Stuff I’ve read recently

These were articles I had come across lately that I really liked

The first was this one from the LA Times regarding an engineer on the Mar’s Curiosity team whose job it was to think of worst case scenarios every step of the way to constantly have his team thinking of solutions to potential landmines for this mission. 


My favorite quote from Rob Manning, the subject of this article was:

You know Murphy’s law, that anything that can go wrong will go wrong? “Well, I’m Murphy,” Manning said.

The goal is not to see the team fail, but to teach them how to deal with unforeseen challenges.

Still, for all his good intentions, the chief engineer seems to take an unholy glee in his stint on the dark side.

Shortly after the radio signal cuts out in the control room, the team calls a meeting to figure out what happened. As they gather around a conference table, their eyes turn to Manning, knowing he’s to blame.

He pulls out a pair of red sequined devil horns, sticks them onto his head and grins.

As a software developer, I liked this story and the idea of appointing a “devils advocate” on certain projects, someone with some inside information of the implementation trying to  force team members to think of every use case, boundary conditions, and junky external data. 

The best part was that this story came out before the Mars landing was a success so I was definitely thinking about the pressure he was feeling during those final minutes wondering if he was thinking of any more scenarios they should have practiced just before the mission came to a perfect landing.,0,428876.story


Secondly was this oldie but a goodie interview from 2007 with C. Wayne Ratliff, he was the creator of dBASE II, a revolutionary database for its time.  He had also written a data management program used for the Viking Lander – the first spacecraft to land on Mars.  But I remember him most as being the source of one of my favorite quotes

a development team should be no bigger than the number of people who can get into a Volkswagen and go get pizza and beer”

I would simply add…….“or into a Honda Civic


And lastly, also in the last few weeks, the Wall Street Journal had a story that I have been keenly watching over the years – telepresence robots in the work place.


While Sheldon ,on the Big Bang Theory episode where he built a “Shelbot”, may have introduced millions of Americans to telepresence robots….


it was back in 2008, I had first read about IvanAnywhere, a robot built to help Ivan Bowman continue to work in Ontario after his wife accepted a position in Nova Scotia – so they build a remote controlled coat rack with monitor, microphone, camera so Ivan could continue to interact in meetings and employees in the hallways, etc.  And I know that they were not the first either – but this was the article that grabbed me.image

And then the maker of the Roomba robots got me excited with the ConnectR series of telepresence robots that would allow family members to interact with a robot while Daddy is away on a business and other scenarios as seen in this promo picture.


But this robot got cancelled before seeing production but now the iRobot company is back with their second attempt at this market – the Ava.  It even comes with autonomous charging meaning it can find its own way to the closest recharging station – that’s cool.


Limited practical uses? – perhaps.  But there are definitely uses for this whether its managers scoping out distant offices, getting more collaboration among workers separated by distance, a more personal feel to overall employee communication  Maybe I have a nasty cough but am still well enough to work, I just don’t want to infect anyone…..– can you imagine?  Your boss is away at a convention, and then his robot finds you in your office to discuss some topics that came up on the floor …it could happen.




About bradosterloo

.NET Software Developer working for Innovative Systems, LLC in Mitchell, SD
This entry was posted in FunStuff, Geek and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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