Our major shop projects are on hold. A combination of weather delays (Ure doesn’t work outdoors under 50F if he can avoid it) and supply chain issues. The local lair of the Home Despots was out of the polycarbonate panel mounting strips for the Studio Grow Room. So, we await deliveries and a change in weather.
This doesn’t bring proceedings in the shop to a standstill; far from it! There is always something to do. One of today’s projects is bringing up power in the existing greenhouse and setting the year’s first batch of plants growing on the seed heat mats.
Although I was able to mess around with lasers at age 16 (in the basement of the UoW EE building where 3D holograms were being explored), there was a definite “hole in my education” when it came to gardening.
Sure, there was the “usual” drive-by of the topic. Which involved sticking a few beans in a Styrofoam cup in Biology and watching it sprout. Talk about death to an ADHD person! Like watching paint drying!
Since those basic days of “put seed in soil, water, and give it sunlight” the biggest improvements in my gardening came from a study of the “hidden variables”:
- Planting time matters (at least here in Texas). Tomatoes that aren’t well-established by mid-April won’t be setting enough fruit to make them worth the bother. Because although tomatoes love heat, they don’t set fruit worth a damn over 96F, or so. Second crop in the fall is useful, though.
- Bees are critical to high yields. We’ll be putting out another pound or three of wildflowers. The more bees, the more fruits get set.
- Soil AND Water pH matter: Our soil, being sullied by alkaline and 8.2 pH watering, only works on higher pH plants. Tomatoes? They like acidic soil. Quick deeper study here: Greenhouse & Floriculture: Water Quality: pH and Alkalinity | Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment at UMass Amherst.
- Kill pests early-on and humanely. And, of course, “Dead-eye Ure” and his subsonic .22 rounds has no mercy for small rodents. Planting more anti-deer greenery around the perimeter this year. Adjunct: The gate height will be raised another 2-feet because our local white-tail deer are Olympic jumpers. Who can flat-hoof it over 4-feet like it was nothing? 6-feet and higher? Now you’re talking deterrence.
A reasonable person – right about here – might logically ask “If you know all this stuff, why sister-it-up with a conversation about “Happy Design?”
Ah… Come along.
What is a “Happy Design”?
Out of the garden and into the electronics lab to help explain.
Back in 2000, I was VP Sales at SGC Communications up in Bellevue, WA. Worked with (the late) Pierre Goral right at the time the SG-2000 HF single sideband transceiver was rolling out. It was Pierre who schooled me on “happy designs.” Used the early Apple computers (II-series) as an example. No, it wasn’t a Cray, but it was a product that did exactly what Woz and Jobs had set off to accomplish. And it hit the education market.
The SG-2000 radio, he explained, was also a “happy design.” No, it wasn’t a perfect ham radio – it didn’t have a tuning dial (hams are creatures of habit) – and computer-control would take a while to develop. On the other hand, it was rock-solid and able to pass FCC Type Approval for commercial use. So, I wrote-up sales orders for places like the HAARP facility in Alaska and places out in the desert near Tonopah, that may or may not exist, and such.
The main new feature – and what made the design “happy” – was it was among the very first radios to feature a removeable control head. Visionary stuff. That was later emulated by many radio manufacturers like Icom, and so forth.
Like I said, the radio wasn’t perfect. The microprocessor-controlled frequency synthesizer initially had some phase noise to it. But, in a short time as the state of the art improved, so did the radio. Such that by 2001 when I married the SG-2000 up with a Frederick Electronics A.L.E. controller (working the the folks ) it was a damn good frequency-agile, ALE platform at a hard to beat price point. Type approved and happy with FED-STD 1045…this was the essence of happy design!
All Projects Can Be “Happy”
When engineers talk about “good designs” they are usually referring to the component level. The design objectives – often negotiated with Marketing – hit the list of agreed-upon specifications.
Occasionally in the product development path there will be notes on the flow chart like “Insert Magic Here.”
In the Happy Design in addition to everything Marketing wanted, the product also innovates in some way. Or it interfaces to another system gracefully and without a lot of monkey-motion to make it work. Or both.
Happy designs are also resource efficient.
One thing Pappy ground into my thinking when building projects out of my head as a kid was the idea that in really great designs, you should be able to remove all the fasteners, for example, and not have the chair (or building) fall down in a heap. He went on to explain that this is what distinguished Amish (and some European) craftsman’s work. Their furniture was designed as a system. Resulting in Happy Designs.
It wasn’t until 15-years ago that Elaine and I bought a “happily designed” European-made, solid oak armoire for our bedroom. It occupies much of an entire wall and is almost eight feet long. But here’s the amazing part: It all breaks down into flat panels.
See, in Europe, the stairways are narrow. Moving several hundred pounds of solid oak up a narrow walk-up as a huge assembled unit “ain’t hap-nin.” But the whole top pops off into a single 50-pound, 20-inch by almost 8-foot (and 6-inch thick) piece. The sides do the same. The carved doors come off easily. The base (even the feet come off gracefully), too.
The reason than I’m compelled to own a mortising machine is not that I’m any good as a woodworker. Subpar at best. But I recognize that there is a reason why mortise and tenon joinery is used by craftsmen: It provides for a “fastener-free” way to make things. Things that can be disassembled for ease of moving.
A simple mortise and tenon joint, with a small wedge pounded in to lock it, can all be done with a saw, hammer, and pocketknife. So therein lies the art.
I’ve often told you there are only four operations to making things: Measure, cut, join, and finish. What you may not appreciate is how damn complicated joinery may be, even basic mortise and tenon joints.
Not that metal plates and fasteners aren’t expedient. It’s just that IF we’re serious as a species about defusing climate, then using the earth to heat-sink heating and cooling, building metal-free furniture and buildings, plus growing our own food, may be harder but necessary. A lot more honest, too.
Happy Designs may also be thought of as idealized balancing acts. Two balancing examples are cars and sailboats.
In the car department, few people consciously think through what their 6-year “Use Case” will be. When you do that, however (and in our case having a small ranch with all the moving parts of this project to contend with), it became obvious that driving our Porsche 930 was not a good choice. While it would do zero to sixty in the whiplash zone, there’s so much here (hauling 3-dozen 2-by-4’s and 4-sacks of Quikrete) that nothing in the Porsche line would handle. So we eventually sold it off. (At a profit, lol.)
Same thing with sailboats. A folding propeller is a balancing act. When motoring, a folding prop presents much less forward resistance. Boat goes faster. When occasionally running over gillnets in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the folding prop won’t snag. While even a feathering prop will. Because they still stick out from the shaft.
Making Our Grow Room “Happy”
With the door on the Grow Room and the side panels in hand waiting on parts…
This results in several design issues for today’s pondering.
How will the water be collected from the roof? What will be the design of the water barrels to provide storage for the captured water? How will the collected water be dialed-in to precision pH? Will there be an internal (submersible) pump, or should I install the pump externally? 12-volt powered along with solar panels and a battery to run things? Work out the battery size required?
Poured on approach to water? Or should we put in a drip system? How much hydroponic growing do we want? Is that also 12 Volt? Or do we tie in to the big grid-tie solar AC system?
Last year, the hydroponics worked great in the *(small) greenhouse. But when came time to set fruits the greenhouse simply got too hot. Which is how we got to the repurposed swamp cooler approach. I also set my plants too close together resulting in root crowding. Live and learn. Heat is not the gardener’s friend north of 90F.
Even here, notice that basics of engineering matter greatly. Since warm air rises, the swamp cooler input from outdoors will be in the shade and down low. The hot air exhaust will be up high and at the far end of the room. This way, Nature will lend a hand making sure the grow room design has a chance to “be happy.”
Toss in Some Disney, Too
Last point about happy designs:
Years ago – when Google Earth was newish – I zoomed in on Disneyworld. We had been living in Florida for a couple of years (Boca) and we’d been to D-World several times.
What the “view from space” confirmed was what I’d caught a glimpse of when one of the cast members left a fence open from the Magic Kingdom into the back lot. The rooftops of my favorite rides (Pirates and the Haunted House) were very much like big warehouse boxes.
The thing is those portions of the park not designed to be seen were as simple and durable (in the sense of industrial) as could be.
Made a hell of an impression on me.
From the front of our home, you can’t see the grow room. And this place still has an almost uninviting “old redneck trailer in the woods look.” We don’t plan to change that.
Which has become a kind of personal design criteria. Not only do we want happy designs for us, and an interior that “transports” but we also don’t spend money needlessly on the exterior.
Graceful and happy designs are always the goal. This is the kind of thing going on in background as I sketch up the “downspout to rain barrel flange.” which will roll out of one of the 3D printers this week.
So goes life as the Chief Vegetable.
Write when you get rich,