Posts Tagged ‘engineering

Balloons without water

Posted in Educationon Jul 22, 2011

I read an article today about how a big water balloon fight at BYU was cancelled:

Norm Finlinson, executive director for Student Academic and Advisement Services (SAAS), said attempts were made to have a water balloon fight this year, but it was impossible to get everything together.

“We had fully intended to do it this year, but things didn’t work out,” Finlinson said.

I understand that things don’t always work out, but I read a little further into the article and I think I understand why things didn’t work out:

This year, SAAS wanted the engineering department on campus to have students create various machines which would fill up the balloons. Last year volunteers spent weeks filling more than 120,000 balloons.

I’ve seen too many activities at BYU and also at church that fail because the plan was to have someone else do the critical and complicated part.  I can imagine in this case a student activities committee was discussing how to organize the filling of a 1/8th of a million balloons, and realized that getting volunteers to fill balloons for weeks wasn’t the best idea.  Someone problem expressed a wish for machine to automagically fill up balloons, with of course the engineers on campus being the only ones smart enough to come up with such a machine.

I imagine the destruction of their wishful thinking like this:

  1. The engineers decided that they would rather build human powered drills to make water wells in Africa
  2. The engineers were confused why they should spend weeks to build devices for a social event that they wouldn’t even attend.
  3. The engineers, studying as much as possible, were trying to set the curve on the next exam with a 70%.
  4. The engineers thought that it was a good idea to take a 5 credit hour class during spring term.
  5. Every time the engineers started working the plans for a water balloon filling machine, a cute girl in the apartment complex would come over and beg them to fix all the spyware and viruses on their laptop.
  6. Really though, the engineers probably didn’t really ever want to build a water balloon filler; they didn’t volunteer for such a task, and just because they might be the most capable on campus doesn’t mean they have the time or motivation to help with every available project.
I think I might be coming off a little sour, so let me skip to the conclusion:  It is probably best to have a plan B when you are asking busy people to volunteer lots of time.

A WIRED.com post (also posted to Slashdot.org) gave 5 reasons why it stinks to be an engineering student. I’ve decided to list each reason and give a letter grade to BYU on how they appeared to do while I was in the program. If you want to rant about your education, here is your chance. Higher grades indicate a better student experience.

5. Textbooks Quality: B-. I’ve had some great textbooks which the professors used well and still are used by me today. I also had some classes where I was provided only with an electronic copy of a manuscript that the professor was putting together.

4. Encouraging Professors: C+. The WIRED post presented the problem as, “A professor that would rather be tending to his research will walz up to a blackboard or overhead projector and scribble out equations for an hour.” About half of my professors seemed to do this to some degree, and several of which had severe problems with this. There were a few professors who seemed burdened to be having to teach an undergraduate class, they would rather be working on research, and you would never see them attempt to interact with students outside of the three lecture hours a week. However, there were some professors who made every effort to get to know their students by name and do whatever it took to help them succeed.

3. Quality Counseling: B+. I found that there were many great counselors who were very skilled, approachable, and available. I only gave a B+ grade because in my experiences, I found that these counselors did better with course work academic counseling and were not so pro-active at personalized career counseling. I also didn’t give an A grade because those seem to impossible to earn at BYU.

2. Reasonable grades: C-. Engineering classes are just plain harder than classes in other majors. I always found it amusing when taking a class from a different department (not math) and was able to put in less work for a better grade when compared with an engineering class. Anti-grade-inflation tactics are well employed in engineering classes, where students compete harder for lower grades than students in other disciplines.

1. Interesting assignments: C. The complaint being, “Every assignment feels the same.” Homework assignments were often many page, green engineering paper, math problems. Varied labs and coding assignments made things interesting sometimes, but it seemed like the hard work-out problems from the text book were never-ending and downright miserable compared to the homework I saw my non-engineering friends do.

Bonus reason, girls: D. I’ve been in classes where there were no girls at all, and I’ve been in classes where the only girl was my sister. On average, there might be one girl to twenty guys. Without even touching on the limits this puts on dating, having fewer girls around just adds less excitement and variety.

Overall GPA: 2.17. If these grades get any lower, engineering classes would have to be put on academic warning status. These grades aren’t to say that engineering is bad, or to discourage people from entering an engineering field. Its just illustrating that engineering is hard. BYU’s use of student teaching assistants could especially be a source of many problems, especially as these TAs create an inappropriate buffer between the students from the professors.

My DARPA team is a semifinalist

Posted in Technicalon Aug 9, 2007

Congratulations to the University of Utah and BYU DARPA Urban Grand Challenge team. DARPA has selected 36 teams as semifinalists to compete, and the U/Y team is one of them.

The University and Utah and BYU teamed up about a month ago to work collectively on their entry, and now they will compete in October for one of the 20 finalist spots.

I participated with the team up until a month ago, when my classwork and finances dictated a smaller contribution of time to the project.

You can read the slashdot news article about it.

Life Tracker

Posted in Technicalon Dec 12, 2006

As a software engineer, I use a project management tools like Trac to manage different aspects of my project, such as roadmaps, milestones, issues, documents, and the source.

I wonder, what if these software development tools were to be applied to a different type of project called: life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Software architecture

Posted in Technicalon Oct 11, 2006

“Software architecture is the set of design decisions which, if made incorrectly, may cause your project to be cancelled.”

Eoin Woods

Incorrect open source software architecture decisions may cause your project to fail.


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