We Need an A.P.E.

Engineering meetings can be entertaining, frustrating, funny, or just plain exasperating. Sometimes they can be all of those things. The air in an Engineering meeting can be filled with acronyms. It’s the nature of things. Years ago, we had a meeting to try and come to a conclusion on a plan of attack dealing with a troublesome product. The meeting was called by Mr. Z to get all of the players together and hash out a solution. All of the engineering groups were represented as well as the marketing and contracts folks.

The meeting quickly disintegrated into a finger pointing session. Things got out of control and people were taking digs at each other from all angles. The only thing that the accusations had in common was that they all seemed to include an acronym or two. They were talking about ATP failures, QDR reports, and on and on with the acronyms.

After a couple of hours of getting nowhere, Mr. Z finally shut down discussion. He announced that he would end the meeting by going around the table and taking suggestions from anyone who wanted to offer one. There would be no discussion, only ideas. At the end of going around the table, Mr. Z would make a decision that everyone would then have to implement. He started around the table and the ideas were basically more of the same with an accusing finger pointed at someone with an acronym or two.

Mr. Z worked his way around the table and got to a representative from the contracts department. He had not said a work up until that point in the meeting. When asked whether he had a suggestion, he started in with a long speech, that started by him saying, “I think what we need here is an A.P.E.”

Everyone got real interested and someone said that might be a good idea. He continued by saying that the A.P.E. would effectively deal with the ATP failures. It would prevent a QDR going to the customer. He went on for a good two minutes. People were making notes on their notepads. The mood in the room improved as someone actually had a positive suggestion. He finally finished and the room got quiet.

Mr. Z had been quiet during the entire talk about the A.P.E. He finally said, “I just have one question. What’s an A.P.E?”

The response was immediate. “It’s a big hairy ape to come in and beat some sense into our engineers.”

That was pretty much the end of the meeting. A couple weeks later, the guy with the A.P.E. suggestion left the company. It turned out that he had been a rather accomplished engineer and had gone to law school. He ended up working for a law firm defending companies in product liability lawsuits. Last we heard he did very well for himself.

As far as the usefulness of the A.P.E, I have to say that the guy was right. The product was rife with fundamental issues for which the responsible engineers needed an A.P.E.

Penny Wise (2)?

Saving money is a fine thing for a company to do. Cost savings affect the bottom line. That’s obvious to anyone who really looks at it. But are there limits to the lengths a company should go to save money? We thought we surpassed that limit at Mr. Z’s company.

Someone concluded that the engineers were spending too much money on pencils. Someone was going to have to take action and put an end to pencil waste. I’m talking about good old #2 pencils that cost a whopping couple of cents apiece. We always had to go to the engineering secretary and ask for a pencil. Nobody was allowed more than one. And if you’d been there recently, you’d get a dirty look and maybe a question or two about why you needed another pencil already. When the program started to save money on pencils, it got worse.

One day, we heard from Harry, one of the better engineers in the group that he had to sign for a new pencil. They were going to find out who was responsible for all of the pencil waste. There was a log sheet right next to where the secretary kept the stock of pencils. She wouldn’t give one out until you signed your name. It was quite frustrating, but people kind of resigned themselves to it after a while.

After a few weeks, it got worse. Not only did we have to sign the log sheet every time we got a new pencil, they required us to turn in the old pencil and it was measured to ensure that the old one was really used up. If it was longer than 2 inches, we were told to keep using it until it was used up. That was especially difficult for Harry, since he sat next to what was the only phone in the area for 28 engineers. People would take calls at his desk and walk away with his pencil. Nobody would confess to having stolen his pencil, so he’d have to trek over and beg for a new one. When they required him to sign and turn in an old pencil, he would not have one to turn in, so he’d get an extra long lecture.

Several engineers got upset and didn’t want to deal with the indignity of asking, signing, and having their old pencil measured, so they went and bought their own mechanical pencils. The fact that fewer people were getting pencils didn’t make the process for getting replacements any easier. Some of the engineers that bought mechanical pencils decided to lobby for the company to buy lead. Nobody asked them to buy mechanical pencils, just to supply the lead. Several months went by and they finally agreed that they would buy lead.

The big day arrived when the lead was available. The secretary called down to our work area and let someone know that we could come over and get lead. A few of us walked over and sure enough she had a supply. The first guy in line held out his hand expecting a package of lead. No, that’s not what they had in mind. She opened the package and gave him exactly one lead. Everyone was shocked. We all got handed one lead and turned around to leave. As we were walking out, she called us back.

She said, “You guys need to sign for those.”

We turned around and sure enough, she had a piece of paper all set up for signatures for every piece of lead distributed. We signed and left. As far as I know, nobody ever went back and asked for more.

It’s Not Nice to Fool the Fire Marshall

Time for another story about Mr. Z, the most frugal company owner I’ve ever met. He would always claim to ‘care’ about the older neighborhoods in town. Most employees suspected that he cared because he was able to buy buildings cheaper in those neighborhoods. He owned four buildings in one general area of town, all of which were older and had seen better days. The company was growing and Mr. Z needed to expand into a ‘new’ building.

Around that time, the state was looking for a site to build a prison. They decided that they wanted to find a location in an area from which a lot of inmates came. It would make it easier on their families to visit them and may have helped with their rehabilitation. They found a building in the worst area of town that had previously been occupied by an insurance company. After some study, the state determined that the building was unsuitable for a prison. When a building in that kind of area is determined to be unsuitable for serving as a prison, its economic value hits about as close to zero as possible. And that would suit Mr. Z just fine.

Sure enough, Mr. Z bought that building for next to nothing and announced that it would serve as the company international headquarters. People were unhappy to say the least. We moved there and had cars burgularized or stolen on an almost daily basis. Employee morale wasn’t so good, but that wasn’t the only issue. It was pretty hard to get work done there, because the building had insufficient electrical capacity to get our work done. We had a lot of test equipment and heavy loads in the labs that weren’t required by the insurance company that previously occupied the place. We were having circuit breakers trip all day long and people had to go to the basement to turn power back on. Mr. Z got some electrical contractors out to see if they could change to higher current rated breakers. He was unhappy with the prices quoted, so he came up with another solution.

Mr. Z came into work inspired one day. He bought a huge fan and had the facilities crew set it up right next to the breaker panel. He had them open the access door and had the fan blowing right on the breakers. The problem with the tripping breakers was mostly solved for a fraction of the cost of rewiring. The only issue was what would happen when the fire marshall came at inspection time. That was no problem either. The company had several top secret military projects going on. Whenever the fire marshall showed up, he was told that he could not access the building as he had no security clearance. It was a stalling technique, as he had accessed the previous buildings the company occupied. But while the access issue was ‘sorted out’ while the marshall was in the company lobby, word was spread amongst the labs and equipment was turned off to a minimal level. Then the big fan was put away and the breaker access doors closed. The fire marshall would find nothing and when he was finished, things would quickly get back to ‘normal.’ In retrospect, it’s amazing to me that nobody ever made an anonymous call to the fire marshall and let him know what was really going on.

Doghouse Power Supply

Scott is one of the best engineers I know. He has always been meticulous about his designs and it shows. When he’s done his circuits just work. Scott specializes in power electronics and magnetics. I’ve never run into anyone better. Years ago, it looked like Scott was responsible for a disaster. It turned out that there was indeed a disaster but not a disaster of Scott’s doing.

There was a team put together to design a new system. Scott was assigned the power supply. Scott made up a spreadsheet for every engineer to fill out. He asked about voltages required, current requirements, power sequencing, inrush, etc. It was thorough as usual. Scott took everyone’s input and put together a spec. Everyone reviewed the spec for the composite supply and it was finalized. Scott then got to work and designed the supply.

As usual, Scott built a prototype and tested it thoroughly. Everything looked good. The final design went into layout and the first built went great. Scott tested the new supplies and everything looked great. The next big hurdle was when they put the whole system together. Everyone had tested their circuits individually and was happy with their results.
The big moment came when everything was put together. Everyone held their breath when power was applied for the first time. Anticipation quickly turned to disappointment when the power supply went into current limit. The immediate reaction was to blame Scott and his power supply. Scott maintained that his supply was built to the spec and something must be drawing more current than planned. A heated discussion quickly got going when someone realized what had happened.

He said, “Scott…..did anyone tell you that there are two channels?”

The spreadsheet that Scott had made months earlier was accurate except that all of the outputs needed to be doubled. It was late into the project and there was no way to get twice as much power out of the supply as it was designed or in the space allocated to the supply.

The solution turned out to require a little auxiliary dog house supply off to the side of the main system enclosure. Scott designed that one as well and did his usual great job. It looked pretty ridiculous, but considering how it came to exist, it really should have looked ridiculous.

Excess Toner

We had a copy machine in the engineering building that everyone hated. It was terribly slow, always made terrible copies, and broke down a lot. But it was the only machine in the area, so it got plenty of use. Everyone could tell whenever they got a copy that originated from that machine, because at the very best, it would have stripes of excess toner. We were lobbying to get a new copier and were led to believe it would happen “soon.”

We were pretty curious when we started getting all kinds of questions about toner consumption for that copier. A few people asked everyone in our building how often the toner cartridge got changed. Everyone in the building got asked at least 3 times. We figured maybe they were planning on getting rid of the copier by justifying cost of toner in addition to the poor copies and downtime. After a few days, we were told that we would not be getting a new copier and we’d have to live with what we had.

A few weeks later, the real story started to trickle out. We found out that we somehow had several years worth of cartridges in inventory for that copier. When we asked why that was, the questions quickly got brushed aside. It took a few weeks, but we eventually got the full story.

We somehow ended up with around 8 years worth of toner for that machine and there was no way that machine would have lasted 8 years. The toner was not purchased through the usual channels. The company receptionist bought all of the toner and the vendor who sold it to her was paid via expense checks. To top it off, the toner cartridges purchased through these nefarious means cost a mere 20x what they cost going through the normal suppliers.
The receptionist did well for herself in getting that to happen. The salesman gave her a microwave oven, a toaster oven, and a few other gifts. When everything came to light, she should have been immediately fired, but alas that did not happen. The company president declared that she wasn’t smart enough to have known what she did was wrong and the company had no gift policy in place. They quickly wrote up and distributed a gift policy and the receptionist went on to get a special job as an “assistant to the president” a couple of years later.

For a year or so afterward, we’d have engineering meetings and people would usually bring in copies made on our favorite machine. Almost invariably, someone would mention the excess toner marks on the papers. I never heard what happened to the stock of extra cartridges that never got used after the copier gave up the ghost.

Penny Wise?

It’s pretty well understood that companies need to find ways to save money. Good times or bad, it really doesn’t matter. Money not spent does not come off of the bottom line. Mr. Z definitely understood that, but he regularly took it to levels that employees could not believe.

Mr. Z hated to buy office furniture. Whatever we had was old and had seen better days. Nobody complained about that part too much, because we were always happy to have a desk. All requisitions for everything had to get approved. Anything over pretty small amounts by most company standards had to get approved by Mr. Z. Whenever anyone turned in a requisition for a new desk, it was over the ‘Mr. Z’ threshold and the reqs went to him and invariably got turned down.

Mr. Z had a habit of wandering around the buildings and surprising people. When someone had the audacity to turn in a req for a desk, that wasn’t a good day to be on vacation or out sick. Mr. Z would immediately state that we didn’t need to buy any desks. The company had plenty of desks. He’d wander around the bulding until he saw a desk with no one sitting at it. He’d ask, “Who sits there?” Someone would mention who sat there and he’d reply, “He doesn’t need a desk.”

A few minutes later, the facilities guys would be there hauling the desk away and giving it to the department that turned in a desk requisition. When the poor person would return to work, they’d find their desk gone. Since Mr. Z had declared that the person who lost the desk didn’t need one, they wouldn’t have the courage to turn in a new requisition for another desk. They’d have to wait until someone quit and covertly move that person’s desk. Luckily, that meant they usually didn’t have to wait too long, since people quit their jobs pretty regularly at that place as Mr. Z wasn’t so generous with raises either.

Rocket Career

David was a new hire. He showed up one day and was assigned to the quality department as a test technician. Something seemed funny about the whole situation, since he hadn’t been interviewed, nobody had seen a job application, there was no advertised opening, and his new bosses had no idea they were going to get a new employee. He just showed up ready to work wearing a three piece suit. To say he was overdressed would have been an understatement. The other quality techs wore jeans and t-shirts, but David was obviously special.

David only lasted a week in his new job. Someone declared that he was some kind of a genius and needed to be promoted into the engineering department. We never heard who made that declaration, but within a few minutes, he picked up his few belongings, jumped into his car and drove over to the building where the engineering department was located.

We were hard at work writing a proposal for new business and were told to get David’s help. If he’d just get his hands on the technical write-ups, we’d win the business for sure. David had no idea what we were doing and was unfamiliar with our products, our methods, or how proposals were written, but he was given sections to write and he got right to it. He was still wearing his three piece suits every day and was overdressed compared to the engineers, but not as obviously as he was as a test tech.

The proposal took a couple of weeks to complete. Lots of extra hours were required, most of which were not worked by David. That didn’t seem to matter as once the proposal was completed, David was declared to be some kind of a genius yet again. His work on the proposal was declared to be some of the best ever done and again we had no idea who made the declaration. It was determined that David needed to be promoted again and he was assigned to the program management office. David packed up his belongings and moved downstairs.
In the history of the company, no one had ever gone from a test tech to engineer to program manager over the course of a career yet David did so in three weeks. It was obvious to everyone that he had some special qualifications. A few weeks later, we found out what ‘special qualifications’ he had. Turns out he was Mr. Z’s nephew. Mr. Z happened to own the company.

The Triple Expert

Paul was a self proclaimed expert in three different areas. The funny thing was that he was ‘expert’ in those areas one at a time. If someone asked him about high voltage, he claimed his expertise was in resonant flyback circuits. If someone asked him about resonant flyback circuits, he claimed his expertise was in magnetics. And of course if someone asked him about magnetics, he claimed to be an expert in high voltage. He got away with that for over two years and basically got no work done.

I was given design responsibility for a project and my boss wanted to assign Paul to my team. I resisted and said we needed competent people who could get work done and not a talker who deflected with his claimed areas of expertise. I was told in no uncertain terms that Paul was an asset and that he would design a resonant flyback circuit for my project.

Paul got to work by immediately heading for the copy machine with a schematic for an old project. He was going to take something that already worked and tweak it for a new application. I was skeptical but was told to let him work. Paul got his circuit board layout done in drafting and a couple of initial prototypes were assembled. During this time, I was designing a couple of other circuits for the project as and was helping out other members of the team. I was analyzing my circuits and doing some testing, so my circuits took longer to get into layout. My boss let me know that Paul was ahead of me. It wasn’t going to do me any good to point out that there were problems on the horizon.

Paul got his circuit ‘working’ in the lab and went to the boss and bragged that his circuit was ready to be proclaimed finalized. My boss went to the lab and saw that the circuit did indeed work after which we came to talk to me and gave me the business about how Paul completed the first circuit board on my project.

I let the boss finish talking and calmly asked him how long he saw the ciruit operate. He said he watched for about a minute. I suggested he go back and see if he could watch it operate for ten minutes or so. When he asked why, I told him that if he waited that long he would see a good show. There were two diodes on the board that would get so hot that they would melt the solder holding them in place and would fall off of the circuit board.

The boss thought I was joking, but I was not. When he realized that I was serious, he went and had Paul demo the board again. After a couple of minutes, Paul turned off the power. My boss told him he wanted to see the board operate for a while and Paul admitted that there was a problem. When asked whether there were diodes that self-unsoldered, Paul confessed that it was true.

Paul got fired a few days later. I heard later that he got a job with another company that made similar products. I never did hear how long he was able to keep up his facade of triple expertise at the new place.

We Agree but Disagree

Einar ‘The Insulting Engineer’ worked for some interesting companies. One of his most interesting adventures was when he was called in at the eleventh hour to try and rescue a project. The company had a very innovative design concept but just couldn’t get things completed. Einar was very good at problem solving, so they contracted him for a few weeks.

Einar started out by asking lots of questions and gathering all of the documentation available. Once he had a pretty good understanding of things, he sat down and did some analysis. The management wasn’t happy with that kind of work, because they were expecting instant results. Einar assured them that he would let them know when he had some meaningful input.

After a few days, Einar gave a presentation and a detailed report. He regretted to inform them that the concept that they were pursuing was fatally flawed and would not work and could not be made to work. He also outlined a revised concept that would work and offered to implement it. Needless to say, that’s not what they were hoping to hear. They meekly thanked him for his report and said they would get back to him with some kind of answer within a day.

Sure enough, a day later they called a meeting. They started out by telling Einar that they had reviewed his report and agreed with everything he said. But then they told him that what they really wanted was for him to try to fix up what they already had and complete the flawed design.

Einar had quite the explosive temper. He pointed out in no uncertain terms that they could not possibly have agreed with his report and asked him to fix what they had since his report explicitly stated that their design could not be made to work. Within a few minutes, he packed up all of his belongings and left. He never expected to hear from that company again.

Six months later, they called and asked Einar to come back. He told them he was disinterested in the work they were doing. They assured him that at that time they really did understand that their design could not be made to work and asked him to implement the concept he had proposed. Einar agreed to do so and he went back and successfully implemented the design they turned down. They finally got a good product, but they never did recover the lost revenue from the time wasted trying to implement their original idea. They did manage to save some money by not paying the salaries of the fired engineers who came up with the original concept and were no longer around when Einar reappeared.

Fix It but Don’t Change It

Several times over the years, I’ve been told to fix a design but was given the additional instruction not to change anything. I’ve always responded with a question, “How do you fix a broken design without changing anything?”

The answer has always been a little grumbling about changing some component values but not to change the circuit topology. I’ve never seen a single instance when it was possible to fix a broken design via component value changes.

The worst example of this I ever had to work on was a display that had to work over the military temperature range of -55 C to +85 C. There was a temperature drift that was so bad that rendered the thing useless at all but a small range of the specified operating temperature. It would work fine in an air conditioned lab, but when placed in the temperature chamber, the picture would disappear completely at cold temperatures and would go completely white when hot. It didn’t get tested over temperature until it was way too late and when that problem was discovered, I was given that old instruction:
“Fix it, but don’t change it.”

The video signal chain went through three high speed op amps. The temperature drift of the first amplifier got multiplied by the remaining amplifiers. In a simple worst case analysis, it turned out that the drift from just the first amplifier was enough to run the output amplifier to its rails. That wasn’t possible to fix by changing components. Over 200 cuts & jumpers later, the thing got fixed. It worked out fantastic for the company, but I got a good scolding for making ‘too many changes.” I sarcastically asked how many changes would have been acceptable and didn’t get any better answer to that than when I asked how to fix a broken design without making changes.

The Insulting Engineer

Einar was a consulting engineer from Norway who specialized in power electronics. He was a brilliant guy who had consulted at over 175 companies. He had a lot of funny stories about morons at plenty of those companies. He had three rates for his services depending on what someone wanted to accomplish. His lowest rate was for interesting work that he hadn’t done too many times. His medium rate was for work that he had done multiple times and his highest rate was to come in and solve problems for someone’s disaster project. He didn’t take too many of the disaster projects even though he had offers for 10x more of that work than for the other categories.

Einar was consulting at a place where I worked. Some people didn’t take him so well as he could be pretty impatient. He didn’t like the slow pace and casual attitudes of some of the engineers. It wasn’t a common characteristic for a consultant in my experience, since most consultants billed by the hours and didn’t care if things took too long. Einar was into getting things done and move on to the next interesting project. He was definitely an engineer’s engineer.

We had a department meeting where we welcomed a couple of new employees and the boss went around the room and introduced everyone and said a few words about what everyone did. When he got to Einar, he said, “And this is Einar…the consulting engineer……or as some people say, the insulting engineer.”

Einar didn’t find it at all funny and immediately came back with, “Watch it. I’d rather be an insulting engineer than an insult to the engineering profession like a couple of people I can name in this group.” It got pretty quiet, mostly because everyone in the room knew that Einar was right. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.

Must Inspect the Coax

It seems that in every company, there’s an empire builder or two. Or more. That was never more evident than one time when the quality department demanded that everything get inspected regardless of how the material was going to be used. The company where I worked had a design center located around 90 miles away from most of the operations. They were very proud of that design center and made it clear that the future of the company depended on successful ideas getting developed there.

One of the initial projects they worked on was an RF transmission system. They needed a very expensive spool of coax cable for some preliminary testing. The purchasing people ordered the coax as requested and then the ‘quality’ department got involved. Lots of meetings, lots of angry phone calls, and lots of grousing went on. They demanded that the spool of cable get delivered to the main receiving location where it could go through the normal inspection process. After no small amount of politicking, that’s what happened.

It turned out to not be such a great idea. The first problem was that the spool was bigger than the ‘quality’ people anticipated. It was so big that it wouldn’t fit through the door. The union truck driver who delivered was unconcerned about that and dropped it off. It sat on the ground outside while all kinds of arrangements were made to get it shipped to the design center. It took a couple of days for that to happen. The funniest thing was that the cable never did get inspected.

Soldering Help

John was a real good engineer. He was easily one of the best I’ve ever worked with and one of the hardest working. One of the things about John was that he was unafraid to build and/or modify circuits no matter how many times he got made fun of for his soldering. His techniques with a soldering iron were as bad as his circuit designs were good. Solder blobs, burn spots, etc. were like John’s trademark. Anyone who worked with him for any length of time could recognize his soldering immediately.

Anna was an assembler in manufacturing. She’d help out in engineering pretty regularly and was one of the very best with a soldering that I’ve ever seen. Her skill level was impressive. She could fix just about anything and on multiple occasions got the honor of fixing up one of John’s solder jobs. The company started a program of IPC certification for everyone in manufacturing who soldered. Anna was selected as the trainer and person who awarded certifications within the company as she was easily the most skilled.

One day Anna went to John and asked him to solder a couple of parts for her. John had taken so much grief for his soldering from so many people that he was a little curious but honored to be asked by Anna. He soldered the parts and gave them back to her. When he gave them back, he asked why she had asked him for help. Anna got a little embarassed and told him that she was teaching the IPC soldering class and needed some examples of how not to solder. Everyone got a pretty good laugh out of that including John.

More Pressure Solves More Problems

Dr. P was one of those bosses who thought the answer to any problem was more pressure. A little rant, some random screaming, and a meeting to really enforce his points would solve any kind of a problem. It got to be comical from time to time.

It was a week before Christmas and we were working on a hot project. We were handcuffed by a lack of test equipment. We had one particular piece of equipment that was necessary for us to get any testing done, which was out for repair. Dr. P held one of his famous meetings where he was going to ‘get things done’ by really ranting and bearing down on the engineers. He asked why we hadn’t made any optical measurements. I let him know that we were still waiting for the test equipment.

Dr. P wasn’t about to take that for an answer. He screamed at me, “Go down and talk to Glen and find out why we don’t have that equipment.”

Glen was the guardian of that equipment and he was the one who had told me prior to the meeting that it was out for repair. I dutifully went down and asked Glen again when we might expect to see the equipment. He sighed and let me know that it was being shipped via UPS and would show up when it showed up. This was back in the day before you could look up tracking numbers on the UPS website.

I walked back upstairs and let Dr. P know that it was on a UPS truck and would show up when it arrived. Dr. P exploded in anger. He screamed, “You go back down and tell Glen to get UPS to get that equipment here NOW.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing but went back down to talk to Glen. I told him that I was merely a messenger boy, but that Dr. P wanted him to get UPS to deliver quicker. Glen had a good laugh and I went back upstairs to my desk. A few minutes later, Glen called and let me know that UPS had delivered the equipment and to come and get it.

I let Dr. P know that the equipment had arrived and he gave me a big lecture letting me know ‘that’s how you get things done around here.’ He went on and on letting me know that you have to put pressure on the little people and never take no for an answer. I did learn something, but it had more to do with Dr. P’s state of mind than it had to do with how to get work done.

Switching Transistors that Wouldn’t

Don’s boss was losing patience. He couldn’t find work to assign to Don that Don wouldn’t completely mess up. He kept simplifying the assignments, but no matter what he gave Don to do, he’d end up having to re-do everything himself. At the same time, Don was complaining that he wanted to work on designing more complex, new circuits.

One day during all of this, the phone rang. It was the production people letting Don’s boss know that they had problems with a switching circuit. It wasn’t turning on like it was supposed to do. The production building was a few miles away. Don’s boss let him know that this was his chance to solve a real problem and show what he could do.

Don happily drove over to the other building and got to work. He verified that the circuit was indeed having problems and that the switching transistors were not turning on. Don sat down and drew out the circuit and somehow determined that the switches weren’t being driven hard enough. He grabbed some resistors and a soldering iron and did his thing.

It took a few days, but Don finally called his boss and declared success. He was able to get a half dozen boards to work by driving the switching transistors harder. Don’s boss hoped for the best and jumped in his car to check things out. When he showed up a few minutes later, Don eagerly handed his boss one of the reworked boards with the changes installed. The boss looked at the board for a good 2-3 seconds before his face turned a bright red. He pointed to the switching transistor and said, “Don, the transistors are installed backward.”

Sure enough, that was the only problem. The switches were the old TO-46 cans, which weren’t hard to install backward, but it was quite a bit harder to get them to switch when they were installed that way. Don had redesigned the circuit to drive the daylights out of those poor little transistors to the point that they switched. They wouldn’t have worked for very long like that.

They reworked the boards back to their original designed configuration and had the transistors put in the right way. Everything worked fine. Don still argued that he needed to work on more complex circuits.

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