Monday, June 19, 2006

The making of a student

The PICDEM FS USB board can be configured to enable or disable its various hardware features... the user will need to cut the traces, and install pins and a block jumper.

"Ah," thought I. "All I have to do is cut the traces and install pins and a block jumper!"

1. Cut the traces.

I've learned that the best way to cut traces is- well, probably not the way I just cut traces, which is to scrape and scrape and scrape with the xacto and pray that you don't hit anything important, like your finger. The result looks like a very tiny (yet vicious) cat has chosen your PCB as its new scratching post. This may in fact be a better way to do it: breed tiny vicious cats.

The Mel is finally metamorphing into a Real ECE. Took long enough, really; it's been 2 years and 9 months since I saw my first soldering iron, and I'm just getting comfortable doing really simple things like - oh, soldering an LED onto a circuit board, and calculating a voltage divider. I'm a slow learner.

Part of the difficulty is because I never really got anyone to follow around; I could ask my dad marketing questions at the dinner table, went to high school with a couple of very good programmers, grew up with a wonderful piano teacher. I've tried to learn electrical engineering wholly from books, but the field is so large and growing so fast that there was no such thing as a "How to learn to be an electrical engineer" book that I could launch off from (I'm not talking about an Intro to ECE textbook; I'm talking about something akin to Eric Raymond's essay "How to become a Hacker").

I'm trying to fix that now. When you're learning something, the best thing you can have is a good teacher that really takes you in, almost adopts you; this doesn't mean they'll fuss over you (quite the opposite), or that they'll never let you go solo. It means they'll keep an eye out, let you tag along, challenge you, teach you how to fly on your own. I've filled that role too often for too long; sometimes I need to go back and be small again. I think it's working.

It feels really good to have mentors. I haven't let anyone teach me for so long. (Sorry, Olin profs... I've been a poor student these past three years. Hopefully I'll be better for this last one.)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Backstage in the kitchen

It's wonderful to not have to teach any more. Design Continuum (where I'm working - see?) is fantastic, like Olin only with older people with more experience, and no homework. The project I'm working on in my "free time" at work is basically POE + UOCD. I am estatic. For the first time since... well, kindergarten - I'm serious - I am in a place where I am completely incapable of helping anyone else. I have nothing to teach. It's impossible for me to tutor. What I can do is ask lots of questions of everyone else, and try as best as I can to learn. And WHOOSH!

I've never learned so much so fast. And until I stopped doing it two weeks ago, I never realized how much time I spend teaching other people things. I love doing it, but gosh, it feels good not to feel obligated to (since I can't) and I have much more free time. I've got to do this more. I've been teaching for 15 years. It's high time for a sabbatical, even if it lasts all of 2 months. So I'm learning how to not be a teacher; instead, I'm finally learning how to be a student

Why is it that whenever an Oliner finds a happy place, they always compare it to Olin?

The other revelation is that Blue Ribbon BBQ is the best stuff ever. It's across the street from my office, and my coworkers have been raving about it, but I never actually tried any of their stuff until I cooked in the kitchen on Saturday night. I'd volunteered to help with the Bikes Not Bombs bike-a-thon, and the chef I was helping turned out to be the man behind Blue Ribbon, so I got to make industrial-size tubs of salsa, saw fresh spinach and radishes for the first time in my life (you mean it it doesn't come in plastic bags all the time?), and learned a lot about cooking in the process. They've got a totally sweet wood-burning oven, and incredible amounts of meat everywhere. And the food. Is fantastic. And so are the people. They've just won a customer for the rest of summer - and I'm definitely helping with the bike-a-thon next year; I want to get back inside that kitchen.