May 31, 2009

Designing Engineers

I've been on the road a lot this month. First an NSF proposal review panel then a meeting of the EE departments that were awarded NSF Department Level Reform grants. After a short visit home it was off to an NSF Engineering Research Center site visit and I'm writing this just before a workshop in Baltimore at the CLEO conference on lasers. While I would love to be able to get a lot of work done from the road, I am never very efficient while I'm traveling so I tend to take books or articles instead. The type of reading that falls in the important but not urgent category, reading I don't get done in the office. By reading I both kill the tedious hours of air travel and assuage the Protestant guilt that comes with idleness.

On this trip I am reading Louis Bucciarelli's excellent book "Designing Engineers". I chose this book since my attempt to carve out a niche for myself in engineering education requires identifying a set of important problems; understanding the creative act of design overlaps my interest and experience. This book is blowing me away!

Through examples at three companies the book provides insights on the engineering design process and clearly illustrates how design is as much social as it is technical. The process of negotiation is shown as key to design as is how engineers represent themselves to their peers and managers. I debated requiring the book in my capstone design course, but on reflection realized that most engineering seniors probably don't have the base of experience to really draw insights from the book yet.

It has actually been nearly a month since I started this post, but got hung up in politics and getting ready for the ASEE conference. This weekend I ran into one of my former students at the wedding of another student and she was interested in teaching a course on success in engineering careers. So maybe I can incorporate this book in a way to help students succeed in their careers...

May 11, 2009


It is funny how one little piece of information can give you a new perspective on something you have known for years. For some reason I found myself looking up the meaning of the word "bismillah" the other day. Thank you Google. Did you know that two of the inmates in Guantanamo are named Bismillah?

This one little fact changed forever the way I listen to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. I know Freddy Mercury sang this long before the "War on Terror" but it still seems to presage modern events surprisingly well:

I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me
(Galileo) Galileo (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Galileo Figaro
I'm just a poor boy nobody loves me
He's just a poor boy from a poor family
Sparing his life from this monstrosity
This awful travesty
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go
Let him go
Bismillah! No We will not let you go
Let him go
Bismillah! We will not let you go
Let me go (Will not let you go)
Let me go (Will not let you go (Never, never, never, never))
Let me go, o, o, o, o
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
(Oh mama mia, mama mia) Mama Mia, let me go
Beelzebub has the devil put aside for me, for me, for me

After I published this two days ago I accidentally stumbled across the definitive Bohemian Rhapsody site...

May 3, 2009

Oh Joy! ABET time again!

It has been a hectic month with many deadlines and trips rearing their head in May like the weeds in my neglected lawn. One of the activities that has been eating my lunch is preparing the ABET report which is due sometime this summer.

As with all organizational reviews, reports are called for; the ABET report is a doozy. And like all reports on whose outcome rests money, power, or prestige, there are a few kernels of truth hidden behind a lot of smoke and mirrors. As I've gained more experience with such report writing over my career I've come to recognize that in writing such reports the smoke and mirrors insidiously over time slip into the minds of those who read and write such reports as truth, no matter how far from truth the report was originally.

Since most of the writing is falling to one or two people with reviews and edits by others we needed a way to label the information for veracity so we don't come to believe our own, uh, "creative interpretation" of our program. So I developed the series of "veracity levels" below modeled after the government's much-mocked terror alert levels.