Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2008-01-22
  Advise for students
At last week's green building meeting, there were a number of design students attending the meeting ( it was on campus at the university, go figure ), and one of them asked us "old folk" what advise we would give them, nominally about how to work renewable and sustainable technologies into their projects.

I gave half a good answer: when it comes to choosing projects, choose the customer who's willing to be more adventurous. NAU had just given us a tour of their new building which they built with un-tested concrete mixes, and where they were refining the process as they went. There's actually a difference in the final product between the first floor and the third floor. That's just an astounding thing, to have a customer spending millions of dollars, and still walk out on a ledge to try 40% fly ash content in concrete and use the project as a laboratory to work out the problems.

While it would be nice to have daring clients on every project, an even better strategy might be to help every client take a step, no matter how small, away from the status quo. And to do that requires a special kind of promotion. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to progress is not lack of promotion, its the opposite: hype. Hype has done more to stall the implementation of sound technical ideas than anything else. Every new idea has its rough edges, and running a reluctant customer right into one of those edges will cause more problems, bad will, and general long term loss of credibility; than loosing out trying a new idea two times out of three.

The other way to help around this, is find ways to take small steps before pushing the customer to take big ones. Don't expect the customer to spend thousands or more on some new thin film solar panel if you've never even seen the device in person yourself. When I want to implement new technology in my projects, I play with the language/database/operating system first personally before I claim it should be used on a project. Even in metal working, I spend my own money on something, and check it out before I expect the shop/school/customer to use it. Doesn't mean you have to go as large, or go as nice as what you would use for the project. Just get your hands on anything, in whatever state so you can say, "Yes this is real, and I believe in it." Ebay is great for that.

Going with the way things were before is always going to be the least effort, so putting effort into moving in a new direction is how things will get changed. Do what you can to take on some of that effort, and help everyone you meet put in what effort that they can. You won't turn things around in one instant, but if you can look back at the end of your career and see how you were part of a larger effort that pushed society slowly in a new direction, that's something to be proud of.

 
Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

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Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
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SnowDeal
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The life of a pilot.

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Feb '04
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New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
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The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
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Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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