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When something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it kinda becomes ... DANGEROUS | Cypress Semiconductor

When something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it kinda becomes ... DANGEROUS

At the launch of the iPad early this year, the Apple product designer Jony Ive made the statement: "when something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it kind of becomes magical". And so was launched the keyword for the iPad: MAGICAL (You can see this for yourself in the first 10 seconds of this product introduction video: www.youtube.com/watch; or for a satirical look, check out this video: www.youtube.com/watch).

While "magical", "phenomenal" and "insanely great" may be appropriate wielded by a black-mock-turtleneck-and-jeans-wearing titan of silicon valley, when it comes to explaining an embedded system better descriptive words to use are "simple", "straightforward", "deterministic", "safe" or "bulletproof". And yet, when most of us get a chance (or are forced) to present a design up to management or out at a customer or to a peer, we usually so complexify and obscurify the design that by the end, the best closing statement should be: "I think you must agree this is truly magical".

Don't get me wrong, I am NOT confusing simple with easy. Embedded designs are complex and they are VERY hard to get right, but if you cannot explain your design in a understandable fashion, not just to upper management but to a peer or team member, you have likely signed yourself up for late nights and weekends of ferreting out obscure bugs. And making a complex and tangled web of features and requirements into a simple(r) design is even harder. But if you can explain it you can properly review it with senior and junior team members and rather than just meet a milestone checkbox with that review you can get valuable time- and hair-saving feedback. If you can explain your design you can quickly give someone enough information to join your effort and contribute (which means know where to start to learn what he/she needs to know to begin to contribute, rather than spend all his/her time complaining about spaghetti code). Practice on your dog, since they have an attention span of about 15 minutes, while in humans it is only 10 (see this very enlightening article, not sure they were just talking about dogs though: capitolk9.blogspot.com/2009/04/dogs-attention-span.html).

Now if you can explain your design so that upper management can understand (which takes an understandable design AND an understanding of the design AND a conscious choice of words that together that can be understood) you will more likely get more time/space when you need it to solve a really tough problem and REAL help when you cannot solve the problem on your own. Managers all the way up like magic, too, but getting a project working reliably with sufficient verification within the schedule alloted is "TRULY MAGICAL".

That said, and speaking as a true nerd who is gadget obsessed, the Apple iPad really does look and feel like much more than just a music-and-video playing, book-reading, net-surfing handheld tablet computer. I probably wouldn't say "truly magical" too often, but that's just me. And you know what else is great about it? The iPad size and shape fits well between the supports of my Volvo's steering wheel. So now I can watch a movie and drive at the same time. 

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