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2019 October 18

Book progress update

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:33
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At the beginning of the summer, I set myself the goal to clear the 161 to-do notes from the draft of my book by the first of December, which meant doing about 1 a day.  I kept up for quite a while, but I am now a little behind schedule, with 48 to-do notes left, which would have me finishing on December 5, if I maintained one a day. The book is now 637 pages, with 315 images in 256 figures (many have subfigures).  I think I may be done adding figures, but the remaining to-do notes include adding a few pages of text (which may or may not increase the page count for the overall book, depending of how much white space there is at the end of the relevant chapters).

I was keeping pretty well to schedule over the summer, but I fell behind during the Santa Cruz Shakespeare trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The trip was worth the time—I saw six plays: two very good (La Comedia of Errors and All’s Well That Ends Well), one well-acted but with a bit of a thin script (Mother Road), one well-acted but with awkward sets and strange direction that did not really work (Macbeth), one interesting but deliberately uncomfortable play (Between Two Knees), and one awful production (As You Like It) that failed in almost every way.  The original script for As You Like It is good, but the director managed to mangle it by rearranging speeches, assigning them to the wrong characters, cutting excessively, and generally making a hash of it. Gender roles were randomly reassigned, the wrestling match was played for laughs (like a video game), Touchstone was played very stiffly, and Jaques was changed from a melancholy character into a giddy one.  The costuming was also poor—I felt very sorry for the actors having to put up with such a poor interpretation of the play.

I’m on leave this quarter, so I don’t have to teach, go to meetings, or hold office hours, but I’m taking a physics course (PHYS 102, which is an introduction to quantum mechanics).  The homework for the physics class has been taking quite a bit of time, and I have been prioritizing it over the book writing. I brought my laptop with me on the Ashland trip, but I didn’t do any writing for the book—I finished the first homework for the physics class instead, as it was due the day after we came back.  Today I finished homework 3 for the physics class (due Monday), so I should work on the book this weekend.  Maybe I can get back on schedule? (Or maybe I’ll try mowing more of the back lawn—I’ve cleared about a quarter of it.  Creative Procrastination!)

I’ve also been wasting a lot of time reading news, humor, and a few subreddits on the internet—the physics class is only taking about 15 hours a week, so I can’t really blame the class for my being behind schedule on the book.

2019 February 15

Why do I write?

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:56
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O Why Do You Write? Charles French asks

I have a question for all you out  there who write, and that includes writers of books, poetry, plays, nonfiction, and blogs. If I left out any kind of writing, you are included also.

Why do you write?

I wrote my textbook Applied Analog Electronics because I was creating a course for which I could find no suitable textbook. I wanted a college-level introduction to electronics that was focused on designing things, not on applied math. I don’t have an objection to math (there is plenty in my textbook), but I wanted it to be there to solve a particular design problem, not just with sterile exercises. The central theme of the book had to be iterative engineering with design, construction, and debugging of interesting circuits, with almost everything else as support for that activity.

All I could find on the market either delayed design until the third or fourth course (which seems to be the standard approach in EE departments) or was very hand-holding—telling students exactly what to wire and leaving no electronics design to the students.

When I started the book writing, I already had a fairly thorough set of lab handouts and felt that the book would be a simple rewrite with a bit of additional material. Boy, was I wrong!

The book has taken over much of my life (when I’m not teaching the course from it or grading student work) for the past few years. I had a “finished” draft at the beginning of January, but students in my class have pointed out about 170 problems with it, and they are only halfway through the book. A lot of the problems were tiny copy-editing things (commas, spaces, spelling errors), but some were substantive. I have about 50 to-do notes accumulated for me to work on this summer.

I think that this year’s students have been motivated to find errors by the token amount I pay for each error found (25¢) and by the “leaderboard” on Piazza, where I keep track of what I owe each student. To encourage more feedback, I try to be generous in allocating the quarters—something doesn’t have to be a real mistake, if I agree that the wording can be improved or something needs to be rewritten for clarity or completeness.  Students can ask questions about something they don’t understand, and if that triggers a specific idea for a change to the book, I give credit for that also.  (Having question-triggered corrections means that even students at the bottom of the class can get credit for book corrections.)

The question of why I write on this blog is a harder one.  Sometimes I am trying to share something I learned, sometimes I’m asking for help finding a solution to a problem, sometimes I’m motivating myself by making something public (like my weight and exercise records), sometimes I’m just thinking out loud (like many of my posts about the design of my course).  I’d like to say that I blog for the social connections, but so few people respond to my posts that I can’t really pretend even to myself that I am having a conversation.

I think that a few of my posts have been valued (at least Google thinks enough of them for people to come to them with searches), so I have some incentive to keep on writing.

2019 January 21

More typos than expected

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:53
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When I released my textbook in December, I offered 25¢ for each typo or other mistake found in the book.  I expected, based on how much material was new, to have about 50 typos in the book.

My students have already found 42 errors, and they are only up to about page 200, so I’m having to revise my error estimate upward to about 100 errors.

This year’s class seems to be pretty sharp—they have done much better on the first two quizzes than last year’s class did, and in two weeks they have already found about as many typos as last year’s class did over two quarters.

2017 December 17

Book released for Winter 2018 course

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:57
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I’ve released a new version of the textbook Applied Electronics for Bioengineers, on the LeanPub website: https://leanpub.com/applied_electronics_for_bioengineers and sent the students registered for the course a coupon to get their free copy.  People who have previously bought the book (even if for $0 with a coupon) were also informed of the release, so that they could pick up a new copy.

This version is 481 pages including 38 chapters, preface, appendices, and index.  There are 10 tables and 199 figures (239 distinct images, since some figures have multiple subfigures).  I added a lot of new tutorial material, fixed some errors (including some serious ones), added more exercises, and modified the labs to use the Analog Discovery 2 USB oscilloscopes rather than the expensive bench equipment we used to use.  The book is not “done”—I still have over 50 to-do notes in the margins, but I believe it is significantly improved over last year.  Improvements would be faster if students would tell me when they find errors or confusing writing, but they rarely do, and I have to guess what needs fixing from mistakes they make weeks later.

The use of the Analog Discovery 2 enabled me to offer a larger course this year—I managed to equip a 25-station lab for 50 students for under $10,000—less than the cost of a single station in the old lab. Because the space I’m using for the two 50-student sections is used as a classroom by other courses, I need to wheel everything in on a cart 20 minutes before labs start and clean it up and pack it away after the labs.

I still have a little work to do before next quarter starts:

  • recording the serial numbers and setting the names of the 25 Analog Discovery 2 units.
  • checking the 25 soldering stations and tinning the tips.
  • soldering 25 pressure sensors onto breakout boards.
  • packing everything into tubs that I can wheel to the other building on the cart.
  • cleaning up the electrode holders that did not get cut cleanly by the laser cutter.
  • getting reimbursed for over $3000 worth of parts and tools that I ordered for the students (UCSC can’t buy from AliExpress, and US vendors were over 3 times the price).

But I think that tomorrow I’ll take a break—maybe even see if I can get anything working on the robot I didn’t finish for the mechatronics course.

2016 November 27

Cyber Monday sale 2016

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:01
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My Black Friday sale was a moderate success (12 copies of my book sold for total royalties of about $25).  The sale continues through Cyber Monday (end date 29 Nov 2016), with the same coupon reducing the price to $2.56:

https://leanpub.com/applied_electronics_for_bioengineers/c/Black-Friday-2016

I’m not going to get rich off of this textbook, but I’m hoping that a few other teachers of electronics will pick it up and use it for a course.

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