Young Jacob is working on programming the Arduino to make his robot's eyes flash messages in Morse code. We may have an engineer in the making.
It doesn't seem all that long ago when I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young engineer. Now I feel like an old fool, but where are we going to find one at this time of the day (LOL)?
One thing that seems to come up a lot in conversation recently is the way in which we attract younger folks into engineering. Of course, this does involve learning a lot of "stuff," which can be a bit of a downer when you are a young person.
Now, I firmly believe that the best way to learn something is to work on a fun project. I can't speak for everyone, but when I'm studying how to do something for one of my hobby projects, it really doesn't seem like work at all.
Thus, it seems to me that one way to galvanize, electrify, and energize young folks into wanting to learn more about engineering is to get them to want to make something first and then guide them in the making of that thing, whatever it may be.
All of which brings me to a young lad called Jacob, who is very interested in learning about computers, electronics, soldering, and suchlike. Jacob has an Arduino Uno, and he was looking for something interesting to do with it. When Jacob visited our office building with his family a few weeks ago, I showed him a few of my ongoing hobby projects, including an old television cabinet that I've had restored.
I explained to Jacob that, in the fullness of time -- after I've finished some of my other projects -- I intend to build a diorama inside the television. I'm thinking of a cave scene circa 10,000 BC.
Unlike the above image, the cave people in my diorama will be sitting around a fire. The entrance to the cave will be located about three inches from the back of the cabinet, which will actually be formed from a flat-screen display. This display will show a computer-generated image of mountains in the distance, along with clouds and birds (maybe pterodactyls -- it's not like I'm aiming at historical accuracy) flying in the sky and suchlike.
One thing that will be really cool is that I intend to link the system to the Internet. When it's daytime in the real world, it will be daytime in my diorama. When it's nighttime in the real world, it will be nighttime in my diorama (though the moon will be bigger, the stars will be brighter, and there will be shooting stars and so forth). Furthermore, should it be stormy in the real world, it will be storming magnificently in my diorama with the most amazing lightning you've ever seen and a more-than-satisfying amount of thunder. (Yes, of course, there will be sound effects -- do I look like the sort of man who wouldn't have sound effects?)
It may not surprise you to learn that Jacob was rather enthused by this idea. He would really like to create something like this himself. There are just two small things that are currently holding him back -- he doesn't have a television cabinet, and he doesn't know how to implement the electronics -- but both of these are minor details in the scheme of things.
Having just turned 16, and only having just gotten his driver's license, Jacob (not surprisingly) doesn't have a lot of cash to splash around, though he is eagerly looking for a part-time job. I've been there and done that. (I've even got the tattoo and the T-shirt.) Fortunately, I'm a great believer in the power of cardboard. You wouldn't believe the things I've made out of this magnificent material. So I explained to Jacob that one cheap and cheerful short-term solution would be to get a cardboard box, cut out the front to make it look like a TV, build whatever diorama he decides to build, and worry about moving up to a real TV cabinet later.
Meanwhile, we still have to work on the electronics side of things. As I explained to Jacob, if you can use a computer to read the value of a switch and control something like a LED, you can rule the world. Anything more sophisticated is really just a matter of scaling things up.
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