Bio Part 1: John Scott

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of biographies of the Cartesian Co team. I decided to break mine into a few stories that hopefully give you some idea about me.

 

I always feel sorry for people that aren’t motivated in life to do any one particular thing. I’m not talking about destiny; that’s a concept propagated by people that want to feel that they are somehow special; but I’ve always gotten a lot of enjoyment out of figuring out how things work and thinking about how to make them better. For me being an engineer isn’t a profession, it’s just who I am.  You might say why not a scientist, mathematician or psychologist? I think I gravitated more towards the engineering end of the science spectrum because I enjoy the hands on aspects of engineering as well as the thinking. Psychology is one of my other interests and I gave some thought to becoming a psychologist. In the end I decided that I enjoyed making things more. I did take one introductory psychology class in my first year of university but coming from an all-boys school (with no social life outside of school) I was horrified by the prospect of having to make conversation with any of my classmates, the majority of which were female.

 

I made all sorts of things as a kid. Most holidays I would come up with a few projects and most of the time I would finish them. These ranged from things for mischief like compressed air rifles and potato cannons, to what I consider to be more practical things like installing a satellite dish on my roof to try and pirate satellite TV (unfortunately didn’t work) and a making a ball mill to “polish rocks” (actually to make gun powder).

One particularly hot summer when I was 15 I wanted to get air conditioning. After collecting quotes, I realised that half the cost in air-conditioning is the installation. It really annoys me when people put huge mark-ups on because they have a monopoly. While talking to one particularly annoying salesman, I started to wonder if I could install it myself. I asked the salesman,  and he said … “Nooooo of course you can’t install it yourself! People have to be qualified, and hold a certificate. Besides there is all this special equipment you need like refrigerant gas, a vacuum pump, valves, dangerous electrical wiring etc.”

After hearing this I just had to do it myself. I convinced my parents to get me a split system air conditioner from the hardware store and I installed it all myself. To be honest I didn’t do the best job. I mounted it on a structural part of my house and didn’t isolate it’s vibration meaning that when the compressor kicks in it makes a tremendous noise that shakes the whole house (to this day no one but me can sleep in my room because of the noise). One cool thing I did to avoid using a vacuum pump to remove the air – and consequently moisture which freezes and ruins the compressor – was to use butane to flush out all the air. For those thinking about installing your own air conditioner don’t use butane, it’s a terrible idea. I’m pretty proud of that air conditioner and nothing has gone wrong with it so far. Mind you, every time I go to sleep in my room I worry about something failing catastrophically in the night resulting in me suffocating in refrigerant. This is just one of many DIY stories.

My first big (more than a week or two) engineering project was building soccer robots in high school. I was lucky to go to a school that gave me lots of opportunities; one of which was the robotics club which I joined the year it started. The club was a product of an amazing pair of teachers at the school, Colin Noy and Matthew O’Brine. I met my good friend and eventual co-founder of the Cartesian Co, Ariel Brinner, in the robotics club. I began with Lego, building robots for the Robocup “junior rescue” competition. I was lucky to have early success with the Robocup competitions. I entered and even won a few National (Australian) Robocups. In my second last year of high school I got interested in electronics and decided to build a proper robot from scratch as part of a team. The experience of learning how to design, build, and program every part of the robot from was hugely valuable, and lots of fun.

The Arduino project was just beginning back then. Always after a challenge we decided to use Atmels and program them in AVR studio. This was a fairly big task for us high school students with very little experience and I became very frustrated. One quality I am proud to have mastered is perseverance. Usually my perseverance pays off, but sometimes it does lead me to banging my head against problems until they are controlled or resolved. After one particularly taxing week trying to get a LCD screen to display text correctly, I decided that there must be an easier way to make and program custom electronics. I found a platform called OOPic (basically a PIC with an IDE) which stands for object orientated pick which that things significantly easier. Like Arduino it came with libraries for most common tasks and peripherals.  Our teacher Mr Noy  put much hard work and energy into the robotics club and managed to get us funding from the school and sponsors to be used to buy the best equipment available and travel to national and international competitions. In my last two years of high school we went to two international competitions which was a great experience. Though our teams were not the stars of the show, we were proud that we did everything ourselves with very little outside help. This set us apart from the other teams.

 

That’s it for now!

 

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John making some last minute changes to a rocket’s stabilisation computer just before liftoff.




Alex Della Santina
Alex Della Santina

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