Gas station without pumps

2014 March 30

Panicking about circuits class

Filed under: Circuits course,Data acquisition — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:08
Tags: , ,

I’m entering panic mode for the Applied Circuits class that starts tomorrow.

  • I don’t know what procedure to tell the students to follow to get their parts kits. Last year, I bought the parts myself and sold the kits to the students, but this year there is a lab fee and the students have to get the parts from the lab support staff.
  • I haven’t heard from the lab support staff that the parts kits are ready, but the students need them before Tuesday’s lab.  The last message I got was that they had forgotten to order some of the parts from China and were doing a rush order.
  • I don’t know whether the support staff will have the soldering stations in the lab by Tuesday.  (We probably won’t need them until Thursday, though, so that is not critical.)
  • We’re using KL25Z boards for the data acquisition system this year, but my son is behind schedule on implementing the new software, which we’re calling PteroDAQ. I’ll have my first chance to test alpha-release software this evening, and we’ll have to install it on the Windows machines in the labs tomorrow morning. The code has been massively refactored, and I’m worried that it will be fragile for the next couple of weeks. The new GUI looks good, and the new code should be much easier to add features to—I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that enough of the functionality will be there for the students to do the first lab.
  • Not enough students enrolled, so I’ll be having to issue permission codes tomorrow to let students in who don’t have the Physics E&M course. I’m hoping that doesn’t cause problems when we get to capacitors, RC time constants, and complex impedance—I won’t have time to teach them everything about capacitors. I’m also hoping I don’t get any late adds, since arranging for them to make up labs if they don’t get their parts kits by Tuesday’s lab will be a real hassle.
  • I’ve written and released the syllabus, a schedule of labs and lectures, guidelines for design reports, a study sheet (which they don’t need yet) with everything that they need to memorize for the course, and the first week’s lab handout. I’ve started rewriting the second week’s handout and should have that up tomorrow or Tuesday.  I’ll try to do two each weekend, so that I can be done with the lab handouts by the middle of the quarter.  The rewrites take me a long time, and the new lab on transimpedance amplifiers and phototransistors for an optical pulse monitor will probably take me much longer to write.
  • There’s a lot of material to cover tomorrow:
    • Standard administrivia: office hours, lab times, organization of the class, texts, evaluation, … . I’m going to race through this stuff.
    • Demoing some of the labs from later in the quarter. Most likely the pressure sensor and EKG, since those are soldered boards and won’t have as high a risk of failure as carrying around a breadboard.  I’ll have to remember to put on EKG electrodes after my shower tomorrow morning. I should probably test the boards at home also. I demoed the pressure sensor just last week to show a visitor my son’s data logger (the old Arduino one, since PteroDAQ was not ready), so I think that is ok, but I’ve not tried the EKG since last year.  I’ll bring in an Arduino board with me, just in case PteroDAQ fails in the demo.
    • Ohm’s Law (I hope they remember this much from high-school physics)
    • Kirchhoff’s current law
    • Voltage dividers
    • Intro to thermistors
  • I’ll probably have to talk about installing gnuplot in lab on Tuesday, as I want to do hands-on gnuplot scripting in lecture on Wednesday. That’ll have to come at the end of the lab, though, as I want to make sure that everyone gets a lot of thermistor resistance readings at different temperatures.
  • Last year I loaned a bunch of the coffee cups I had bought (to use as water baths in the thermistor lab and as salt-water baths for the electrode lab) to another instructor for his sensors class. I never retrieved them, so today I went down to the thrift store and bought another 8 cups for $4. I’ll have to remember to pack them in my panniers tomorrow.
  • The cabinet in the lab where the secondary containment tubs are kept is locked and I’ve forgotten the combination. I’d better remember to get that tomorrow!
  • On Tuesday I’ll have to remember to get ice and to heat up the coffee urn to get some hot water for the thermistor lab.  I wish there were a way I could give the students somewhat hotter water, since the holding temperature for coffee is only 85°C.  Last year I had trouble running out of ice also, but I think I can get more from the 2nd floor lab this year.

My son gave me an alpha release of PteroDAQ just before dinner tonight, and I tested it out. It isn’t fully functional yet, but it is pretty close. I sent him back a prioritized list of bugs to fix, and I think we should have a usable beta release by tomorrow morning. Documentation and more advanced features will have to wait until later in the week.

By 10pm, most of the bigger bugs were fixed, and I sent him back for another round of more minor fixes. Right now I’m only looking for the analog voltages being read correctly, not the digital pins, and I’m only looking at the timer-based triggering, not the external triggering.  Both of those can wait until later in the week.  I would have liked to have been at this point 2–3 weeks ago, so that I could really stress-test the code before releasing the students on it, but they’ll have to put up with being alpha testers.

1 Comment »

  1. […] I’m less happy with the rest of the day, though. In the morning my son accompanied me to the lab to help me set up the Windows drivers and to test PteroDAQ on the Windows machines, but the lab staff had changed the system they used for authenticating administrators, so I couldn’t install the drivers. I knocked on their door (no answer) and sent them e-mail through the request system, but it took them about 3 hours to answer (by which time my son had gone home and I was teaching class). After they had reauthorized me, I spent 2 hours installing Windows drivers on the 12 machines in the lab, so that they could talk with the KL25Z boards.  (Windows is a major pain—I really hate having to deal with it.)  I finally got a chance to test PteroDAQ on the Windows machine, and it didn’t work—I tried installing Python3.4 on one of the machines and that changed the nature of the error, but did not fix it. [Did I mention that the students have to be able to use it on Thursday?] […]

    Pingback by First day of S14 circuits class went ok | Gas station without pumps — 2014 March 31 @ 21:22 | Reply

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