Jason Firth

Open Letter to Patty Hadju regarding apprenticeships

Hi,

 

I'm a skilled trades supervisor covering instrumentation, fire systems/sprinkler systems, gas fitters, and liquid petroleum distribution systems for a senior gold producer. I live a few blocks away from your Red River Road office in Thunder Bay.

 

I'm writing concerning the approach the government seems to be taking regarding apprenticeships and skilled trades. A common approach I've seen relating to skilled trades is making apprenticeships more attractive to young people. It might surprise you to learn that I'm disgusted by the idea of additional government incentives to get into the skilled trades. It makes me literally screaming mad!

 

Every one of my younger techs illustrate the problem. Every young skilled tradesperson or apprentice I know got their position by first paying for school and going through college. All of us would have loved to be getting paid to learn our trade, but that was a fantasy unavailable to anyone but the intensely lucky or well-connected. Ultimately, some paid to go through school and got an apprenticeship afterwards.

 

In my case, I paid for room and board in an unfamiliar city for years going to college, in addition to paying for tuition and books. After finishing college, I took the first job I could, at a paper mill in The Pas, Manitoba. The Pas is about 8 hours north of Winnipeg and I didn't have any family anywhere near there. I eventually successfully got my Certified Engineering Technologist certification, and became a red seal Journeyman Instrumentation and Controls Technician through the Trade Qualifier process.

 

For many voluntary trades, the Trade Qualifier process creates nearly as many new Journeypersons each year as the apprenticeship path. Every trade qualifier is an individual who paid their way through college, found a job on their own, worked under a journeyman, and challenged the trade exam. That's a person who wanted an apprenticeship, but couldn't get one and got their certification outside the apprenticeship system. All those people valued the certification so much they paid their own way through, in spite of being ineligible for any of the grants or other rewards provided to apprentices.

 

Among myself and my millennial colleagues, most of us ended up with student debt and at the end of the day some of us still ended up going through the reduced wages of a 4 year apprenticeship.

 

You don't need to gild a golden ticket! We all would have taken apprenticeships if they were available. Lacking opportunities, we all had to make our own.

 

There's a lot of talk out there blaming millennials and the generation after them for the lack of young people in the trades. Obviously young people can't take opportunities that don't exist. That's why the idea of making apprenticeships more enticing for young people is so offensive: These people already won the lottery by getting a rare and precious opportunity. Every apprenticeship will be filled, without question.

 

Some people look at the non completion rate of apprenticeships and see that as a problem. In reality, it's a feature, not a bug. A typical engineering technician, engineering technology, or engineering program will have a high attrition rate because some people discover they aren't cut out for the field they chose. The same is true of apprenticeships; The process needs to allow lots of hiring and lots of attrition until, after 4 years, the tradespeople who are left are the best and brightest.

 

What we need is a 'shotgun approach'. Encourage companies to hire lots of apprentices early on in all trades and keep the cream of the crop. Make sure the opportunities are there, and there will be young people in the trades. If there's no obvious way into the trades for young people, companies are going to continue to see the negative consequences as the workforce ages and retires. Companies are fighting over a shrinking supply of 50 and 60 year old tradespeople. Many of those tradespeople got into the trades through real apprenticeships where companies took a chance on young men and women.

 

Instead of trying to make applying for apprenticeships more appealing for young people, we need to make taking a chance on young apprentices more appealing to companies. Spend whatever we would have on incentives for apprentices on incentives for creating more apprenticeship positions! Until we start creating the next generation of Journeypersons, Canadian industry will continue to struggle to attract the talent they need.

 

Thank you,

 

 

Jason Firth

New software

I'm Jason Firth.

 

I've migrated to newer blog software, and as a result some of my posts have been removed or scrambled.

 

I'm manually uploading the old posts, the photos might be lost.

 

Update: The old posts are back online, but 99% of the photos are still missing.

 

Thanks for reading!

Connecting my new DuetWifi to my new Tevo Tornado

I'm Jason Firth.

 

I've long believed in Open Source as a concept. I like the idea of a common knowledge we can contribute and help to grow. I can't contribute a lot nowadays since most of what I work on is proprietary, but occasionally I still get a chance in my off time. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to connect my DuetWifi to my new Tevo Tornado. The documentation is straightforward, but there were a few things that caught me off-guard, so I figured I'd share.

 

 

Standard disclaimers apply here. Don't do this. It'll probably kill your printer. It'll probably cause your grandfather to come back from the dead and stalk your dreams. This isn't a product, it's just a description of what I did, and maybe this might help you if you're doing what I did. Seriously though, there's 120vac in this thing. If you don't know what you're doing, then you probably shouldn't be poking around until you read more.

 

Here's a nicely printable Wiring Diagram(pdf),Wiring Diagram(dxf)  and the Full configuration files for the Duet's reprap firmware

 

Below is a object I designed to bolt into the Tornado's metal cabinet so you can bolt the duetwifi onto it. Full disclosure, it didn't print great for me on my delta, it likely needs some tweaking. Thanks to some creative drilling, it worked well enough that I was able to safely secure my board inside the enclosure, but you might want to double check before you start printing it off.

 

Now, a few things I noticed along the way that are important, and only some of them are included in the drawing for reasons that may become apparent.

 

First, the wiring I took apart was really bizzare. The case fan was connected to the nozzle heater. The part cooling fan was connected to the e1 heater output. I took all 3 fans and attached them to pin connectors so I could plug them directly onto the board's fan controller.

I set the part fan as a controllable fan, and the heat sink fan and case fan run thermostatically -- if either the nozzle or the bed exceed 50C, then the fans activate at full blast. That seemed the most intuitive to me.

Note that the input for the switches is looking for a 0vdc connection, so while you can (if you don't mind it looking a bit ugly) use the existing 3-pin connector, you'll have to move the second wire from the middle pin to the end to connect the input to gnd.

The fans will not work at all until a jumper is placed either from the fan voltage input selector pin to +5VDC or VIN. I show the jumper between the fan voltage selector pin and VIN.

Besides that, once I figured everything out, it was pleasantly simple to troubleshoot the configuration. Because I was doing things this way, I tried to do all the configuration in the reprap configurator utility so anyone else (including myself) can import the included JSON file to make changes using eh same utility. I didn't do anything manually in the file. I suspect there are further interesting tweaks as you get deeper, but this was entirely meant to be a basic "getting started" info dump.

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading!

 

EDIT: Hey! Listen! Before you take off, there's something you need to know!

 

Ultimaker Cura's default Tevo Tornado profile adds 3 lines to the gcode at the beginning of every single print:

M104 S[extruder0_temperature] 

M109 S[extruder0_temperature] 

M109 R[extruder0_temperature]

You need to head into the printer configuration in cura and completely remove these lines from the pre print section, or your heater will stop the moment the nozzle clean ends and it'll be really annoying!

 

 

The Ontario College of Trades is being wound down

I'm Jason Firth.

 

This week, I read about the news that the Ontario College of Trades is being wound down, to be shut down in 2019.

 

As a certified tradesman, I'm a little mixed on this, but mostly I'm happy to see it happen.


In every other province, the government administers voluntary trades, and provides a piece of paper saying you're a certified tradesperson at the end. You pay for the test, you pay for the piece of paper, but then the government is done with the process. You are a journeyman forever. By contrast, the Ontario College of Trades was charging over $100/yr for the privilege of putting your name on a list and sending you a replacement sticker for your piece of paper saying it's still valid for another year.

 

This isn't unprecedented. OACETT and other related associations require an annual payment as well to maintain your certification. However, there's one big difference in my view: Associations of Certified Engineering Technologists and Technicians provide value to the public and value to certified members for the money. I've had opportunities to go to seminars, to participate in really cool activities for National Engineering Month, and more. Also, we vote on our leadership, and get to participate in the rule making process.

 

By contrast, the Ontario College of Trades doesn't provide value to tradespeople. I never got any opportunities from the College, only a bill. There were no chances to improve, no chances to participate (all the important people in the College of Trades were appointees, not elected by the membership).

 

And then there's the public. In theory, the College of Trades is supposed to give the public somewhere to complain about tradespeople who engage in poor workmanship or who violate the college of trades code of ethics. In practice, this never did happen.

 

With hundreds of thousands of members each paying over $100 a year, they had a huge pot of money, but they didn't use it to make the world better. The handful of prosecutions by the college over the years were simply not worth the absurd cost of each one.

 

In my opinion, the world is better off with this legislation removed. Maybe in the future an association for skilled tradespeople can exist. However, it would have to look a lot different than the college of trades.

 

Thanks for Reading!

My new printer, the Tevo Tornado

I'm Jason Firth.

 

Late last year, I decided it was time to jump into two technologies I really wanted to play with that I'd been putting off for a long time: Virtual Reality, and 3d printing. At the time I selected what appeared to be good choices for both off of Amazon: The Oculus Rift for VR, and the FLSun Delta Kossel for 3d printing.

 

At the time, I expected virtual reality to be the thing with staying power and for the 3d printer to be a quick toy. What I quickly realized is that Virtual Reality isn't really for me in a lot of ways -- I've played many hours, but never really gotten sucked in the way I thought I would. On the other hand, 3d Printing has become a hobby I really enjoy.

The FLSun Delta Kossel was an inexpensive unit. Today you can buy it on Amazon for about $200 CDN. It was really a cheap unit, and I've written about my experiences with that unit.

 

Plutarch wrote of the Ship of Theseus: "The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same."

 

The printer over the course of the year has become like this. I've replaced virtually every component, upgraded everything in some way or another. Is it still an FLSun Delta Kossel? That's difficult to say. What I can say for certain is it's now a very impressive printer that tends to put out excellent quality prints.

 

After my year with the printer, I realized how much I've enjoyed 3d printing, and I wanted a larger printer that's a bit more standard so I can start printing larger things and spend a bit less time tinkering with the printer itself.

 

To that end, I've bought a Tevo Tornado. It is a popular model of printer, lots of support out there, and overall I feel it's going to be a good choice long-term.

 

My first impression: I'm really impressed with a lot about this printer. The FLSun came in a million pieces and took me a full 2 days to assemble. By contrast, it took me all of 2 minutes to assemble the Tevo Tornado when it arrived. It homed immediately and I found it simple to level the bed, contrasting the Delta's bed which was always a pain. I'm really happy with the first 15 minutes with the thing.

 

Before I even get started with this printer, however, I want to replace the main board. It came with an MKS Gen L, identical to the FLSun. There's no problem with this board for straight 3d printing, but I want a board with a processor instead of a microcontroller, having seen the limitations of the Atmel mega while using my Delta Kossel, and I want a board with built-in Wifi capability. Using Octoprint on my previous printer was a great experience, running around with a memory stick is ridiculous when I can just press one button to start a print. I purchased a DuetWifi clone board. 

 

I'll pass on my notes as I work with this new printer.

 

Thanks for reading!

Too many software engineers

I'm Jason Firth.

At one point, most instrument software was written by instrument specialists. As a result, it was small, simple, and specialized.

This was good. Specialized software may be ugly, but it works, and is often designed with specific technician use cases in mind. Moore's software packages for communicating with their smart instruments are a good example: with one utility and an RS-232 cable, you could configure, query, troubleshoot, and test an instrument.

Software engineer types would rather create flexible platforms to develop software on top of.

Now, that is a very legitimate desire. If you can build that one tool, then you can make it easier to access a large number of devices with one tool, and you simplify the development process for vendors, who can focus on the job, rather than the surrounding elements.

There are problems with creating a flexible platform if it isn't done carefully.

One problem with this is that flexible platforms add complexity for end-users. PactWARE, for example is a marvelously flexible piece of software. It allows you to not only use a number of point-to-point hardware devices such as HART or Endress+Hauser's proprietary communication cable with a simple swap of the DTM; it also allows you access every single device in your plant using multiplexers, or to access IP HART devices. The problem is that all this flexibility is extremely cumbersome to navigate.

ProComSol Devcom2000 is a piece of software that only speaks HART through a serial port or USB modem. Its simplicity allows a technician to connect their modem to the PC, connect the modem to the HART instrument, and run the program. The software will immediately connect to the instrument, after which you are ready to go.

By contrast, PactWARE requires you to connect and start the software, followed by installing the HART communication DTM, followed by configuring the module, followed by opening the autodetect window, then running a scan, then selecting the correct DTM, then closing the autodetect window.

This is one example of one software package compared to another, but the fact is that there are countless examples of software trying to do everything, only to be less useful as a result. I try to design anything for that 2am call, and a ridiculously complicated tool isn't conducive to this.

Another issue with creating these extremely complicated software programs is a simple truism: the more moving pieces you have, the more things there are to fail.

I really like Wonderware Historian for its standard SQL front-end and tight integration with wonderware and application server, but it is a complicated beast. IO Servers speak to the PLC, the Historian mdas service communicates with the IO Server, (assuming the import went correctly), which communicates with the historian storage service. To retrieve, the SQL service links up with the retrieval service. There's other services involved as well, but the bottom line is that any one of these parts is huge and complicated, and all it takes is one cog in one of these giant machines to break.

Historian isn't even the worst. I've seen instrumentation configuration utilities that require always-on services to be running, a full SQL server instance -- just to shoot a couple bits over an RS-232.

The problem is that conceptually on a software development level, using these tools makes a lot of sense -- you've got this big fancy development package and this big fancy software engineering degree, of course you've got to make use of them! A small, simple program that does one thing very well, that's not going to work. We need a platform. Something that can handle all use cases. Something that can keep me employed fixing it!

Thanks for reading!

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