Circuit break top 8 01

The Perfect Binge! Top 8 Circuit Break Episodes for New Listeners

By Parker Dillmann  |  April 2, 2024

After eight incredible years and over 420 episodes, Circuit Break (our podcast) has evolved into an invaluable source for electronics, engineering, and technology insights, stories, and discussions. Stephen and I have journeyed through countless topics, guest interviews, and tech trends, amassing a wealth of content that, admittedly, can seem a bit daunting to navigate for newcomers. And let's be honest, you might want to skip our very first episode or 20—it's not exactly our finest work!

Understanding this, we've curated a list of some of our favorite episodes—a starter pack, if you will, for those looking to dip their toes into the vast ocean of content we've created. The following eight episodes (for eight years) stand out for their educational content, engaging discussions, and sometimes, just plain fun.

Brandon Sander of Inheritance Machining

Inheritance machining

Release Date: April 14, 2023
Brandon Sander, a mechanical engineer with a passion for metalworking, joins Stephen and Parker to explore the intricate world of restoring old tools and hand-drafting manufacturing plans. After inheriting his grandfather's machine shop in the winter of 2021, Brandon has embarked on a mission to revive these timeless machines, documenting his progress on his YouTube channel and continuing a cherished family legacy.

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Key Highlights:

  • Inheritance Machining's Origin: Brandon shares the heartwarming story of how he came to inherit his grandfather's shop and his motivation to restore the machines to their former glory.
  • The Craft of Manual Drafting: The trio discusses the increasingly rare skill of making detailed drawings by hand in an age dominated by digital design tools.
  • Diverse Projects: From practical tools like knurling tools and tap followers to ambitious restoration efforts and tool upgrades, Brandon talks about the variety of projects he's tackled, sharing insights on his favorites, the most challenging ones, and those that didn't make it to completion.
  • Future Plans for the Shop and Channel: Looking ahead, Brandon outlines his vision for the shop's development, including working with "organic" materials, and shares his aspirations for his YouTube channel.
  • Advice for Aspiring Machinists: Offering pearls of wisdom, Brandon provides invaluable advice for young individuals stepping into the world of machining.

Why It's a Must-Listen: Episode #374 stands out not just for its exploration of technical skills and project management in machining but also for the profound connection between personal heritage and professional passion. Listeners will be inspired by Brandon's dedication to preserving his grandfather's legacy while being intrigued by the practical challenges and creative solutions involved in machine restoration and metalworking.

Seventh Annual MacroFab Star Wars Christmas Special - We’re the Rebel Codebreakers!

7th star wars xmas special

Release Date: December 16, 2022
In the seventh annual installment of the MacroFab Star Wars Christmas Special, Stephen and Parker invite guests—Josh Rozier, Chris Kraft, and Hyr0n—to embark on a journey through the latest in Star Wars media, exploring engineering, data analysis, and speculative science (at best) as it relates to the expansive Star Wars universe. Titled "We’re the Rebel Codebreakers!", this episode promises a unique blend of fan enthusiasm and technical scrutiny, posing the question: Can the Rebel Codebreakers Outsmart the Empire?

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Key Highlights:

  • Star Wars Media Roundup: The episode kicks off with a comprehensive update on recent Star Wars shows like "The Book of Boba Fett," "Obi-wan Kenobi," and "Andor," including a nod to "The High Republic" series. Spoilers are generously included, offering fresh takes and insightful commentary on the latest narratives enriching the Star Wars saga.
  • Engineering the Impossible: Stephen raises an intriguing question about the feasibility of a hammerhead corvette moving a star destroyer, as seen in "Rogue One." Through a detailed analysis of movie footage, the group debates the physics of such an action, discussing acceleration, velocity, and the required thrust, expanding the conversation to consider its implications on other iconic battles in the Star Wars universe.
  • Productivity in the Empire: Hyr0n, Roz, and Chris tackle the "Andor" series with a unique analytical lens, examining the productivity of the Andor widget and the logistics behind the Death Star's super laser focus lens facet joints. This segment merges the fictional with the factual, estimating the labor of Narkina 5 prisoners in a way that only true fans with a penchant for detail would appreciate.
  • A New Hope for Star Wars Scripts: In a creative twist, Parker explores the potential of AI in scriptwriting, using ChatGPT-3 to draft a Star Wars movie that aims to outshine Disney's efforts. This imaginative exercise results in an opening crawl and a four-act structure, with each guest contributing to the storyline, demonstrating the intersection of technology, creativity, and fandom.

Why It's a Must-Listen: More than just a Star Wars fan debate, Episode #357 is a celebration of creativity, technical curiosity, and the shared joy of dissecting the finer points of a beloved universe. The episode stands out for its unique approach to combining technical analyses with speculative fiction, making it a festive and intellectually stimulating listen for Star Wars aficionados and tech enthusiasts alike.

The Inverted Success Funnel – IdeaFab

Inverted success funnel

Release Date: May 6, 2020

In Episode #223 titled "The Inverted Success Funnel – IdeaFab," Stephen and Parker welcome back the dynamic duo of Scott Hansen and Eric Benzenhoefer, hosts of the IdeaTank Podcast. Known for their unapologetically ambitious goal of changing the world one million-dollar idea at a time, Scott and Eric share their latest batch of innovative concepts, all free of charge. Their previous appearance in Episode #77 laid the groundwork for their reputation as prolific idea generators, and this episode promises to delve even deeper into their creative minds.

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Key Highlights:

  • IdeaTank Revisited: Scott and Eric discuss the philosophy behind their podcast, emphasizing their dual mission: to share groundbreaking ideas freely and to explore these concepts through engaging discussions.
  • King or Queen of Cooking: This idea aims to revolutionize the restaurant industry by allowing entry-level chefs to compete in a real restaurant setting, providing them with a unique platform for exposure and experience.
  • Big Brother Brands: Addressing the modern gig economy, this concept suggests individuals should profit from the data they generate, such as TV viewing habits, by receiving a portion of the revenue from data sales to marketing companies.
  • Go Aw-ai: An innovative solution to social exhaustion, Go Aw-ai is an automated texting service designed to continue conversations on your behalf when you no longer wish to engage, using AI to mimic your conversational style.
  • Described as the ultimate app for bathroom users, offers features ranging from a chat/dating platform for fellow users, a Yelp-like service for reviewing bathrooms, and a locator for the nearest facilities.

Why It's a Must-Listen: Not only is Episode #223 creative and audacious, but it explores how these concepts can impact our daily lives in practical ways. Listeners will be treated to a stimulating discussion that blurs the lines between imagination and reality, challenging the audience to think about innovation in new and unconventional ways.

Adult Supervision Not Required – Tilt 5 With Jeri

Adult supervision not required

Release Date: October 16, 2019

In Episode #194 titled "Adult Supervision Not Required – Tilt 5 With Jeri Ellsworth," the podcast welcomes Jeri Ellsworth, a self-taught electrical engineer, entrepreneur, and a beacon of innovation in the consumer electronics space. With over two decades of experience, Jeri discusses the complex process of developing augmented reality (AR) technology and the nuanced process of introducing consumer devices to the market, especially focusing on her groundbreaking work with Tilt Five.

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Key Highlights:

  • Introducing Jeri Ellsworth: Jeri's impressive background is showcased, highlighting her journey from a self-taught electrical engineer to her pivotal role at Valve Software, contributing to the HTC Vive, and eventually leading to her co-founding Tilt Five.
  • Exploring Tilt Five: Jeri explains what Tilt Five is—an innovative augmented reality system designed for interactive tabletop gaming. She shares insights into the technology's inception, development, and the vision behind it.
  • Kickstarter Success: The episode covers the Kickstarter campaign for Tilt Five, discussing the challenges and triumphs of crowdfunding and the importance of community support in bringing a tech product to life.
  • Industrial Design and Challenges: A significant part of the conversation is dedicated to the industrial design of Tilt Five, particularly the challenge of keeping the device under 90 grams. Jeri explains the meticulous design process, material selection, and engineering ingenuity required to achieve this feat.
  • Bringing Products to Market: Jeri shares her extensive experience with prototyping, addressing the high non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs associated with processes like injection molding and the complexities of selecting and sourcing components like projectors and retro-reflective materials for the game mat.
  • Development Timeline and Insights: Reflecting on the typical timeline for product development, Jeri offers valuable insights into what aspiring product designers often overlook, including "war stories" from her own experiences.

Why It's a Must-Listen: Anyone interested in augmented reality, product design, or entrepreneurship should listen to episode #194. Jeri Ellsworth's firsthand account of bringing innovative technology to market is both inspiring and full of practical advice and insights. This episode stands out for its depth of discussion on AR technology, the complexities of product development, and the personal journey of a self-taught engineer making a significant impact on the tech world.

Net Running the Nut Runners with Joe Grand

Net running net runners joe grand

Release Date: January 23, 2024

Parker and Stephen are joined by renowned computer engineer and hardware hacker Joe Grand in episode #414, "Net Running the Nut Runners with Joe Grand." In the episode, they discuss the vulnerabilities of IoT devices, following a recent cyberattack on Bosch wrenches with DRILLCRYPT ransomware. This conversation with Joe Grand, marking his third appearance on the show since 2019, covers a range of topics related to the safety, security, and ethical considerations of modern hardware design and manufacturing.

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Key Highlights:

  • The DRILLCRYPT Incident: The episode kicks off with a discussion on the recent ransomware attack on Bosch wrenches, exploring how such breaches not only compromise device functionality but also pose significant safety risks to users.
  • Security in Firmware Updates: Joe and the hosts deliberate on the dual nature of firmware updates, which, while essential for improving device functionality and security, also present opportunities for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities.
  • Supply Chain and Security Concerns: The conversation highlights the challenges companies face in managing supply chain issues, especially when compounded by security breaches, emphasizing the need for robust security measures.
  • Business Decisions and Security: Joe touches upon how sometimes, a lack of security in devices can be a strategic business decision, balancing convenience against potential threats.
  • Industry Knowledge Gap: The discussion sheds light on the discrepancy in security knowledge between the hardware and software sectors, advocating for better security literacy among hardware professionals.
  • Mass Device Updates: The episode explores strategies for updating thousands of devices in the field, addressing the logistical and technical challenges involved.
  • Ethics and Hacking: Joe Grand shares his perspective on hacking as a form of problem-solving and discusses the ethical implications of hacking in the context of product design and security.
  • Counterfeit Parts and Firmware Updates: The conversation also covers the risks associated with sourcing counterfeit parts and the potential consequences of firmware updates that could inadvertently disable critical functionalities, like a car.
  • Design for Security: Emphasizing the importance of incorporating security measures from the design phase, the episode discusses "Design for Security" as a crucial approach to developing new products.
  • Marketing vs. Engineering Challenges: The hosts and guest ponder whether being hacked is more of a marketing problem than an engineering one, exploring the impact of public perception on security incidents.

Why It's a Must-Listen: Episode #414 provides an insightful exploration of the complexities of cybersecurity in the IoT and hardware industry through the expert lens of Joe Grand. This episode is rich with technical analysis, ethical considerations, and practical advice for both professionals and enthusiasts in the field of electronics and cybersecurity. It highlights the critical need for security awareness and preparedness in an increasingly connected and vulnerable technological landscape.

The Barcode is 50 With its Creator, Paul V. McEnroe

The barcode

Release Date: November 14, 2023
In this landmark Episode #404, "The Barcode is 50 With its Creator, Paul V. McEnroe," Parker and Stephen have the honor of speaking with Paul V. McEnroe, the engineering visionary behind the Universal Product Code (UPC). Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the barcode, McEnroe shares the riveting story behind one of the world's most pervasive technologies, further illuminated in his new book, "THE BARCODE - How a Team Created One of the World's Most Ubiquitous Technologies." Beyond the barcode, the conversation takes delightful detours into McEnroe's diverse interests and experiences, from classic cars to his unique inventions.

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Key Highlights:

  • The Genesis of the Barcode: McEnroe delves into the creation of the UPC, a technology that revolutionized retail and countless other industries, emphasizing the collaborative effort that led to its development.
  • A Career of Innovation: With a career spanning over two decades at IBM, McEnroe recounts his journey in developing state-of-the-art technologies and the leadership roles that propelled these innovations.
  • Diverse Interests: The discussion takes an intriguing turn as McEnroe shares his passion for classic cars, including his past ownership of a Buick Torpedo and a Jag XK150S Roadster, painting a picture of a multifaceted individual whose interests fuel his creative process.
  • Beyond Barcodes: McEnroe's contributions extend beyond the UPC, touching on his ownership of the patent for the pistol grip scanner and his perspectives on the evolution of codes, including QR codes.
  • Unexpected Anecdotes: From sourcing lasers for barcode scanners to buying monkeys from Africa, McEnroe offers fascinating insights into the less conventional aspects of his work and life, providing listeners with a unique glimpse into the mind of an inventor.

Why It's a Must-Listen: Episode #404 celebrates a significant technological milestone and showcases the human element behind innovation. Paul V. McEnroe's account of barcode development, combined with his diverse interests and experiences, offers listeners an inspiring and entertaining exploration of how curiosity and passion drive technological advancement. This episode stands out for its blend of historical significance, personal storytelling, and insightful discussion on the impact of technology on everyday life.

Tradition is Peer Pressure From the Dead

Tradition peer pressure dead

Release Date: October 27, 2021
Episode #300 titled "Tradition is Peer Pressure From the Dead," encapsulates a reflective and engaging dialogue centered around the evolving landscape of DIY culture, the maker community, and the broader implications of technological advancements on traditional practices. Not only does this episode mark a significant achievement for the "Circuit Break" podcast, but it also serves as a platform for deeper engagement with the listeners.

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Key Highlights:

  • Engagement and Outreach: The episode starts with a call to action for college-enrolled listeners to contribute ideas for future content and to share their stories, reflecting the podcast's commitment to community engagement and listener involvement.
  • Charity Initiative: Parker announces his participation in a 24-hour video game stream for the Extra Life Charity benefiting the Texas Children's Hospital network, highlighting the podcast's dedication to philanthropy and community support.
  • Chris Gammell's Insights: Returning guest Chris Gammell, known for his appearances in previous episodes and his significant contributions to the electronics DIY community, joins the discussion to delve into the current state and future of DIY culture.
  • The State of DIY: Amidst observations that Maker Faire, a staple of the maker community, seems to have waned, the conversation explores the vitality of DIY projects and YouTube channels, suggesting a shift rather than a decline in how the DIY ethos is expressed and shared.
  • Economic Considerations in DIY: The episode touches on the financial aspects of DIY electronics, from the availability of $1 microcontrollers to the notion of engineers as "Pavlovian cheapskates," prompting a discussion on value, affordability, and the economics of hobbyist electronics.

Why It's a Must-Listen: Episode #300 stands out with a thought-provoking exploration of the shifts within the DIY and maker communities. It explores how economic factors, community engagement, and technological advancements are shaping DIY culture. The episode reflects on tradition, innovation, and the evolving relationship between creators and their creations, making it a compelling listen for anyone interested in the intersection of technology, culture, and community.



Release Date: January 13, 2021
Episode #259, titled "Troncrete," takes listeners on a speculative journey through the intersections of engineering skepticism and the pursuit of futuristic infrastructure innovations, specifically the concept of Solar Roadways. Through a blend of critical analysis and open-minded exploration, Stephen and Parker explore the potential of solar-powered roadways that echo the aesthetics and functionality of a Tron-like future.

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Key Highlights:

  • Skeptics or Realists?: The episode opens with a discussion on the perception of engineers as the non-believers of the world, questioning whether their skepticism stems from realism or a lack of imagination.
  • The Cellmate Security Flaw: Revisiting a security report from Episode #245, Parker brings attention to the Cellmate device by Qiui, a China-based manufacturer, highlighting the unresolved security vulnerabilities that put users at risk, demonstrating the complex challenges at the intersection of technology, security, and personal privacy.
  • The Solar Roadway Dream: Stephen revisits the topic of Solar Roadways, a concept first discussed in the inaugural episode of the podcast. This ambitious idea aims to transform roadways into solar energy-generating surfaces, but it has faced significant scrutiny and skepticism over its feasibility, cost-efficiency, and practical application.
  • A Journey Through Time: The episode provides a timeline of the Solar Roadway project from its inception in 2006 through various stages of funding, development, and public campaigns, culminating in a few pilot projects around the world.
  • Global Experiments: Stephen and Parker examine the few solar roadway installations globally, including a notable Dutch bike path and the recent deployment in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. They discuss the outcomes, efficiencies, and criticisms of these projects, particularly highlighting the discrepancy between expectations and real-world performance.

Why It's a Must-Listen: "Tronicrete" is an entertaining, in-depth exploration of solar roadways, framed by a universal discussion about optimism and skepticism. This episode is a must-listen for those intrigued by the potential of integrating renewable energy into infrastructure and for anyone interested in practical challenges related to cutting-edge technology. It offers a balanced view that neither dismisses the dream outright nor ignores the hurdles it faces.


During the process of selecting these episodes of "Circuit Break," Stephen and I realized how broad the spectrum of electrical engineering and technology is. We've navigated conversations about industry innovation, cybersecurity challenges, DIY culture, and the potential for future technologies. Our dialogue with industry leaders of both past and present and our critical examination of emerging trends aim to bridge the gap between technical expertise and the potential broader societal implications.

This curated collection is designed not only to welcome new listeners but to underscore our dedication to producing content that informs, engages, and hopefully entertains. Our approach to discussing complex topics in an accessible manner underscores our commitment to fostering a deeper understanding of technology's role in society among our audience.

As we move forward, "Circuit Break" will continue to serve as a platform for exploration and debate in technology and engineering. We hope that this series sparks curiosity, inspires further inquiry, and contributes to the ongoing conversation about the future of technology and its impact.

Which of these episodes are one of your favorites or do you have another favorite episode we didn't mention? Head on over to our engineering discussion forum to chat about which episodes of the Circuit Break podcast are your favorite!

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