The Fred.Computer is a once in lifetime project for me, so I decided not to do a “build it now, fix it later” version.
Which reminds me, the ducks on the pond needed a lighthouse, as it is sometimes difficult to see the edge of the pond. I thought I would help, and after discussing it with no one I just built a lighthouse. Just doing it is far more fun than planning and project managing, the only problem is the quality of the result.
It was not even watertight, and a bit of a family joke, and so it went into the shed.
I decided to build a second one. This time I had a plan.
Project management is not just a tool to mislead the client into thinking you're actually doing something.
It can also be used to create a high quality product, on time, and over budget.
For the second lighthouse I project managed, designed and then 3D printed all the parts, It looks great, and fits the brief completely.
But guess which one I now prefer.
So two lighthouses later, I realised that the act of planning sometimes loses the spirit of the idea.
Even so, I decided to try to plan and manage the Fred.Computer project, and fortunately, as the build grew, it gained more spirit than I can shake a stick at.
My stepdaughter is a senior Product Manager and my stepson is a Chartered Engineer and he frequently works as a Project Manager. They would know how to manage this project. Luckily they are too successful and busy to ever read this, thank goodness!
I tried doing the project management on a PC but gave up, and instead used 3 coloured pens, A4 paper and self adhesive address labels to cover up my mistakes. I simply found it easier. The only problem I discovered is that the paper gets a bit thick after several layers of amendments, but the big advantage is that can always find your last version, it's simply the thickest.
The main thing I discovered over the year was that the first time I tried almost anything I failed, but the annoying experience often enabled future success.
I started by stabbing at various bits of the idea. Eventually I was able to define what I wanted to do. I now realise that this definition, was the most important part of the whole project management.
The program seemed to consist of many complex components, all of which I needed to understand, to be able to build the Fred.Computer.
How do thermionic valves work, how do you design a PCB, and how on earth do you get from a NOR gate, to a register, via microcodes from a clock and a ROM, to actually run software. And what exactly is a microcode anyway. At times, in fact most of the time, it all just seemed impossible.
The main solutions I found were, firstly to keep the number of unique sub systems to an absolute minimum, secondly to use double triode valves to halve the physical size, which also reduced the construction time, and thirdly, to design multi layer printed circuit boards to reduce the inevitable build errors and produce a robust construction.
So far it has only gone BANG twice. The first time I pulled out plugs like my life depended on it, and Judy cried, “Everything all right!”. The second time I only slightly panicked, and Judy continued to decorate the Christmas tree, but later bought a second fire extinguisher.
It's funny what you get used to.
But most important of all, is to have a lovely wife, who knows you're daft as a brush, and that life together is brilliant.