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Chuck Murray is a senior technical editor on his second tour of duty with Design News, a magazine designed for mechanical and electromechanical engineers in the OEM market. It serves as a resource for the system and product design engineering community. Chuck was a winner of the Jesse H. Neal Award for his story, “The Making of a Medical Miracle,” about implantable defibrillators and is also the author of the book, “The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer.”
Without revealing any secrets, can you tell us what types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now? The biggest trends are the obvious ones – electric and autonomous cars. For me, the electric car remains the most intriguing. I wrote my first electric car story in 1988. That same year, I wrote about two other two other trends – mobile phones and a thing called the Internet. Today, 85% of the people in the developed world have a mobile phone and 3.5 billion people use the Internet. Meanwhile, pure electric cars made up 0.4% of the vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2016. The question is, why? Why hasn’t the electric powertrain seen broader adoption? And what are the forces that have kept it going, despite so little consumer interest? For the last 29 years, battery developers have been telling me, “it’s gonna happen in the next two years.” Finally, I’m starting to agree with them. Something’s going to happen in the next two years – given the Gigafactory and the declining prices of batteries worldwide. We just don’t know what it will be yet. But it’s going to be fun to watch.
Tell us about your dream assignment. My dream assignment is pretty simple. I want to wake up in the morning and cover whatever I feel like, to an appropriate depth, in a setting where management gives me the support I need to do a good job. That’s pretty much what I have now, at least for the last few years. The only caveat is that I can’t cover politics, international trade, non-tech-related business, fashion or sports. I have to cover technology. But that’s what I’d choose to do in a perfect world anyway, because that’s my personal background.
Describe the craziest or most fun story you’ve written. I can think of three. In 2005, after Martin Scorsese’s movie, The Aviator, came out, we did a story about the engineer who built all the model planes used in the film. He was an interesting guy, a former USC football player who also happened to be an aerospace engineer. His models were not to full scale, but they were still huge – radio-controlled planes that were up to 30-feet wide, weighed 375 to 650 pounds, and had to fly in a perfectly realistic fashion for the movie. He understood the theory. He could tell you about the flight characteristics and viscous forces on models flying at low speeds, and at the same time, he could tell you how he built the planes in his model shop. It was great for our readers.
The second was a story about stability control in automobiles back in 2005. Bosch Automotive invited us to their test facility in Baudette, Minnesota in February. We drove cars around on a massive ice field. Some cars had stability control, others didn’t. We were accelerating in circles, skidding and doing donuts on the ice for hours, until I finally got sick. Until that moment, it was a lot of fun.
The best, though, was in 2015, when I went to the Johnson Space Center, sat in the Orion spacecraft, and wrote about its glass cockpit. It was the fulfillment of a dream for me.
What is your top pet peeve with PR people? I don’t really have a pet peeve but I do have some advice. Don’t send me multiple pitches per day for months on end with big attachments that clog my e-mailbox. If I get too many of those from one person, I naturally start to ignore them or, worse, just delete them.
Tell us a little about yourself. I grew up in Chicago and now live just three miles from my childhood home. Chicago suits me. I went to college here. My wife and I raised our four kids in the area, and we now have two granddaughters nearby. I’ve never really wanted to live anywhere else.
People are surprised to know that…I’m an engineer, at least by education. I suspect that some of the people who work with me don’t even know that. I have an engineering degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and worked as an engineer for seven years before I answered an ad in the Jobs section of the Chicago Tribune. The ad was for an engineer who wanted to write about technology. I wish I would have kept it. Thirty years later, I’m still writing for Design News.