The Seven Deadly Sins of Project Management

Over-the-fence project management may well have been used at Heaps Engineering, in New Westminster, photographed here in 1946. During the height of the war, the plant employed more than 700 men and women, and turned out giant propeller shafts and underwater fittings for submarine chasers and frigates. Photo by Stride Studios.

This web-log post is about projects, but only those project where a commitment has been made by a board or senior management to start and complete it. It attempts to be general enough that insights can be applied to any industry.

Preliminary work on a project will have to be budgeted. Regardless of its outcome, this expenditure will be a sunk cost = a cost that has been incurred and cannot be recovered. With a go ahead, the entire project will not only have to be budgeted, but in some way financed either using owner equity or debt financing, or a combination of both. Liquidity (cash flow) is critical for any project.

The selection of a project manager is critical to project success. The project manager is responsible for the initiation, planning, execution, validation and evaluation of the project. At a minimum, each of these has to be part of the scope statement, and incorporated into the project plan.

After each of the sins listed below, there is a paragraph long comment on atonement = making amends.

Sin #1: No Budget

There is only one sin worse than having no budget, and that is regarding the budget as a project plan!

Atonement for this sin: Make sure there is an adequate budget that covers the entire project period, that is approved of by the board authorizing the project. Before, any project begins: 1) Make sure there is adequate financing. 2) Make sure there is sufficient liquidity (cash flow) for the project.

Sin #2: Managing a project as a process

In many hierarchical organizations, managers are promoted from lower ranks, so that they have an understanding of the roles required below them in the hierarchy. One of the unique characteristics of a project is that it requires the interaction of professionals possessing different qualities. In addition, tasks are non-repetitive, in contrast to process (or operations) management where repetitive, permanent functional activities are the norm.

Even if a project manager can appreciate a project’s temporary nature, with defined beginning and end points, s/he may fail to understand the implications of time, budget and staff constraints, especially in terms of project goals and objectives.

Atonement for this sin: Ensure that the project manager has the education/ training to manage a project. At a minimum s/he must understand the basics of the Critical Path Method.

Sin #3: No Scope Management

Scope requires the project manager to specify the quantity, quality and variety of tasks to be performed, along with the time and other resources available. A scope statement can then be compiled that specifies what the project is to deliver in detail, and to describe more generally the major objectives for the project. These objectives should include measurable success criteria.

At the most fundamental level, Scope is expressed in a statement that is SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed Upon
  • Realistic
  • Time Bound

Scope involves determining the work that needs to be done to meet stakeholder requirements. Many project managers like to distinguish two types of scope: project scope and product scope. Project scope specifies the the work that needs to be done to deliver a product or service, while product scope specifies the features and functions that characterize that product or service.

Another way of understanding scope, is to separate what has to be done (the functional requirements/ product scope) from how it is to be done (project scope). If requirements cannot be defined and described, then there can be no effective project control, allowing project/ requirement creep to emerge.

Scope creep involves large, unplanned and often irrelevant changes to a project that add costs and/ or development time. Very often these occur because there is no change control built into the project. Change control is a procedure to be included in the scope statement that outlines how changes will be implemented. It must distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable changes. The change control procedure should specify how any change will be implemented.

Atonement for this sin: Make sure there is a SMART scope statement, and make certain that all project participants understand this statement, and its consequences.

Sin #4: No Project Plan

The main purpose of writing a project plan, is for the project manager to define tasks, and to appreciate transitions between them. The fact that there may be disparities between perceived and actual implementation times is of secondary importance. Some projects benefit from the use of software tools, such as MS Project/ LibreProject, or equivalent. In other cases, a simple tempo-plan on paper suffices. Tasks have to have milestones/ way points associated with them, so that everyone knows when a task has been completed. These have to be measurable.

Most projects rely on a critical path, a sequence of tasks that have no leeway in terms of an early or late start. Project slack (also called project float) has to be determined to identify the critical path through the project. Slack can be calculated manually or automatically, using a formula that takes into consideration start and finish times/ dates, durations, predecessor times, task dependencies and constraints. Negative slack indicates that this amount of time must be saved earlier in the project to prevent delay. It is an indication of incorrect finish time for the project.

Tasks outside of the critical path can begin earlier or be delayed, by varying amounts of time. Tasks are placed on a project activity diagram, that shows total slack (the time available for a task to slip before it delays the whole project) and each task’s free slack (the time available before it delays successor tasks).

Atonement for this sin: Except for the smallest of projects, someone assigned to the project must construct a project plan based on the critical path method, make sure the plan is used. Significant deviation from the project plan must be reported to the authority commissioning the project, usually some sort of board. Project managers have a responsibility to communicate with stakeholders, and to ensure everyone understands the project plan, at least in outline, and how it will affect each stakeholder.

Sin #5: No Resource Management

After scope management has been satisfactorily implemented as a project plan, the next phase involves resource management. Some projects, such as building construction, will have materials management as an important component. Other projects, including software projects, will find that materials management is minimal, or even non-existent. Regardless of the type of project, much managerial time will almost always have to be allocated to human resource management, if the project is to run smoothly.

In a building construction project, materials management is seldom a problem because everyone, even the project manager, knows that the building has to be made of something, and probably many different things. A bill of materials (BOM) is produced automatically by almost every Computer-Aided Design (CAD) system. These BOMs are first used for scope management, and after that in conjunction with resource management. Problems emerge with materials management, when they are not properly specified during the scope management phase.

Most of the problems associated with resource management come from a failure to appoint a reference group, or even a project group. These two problems will be treated as separate sins.

Atonement for this sin: Materials management – Ensure that a BOM is used, where it is appropriate. Understand how to use a BOM, and ensure that all members in the project group understand how to use a BOM. Provide training if necessary. Human resources management – see sin #7 – no project group.

Sin #6: No Reference Group

In every project there are a large number of stakeholders. In building construction there will be municipal/ county building authorities, neighbours who live on and/ or own surrounding properties, and potential occupiers/ renters/ owners, at a minimum. In software projects there will be assorted classes of purchasers, who may or may not be users. In projects involving local government there are civil servants, as well as politicians, who may view processes totally differently.

The purpose of a reference group is to ensue that a project meets the needs of different user groups, at the same time that it doesn’t encroach on the rights of non-users, who may be impacted by the project. Without a reference group, the project manager and others in the project will be living in a fantasy world. Thus, one of the first tasks of a project manager is to ensure that there is a process to find stakeholders, and to invite them to be part of a reference group.

Atonement for this sin: Ensure that a reference group is appointed, and that it mirrors the diversity of people affected by the project. Ensure that reference group meetings are scheduled and held. Stakeholders must ensure that someone representing their group is appointed to the reference group, that they are invited to reference group meetings, and report back to stakeholders.

Sin #7: No Project Group

Some project managers think they can run a project alone, without involving people possessing different qualities, who together (but not alone or separately) understand the non-repetitive tasks involved. Normally, they can’t.

This does not mean that members of the project group have to devote significant amounts of time to meetings, or other forms of interaction. Rather, members of the project group spend most of their time working on those parts of the project they are assigned, reporting on the state of milestones/ way points as they occur.

When disruptions occur, or when other events impact project progress, there can be a need for project meetings to discuss alternatives.

Atonement for this sin: Ensure that a project group is appointed, and that it mirrors the diversity of people working on the project. Ensure that project group meetings are scheduled and held. Members of a project group, must schedule and attend regular project group meetings. It is particularly important, that project managers ensure that feedback from the reference group is presented to the project group.

Project management has matured considerably, during the past eighty years, but not noticeably since the first projects I worked on in the 1970s. The only difference I have noted is the use of project management software to replace the calculations I had to perform by hand. This was undoubtedly the result of PERT (Project Evaluation and Review Technique) developed for the Polaris submarine project, and CPM (Critical Path Method) developed by DuPont, in the 1960s.

Before these developments there was (not so) managed chaos. “During the 1940s, line managers used the concept of over-the-fence management to manage projects. Each line manager, wearing the hat of a project manager, would perform the work necessitated by their line organization, and when completed, would throw the “ball” over the fence in hopes that someone would catch it. Once the ball was thrown over the fence, the line managers would wash their hands of any responsibility for the project because the ball was no longer in their yard. If a project failed, blame was placed on whichever line manager had the ball at that time.” Harold Kerzner 2017 Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, 12th edition, p. 39.

Despite the injustice of this system, it was the users/ customers who suffered the most. Kerzner continues, “The problem with over-the-fence management was that the customer had no single contact point for questions. The filtering of information wasted precious time for both the customer and the contractor. Customers who wanted firsthand information had to seek out the manager in possession of the ball. For small projects, this was easy. But as projects grew in size and complexity, this became more difficult.” (p. 40).

I was very fortunate to have John Reagan as a mentor in 1972 at Habitat Industries, a pre-fabricated housing manufacturer. He kindled in me an interest in project management that continues to this day, even if it was more frequently used in teaching computer science and technology subjects, than in the construction trades.

The Charm of Hell

Hell is a neuter Norwegian noun that translates as “luck”, as in “good fortune.” The opposite, or uhell, translates as “accident.”

It is also the name of a village with railway station, close to the city of Stjørdal, in Trøndelag county. Read everything and more that anyone could ever want to know, here.

On Saturday, 2019-08-24, we decided to take a break from construction and other domestic chores, and do something fun – shopping: for roofing tar and cement. We also decided that we could spend some time walking along the coast towards an island, then – on our return to Stjørdal – eat a salad at a local pizzeria.

Here are some photos from the walk

On the outside wall of a farm utility building is the distance to Jerusalem.
Billetholmen, an island, and its causeway/ breakwater.
A boathouse, on the pathway leading to Billetholmen.
The backside of the boathouse.
Picnic tables and benches at Hellstranda.
Hell Station, built in 1902.
The current train stop at Hell.


One of the major aspects of volunteering is that it should contribute positively to the world. (Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash)

Volunteer activities, such as membership on a board, should, ideally, last five years. During the first year, one is relatively clueless, and contributes little productive. There is a steep, year long learning curve. During the second and third years, one is into an energetic, innovative period. One experiments. Some things actually work in this period, while others fail. The fourth and fifth years represent an optimal period of activity, and leadership. One is actually able to mentor others. Beyond these years, one’s activity level gradually sinks, as one becoming tired of everything, and the activity becomes habitual. It is time to get out and do something new.

It is necessary to create a system so that volunteers can easily scale their commitment. This includes creating a visible exit strategy, that is always available. Commitments need to be at low intervals OR one can commit to a limited period for more intensive activity. This should increase the number of people involved, even if it does result a more arbitrary attendance.

Every activity should have six characteristics. It should be fun, meaningful, an opportunity to learn something new, social, an opportunity to eat food together, and end up with a feeling of mastery. It should also avoid emulating other parts of the regular daily/ weekly/ seasonal/ annual rhythm, especially school, family, sports and other commitment-focused cultural activities.

This entire blog is based on material sent to me by Alasdair McLellan. Thank you, Alasdair.


Alfred Coffee Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills, California, United States of America. (Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash)

Determining priorities is always difficult. It is much easier if someone else decides, such as a boss or a spouse. When one actually makes a choice one also has to take responsibility for it and its consequences.

The antithesis of a priority is a distraction. Some distractions may be harmless fun, other may have serious consequences that could lead to regret. Yet, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a distraction from a priority, because they can look alike. Said another way, one person’s priority, can be another person’s distraction.

There are different forums for priorities, that vary with age. Somewhere in the distant past boatbuilding and photography were priorities, as was reading. This was followed by a phase where activism, and dating young women had priority. Later, in adulthood, priorities shifted to work (where bosses have some influence) and family (ditto spouse). With retirement, and children well into adulthood, new priorities emerge.

Recently I have realized that I have been distracted by something that I thought was a priority.  Now I am working on adjusting my priorities, once again.

On 2017-10-21 I attended bicentennial celebrations of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh (1817 – 1892) in New Westminster, Canada, where I grew up, and where I became a Baha’i. It also inspired me to do something similar, but on a smaller scale, for the bicentennial celebration of the birth of the Báb (1819 – 1850) to be held 2019-10-29/30 in Inderøy, Norway.

This reappraisal of priorities, is encouraging me to work on the bicentennial project. Other priorities include a house renovation process, where I am reconfiguring a house, making it habitable for a couple of old people. While physically tiring, it has other rewards, not the least of which is exercise, important for a longer and healthier life.

Lots of priorities only involve a few minutes a day, each. These include daily prayers and meditations. Some, such as reading and writing, may involve a bit more time. Others do not involve any time at all, such as showing compassion and kindness.

Managing fastenings

Some of the workshop bins for fastenings at Unit One. The large bin at the bottom right holds the type of screw described in detail in this post.

Most workshops worthy of the name face a challenge managing their fastenings. A fastening (British English) or fastener (American English) is a hardware device that mechanically joins/ affixes two or more objects. In general, these create non-permanent joints, that can be removed/ dismantled without damaging the joining components. Examples include: bolts, nails, pins and screws.

Some fastenings are kinder than others. I note that many tradespeople make use of nails, where I instinctively prefer to use screws. Presumably there are others who would regard my choice as reckless, because bolts – with washers and nuts, would be make even more solid, yet removable, joints.


This past week, Unit One, my personal workshop at Cliff Cottage began installing bins to hold fasteners, and other workshop components. There are four sizes of bins in use, although several more sizes exist. Three of them have a width of 115 mm and a height of 75 mm. The three lengths are 113, 162 and 213 mm. In addition, the fourth has a width of 170 mm, a height of 126 mm, and a depth of 240 mm.

Plastic tracks are used with the two smaller sized bins, while metal ones are used with the two larger ones. There are four locations in the workshop where bins can be placed. One of these has been built out, with a second in the process. Both of these hold six rows/ levels of bins, each 100 mm apart, with a length of 980/ 1 000 mm, using two lengths of track – plastic = 490 mm long, or metal = 500 mm long.

One of the locations waiting for bins can accommodate sic rows, like the locations mentioned previously, while the other can only accommodate three rows, in both cases using three lengths of track, for a length of about 1 500 mm. The location with only three rows is located in the workshop annex, which is mainly for the shop compressor and dust extractor, as well as a spray booth for painting/ coating. The bins here are not for fastenings, but for tool spares and other related parts.

Because of the height difference, the largest size bin is designed to be fitted only onto the lowest level of track, and only in locations with six rows of bins.

One of the main advantages of using bins is that each bin can be moved, hopefully to a more appropriate location, either for work or for storage. Today, for example, I was screwing in some Toolflex tool holders, and was able to carry a bin of screws to the work location. On previous occasions I would probably stuff my pockets with screws.


One of the main reasons why Hard Head (HH) bins were purchased, rather than the more common and similarly sized Eurobin, was the ability of the HH bins to hold labels, whereas Eurobins have their own, more expensive solution.

The label for one of my more commonly used screws has the following code; W F 5 x 40 C4 T25. For most people this is meaningless, but for me it contains all of the information I need to know. W = wood screw, the type of fastening; F = flat head, or what some people call counter-sunk, the most common type of wood screw; 5 = 5 mm, the screw diameter; 40 = 40 mm, the screw length; C4 = Corrosion class 4, making it suitable for outdoor use in maritime climates; T25 = Torx 25, the size of bit/ driver used to install/ remove screws.

While there are some fairly common abbreviations regarding fastenings, there is also variation. Thus, I have no guilt inventing my own codes to be used at Unit One.

Fastening types: B = bolt; C = clamp; D = dowel; M = machine screw; N = nail/ spike; P = pin; W = wood screw.

Head types: A = Allen/ hex key; C = carriage; E = eye; F = flat or counter-sunk; H = hexagonal; R = round. For bolts: N = nut; W = washer.

Material classes/ types: C1 – C5 = Corrosion class; EP = electro-plated; G = galvanized; A2 = the most common stainless steel class, with corrosion class 4 characteristics; Al = aluminum; Bs = brass; Bz = bronze.

Torx size: T01 to T100. Torx is the standard drive type at Unit One. It allows for a higher torque to be exerted than a similarly sized head using another type of drive, without damaging either the head and/or the tool. Slotted, Phillips or Pozidriv heads that accompany purchased products are almost always recycled, immediately.

An aside: As a Canadian, I used Robertson screws in my youth, initially when building a Sabot sailboat, when I was 13 – 14. These have a tapered square socket in the screw head and a tapered square protrusion on the drive. The drives are coloured in the following order, from smallest to largest: orange (#00), yellow (#0), green (#1), red (#2), black (#3) and brown (#4). It is from using these, that I developed a distrust of Phillips and an aversion for slotted screws, that has continued to this day. Reluctantly, I have to admit that Torx screws perform better than Robertson screws.

Inventory Control

The Unit One workshop does not have a logistics department, nor does it operate on just-in-time principles. The main challenge is to have a supply of fastenings (and other materials) on hand, that can be used when a problem/ challenge emerges. Thus, the workshop is over-supplied with inventory. Items are purchased on a when-in-town and just-in-case basis. Town here refers to Steinkjer, Trøndelag county seat, about 32 km away with its Biltema, Clas Ohlson and Jula shops, all Swedish chains, typically with an oversupply of male customers.

The following is an example of just-in-case thinking. Woodscrews include the following lengths: 16, 20, 30, 40, 60, 90, 120 and 160 mm. There are also some historic 70 and 80 mm long woodscrews, but these sizes will not be replaced when they are used up. Instead, 90 mm screws will become standard. In addition, there are some woodscrews that are used for specific purposes, such as terrace screws, that would be coded: W F 4.2 x 55 A2 T20. Decoding this is left as an exercise for the interested reader.

Where possible, corrosion class C4 screws are used both indoors and outdoors, for there is no need to have a supply of screws that can only be used indoors. That said, it is difficult to find smaller dimension screws (lengths <= 30 mm) that are corrosion protected.

Wes Honeywell & the Thermostats

Photo by Moja Msanii on Unsplash

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, Wes Honeywell is growing impatient with his current band, Damper-Flapper, led by his old friend Al Butz. There are several problems with Damper-Flapper.

First, most of the sidemen (yes, they are all men), have different motivations. One actually enjoys playing music, a second uses his performance as a magnet for attracting women, a third person meets for his mental health, while the last member attends for the money. The sociopathic bandleader/ music director/ songwriter is solely interested in the band as a means of controlling people.

Second, they can’t agree on a genre. It is an unhealthy combination of blues, country, electro-pop, jazz, industrial rock and surf. They refer to it as fusion, but everyone else calls it noise.

Third, with an average age north of 70, it is becoming harder for band members to remember details like lyrics and chord changes. It is not even possible to introduce new songs, because everyone is stuck in his own personal rut. Illness, both real and fake, is taking its toll at band practice.

Since harmony is not a term that can be applied to Damper-Flapper, Wes has decided to spend less time interacting with this mash and clash of humanity and to spend more time working alone as a musician.

Computers are not high priority for Wes. Fortunately, he knows people who know things, and one of these people in Proton Bletchley. Proton was able to tell Wes, that the heart of every 21st century one-person-band (yes, this applies to the other gender too), is a digital audio workstation (DAW). While laptops are portable, desktop or even rack based machines are preferred. In general, they are faster, run cooler (using less energy and producing less noise), offer greater flexibility such as more RAM, additional drives, and space for better graphic cards (if video is being contemplated).

Wes needs a lot of tracks. His father was a jazz pianist, and played nothing else, but Wes converted early in life to blues. He can perform: (1) lead vocals, (2) backing vocals, (3) lead guitar, (4) rhythm guitar, (5) bass guitar, (6) keyboard, (7) drums, including (8) congas, and (9) saxophone.

Each of these can be laid down as a separate track, while Wes listens to one or more of the tracks that have been laid down previously. The average number of times Wes needs to lay down a track varies with his skill with the instrument: once for congas; fourteen for saxophone, and counting.

The main recording challenge is noise, which may mean that any computer has to be physically separated from studio (a fancy name for Wes’ spare bedroom) pickups and microphones. This is not quite as acute a problem now as it was before, since some fanless (almost silent) computers are able to do vast amounts of processing, compared to earlier machines.

Other hardware considerations had to be taken, but only after some software decisions have been made. One of the first was about which operating system to use, Apple MacOS or Windows? Proton’s standard answer is neither, use Linux. This is because of his support of the Open Source movement.

While Proton is a confirmed open source advocate, he is also a hypocrite. He spends his days extolling the virtues of Open Source software, forgetting some of the serious issues that come with them: the lack of professionalism in Open Source communities, which result in inappropriate products; the lack of resources, financial and otherwise; there are also issues caused by commercial licensing restrictions.

The most notable open source audio products are: Ardour, a hard disk recorder and digital audio workstation application; Audacity, a sound editor more than a digital audio workstation; LMMS (in a previous life, Linux MultiMedia Studio), another digital audio workstation application.

These programs are probably good enough for most musicians. Yet, there can be a temptation to use commercial products, that could be slightly more refined.

This said, Proton discourages people from using Software as a Service. Adobe Audition, for example, now requires people to edit their music in the cloud. That is, the music is stored and manipulated on somebody else’s server. This means that users effectively lose control over their creations and are dependent on Adobe behaving ethically.

At the very least, software should be installed on one’s own machine, with backup in some physically separate place.

If one is going to use commercial software, Chris Barnatt, futurist, author and YouTuber at Explaining Computers, recommends DaVinci Resolve for video (and audio) editing. The free version, is more than good enough for a one person band. More information is available at Black Magic Design.

Wes has downloaded all of the above, and is testing them out to find out which one feels good, for him.

Disruptive Technology: HET Motors

The Linear Labs

Andrew Gordon (1712 – 1751) was a Scottish Benedictine monk, physicist and inventor, who made the first electric motor in the 1740s. It is fully described in Versuch einer Erklarung der Electricitat (1745). Most of the basic research on motors was done in the 19th century, with all the major classes of motors available at the start of the 20th century. The one exception was the linear induction motor, that was developed between 1905 and 1949.

Most of the development work on motors in the 20th century falls into the category refinement or enhancement.

In the 21st century, Linear Labs, a Fort Worth, Texas, USA start-up, has raised US$4.5 million in seed capital to develop and commercialize a new electric motor, the Hunstable Electric Turbine (HET) that it claims reduces size and complexity while increasing efficiency, range and torque. Hunstable is the surname of the motor’s developers, son/ CEO Brad and father/ CTO Fred.

Electric motors typically use single-speed reduction gearboxes designed to let electric motors rotate at high, efficient RPMs while the drive wheels spin slower. These gearboxes are heavy, complex, expensive and unnecessary, according to Linear Labs. Their technology radically simplifies the electric power-train while delivering more efficiency/ torque/ power/ range.

Two important terms used below. Rotor = the moving part of a motor, that turns the shaft to deliver the mechanical power. Stator = the stationary part of the motor, that usually consists of windings or permanent magnets.

The HET is a three-dimensional, circumferential flux, exterior permanent magnet electric motor. What this means is that the motor’s electric field is engineered to create motion or, perhaps more correctly, eliminates many design imperfections that restrict motion efficiency in conventional motors. In addition, there are four rotors where other motors typically run one or two. The stator is fully encapsulated in a four-sided magnetic torque tunnel, each side having the same polarity, ensuring that all magnetic fields are in the direction of motion, and contributing to the torque of the motor. There are no unused ends on the coils, that could – potentially – dissipate energy.

Field weakening is a common technique used to increase more speed, when running at full voltage. In conventional motors this is done by reducing the field flux, by injecting extra current in the opposite direction. Current injection add speed at the expense of torque, and reduces motor efficiency. The HET uses a unique approach to field weakening by rotating one or both of its magnetic end plates out of alignment, meaning that this motor can build extra speed with no efficiency loss. Indeed, overall efficiency increases at higher speeds.

Another challenge with electric vehicles is torque pulsing (cogging) at low speed. This is experienced as jerky acceleration. The HET overlaps power pulses around the stator at low speeds. This provides high, but smooth torque as the motor accelerates. Then, the motor controller changes the motor’s operating patterns by grouping poles together as motor speeds increase. This acts like an electronic transmission, emulating six-phase, three-phase, two-phase or one-phase patterns and allowing the motor to increase speed without changing its frequency, voltage or current levels.

The HET doesn’t cost any more to manufacture than a conventional motor design, or require any specialized tooling – and it can be built without using rare earth metals (if necessary). The stator is easy to cool because liquid can run inside the copper coils.

The resulting HET motor produces two to five times the torque density, at least three times the power density and at least twice the total output of any permanent magnet motor of the same size. It also eliminates the need for DC/DC converters, gearboxes (previously mentioned), which reduces total vehicle cost and weight. Altogether this gives a 10 – 20% range increase, from a given battery pack.

These claims are backed up by comments from independent experts. However, without being an expert in the field one is unable to verify these claims, or to project the path between a disruptive idea its commercialization. Linear Labs says it’s looking to implement the motor in a scooter prototype in 2019, and a car prototype in 2021. The company sees further potential for the motors in other classes of vehicles, as well as multirotor drones, wind power generation and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).

The most interesting aspect of this disruptive technology is to set it in conjunction with that of of the micro-battery from Bothell, Washington, USA startup XNRGI. These batteries claim to offer 3 – 6 times the energy density of current LI-ion batteries. This can be translated into either 3 – 6 time increase in range, or a significant vehicle weight reduction, or some combination of both.

For further information, visit Linear Labs and/ or XNRGI.

Industry 4.0: Update

The Trent and Mersey Canal, at Stoke-on-Trent with narrow boat and pottery kiln. Photo: Geoff Maitland

Wedgwood, located at Barlaston, Staffordshire, England is one of the oldest ceramics companies in the world, established by Josiah Wedgwood (1730 – 1795) in 1759. In 1987, it merged with Waterford Crystal. Their assets were purchased in 2009 by New York based KPS Capital Partners, to become WWRD Holdings Limited, an abbreviation for Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton. The company was acquired by Finnish Fiskars in 2015.

In March 2019, Wedgwood announced that about 145 jobs (out of a total of 440) would be eliminated. Its reasoning for the firings almost seem poetic, as it looks to “reduce complexity across its operations”. Complexity is something that most companies embrace. If something is too simple, then anyone can do it, and there would be no need for that company.

Josiah Wedgwood was one of the great engineering entrepreneurs of the industrial revolution. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, led the industrialization of the ceramics industry, and played a significant role in establishing rail and canal infrastructure.

Why Wedgwood? Yes, he was born into a family of potters, but so were many others, and they did not develop a ceramics industry. One difference was that Wedgwood contracted smallpox as a child. This left him with a permanently weakened knee so that he was unable to operate a potter’s wheel. Because of this he spent his time on the science/ engineering/ design of pottery products and production techniques.

Other ceramics companies have had similar fates. To mention only one recent example, in April 2019, Dudson, also located in Stoke-on-Trent, announced that it would be shutting down its tableware, glassware and fine china business that started in 1800, and all its 390 employees would be made redundant.

This is a reversal of what Phil Tomlinson wrote about in an article titled, How England’s broken ceramics industry put itself back together (2015). Tomlinson comments on the reversal of the ceramics industry, that: “The first factor is global demand, where particularly US and Japanese consumers have become increasingly averse to purchasing premium wares manufactured cheaply in Asia (especially China) but sold under one of the branded names from the English Potteries. With Stoke wares still perceived to be among the highest quality in the world, the “Made in England” back-stamp is an increasingly important marketing tool.”

One of the major difficulties with Tomlinson’s perspective is that wages for the majority in much of the industrialized [sic] world have stagnated the past forty years. Income has been replaced with easy credit, and manufacturing jobs have been increasingly outsourced. Now, more than ten years after the great (financial) recession of 2008, those credit cards are increasingly being maxed out. The majority no longer have the opportunity to buy products “among the highest quality in the world”, but will have to accept that they belong to the “Made in China” class of consumers.

The world is filled with prophets expecting the emergence of a fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 as they prefer to call it. Some have even gone beyond to refer to it now as Industry 5.0. Technologies powering this include the usual components found in mechatronics, but with additional buzz words such as artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing and green tech, perhaps more accurately described as green wash.

These prophets are expecting smart manufacturing, as it is also called, to foster the return of manufacturing activities to advanced/ high-cost economies. They are looking at three areas: servitisation, personalization and makerization.

Servitisation: the symbiosis of traditional manufacturing and services.
Rolls-Royce is the poster child, and exemplifies this with ‘power-by-the-hour’ maintenance packages that replaces maintenance (a service), with maintenance-with-a-fancy-name, which is still a service.

The main point with power-by-the-hour, is that Rolls-Royce, as developer of airplane engines, has a greater understanding of their risk, and can manage it better than airlines, who are – essentially – passive recipients of the technology developed by someone else. American farmers, for example, want a right to repair agricultural equipment because manufacturers, such as John Deere, are placing all of the risk onto farmers, rather than taking upon themselves that risk, despite the fact that it is the equipment manufacturers who have designed the equipment, not the farmers.

The only fair solution to this dilemma is for the equipment manufacturers to lease equipment on an hourly basis, that includes all maintenance costs. This way, farmers can choose a solution, knowing the total costs involved. In other words a ‘power-by-the-hour’ solution for farmers would put the risk associated with agricultural equipment where it belongs, with the equipment manufacturers.

Personalization: Customised products produced in small batches or even as unique pieces which require customers to co-innovate/ co-produce with the manufacturer. The poster child here is Shapeways, which takes control over customer designs, 3D prints them, then uses third party logistics firms to transport products back to the original designer/ consumer.

Makerization involves a situation where local production (a service) is integrated with a global supply chain network to ensure that components (products) are globally available on short notice. To ensure that innovations are diffused, designs and other forms of intellectual property, should be (some would say, have to be) open source. The symbol of makerization is the 3D printer. Originally, this was invented by Chuck Hall (1940 – ) in 1983. He used photopolymers, acrylic-based liquids that instantly solidify when exposed to ultraviolet light. Since then, fused filament fabrication has been the norm, with Makerbot, Ultimaker, Reprap and now Creality becoming the poster children of the 3D era.

For personalization and makerization to work, it is necessary for (potential) consumers to know how to communicate with (potential) manufacturers. This means that they have to know how to draw. Freehand drawing is a minimum. Better still, they should learn how to use Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs, to express their intentions. SketchUp, developed by @Last, bought up by Google, then sold on to Trimble Inc., offers mainstream opportunities, as a web-based application (SketchUp Free), as non-open-source freeware (SketchUp Make), and as a paid version, (SketchUp Pro). The latter two requiring Apple OSX or Microsoft Windows operating systems. Fortunately, the open-source community has both Blender and Free-CAD (along with many other similar products), although both of these mentioned are more difficult to use than Sketchup.

There is also a granularity issue. The product made by one person/ business/ organization, can become the component of another person/ business/ organization. With the use of automated processes, labour costs become less of an issue, and component/ product prices become more standardized. Producers can then choose suppliers nearer to home, but connect with consumers both closer and farther away – at least when they offer a unique product. This offers the prospect of a more efficient form of production, with greater sustainability. See comment, below, about OEMs and tiers.

It is this kind of circular-economy efficiency that presents a real opportunity for advanced economies to pursue more evenly distributed and sustainable socio-economic growth. Enabling manufacturers to access and utilise new technologies in this way will be a key to success. Therefore, developing new industrial policies will be necessary to enable businesses to embrace Industry 4.0. New policies will be needed to bring sectors into the new age, so that they will be able to take advantage of new technologies that are emerging.

Unfortunately, not all sectors are embracing change, equally quickly. The construction industry, especially, is reluctant to modernize. Houses and other building have been 3D-printed, but that information has been ignored, possibly suppressed, by prominent business leaders. Despite this, Building on Demand (BOD) will be part of the future. A weblog post about this topic was written in 2018-07-04. See also:

A comment about OEMs and tiers

OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer. The OEM is the company whose name/ brand appears on the final product: Tesla is an OEM of electric cars, while Asus is an OEM of computers.

An OEM may produce little of the final product. Much of the time they assemble. In addition they design/ brand/ define product scope.

But to manufacture the product they use tier 1 suppliers who deal directly with OEM companies. These are often major companies in their own right. Panasonic supplies batteries to Tesla, AMD supplies microprocessors to Asus.

Tier 2 suppliers deal directly with the tier 1 suppliers, but not OEMs.

There may be additional tiers, depending on product complexity.

At some point there will be a tier 3/ 4/ x supplier that provides raw materials like steel/ wood/ plastic. This marks the end of the supply chain, except when it doesn’t because the raw material has to be grown/ mined/ or in some way extracted.

Open Educational Resources

There are only 17 576 three letter combinations of the 26 letter English alphabet available. One of these acronyms is OER, which can mean many different things to many different people. In fact the Free Dictionary lists 31 different definitions:

In the context here, OER refers to Open Educational Resources. OERs are educational materials that are in the public domain or provided with an open license or otherwise made freely available. It could include written materials (books), audio materials (podcasts and music), photographs, drawings and other illustrative works, or video materials.

On another level, OERs can also include software such as operating systems (Linux, developed at various locations, including Berkeley CA and Helsinki, Finland) , web browsers (Firefox, developed at Mountain View/ San Francisco CA), application software, such as KiCad (from Grenoble, France) and FreeCad (Ulm, Germany), as well as learning management systems, such as Canvas (Salt Lake City UT), LON-CAPA (East Lansing MI) and Moodle (Perth, Australia).

There is even open hardware, which more often than not consists of technical drawings and descriptions of products that can be made on 3D printers, laser cutters and other forms of automated equipment. While it can be extremely important in certain teaching situations, hardware will not be discussed further in this weblog post.

No matter how much content is stored on a bookshelf, or inside a computer, content only becomes meaningful when it is used. Thus, there has to be some form of Open Educational Practice (OEP) developed to use open content, OER, to support learning.

OpenContent was one of the first manifestations of open materials, which was developed by David Wiley (? – ) in 1998. OpenContent is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities. The 5Rs found on the OpenContent website as a framework for assessing the extent to which content is open:

  1. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  3. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend).


Creative Commons (CC) is a global body that provides open-copyright licences, so that authors can give permission to share and reuse creative works, with the conditions the author chooses. CC began life as an American non-profit organization, founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig (1961 – ), Hal Abelson (1947 – ) and Eric Eldred (1943 – ). It engulfed Open Content in 2002. As of May 2018 there were an estimated 1.4 billion works licensed under the various Creative Commons licenses, including Wikipedia, along with over 415 million Creative Commons licensed photographs on Flickr, founded in Vancouver in 2004.

Open Content is an invitation to stakeholders, including students, to be part of the teaching process, and the co-creation of knowledge.

Open Source is not Enough

This story from 2017 explains why it is essential that people understand who controls every product they acquire. In this particular case – about garage openers, an open source hardware solution proves to be more problematic than a closed source solution.

An attractive garage door, totally unrelated to the one mentioned in this web-log post. Photo:

Denis Grisak started Garadget, which makes an open-source Internet-connected garage opener. He promoted his start up on Kickstarter.

This device uses Wi-Fi-based cloud connectivity from Particle to open and close garage doors. The garage door is controlled over the internet by a mobile phone app. It also uses existing garage door hardware. The phone becomes a remote control.

On 2017-04-01, April fools’ day for some, R. Martin, a customer who purchased a Garadget opener on Amazon reported iPhone application control problems, and left the following comment on the Garadget community board: “Just installed and attempting to register a door when the app started doing this. Have uninstalled and reinstalled iphone app, powered phone off/on – wondering what kind of piece of shit I just purchased here…”

Yes, the language cannot be condoned, but one can understand that the customer is feeling frustration. Soon afterwards, not having gotten a response, he left a 1-star review of Garadget on Amazon: “Junk – DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY – iPhone app is a piece of junk, crashes constantly, start-up company that obviously has not performed proper quality assurance tests on their products.”

Grisak then remotely deactivated Martin’s garage opener [sic] and posted the following on the support forum: ” Martin, [NP] The abusive language here and in your negative Amazon review, submitted minutes after experiencing a technical difficulty, only demonstrates your poor impulse control. [NP] I’m happy to provide the technical support to the customers on my Saturday night but I’m not going to tolerate any tantrums. At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036… will be denied server connection.” NP = New Paragraph.

This denial of service breaks the trust that is necessary between a manufacturer/ vendor and its customers. I was surprised to find that the company is still in business. It certainly doesn’t deserve to be. The legality of the server disconnection can be discussed, as could potential criminality, if someone were to be injured or killed because of this disconnection. However, we will not be visiting these subjects today.

Instead, there is a basic lesson to be learned by all consumers, and that is not to place too much trust in suppliers. In particular, it means avoiding technological solutions that give over-riding control of a product to someone other than the end user. In particular, control of communications is important. It does not make any difference if the product is open-source or closed-source, if the someone else controls communication.

In its Kickstarter description, one meets the following: “In its core Garadget uses the Photon module from the great folks at Particle and benefits from all the development tools and support materials created for the module[.]” Particle makes cloud-connected microcontrollers, that are powered by Device OS, a proprietary (closed-source) operating system. Cloud is just a funny name for someone else’s server. That puts consumers at the mercy of companies that have a more direct relationship with Particle. Particle may make it easy for a startup to prototype a product. It might make it easy for that same startup to scale up production, Unfortunately, neither of those are particularly important for consumers.

Some Choices

The main reason for writing this post is not to complain about a manufacturer/ vendor, but a way of life where needs are met exclusively by shopping, and where buying something leads to unintended consequences. In this particular case it is the loss of control.

Unfortunately, not shopping is not an option. Twenty-first century people cannot make everything from scratch. At some point a component has to be bought. The size of that component may vary – It may be a property with multiple buildings, a house, a garage, a garage door, a garage door opener, a microprocessor or a … Somewhere, one has to stop, and buy something.

R. Martin lost control at the garage door opener level, and it is here that a solution can be offered. There are several ways to make a garage door opener, including some that make excellent projects for an adult (including teacher/ parent/ grand-parent) and child (12+) to work on together, at school, home or community workshop.

Raspberry Pi is closed-source, but its products offer high value for their relatively low price. Normally, I have a reluctance to use closed-source products. For example, I use Linux, rather than Windows. In this particular case, I want to show that closed-source may be the appropriate choice, because the end-user retains control.

There are several different models of Raspberry Pi as well as several different generations. These instructions are general, and may be adapted to the specific variant used. Part of my crusade is to encourage people to use compute modules, rather than Model A, Model B or Zero varieties. The reason is simple – in most projects not all of the components supplied are needed. Compute module 3+ was launched 2019-01 and will be available until at least 2026. In terms of computing, future proofing does not get any better.

At the Inderøy Tekno-workshop, one of the projects that will be worked on will be a garage opener. Currently, the idea is to combine two different projects, using the following documentation:

This weblog post was originally considerably larger when it was originally written: 2019-02-03 with a time stamp of 17:28:20.