Monday, February 28, 2005

Nearing the End?

It's reading week (or study week, or March "break" take your pick). With 2 exams, 3 labs, 2 projects, 1 major project, and such to prepare for, it definately isn't a break.

Anyway, I observed that University if a very "interesting" experience, now that I'm 6 months away from a 4 year degree in EE. The following applies to my program, not sure how it applies to others, but from people I've talked to from lots of different programs, it's mostly the same:

-You learn a lot of stuff that is very broad. This is both a good and a bad thing. It's good that you aren't limited to very narrow field that may or may not have jobs by the time you graduate, but at the same time, you are a "jack of all trades." You know a bit of everything, but not enough in any one particular thing.

For instance, in 4 years of engineering, I've taken courses on:
-Math (lots of it)
-Statics and Dynamics
-Design and Design Project
-EM and device physics
-Circuit analysis
-Control Systems
-Digital Circuit and computer Design
-analog and digital communications
-electric Motors and transformers
-power systems
-digital signal processing
-integrated cicruit design

Is there a relation between all these things?

Would I know enough about any of these things to center a career around them? Definately Not.

Do I know enough about them to have a "foundation" of knowledge, so to speak?

Have I learned how to learn?
I'd say so. "They" say that's the most important thing.

Where to go from here?

I'm hoping I'll magically figure that out in the next 6 months. For now, I've kept my options open.

So I suppose I have to ask myself
-What do I find MOST interesting? ....
-Is there a market for it in an area I want to live?
-Is doing something that I want to do more important, or just money?
-I used to think just the money. Then I figure:
-With 16 waking hrs a day, 10 hours between work and commuting, that's over half of my time spent working, it best be something I like.
-Is it worth taking upteen more years of school to specialize in something?
-Not if I want to move out of my parents place sometime this century (exaggerating ofcourse.)

Somewhat difficult things to consider to ask when you factor them all at once.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Returning to the moon?

I ran into another blog today, Marshall Brain's blog, author of where he highlighted the history of space travel.

To think that we went from knowing absolutely nothing about space travel in the 50's to putting a man on the moon only a decade lately, it is a bit surreal.

Why would it take 15 more years from now to put a man again on the moon?

Simple answer. Drive. We've been to the moon, there's no real drive to go at it again.

Even though we have much more advanced materials, technology, experience, and computers now a days, it's not that simple. It's not like you can just put a pentium 4 in the space shuttle (replacing the 60's calculator equivalent computer) to make it better.

You can have as much advanced materials and computation power as you want, but in the end, it's the designers/scientists/engineers/etc enginuity, to put everything together and make it work that matters. Of course, tons of research money (which means more people, more desire to solve the problem) helps too.

Heh, I wonder, if all the trillions of dollars put into space flight had been put into other research, what might have developed?

An exerpt from Marshall's blog:
President Bush has announced his plan to return to the Moon, with an eventual goal of going to Mars. CNN reported the plan this way:

The plan, disclosed by the president in a speech at NASA headquarters on Wednesday, shifts the long-term focus from the space shuttle and the international space station to the creation of a new manned space vehicle that will be flying with a crew in 10 years and will return humans to the moon within 16 years.

It's that "16 years" part that has me dumbfounded. Look at the history of early U.S. spaceflight:

* January 31, 1958 - Explorer 1 is the first U.S. satellite in orbit.
* October 8, 1958 - NASA opens its doors.
* January 31, 1961 - Ham the chimp successfully rehearses first manned flight
* May 5, 1961 - First manned Mercury flight (first American in space)
* July 21, 1961 - Second Mercury flight
* Feburary 20, 1962 - Third Mercury flight (first American orbital flight)
* May 24, 1962 - Fourth Mercury flight
* October 3, 1962 - Fifth Mercury flight
* May 15-16, 1963 - Sixth Mercury flight (first full day in space)
* March 23, 1965 - Gemini 3
* June 3-7, 1965 - Gemini 4 (first EVA by an American)
* August 21-29, 1965 - Gemini 5
* December 4-18, 1965 - Gemini 7
* December 16-17, 1965 - Gemini 6A (first space rendezvous with Gemini 7)
* March 16, 1966 - Gemini 8 (first space docking)
* June 3-6, 1966 - Gemini 9A
* July 18-21, 1966 - Gemini 10
* September 12-15, 1966 - Gemini 11
* November 11-15, 1966 -Gemini 12
* October 11-22, 1968 - Apollo 7 (first live telecast from space)
* December 21-27, 1968 - Apollo 8 (first lunar orbit)
* March 3-13, 1969 - Apollo 9 (first crewed lunar module flight)
* May 18-26, 1969 - Apollo 10 (lunar module orbits moon but does not land)
* July 16-24, 1969 - Apollo 11 (men land on moon for first time and return safely)
* November 14-24, 1969 - Apollo 12
* April 11-17, 1970 - Apollo 13 (first space rescue)
* Jan 31 - Feb 9, 1971 - Apollo 14
* July 26-Aug 7, 1971 - Apollo 15 (first car on the moon)
* April 16-27, 1972 - Apollo 16
* December 7-19, 1972 - Apollo 17 (last man on the moon)

That is an absolutely amazing record of achievement. There is no other way to say it.

How in the world did we accomplish all of that? Think about it -- At the start of 1958, America had never had anything in orbit and NASA did not even exist. We knew NOTHING. We had never tried to keep a person alive in the vacuum and weightlessness of space, had never used ablative heat shields to handle re-entry, had never fired a retrorocket in space, had never created a space suit, had never "walked in space", had never fired maneuvering rockets in space, had never stopped and restarted an engine in space, had never docked two spacecraft in space, had never left earth orbit, had never orbited another object in space, had never landed on another object, had never taken back off from another object. We truly knew nothing in 1958. We did not even know what the moon was like -- there was some concern that it would be too soft to walk on. We had never sent a probe to the moon in 1958.

Not only did we know nothing, but the computer technology we had available in the 1960s was pathetic. Most of the design work on these space missions was done with pencil and paper and slide rules. Slide rules! We did not have computer-aided design, computer controlled machine tools, or PCs/Workstations. There was no NASA, no Internet, no microprocessors, no graphite composites, no cell phones, no Microsoft, no space stations....

Yet, despite our total ignorance and lack of technology, we went from NOTHING all the way to man on the moon in just 11 years. It is unbelievable when you think about it.

Now we are talking about going back to the moon. Look at where we stand today compared to 1958. In 2004:

* We've already been to the moon six times.
* We have 45 years of experience in space.
* We now have tons of technology, amazing computers, hyper-realistic flight simulators, unbelievable virtual design tools, highly automated computer-controlled factories, a huge space station already in orbit and a space shuttle able to lift 65,000 pounds of cargo per mission.
* NASA is already fully staffed with thousands of employees who have hundreds of successful missions under their belts.

Given our current position, how long should it take us to get back to the moon? Two years? Maybe three? Compared to where we were in 1958, it should now be trivial to put people on the moon and establish a colony there. Instead, it will take us more than a decade simply to retrace our steps. It will probably take us longer to go back to the moon than it took us to get there the first time!

How do we get back to the kind of energy, drive and passion -- and the kind of creativity, skill and talent -- that America had in the 1960's? How is it that with all the advancements we've made in the last 45 years, we are actually slower now than we once were? What is that telling us?

We should elevate our expectations. Americans should be living on the moon in 2010 and walking on Mars in 2020. If not, it would be very interesting to see China leapfrog us and beat us to Mars in spite of America's substantial head start

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The cycle

After only a month or so of school, I want to go back to work. :)

Then after a month of work, I want to go back to school.

School becomes a drag because I actually care on some level; I want to understand what the hell I am doing. The unfortunate thing about this is that oftentimes the material is about as exciting as watching paint dry. ;)

Though, I do not quite understand why some people would want to go through school and just copy/memorize and not understand a thing (NOTE: there are lots of these :) ). In the end, you have spent 4 years to get a piece of paper, and not know a thing. You couldn't get a job where you actually needed to know something.

Anyway, back to trying to route an analog integrated chip manually. I sometimes wonder if they (as in the University electrical engineering department) are just trying to make a couple more people quit in their final year ;)