A Whole New Engineer

A Whole New Engineer (ThreeJoy Associates, Inc., 2014)

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to join The Engineering Commons podcast to talk about capacitors on episode 93. I had been a listener of the podcast because I heard about it in this book. A Whole New Engineer looks at the changes are needed in engineering education. My personal interest was to see if there were elements I could apply to the AddOhms Electronics Tutorials I create. Like all aspects of our lives, evoluation is occuring and educaiton is no different. On top of that, traditional education techniques rarely prepare students for live after school.

The traditional weed-out lecture courses and stand-alone research projects are a thing of the past.

The stories about Olin College of Engineering were eye opening. Thinking back to my time at Purdue, I wished I could have been at the foundation of a new curriculum (though, I’m glad I had the one I did.) My eye opener with the Olin example is how it is analogous to the “real world.” Traditional engineering education silos instructor from the student, in much the same way large corporations silo work functions. The idea of breaking down those silos between Instructor (manager) and Student (employee) to achieve an overall goal is very progressive and based on the research provided, rewarding.

Whether you are involved in engineering education or, like me, just have passion for sharing it–I highly recommend this excellent book. Whether if you’re writing tutorials, creating a classroom, putting together a workshop, or even helping out with STEM, there are key tidbits you will pull from this book.

Check out A Whole New Engineer on Amazon.

Review of EMSL’s XL741

See inside the LM741 with this awesome solder kit

EMSLs XL741 and Three-Fives

When you need to buffer the output of an R-2R ladder or an RC filtered PWM signal, an op-amp is a single chip option. Unlike a discrete NPN transistor like a 2n3904, there is a lot going on inside of an LM741—or any op amp for that matter.

What if you could look inside of the op-amp? Wouldn’t it be cool to see how many transistors make up these small chips?

Put your electron microscope away. The XL741 from Evil Mad Scientist Labs is perfect for the job. I built one of these super fun solder kits and compared it to a real 741.

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Circuit Trading Cards Review

Arachnid Labs makes learning circuit basics simple

circuit trading cards review

One of my early hobbies as a kid was collecting baseball cards. At every card show, I was on the lookout for the  1989 Ken Griffey Jr Rookie card, #1, from Topps. My collecting craze lasted until the baseball strike in 1994. Then I lost interest in professional baseball and its collectibles.

You’re asking, what does this have to do with electronics? Well, the Circuit Trading Cards from Arachnid Labs reminds me of the days I spent trading baseball cards. Instead of memorizing RBIs and Homerun counts, these circuit patterns trading cards teach you circuit basics.

The card stock used is of high quality, and each unique card has a durable feel. One side is the Arachnid Labs logo while the other is what I call the “information side.” The information side is one of three colors: Yellow (Analog), Blue (Digital), and Green (Power).

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X-Carve CNC Review and Hands-On with PCB Milling

Can the X-Carve be used for PCB Milling?

X-Carve CNC Review

There are two methods to making a prototype PCB: 1) Etch Your Own or 2) Send to a Prototyping Service. While there are many prototyping service options, most cause you to wait anywhere between 24 hours and 30 days before you get your boards back.

If you need a PCB done today, etching at home is a great option. Chemical etching involves all kinds of steps with all kinds of weird chemicals. If you don’t want your neighbors to think you’re the next Walter White, then mechanical etching is a better option. Which is why I bought an X-Carve from Inventables. It’s a CNC Milling Kit you build yourself.

Keep reading for my X-Carve CNC Review and first-hand experience on etching my first PCB. Plus, lots of pictures!

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National Instruments changed the world of instrumentation when it released the VirtualBench. For about $2000 (USD), they give you a bench’s worth of equipment in a box about the size of Horowitz’s The Art of Electronics!  In this video review, I take a look at the VirtualBench’s 6 built-in functions.

This is a follow-up to my written review of the Virtual Bench. I use the same mixed signal oscilloscope (MSO) demo board, to point out what I like and don’t like about the VirtualBench.

VirtualBench Review Jump Points

Here are jump points to specific parts in the review.
Overall, I like the box and I think you’ll see why.  The iPad App is amazing.  The specs are impressive.  And overall, the instrument works well.

Review of NI’s VirtualBench, All-In-One Instrument

VirtualBench

The first time I saw the VirtualBench from NI, I was amazed by its shear size—or lack of size.  At the time, the unit I had access to an uncalibrated pre-release unit at the Austin TechShop.  So I didn’t think it was fair to do a full review.  Fast forward to today.  Now that I’ve spent a week working with the VirtualBench I have some comments and thoughts.  What follows is a review of this “All-In-One Instrument” that runs $1999 USD.

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The Gecko Zero EFM32 Weather Station Evaluation Board from Silicon Labs is intended to show off the low-energy or energy harvesting capabilities of the EFM32 Zero.  The ARM-based board has physical and cap sensitive buttons along with the LCD.

It comes pre-loaded with a demo program, which is the classic Space Invaders.

If you’re interested in more about the board, I wrote a road test of Gecko EFM32 on element 14. (Spoilers: I wasn’t impressed.  Not a bad board, but rough development environment.)

Eight Amazing Engineering Stories: Using the Elements to Create Extraordinary Technologies

Eight Amazing Engineering Stories: Using the Elements to Create Extraordinary Technologies (Articulate Noise Books, April 7, 2012)

Bill Hammock’s “Engineer Guy” podcast series was one of my first video podcast subscriptions.  His explanation videos hit the right balance between “high level’ and “low-level” details in a few short minutes, which was actually an inspiration for the format of AddOhms.  With each of his videos, you will learn something and get a few laughs–which is rare for engineering related videos.

His book, with co authors,  “Eight Amazing Engineering Stories“, was added to my Kindle App as soon as it became available.  The book breaks down everyday objects and technologies down to their science and engineering fundamentals.

Let’s be honest, nothing here is something you can’t find on Wikipedia.  However, what you won’t find is the awesome presentation style, a trademark of Hammock.

If you want to know how elements like Silicon, Cesium, and Tungsten have made their way into our lives.  Or how Atomic Clocks, Microwaves, and Accelerators work–along with their back story, this book is for you.

Whenever I have a few minutes to fill, I find myself scrolling around the book to pick up new tidbits.

Review: 5 out of 5 LEDs

Review Rating: 5/5 LEDs

Overall, I give this effort a 5 LED review.  It’s not an expensive buy and deserves a place on any enginerd’s shelf, virtual or otherwise.

Signal and Power Integrity Cover

Signal and Power Integrity – Simplified (2nd Edition) ( Prentice Hall, 2009)

Let me start by saying, this book is not for new comers, or (ugh) “newbies”, to electronics.  This book is intended for those who have a solid understanding of electrical engineering fundamentals, but want to expand to the next level.  Bogatin’s amount of detail is on-par with a textbook but writing style is more casual.

Understanding signal integrity use to be “Black Magic.”  It is taught in a language which resembles engineering speak, but sounds like randomly assembled terms purposefully meant to confuse people.  Personally, I remember hearing “signal integrity engineers talk” and wondered if they were speaking in code.

Review: 5 out of 5

Hands On: National Instrument’s VirtualBench

Modern smartphones have eliminated the need for a number of devices.  Often I use my smartphone as a scanner (CamScanner), car GPS, voice recorder, security token, pedometer, light controller, and oh yeah, a phone.   My electronics bench is currently home to a Bench Power Supply, an Oscilloscope, and a Function Generator.  While good instruments, they should worried because they’re going to get replaced with one device: National Instrument’s VirtualBench.

You might also be interested in my Full Video Review of the VirtualBench!

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