I read your column on soakage, and I can add only one thing to the phenomenon of capacitive discharge. Having been involved in electronics as a hobby since I was ten, and having worked repairing test instruments a few years later, I have often found myself in the path of a capacitive discharge. We actually had a policy at Philips that if you got a jolt, you had an EKG. It turns out that electric shocks can cause cardiac arythmia, even if you feel O.K.
I presented your valuable idea to our health dept. Thanks, Mike.—RAP
In your column of Nov. 17, 1997, Chris Anderson bewailed the lack of instruction in component characteristics in EE programs. I agree wholeheartedly, and therefore, we teach about the differences between aluminum 'lytics, tantalums, and polyester caps, plus carbon-comp vs. metal-film resistors, air-core vs. ferrite-core vs. iron-core coils, etc. in our Electronics Engineering Technology program. Of, course, our graduates are technicians, not engineers—although some of their employers call them engineers, and put them to work designing motor-control devices and the like. But we don't claim they're EEs.
A local man had two sons. He sent the elder to a well-respected, state-supported university to major in EE. The younger son came to our school. When the elder was a junior, he visited his brother at our school, where he was shown some of the lab projects (design, build, calibrate, and test an analog multimeter; design and build a frequency counter, etc.) that kid brother had built. His response, "You have LABS? We haven't had a practical lab, yet!" Upon graduation, the two went to work for the family business of selling and maintaining woodworking equipment. The father decided that the younger had a more-valuable education for hardware and software maintenance of the machinery and the proprietary computer network than the elder.
The moral of this story is that as long as our educational system values credentials above practical experience, and rewards research grant acquisition rather than program quality, we will continue to graduate engineers who don't know a carbon-film resistor from a 100-µH coil. (Hey, they're both tan cylinders with stripes, aren't they?)
But, how do you get good students into good programs? Parents and counselors steer the best students toward a four-year degree—any degree—rather than an EET or CET two-year degree (which can serve as stepping-stones for a higher degree, by the way). I've bought shirts from guys with an MA in History. The fellow who buys used books here on campus has an MA in Psychology. And manufacturers are crying for technicians, starting at salaries from $25,000 to $35,000. When we finally realize that a BSEE with 15 years experience experience is at least the equivalent of a PhD who never worked in industry, and that the status of a degree in Oceanography or Political Science won't pay the grocer, maybe we'll stop exporting our lunch to other countries.
Davidson Community College
We expect engineering schools to teach theory and analysis—both are important. But should we expect innovation from the brilliant theorist or the bright technician? In the real world, one, the other, both, or neither may be a good inventor.—RAP
All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
r[email protected] team.nsc.com—or:
Mail Stop D2597A
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090