Fall 2012 Term Ends

This morning was my final exam in the C programming course for electrical engineers. We started with 7; only 3 completed the course; only I submitted the final project: basic BMP editor that opens a BMP and offers to create negative, blueshift, redshift, greenshift, and variable intensity versions that are written to file.

Earlier I finished physics and circuits.

I earned As in all three classes, so I am pretty happy; I am also very ready to enjoy some time off.

Fall Break

The end of my mechanics LAN marked the start of the week-long fall break at Ivy Tech. A number of things have piled up, notably final projects for two classes: C and digital circuits. This break will be quite busy.

Fall Break

The end of my mechanics LAN marked the start of the week-long fall break at Ivy Tech. A number of things have piled up, notably final projects for two classes: C and digital circuits. This break will be quite busy.

Ch. 7, #34

Problem: 15.0-kg block, 70.0N force at 20.0°, 5.00m rough horizontal surface, μk .300.

  1. Work done by force: (70.0N)(cos20°)(5.00m) = 329J
  2. Work done by normal force: 0.
  3. Work done by g: 0.
  4. Energy increase due to friction: fk•x = (15kg)(9.8m/s^2)(.300)(5.00m) = 221J.
  5. Block's final speed. First, find block's change in K: 329J - 221J = 108J. Now 108 = (.5)(m)(v^2), so v = 4.65 m/s.

More on smartPhysics.com

Having finished the first test in mechanics, I'm moving into work and energy. The online content of smartPhysics.com is proving more useful. The animations of concepts and shifting through equations to reach useful versions are more helpful. Whether this is because the online content is improved, I am more accustomed to smartPhysics, I have a foundation on which to build, or the whim of the gods, I don't know.

Regardless, smartPhysics is coming into its own.

Test Week 1

This week is a hectic one. Tuesday saw the first exam in "Digital Fundamentals," which included wiring an AND with diodes on a breadboard.

Yesterday was the first physics test over six textbook units about kinematics, Newton's Laws, and friction. Despite much anxiety about the test, I do believe I did well.

Tomorrow will be the first C exam.

smartPhysics.com

...isn't.

My physics course in mechanics requires a textbook and online site (smartPhysics.com) package that is reasonable. The textbook was about $50; the site access is bundled, which is not the case with chemistry.

Each unit of the book has an identical online lecture, which we are to watch before the course lecture. The online pre-lecture is word-for-word identical to the textbook content, although the online version includes some explanatory animations. Each unit's pre-lecture has a question or two to help clarify whether you understand the content.

Once the pre-lecture is finished, there are "checkpoint" questions that are scored by the instructor, despite the name that suggests an immediate check. If you're unsure of the checkpoint answers, which are often more difficult than yet more conceptually important than ten pre-lecture content, you must seek answers elsewhere. If you wait until the actual lecture to better learn the concepts, you will lose much time and have trouble with the homework.

The homework problems for each smartPhysics.com unit are reasonably good problems. They are relevant to the material of their unit. However, they often have little or no guidance in how to approach them. Had I not bought a large dated physics book as a supplement, I would normally be unable to solve the smartPhysics problems. The textbook is just too thin and wholly devoid of problem-solving approaches. Since I view problem-solving as the goal of physics, I am quite dissatisfied with the book and online lecture content.

Each online homework problem often has 5-6 component problems. For example, a problem about a jet taxiing on a runway might have liftoff and leveling questions that require x- and y-direction understanding. Good! Some of the component problems' answers can be seen, if you can input them; some cannot, because the instructor will grade them. Occasionally smartPhysics recognizes a wrong answer and provides possibly useful information, perhaps suggesting a sign change or exchanging masses in the calculations. However, you certainly cannot rely on it to guide you, with the exception of the rare interactive exercises. I have worked many problems where I input things that were close yet were neither correct nor prompted; there are a finite number of inputs, so the algorithms could be improved to catch more incorrect answers to provide guidance. I don't want the answers, but I do want to know whether I'm on the right track. But the biggest problem is that smartPhysics seems quite dumb when accepting answers. There is built-in tolerance for variation due to how calculations are done, but it's poorly executed. Sometimes problems require significant figure answers; sometimes significant figure answers that are correct are refused because more digits were requested! This flaw is especially maddening, because marking a correct answer wrong makes the user wonder whether his entire approach was wrong, thus undoing whatever confidence the user might have had. Our instructor encourages us to put whatever our final calculation is into the answer fields, since that is the most reliable.

SmartPhysics isn't bad, but it has some notable weaknesses. Our program administrators apparently want the course to be smartPhysics.com. I don't mind the online stuff, but I wish that material would be left to use so most class time could be spent solving problems instead of going through review of the book and online content.

This gets to my frustration with physics. My math classes have presented a topic then normally gone to problem solving; I go home and solve more problems in a similar manner. In physics, we get problems. There are few if any instructions on how to set them up; there are no odd-question answer keys to check your work or reverse-engineer. You can mess with the tools (equations) but, given the time constraints, there is no realistic way, other than knowing people who know the material, to find out whether you are doing things correctly. There is no reinforcement through problem-solving repetition if you can't start or confirm conclusion of another similar problem.

Fall 2012 Starts

Fall 2012 starts today and ends December 15. I'm taking 16 credits, the descriptions for which are taken from Ivy Tech's course descriptions.

  • PHYS 220, Mechanics: A calculus based physics course that provides a detailed analysis of uniform and accelerated motion; Newton’s laws; gravitation and planetary motion; energy;momentum; conservation principles; circular motion; angular momentum; dynamics of rotation; statics; hydrostatics and hydrodynamics; simple harmonic motion and wave motion. Includes lab.
  • CHEM 111, Chemistry: An introductory course that includes the science of chemistry and measurement, atomic theory and the periodic table, chemical bonding, stoichiometry, liquids and solids, gases and the ideal gas law, solutions, and acids and bases. Includes lab.
  • EETC 112, Digital Fundamentals: Introduces basic gate and flip-flop logic devices and their application in combinational and sequential digital circuits. Topics include decoders, displays, encoders,multiplexers, demultiplexers, registers, and counters. Logic circuit analysis, implementation of circuits using standard IC chips or programmable logic devices, circuit testing and troubleshooting are emphasized.
  • ENGR 263, Introduction to Programming for Electrical Engineering: Introduces basic concepts of computer programming with an emphasis on program decomposition and program structure. Focuses on structured problem-solving using the C high-level programming language. Covers number concepts fundamental in electrical engineering. Problems drawn from the field of electrical and computer engineering will require no prior engineering knowledge.