Wherein I discuss my elementary ideas and woes regarding radio control circuit design, air conditioners, building materials, and a few other things. It’s a portrait of what it’s like to be irked by things that should have been designed better, or could be.
Not sure when I started thinking about improving upon the design of things, but I think it was early on in my childhood. Probably as soon as I started taking things apart to investigate the internals and repurpose the parts. Mainly I’d take apart electronic toys, since they held the most mystery. Occasionally I’d take apart things, like my sister’s stereo, just to see what was inside. She wasn’t happy, but it still worked after I put it back together.
As you might imagine, I watched MacGuyver and Mr. Wizard’s World (6:00am!) religiously, and often took notes (from the latter, of course). Similarly I tried to keep a notebook of my “inventions”, but admittedly, there are only a few pages worth of ideas. I was mildly saddened to find out later in life that my idea of putting tubing within the walls of a house for dispensing pesticides actually existed, and probably had for some time.
My father worked at Publix and would bring home supplies on occasion. Specifically I remember him bringing home slow-moving high-torque servos from promotional displays, and large 4x4 foot sheets of 1.5 inch thick styrofoam. The styrofoam served me well during the span of five years that I was building simple motorboats and airboats.
One of the last airboats I built measured 1.5 feet long, had a 5 inch propeller and two rudders. It was the biggest one I had ever built. And because of this I was too scared to float it in any body of water larger than a bathtub. I never said I was a successful inventor, now did I?
To control the rudders of the airboat I used an R/C unit from a car, but I gave up on using the unit for powering and controlling the propellor because the voltage coming out of the R/C unit was too low for the propellor motor. The ideal radio control unit would control the voltage that reached the propellor motor less-directly, allowing it to have its own power source. Surely parts of this sort are easily obtainable today.
Of Slightly Greater Importance
One day our home air conditioner overheated and died because the coils had become clogged with dust. Yes, the air filter is supposed to prevent dust from reaching the coils, but many of the filter assemblies I’ve seen over the years, especially in older homes, are horribly built, allowing air to easily bypass the filter. I’ve personally lived in two houses where the filter was seated within a closet door. Not the best design in the world by any stretch.
When I first moved into a college apartment complex, the air conditioner situation was worse. The apartment was dustier, the filter rarely replaced by the maintenance staff, the A/C run excessively cold to combat the Florida heat and the coils behind the filter noticably caked with dust to the point they were always damp. It was a great place for mold to grow. A third of the coil are was covered with this mess. I tried to clean it off, with little luck. Heatsink baffles aren’t easy to clean between.
Two things bug me about air conditioners:
Filter setups that don’t filter all the air passing into a unit
The difficulty of cleaning parts when filtering fails
If the coils were removable that’d be a big step in a good direction, but is there a way to improve on the design of heat exchange systems as a whole, especially when it comes to extracting heat from the air? Maybe something that doesn’t even require a filter? Maybe some system that exchanges heat with clean air (no dust) in a closed circuit?
I might as well mention that I dislike the concept of filters in general, especially the disposable kind. Such a thing, made of special plastic or fiberglass, shouldn’t be retired to a landfill.
Would Have Made Such a Difference 50 Years Ago
This week, some of the windows in my Portland apartment were replaced, with much noise and difficulty. It’s an old building, of course, and the fact that the windows were cemented into the structure made the process 100% straighforward … not.
What if housing and construction supplies were somehow made more modular? I’m not talking about modular homes. I’m talking about being able to swap things out without cutting, grinding, breaking, or creating excessive waste. This one’s a dream, I know.
Let’s Wrap This Up
I might as well mention redesign as it pertains to software, because programming is what I’ve been paid to do for the past nine years.
The problem of redesigning and software seems like a double-edged sword. Existing tools and solutions are often so complex that one might feel compelled to break up the problem into smaller parts, where each part can be solved more effectively than it was when it was tightly integrated into the whole. Another common goal is for these pieces to be reusable in other projects. But creating these extra components (abstractions) means we have more tools to learn, and thus more tools to force together to get the job done. This is hard to do well.
It might be considered yak shaving, but yes, it’s one of my tendencies to look for places in code that can be pulled out, made more solid, and packaged for reuse. However, I feel extremely late to this game. I also feel that I lack some necessary skills that would otherwise make my endeavors a success. First, I lack an encyclopedic mind. Nor do I have an endless love for solving problems that were not first identified as problems by me (I self-motivate. Anything less than that feels wrong). And lastly, I lack the ability to task-switch easily. This does not suit well a mind that jumps around quite frequently.
It’s kind of a curse to behave as if it’s my job to redesign things when I’m not employed as such. I never have been. One rarely gets paid to redesign software. But with things more tangible I imagine there’s more hope. Maybe someone would have hired James Dyson to design a better vaccuum. Who knows. He chose to do it on his own.
And yes, to some it may seem rediculous to spend energy trying improve upon things that aren’t necessarily broken, especially when said things will never result in a death. To that I say: some of us possess a slightly less imaginative form of imagination. Aka: some of us just aren’t good at creating out of thin air.