Why You Need To Finish

Mike and I were talking about an interesting smart-glasses hack on the podcast. This was one of those projects where, even if you don’t need a pair of glasses with LEDs on them to help you navigate around, you just couldn’t help but marvel at a lot of the little design choices made throughout.

For instance, I love the way the flex PCB is made to do double duty by wrapping around the battery and forming a battery holder. This struck me as one of those quintessential hacks that only occurs to you because you need it. Necessity is the mother of invention, and all that. There was a problem, how to fit a battery holder in the tiny space, and a set of resources that included a flex PCB substrate. Cleverly mashing that all together ended up with a novel solution. This wouldn’t occur to you if you were just sitting at the beach; you’d have to be designing something electronic, space-constrained, and on a flex PCB to come up with this.

Mike made an offhand comment about how sometimes you just need to finish a project for the good ideas and clever solutions that you’ll come up with along the way, and I think this battery holder example drives that point home. I can’t count the number of my projects that may or may not have been dumb in retrospect, but along the way I came up with a little trick that I’ll end up using in many further projects, outliving the original application.

Finishing up a project on principle is a reasonable goal just on its own. But when the process of seeing something to conclusion is the generator of new and interesting challenges and solutions, it’s even more valuable. So if you’re stuck on a project, and not sure you want to take it all the way, consider if the journey itself could be the destination, and look at it as an opportunity to come up with that next long-lasting trick.

Bad News: Arecibo

If you read the newsletter last week, you heard me wondering aloud if the damage to Arecibo Observatory had crossed the threshold into where it’s no longer economically viable to keep it running, and the sad news has just come in and the battle for Arecibo has been lost. We said we’d shed a tear, and here we are. Sic transit gloria mundi. Here’s hoping something cooler replaces it!

31 thoughts on “Why You Need To Finish

  1. I’ve seen the flexible PCB material wrapping around a battery before though, sort of… remember those battery testers that were built in to the packaging of batteries in the 90s? Not the ones actually on the batteries, but built into the polycarbonate vacuform package. They had a sort of flex PCB with like a printed conductive ink and some progressive resistance. When the battery was placed in there it would heat the strip progressively along its length and show the condition of the cell using thermochromic ink. A simple but effective and occasionally useful sales gimmick.

    1. It was only good at showing whether the battery was dead or not, because any amount of heating would quickly color the whole strip as the heat spread around.

      You could in theory make a non-linear resistor, but since the thermochromic ink would have a fixed cut-off temperature, you could not control what the strip would show to any degree of accuracy. 1-2 C difference in room temperature could mean the difference in showing 20% or 80% on the bar.

      1. That said, how you actually would read the strip was by judging how fast it would turn from black to yellow. A fresh battery would do it instantly, and a tired old battery would take its time.

        Only if the battery was truly dead, would you see it reach half way up the strip.

  2. I recently finished a project I knew was going straight in the scrap heap when completed, just to say I had actually finihsed it. It was part of a collaboration, and the other party walked away. The pile of parts was eating at me, especially during lockdown. It has now been scrapped as expected but the sense of completion means I don’t feel any stress about it anymore.

    Sometimes you just need to finish something to get it out of your head. Sometimes you need to realise you will never get round to finishing it and walk away. It’s a personal thing I think.

  3. I don’t fret much about unfinished projects any-more. Some of them might never get completed, some I decided just weren’t worth the continued debugging/rework and I moved on. So was it worth doing at all? You bet it was! Those projects taught me so much about analog/opamp design, PCB design, noise filtering and other major aspects of design/debugging that the skills and experience will live on in future projects for the rest of my life!

    … and hopefully those projects do get finished. Hopefully…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.