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From: (Doug White)
Newsgroups: rec.crafts.metalworking
Subject: Re: School Shop Equipment For Sale
Date: Fri, 04 Feb 2000 23:53:40 GMT

In article <01bf6ec6$a78d52a0$0f02000a@chucktop>, "tonyp" <> wrote:
>Doug White <> wrote
>> Engineering schools definitely need to have some practical hands-on
>> courses.  I once was confronted with an MIT Graduate Student EE who
>> wanted to build a little light using an LED for soemthing at home.  He
>> had no idea that a wall socket put out 115V ac, or that ac was not
>> immediately compatible with an LED.  He had no idea how many volts or
>> amps it took to light an LED.  The guy was completely clueless about how
>> the real world worked.  I'm sure he was a real whiz at digital signal
>> processing, but he certainly wasn't an 'engineer' in any way that I
>> recognized.  I've heard that the MechE department has had similar
>> problems with some of their grads.  It's all computer modeling & theory,
>> and nobody ever BUILDS anything anymore.
>Well, this is not exactly true.  The famous course 2.70 is still required
>for all ME undergrads as far as I know, although it may go by a different
>number nowadays.  That's the course which includes a contest where each
>student is given an identical kit of raw materials and they have to build
>machines that compete against each other in a well-defined contest.  (Your
>email address suggest you know that, but not everybody does.)  Sadly, it's
>true this is the only course left in which the typical undergrad gets
>anywhere near a machine tool.  On the other hand, many students (even some
>pre-med and pre-MBA types) work on research projects where they at least
>have to design something and, if not make it themselves, at least walk
>into the shop and be nice to the machinists who _do_ build it for them.

I was told that Prof. Woody Flowers (who runs the 2.70 class) gave a test
to a bunch of MIT MechE seniors a few years back.  It had questions like
"how much power can you get out of a 9 volt transistor radio battery?",
and "how much does the heaviest truck on the US highways weigh?".  He
wasn't looking for an exact answer, he was curious to see if people could
come up with an answer in the right ballpark, based on some simple bits
of real-world experience and observation along with some extrapolation.
Most of the answers were off by several orders of magnitude.  People were
coming up with 9V batteries that would light Tokyo for a week, and trucks
weighing 1000 pounds, or 10 million.

As for EE's, even the hardware designers have frequently never used a
soldering iron these days.  I saw a sales presentation by a major RF
simulation software company where they showed a result that violated the
laws of physics.  They had clearly run a simulation with absolutely no
sense of how the real world works.  The president of the company was some
fancy PhD EE professor who should have known better.  I was not
impressed, and I suspect they lost a lot of sales when I pointed out the
problem in the middle of their presentation.  Just a few weeks ago
somebody told me I couldn't do something because their computer program
claimed I would need a negative resistor.  The problem was clearly with
his computer program, but he didn't have the insight to realize it.  To
paraphrase another thread: "we're all doomed!"

Don't get me wrong, I screw up, make mistakes, and overlook things from
time to time.  However, I always try to step back and make sure that what
I'm doing and the results I'm getting fit into a wider picture of how the
real world operates.  This is hard for current grads to do, because
they've never been forced to deal with the real world.  A shop class or
two would do a lot of good in this area.

Doug White

From: (Doug White)
Newsgroups: rec.crafts.metalworking
Subject: Re: School Shop Equipment For Sale
Date: Sun, 06 Feb 2000 14:38:04 GMT

In article <>, Gary Coffman <> wrote:

>I don't think that there is ever a need for a trade off between theory and
>practice. Sound theory and sound practice go hand in hand. Both are
>very much real world. There's never an excuse to allow an engineer to
>slide by with only a mechanistic notion of turn the crank formulas.
>Engineers need to understand why things work, and why they don't.
>Just knowing how to manipulate equations doesn't do that. A physical
>understanding of what the equations mean is required.
>In that sense *both* camps you mention are wrong. They're both oriented
>toward the mechanics of manipulation of abstractions of different sorts.
>Neither camp seems to be interested in projecting a concrete understanding
>of real world systems. My physics background may be showing, but I think
>the physicist has the right idea. He is concerned with the physical meaning
>behind the equations. (At least *good* physicists are. Good engineers should
>be too.)

In terms of groups that are COMPLETELY disconnected from reality,
_theoretical_ physicists are the worst.  There are some exceptions, but
at MIT, many were so hopeless it was comical.  I had one in an EE lab I
taught that literally didn't know how to operate a ruler (it's hard to
describe, but trust me on this).  We had one guy on our dorm floor who
sat in his room studying not 6 feet from a broiler that was reducing a
pork chop to charcoal.  He didn't even notice it after we pounded on the
door to ask about the smoke that was leaking into the hallway.  It was
only after he opened the door to see what the commotion was and we
pointed out that his dinner was on fire that he realized the entire room
was filled with thick smoke.  Another student almost succeeded in
exposing himself to very dangerous levels of radiation because he wanted
to see what the radiation source looked like in a physics lab experiment.
 The fact that he had to remove a pretty big pile of lead bricks to get
at it didn't phase him in the least.  These guys we're supposed to be the
best & the brightest.  Dangerous & dumbest was more like it.

Doug White

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