Category Archives: Embedded Development

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. 


My Electronics Workbench

For the past two years I have been pulled further and further away from what I love to do most – play with hardware, build custom kernels, and otherwise tinker with electronics.  As a result, I’ve set up a dedicated electronics workbench to make my own PCB boards, breadboard, and otherwise tinker with some new embedded developer boards at home.


Since I don’t have a lot of space, I went with an Ikea table that I already had (the cheapest one we could buy), and put on a ESD mat.  The shelf isn’t one I build myself, but a kitchen sink organizer.  The picture is poorly lit, but I use the towel rack to hold spools of wire.  You can see it better in the picture below.


For the most part, the setup works very well.


When I started shopping for a soldering station that could possibly be used for surface mound devices (SMD), I looked at just about every brand of soldering iron/soldering stations on the market.

I narrowed my choices down to three: the Hakko, Atten (cheapest) and the Weller WX2 soldering station. I’m happy to say that I purchased the Weller WX2 and I absolutely love it.  I will probably post a better review later.

The Weller WX2 is a 200W, 120V power unit with touch screen controls.  In addition to powering several soldering irons/pencils, it can also power desoldering tweezers, a fume extractor or heating plate.


My setup: