Brad Ormand with MSL Curiosity Replica on NASA/JPL Campus - 2008

10.29.2014 – Fault-Tolerance, Moon Painting & Mac Pro

About 7 years ago, I did an internship at NASA/JPL. It was in La Canada Flintridge, California – near (and managed by) Caltech. I wrote a PoC software application for spacecraft data.  It was during the MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) development period (now called “Curiosity”). I had the opportunity to have access to their (book) library, and one day, I picked up a book on fault-tolerance and mission-critical systems.  I had a thought today about those times and reading that book.

Since then, I have always wanted to have the understanding and capability of making embedded applications fault-tolerant, like the mission-critical robots and spacecraft I was up close with while there. Plus, the idea of doing *everything* possible to avert mission failure and keep going without human intervention is fascinating to me, and I wanna know the principles, at least. I also got another book from Amazon about 2 years ago covering safety- and mission-critical systems that rekindled my interest, but I just never pulled the trigger, implementation-wise.  I’m a long way off right now, but it’s something that I’ll be keeping an eye on in the future when opportunities arise.

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Also, I grew up having access to my father’s auto-recycling business that dismantled automobiles and salvaged and re-used good parts – including the “brain”, or ECM of auto computer systems, airbag controllers, and so much other instrumentation and control systems. My father would let me take the damaged ones apart when I was little, on the weekends, and I would just sit there studying, wondering how the hell any of this all worked together. Those experiences are what I attribute the fascination that I have today back to, initially, with embedded systems.

My overall point in writing this is that I have the taste for learning about and designing that kind of tightly integrated stuff, now. Before – even 5 years ago, I thought it would just be a lot of work and trouble to get good at – plus, I’m primarily a software and audio engineer, and maybe I should just stick with that… But, now, I don’t think anything is going to stop me from going forward with getting good skills at this. Even if I just stick with audio and audio test applications, and animation, and nothing electro-mechanical (aside from transducers – mics and speaks), I just favor the idea of failover, fault-tolerance, and rugged design.

I am aware of the higher cost ($ and speed) of developing for parts for going “mission-critical”, but I might just use my next few projects to practice the principles – Just step by step – a little at a time – I’m not going to have my next digital Audio Tool run a nuclear reactor or go up in space, haha – I don’t need to attain a safety rating level or have it constantly testing itself, but with each project completed, I want to have a bit more knowledge of what it takes to coordinate systems to account for, and adjust to, unknowns.

And, who knows, I might just develop the taste for designing vehicle applications as well – since I feel a connection to those applications almost as strongly as with audio and animation. Who knows, man… I’m just riding the waves of my whims, enjoying the possibilities and following them and exploring the places it takes me.  But, I am wanting to venture there at some time in the future.

Whew – and in other news… I have to finish this site for work, pronto. I’m not behind, per se, but I gotta race to completion because I gotta leave plenty of time for testing, later this week. Once I get to an acceptable level today, I’m going to…. Paint! Yes, I’m going to paint the base layer of my “moonscape”. Love that thing. So much fun!! Maybe, I’ll put on a movie (sci-fi, of course [with moon rocks maybe]), brew some tea or coffee, and set up in the living room.

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Whew, I have a lot to say today!.. But, it’s because a lot is going on. I got the RAM in for my Mac Pro. I set the sticks in the slots, and it booted up, first time (I was a little nervous about the new ones being rotten as well). I am glad that’s over, the problem is fixed, and now my computer has twice as much RAM. Sick. Next thing: mix those songs.
So, almost immediately afterwards, I fired up Pro Tools and started going through my list of fixes. Fixed “Fine”, “Kitchen”, “Strike”, and “Looking For”. Also, I wrote a melody part and accompaniment to “Kitchen”, and a nice harp and tweaked subsonics to “Looking For”. Tested them in the truck on the way to work. Everything’s better.