SAN JOSE, Calif. – Solstice has become my favorite winter holiday. I feel a visceral connection to the waning of the light this time of year and the intermittent flicker of creativity inside me.
I'll tell you a little bit about what that is like for me. I hope below you will share how you relate to your own creative fires.
I'm an English major. I tell people I earn a tiny piece of my electronic engineering degree every day doing my job as a reporter for EE Times where I meet the people who give us smartphones and supercomputers, ultrasound machines and stereo 3-D movies.
I joke that I don't have to be able to make anything work. I just write about the people who do.
Writing stories—and sometimes songs—is what fires me up. This very morning this column was writing itself in my head. It dragged me out of bed at 7:16 am so my fingers could clatter out its words on my ThinkPad.
Sometimes I think of it as weaving. Listening to the many voices on a topic--and the topics are fresh every day—then interleaving them in some way that feels balanced and authentic to create a tapestry of the creative competition in some corner of the electronics industry.
When the darkness comes as it did about a month ago, sliding in at six and five and four o'clock in the afternoon, it gets my attention. This year for some reason full on night at 5:30 pm looked especially black.
It has the same affect on me that it does on so many. I sometimes feel tired, a bit depressed, even fearful, as I walk my own particular journey toward death.
Those who celebrate the solstice remind me to appreciate the darkness, invite it, sit in it and let it surround me. They remind me to light a candle.
This is also the season of light. Across the street from me, a neighbor has festooned his palm tree with a twenty-foot high cape of white and purple lights. Sometimes we drive though the Willow Glen neighborhood known for its fiery residential displays of the secular Christmas.
I remind myself in the Christian tradition they talk about a star in the East. Buddha told his followers to be lamps unto themselves.
For me, sometimes that means a trip to my local café, an afternoon latte—whole milk, extra foam—and more clattering on my notebook about the story of some engineers' creativity. It means a little work in the evening on learning some new song of the season—there are so many—or writing one of my own.
My skills as an amateur musician and singer/songwriter are what they are. They are adequate to provide more than a little light and warmth for me and a small circle of friends.
I know many engineers have a special affinity for creativity. Maker Faire, a celebration that crosses all seasons, has tapped into the ethos of engineers who love to see how things are made, to tear things apart and to design them from scratch.
So, please, if you care to, tell me about how you relate to this season and how you connect with your creative light.
I found early on in my career that I needed to create and not just design. The creating in the early years took the form of woodworking, making custom pieces to fit into my 125+ year old house. There was a lot of satisfaction in building something by hand in wood. As I have moved on from just basic design to system level development I find that the architecture of a system provides a much needed opportunity for creativeness. I still work in wood but now more often work building the components of a system into something that is better than just the sum of the components. System level holistic design is and can be very rewarding for the both sides of the brain. Enjoy the season and Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukkah) to all.
I look forward to this time of year for the holidays and time off with family of course, but also because the solstice roughly coincides with the beginning of ski season in the western U.S. There is nothing quite like the feeling of freedom and exhilaration one experiences while gliding down a forest-laden snow capped mountain on a clear, sunny winter day.
As for creativity in engineering, I have had some conversations with my daughter on this subject. Some of her fellow engineering students think that the profession requires only excellence in math & science, and not so much skill in written or verbal communication, or people skills. My advice to her was to think of the math & science skills as tools in a toolbox, much as a custom furniture maker has his box of woodworking tools and the skills to use them.
But just as skill with woodworking tools does not make one a successful furniture maker, the best engineers also require a great deal more than skillful mastery of their toolset. The right-brain skills are often the ones that make all the difference -- the ability to see things from a different perspective, the ability to express complex ideas in simple terms, and the ability to form persuasive arguments backed by facts -- yes, salesmanship is an important skill for engineers too.
If asked which engineering courses I feel we're the most important to my career development, I'm inclined to say they weren't engineering courses at all, but rather, all the non-engineering courses that at the time seemed so unimportant.
Here in India , especially in my city Pune, this period is one of the best in terms of weather, The night temperature drops down to about 10 deg C and the days maximum is around 27 deg C. These cool mornings make me get up and have a refreshing jog in the nearby park , then enjoy a hot cup of tea. Christmas and the new year is celebrated with high spirits and festivity and nigh long parties.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.