When I was ten, I remember playing with a compressed air vice where my Dad worked designing and selling automation products. He was in his office, probably wondering which hydrocheck or solendoid operated valve to use and happily smoking. In the workshop next door I too was absorbed, entertained, and probably in significant danger of losing a limb. It was an important start in life and led to my permanent fascination with engineering.
My uncle helped too. Don would occasionally turn up at our house, usually on a Sunday. He worked as a Technician at the BBC research labs and was therefore a target for my questions about electronics. He taught me how to bias a BC107 transistor and how to use a 555 timer chip to flash that newfangled device: a red light emitting diode.
It was a fun time, the 70s, but everybody smoked everywhere. When Don’s work colleague was repairing an expensive valve amplifier in his lunch break, it was time for a practical joke. Don rigged up a length of plastic tube into the back of the amplifier. At the moment of truth, the amplifier was switched on for testing. Unseen, Don took a hefty drag on his cigarette and blew down the tube from his nearby desk causing just just the right amount of panic and confusion followed by enough tear-rolling laughter for his ex-colleagues to still talk about it now.
At Fireco, we are in the final stages of product development with a much improved version of Dorgard due out in January, so an engineering background has been useful. Things have changed a little since the 70s though. A resistor is a simple component with two legs. Well it used to have legs and look rather like a wasp with a wire coming out of the front and the back. Now, a resistor is smaller than a gnat at 1mm long and half as wide. Time has passed, and my ability to see small things has diminished with it. It’s a young person’s game now; you have to be able to see a verruca on a gnat to survive. The photo above shows two resistors on our Transmitter prototype board. The huge slab of copper next to them is a one pence piece!
It’s a strange thing about innovation, new features and products – it often attracts the wrong sort. People who often like to call themselves inventors think that the world is on the edge of its seat agog for their next flash of brilliance. For example, who designed the Sony BKB50 keyboard to go with the Xperia Android tablet? Own up at the back. You put an LED on the edge which flashes in the dark like a demented firefly. What for? It helps nobody and means that your product wakes up your customers in hotel rooms when they least want to be roused. It makes them stumble about in the middle of the night looking for a lightproof bag into which they can dump your invention so that they can get back to sleep. This is what I described in my last rant as a cucumber.
So, we are busy avoiding cucumbers in our new products. Will Dorgard have a USB socket in the future? An inventor will claim it’s a great feature to allow new software to be downloaded and secretly they probably want to fix bugs after the product is sold. No, we are providing a fully featured and working product as new. Will Dorgard learn the sound of a fire alarm? No, it already knows what a fire alarm sounds like out of the box. Does it have a display? No, we do not want to give our customers holes in the knees of their trousers.
Our new Dorgard will be even better than the existing model which has already sold many more than half a million units. It will be even more reliable, it will last longer and it will make it even easier to comply with fire regulations.
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Don’t get me wrong, they can be useful. There are those workshops where people slap them around on walls with words like ‘OPTIMISM’ and ‘EMPOWERMENT’ scrawled on them. I am sure that can help but it’s a bit earnest for my taste. I prefer quiet reflection.
Notices are one of those things that give me nervous twitches. If you want a clue about what an organisation is like, read its notices. A notice is so often a sign of a glitch in the works. For the sake of my sanity, I have named these glitches cucumbers.
I used to be quite calm about door wedges before I worked at Fireco. Even on fire doors. In hotels, universities, factories – in any place you can think of, the door wedge rules. It’s cheap, it’s effective and it’s lethal.