ASU Spring 2016

I made it through my first semester of ASU Online EE program and Spring 2016 I’m doubling the number of classes and will be taking my very first electrical engineering class. This semester I’m taking:

Session A
MAT 265 – Calculus I
EE 120 – Digital Design Fundamentals

Session B
MAT 266 – Calculus II
PHY 121 – Physics I

It’s been over 15 years since I’ve done any Calculus or Physics. Over the break I’ve been watching more videos on about Calculus. I haven’t done a lot of the exercises though so we’ll see how that works out.

On the physics side, I haven’t done a lot of prep work yet. I’ve got a little over three months until that starts up. I saw that Khan Academy has some videos on Physics and read that a former MIT professor named Walter Lewin has recorded his Physics lectures and those are supposed to be a good supplement. Not sure I’ll need those, but having multiple sources to pull from I think will be beneficial.

My professor for EE 120 sent out a shopping list of parts needed shortly after registering. On the shopping list we needed to procure the following:

  • Digilent Analog Discovery
  • Breadboard
  • Breadboard Wiring Bundle
  • 74LS00 (Quad NAND)
  • 74LS02 (Quad NOR)
  • 74LS04 (Hex Inverter)
  • 74LS05 (Hex Inverter O.C.)
  • 74LS08 (Quad AND)
  • 74LS11 (3-input AND)
  • 74LS32 (Quad OR)
  • 74LS74 (D flip flop)
  • 74LS112 (J-K flip flop)
  • 74LS126 (3-state buffer)
  • 74LS175 (Quad D Register)
  • 1K Ohm resistors

Rumor has it that the Analog Discovery All-In-One USB Oscilloscope and instrumentation system will be used in a number of upcoming EE classes. Digilent had some tutorials on the device so I started tinkering with a few of those.

Book wise, no textbook was required for EE 120, but I did pick up the one used in the campus course. The professor gave a number of other books that were available through the ASU library or for purchase so I started flipping through those.

Not too much else to report but will post updates as the courses progress.


Basic Tools for Success

When I first started college back in 1997 I had a desktop computer running a Pentium II processor with 32 GB of RAM, Windows 95 and a 4GB hard drive. I think it had Office 97.

Times have changed.

My computer of choice now is a Surface Pro 3 tablet with Windows 10 and Office 2016. I went with the i5, 256GB, 8GB model. Naturally Microsoft announced the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 a few months after I made the purchase but in all honesty the Surface Pro 3 is a great unit. I did pick up the newer Surface Pen and I really like it.

In addition to the Surface Pro 3, I have an older desktop setup with a 24″ monitor. I find myself pulling up assignments, slide decks or videos on the desktop and then using the Surface Pro 3 and OneNote to take notes with the Surface Pen. Having my handwritten notes on my computers and backed up helps me sleep a bit better at night.

All of my school files are saved up to OneDrive and sync across both devices. So far that has worked well.

There is a bit of fruit in my technical diet in the form of an Apple iPad but I find I don’t use it all that much short of checking email or catching up on a game via the WatchESPN app.

Other tools I use are your standard issue pens, pencils and notecards, file folders and binders and a backpack. I am trying to keep everything digital especially since all assignments are submitted online via blackboard.

For a calculator, I use a TI-84 Plus CE. On the iPad I do have the TI-NSpire CAS app but I tend to use the TI-84 unless I get stuck or have something with a radical in it that I want to double check how to simplify.

All exams to date are proctored via ProctorU and require a web camera. I have a small Logitech HD Webcam 310 attached to the desktop that does the job and came in handy for FSE 100’s video calls with my team members.

Believe it or not, I may be the only college student without a mobile phone these days. After my position was eliminated I gave back my company mobile phone and didn’t bother to replace it. My wife has a phone though so if I’m venturing into unchartered territory and she’s staying in, I just borrow her phone. So far that’s working out well for us and keeping expenses down.

ASU MAT 170 – Precalculus

I had spent Summer 2015 working to get into a math mindset. I think my preparations paid off well and at the completion of Session B for Fall 2015 I was very happy with the results. At the start, I was very nervous to be jumping back into College level math and my earlier struggles with Trigonometry haunted me. To have the greatest chance for success I felt starting my math journey with MAT 170 at ASU would help ensure I had a solid foundation. I feel much more comfortable now and am looking forward to tackling MAT 265 – Calculus I.

MAT 170 covers a lot very quickly. To me the course felt like a marathon at a very fast pace. It was very much self paced, but there were deliverables due weekly in addition to a proctored midterm and final. Students needed to complete 105 mastery points which were earned through short quizzes. I figured out that I needed to complete at least two mastery points per day to be finished with a few days time to spare to study for the final and meet the course due dates. You can not get behind in this course or you will be in a world of hurt. Students must work daily completing the mastery points.

I am very visual and the former project manager in me likes to see fancy charts. I made up an Excel spreadsheet and burn down chart to track my progress. It took a few minutes in the beginning to layout what needed to be accomplished, but helped me stay on track. Here is the burn down chart tracking my progress.

MAT170 burndown chart

The course was primarily delivered through Pearson’s MyMathLab site which I was pleased with. There were plenty of practice problems with examples and the site provided immediate feedback which was extremely helpful. In addition to what seemed like an endless supply of practice problems there were lecture videos, presentation decks and an online version of the textbook available. Blackboard and Piazza served for a gradebook and class discussion board.

Topics covered in MAT 170 were:

  • Chapter 1 – Functions and Graphs
    • Basics of Functions and their Graphs
    • More on Functions and their Graphs
    • Combinations of Functions, Composite Functions
    • Inverse Functions
  • Chapter 2 – Polynomials and Rational Functions
    • Complex Numbers
    • Quadratic Functions
    • Polynomial Functions and their Graphs
    • Dividing Polynomials, Remainder and Factor Theorems
    • Rational Functions and their Graphs
  • Chapter 3 – Exponential and Logarithmic Functions
    • Exponential Functions
    • Logarithmic Functions
    • Properties of Logarithms
    • Exponential and Logarithmic Equations
    • Exponential Growth and Decay, Modeling Data
  • Chapter 4 – Trigonometric Functions
    • Angles and Radian Measure
    • Trigonometric Functions, Unit Circle
    • Right Triangle Trigonometry
    • Trigonometric Functions of Any Angle
    • Graphs of Sine and Cosine Functions
    • Graphs of other Trig Functions
    • Inverse Trigonometric Functions
  • Chapter 5 – Analytic Trigonometry
    • Verifying Trigonometric Identities
    • Sum and Difference Formulas
    • Double-Angle, Power Reducing and Half Angle Formulas
    • Trigonometric Equations
  • Chapter 6 – Additional Topics in Trigonometry
    • Law of Sines
    • Law of Cosines
    • Vectors
    • The Dot Product

The midterm consisted of problems from the first three chapters and the final was the last three. 10% of our grade came from practice midterm and final exams. The practice exams took a couple of hours to work through, but the midterm and finals had problems that were very similar.

We were able to use a calculator for the homework and exams although it could not be a fancy CAS (college algebra system) calculator. I used a TI-84 Plus CE. I chose that unit because it had a backlight and was easier to read the screen. Battery life isn’t too bad and charges up pretty quickly. I spent half a day reading through the calculator manual which I think really paid off in the long run.

My professor was very responsive to emails and discussion board posts. On the final exam I made a mistake on one of the problems and the exam docked me a lot of points for missing the negative sign. My instructor gave me partial credit on that problem after I emailed her which was really awesome. I highly recommend keeping in touch with your instructor throughout the course.

On the final we were given all of the Trigonometric formulas needed, but we were not given a unit circle. I spent time memorizing the degree and radian measurements as well as the (x,y) values. I drew that out on a sheet of scratch paper once the exam was underway and referred to it on a number of problems.

One area I didn’t take advantage of was ASU’s Tutoring services. My coach reminded me that those services were available but at that point during the session I didn’t feel a strong need to reach out for help. That will most likely change as I get deeper into Calculus over the next few sessions.

Overall, another positive experience with an ASU Online course. I’m feeling like gaps I had in my knowledge have been filled and the 1000 practice problems and over 100 hours spent have me well prepared.


Prepping for Engineering Math

Math has been a challenge for me. For one reason or another I’ve had a lack of confidence in my mathematical abilities for a very long time. I took a number of math classes at UC Riverside years ago and ultimately became so frustrated I gave up and changed majors.

In eighth grade I took an Algebra class but was lost for most of the year. I repeated Algebra as a freshman in high school, then took the usual Geometry, Algebra II and Trigonometry sequence to wrap up my high school math studies. It wasn’t my favorite subject and I struggled through it somehow.

At UC Riverside, engineering students needed to start in MATH 9A – Calculus I, but after taking the math placement test I landed in Math 3, then had to take Math 5, then finally was able to register for MATH 9A. In high school we used a TI-81 calculator for everything. UCR had a no calculator policy which was a huge shock after relying on a calculator for the previous four years. For a very long time, I figured that I just wasn’t meant to do college level math.

When I discovered ASU’s Online EE program and started to get  serious about going back to wrap up my EE degree I knew I was going to have to figure out how to survive and thrive at college level engineering mathematics. I knew there were gaps somewhere in my math knowledge, not to mention that a lack of use over the past 17 years had caused those math muscles to atrophy.

I stumbled across a book by Barbara Oakley titled a Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra). I didn’t exactly flunked Algebra, but I won’t say I had it mastered. Dr. Oakley’s relationship with math was very close to mine, yet she managed to earn a doctorate in Electrical Engineering! Dr. Oakley’s experiences discussed in the book combined the tips and techniques taught really inspired me get back on the math horse and master the beast. I would highly recommend it not only for math and science folks, but for anyone interested to improve their ability to learn.

In addition to the book, there is also a free online class on Coursera. I went through that over two weeks to help reinforce what I was reading. The techniques have been useful in my studies so far.

I spent most of the summer of 2015 reviewing videos and lessons on I started at the beginning with the Algebra lessons and progressed through Geometry, Algebra II, Trigonometry and the Precalculus areas. The exercises and Sal Khan’s videos really helped me identify areas were I was missing knowledge and got me thinking mathematically.

A struggle I had in earlier math classes was a lack of feedback on assignments and tests. Perhaps my fault for not following up and seeking help early and often, but something about the Khan Academy exercises and getting feedback immediately when submitting a problem, really helped me fill in the gaps quickly.

The Khan Academy exercises also will jump around to various topics to identify where a student needs to focus attention and then over the course of a few days, topics are reviewed and eventually mastered. The hours spent over the summer really helped me and I would highly recommend Khan Academy to students at all levels.

My older two kids have worked on Khan Academy grade levels over their past two summer vacations and both are well above their grade level mathematics wise.


ASU FSE 100 – Intro to Engineering

I took FSE 100 – Intro to Engineering Session A, Fall of 2015. FSE 100 is a 2 unit course, but don’t let the two units fool you. This course required a lot of time and collaboration with team members!

Over 7.5 weeks the course exposed students to general engineering. A plethora of topics were covered, but not a huge amount of time was spent on any one area. The weeks were broken down into the following topics:

  • Week 1 – Working in Teams & The Engineering Design Process
  • Week 2 – Models, Measurements and Acoustics
  • Week 3 – MATLAB and Creativity
  • Week 4 – Project Management and Technical Communication
  • Week 5 – Project Proposal & Construction, Electrical Fundamentals and Analog and Digital Filtering
  • Week 6 – Project Construction, Engineering Applications – Grand Challenges and Mars Rover
  • Week 7 – Project Construction, Engineering Applications – Solar Energy & Wrap Up

The first part of the class had the most material to learn, while the last half of the class focused on the group project. By far, I spent the most time on the group project.

A huge portion of the grade for this class was the group project. Students were put into teams of 3-4 students with others students who had similar schedules and groups were tasked with coming up with a solution for a fictitious band. The “band” needed unique instruments that could play 1 of 3 songs and fit into a string, wind and percussion classification. Songs included ASU’s Alma Mater, Fight Song or Ode to Joy.

Throughout the course, the group needed to deliver various engineering documents such as a problem definition and requirements, project proposal, project plan, project updates and engineering drawings using examples and skills learned during the first part of the class.

The final deliverables were video presentations, working instruments and a final written report. There were a few quizzes and weekly questions to answer through the course, but the group project was the primary focus.

ASU provides each student with Google accounts that include email, Google Docs, Sheets, etc. Google Drive and Google’s IM and Video Conference product helped my group collaborate in real time. This class was my first exposure to Google’s tools and I was impressed with how well the group was able to use them in real time to piece together all the deliverables for the course.

One the group project – I ended up building two instruments. Initially I took on a pan pipe wind instrument that was designed to play the high notes and then build a thumb piano after the group ran into problems with a xylophone.

During the first part of the class we were given instruction on MATLAB and acoustics that we used to determine string lengths, pipe lengths, etc needed to build the instruments needed to play the songs. Another perk of being enrolled at ASU is the university gives you access to the software needed. We were able to get access to a student edition of MATLAB for use and I was able to setup a MATLAB script that would calculate the pipe and bar lengths needed for the two instrument types I built. We were shown how to graph results for inclusion in the final report. We barely scratched the surface of what can be done in MATLAB and I am looking forward to working more in MATLAB.

The pan pipes were made out of PVC pipe with a wooden frame to hold them together. On the thumb piano, I sacrificed a garden rake for the tines and then used wood and steel to complete the assembly. Send me a note if you’re looking for more specifics on the construction! The instruments were tuned to play specific notes and a spectrum analysis was done to make sure that the notes played were close to the notes required for ASU Alma Mater.

During week 5 we took a look at electrical fundamentals and the audio recording software Audacity. Audacity was used to piece together the groups instrument samples for the Alma Mater demo we submitted. I built a simple RC filter on a breadboard and measured voltage as different frequencies were generated through Audacity for one of the assignments. As an electrical engineering student, I really enjoyed this unit’s material although definitely left me wanting more! Here are a photo of the simple circuit that was built. IMG_0030 [3025942]

We also used a voltmeter to measure current, voltage and resistance. Very basic activities, but good to know! We did have to buy a $25.00 electronics part kit and only used a couple of the components, but I’m hoping the other parts will get put to use in upcoming EE courses.

My least favorite portion of the course was having to record a video presentation and demonstration. I try to shy away from public speaking, but I can certainly understand why it’s important. This part of the assignment got me outside of my comfort zone. It took me a couple of tries to get a decent recording that fit into the time constraints. Definitely don’t wait until the last minute on this part of the assignment! One of my group members did the final editing and pieced together the various recordings to make one final video for submission. If you’d like to check out the final video, let me know and I’ll send you a link.

Overall, I enjoyed this course and the nice variety of topics covered. It was challenging working with a long distance team, but great preparation for what one could face later in one’s career. Collaboration tools definitely have come a long ways and keep getting better. Instructors grading comments were helpful and timely and overall I was very happy with my grade.




ASU Fall 2015

I am back in school. After spending 15 years working in information technology I enrolled in Arizona State’s Online Electrical Engineering program. Well, officially I was accepted as an Engineering Management major, but paperwork to transfer to EE was underway and by the middle of the semester would be official. In addition, I am married and a father of three. Also now I am a stay at home dad. I had been with a company for 9 years, but back in August my position was eliminated due to a merger. With those changes, easing back into school seemed like a wise choice.

I enrolled in FSE 100 – Intro to Engineering and ASU 101 which is a Orientation course for the first session. The second half of the Fall semester was MAT 170 – Precalculus. All classes were delivered through Blackboard although MAT 170 used Pearson’s MyMathLab for assignments, quizzes, instruction and testing.

In my opinion ASU has a pretty good system setup to support students studying online. In addition to academic advisors, each student is paired up with a coach. Over the course of the Fall courses, my coach checked in with me to make sure I knew about the various resources available, discuss any challenges I was facing and next steps. Both the academic advisors and coaches I’ve worked with have been very helpful and friendly.

ASU 101 was a session long orientation course. It covered things like time management, library and career center resources, college ethics, the various Google tools that are available to students. Each week there was a pretty straightforward assignment to submit online. It provided a good introduction to online learning, ASU in general and some tools and resources students can use.

I’ll be writing up more on how FSE 100 and MAT 170 went so check back soon!