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Whether it be social, recreational, or professional, some of what represents me is here. Post a comment, or contact me at Dallas@embracespace.ca should you so desire.

The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Work work work!

It has been a busy couple of weeks. I have been working so hard and pushing myself so much, that the stress was starting to bulge at my seams. My attitude was becoming belligerent, and my patience was wearing thin. Why? Well, let's look at what I've been up to.

On Feb. 15th, my team of engineers, working on the IMU/GPS integrated navigation project, as mentioned in several previous posts, had our Critical Design Review (CDR). For those who don't know, this review is pretty important as it is basically the time to prove to all those involved that you are on the right track. The point of this review is to show that you have evaluated all the possible or feasible design choices, demonstrate your final choice of implementation and defend your choice. After the grilling all the teams had from last time, everyone was more stressed out than usual, and the stakes were high.

Due to many delays, my team and I had to work every day for quite a long time to get the hardware to work. After a quick test, we were able to show that the GPS was working well, but since we couldn't demonstrate its ability to function at an indoor meeting, we decided to record some data and plot it. This task proved to be more difficult than we previously thought. But, my teammates worked long hours and were able to get it done. I feel a little bad because we didn't use all of their work in the presentation, but I want them to know that their work is always appreciated and I am quite proud of what they were able to do.

As for me, in my last blog concerning engineering, I said that all I had to do was get the IMU to talk to the computer via the Arduino. Well, that was a chore and a half. I called in two of my friends, computer experts, and working together it still took us the entire day to get it to work. The main problem laid in the fact that the way an Arduino accesses and stores information is much different than that of the IMU. Performing some complicated logic, debugging, and hours of analysis, we were finally able to get information from the IMU. I was able to take that and then plot the data coming from it. There is still much to be done, but I was proud of what had been done so far.

So, we had our CDR, and it went better than expected. I think the professor asked the sponsors to play nice this time because while their questions were critical, their tone was much better. We weren't made to feel stupid because we hadn't considered business plans, but rather, the sponsors gave us some advice and feedback on our projects. I left feeling relieved, and exhausted.

The next big assignment I had was the writeup of 5 lab reports for my Space Hardware class. Now, I may or may not have mentioned it before, but here is an overview of what we did:

Lab 1: Transmission Lines - in this lab, we learned more about coaxial cables and their properties as it pertains to transmitted signals. Coaxial cables are less common today, but you might remember plugging one into your TV for either the cable or the Super Nintendo input. 

Anyway, these cables are still used in radio transmissions and thus it's important to understand their effect on signals. One interesting notion is the concept of VSWR, which stands for voltage standing wave ratio. Basically, the signal sent through the cable can and will bounce back if things aren't set properly. That's bad, as you generally want all of your signal and power to go through, not bounce back. Anyway, maybe not that exciting, but hands-on, which is what I've been missing in engineering.

Labs 2 and 3: Antenna Transmission
In these labs, we played around with antennas to better understand how they work. In lab 2, we controlled an antenna situated on the roof of the Petrie Science building and attempted to better understand how antennas receive electromagnetic radiation. In lab 3, we played around with antennas indoors, in the lab. They were pretty straight-forward labs, but the cool parts included: going on the roof of Petrie, finding out there was a secret 5th floor of that building which wasn't the roof, and remotely controlling an antenna.

Lab 4 - Hot and Cold Technique
Speaking of cold, and no, the above has nothing to do with Katy Perry, the next lab involved liquid nitrogen! We basically compared the noise of a system due to temperature. See, nothing's perfect, and any radio equipment is, unfortunately, susceptible to noise, static, stuff that makes your signal sound like bad. Some of this noise is due to temperature, so the colder your equipment is, the less the noise, basically. So, we got to pour liquid nitrogen into dewar flasks, and one girl decided to freeze a banana, it was pretty...cool, haha.

Lab 5 - Mixers
Nothing too exciting here, but the concept is important and exciting enough to warrant discussion. Do you know how a radio works? Well, if you do, skip this paragraph. If you don't, and you want the shortened version, well, basically, it involves mixers. So, you have a signal, whether it be a single tone, your voice, or some music you want to pump out over the air waves. You could just broadcast the signal as it is, as pure sound, but it won't get you very far, and will be interfered with and by everything around it. Or, you could take your signal, and mix it with a much higher signal, basically, piggybacking it on some other higher set of signals. Now, you're probably thinking, "With it mixed, how will I be able to listen to it on my boombox?" To which I reply...boombox? That's pretty rad. Anyway, knowing the way a signal is mixed, or knowing what channel your music is on, your receiving radio basically un-mixes the signal giving you the original signal. Anyone who knows about this knows how much I'm simplifying it here, even to the point of being simplistic, but I hope it makes enough sense as it is. Anyway, the lab wasn't very exciting, but to be working with real equipment, solving real problems, well, that's why I joined engineering in the first place!

So, I had those labs due by the end of my reading week, so other than a nice, but short, visit home, I was working all week. Labs, assignments, reports, tests, and more to come.

This week has been good and bad. It's been bad because that stress I mentioned earlier, well, it started to boil over. I accidentally was rude to two colleagues of mine, and while I have apologized to them specifically, I want to say I'm sorry to anyone else who was made to feel the acerbic nature of my tongue lately.

But, it's been good because I've been working on some really neat stuff. For my Robotics class, I spent 2 days developing software which will help control and move the robot around. You might be thinking, "Didn't you mention doing this before?" To which I will answer, yes, but not this way. I mentioned kinematics, forward and backward, before, but basically while I had learned how to find the position of the robot's gripper if given the angles the arms made, now I was doing the reverse. So, now the robot can take positional data and move there, which is a lot easier to use and understand. It was a frustrating two days, namely because I had so much else to do, but it is great to look at it and say, "Hey, that's my code. It works, I made it, and I can use it for something useful!"

The next set of programs I had to write have been easy and tough at the same time. At the end of April, my classmates and I will be going to the Algonquin Radio Observatory. There, we will be using software we have developed to track and listen to a GPS satellite. The programs I had to write for this week were mostly simple conversion functions meant to change one type of data into another. Most of my functions concern dates, and converting from one form into another. One cool program I wrote can take the date as an input and output what day it is. It works for any date in history and will even work for future dates. I thought that was pretty cool. It has been a bit of a pain though because things don't always work out as you plan. But, due to my professor being awesome, and my being diligent, I am done all but one function a day ahead of time.

Upon rereading, it doesn't sound like that much work but believe me, I am pretty good at time and project management and if I'm busy, it means there's a lot going on.

Additionally, I have been applying for jobs, which hasn't yet yielded an interview, but all this work is really starting to make me feel like an engineer, qualified to work in the field, or more accurately the office/lab, haha.

Anyway, I am writing this at 1:44am, which is probably a bad idea. I am sure this post is full of errors, and tends to ramble. Let me know if it does, I'd much appreciate the editing. Finally, I think I can breathe a little better knowing some of my work is behind me. For anyone else going through rough, stressful times, good luck.

Thanks for reading!

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