Common Sense Crumble?
I spent the better part of last week paddling and hiking about in the Boundary Waters - a pristine wilderness area between Minnesota and Canada largely accessible only by leg and paddle power. The Marconian magic of cellular doesn’t reach into the BW wilderness so this was a rare chance for a total disconnect from the rest of the world. I hope you’ve taken time this summer to recharge your batteries as well. It’s not too late, for most of us there are still some weeks of the best weather of the year left. Spend them wisely.
Now I’m back, batteries fully energized. But with a nagging thought that’s been rattling around my head for a few weeks now.
Common sense is in a state of decline.
I’m not just talking about running with scissors or even women’s footwear. I see it in engineering, medicine, finance, education and at an ever-accelerating rate in government. (It's little surprise that the closer you slide from the private sector to public the more likely this deficiency is to bubble to the surface.)
Lack of common sense isn’t a new phenomenon, but my concern is that our evolution as a species is breeding it. People are increasingly educated and specialized. We don’t have to hunt our food, build our shelter. We’ve gone to great lengths, at least in the western world, to eliminate the positive effects of Darwinism. Go back in time a thousand years or two and I suspect the survival rate of “stupid is as stupid does” was dramatically different than today.
In a wilderness area like the Boundary Waters, a lack of common sense could cost you dearly. Particularly if you’re a few days paddle from the nearest civilization. (We donated some extra food to a frazzled couple we crossed paths with who failed to tie up their food pack overnight and lost it all to a hungry bear.)
Scientists may argue that common sense is nothing but a set of prejudices that inhibit creative solutions. Very likely true, but reality requires balance. Try this litmus test. Would you rather be trapped on a desert island with a group of scientists or engineers? How about mechanics and technicians?
This all got me thinking about how to teach common sense. I can’t fix the government, but if common sense is teachable then I do have a circle of influence in my work and home life where I can make a difference and buck the trends here in my own little pond. And if you do it too, all 50,000+ of you, that circle grows immensely.
We can’t teach what we can’t define so I’ll start there. The ingredients of common sense seem simple.
- In innate knowledge of the principals of your profession. We must acknowledge that success requires specialization and I’d rather have my doctor spend time becoming an expert on human anatomy than Maxwell’s equations. In engineering, regardless of discipline, it all starts with a deep understanding of classical physics.
- Hands on experience, and the more experience with failure the better. In various interviews of new engineers I’ve rarely found talent from someone that describes their decision to enter the field because “I was good at math and like computers.” (If you’ve got a child in E-school, never, ever let them give an answer like that!). I spent the better part of my childhood engineering failures of various magnitudes. And man did I learn a lot, including what I wanted to be when I grew up. Your professional career will not reward failure, so get as much of it in as early in life as possible.
- The ability to simplify. Or perhaps better described is the ability to avoid the human ability to over complicate virtually anything. I have a great deal of respect for minds that can quickly delve through the layers of muck and minutia, separate fact from trivia, identify the core issue and communicate it in a few simple statements.
- Remember the Scientific Method? Define the problem. Gather information. Make a hypothesis. Design and conduct a fair experiment to test your hypothesis. Analyze the data and draw a conclusion. Clearly communicate the results.
Simple. Works to diagnosing a disease, troubleshooting a circuit or tracking down a misfire in your car. (In fact, your successful neighborhood mechanic may well be the local master of the scientific method – people that troubleshoot for a living have fantastic minds). I wish I could name examples of the Scientific Method being used in government – it seems largely absent, particularly here in Illinois.
As with any trend, there are numerous bright points and outliers. Over the last few years I’ve met many people, engineers and otherwise, with fantastic mastery of each of the 4 points above. These are energizing people to be around.
Back in the office there have been a few common sense items that came out and whacked me in the head in the last year that made it all the way to cool products.
Here are three that jump to mind.
First is our line of ultra-hardened serial converter products. Nobody on the planet makes more 232, 422, 485 converters and isolators than we do here at B&B Electronics. Literally hundreds to choose from, yet after almost 30 years in the business we didn’t have a single one in a rough and tumble metal enclosure until this year. (I visited a customer last year that said “I love your converters, but after a few years they start to melt” – machine shops have plenty of oil in their air that was tough on some plastics). Common sense says metal is a good idea – better late than never and our manufacturing guys are busy keeping these on the shelves.
(I see our web guru’s added a new feature on this page. Apps guru Mario has his photogenic mug shot on the page with some Q&A links that you really need to read if you’re a user of serial comms - or if you just want to put a face to Mario’s name).
Second, we’ve been building wireless modems and sensor products for a number of years now, watching many of you seal them in a weatherproof box for installation out on rooftops, tanks, towers (or even in a greenhouse surrounded by sprinklers). After seeing this over and over, we finally realized that life would be a lot easier for you if we just made our boxes waterproof – IP67 in fact. Now if you need to connect two serial devices or capture digital or analog sensor data from some remote location, Zlinx Xtreme makes it easier than ever. Just bolt it up, connect it and go.
Click here for wireless sensor and I/O:
Click here for RS-232/422/485 radio modems:
And here’s my last example of how a dose of common sense turned (eventually) into a great problem solver. We’ve taken hundreds of thousands of support calls from customers like you that are connecting all manners of RS-232, 422 or 485 devices. A good percentage of those calls are from industrial folks that are running Modbus protocol. In many of those calls, they need more than just a converter to get two Modbus devices talking. Sometimes they have to convert Modbus ASCII to RTU, or even Modbus TCP. Or they may need to remap a conflicting Modbus address – or even change a baud rate. The Vlinx Modbus Gateway family of converters solves those problems, and most any other Modbus connectivity problem you can think of.
How is common sense fairing in your pond? Do you see any shining examples to prove me wrong? Talk back at http://blog.bb-elec.com.