I’m pretty sure many people have this dream, but I’d love to own a couple of acres on a mountain with a tiny cabin where I can spend a few weeks each year. Who doesn’t love the idea of a little escape? However, my engineering brain begins to creep in and I start thinking about off the grid power. With the rise of the “prepper” movement, the term off-the-grid has taken on a little bit of a “tinfoil hat” connotation. I’m just fascinated with the idea of a solar/wind setup that can power many needs. However, as my electrical knowledge grows, I begin to understand more about the complexities of this dream.

Do you go fully off the grid or have a hybrid system where the solar is a primary system, but you use power from a supplier for heavy loads? How do you decrease the loads to the very minimum, while still maintaining some modern comforts and amenities? Do you try and wire a structure entirely in DC, forcing you to buy expensive appliances and use an inverter only when necessary?

There are commercially available charge control systems that prevent overcharge of batteries and reverse current, but I’ve been thinking of how one would actually design one of these. My skills are not there yet, but it’s fun to ruminate on what sort of problems I would need to solve with this. It is a little weird thinking of things with much larger power requirements than most electrical engineers are used to. I need to do quite a bit more research to learn some of the safety measures necessary.

I found a few schematics on the internet for charge controllers. One by Mike over at uses MOSFETs and Op-Amps. Another solution he came up with was part of the 555 timer contest. Hopefully I’ll get to build one of these someday.

Well, as of now, this is all a theoretical pipe dream because there’s this little problem of buying land, a structure, and thousands of dollars of solar panels and equipment. It’s fun to think about though!


Digital Systems, Electrical Engineering

This semester is busy, busy, busy! I have fallen head over heels in love with my digital systems class. So far we’ve done the “easy stuff, ” but it’s still so interesting. We started with binary, went to 2’s complement, learned basic Boolean algebra, eased into various gates and circuit design and just finished simplification and Karnaugh maps.

When I’m doing my homework for this class, it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like a brain teaser. I LOVE brain teasers. I think that brain teasers are such a valuable learning tool. I did tons of brain teasers growing up, and I think it was one of the best ways to learn how to think outside of traditional linear thinking. When the linear path fails, approach the problem from the other direction. One lesson that has ingrained in my brain is the technique of bounds checking. What are the constraints of the given problem? If it doesn’t have to be on Earth, try another planet. See what happens when gravity is gone. Do we have to be in modern times? What if we were in imperial China?

In the lab for the digital systems class, we built circuits on an educational prototype board using actual AND, OR, NAND, etc. chips. It’s one thing to learn the concepts when they’re these amorphous ideas that are pretty tough to picture. It’s another thing to actually build a circuit, send voltages through the various inputs and see the outputs predicted by truth tables and equations. This is another one of those things that must seem like ancient technology to practicing engineers, but seeing it in person for the first time is a little bit magical.

My other classes are going well. Physics is a bit of a struggle right now. The professor is incredibly passionate and does great demonstrations in class which really reinforces the big concepts. As a student, I’m left to learn how to implement the equations and concepts on my own. I think I’m doing pretty well so far, but his tests are take-home and so I know they’re going to be tough.

Tomorrow, I’m going to finish my last kit, and then I’m on to some new things with the Arduino. I can’t wait!


Binary and Logic

It’s amazing how some things just “click” and others take quite a bit of explanation before they really take hold. I had to read three different explanations of how to go from decimals to binary before I actually understood it. The first two explanations just didn’t vibe with my learning style or something. Who knows, they might have just been really bad explanations. I’m still trying to find that perfect explanation of logic and switches. I’ve consulted a number of books and online sources and I feel like I’m getting closer to understanding it but I’m not 100% there.

Today is my first day of school. Electrical engineering semester # 2 ! One of the most exciting things about today has been that I recognize all sorts of people in the engineering building. Last semester I came in not knowing anyone, and now I have friends and acquaintances that I recognize and can chat with. That fact alone makes this semester more fun.

So far it looks like my programming class will be fairly basic, but it’s going to be teaching C. I did Java last semester and it seemed pretty useful. We’ll see how I feel about C. I know that my digital systems class is going to be tough. All of my reading on computer history will be helpful for the first lecture or two. Then we dive into binary, hexadecimals, ASCII and boolean logic. I also found out today that we don’t have formal lab reports in my electromagnetism lab! My physics lab last semester took up quite a bit of time so I’m thrilled that the labs will really just take the devoted class time.

I ordered some parts for Jeremy Blum’s Arduino Tutorial # 2 as well as some more things to stock the lab at I JUST found out through a Google search of sparkfun that a bunch of their kits are available at Micro Center, which is just down the road from school!! I’m totally spoiled to have a Micro Center, Fry’s and a great local place called Tanner  Electronics within a short drive of my house. I know that many people don’t have these stores readily available. Mouser‘s warehouse is also local, I wish I could just go pick up an order but it doesn’t work that way.

So, my lovely readers, that’s all I have for now. Many more back-to-school updates coming.

School is cool

So school marches on. So far (*knock on wood*) I’m keeping up with my goals in terms of grades and so I’m relieved about that. However, I obviously haven’t had any tests yet and the quizzes I’ve had have been pretty short and simple. I’m not so sure I’ll be able to maintain my current grades since I’m aiming for, well let’s be honest, perfection. I’m trying to be realistic. I know I can’t get A+s in every class, but I really want all A+s. I’m pretty sure that everyone has the same goal but I’m trying really hard to achieve it.

Ugh. I need someone to talk me down. If I get a B, my world will not crumble. You would think I would have learned this lesson in undergraduate degree #1 or even law school. Nope. I’m still aiming for the stars. I guess this difference this time is that it might be possible to achieve my goals. Here (unlike law school) hard work gets you EVERYWHERE. There’s a little bit of natural talent and ability but you’ll get 95% of the way there by simply putting your nose to the grindstone and keeping at it.

Oh, so the other thing. In my intro to engineering class we have to do a group project involving an egg. So cliche I can barely stand it. We were given the option of putting together our own 7 person teams and then the leftovers would be lumped together on a team. Well guess who doesn’t have a team? Me. This is where I’m starting to feel the sting of not quite fitting in while in a class of all freshman. I’m also kinda nervous about being in a group. I’m very efficient with my time and committed to hard work and doing a good job. It is very unlikely that the rest of my group will feel the same way. I also have skills that many of these freshman do not possess. My natural inclination is to be really bossy and just make them do it my way but my husband seems to think I need to be nice and let these kids learn on their own. Fine. But if they spend more than 10 minutes socializing at each group meeting, I’m breaking out the teacher voice. Okay, fine, I’ll give them 20 minutes. See? I’m nice!!

Week 4: And school marches on

Well, I survived the first 3 weeks (really 2.5, I’m re-learning precision and accuracy, I can’t be going all willy-nilly on the blog). So far things are trucking along and I’m really, really enjoying it. I have a few complaints, but they are tragically minor. Complaint #1: There is no vending machine in the two buildings where I spend most of my time. At least once a week I forget my water bottle and then get all crazy parched and have to venture over a building to get a bottle of water. On the upside? All 20 oz. beverages are $1.00. That’s pretty cheap in my experience. Complaint #2: The wifi is sketchy in one of my classrooms. On the upside? I shouldn’t really be on the internet anyway so it forces me to study.

So the good things?

1. I found an awesome study area. It’s the “Engineering and Computer Science Reading Room” but all it seems to have in terms of “reading” is outdated journals from the 90’s. Weird. There’s also this older woman who looks like the slug from Monsters, Inc who seems to do nothing but shush people in this room. Whatever, it keeps things quiet.

2. My hardest assignments of the week by a mile are my math homework and quizzes. I was super worried about the math quizzes because the class is hard but then I found out something wonderful. She gives us the question for the quiz during the previous class. Now the question is usually something fairly involved. This week we have to prove that e^(i*theta)=cos(theta)+i*sin(theta) and that abs(e^(i*theta))=1. Both of those proofs are a little bit involved so we still have to study and redo the questions a few times to get them to “stick.”

3. I’m attempting to get involved with a few organizations (IEEE and Society of Women Engineers) but they have meetings at 8:30pm. Uhhh, what? I go to bed at 9. I don’t live on campus. How is this going to work? I’m not sure it will. Hmm, that’s not a good thing, that’s another complaint. Oops!

Well, off to my work!

Keep on swimming! Keep on swimming!

I had such high hopes for the Labor Day weekend. I was going to get so far ahead in all my classes and then I’d be able to “coast” for a few days. Uhhh, didn’t happen. My husband sprained his ankle something terrible and so he was around more than usual. I kept falling asleep throughout the weekend and I just felt off. I put enough time in to finish the things that HAD to be done but all those extras got pushed to the side.

So, I’m going to have to put in some hours this week to get my crazy math homework done, finish my first lab report, and do a little bit of physics and programming. Sigh. On the positive side, I really am enjoying what I’m doing. I love learning about how computers work. The whole concept of what writing code actually does is amazing! I can’t wait to get into the nitty-gritty of electricity. Also, I get to make matlab graphs for the first time this week. Wheeee!

To any lawyers still reading this, where do I stand with the law? Well, I try and obey it :). Okay, being serious, it’s been interesting how certain things keep looping back to law school in ways I didn’t think they would. As we talk in our programming class about different schools of thought regarding code, we keep discussing ways to keep other companies from stealing code and copyright issues. My intellectual property licensing class seems so useful when discussing licenses in my intro to engineering class. Patents have even come up in one class. I’m realizing that highly technical law might be something I’m really interested in after a few years working in the engineering industry. So, fingers crossed for bar results in November!

The First Day of School

So yesterday was the first day of school. I was so worn out by the time I got home, I crashed hard really, really early so this post is coming a day late. I feel like I learned many things about myself on this first day. So to begin:

1. I’m not 18 anymore.

I’m not so old that I can’t remember back to my first day of undergrad. I remember being so excited but scared. I remember that first taste of freedom from your parents along with not having to worry too much about “grown-up problems.” But yesterday, I really felt my age and I can conclude that I’m not 18 anymore. Yesterday I had my two “intro” classes where it can be assumed that you’re a freshman or a transfer and so I get why people would ask the sort of questions that they did. Where are you from? Uhh, Dallas. I forgot that people would come from different places. To me, Katie School of Engineering was the default choice because of location. Where did you go to high school? and/or Where did you transfer from? Oh, Lordy! Now I had to start doing some explaining. My “quick” explanation that I have a B.S. in Biochemistry and a J.D. already and I’m going back to pursue a new field was met with the blankest stares imaginable. With one person, I tried going into more detail but they seemed more confused the more I explained. Maybe this will go better today. I’m going to work on my “canned answer.”

2. I’m not here for the “college experience.”

A group of girls after my programming class were going to go “walk around the campus” and see if they can find some free pizza. They graciously invited the old lady in the group (ME). I could think of about a hundred reasons why I didn’t want to go. It was 110 degrees outside. I had carefully scheduled in a workout after class before driving home to let my dog out/take a shower/change clothes/make a healthy lunch. I need pizza like I need a heart attack. I wasn’t really stoked to see what the student union had to offer. (See above where I discuss that I’m not 18 anymore) So I politely declined, made a beeline to the gym, sweated my brains out for a short but intense workout and was on my way. I promise that I’ll try to make friends, but I have these other responsibilities that many of my classmates just don’t have.

3. I know how to succeed in college.

One of my classes is an intro to engineering course. It’s required so there I am. The classes a little later in the semester look really interesting, and we get to hear from the Dean of the engineering school often. I’m excited about that. However, the first 6 class meetings should be titled, “how not to fail out of the school of engineering or quit.” Yes, my math is rusty. Yes, I haven’t done physics in a while. Yes, I’ve never engineered anything. BUT, I know how to study. I know how to take notes. I know to condense and copy those notes to cement them in my memory. In one class, we were told to take notes and I’d say about half of the class actually did. We have to turn in our notes. What on earth do the kids who didn’t take notes plan to turn in? Why would you not just take the darn notes if you’re told to? I had so many questions that I couldn’t answer for other people but I know what I’ll be doing. I might not get an A+ in everything, but I’ll know that I tried my hardest in every possible way.

4. I’m a terrible dresser and I still out-dressed 90% of my classmates.

Since it’s confession time, here it is. I’m not the best dresser. I used to care a lot more about it but then I got married and five years later, here I am. I’m lucky to be out of workout clothes and pajamas. However, engineers have the worst fashion sense that I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t help that most of my classes are about 90% male but it’s just awful. I want to take all these awkward kids under my wing and teach them about properly tailored jeans that have the correct rise. I want to tell them that Star Trek/Star Wars/Simpsons/Family Guy t-shirts are not okay. They will never be okay. However it is not my place. So I will try and get pictures for my blog audience. ‘Cause it’s funny.

Well that about sums up the first day. Here’s to day two!