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The electrical engineer thinks I need to design sensor boards so I can build up a dozen prototypes: part selection, schematic, layout, PCB fabrication and assembly. I should do it soon so I have prototypes to try out and demonstrate to potential customers.
The software engineer thinks I should keep repairing my initial prototype so I can debug the heuristics. I should verify the efficacy of the product before sinking too much time into the idea.
The patent agent wants to know why I haven’t finished the disclosure form, let alone the patent application. I need to do that before I share the idea with potential customers/partners.
The business person thinks I need to refine the idea with a clinical-style study, using powerpoint decks to talk to potential users, see if the idea needs modification before continuing development (and seeing if they’ll sign up to purchase). If I can’t demonstrate a real market, it isn’t worth doing the rest.
The marketing person thinks I should make a looks-like model (doesn’t matter if it works) and that it should be beautiful, no rough edges, incredibly well-designed. My hot glue and electrical tape prototype is no good; if I can’t make it alluring, no one will consider buying it and any potential market will evaporate.
The subject matter expert is moving to North Carolina and doesn’t have time to have lunch or discuss the idea. I suppose I’m glad that she doesn’t have another thing for me to do. And yet all the work I’ve done for the last few days is in preparation for when I do see her.
I’m working on a project that uses I2C sensors and there is an addressing problem with them that is kind of complicated. I sent out a whole-team status report and glossed over the problem figuring the engineers knew what I was talking about and the non-engineers wouldn’t care.
One of the team caught me later and, somewhat abashedly, clearly feeling feeble, asked for clarification.
Oh, no, the problem was entirely in my explanation. So I started explaining how the sensors each had two addresses and since I wanted to use five of the same sensor, I had to get ones with different base addresses, the only way to accomplish that currently is with different vendors though I had some progress this week…
Eyes started glazing over. This was going nowhere fast. But I really want people to ask questions (because I’m not always right) and I want them to understand the answer (or they won’t asked next time). So I switched gears, trying to build on something already known…
Say each sensor is a child. Each child has two hands (as children often do). I need five hands for my project. Therefore, I need three children. Nods, right?
If they all came from the same family, it would be easier, see? I’d know how to communicate with them and it would be the same for each child.
However, every family I know only has one child. Each child behaves slightly differently, speaks a different language at home. It is harder for me know how to keep them all happy. Also, each child is valued differently. It is a pain to deal with, making everything more complicated than it needs to be. It would be better if each child came from the same family and was nearly identical to the others in its family except for, say, hair color.
However, when I contact a family about having a few more children (with different hair), they want me to order in the 100k range. And that is a lot of children.
So… breaking that down… each sensor has two I2C addresses (each child, two addresses). I want to use five sensors, so I need three sensors from different families. The families here are usually vendors (Analog Devices, Freescale, Bosch, STMicroelectronics, etc.). Each one is slightly different than the others in the way they work though they each sense essentially the same thing.
If I talk to a vendor, they are willing to modify their manufacturing process to give me a different base I2C address (different hair color). However, they want me to order a bunch of them (100k of each hair color, err, I2C base address). I’m still building prototypes so that sort of financial commitment is beyond me.
- Cuddle a bit with C
- Roll out of bed
- Grab sweats and yesterday’s shirt from floor
- Weigh self bemusedly on scale that is half deconstructed (I wrote part of the software; it is a test unit)
- Wash hands
- Free dogs from their crate
- Herd dogs into backyard
- Turn on coffee maker
- Open door for dogs, find shoes and go with them
- Deep breaths and stretch until both dogs return, admire sun rising and plants blooming
- Open door, dogs come in and run to their feeding locations
- Pet whichever dog was slowest (usually Bear but not always)
- Feed dogs
- Add water to the pets’ water bowl
- Tell cat to stop eating dog food
- Wash hands
- Look at time, think about what to do with morning
- Get mug, fill partway with water, take vitamin
- Start coffee brewing into mug
- Get food bar
- Take coffee and food bar to desk
- Get started
In a romance novel I once read (seriously, even with this intro, it is going to be a good, insightful post) (really (probably))…
Let’s start again.
In a romance novel I once read, the heroine is a well-connected woman. Plus, she’s a nice human being. So when another person says they’ve always wanted to write books for children, our heroine moves heaven and earth to get proto-author the right contacts into editing, agents and children’s publishing. The proto-author then flakes out completely.
Because the proto-author didn’t want to write children’s books, she wanted to talk about how someday she’d like to write children’s books. It was a safe dream but it was not a true goal.
(I’m a little worried at this point because two friends who occasionally read my blog have said they’d like to write children’s books. This is not about them. This is about my neurosis, not about anyone else. Not even Phil. Who, as far as I know, doesn’t want to write children’s books.)
Ok, let’s switch away from children’s books into something that may get me into less trouble. But, really, I promise, there is a unified point.
When C was serious with the band, a neighbor of ours joined for awhile. But he didn’t ever practice. He couldn’t remember the words to songs he wrote. I actually liked his voice but he just wasn’t serious about the band. And as they started to have gigs, the neighbor’s lack of dedication was a frustrating barrier for the whole band. See, the neighbor didn’t want to be in a rock and roll band, he wanted to talk about being in a rock and roll band. His mental model was not only dad, provider, husband, handyman, etc. It was also “singer in a rock band”, it made him feel cool; C’s band fed that image. But it was a dream and not really a goal.
I worry that part of my personal mental model is “mad scientist inventor” but I don’t have the oomph to do it. I like reading and watching television and going to the beach and hanging out with my friends and sleeping and exercising (and working on projects, shipping software).
I’ve been thinking about dedication as I work on this prototype for my infant product idea, trying to figure out if my project will survive and how. Do I have what it takes to see it through? Forget that…I’m too afraid of the answer, let’s try a smaller chunk: do I have what it takes to build a prototype for my own personal use and for demonstration purposes?
When I work on other people’s products, it is easy to identify the work involved and motivate myself to get it done (ahem, cash is a nice motivator for me as is the “done” finish line). But with my own project, somehow I believe that is I just wish hard enough, it will magically be complete.
That hasn’t been working so I carved out some time to work on it as a project. (My rates are really quite reasonable when I work for myself.) Today, I hit a limit of my tools that showed I have compiled my program and downloaded it 100 times. Some of those were dumb, formatting tweaks to printfs but not all of them. This ridiculous milestone represents a lot of work, a lot of time spent with my butt in the chair thinking about this product. Sitting here, reading datasheets, putting hardware together, learning to crimp cables, drawing schematics, buying beer and sushi to bribe people into helping me, and writing code, it really is a lot of work and not nearly done.
And still I fear that this may be a phase, something I’m excited about but only because it is new and shiny. And when something else shiny comes along (or this bauble loses its gleam), well, I’ll drop it in the gutter. I don’t know the path ahead or if I’m really on any path. Or if I want to be.
I don’t know if this is just a dream or truly a goal.
Funny, as I finished this post, I just got a call from a past client. They want me to do something for them. They pay pretty well (and on time). It will be just a few weeks of work. I just managed to carve out time from current clients to have time for my project. But it would be a lot of money to work for these clients which would give me the freedom to work on some other future idea. It is an easy job. So shiny.