Introduction to Project Management
January 13, 2022
Recently I was assigned to do some research on a possible internal project here at Aidia. The topic of interest was an internet-controlled Rubens' tube. I had never heard of a Rubens' tube, so, for the benefit of those who don't know either, I'll give a brief, un-scientific explanation of what it is. A Rubens' tube is a metal tube with a number of small, evenly spaced holes on top. One end of the tube is solid, but the other is covered by a flexible membrane through which sound waves are passed. Inside the tube, standing sound waves form, causing a pressure differential along the inside of the tube. The tube is filled with a flammable gas and the pillars of gas escaping through the holes are ignited, so that there are columns of fire above the tube. The pressure differential causes the gas to leave the tube in varying amounts across the tube, and can be visualized in the crests and troughs of the "wave" of fire above the tube.
Many people have made Rubens' tubes before, so constructing one wouldn't be particularly significant. But what would be unique about our project is that our Rubens' tube could be remotely controlled over the internet. A user would go to a web site, choose a song, and then sit back and watch a live stream of their song played over the speaker connected to the tube.
An arduino would be the central hub of the setup. It would be connected to a motorized valve that controls the flow of propane, an electronic igniter to light the escaping gas, a camera and microphone to live stream the tube, and also host a web server that would act as the API to control the tube.
During the research process, I realized how much I don't know about hardware. Software has been my primary emphasis, so when it comes to arduinos or servos, I'm rather lost. I had to read quite a bit before I was able to figure out what to potentially use as an igniter, the differences between a Raspberry Pi and an arduino, and how to control the flow of propane using a motorized ball valve. Eventually, though, I did find solutions to each of these problems.
When it comes to project management, it's vital to first have an understanding of the goal of the project, then come up with a reasonable way to achieve that goal. Based on my initial conception of how we would set up the server and immediately play the song, it seemed completely unfeasible, primarily due to safety concerns. But when Asher looked at it from a different perspective than I was, he suggested that songs could be held in a queue until someone manually turned on the tube. That system seemed much more plausible than an electronically controlled gas valve and ignition device. What I learned is that when you run into a dead end, taking a step back and reevaluating your prior assumptions about the project can help you get out of that dead end and come up with a novel solution.
In conclusion, you won't be able to solve your problems by thinking about them in the same ways you always have. Breaking old patterns can bring about remarkable results when done in an intelligent manner.