Saturday, November 03, 2007

Playing twenty questions

You know the children's game: One individual says, "Guess what what I'm thinking!" The players then ask yes or no questions to figure out what it is.
"Is it big?"
"No"
"Is it an animal?"
"Yes"
"Is it gray?"...
And so on until the item is guessed.

Working with people outside your discipline to develop a design is like that. They have no idea what matters to you in your engineering discipline. The line of questioning proceeds something like this:
"What kind of positioning resolution do you need?"
"As good as you can make it."
"Are we talking microns or millimeters?"
"Well we never really considered it, I suppose millimeters"
"Can you do a simulation to determine what you need?"
"No, we don't have time or money." ...

I am working on the mechanical design of a non-destructive testing system. The physicists and programmers have no idea of what they need mechanically or what it takes to deliver what they do need. So I try to play twenty questions and ascertain what it is they need to produce a workable system.

The sensor has low resolution so finally I asked, "Can we dispense with the mechanical scanning altogether a just use fixed sensor?"
"Well we never thought of that but I suppose, yes ,fixed sensors would work."

I just won one round at twenty questions. Now I just have to figure out the next question to ask.

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