Monday, August 1, 2011

Apartment Automation

As I'm settling into my new apartment - alone on my own for the first time - there are a few things I'm getting used to, albeit slowly. Things like making sure my "lockout-proof" door is locked when I leave for work, making sure my thermostat is set properly (read: OFF, I want to maintain a lean electric bill), and my lights are off when I leave.While the AC and lights are simple financial issues, the door is a serious security problem. If I don't lock my door, it'll be open my entire work day, making all of my fantastic new apartment furnishings fair game for anyone else in the building. This has caused me (in paranoid fits) to go all the way back to the door after getting in my car to leave.

All of this has made it very clear to me some kind of automation system would not only be a fun project, it would be a worthy investment in terms of both reducing bills and increased peace-of-mind. However, a Google search for "home automation apartment" yielded nothing promising. This seems to be a niche area that isn't covered by the home automation / DIY market. Which makes it interesting.

My ideas for this project involve completely non-invasive methods of monitoring and/or controlling the following key (to me) areas:
  1. Non-fixtured lighting (i.e. - anything I plugged into an outlet, not wired into the building's electric).
  2. Thermostat
  3. Room/apartment intruder detection
  4. Security monitoring / activation
Some of these things are simple. Some of them are probably out of my reach. Especially since the unstated requirement for all of this to be wireless. Since I can't seem to think of a better project, I think I'm going to try to take this on piece-by-piece. Any collaboration/help is greatly welcomed.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Capstone Project Recieves University Recognition

Today, Northeastern University's press team ran a story about my senior design project team's efforts and accomplishments earlier this year. It feels great to have our work broadcast on the university stage! We worked really hard on it, and were all proud of what it turned into at the end.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Developing Android Application

Let me start by saying this: I am not a software developer. By no means do I intend to try to become one, make people think I am one, or even want to become one. However, the ability to tap into the power of the ubiquity and capability of Android smartphones is too great a temptation to pass up. I can think of a few great applications I'd like to cook up quickly for myself, and I'll probably keep things updated here and/or ask for advice and comments.

Aside from the few knockoff apps I personally want, one thing is clear - robots and smartphones go together like peanut butter and jelly. I'd love to be able to command and control any robotics projects from my Droid - it's more portable than a bulky laptop and just as capable. Hopefully, I will be able to work on both sides of this equation (Android development and robotics projects to make use of control applications) in my "free time". For now, here's my progress:

If anyone has any good sources or would simply like to follow along, let me know!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Launch of a Career

I'm excited to share the news: I am officially going to be starting my career as an electrical and computer engineer. I've been given a fantastic opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge I've gained in my education and previous work experiences with the chance to make a real difference for a company and its business.

I've accepted an offer from a large corporation with key business holdings in the defense, aerospace, and industrial sectors. The position I took is a special entry level program that gives me the opportunity to rotate through some of the various business units which are located across the country (and even internationally!). This phase of the program lasts 2 years, after which I will hopefully be able to use the experience and connections I've gained to obtain a permanent position with the corporation.

For my first rotation, I will be working for the avionics group of an aerospace company located in Maryland. This is a new industry for me, but I believe the skills I've gained should port nicely to the work they do. I don't have all (or many) of the details about the day-to-day nature of the position, but I'm sure that will be worked out when I start.

For now, I'm just very excited about starting my career and this new phase of my life!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Practical Education in Undergraduate Studies

I've spent the last 5 years as an undergraduate student at Northeastern University in the ECE department. My coursework focused on the major topics in both electrical and computer engineering - from RCL network analysis, non-linear electronics, electromagnetic waves & theory, noise and stochastic processes, and communication systems, to digital logic design, computer architecture, and computer networks. My academic endeavours have been bolstered by workplace experience in the form of my three 6-month cooperative education positions, working at two of the best engineering/research facilities in the country, and for this I am thankful.

However, reflecting on my education, I feel quite cheated (especially for the completely inordinate tuition fees Northeastern University feels justified charging). Practical problem solving was not a focus of the education - something I feel any engineering curriculum should incorporate in every aspect of learning. And even though this lack of practical education would lead one to believe the focus was on theory and background information critical to my field - it wasn't that either.

I can most easily sum up my academic experience in two words: math problems. Almost every single one of my engineering courses was focused on solving math problems in the context of the course material. Trivial problems (by no means easy to solve, but nonetheless close-ended and solvable) in a patterned format - one pattern for each of the topics.

The outcome of this, ironically, is my complete lack of respect for the need "turn the mathematical crank" (as one fondly remembered electronics professor would call it) in engineering. In every practical endeavor I've encountered, solving any kind of mathematical or numerical problem related to an engineering issue seemed overkill and inefficient.

As I start my career as an engineer, I hope that this changes - my attraction to engineering stems from the finite, distinguishable, concrete, and objective solutions to problems it generates.

So I pose this to experienced engineers in practice - when problems aren't trivial, is there a place for rigorous mathematical derivations of solutions?