Category Archives: Hobbies

“I know how to code,” I said, “but I don’t know how to Code.” “Umm. You just said the same thing twice and said there was a difference.” “Yes,” I said, “but I said it with different emphasis each time.” “Please explain.”   So this was how I explained my frustrations to a sympathetic ear. See, I had dabbled and learned all sorts of programming languages: Basic, C, a little Java, Javascript, Scheme, a bit of 8086 assembly and even Zilog-80 assembly so I could try to make calculator games for my old TI.  I’d also managed to learn enough HTML and CSS to hack up my personal blogger site. I mean, I know about For loops, If/Then statements, functions, objects, quick sorts, and so on. Despite all that, I was completely flummoxed if I wanted to make anything substantial or real. I didn’t know how to make standalone Windows executables, or set…

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Ytai Ben-Tsvi is the creative mind behind the IOIO (pronounced “yo-yo”). It is a hobby development board similar to the Arduino, but designed specifically to attach hobby peripherals to an Android phone through the USB port. I recently had a chance to interview him. What is the story behind the IOIO board and what has been your involvement thus far? In the summer of 2010 I was in California on a business trip (I was living in Israel then). A colleague of mine was telling me about the cellbots.com project that he was involved with. They were building little hobby robots based around Android phones. He was unhappy about the hacky ways they were using to connect the phone to motors and asked me whether I have an idea to fix this. After a couple of days, I thought I found a solution and that’s how IOIO was born. Another thing that makes it…

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All the literature geeks who read EngineerBlogs probably know that today is the Ides of March. *crickets chirping* However, everyone else probably was celebrating Pi day yesterday.  Some of us take our favorite constants very seriously.  And some of us eat them.   (Yes, I baked that.  But not yesterday.) One of my favorite stories about Richard Feynman is how he broke into someone’s file cabinets because he guessed this person had a thing for well-known constants.  After incorrectly guessing the person was using the value of pi as the code to the numerical lock, he tried e.  He gave this person the scare of his life. Pi is one number that everyone seems to know and love, but I wonder: is it your favorite number, or do you have another?  I personally like the value of permittivity for free space (because I used it so much in grad school).…

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This week I’m on my (belated) honeymoon in Hawaii. As I’ve written about before (on my wedding day, no less!), my wife is a wonderful person to put up with my engineering ways. This time, I’m actually writing this post in advance, because I’m attempting to unplug and relax while I’m away. No, not completely. I’ll be in pretty much constant contact with the outside world if necessary, though the plan is to unplug as much as possible. Baby steps, y’know?  However, my first big decision was not to take my laptop with me. While I’ll still have access to email and Twitter and the rest of those time-wasters out there, it will be on my phone. And you know what is much easier on my laptop than on my phone? Writing substantial emails and doing work. So I likely won’t do either. In essence, I’m just making it a little…

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Welcome back! I’m thrilled to be officially joining as a full-time author. I hope everyone had a chance to relax a bit over the holidays, and maybe spend a little bit of time on your favorite hobbies. This fall, one of my lab mates introduced my husband and me to a new hobby : spinning. No, not the exercise class, the yarn-making type. While we started with drop spindles, being the gadget-y people we are, spinning wheels were instantly fascinating. When we talk to spinners, they have regularly commented on how engineers take a very different approach to the whole process. Most spinners do it by feel, and trial and error, instead of evaluating everything in terms of gear ratios and frictional forces. The spinning wheel is hardly a new invention, and operates on fundamentally simple principles. Twist is introduced into the fiber based on the treadle rate, and the…

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As today is Thanksgiving (in the US, anyway), it seemed appropriate to talk about my favorite kind of engineering: food engineering…more commonly referred to as cooking.  I guess you could call it that, but I take my cooking far too seriously to do something like slap some bread in the toaster and claim I just cooked something. Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday because I love to cook.  (Washing dishes is a different story, and my husband has been officially designated as chief dish-cleaning engineer.)  Since I reached adulthood, I’ve been searching for the perfect combination of dishes for Thanksgiving.  Of course, even the perfect dish takes time to perfect. So how you develop the perfect Thanksgiving meal?  I think that’s going to change from person to person, so rather than giving you a list of recipes, I’m going to talk a little bit about some of the other things…

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I haven’t been watching the news about the recent Penn State football scandal, mostly because I can’t stomach it. But I’m very intrigued by the fact that the school covered up some of the horror because of the importance of the football program to fundraising and everything else. And let’s be honest here, folks: It’s not just Penn State where this is the case. Yes, this was particularly bad oversight and judgement on their part; but lots of large schools pin their fundraising aspirations on the ability of sports programs to attract alumni back to the campus. And to say it’s inconceivable that another school would potentially do the same is a bit naive. From the fundraising perspective and the focus on sports, I’m not really surprised. Universities, though non-profit, are effectively a company; their actions reflect what they believe will bring in the most money. But this brings a…

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Last week I wrote about childhood inspirations and how they affected you as an engineer. First off, I wanted to apologize to those who had responses that were not properly captured. Some people pointed out that I missed biological engineering of any sort (honestly, I didn’t realize we had any bio-centric readers! cool!). And others informed me that I left out certain critical toys to their childhood. One commenter astutely mentioned that I must be younger than them; too right! I based this on my own experiences, I should have thought to poll for older engineers’ favorite toys so we could capture a wider swath of influences. Anyway, it’s hardly a great survey, but information such as this is always interesting. So I hope you enjoy it!

The other day I was reading through a recent NYT article about why science and engineering students have trouble making it through classes (and subsequently, why the count of engineers in the US is low). While I was dismayed at the general fallout of students, when compared to the incoming numbers, I was encouraged by some of the programs the article highlighted. In particular, Notre Dame Engineering seems to be taking up an idea I laid out a few months ago, namely remedial tinkering classes; this would give the students the context they need in order to help them make a decision about continuing engineering school. In the course of re-reading my article, I noticed a comment thread between me and Fluxor about the inspiration we have for engineering in the first place. How does our play influence what we might want to do in our careers? Which engineers seem to congregate…

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As you may have noticed, we have a new addition to our writing staff at Engineer Blogs.  Miss MSE joined us as a guest contributor. What you might not have noticed is, with Miss MSE’s arrival and Paul Clarke’s departure, Engineer Blogs’ active writing staff is now 2/3 women. I’m a bit surprised by that given the usual ratio of men to women in engineering. I have a few theories why, aside from the obvious one that the male writers keep leaving.  However, one underlying issue that is likely related is that engineers just don’t seem to like to write. This one puzzles me.  Is it because engineering is a male-dominated field, and young boys are given the message early in life that they are bad writers?  Does this make them not want to try?  Or is it that they really ARE bad writers and realize the effort is futile?…

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