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2016 January 4

International Blog Delurking Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:00
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Thanks to xykademiqz’s post, I just found out about “International Blog Delurking Week”, which runs 2016 Jan 3–2016 Jan 9. The tradition seems to have started in 2005 (at any rate, there are a lot of Google hits for “delurking week” and 2005, but all the top ones for “delurking week” and 2004 are from later years).

The idea is a simple one: ask lurking readers to step out from their silence to make a comment, even an inane one. Like most blog writers, I get few comments, and it sometimes feels like shouting in a large empty building—there are a lot of echos, but no one there to hear what I say.

Many of my views come from search engines and people passing on links to specific posts, but I don’t really know who is coming to my home page or reading on an RSS feed, aside from the handful of folks who comment regularly. (And a big thanks to them—it helps me believe that my audience contains real people, and not just spider bots crawling the web to link to my posts.)

Tell me something about yourself: are you a student? a faculty member? a home schooling parent? an electronics hobbyist? …

What would you like me to write more about in the coming year?

You can post anonymously if you are shy—I don’t need to know who you are in real life, just who you are as my blog audience.

60 Comments »

  1. Hello! I’m a postdoc at UCSF who started following due to your MinION posts. I’m also interested in the homeschooling post as I was homeschooled K-12.

    Comment by aihardin — 2016 January 4 @ 22:51 | Reply

    • I’ve not been posting about MinION lately, because I’ve not done anything with the nanopore group for about a year. I may do some work with them again later, but I’m uncomfortable with having to keep things secret, and they’ve got some non-disclosure agreements with ONT.

      I’m looking for contacts at UCSF for my next sabbatical (summer and fall 2016)—I’d like to design some electronics projects and am looking for doctors or medical researchers with need for some expertise. Know anyone I should contact?

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 09:18 | Reply

  2. Hi!
    I’m a Community College teacher in Seattle (which is why I was interested in your search for a good offline grading spot). I like the variety of stuff that you write, but particularly enjoy stuff about your teaching (for example, the discussions about the evolution of the Bioengineering program).

    Thank you for writing!

    Comment by Mike — 2016 January 4 @ 22:55 | Reply

    • The offline grading spot search is not likely to happen until the Spring—we are hitting the rainy season now, so going out of the house to grade is less appealing. (I know, our rainy season is just normal weather for Seattle, but it still is enough to tip the balance in favor of staying indoors.) I also have a light teaching load this quarter, and so will not be having that much grading to do. Spring quarter I’ll have a huge grading load, so will probably be looking for grading spots again then.

      I’ll have more to say about the evolution of the bioengineering program this quarter, as MCD biology has started complaining about bioengineering students taking their courses (though their department is one of the owners of the bioengineering program, they insist on an us-vs-them attitude, only accepting the MCD majors as “theirs”). I like curriculum design, but I hate this sort of inter-departmental politics—it may drive me to retire early or quit as program director.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 09:25 | Reply

  3. Hi, I’m a university student (just finished off first year with bits of environmental policy, pure maths and theoretical computer science). I’m trying out research in the maths/comp sci intersection, as well as software engineer-y things. I find it really interesting to hear about the thought that goes into courses, since I only see the student side of it at uni!

    Comment by Adele — 2016 January 5 @ 03:15 | Reply

    • Not all courses get as much thought as the ones I design, at least, not by the person teaching it. A lot of faculty are happier teaching a course someone else has designed, adding only a little of their own flavor to it.

      Part of my reason for writing a textbook is to allow someone else to teach a course very close to the one that I’ve designed, since I see a shortage of beginning electronics courses taught in a practical way.

      I was a math major who switched to computer science in grad school. Although I started out wanting to be a pure mathematician, switching to CS to be able to do combinatorics and graph theory, over the years I’ve become more and more applied, and I now see myself as primarily an engineering professor, and I recommend computer engineering as the most central of the engineering disciplines at UCSC (also probably the best taught on average). Of course, computer engineering at UCSC is a bit unusual, in that the curriculum there has maintained a software/hardware balance that few computer engineering programs manage—most are affiliated with either computer science or electrical engineering programs and lean heavily towards software or hardware.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 09:43 | Reply

      • Oh, cool, that’s interesting to hear — combinatorics and graph theory are certainly fascinating. I did a research project with a researcher at my university who’s ended up specialising in just that sort of thing last semester, and it was heaps of fun. (I’m at ANU in Australia.)

        Comment by Adele — 2016 January 5 @ 23:37 | Reply

  4. I cam here as a homeschooling parent from a Yahoo group. I’ve continued to follow as my son is interested in a computer field. Waiting to hear on college acceptances now…..

    Comment by Inmom — 2016 January 5 @ 04:35 | Reply

    • Good luck to your son on college acceptances! Waiting for them is a very stressful time. Remember that highly selective colleges are essentially a lottery—once you’re past a certain threshold it is pretty much a random function whether or not you are accepted (and colleges could reduce the cost of their admissions processes considerably by recognizing that).

      I won’t be doing many homeschool posts in future, as my son is in his second year of college (UCSB, College of Creative Studies, computer science). I still see a fair number of home-schooled students as college students at UCSC—I believe that UCSC admissions are fairly welcoming to home-schooled students.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 09:48 | Reply

  5. I like this delurking week idea. I think I need to try it on my blog as well. THanks for sharing – and not just this post.

    Comment by alfredtwo — 2016 January 5 @ 04:38 | Reply

    • The “delurking week” idea is a good one, and I’m surprised that this year was the first I heard of it, since it seems to have been going on for over a decade.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 09:49 | Reply

  6. I teach physics at High Point University. I think I learned about your blog through the Global Physics Department (led by Andy Rundquist). However, I also interact with you on the VPython list. I’m a huge fan of Matter and Interactions (textbook by Ruth Chabay and Bruce Sherwood) and have been greatly influenced by their pedagogy. I purchased your electronics book. I taught electronics for many years although I haven’t taught it for the last two years. I have found that textbooks are all over the place in terms of both theory and practical instruction. I haven’t read your book yet, but I did pass it on to my colleague who is teaching the course. I especially like your use of of inexpensive, ubiquitous components readily available within a small budget. It’s the antithesis of the National Instruments approach to teaching electronics.

    Comment by aarontitus — 2016 January 5 @ 07:00 | Reply

    • Doing things cheaply appeals to me—I’m a miser at heart. I’m planning to improve my textbook by making all the labs doable with very cheap equipment—perhaps just a laptop, the PteroDAQ data acquisition system (about $12 for a Teensy LC board), a moderately cheap digital multimeter ($12), and a soldering station ($25). Except for the laptop, the parts and tools would only be about $100 (when bought in classroom quantities—maybe $150 or $200 if everything bought at retail rates). (See https://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/tools-and-parts-list-for-applied-electronics-s2016/)

      The big hole in that plan is the lack of an oscilloscope—I don’t know whether recommending a USB oscilloscope (like the BitScope one that I have) or a $400 Rigol oscilloscope makes sense for what is needed in the course. I think that teaching students to use oscilloscopes is valuable, so for classroom use I’d definitely want to include oscilloscope labs, but I’m not sure that the price is justified for a student learning electronics on their own.

      I liked the Matter and Interactions textbook also—I like that it started with the modern notion of momentum and introduced Newtonian mechanics as a simplified approximation—most of physics for engineers is about finding the appropriate simplified model that models just enough. It was also a very good fit for my son and me, as expressing the physics in small computer programs was a natural fit for us—much better than the usual insistence on looking only at problems that can be solved analytically. Incidentally, my son is retaking physics in college this quarter—he prefers following the rules on required courses, even when it means retaking things he’s already learned elsewhere. I suspect he’ll find the physics for engineers course a bit boring and slow-moving, but it will be a good refresher for him.

      I’m very curious what you think of my textbook—I’ve not gotten much feedback on the book yet, and that mainly from students learning electronics for the first time (a very important type of feedback, but different from feedback that I’d expect from a teacher). Since I’m mainly self-taught in electronics, I’d particularly appreciate hearing where I got things subtly wrong, or where my explanations are more confusing than helpful.

      I’m aware that there are big holes in what I chose to cover, in order to get to practical design as quickly as possible, but I’d love to hear from people who have taught electronics what things they think I should not have omitted, and what I should give up to make room for those things.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 10:09 | Reply

  7. I am a math teacher in Oregon, reading via a RSS reader. I enjoy many aspects of the blog; your discussions of publishing your book has motivated me to do something similar with my own lecture notes.

    Comment by Paul — 2016 January 5 @ 08:36 | Reply

    • Lightweight publication of lecture notes and book drafts is, I think, a good antidote to the serious problem of over-priced textbooks. I encourage you to pursue it, even if the only students who benefit are the ones in your own classes.

      If you decide to use LeanPub, as I am, I recommend using LaTeX to create a PDF file and just distribute that, rather than using the Leanpub toolchain. The compromises needed for generating EPUB and MOBI formats (whether using the Leanpub tools or other toolchains) seem to be too big for a math-heavy text. Neither EPUB nor MOBI was designed for handling complicated typesetting like math formulas, and the clumsy workarounds they provide are not really appealing.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 10:14 | Reply

  8. I am a CS/math/IT guy at a Catholic high school. I read your blog for a different perspective. Being at a small school sort of limits the number of people I can discuss ideas with. Blogs like this open things up quite a bit.

    Comment by gflint — 2016 January 5 @ 08:37 | Reply

    • I appreciate your frequent comments on the blog (and I read your blog). I can see that being at a small school and being the only one in your field there would be limiting for discussing teaching and subject content—my wife works at a small K–6 elementary school as the school librarian, and there is no one there interested in any of the more technical parts of her job.

      But it is difficult to find people to discuss content-specific pedagogy with even at a large university—everyone is busy, and discussions about teaching tend to be both infrequent and brief. Part of the point of this blog is thinking out loud about what I’m doing, hoping that others will chime in with things I’ve overlooked, or viewpoints I’ve not considered. That is why I value comments so much, especially those that disagree with me (with reasonable arguments—I’m not interested in trolls or flame wars). I envy the bloggers who have rich discussions in their comment sections, but I don’t know how to achieve that myself.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 10:23 | Reply

      • You might try asking readers directly for feedback. Even if it is just to say “Hey, readers, what do you think I should do?” I usually assume you already have it all figured out!

        Comment by V John — 2016 January 5 @ 20:05 | Reply

        • Good point. I should be more direct about asking for questions. I’ve tried it, somewhat tentatively, a few times, and not seen a greater response.

          I guess that part of my hesitation is fear—fear of rejection. If I ask a question and get no replies, it is more painful than if I just post something and get no comments. It is kind of like the difference between having open office hours that no one comes to as opposed to inviting people to a party and having no one show up. Empty office hours are not desirable, but could just mean that no one has any problems, but no one accepting an invitation to a party hurts (I’ve had one or two of those “parties”).

          Incidentally, I’ve not had many empty office hours since becoming the undergrad director for bioengineering—when you are the person who has to sign students’ forms and or approve exceptions to the rules for, they are much more eager to talk with you!

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 20:34 | Reply

  9. I’ve been reading you for a long time — first encountered you in the TAGFAM message board where you understood and explained IQ testing (and, the methodological inability to test accurately at the high end of the range — not resolvable because a test offers higher scores, like the L-M, ugh).

    When I discovered the blog, I liked the descriptions of finding the right educational fit for your child. It was specific and knowledgeable and acknowledged the imperative that finding a fit would always be a work in progress. I liked seeing what you had to do to help your child meet his needs and the relatively little railing against the system.

    I am a scientist, with a PhD in neuroscience, and children who are capable of a lot; I share a lot of your opinions on education, testing, science fairs, and learning theory (or at least much of what you post here) and I enjoy your scientifically trained discussions of the topics.

    I also enjoy your discussion of pedagogy and students in your teaching work and your lifestyle posts (biking, solar power, weight loss). I wish I’d had a course like the lab course you just taught when I was a grad student and enjoy skimming what you’re doing on that topic. Your attitude towards your lifestyle posts (i.e. keeping data logs, doing your own analysis and experiments) are how I live my life, too, so I enjoy seeing your summaries.

    I comment occasionally and would love to see more robust discussion in your comments section, too — one other blog I followed had a consistent group of commenters, also a diverse bunch, and it was very interesting to have the conversation with the group — which ranged from a republican new yorker to a religious texan to a liberal west coaster (and many more).

    Comment by zb — 2016 January 5 @ 11:44 | Reply

    • Thanks for the detailed feedback! I’ve often wondered whether I should split my blog into different special-topic blogs (the usual advice to bloggers is to stick to one subject), but it seems like you, at least, like the eclectic mix.

      I actually did try splitting my blog at one point, but I merged all the posts in the “other” blog back into this one—it was too difficult to maintain both coherence and sufficient frequency of posting on the single-topic blog.

      I still send email occasionally to the tagfam, tagmax, and hs2coll e-mail lists, though not as often as I used to.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 12:10 | Reply

      • I also vote for the mixed cocktail of topics. When I open up your email, I never know what I’m going to get. (Random rewards get me every time.)

        Comment by V John — 2016 January 5 @ 20:07 | Reply

        • OK, I’ll stick with mixed topics, since that is my inclination anyway, though there may be long runs when I get obsessed with a fairly narrow range (like the notes for the applied electronics course).

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 20:35 | Reply

  10. Dropping by to say ‘hi’. I comment here on occasion and appreciate your comments at my place!
    I have degrees in theoretical physics and an engineering discipline, and I am a full professor at a large midwestern R1 in an applied physical science field.
    I like your posts about academia in general, about teaching, and about your son’s education. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by xykademiqz — 2016 January 5 @ 11:52 | Reply

    • Thanks! I appreciate your blog also and have directed several grad students (particularly female ones) to read it.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 12:10 | Reply

  11. Hello, I am a graduate student at your university. I enjoy reading your perspective on a number of topics, especially those that relate to bioinformatics.

    Comment by Jennie — 2016 January 5 @ 13:10 | Reply

    • Good to hear from you. I don’t have any bioinformatics posts in the draft queue right now, but most of my posts are written and posted quickly, bypassing the queue (which might be better thought of as a backlog of unfinished thoughts).

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 13:33 | Reply

  12. Hello – not sure if I’ve commented here yet or not. Long time CS teacher at Stuyvesant High School in NYC moving over to Hunter College at the end of the month.

    I enjoy seeing your stuff here and comments on other blogs.

    Comment by zamanskym — 2016 January 5 @ 14:58 | Reply

    • Because your comment was automatically approved, you probably have commented here before. Yep, once, back in 2014.
      It is good to hear from you again, and I hope that you comment more often.

      What should I write about that would get you to comment again?

      Will you be teaching computer science at Hunter College? Full-time or part-time? I rather liked the picture of a tree superimposed on the window air-conditioners on the Hunter College CS home page.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 15:41 | Reply

      • You should write about what you write about – I should just try to jump in more – that’s on me.

        I’ll be at Hunter full time to do a variety of things including building a program for budding K12 CS teachers and also working with an honors cohort of undergrads there.

        Should be a lot of fun given the frustrations I’ve had getting support at Stuyvesant and the NYC DOE.

        Comment by Mike Zamansky (@zamansky) — 2016 January 6 @ 04:21 | Reply

        • Working with a honors cohort sounds like a lot of fun. I envy the colleague who I suggested for teaching a freshman honors course, though I know that he teaches an amazing course that I lack the skills to teach (I mean lab skills, here, not teaching skills, though he is great at both).

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 6 @ 19:59 | Reply

  13. Hi: Homeschooling mom here. You inspired me to include hand on electronics instruction into our homeschooling curriculum. I relied heavily on Charles Platt’s book, Make: Electronics, and now we’re working through his sequel, More Electronics. I student engineering as an undergraduate and one thing that hit me hard was that in my electronics class, all my male colleagues had grown up with Radio Shack electronics kits, so they already knew their way around a breadboard. I had never seen one before college. So I wanted to make sure my daughters did not have this experience. We also noodle around with Arduino and raspberry pi projects for variety.

    I also enjoy hearing about your travails as a university professor. I always thought you guys were omnipotent! It was a revelation to hear that isn’t true, and I’m not even joking, lol.

    Keep posting! I learn something new nearly every time you do.

    Comment by V John — 2016 January 5 @ 20:13 | Reply

    • I’m very glad to hear that you are helping your daughters learn electronics—the EE majors are one of the most gender-imbalanced majors on campus (after game design). Nowadays a much smaller fraction of students have played with electronics kits before college, so they would have a big lead if they chose to pursue an engineering field.

      If you have an Arduino board, pick up the PteroDAQ software (it’s free, link in the right-hand navigation panel of the blog), and try using the Arduino as voltage-recording device. (Arduino boards are a bit slow for the purpose, but work. I recommend the Teensy LC or Teensy 3.2 boards for a higher-speed version, at $12–20.)

      The projects in my book are probably no more difficult than the ones in Platt’s books (which I’ve not looked at in any detail), but emphasize the design aspects rather than constructing already completed designs. If I remember right, he also uses drawings of breadboards rather than standard schematics, which is easier to build from, but harder to design with.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 20:42 | Reply

      • I’m a big fan of Platt. He begins with drawings of actual bread boards, but he does transition to schematics. I really appreciate his hand-holding; the photographs of components were a huge help when you are ordering from sites like mouser. I find that in searching for appropriate projects there is a dichotomy of instruction. Some projects will be along the lines of “here’s a cool thing you can do with an arduino! Just type in the code exactly as printed and presto!” with little explanation. But we don’t necessarily want to plunge into learning C and understanding every detail about the code before doing something fun. Still, we manage to find interesting projects to learn from, and gradually we are absorbing how the libraries work.

        Comment by V John — 2016 January 7 @ 19:19 | Reply

        • I haven’t done photos of components for my book, because I’m present when the students get their parts kits and can show them the parts in person. But perhaps I should include a parts list with photos as an appendix to the book, for autodidacts and for teachers who are learning along with their students.

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 7 @ 19:42 | Reply

  14. Another lurker here.

    Personally, I appreciate the variety of topics you write about on your blog.

    As to who I am, that would be someone similar yourself in a number ways, although I don’t believe we have ever met. I’m a longtime recreational bicyclist, dating back to the days when I gave up trying to compete as a fourteen year old bicycle racer against the best junior racers in the world, who, at the time also happened to live on the San Francisco peninsula. I received a computer science B.A., from UCSC, in the days when the department was called Information Science. When you were a graduate student, I worked in the same department writing software as a member of the technical staff, for one of the AI labs. After some decades in a research lab, larger companies, and startups in silicon valley, I decided to spend more time with my family. My son is two years ahead of your son in college, and when college shopping found the College of Creative Studies as very close to the top of his preferred college list, even though he is now finishing his physics degree at different, although equally intense, college on the west coast.

    So given my similar background, I really do appreciate the different topics you write about.

    Comment by Menlo Park biker — 2016 January 5 @ 20:20 | Reply

    • Another vote for an eclectic mix. I’ve not done many bicycling posts lately, perhaps because bicycling is so routine for me that I no longer think about it much. What is there to say?

      Let’s see: last weekend I took my bike trailer to Pet Smart to get a 40 lb bag of cat litter and a couple of 20 lb bags of cat food (except that they keep shrinking the bags, and they are no longer 20 lbs, but 17.5 lbs and 15.5 lbs). I wanted to get the cat litter and cat food on a dry day, and I knew that rain was predicted for all this week.

      Over winter break I had a minor bike accident on my way to the dentist (Dec 22)—the first accident I’ve had in several years. I was going to blog about it, but was too embarrassed, because it was such a stupid mistake. I was coming down the hill on Walnut Street, and needed to brake for the stop sign at Chestnut. The bike lane was covered with wet leaves, but I braked at my normal place for braking, not allowing for the slipperiness of the leaves. The front wheel of my recumbent locked up and I was dumped on my left side, scraping a small hole partway through the arm of my jacket and leaving me with nasty bruises (and minor abrasions) on my hip and elbow. The abrasions have healed, but the bruises are still yellow and somewhat tender—if I roll onto my left arm while I sleep it wakes me up.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 20:55 | Reply

  15. Thanks for posting this post – it’s really nice to see everyone else’s replies (to get to ‘meet’ some other readers). I’m surprised at how varied the audience is, actually, and that’s really cool! :)

    Comment by Mike — 2016 January 5 @ 21:06 | Reply

    • I’m a little surprised at the variety also—I know that not all my readers are like me (sorry, Menlo Park biker, you’re unusual), but I don’t know in what ways people differ.

      Some of my most loyal readers have come from various outreach efforts I made (like the talks my son and I gave for the Global Physics Department about homeschooling calculus-based physics and a predecessor of the PteroDAQ data acquisition software, or the rather frequent email on the tagmax and h2coll homeschooling mailing lists). A few others have come from reciprocal blog visits, when I have commented on someone else’s blog a few times and they come over to check out my blog. (Incidentally, if any of my readers are keeping a blog, I’d be glad to add your RSS feed to my subscriptions, at least for a dozen or so posts—I have to weed my subscriptions from time to time or I’d spend all my time in inoreader.)

      Mike, what brought you to my blog?

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 5 @ 21:12 | Reply

      • I came here after you posted on Mark Guzdial’s blog a couple times (or where cited by him in his posts – I don’t remember which). You both have interesting things to say about teaching, so I added you to Google Reader (and later, Feedly) and started lurking :)

        Comment by Mike — 2016 January 5 @ 21:59 | Reply

  16. I was surprised to see myself on the list of most frequent commenters post… I showed up via TAGFAM for homeschooling hints, and stayed for the variety of topics. I converted my lawn tractor to electric power a few years ago, which got me learning about electronics; when I started, I didn’t remember what an “RC time constant” was, and following your posts helped me keep learning. I bought your book to help with idiosyncratic auto-didactic hobbyist education…

    Comment by Michael K Johnson — 2016 January 6 @ 03:53 | Reply

    • I’d love to hear how the book is working for an autodidact—that is one market I hope to make it work for, though the book is currently too closely tied to classroom and university lab environments. Let me know where you run into missing chunks of info or things that seem less helpful than they could be. I’m trying not to be too helpful, because I want the book to be teaching students how to design, not giving them designs to copy, but I’m likely to have erred in the other direction at times.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 6 @ 19:57 | Reply

      • I bought your book right away because I wanted to encourage the self-publishing rapid-update model you chose, even though I knew that it was going to take me a while to get to going through it due to competing demands. So I haven’t yet done anything more than skim it and send in some early reports of typos that you subsequently took care of.

        I understand the tension. I haven’t thought of the autodidact market as something that the book should be optimized for, because the majority of independent explorers of a new topic just want step by step tutorials to do something someone else has designed, and the rest of us are so idiosyncratic that we’ll all run into holes due to missing perfectly reasonable prerequisites. So I just expect to run into holes that are holes in me rather than holes in the material…

        Vaguely similarly, AOE (despite its size) is a bit hard because I don’t have anyone to ask whether I “have the wrong end of the stick”. But that’s because I’m definitely not the main target audience for AOE and adding redundancy to the text that would make it easier for me to cross-check my understanding would do it no favors. But I still bought the third edition as soon as it came out (pre-ordered it, IIRC) because it’s useful to me even with the holes that I bring to it.

        I found one of the really fairly bad electronics hobby books I bought before AOE initially useful because it was so filled with mathematical errors in its theory chapter (the author would have flunked your courses for carelessness) that I had to work them all carefully merely to follow the text. I was annoyed at the carelessness but afterward realized that I’d been forced to pay better attention and learned more. ☺

        Comment by Michael K Johnson — 2016 January 7 @ 03:52 | Reply

        • I’ve still not bought Horowitz and Hill’s Art of Electronics, though I probably should get it—the second edition was such a classic that it sold well for 30 years, even though many of the parts it described were no longer made. The third edition just came out last year, so should be reasonably current (though I suspect that the digital part will once again become quickly obsolete).

          I agree that auto-didacts will each have different holes in their prior knowledge, but it is very hard for a teacher to know what assumptions they are making until they encounter a student who doesn’t fit the assumptions. It may well be the case that I decide not to provide background to fill a hole in some student’s education, or just provide a pointer to a tutorial on the web, but if I’m making assumptions without realizing that students have different preconceptions, I may be losing students that I could be teaching.

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 7 @ 08:12 | Reply

          • OK, when I finish the current projects and get back to the book, as I notice any holes that feel awkward I’ll certainly let you know.

            That said, one of my idiosyncrasies is that I did only first semester calculus, and that while I was simultaneously taking number theory and paying much closer attention in number theory. I then went on only in the algebra track—discrete math, linear alegebra, and abstract algebra—and didn’t take classic physics in college (obviously, given the math limitations). The choices ended up preparing me well for my specific professional interests but the lack of calculus background really gets in the way now with this new hobby…

            In any case, the combination of extremely weak and faintly-remembered calculus and trying to design circuits rather than just building others’ designs seems unusual in my experience so far. So when I do get around to it, do take anything I come up with a large dose of salt! I think I would be one of the struggling students if I were taking a class from you…

            One thing you’ve talked about several times that I see a lot in my own domain is a lack of systematic approach to systems design. Many software developers can’t describe their work systematically or architecturally. The more I learn about circuit design, the more it feels like software system design from an architectural point of view: at each level of description, you need “boxes” that express similar levels of abstraction, and which have well-defined inputs and outputs, where “well-defined” includes not only the information that flows across them but also the characteristics of the information flow. I have loosely used “impedance mismatch” for years as a metaphor to describe problems where software interfaces are poorly balanced; as I’ve been learning about circuit design, I find that the metaphor is often quite apt.

            Comment by Michael K Johnson — 2016 January 7 @ 16:18

          • One of my goals in the textbook is to foster “systems thinking”, which is important in all types of engineering. The schematic/block diagram pairing in electronics is a particularly useful tool for teaching that.

            Don’t worry too much about the calculus—I’ve tried to minimize it, as the biomolecular engineering students have largely forgotten any calculus they once learned.

            Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 7 @ 17:43

  17. I read your blog… I mostly read posts that are about teaching, academia, and home schooling.

    Comment by bwfrank — 2016 January 6 @ 13:37 | Reply

  18. Having worked with you across multiple science fairs, I always knew that you were an interesting person. It wasn’t until I started reading your blog did I realize just how interesting. I enjoy your posts on teaching, your electronics course, on writing, … well, most everything except your updates on your successful weight loss because it convicts me of my continued failings in the matter. I enjoy your posts on life at the U.C.’s and on community colleges as I have an interest in education and tax policy. My children have benefitted from your sage advice on homeschooling and Advanced Placement courses. I also admire your efforts to create an affordable, college-level electronics textbook.

    Comment by prevailingtech — 2016 January 7 @ 08:37 | Reply

    • I’m sorry that my weight-loss charts have been an irritant to you—I did the public charting in part because my previous somewhat half-hearted attempts at weight loss had never gone anywhere. Putting my weight record up for public scrutiny gave me an extra incentive to resist snacking and other bad habits that had derailed earlier efforts. The last couple of months have been disappointing for me—maintaining a constant weight has been as hard has losing the weight was. I hope to be able to report being back in my target zone by the end of January, though.

      There will undoubtedly be more posts on education, but not too much on home-schooling.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 7 @ 09:37 | Reply

  19. Another autodidact here … amateur radio in high school, then a PhD in Physical Chem. with minor in applied math., followed by 6 years in the post-doc holding pattern, partly in an EE dept., where I taught transistor theory. Purely by chance, I landed in a ChE dept. – they wanted a ChE with electronics and computer skills, and figured 2 out of 3 was close enough. I taught ChE for over 30 years in two universities, and retired from UMaine a dozen years ago. We moved south to escape the cold, and I taught part time for another 9 years at VaTech. Presently, I amuse myself working with a good friend who is an authority on supercritical fluids. He has a very sophisticated lab, and I make his computers talk to his instruments (I use Python and C).

    I love teaching, and I’ve taught everything in the undergraduate ChE curriculum except Econ., and many of the graduate courses. Since I had no background in ChE, every new course was an adventure … but I loved it. I was getting paid for learning things.

    My friend had a problem that called for a microcontroller. I tried Arduino, but it was too slow and limited, so I tried (among others) the KL25z. Its a/d was too slow, so I needed to speed it up. I found your blog while Googling KL25z. I had the same solution that you did, but I did it the hard way – I rewrote the library. It didn’t occur to me to just overwrite a few parameters in main().

    Since I share your interests in education and electronics, I’ve been following your blog.

    Comment by John — 2016 January 7 @ 16:40 | Reply

    • Welcome, John! I like the KL25Z chip and the FRDM KL25Z board, but I got tired of the mbed.org environment, so I’ll probably be doing future projects on the Teensy LC or Teensy 3.2 boards, since the Teensyduino environment is easier to use and easier to customize (too many layers in the mbed SDK and too much irrelevant junk pulled in because of carelessness about dependencies).

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 7 @ 17:46 | Reply

      • Yeah, I’ve moved on to Gnu-ARM bare metal, myself.

        Comment by John — 2016 January 8 @ 08:40 | Reply

        • My son and I tried a little bare-metal ARM with the GNU toolchain. He had more success with it than I did, but even he hasn’t gotten a USB stack working under bare-metal ARM. (He’s not been working on it lately, as he ended up having to do a bunch of assembly language programming for the Futuristic Lights Aether—the processor they chose for price reasons did not have a free C compiler.)

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 8 @ 09:29 | Reply

  20. Hi! I’m a computer scientist doing teaching and research in an electrical and computer engineering department. Sometimes I feel like I should know something about circuits, but I don’t really. When I got tenure I got admin responsibilities with the Software Engineering programme here; I’ll be program director when I get back from my Zurich sabbatical.

    Comment by plam — 2016 January 8 @ 02:38 | Reply

    • I recommend learning a little electronics (starting with cMOS digital logic perhaps) while on sabbatical. Or look into embedded systems. If you are in Switzerland for sabbatical, try connecting up with Erich Styger (who also comments on this blog, and has his own blog http://mcuoneclipse.com/ that I follow). He teaches in Luzern, under an hour from Zürich by train.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 8 @ 09:33 | Reply

      • I’ve always thought that I should learn something completely new on sabbatical, but haven’t done that yet. I do have a paper in an embedded systems venue, but I don’t actually know about them. I guess another way to learn about electronics is to get scheduled to teach the digital logic class.

        Comment by plam — 2016 January 9 @ 04:00 | Reply

        • Digital logic is one way into electronics, but the rather high level of abstraction that it is usually taught at these days (often not even involving building anything, just simulators and FPGAs) doesn’t really have much to do with electronics. You can probably teach a digital logic course with no electronics at all: just Boolean algebra, binary encoding, and state machines. It wouldn’t be as good as a digital logic course (in my opinion) as one that included some simple continuous models of cMOS circuits (even just RC models) to explain speed and power consumption, but I suspect that a lot of courses intended for CS majors skimp on that part, assuming that students will get it “somewhere else”.

          Later courses (such as high-sped digital electronics or embedded systems) have to deal quite a bit more with the non-ideal properties of real-world electronics, so including simple continuous models (not just discrete ones) in the first digital logic course can accustom students to the idea that there are multiple levels of abstraction, and that thinking about design requires choosing the right level(s) of abstraction.

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 10 @ 09:53 | Reply

  21. I found your blog while looking for a colorimeter circuit a couple of years ago and have stayed because I find your topics interesting, especially the problems teaching students. I’ve yet to buy your textbook but perhaps for my birthday…

    Comment by rhardenstein@yahoo.com — 2016 January 12 @ 10:20 | Reply

    • Welcome! It is good to hear from long-term lurkers. I’m doing the colorimeter design homework in the freshman design seminar again this quarter. We spend two days on diodes and LEDs (yesterday and tomorrow), and probably another day on phototransistors.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 January 12 @ 13:42 | Reply

  22. […] Back in January, Mike wanted to know where I ended up doing my grading. Sunday I did my grading in my breakfast room, with the laptop on the floor where I could get to it if I really needed to look something up, but where it was not a constant temptation to goof off.  On Monday, I worked in my office on campus, where the e-mail was a minor distraction that I checked between problems.  … I’ll probably continue with weekend grading in the breakfast room and prelab grading in my office until the distractions get to be too much—then I’ll look for a coffeeshop to grade in. […]

    Pingback by First week’s grading done | Gas station without pumps — 2016 April 4 @ 22:44 | Reply


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