Think Like Einstein

In my opinion, Albert Einstein was simply one of the greatest if not THE greatest thinker the world has ever seen… This 1 minute 19 second YouTube video
exemplifies this logical reasoning that the world so desperately needs – I am not advocating any religious agenda, but one for the clarity of reasoned thinking that this video illustrates. Enjoy!

This video was sent to me by Bruce Hildebrand of Balance and Control Pilates in Melbourne. He knows I am always looking for that special twist of the Kube so-to-speak.

2 Responses to “Think Like Einstein”

  • Hi Marc,

    I am also a great fan of Einstein. I read his biography again last year and am amazed at his intellectual honesty and his ability to see through the false reasoning we can too easily settle for as truth. As the father of quantum mechanics for which he got his Nobel Prize awarded in 1922 for the paper he wrote in 1905 looking at the photoelectric effect where he showed that a statistical analysis of Wien’s formula looking at the wavelength distribution of the heat radiation could account for the effect where electron emmission from an illuminated metal surface could be explained if the light were considered to be in quanta or parcels or particles. Although he later struggled with some of the conclusions that quantum mechanics woudl come to he also did the math that eventually proved them to be true and did not shrink from fixing their formulas even though the results were disturbing to him. A truly remarkable and laudable individual.

    In the field of electronics and embedded software development which is where my company operates we issues to face and resolve although they are not as fundamentla as the ones Einstein faced.

    If you want to solve a design problem, it is important to know what assumptions you are making and to test that they are correct. Unchallenged assumptions can be one of the biggest sources of project failures and managing and eliminating risks early in a project is a strategy we use to ensure we consitently deliver projects on time and on budget with all the required functions and features.

    The other area where this same issue arises is fault diagnosis and debugging. Again it is assumptions and poorly thought through symptom analysis that can lead to a lot of frustration and wasted effort. I recently repaired a corrosion protection data logger that had developed a fault in the field. It didn’t communicate back via its 802.15.4 RF wireless telemetry link and when I opened it up and checked inside it did not seem to start up even with new batteries. The power supply voltages were all correct so it wasn’t that.

    First tip – check the power supply before looking at anything else. Electronics rarely works correctly with a faulty power supply and the power supply is one of the most highly stressed electronics components making it more likely to fail.

    Second tip – check the wiring.

    This product only has 2 wires so checking the wiring was easy. But this is normally one of the first things to also check; that the leads, wires and connectors are all in place and correctly mated. I once reapaired a personal computer that appeared to have a driver problem with the printer when in fact it turned out that the cable from the motherboard to the rear panel connector had come loose. I wasted an hour trying to fix a software error when it was really a hardware problem. Plug in the cable and all is fine again.

    But in the case of the data logger, the wiring was fine. This is good cost reduction strategy since wires, connectors and assembly labour are often way more expensive than the extra printed circuit board size needed to eliminate them all. And it also removes a potential fault source so it is a double winner as a product development strategy.

    Next I tried connecting to the microcontroller using the In System Programming (ISP) connection. No response. The power supply is OK but the microcontroller doesn’t respond. They are usually very reliable. This particluar part was an Atmel AVR ATmega644P with dual UARTs and lots of FLASH, RAM and even on board EEPROM. I did a series of other measurements and concluded that it looked like a fault with the microcontroller. This is very rare for an Atmel part and the first time I have seen it in this processor.

    So I desoldered the microcontroller using a hot air Surface Mount rework station and replaced it. I then went to program the new microncontroller and it programemd fine. The In System Programmer connected to the part, programmed the embedded code into it and set all the fuse settings so it would operate in bootloader mode with code protection and an external crystal oscillator.

    I removed the ISP and restarted the Data Logger. No response. Reconnected the ISP. No response. Another data point for the debugging. But a frustrating one since I’m now sure that it isn’t the processor and Atmel has an intact reputation again.

    So what changed when I programmed it?

    There is only one thing that it can now be. The external crystal osciallator. The Atmel AVR parts come from the factory operating off an internal RC oscillator but can be set to use an external crystal oscillator. They will program up fine until you exit programming mode at which point they try and do what you told them to do, and use the external crystal oscillator. If the osciallator is faulty, they can’t operate. So I replaced the crystal and all is fine again.

    So could I have done this differently? The answer is obviously yes but I made an asssumption. One of Murphy’s Laws of Technology states that “Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence”. You can see the rest of them here

    If the microcontroller had of indeed been at fault, changing the crystal woud have achieved nothing. But changing the crystal is an order of magnitude easier than changing the microcontroller. And I was familiar with this design since we designed it and recently got 2 National Innovation Awards for the work we did on it. If you are interested you can check that out at . After discussions with our client, Borgtech, it is likely this particular unit was dropped from a great height. If I had known that then I might have decided to look at the crystal first since they can shatter if subject to high shock loads and you have to buy special types for very high shock environments.

    So the moral for me is: “all things being equal, check the easiest thing first!”

    I’m sure you can identify equivalent scenarios in your own area of interest.

    Thanks again Marc for such a great reminder of Einstein’s brilliance and honesty.

    Ray Keefe

  • I find logical reasoning to be one of those things that are great at reminding ourselves how simple something can be broken down into when it is analysed and thought about a little further that just reacting to a situation or information put in front of us.

    The video is great as the setting and content (making use of a famous mind and quote) which is only made apparent at the end keep the viewer engaged for the clip length: You need the subject, content and delivery method to keep the viewer engaged; its a great example; and on a side note also reminds us to think about what we are being told and to not take it for granted as being correct!

    Thanks for sharing the video.


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