Summer School

Summer school is rough.

Electrical Network Analysis (ENA) and Signals and Systems are not easy classes. I find myself spending quite a bit of time in the books with little time left over for tinkering around. Between keeping up with regular life and cramming convolutions and Fourier transforms in my head, my spare time is quite limited.

ENA has been a little rough. Summer classes are accelerated and I’m fighting to keep up with it. On the other hand, I’ve really enjoyed signals and systems. We finally started to put the theoretical background together with more practical applications. I’ve always heard terms like “aliasing” and “lowpass and bandpass filters” thrown around, but I honestly had no idea what they meant. Getting to see how seemingly crazy math turns into a practical device that has wide-sweeping applications is really fascinating. Signal processing seems difficult to say the least but it explains so much of our modern computing.

Anyway, this was a terribly short update. Hopefully I’ll have some time to work on a few projects in the next few weeks!

On copying data

Yesterday I was presented with a real life ethics problem. A classmate asked if he could see my data from a lab so that he could copy it. We had to build a blinking light and then do a few measurements on it and his light never worked so he couldn’t get the measurements. The lab manual in this class specifically forbade the copying or false manufacture of data, and so I said no.

You would have thought I spit in my classmate’s face. He acted like I was being totally unreasonable and even enlisted a few classmates to try and pressure me into sharing my data. I refused. Eventually he gave up but not without a few comments about how it’s “not a big deal” and that I should “help others out.”

But the truth of the matter is that it is a big deal. My TA is a bright fellow and I’m pretty sure he would notice if 4 people (two sets of partners) had the same data. Academic dishonesty convictions can follow you for a very long time and have serious ramifications on your future. Even putting that aside, my ethical “red light” was flashing like crazy and I knew I couldn’t do it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m always open to helping out my fellow students. I’ll help explain (to the best of my ability) confusing topics, I’m happy to work though homework problems with other students if it is allowed, I’m willing to share notes if you miss a day. On the other hand, I will not give you straight answers on homework and I’m not going to give you my code unless the professor allows it. I’m willing to push boundaries of conventional thinking, I’m willing to break stereotypes, but I don’t budge on academic rules.

If an engineering research lab fabricates data, someone is going to find out and the reputation of that lab will be on the line. If a company copies code from someone else, they could be subject to lawsuits and destruction of their product. No one benefits from trying messing around with plagiarism.

People like to make lawyer jokes about how sleazy and unscrupulous attorneys are, but as a whole I’ve seen the complete opposite. Attorneys know that crossing professional responsibility lines can result in loss of your law license, malpractice lawsuits and huge fines. In general, they know where the lines are and try earnestly to stay inside of them. I think law school really taught me to be very careful of those pitfalls.

Well this turned into a bit of a long sermon, but the topic is really important to me. Ethics are not a joking matter.

First Class at MITx 6.002: Circuits and Electronics

MIT is spearheading a new online education venture called MITx. The courses are free but eventually you will have to pay to have a certificate of completion. They opened enrollment today for their first class, “6.002: Circuits and Electronics.” The course seems pretty intense, the description reading:

The course introduces engineering in the context of the lumped circuit abstraction. Topics covered include: resistive elements and networks; independent and dependent sources; switches and MOS transistors; digital abstraction; amplifiers; energy storage elements; dynamics of first- and second-order networks; design in the time and frequency domains; and analog and digital circuits and applications. Design and lab exercises are also significant components of the course. You should expect to spend approximately 10 hours per week on the course.

I think I’m going to sign up because I’m intrigued by the idea of open education. Also, I think it might give me a leg up in some of my future EE courses. I’m hoping that having a semi-solid background in the material means that I won’t have to spend 10 hours/week but we’ll see. I don’t know if there are any ramifications for dropping a free, online, prototype course.

Anyone else giving this a try?