Monthly Archives: December 2013

MOOC: UT.6.01x–UTx Embedded Systems

As some of you already know, I’ve decided to go back to school (in my spare time) and earn a second degree, in Electrical Engineering. 

The cost, in terms of money and time is enormous.  The courses are outrageously expensive ($2500+ for next semester alone, for three classes) and time intensive.

Next semester, in addition to the 3 classes I’m taking at the University of North Dakota, I’ve also signed up to take the UT.6.01x: Embedded Systems – Shape The World course, at edX

The UT.6.01x course is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), which basically steps you through the process of developing an embedded applications for the TI Launchpad with a ARM Cortex M4 microcontroller.

While I believe that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are ultimately doomed, I do like the idea of their democratizing potential.   Moreover, I welcome the possibility it will displace large numbers of tenure-line professors, especially those that shouldn’t be teaching in the first place.

When I decided to go back to school, it became very apparent that I would have to re-learn all of the math that I had forgotten in the previous 15 years.  My brain had been reformatted by years of emails, coding deadlines, late night TV, internet arguments, and a general lack of use. 

After reviewing math books, I decided to suck it up and repeat some of the math courses I had already taken years ago.  I took College Algebra at a local community college.  The teacher was one of the worst teachers I have ever had.  She refused to answer the student’s questions, referring them to the “Math Lab” to be taught by a teaching assistant.  She seemed more interested in recording her lecture for an online math course. 

The next math course I took, I enrolled in an online course and saw first hand how education had changed in the United States.  Rather than pencils and paper, the course used Mathematica to the heavy lifting.  Course assignments had to be submitted as Mathematica documents.

The idea of leveraging technology in mathematics is an alluring one — the calculator does the mundane number crunching, letting you focus on the theory, and ultimately learn more, faster.  However, In practice the course turned out to be more about using Mathematica than it was fundamental principles needed to master the next class – Calculus. 

I was intensely disappointed, even though I earned a good grade.

So I say bring on the MOOCs. 

A look at the New Mac Pro

For years, my home office was filled with obsolete PCs, discarded disk drives and generally looked like I was compulsively hoarding computer parts, or living in a failed computer repair business.

I would routinely purchase the cheapest PCs I could assemble.  I would upgrade even more frequently, to keep up with the demands of writing and compiling more and more code.

My strategy changed five years ago when I decided my time was becoming more valuable, and productivity was a competitive advantage in a world of outsourcing.  I decided I needed an “Ultimate Developer Rig.”

My strategy was to spend some serious cash to buy a serious workstation and not have to upgrade so often.  I had planned that I would upgrade once every five years.

Rather than build my own, I purchased an 8-core Mac Pro for my professional software development.  I leveraged VMWare fusion to run Windows XP, Ubuntu, CentOS, and Gentoo Linux. 

I could write software under Linux, Mac, and Windows, and software for embedded ARM and PowerPC, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices. 

At the time, the Mac Pro was the cheapest 8-core system out there when I compared it to HP and Dell. 

So when Apple stopped selling Mac Pros in Europe, I knew that an upgrade was on the way, or they would simply abandon the market.  Then in June, they unveiled a sneak peek of the new Mac Pro which should go on sale this month.

Ever since Apple first gave a sneak peek at the all-new Mac Pro, I’ve trying to rationalize purchasing one.  Unfortunately, I’m having a tough time doing it. 

But time will tell…