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I have posted on my personal website a one hour long video version of the “Technology Basics” series of articles already posted on this blog. I’ve run into some more problems with my laptop, so I’ve been unable to completely review the video. I would welcome feedback.

No, I haven’t given up blogging. I’ve been trying for the past several days to re-create recorded versions of some of my “Technology Basics” lectures, including animated PowerPoint, using a tool called Camtasia, which I’ve used before. I’m a few days into the free 30-day trial, but I’ve had trouble getting the tool to save my work. I can record seemingly trouble-free as long as I want, but if I go too long, the tool simply fails to save with no indication that anything has gone wrong. This is, to say the least, quite frustrating. I’m going to keep trying.

Addendum, June 15, 2009: After doing some hardware and software repair (new hard drive, OS fix), I did get Camtasia to run and record everything I needed, but I was not able to use the picture-in-picture preview feature. Using that feature resulted in the behavior described. The file would not save and PowerPoint crashed after the fact.

In this posting, I will revisit the topic of analogies and explore how to create them. To begin creating an analogy, first reduce the target phenomenon to basic principles. Then find another, more familiar phenomenon with similar basic principles. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the most memorable learning tools a course designer can create is a good analogy. Finding parallels between something the student finds mysterious and something else the student finds obvious is more art than science. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke the other night on Sixty Minutes made a wonderful analogy between bailing out a misbehaving bank and fighting a fire in your neighbor’s house even though it was caused by his own blatant carelessness, given that the fire could spread to your house and indeed to half the town. Another well-known analogy can be drawn between electricity and water in a pipe, where voltage and current are likened to water pressure and water volume. I have been able to come up with a number of good analogies over the years, but I am currently at a loss to explain how to do it or even where to begin other than inspiration. I invite comments regarding your thoughts on how to create good analogies or examples of other good analogies.

The basic purpose of training is to impart complex knowledge to people who don’t have it. The source of that knowledge is, almost by definition, the Subject Matter Expert, or SME. The job of a training developer is to take information from an SME and create training. The idea that the SME can develop training by virtue of his expertise ignores the skills inherent in training. To understand why this is true, ask yourself why elite athletes in individual sports have personal coaches. If there’s someone who can help Tiger Woods be a better golfer, why isn’t this person out on the tour beating Tiger Woods? Read the rest of this entry »

A lecture or seminar can’t go on forever, although I’ve seen people try. The normal recommendation is to take a ten to fifteen minute break every forty minutes to one hour, but those breaks can be so boring, and letting everyone know how much time is left and getting them to return is never easy. As a free service to any presenters out there, I offer the following tool,  a web-based break timer that displays the words, “Time remaining until next lecture:” and a randomly selected quotation from my ever-expanding collection. More instructions on additional features below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the most important tasks for an instructor in a classroom setting is to gain credibility with the students, and one of the simplest things an instructor can do to help himself in this regard is to dress appropriately. Of course, one must dress in a businesslike manner, but “appropriate” means different things to different audiences. This is especially true with an audience of engineers. An instructor dressed “too well” looks like someone from marketing. If you walk into the room in a shirt and tie, you must earn your credibility. For an engineering audience, a polo shirt and Dockers is almost an unofficial uniform. Dress right, and credibility is yours to loose.

Computers operate by Boolean logic, invented by the 19th century English mathematician George Boole. Everything is done with base 2, so there are only the numerals one and zero, or true and false. The three basic operations are invert (the output is the opposite of the input), AND (true only if all inputs are true), and OR (true if any input is true). It’s possible to express any arithmetic function in terms of Boolean logic, and to translate back and forth from base two to base ten. From the biggest computer to the smallest calculator, this is what’s happening behind the scenes.
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Transistors are formed by diffusing different dopants into silicon in specific patterns. Circuits are formed by connecting transistors to one another with wires. Integrated circuits are single pieces of silicon having many transistors with networks of aluminum or copper traces acting as wires to connect them. The transistors and wires are formed by laying down patterns of different substances, layer upon layer. Read the rest of this entry »

A transistor is often described as a switch, but this is only partially true. It’s more like a valve or a faucet. If your faucet has only two choices, “on” and “off,” then it behaves as a switch, but most faucets have a range in the middle, and so do most transistors. If the range in the middle is used, we say the transistor circuit is analog. If all that’s used is “on” and “off” then it’s digital. Read the rest of this entry »