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Nuts & Volts Magazine (March 2017)

Keeping It Simple

By Bryan Bergeron    View In Digital Edition  


When I think of water rockets, I think small plastic hollow tubes filled with air and water, a small hand pump, and a mechanical release. At least that’s how I thought of water rockets before I went online looking for one as a gift for my 12 year old nephew. Turns out that a “real” water rocket system is constructed with metal plumbing fixtures, a high pressure standing pump, and an electronic countdown timer with solenoid release. So, instead of going with the $29 model of my youth, I opted for the $100+ water rocket system.

As I should have anticipated, the list of enhancements over the simple plastic system came with a cost in time and additional resources. For example, given that the system is capable of generating significant pressures, I invested in full-coverage goggles. Then, there was the spare 9V battery for the timer/launch circuit, plus the large plastic container to store everything. Setup was more complicated than it should have been, in that I had to verify the connections between the timer and launch solenoid before each launch.

After a few weeks of this, I went back online and ordered the simple $29 water rocket system. It’s all plastic, relatively low pressure, and is easy for my nephew to set up and operate. Sure, the electronics were a nice touch for the enthusiast in me, but my nephew didn’t care about that. He just wanted to launch water rockets quickly and easily.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I was bitten by the complexity “just in case” bug, meaning that I purchased features I didn’t need at the time. I didn’t want to be left out, should I want one of those features later. I learned my lesson the hard way with test equipment, when I paid for functions and probes that I didn’t need at the time. They merely made the instruments more difficult to use for simple tasks.

I’m sure that the marketing people behind technical toys and kits realize that the buyers want an upgrade from the toys and kits of their youth. Trouble is, a youth of today doesn’t have the same point of reference. Someone new to, say, water rockets simply sees all the electronics as added complexity. The young user may be intimidated by the system to the degree that they need to rely on adult supervision. What’s the fun in that? More importantly, what’s the learning?

My takeaway (when looking for a kit or fully assembled gadget for someone new to technology) is to remember who the kit is for and what you expect them to gain from working with the system. When in doubt, err on the side of simplicity. You can always add to a basic system, but the inverse is rarely true.

Have you been burned by the complexity bug?  NV



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