From
Thanks Mike Krasowski
I had a great time working with NASA scientists. For one project at NASA Glenn I had the unique (that's an understatement) chance to work with a guy named Michael J. Krasowski. He was off-the-wall funny. Brilliant and WAY funnier than your average NASA engineer.
In one of our last email exchanges, he left me with "... here’s hoping you and yours the super best of EVERYTHING you shall encounter as you continue to scribe out your life-line through space-time."
We always expected the unexpected from Mike.
But then this post is not about Mike. It's about an engineer he admired, Jerry Avins.
Mike adopted a quote from Jerry and tagged it to the end of every email message. One time I asked Mike about the story behind it. He replied with this:
Here is a post I once found, he being suggested as one who, if on the island with Gilligan, et al., could indeed make a radio from coconuts:
“I have no idea what we could do with coconuts, but I once made an AM receiver from a railroad spike, some tin cans, and wire from an abandoned telephone line.
I was on a Boy Scout overnight at Alpine, NJ, across the Hudson from Yonkers, from which we had traveled by ferry. The Scout encampment was on land owned by Columbia University, where one of Edwin Armstrong's experimental FM transmitters had been located. There was an abandoned line of utility poles through the woods from which some of the wires were hanging.
We wound a coil around a railroad spike (there were abandoned tracks, too) and put it into an empty can to make an earpiece, wound a tuning coil around a toilet-paper core, and used a safety pin and one of the scoutmaster's razor blades to make a detector. With an antenna probably a few miles long, we got enough signal for the contraption to work.
The adults were impressed. One of my colleagues at RCA built a transmitter using a spark coil and other materials from of the light plane he had crashed in. Help arrived in time to save the severely injured pilot.
Engineering is the art of making what you want from things you can get."
Why I Like It
Assessing what you have. Figuring out what you need. Making what you don't have. Solving unplanned challenges along the way. That's the definition of engineering.
As I mentioned in another post, I really enjoy watching YouTube videos by Mark Rober. He's an engineer, and his mission is to help kids "think like an engineer." If you watch even a couple of his videos, you'll learn Mark is a pretty resourceful guy. And he definitely makes what he needs. Mark also worked at NASA - the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL) for nine years. Seven of those years were spent working on the Curiosity rover, which is now on Mars. Mark is not one to shy away from a challenge.
So in the end maybe it's more than just making what you need from what you have. It's also being able to learn from what doesn't work on your path to discovering what does work. And not giving up if you don't have what you need - or don't know what you need to know.