A little too “Qué chiva”

I hate shopping for shoes. It’s not that I don’t like shoes; I know what looks good to me and I like how they visually pull outfits together. However, shoes go through daily wear and tear constantly contacting the ground for walking, running, standing, and more. Prolonged foot discomfort makes for a miserable workday and because of this, I’m extra picky. My mom can attest that it took a solid week or two to find the perfect business casual shoes for my internship. The criteria: they must be visually appealing, leather, closed-toed, and comfortable. Comfort for me means good arch support, not too high of a back or else it’d cut into my ankles, doesn’t pinch my toes, and won’t fly off my feet every step. The challenge increased as I soon learned that I had super skinny feet and wide toes and fit between a U.S. size 6 and a 6.5. Fifteen or so pairs of overly similar black mules from various stores later, I ended up with two great pairs of shoes.

My situation is similar at Establishment Labs. I’m in charge of finding the user interface components for the electronic medical device that we’re developing (oops, I said too much already!). This project is one of the first electronic devices that EL has developed, so this is a new experience for all of us. But Christine, what does an electronic medical device at a breast implant company have to do with shoes? Well, both have demanding design criteria. I never dreamed that there’d be so many technical specifications for choosing something as simple as a pushbutton. The criteria: a specific maximum actuator width, not too long for the height of the case body, illuminates green underneath a power symbol, has a power symbol or can be easily fitted with an overlay, latching but also comes in momentary so we can change it in later prototypes, and electronics jargon that I still don’t completely understand besides “SPST” (see switch crash course here). The jargon details in the fine print were why I took a solid five work days searching for the perfect button. As it turned out, it’s difficult to find a switch that can handle over 100 mA of current without getting utterly fried while still maintaining a compact size and still fitting the aesthetic components that we required. Most switches that tolerate lots of current and voltage are big, high-powered machines, definitely not little handheld devices. And although I found one series of pushbutton switches, it was insanely expensive because of its specific and uncommon details.

This week might have pushed my buttons a little. Image: https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/switch-basics/momentary-switches

“¡Qué chiva!” is Tico slang for “How cool!”, and that’s all this feature was: “cool”. To have a back-lit power button looked fancy and polished but didn’t serve other purposes besides conserving space on the board and indicating to the user that the device was on. Yes, those are important, but there were also other options that were easier (and cheaper) to implement. By the end of day five, my concern for my quest had grown exponentially and I was starting to consider ditching some criteria out of desperation, but then our electronics engineer delivered sweet music to my ears: he was implementing a hardware change that would require a lower current so we could implement tiny, more common switches. What a relief. Our product could look nice and have all the bells and whistles. However, at the same time, I felt frustrated because I’d spent the last five days hunting down the perfect button – all for nothing!

But in truth, it wasn’t for nothing. I learned more about electronics, switches, how to navigate an electronics distributor site, organize a spreadsheet to compare parts, talk to customer service for parts ordering, and purchase components 1. from outside the U.S. and 2. with the future intent of mass production. You’d best believe that this will come in handy in the future. If my swerving career path has been teaching me anything, it’s this: even if you invest a ton of time and pour your heart out into achieving a certain end goal and suddenly the end goal changes, the experiences that you’ve gone through, the skills you’ve developed (directly related or otherwise), and your perspective will inevitably sneak their way into your new end goal. Nothing will be wasted if and only if you’re adamant to remember these experiences. Treat it as something to add to your toolbox and do something cool with it. In the end, what you do with your toolbox is going to be unique to you and will stand out exceptionally.

Three trees in La Fortuna:

  • A giant tree in Arenal Volcano National Park. You know you’ve made it as a giant tree when you’re listed as a landmark on rainforest trail.
  • Traveler’s palm (Ravenala madagascariensis): My closest friends could tell you that on occasion, I will randomly dive deep into the Wikipedia rabbit hole looking up weird plants and animals. One of these searches was for the Traveler’s Palm. I’ve seen photos of these online and I’ve always been in love with its big paddle leaves fanning into an abnormally planar crown perched atop a skinny trunk. It’s a truly striking, alien visual and I’m SO happy to have spotted several of these this weekend. Fun fact: they’re one of few plants that produce naturally bright blue seeds.
  • Less big tree in the national park. It wasn’t a landmark, but it was still deserving of its own sign (picture too awkward to post).

Bonus: Week 6 Exotic Fruit Bingo: Jocote (red mombin): These little red/green fruits vary in flavor depending on ripeness. In general, they have a smooth outer skin and a fleshy interior with a single large seed. Its flavor is very sour and dry when unripe, and a little sweeter when ripe. According to the vendor at the Escazú feria, the unripe variety is commonly eaten with salt. I took his word for it and went for more ripe ones.

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