Episode 123 — Transitions 2016

In this episode of The Engineering Commons, we discuss transitions experienced by Adam, Carmen and Jeff during the past year. Brian participates in our round-robin discussion, but it seems his 2016 was fairly routine.

  • Adam has been residing in his new estate since mid-November, and is still uncovering new surprises on his property.
  • A power take-off (PTO) is included on Adam’s new mower, a Kubota BX (YouTube video) subcompact tractor.
  • Carmen plans on retiring by age 35, or by the 800th episode of this podcast. (His 35th birthday will come first, unless we start releasing episodes at a much faster pace.)
  • We discuss basements and frost lines.
  • Adam plans on using his tractor to repair his gravel driveway.
  • Some of Adam’s wiring knowledge was passed on to him by his grandfather, who learned it during a stint in the Army, courtesy of Uncle Sam.
  • If all goes well, Adam will be growing hops on his property in a few years.
  • Jeff started a full-time instructional position mid-year, which increased his administrative responsibilities, as well as upping his course load.
  • A 2014 blog post by Philip Guo compares the relative merits of working in industry versus working in academia.
  • During the past year, Carmen also changed jobs, starting in his first new position since graduating from college.
  • Not unexpectedly, the culture at Carmen’s new job is a bit different from what he experienced in his last position.
  • Brian expresses his displeasure with Keysight as a corporate name (an opinion shared by Dave Jones of EEVblog).
  • We hope to have more guests on the podcast during 2017. Feel free to use the contact page to send us your recommendations.

Thanks to Magdalena Roeseler for use of the untitled photo. Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 122 — Jared Asks

In this episode of The Engineering Commons, we answer questions from listener Jared about coping as an engineering student.

  • Carmen informs us that making accurate estimations is an important engineering skill.
  • In this episode, we answer questions from listener Jared about surviving the math-science death march encountered in the typical engineering curriculum.
  • It’s normal to “just get by” in some of your engineering courses; not every class will speak to your academic strengths and professional interests.
  • Engineering schools seeking in the United States and Canada that seek ABET accreditation are reasonably free to choose math requirements for their engineering degrees; ABET only requires “one year of a combination of college level mathematics and basic sciences.”
  • Brian notes that engineers and mathematicians approach math differently.
  • MIT professor Gilbert Strang has argued that linear algebra should be emphasized over calculus in the engineering curriculum.
  • Many systems do not have a closed-form (analytic) solution, as it the case with the n-body problem.
  • It is common for engineers to use only algebra during their professional careers, but the training received in advanced math seems to prove beneficial.
  • We once more stumble onto the long and glorious history of the Turbo-Encabulator.
  • Jeff made heavy use of note cards while preparing for his area exams.
  • Carmen benefited doing his engineering homework as part of a study group, while Brian found open-ended research projects the best way to master important material.
  • Even when the semester is not going well, it’s important to avoid writing off a class entirely.
  • Brian finds value in watching the slightly unconventional YouTube videos of ElectroBOOM, while Carmen enjoys the educational aspects of Alan Wolke’s electronics tutorials.
  • Someday, in the distant future when he has more time, Jeff would like to construct the coffee-can radar developed by Gregory Charvat.
  • Spaced repetition is a learning method that revisits material in accordance with a schedule designed to maximize retention.
  • Repeated retrieval of information from memory is one of the best ways for students to master scientific topics.
  • Students don’t necessarily learn any more from a charismatic lecturer.
  • One can find lots of advice on surviving engineering school, but keep in mind that the objective is becoming an employed engineer.

Thanks to Jimmy Harris for use of the photograph titled “Oriel College, Oxford.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 121 — Idle Doodling

doodleIn this episode of The Engineering Commons, our intrepid crew discusses planning, leading and attending the dreaded corporate meeting.

  • It seems that Brian elects to daydream when in boring meetings, whereas Jeff has been known to doodle extensively.
  • Jeff located a website claiming to offer doodle analysis and interpretation, although the disclaimer notes that it is for “amusement only.”
  • Brian makes a passing reference to the pseudo-science of phrenology, which uses skull measurements to assess human behavior and capability.
  • Carmen’s doodles are apparently influenced by his youth, when he learned to draw the main character from Nickolodeon’s animated television series, Hey Arnold!
  • One of the benefits of a face-to-face meeting is the opportunity to observe the body language and microexpressions of other meeting participants.
  • A 2009 blog post by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham notes the differing costs for managers and makers of attending a meeting.
  • Brian notes a recent story arc, from the television series Silicon Valley, in which engineers solved a technical problem that was of little importance to their customers.
  • Our first key to running a good meeting is have a purpose.
  • Second, it is important to invite the right people.
  • Third, keep the meeting on topic.
  • Fourth, start the meeting on time.
  • Fifth, take meeting notes and distribute them afterwards.
  • Sixth, assign action items, including deliverables and due dates.
  • Jeff mentions a video about holding 22-minute meetings.

Thanks to Gavin St. Ours for use of the photograph titled “A doodle from my meeting notes.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd