russellz wrote: ↑
Sun Feb 25, 2018 11:58 am
When I went to university to study electronics I learned how to make AND and OR gates out of transistors and resistors and how to use them to design half adders and full adders. For my masters degree project I designed a floating point arithmetic unit for the maths department's Honeywell computer. I wonder how many of todays "computer experts" could do that now. Of course you could say the it is not necessary but should it be necessary for typical users to learn to use the command line or install an O.S.
I think the point you're really trying to make is that something is missing when we don't teach the deep fundamentals of why what exists exists, and how what exists works.
I've often said that today's engineers are not the equal of those of a couple generations ago. I've tried to imagine today's engineers being the ones designing the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo/Saturn systems, establishing the world-wide deep space communications network, etc. Honestly, I don't think they would be even remotely up to the task.
Because most people's eyes tend to glaze over when I try and explain to them what it was the NACA -> NASA transition was like, and what the scientists, engineers, and planners had to do during the 1960s, I usually use something like the following analogy:
Imagine that you want to go into business selling groceries. However, in order to do this, you have to come up with a design for a business place for customers to do business with you. You have to invent asphalt and the means to pack the ground down, and the means to lay the asphalt, but then also study the impacts of it and realize you can't just lay asphalt, you have to coat it and then seal it. Oh, and then you need to implement parking spaces with a navigable means for cars to enter the property and move about.
You have to also find a way to bring building design into the modern era, which means you have to take the concept of cement and make concrete out of it, and build the tools that let you build the forms into which you can then pour liquid cement to form into blocks. But, you also have to make the tools to build the machines to make the finished concrete product to have poured it into the forms in the first place. You also have to come up with the concept of sidewalks, and the concrete foundation and pad itself. You have to also find ways to take wrought iron and transform it into steel, and for certain applications, turn it into stainless steel. Also, what measurement system are you going to use? You'll need to either pick one, or invent one. You also need to find out what the optimal recipe and dry/hardening time and process for the aforementioned concrete is, so you don't build walls that just crumble under their own weight. Also, how about electrical wiring in the building so you can have light? Has air condition been invented yet, or do you have to invent that, too?
I mean, there were rudiments and fundamentals drawn upon by NASA and their contractors and sub-contractors (it's not like NASA invented aviation) but the people doing this collectively had to draw on what was known, and in many cases what was only speculated on, and then try and build from what were, by any practical definition, rudimentary building blocks.
For example, when MIT designed the Apollo Guidance Computer, nobody had ever used that sort of miniaturized electronic circuitry before. Computers then were still largely made from wires and various types of vacuum tubes and resistors. They had to use the literally brand new thing called "transistors" invented by Hewlett-Packard, and then also invent lots and lots and lots of logic circuits, and manually build multi-thousand transistor logic banks from actual transistors. They had to also devise a means of permanent storage which was not just compact, but relatively invulnerable to radiation. Remember, the Command and Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Module had to pass through the lower and upper Van Allen belts (only discovered during the 1950s) and deal with Sol's (that's our sun) and other stars' cosmic rays. So, they had to invent a way to use wire itself, with ferrite core rings, and literally weave a pattern of wires inside and outside of those rings (this, btw, is called "rope memory"). This is in addition to the usual design process that goes into building any piece of equipment.
There were literally thousands and thousands of instances of this exact sort of thing that went on, and all of this never-been-done-before, get-your-hands-dirty, no-tools-to-automate-the-process type of work would, I think be beyond the mental capacity and the maturity (and possibly the attention span) of engineering folk today.
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