On things coming to an end

It’s like moving apartments, or changing cities, or switching jobs, or some other big life change. Two of them at once. One we saw coming, the other a surprise.

It’s surprising how easy the end of the coronatime has been. Or maybe not; considering that each passing day brings a lapse of something that nobody liked, a relief from restrictions and from fear, and a lessening of risk that some days felt very far away, and other days felt like it was going to get you any second.

Getting vaccinated was a surprise, and not really something i sought out, considering that, having had COVID in December, i already considered myself rather well protected from having it again. But considering that my better half works with vaccines, and works with the virus itself, there was a back door for her, and for significant others, and I got one at Gillette Stadium on a relentlessly snowy day in February.

Two weeks later, any article would have said i was pretty much impervious, but it didn’t really feel different for me. Masks on inside, masks on outside, and no real concerns about actually getting it from anybody. Few people in a huge space at work, or everyone at daycare had also already had it. Not much of a change.

But the wife had had enough of the coronatime, what with having been at work for most days of it, and, justly confident in the vaccine, booked us a damn vacation to Disneyworld as soon as she knew we’d have our shots. More on that in another post.

Before that, though, we’d started to broaden our horizons a little bit. Like we’d go for a ride on the T just because baby man loves trains more than everything. We’d still be masked up, we’d still keep distant from people, but at the same time, there was just… nothing. No worry whatsoever about huffing the exhalations of any dozen other people on the Orange Line. It was normal, and unremarkable, and there was a feeling of proximity that was a little new, but at the same time, the extent to which i’d internalized the fact that It Was Okay was nearly total.

Theodore and I on the T.  For fun.

At Easter, my wife and i got to hug our siblings. And hang out inside if it rained. Or just if we wanted to.

Weeks later, we’d repeat the same in an airport, on a plane, in a theme park. In fucking Florida.

Like i said, discussed elsewhere. But it was fine. We breathed other peoples’ air. So much of it. Some of them were probably filthy with the ‘rona. It was fine.

Cases plummeted, in the weeks after we returned. We met friends at beer gardens.

We invited them over to our house like it was no big deal. The government made it very clear that things were working, and as the weather got better, suddenly the air outside felt like something the masks were denying us, cool spring freshness that we couldn’t wait to partake of.

And while much is still being made about the etiquette of wearing one, not wearing one, and whether or not one should judge those who continue to, here were are, walking around without them. And running without them.

And sure, new systems are emerging, a mask in every pocket for when you go inside, and the instinct to still give everyone a wide berth on the sidewalk remains. But next, we hope cases continue to plummet, and next the switch is truly flipped and there are no restrictions anywhere except for those we choose. Let’s hope we’ve indeed done enough to earn it.

We didn’t forget how to be normal at all, it turns out.

Unfortunately i can’t be sure i can say the same about my job.

The way things look right now, in a month or so, a project i’ve worked on for close to three years, or, roughly baby man’s age, is going to come to a crashing halt. It’s probably never going to ship. This happens in my industry, and nobody likes it (because we like to fucking brag about our work, obviously), but it’s a risk of doing business. In this case, though, this unmentionable thing has been in development for nearly a decade and has had tens of millions of dollars invested in it, so it’s gonna sting for more than just me.

And in my case, it changed everything about my work. Instead of being a cleanup hitter of a mechanical engineer, suddenly i was a project manager who barely touched CAD, but had over a dozen engineers in three countries to push. Instead of being a problem solver, i became a problem dealer, filling up other peoples’ inboxes with shit that was just time-consuming enough that i couldn’t do it alone. I wasn’t a doer, i was a talker. Making decisions and faking authority until i got drunk with it because there was no time to equivocate. Meetings all morning, inboxes filling up before i woke up, and cleaning them out and processing them, and swatting them back out to colleagues, vendors, clients, until i went to bed.

My work-life balance was upset in ways that are hard to even remember coping with. I woke up with the baby man before 6, for some of that time, and answered emails and other messages so Europe could act on them.

Every workday i looked at the clock because it was going too fast, not because it was too slow.

When i realized in retrospect that i’d worked, but not on the most urgent thing, i was furious at myself. At night, when i sent my wife to bed, i was secretly thrilled at the prospect of how much i’d get done in the 3-4 hours before i’d make myself go to bed. For some of that time, i would go to bed at the exact time that baby man would wake up in the middle of the night and begin howling to get out of the crib. I’d kneel on the floor next to it, put my head down on the rail and console him. Sometimes i’d pass out there. Sometimes i’d realize i was talking to him about work, half asleep. I ate horrendously, and for a few fun months i gave up trimming my beard and getting my hair cut.

It’s a joke to say that you shed sweat, blood, and tears over a project, but usually only two of the three are literal. It made me cry, it made me throw things, it made me an asshole.

Things got done, other things got ‘done’, a much larger number of other things just never went away and were black holes into which effort disappeared without effect. A bureaucracy grew and flourished, nourished by the large number of people whose energies it could sap. Good technical work occurred, a thing that didn’t exist was brought to life and we built a bunch of them and they all fucking worked. It was a goddamn miracle, sure, but the expenditure of effort on all the things that had precious little to do with that kinda just left me dead inside, professionally.

The mad pace continued with few meaningful breaks from July 2019 to October 2020. Only for a few of those months did i get to do what i really thought of as my job.

And that’s just it, now that it’s over, i know i miss what my old job used to be, but i don’t know if it’s still there, nor do i know if i know how to do it anymore.

So there we are. Two bad things are going away. We hope.

Fuck off forever, COVID.
Fuck off forever, Bad Project.

Work: Faucet Filter

In 2013, while working freelance for a Boston-area design firm, I worked on an under-faucet-mounted filter system for a well-known water products company.

The challenge here was to take existing filter parts and modify them for a new interaction in a new industrial design.  The fluid flow feature size and shape needed to be optimized for performance, while still fitting inside a design the client really liked.  Beyond that, this had to be accomplished with a minimum number of parts, concealed and minimal seams, and a small electronics package and button underneath.  I have one, but just for decoration.  It turned out really well, I think.

You can buy it here.  I don’t get any money from this.

review 81MrWHpkFsL._SL1500_ endoffaucet_iso


On working too hard

What i’m doing right now does not qualify, at least not by my past standards. In the long long ago, when i was working on this, i was routinely showing up to work at 7:30, leaving at 7:30, and coming in on weekends. i tested the prototypes until my hands bled, i watched the video replays until my eyes glazed and i whiteboarded the points of failure until i went insane. It was incredibly valuable to making me really good at what i do (read: i wasn’t quite good enough when i started the project), even if it was a maddeningly near-miss attempt at making a strangely conceived product.

At the time, though, i had nothing better to do. No video games to get sucked into, plenty of time left to go out drinking with friends. Sometimes i broke up those quiet Saturdays in by bringing my bike to Maynard and riding for 40 miles before retrieving the de rigeur McDonald’s feast. There wasn’t anything i would rather be doing, ultimately. i wanted that next answer most of all.

And it’s not entirely different now; i mean, when things aren’t working, i’m preoccupied with the need to put things right and soon. At the same time, though, those pushes five years ago took a lot out of me. It’s not that i can’t still hit it hard; i’m still hauling ass for nine hours a day, but at the end i go home. Not because i’m done, but because i’ve learned that whatever you’re doing outside of work, even if it’s stupid and objectively pointless, it’s important (obviously it’s easier to remember that with a significant other). Because if you sit down at home and forget what you used to do with your spare time, then you probably suck at work and don’t even realize it. The other half of it is the confidence that comes with experience. That the answers will come. They may be bad answers that tell you your idea is bad and won’t ever work, but they are obtainable if you ask the right questions. When you have a hard job, not every day can be a good day, but your bad days damn well aren’t going to get better if one’s blending into the next.

So even if my shit ain’t working, i’m still probably going home at 6. even if i’m just going to lie on the floor and have a staring contest with the cat. ‘Cause maybe the cat knows the answer.

(The answer is meow.)

Work: Educational Programming Robot

In 2014, while working freelance at Boston Device Development in Newton, i helped KinderLab Robotics design, launch, and produce their KIBO robotic learning toy, a recent winner of a Parents’ Choice Magazine gold award.

KIBO was redesigned from the wheels up from a proof-of-concept prototype, to be a durable, playful toy that evokes the indestructible wooden toys of yore (while packed with electronics), while still sticking to a cost that schools and educators and parents can afford. With a simple, yet easily understood modular architecture, kids can build the robot with sophisticated sensors and sweet-looking artwork and then use special wooden blocks to feed it its marching orders and send it off to do their bidding. Or better still, figure out why it might’ve done something else.





disclaimer: the owners of the work depicted herein have no association whatsoever with the rest of this website.

Work: Single-Cup Coffee Brewers

Between 2011 and 2014, I worked on numerous single-cup coffee brewer designs for the leading manufacturer of them.  Some of these are ubiquitous, others were obscure or for overseas markets.  Others not shown were never produced, for reasons.

Work on these products included part breakup and ID implementation, design-for-assembly strategy, cup mechanism designs, fluid path design, drip trays and water tanks, carafes, and concept development.

Amazon listings:

Small home brewer

Deluxe home brewer

Thermal carafe

Office brewing system

Large thermal carafe

Work: Modular Blender Lid Assembly

A well-known brand of consumer appliances needed some engineering work done on a lid and pitcher system to go with a forthcoming modular blender motor product.  While the cup-shaped vessel for smoothies and things was an easy fit, a pitcher and lid with socket was a more complicated product.  It needed to nest together neatly, incorporate safety interlocks, accommodate safe pouring, and seal against flying liquid.

Amazon listing

blender_lid_isoScreen Shot 2015-02-01 at 1.42.37 PM

Work: Filtered Hand Shower and Shower Head

In 2014, I worked on the design of a magnetic, detachable hand shower for a well-known water products company, as well as it’s boring non-detachable cousin.

The handle for this thing is one of the nastiest single injection-molded parts I’ve had to design.  Probably just as well I didn’t have to stick around for the conversation with the molder, but it looks like it turned out great.

Fortunately for me, I live in Boston where we don’t need to filter our water, but maybe you might find it useful.

You can buy it here and here.  I don’t get anything from that link. 61HYbq1KVEL._SL1500_

Work: Battery Powered Household Pump

In 2011, I worked on a project for a national brand of marine pump products that was looking to expand into the household market using their existing, proven pump technology.

They came to us with some preconceived notions of how much performance they would get with existing pump and battery selections versus their hypothetical use case.  Experiments and benchmarking showed that likely performance would be far short of what their marketing research suggested would sell.  Beyond the need for a larger battery, they needed to provide a larger pump head for household use than for marine use (picture pumping out a basement versus a dinghy).  We came up with multiple new configurations using their existing technology, and breadboarded proof-of-concept systems to show that they delivered.

After that, my colleagues generated a rugged, user-friendly, stable industrial design, that could be thrown into the flooded space and left to do its job.  Implementation of this as a part-waterproof, part-immersed housing with low cost parts and a minimum number of tools was a fun challenge.

I never bought one, and the project ended short of completion, partially because my former employer shut my office down, but the end product still looks like what we were working on.  Hope everybody that bought one liked it.  Unfortunately, it’s no longer available.

Amazon listing



Work: Life Sciences Prep Device

In 2010, with colleagues at a previous employer, I spearheaded the design of a sample preparation tool for use with precision scientific equipment.

While this device is simple in principle, the need for ease of use, certainty of sample integrity, and fast operation drove an aggressive industrial design, which presented a severe engineering challenge–designing a self-sealing manifold with a three-dimensional seal bead.  This required months of detailed prototyping, careful inspection, and CFD analysis to ensure that production parts would balance ease of use with self-sealing function the way we needed it to.

Beyond that, the device was intended to drive sales of a custom disposable optimized for the system.  While the function of this was identical to well-understood production parts, adaptations to it for high throughput meant that processes for assembly and production were as much of a consideration as part design.

Product page


Work: Scientific Instrument

In 2006, I had a small part in the first generation design of a successful scientific instrument for a globally recognized life sciences company.  In 2011, with colleagues, I had the opportunity to help redesign it from the ground up.

While the first generation delivered on its promise of reducing wait time to process experiments from hours to minutes, its custom disposables were expensive, and were constantly being reused, leading to inaccurate output.

The new design featured a new system to enable use of a more streamlined disposable, within a reposable, washable frame.  Design and prototyping of this frame system to prove out secure hold, flat and stretched sample area, and fully sealed housing was the focus of our early effort.  `

Product page