We Need More Automation Engineering Degrees

I think its hard to overstate the rising importance of automation today. Automation in manufacturing has been having an impact on society for a long time now, but in recent years, the pace of technological progress has been accelerating, which is accelerating the affects those changes are having on the types of jobs that are available. As with so many other areas, our education system is lagging. This article really hits the nail on the head:

When will we see more four-year U.S. degrees in automation engineering?

The whole article is worth reading, and describes what I’ve been saying for years:

“If Americans want to strengthen our manufacturing base, we need more engineering graduates who are focused on automation. Many schools have degrees that touch on the needs of manufacturing, but they don’t really do a deep dive into automation.”

While the article is focused on manufacturing, automation is spilling over into so many other areas. I’m telling you, if you are a young person and want to be guaranteed employment, go into automation.

The main point that really gets at my frustration:

“From my experience, many members of the higher education establishment view automation as an associate’s degree, technician-level program. They are underestimating the complexity of designing and integrating automated systems on a plant-wide basis. Automation is more than just programming or electrical engineering or mechanical engineering. It is all of these and more.”

Modern automation needs to be understood as an entire engineering discipline on its own. The subject includes mechanical and electrical engineering, programming, higher math concepts, technical knowledge of sensors and actuators, and often databases, computer networking and various internet related technologies, and more. Systems integration requires engineering design, and cannot be accomplished at the two-year technician level of training. The view of automation as a technician wiring some relays together or maybe writing some simple ladder logic is laughably outdated.

These last few quotes describe my personal experience fairly well:

“A large percentage of the recently graduated college engineers we have hired over the past five to 10 years did not specifically set out to become automation engineers…”

“Automation-related degrees aren’t adequately described. I visited one website that explains all the different possible college degrees. Automation engineering was listed as a subset of industrial engineering, which is not where most people interested in an automation career would look. It also said that pursuing a degree in automation engineering would “open up a number of career opportunities in maintenance, repair and robotics.” Again, this may be what the associate degree would prepare you for, but not the bachelor’s degree.”

“Maintenance and repair” is misleading, and would not have attracted me to automation. This was written by someone who does not understand what automation is, what it does, or how its created. Maintenance and repair of existing systems is certainly important and part of automation engineering, but someone has to DESIGN the systems first. It really is the difference between being an automotive engineer and being an auto mechanic. Both are required for the system to work.

“The only related offering in that university’s entire engineering program was one class on control system theory. Talking to one of our engineers who had taken the course, he said that it had no real relevance to the automation and controls work he is now doing for our company.”

I also had exactly one class on control system theory, and it also had almost no relevance to the work I am doing now. I strongly agree with this conclusion:

“We also have to get over the notion that automation can only be learned with hands-on experience on the job, and that it’s not possible to teach it in college. With the proper investment in labs, it can be taught, and automation engineers can come out of college without large gaps in their automation abilities (gaps either on the electrical, mechanical or programming sides).”

By working in automation, I know I have a biased viewpoint. However, what I see from my limited view within a small, niche corner of the industry, is a rising tidal wave of demand for automation. That demand won’t look like industrial automation historically has, going as far back as the 1950s.  Technology is changing rapidly, and enabling new applications and and entire categories of knowledge that could not have even been conceived before recent advances. Previously separate disciplines in mechanical, electrical, computer engineering, are joining with more modern mechatronics, robotics, data management and analysis, computer networks, software and web technology platforms. The knowledge required for modern automation systems is beyond cross-disciplinary, and in my view, has become its own entire field of engineering.

Gaining the knowledge required to work in automation is often prohibitively difficult, both via the traditional education system, and for those trying to self teach. Automated mechatronic systems are showing up in more and more applications outside of manufacturing, and the complexity  and scope of industrial automation is rapidly increasing along with demand. We need more automation engineering degrees.

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Moto Day Ride – Reed Creek Mill

Of course its a hydropower site visit, made even better because we took the bikes. On a hot summer day, we look forward to riding at higher elevations. Twisty roads in slightly cooler air in the mountains make for a great day.

I bought a top box/trunk for my TR. It looks super dorky, but is really useful. I even carried home leftovers from dinner out last night. I’ve never had one before, holding off out of principle. Top boxes look ridiculous, and my idealistic aspiration is the biker as minimalist who doesn’t need to have so much stuff. Except that both of us are well beyond any chance of looking cool, and I seem to use the top box on Kevin’s bike all the time. He wouldn’t have bought a top box either, except he bought the Multi used, and it came with one. In the years since, he’s been lured by its convenience, and has now drawn me in as well. I just finally gave in and got one for myself. Putting weight up high like that negatively affects handling, but as long as I keep the weight light while riding, its going to be nice to have a place to lock up my stuff. Yesterday was my first ride with it, and I’m glad I hardly noticed it back there.

Posted in 2013 Husqvarna TR650 Strada, Day Rides, Motorcycles + | 2 Comments

House 2.0 – Inspections, insulation, septic, porch

Lots of progress on the house this week –  We passed the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, framing, and septic inspections. Rough systems are done!  That meant the insulation crew could start. They only needed two days, since most of the house is SIPS. They insulated the garage, the room over the garage, mudroom ceiling, between floors (including some in the crawl space, which was already mostly insulated from superior walls), and some interior walls between rooms to help with noise attenuation. The crew installing the septic system was done in one day, including the inspection. The porch slab also got poured – no more stepping on a bucket to go in the front door:)

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MSF – Intro to Trail Riding

Despite not having any time lately for anything but work or house build related activities, I’m really glad we made time last weekend to travel to Georgia for another moto riding clinic.

2016-07-31_MSF ITR A_sI’ve been pretty good about sticking to my “at least one moto riding class” a year goal. This year, since off-road riding is definitely my weakest area, I wanted to find an off-road oriented class. Its harder than you’d think. Most dirtbike classes are for kids, or are more moto-cross oriented, which is a bit different than what I am looking for. Trail and/or adventure riding is a slightly different skill set, and there are now several famous courses that are all available in various western states. Since we can’t make a western trip happen this year, I thought I was out of luck. Then I discovered that the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) has an Intro to Trail Riding class. That’s exactly what I was looking for. The MSF requires students to take the CRE class first, so I found some dates where we could take both classes back to back. It worked out great; we had a great trip, rode motorcycles, learned a few things, and really enjoyed our little mini vacation.

About the Classes
Day 1 was the CRE (Closed Range Excercises class), held on the fenced dirt range. Continue reading

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House 2.0 – electrical, plumbing, HVAC, systems

While there has been an occasional burst of activity on the house construction, recently there hasn’t been much progress. Over the last three weeks, our chimney for the wood stove was installed, a minor amount of plumbing and HVAC was completed, and as of this week, the electricians are mostly done with the 120vac wiring. I expect that plumbing and electrical will be ready for the rough in inspections this week or next.

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House 2.0 – roof, electrical

This week in house construction: The roof is finished! Hopefully now there will be no more leaks when it rains. Its just a black metal roof, but I’m pleased with the installation and how it looks. The electrical contractors made a bit more progress on the first floor. We have more can lights, and about half of the first floor outlets and switches are wired.

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House 2.0 – siding, HVAC, back framing, electrical, doors, roof!

Updates in house construction for the past two weeks:

Last week-

  • Siding – FYI, since there seems to be some confusion on this, the siding is NOT painted yet. What you see is just primer color. It still needs paint, and I still need to decide on colors (or rather, have someone else pick for me since I’m terrible at that). (Also, Hardie siding doesn’t actually need to be painted, it just looks nicer.)
  • The siding is just about completed. They ran out of the homelslicker (yellow moisture management layer that goes under the siding), but that crew should have all the materials they need to finish this week.
  • HVAC – this contractor has clearly been busy elsewhere, as they only seem to show up on site about once a week for the last two weeks. (So, they’ve only been on site maybe 2-3 days total since starting our house). They made really nice progress last week (the work they’ve done thus far seems fine); they’ll need to finish soon however, otherwise they’ll hold up the electrical contractor.
  • The framing crew was on site a day or two for “back framing,” I wasn’t familiar with this term, but basically, the framers come back after plumbing and HVAC are done to prepare for drywall.
  • An insulation contractor stopped by the house and is now lined up to insulate the non-SIPS/conventionally framed parts of the house (over the dining room, mudroom, and garage).
  • The woodstove/hearth/fireplace/etc. contractor also stopped by to prepare for installing the woodstove. The framing crew framed the hearth this week.
  • ELECTRICAL WALK-THROUGH – This gets caps because its how we spent most of the day last Thursday. We went through the entire house with the GC and electrical contractor discussing all the 120 VAC wiring and low voltage wiring. Basically, we decided where all of the hard wired lights, switches, and outlets will be (both inside and outside). We also discussed all the low voltage wiring: CAT5e, security, sound, smoke and CO detectors, etc. We made decisions like whether or not we want wiring for a doorbell (yes), or to run coax or phone lines (what? no, of course not).

This week –

  • Siding is finished!
  • Exterior doors – The front door is installed, and one of the garage walk doors
  • Metal Roof Installation – the roofers are about half done. We’ve had some thunderstorms with hard rain this week, and without the metal roof on, it turns out the roof does leak a bit. Looking forward to not having standing water in the house.
  • Electrical – the electricians were able start this week, even if they were only on site a short time – we have some can lights and a few outlet boxes. Looking forward to reaching the rough-in electrical milestone.
Posted in Dog Blog, Home Improvement, House 2.0 | 2 Comments

House 2.0 – siding, HVAC

House construction moved along a bit this week: the siding installation continued, and HVAC installation began. The showers are also as complete as they can get until fixtures and final finishes are installed in the bathrooms.

We’ve been pleased with the progress and quality of work on the siding. It makes such a large visual difference, the house is really starting to look finished on the outside.

HVAC for the house consists of ducted mini-split heat pumps. We originally wanted to use the duct-less type mini-splits, as they are more efficient, but the design and heating/cooling loads didn’t allow for it. The ducted type are still very efficient, and with how tight and well insulated the house is, we are expecting very low space conditioning costs.  The ducted type also have the problem of requiring space to run the ducts, which is more difficult in a timber frame vs conventional construction. I seem to be losing closet space daily as space is taken up by the heating and cooling ducts.

Posted in Home Improvement, House 2.0 | 3 Comments

House 2.0 – siding, showers

House construction slowed down the last three weeks as the framing and other contractors finished up, and the next set of contractors lined up and added our house to their schedules. Construction picked up again this week, as the siding contractors got started, and the shower materials arrived and started installation as well.

(Remember, click or tap on a photo to see them larger, then use the arrows on the right and left to scroll through the gallery of photos).

The yellow material is a type of house wrap called Home Slicker that goes underneath the Hardie board (James Hardie brand fiber cement board) siding, and is used for moisture management. Our house is using a mix of horizontal plank siding, and a vertical board and batten style. The Hardie siding came primed for paint, and eventually I will actually have to make a decision on what color to paint it.

So, siding installation is under way. The crew was even there this Saturday. Regarding showers, this is a 2.5 bath house; I expect both showers will finish being installed soon. Kevin met with the HVAC contractor this week, and he is supposed to start next week. Nice to see some progress again after a couple of weeks of very little happening. I thought I was impatient before, but the further along we get, the more I’m ready to be finished and move in. We still have a long way to go!

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I hate Microsoft and Windows 10, Part 2

At the end of last year, I bought a new laptop.  It came with windows 10. I tried to work with it as a Win 10 machine, but had nothing but problems. After many hours (days) of my time, I eventually gave up and returned the laptop (I couldn’t easily put Windows 7 on that hardware).

Since my previous machine was a desktop, and I increasingly need the portability of a laptop, I tried again last month. I bought a laptop that came with Windows 8 this time. I immediately got rid of that nonsense, and installed the last “good” operating system microsoft made, which is windows 7. Again, after many hours of my time installing the applications I need and setting it up for my purposes, I had what I thought was a stable machine. Windows 7 worked great, and I could move on with my life using my machine to do useful things, instead of spending my time fussing with the machine itself.

Then, about 3 days ago, windows decided to upgrade my computer to windows 10 without my permission. I left my computer to go run an errand, and when I came back, the welcome screen said “welcome to windows 10.”

F@!* you microsoft.

Not having control or choice in upgrading my own OS is totally unacceptable. Now, once again, I have a buggy and unstable machine. (My desktop icons keep re-shuffling again, and I’m having display problems. Other things are broken as well due to the forced upgrade, and there is lots of generally buggy behavior.) At least all of my essential applications seem to work this time. Now I have to choose between dealing with Windows 10, or trying to roll back to windows 7, which may or may not work properly. (I am really apprehensive about trying to roll back). I have work to do. Ain’t nobody got time for this. (<– here, let me google that reference for you).

I would move to a linux system in 2 seconds flat (despite the learning curve) if all of my applications were compatible. They are not.

Public service announcement: after this unapproved “upgrade,” to my machine, Kevin learned there is a utility called “Never 10” that will prevent windows from “upgrading” your OS. He’s been busy installing it on various machines, including his. Too late for me. Read the Never 10 link for a great explanation of why so many people do not want to upgrade to Windows 10, including “Microsoft’s evolution of their Windows operating system platform into a service which, among other things, aggressively monitors and reports on its users activities.” (That is amazingly not ok).

In sum, Windows is horrible, and continues to waste my time.  If you even mention anything to me about Apple products or OS X I will hit you.

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Hiking Grayson Highlands State Park

Grayson Highlands State Park in VA is a place we’ve ridden by, and sometimes to, several times on the motos, and have said for years that we should visit to go camping and hiking. Its an incredibly beautiful place. So, we decided last week to take Friday off; we loaded up our stuff and the dog in the back of my car, and made the 2.5 hr drive Thursday afternoon.

Between a smaller hike Thursday evening, and exploring various trails all day Friday, we probably only hiked about 10 miles. We were really happy that Cody was able to keep up and enjoy himself. At 9.5 years old, he’s still really enjoying his hikes, as long as we take breaks, and avoid the strenuous trails with steep elevation gain.

Also, it turns out that Grayson Highlands State Park has “wild” ponies. Who knew? (Click the continue reading link just below this sentence to see pictures of the ponies!)

Continue reading

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House 2.0 – front porch, plumbing, misc interior framing

As the post title says, house construction progress for this week includes: more interior framing (mostly interior doors, and modifying access under the garage stairs), the start of some plumbing, and construction of the front porch.

2016-05-15_DSC07335sThe plumbers were on site just one day, but I was really amazed at how much they got done. (Seriously, impressively fast progress. There were 4 or 5 guys, and they weren’t in the house 5 minutes before they were busy with the hole saws, and the entire house smelled like pvc glue. Most of the plumbing in the house is PEX).

Throwing in some exterior photos from the back, just because its been awhile.

Posted in Home Improvement, House 2.0 | 2 Comments

House 2.0 – interior framing and windows

House construction update for this week: Most of the interior framing is done, and all of the windows are in. The exterior door from the office and the french doors to the screen porch are in, and we have stairs in the garage to the room above.

2016-05-07_DSC07268sBonus room over the garage:

It’s a relief to be just about dried in. We’ve had a lot of rain, and it will be nice to be able to keep the water off of everything, and from blowing in and sitting on the floor. The interior walls going up made for a very dramatic change this week. That framing went really quickly!

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House 2.0 – garage and first floor framing

Fast changes on the house build this week:

2016-04-29_DSC07214sThey finished framing the room over the garage, mudroom roof, and the exterior of the house and garage is now covered in Tyvek. They also dug the footers for our front porch, which are now filled with water from all of the recent rainstorms. Our windows arrived on Wednesday. We skipped our typical daily site visit on Thursday, and were really surprised to discover that by the end of Friday, they had moved inside and completed the majority of the interior framing on the first floor, T&G loft deck, and we have stairs!

This part is going really fast, and I am getting behind on some decision making!

Posted in Home Improvement, House 2.0 | 1 Comment

Moto Photos

Its not all work and house build – the weather is getting really nice, and we were able to take a day off to go riding.

20160426_122653I only have these few moto tag cell phone photos, but right now that’s better than nothing.

Continue reading

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House 2.0 – more SIPS and back porch roof

The house as of today:

2016-04-24_DSC07150sLots of trimming and framing this week, and getting ready for the metal roof on the main part of the house. Major changes from the front from last week are a little harder to see. Our screen porch now has its pine T&G ceiling, and the conventionally framed roof over that section (you can see it below). The walls for the mudroom connector between the garage and house are up. Also, it was mentioned that now that we have an interior, I should include more interior photos, so here are a few:)

That implement behind the tractor below is a seed drill. Clearing the land for for the house and view was a bit of work, and its not done yet. Planting grass (and wildflowers! we’ll see how those do:) will hopefully stabilize all that disturbed, bare soil, and create a nice field/meadow.


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House 2.0 – SIPS

With the exterior walls nearly finished, the house is starting to look more like a house. Most of the SIPS were installed and trimmed out this week, including the roof, which was somewhat more labor intensive.

2016-04-13_DSC06934s(Spotted this visitor above during Wednesdays site visit).

We’ve decided SIPS construction is basically building a giant foam cooler, and then compromising that cooler by cutting a bunch of holes in it for windows and doors.

Still, the energy efficiency of this house is going to be excellent. SIPS cost a bit more up front, but the pay back in lower monthly energy usage make the initial expense easily worth it.

2016-04-15_DSC06950sSo far, the entire project is going really well; its progressing along with very few problems or delays. The construction crew has been great. This house is about quality over quantity, and thus far we’re happy with the quality of construction. We’re having a great time watching it all come together.

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House 2.0 – garage framing, SIPS, and power!

Lots of exciting progress on house construction this week. They framed the garage, and on Thursday, the garage roof trusses were installed, two semi’s arrived with our pre-cut SIPS, and Duke installed our meter and turned on the power (yay:).

These photos of Cody have been making me laugh out loud:

We brought him along for some errands, and to stop by the house. Other than checking on progress, Kevin wanted to put down some grass seed where the utility had run in the underground power line. Since its not appropriate to let your dog run around an active construction site, we parked away from the house, and left Cody in the back of the truck for a bit while we took a walk. He was not happy about being left behind, and started barking at us. He made these faces at me when we got back, and I can’t stop laughing.

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It’s not all sunshine and rainbows

While this is just a personal blog, since it’s on the internet, I don’t usually use it like one would an actual personal journal. I typically reserve this space for a few highlights I’d like to share with family and friends, which are usually easily photographed (like motorcycle trips, hiking, and most recently our ongoing house build).

While my life is currently great, some people close to me have had a really rough time lately. A friend’s Mom died this week after a mostly successful 10 year struggle with cancer, which very recently and very quickly became unsuccessful. Obviously, that kind of loss is just heartbreaking. She is currently traveling for the funeral.

Another friend had an accident with some fireworks just this weekend, and was in surgery to remove shrapnel for hours. They had to remove his right eye. (His left eye was mercifully spared, and is completely fine). There may also be some nerve damage in his hand, but the extent won’t be known for a bit yet. Thankfully, it looks like he will otherwise be ok after he has time to recover, but its going to be difficult for he and his wife for a bit.

I’m not sure why I’m posting this here, but there it is.

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House 2.0 – upstairs sub-floor and ceiling

House construction update for this week: The noticeable progress includes the sub-floor for the upstairs, and we have a pine T&G ceiling on the second floor as well. We noticed other details like hurricane straps, and other small changes made in preparation for SIPS arrival (hopefully next week). The power line is also run underground the entire way now, although we don’t have a meter yet.

Kevin and I enjoyed walking around the upstairs for the first time, and you can really start to picture the finished spaces now.

Continue reading

Posted in Dog Blog, Home Improvement, House 2.0 | 5 Comments

Wait But Why on Elon Musk’s Companies

This week’s obsession has been with this long format article* on Elon Musk, his companies, and why they matter. If you are at all curious about what the big deal is about Tesla and Space X, or even just abstract consideration of the future of humanity in general, this is a must read. Its fantastic. Don’t let the Musk worship put you off, this is really, really good stuff.

*Long format may be misleading. This series is really a small book. Don’t let that deter you. Bookmark it, and read it in small chunks (or, you know, do what I did and binge read until you look up and realize bedtime was 3 hours ago, not that I recommend that), but make the time to read it. He goes into excruciating detail. Stick with it, its worth it.

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House 2.0 – timber frame day 4

Day 4 of frame raising was really only a half day. Otherwise, the frame would have been completely finished by the end of the week. Right now, its just almost finished. Still impressive for basically 3.5 days work.

Duke Power also installed our transformer this week. No power yet, but they are running service underground, and it looks like they’ll finish next week.

As expected, neither the framing crew nor Duke power worked on Good Friday, so this is where the house stands as of the end of the week:

2016-03-25_DSC06705sDid I mention we’re really excited?

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House 2.0 – timber frame raising days 2-3

Did I mention how exciting it is to see the timber frame go up? This really is the coolest part.

The first floor was assembled in 2 days by hand, and on day 3, the crane arrived to start placing the second floor:



Continue reading

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House 2.0 – frame raising

Frame raising started today. This is the really exciting part:)

Kevin and I both noted that it feels a little strange to be on the job site, but not working. I felt a bit useless standing around taking pictures. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we’re paying good money for experienced timber home construction crews, and neither of us have the time to run the house project, nor the specific expertise to be as good as the general contractor we’ve hired. Even so, Kevin is usually the one running the job site. We’re so accustomed to managing projects ourselves, that leaving something so important to us in the hands of other people is taking some conscious thought on our part. Thankfully, most of the time, its a huge relief. Every little problem we notice that needs to get solved, we think; “not our problem, we’re paying the GC for that.” And then we leave and come back later to find it taken care of. Its great!

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House 2.0 – first night

Does the first night at the house count if its in a tent?


The weather is really warm for March right now, and we seem to be finding any excuse to be outside. Also, we’ve talked about camping on that property since we bought it, but never have. Since we own what amounts to the World’s Most Expensive Tent Pad right now, last night seemed like a good night to picnic and spend time at our future home.

This shot came out kinda neat. Kevin was playing a bit with long exposures:


Posted in Dog Blog, Home Improvement, House 2.0 | 2 Comments