Crunch Time: The Last Stretch

          Well, it's that time of year again. Crunch time. For me, the crunch is quite literal. I am building a bridge out of spaghetti. When everything starts breaking down into late nights of gluing strands of spaghetti together to make compression members for my bridge, trying to hit that high A note in PowerChords on minimal sleep, designing and redesigning a Rubik's Cube that can solve itself, it can get people pretty down in the dumps, it can make people lose confidence in themselves.

Bridge Truss Members

           Truss Compression members for a spaghetti bridge design project in Mechanics of Solids and Structures

          All of that in mind, it's tough. I'm tired. I know I over committed this semester. But I can't wait. Because the work pays off. After everything that I'm going through, after all of the hard work, the accomplishment that follows rivals no other feeling. The feeling of crossing the finish line in a race you thought you couldn't win. I know that at the end of all of this, I will have conquered some truly challenging tasks, things that I never thought that I would be able to do, and that makes everything worth it. Because instead of banging my head against a textbook late at night, cramming for a test which I'll probably forget all about, I am doing things that I love, no matter how much time I spend doing them. I am being the creative and innovative person that I want to be, instead of the bogged down, stressed out student with too many tests to study for.

Robox CubeThe external view of a self-solving Rubik's Cube I am designing, in which a user can pick it up, scramble it, and watch as it unscrambles itself.

          I just came back from a late night of designing and assembling a bridge made out of spaghetti. By Monday, I will have finished the full design for a self-solving Rubik's Cube that someone can pick up, scramble, and put down just to watch as it solves itself. I am neck deep in post-its, working to design a collaboration space for recreational mathematicians. In Olin's Robotic Sailing team, we are pushing through some of the final steps it takes to complete our boat, and every member of the team is giving it more than they've got.

Olin Robotic SailingThe Robotic Sailing Team's boat from last year: Blackbody Radiation

          No matter how late I stay up, I can't wait. I can't wait until I have the memory of picking up the Rubik's Cube I designed, scrambling it, and watching it work. I can't wait until I watch the bridge I built out of spaghetti spectacularly fail under the load I worked to calculate. I can't wait to treasure the moment when I help put this year's robotic sailboat in the water, push it off, and watch it sail off with a mind of its own. Even though these memories haven't happened yet, these moments are the ones that affirm my passion and love for engineering, innovation, and creativity. These are moments I know I will treasure because I helped make the impossible possible.

-Alex

The Dreaded Twenty Credit Semester

Although this topic may not be super relevant to those of you who are checking out the blog at the moment, I still wanted to write about my current experience with five courses. 

First, I am going to review what I was thinking coming into this semester, then explain how it didn't work out the way I was imagining things. Read and be warned.

 

                                       Me going into this semester.

My current classes and my logic going into them:

Real World Measurements - Required course and I've heard that it makes Modeling and Control from the Fall semester make sense, which I was excited about.

Introduction to Mechanical Prototyping - This class I was really excited about because it was a very Solidworks and Mech:E heavy course, and I already knew I was interested in both of those areas. 

Linearity IRequired course and I had heard horror stories about the course. I had no idea what to expect going into this course. It was math, though, so it was something that I had never done at Olin before. I was relatively hopeful.

Mechanics: Modeling and Simulation Approach - According to Sophomores, this class promised to really strengthen my Matlab skills while getting my physics requisite out of the way. I was looking forward to both of these things. Also, Mark Somerville is an awesome guy.

Software Design - I had never really gotten the opportunity to explore the programming side of engineering. I was really excited to learn Python and finally be able to say that I know a language.

Okay, now before I go into details on the pains that have come along with this semester, I will list my current take on my five courses. I also want to say that overall, I have really enjoyed my time here at Olin so far. I am highlighting some of the shortcomings that I was not expecting from a twenty credit semester, but I still have learned a lot from each of these courses and am really looking forward to the courses and adventures that I will experience here at Olin!

My thoughts on my courses as of now:

Real World Measurements - This course did do a good job of connecting back to Mod Con and filling in some blanks, but I just don't have too much interest in what we are doing because I am more interested in the Mech:E space.

Introduction to Mechanical Prototyping - This course has been a lot of fun. I have explored new areas of fabrication such as 3D printing and Sheet metal, and it is a ton of fun to have an idea in your head and then see it turn into a solid representation over the course of a week.

Linearity I - This course has been the most trouble for me, because a lot of its curriculum is designed around self-discovery and exploratory learning, and I really have not had the time to sit down and let things click. The concepts are things that I have never seen before and it is a struggle a lot of the time.

Mechanics: Modeling and Simulation Approach - This course was approached in a very different way than it was last year, and although that meant less work, we have barely opened up matlab this semester. We look a lot at preparing the system to be entered into matlab, and although this is interesting, it wasn't what I was mainly looking for in the course. Also, similar to Linearity, I have not had the time to really get the most out of the course.

Software Design - This course has also been really great. I have really enjoyed exploring the computing branch of engineering and although I had a few hiccups in the beginning with the language, the course has since turned into a type of Software Proto where you have week long projects that feel really rewarding upon competion.

 

Okay, time for the issue with five courses if it has not yet been made evident. If you ask an Oliner about five courses, they will warn you about the amount of time that you will have to put towards your coursework. They say that you will have less time to hang out with friends and you will feel really overloaded at times. As we are approaching the end of the semester, I am starting to look back over the semester and realize that I am not taking advantage of a lot of the courses I am in. 

Because you have no extraneous time, you are not able to delve deep into the curriculum of any one class, or in my case, you delve deep into the two classes you are really passionate about, and the rest just fall to the wayside. I feel BAD that I have not been able to really explore the curriculum offered in Linearity or challenge myself to understand all aspects on the labs that we do in RWM.

I just ask that before you decide to take five courses, think strongly about not just how much time you will spend on coursework but also the different ways that this limited time will affect all aspects on your Olin life, including the coursework itself.

                                                   Me now.

 And with that, I say NEVER AGAIN!

Spring has Sprung

Spring has Sprung

Something has changed around Olin's campus. Instead of it being completely silent, with only a few heavily-clothed students rushing between the dorms and the Campus Center, it appears that people have actually started to venture back outside!

Hallelujah! The snow has melted, I can see the beginnings of green on the trees and in the grass, the thermometer on my window currently reads 75.7 and I can go outside and sit on the great lawn without a coat on!

This, of course, means the annual Olin tradition of "moving the entire 1st floor lounge onto the Great Lawn" will shortly begin again:

Hey, we're engineers. Of course we can take 5 sofas outside, and set up a way that all of our computers can still be plugged in while we enjoy the wonderful sunshine. Obviously.

However, along with the warming weather and increasing temperatures also comes the dreaded increase in workload--and a score of other shenanigans. Final projects are beginning to be assigned in all classes, and particularly us sophomores are realizing how very little time we have left to finish our UOCD designs. Eeek.

On top of that, the dreaded room draw begins next week. Zach Holmes wrote a brilliant article about this particular event in the school newspaper Frankly Speaking (http://franklyspeakingnews.com/), which I invite everyone to read. I feel it completely necessary to insert a personal anecdote here: the biggest problem I have with room draw this year is that everyone seems to think that the 1st floor of West Hall is a crummy place to be. As someone who lives here, I must just quickly insert the fact that it is quite lovely--it is not nearly as cold or dark as people seem to believe.

And, finally, with the end of the year comes the knowledge that next year is starting far too soon. Registration for next years' classes is coming up shortly, which just adds another set of stresses, especially for 2nd draw rising sophomores (that was me last year: you pretty much cross your fingers and hope that people don't take your spot).

But, it is important to remember with all of these class and school-related stresses that the outside world is now open again for people to enjoy it. If your matlab code is simply being MADE OF TERRIBLE, take a break. Go outside and enjoy the multitude of small birds that have taken up residence between the dorms. Remember that sunlight is, in fact, a thing--there is not just light from computer screens. And everything will hopefully be working when you go back to it again. And hey, the arrival of spring means that summer vacation isn't too far away!

Happy Spring Everyone!

SANY3875.JPG

Waffles?

Hello there, dear readers!

If you came to the Olinsider today looking for a super exciting post about all the great things going on at Olin, then you are in luck:

There is now a waffle iron in the dining hall.

I know, it's a pretty big deal.  I bring this up both because it's exciting and because it reminded me of the last waffle I had, not so long ago...

\begin{flashback}

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend of mine at a college in Boston.  En route to the dining hall, she insisted that I make a waffle.  According to her, they had THE best waffles on earth.  So I made one.  It was, in fact, a very good waffle, and I left the dining hall thinking, "Hmm, I wish we had a waffle iron at Olin...  I'll have to mention that to someone..."

\end{flashback}

(We then got a waffle iron before I remembered to tell anyone.)

So, what do waffles have to do with anything?  This must be part of some profound metaphor, right?  Of course not.  This is just a post about waffles.

However, I have visited friends at a few other colleges as well (the joys of being from Massachusetts) and gotten a taste of the culture (waffles?) at each school.  From my experiences, I believe I can safely say the following:

  • Our dorms are pretty sweet.
  • Our bathrooms are pretty sweet.
  • While I may complain about taking the stairs to the fourth floor of the AC, at least I don't have to cross any streets, or take a bus across campus.
  • While we may occasionally suffer from the effects of the "Olin Bubble", I think the safety of our campus is something we tend to take for granted.  It's actually really, really nice.
  • On the same note, we are definitely not in the middle of nowhere, and the Bubble's actually not so hard to pop.  The commuter rail is in walking distance from campus!
  • I don't think there's anywhere else besides my own house that I would so freely leave my stuff all over the place and not worry about losing it.

These are some things all you future applicants and Mittens still on the fence may want to consider.  Think beyond academics for a moment... what is your daily life at school going to be like?  How are your waffles going to taste?  While my friend in Boston may think her school's waffles are the best in the world, I happen to think that ours are just a little bit better.  And maybe you will too-- it's all just a matter of taste.

But I digress!  This post is, truly, just about the new waffle iron in the dining hall.  Go check it out sometime.

-Haley '17

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDj72zqZakE

Crunch time- second semester projects at Olin

Hello from Olin! It's been a long while, and now things are even busier (I feel like I say that every time I make a blog post?). With half the semester left, classes are moving into project phase. Since projects are all I can think about right now, I'll just detail a couple (meaning all) of the cool things I'm frantically working on. Our human powered vehicles team is going to competition in two weeks and there's still plenty to do- I'm working with a subteam that's building iceskates/skis to attach to our vehicle. You read that right, our trike is going to have skates. We're hoping to build it and test it out on a ice rink soon. It's pretty rad.

In RWM, our electronics/data measurement class, the team I'm in is working on an EEG to try to read brainwaves. In Software Design, Mike and I are programming a chess AI and we're hoping to train it using Machine Learning. In Markanics (Mechanics taught by our lovely instructor Mark Somerville), Michael and I are modeling and simulating wheelies on a motorcycle. 

Meanwhile independent research is coming along- I'm working on computer vision for a quadcopter that we want to use to track whales. It's not an easy problem, so a lot of my research so far has been preliminary work learning about computer vision and object detection. It's been a lot of weeks learning about algorithms and wrestling with Labview (and then switching to OpenCV). I'm hoping to get a few demo programs up and running that can track objects (with consistent lighting and a stationary camera) by the end of the semester, and building a robust program that can track whales is an aspiration that'll probably have to be left to this summer or the next year of research.

In the Machine Learning reading group on campus, I'm working with a subteam of students who are working on building a vision system for a robotic tour guide that we're envisioning. We're taking baby steps right now, so our first goal is to get a waffle detection program up and running. Why waffles? Well, they're relatively symmetric to rotation, generally the same color, and easy to find features the features of. Also, waffles.   

"Well, hold up there Dennis!" You might say. "That sounds exceptionally busy! Are you even able to do good work on all these awesome projects?" My answer is that I really hope so! Part of being a freshman at Olin is finding that you're overcommitted and trying to balance everything. So only time will tell, but drinking massive quantities of caffeine is helping. By the way, I know multiple people who are taking more classes than me and doing more extracurriculars. If you're wondering how they do it, I don't really know either. But a phenomenon I've noticed is that upperclassmen scoff at you and think it's cute when you say that you "don't have enough time" or "have too much work". So it looks like things are only getting harder from here, and I'll have to start narrowing down extracurriculars next year.     

What else is going on with my Olin academic life? (If you were hoping for non academic details I'm sorry, it's just about all my fried brain can write about right now). Well, "oh crap, I have to choose a major" is looming somewhere in the future. You'd think that Olin makes it easy for you because there are all of about 5 majors, but the more I think about it the more unsure I get. I've gone from thinking I'll be an ECE to a ME to being an ECE who's actually a computer science major. Turns out I like programming, as you might guess from all the stuff I'm doing with computer vision and AI and machine learning. (By the way, never dismiss a field because a subfield of it isn't your cup of tea. After spending a few months learning Rails and web app development I just wasn't too into it, so I thought I couldn't be a computer engineering guy. But computing is a huge interdisciplinary field with a lot of cool schnaz, and I've since changed my mind).

So this is what Olin is for me right now- lots and lots of cool projects and work. Tune in next year (I believe this is my last blog post of the semester) to see the results of it all and what major I finally chose! Or just email me or something if you're truly curious (yeah right). By the way, prospective students who might be reading blog posts, never be afraid to email and talk to anyone at Olin! Oliners are a friendly bunch and would probably be pretty happy to talk to you. Just about everybody here stays on top of their emails. And...that's just about it for this blog post. Bye friends!

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