Friday, January 20, 2012

STK 200: Switching Microcontrollers

When I bought my Kanda STK 200, it was shipped with an ATmega8515 microcontroller. While the 8515 is a fine microcontroller, I wanted to replace it with an ATmega32 due to the latter's more robust features.  Namely, the ATmega32 has 32KB of flash memory compared to the 8515's 8KB. Also, the 8515 has no built-in analog to digital or digital to analog conversion while the 32 does. If you are also interested in switching the microcontroller on the STK 200, here is a quick guide:

Sockets on the development board: When you look at the board, you can see various sockets. Check out the following image to see the available sockets and what their name is:
 STK 200: Sockets on the Development Board

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fundamentals of Engineering/EIT Exam Strategy

I wrote some general tips for the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam in a previous post (link). Here are test taking strategies to go along with those.

 FE Exam: Multiple Choice
Overall strategy: Become an expert in the subject areas that you are most familiar with and know the basics of all other subjects. There is a reason the engineering profession is split into specialties (civil, mechanical, etc); there is so much to know that it is almost impossible to be an expert in everything. Furthermore, we all have our own ways to solve problems. Those thought processes might work especially well on certain subjects and not so well on other subjects. I found that it is much more productive to focus on the subjects that I have a background in rather than try to learn an unfamiliar subject from scratch.

Guessing: The entire test is multiple choice with four possible answers. This means that if you completely guess, theoretically you have a 25% chance to get the correct answer. Further, if you are able to eliminate one of the possible answers, you now have a 33.3% chance to pick the right answer. Eliminating two possible answers leaves you with a 50% chance and, according to my study manual, a passing score on the FE Exam is a bit less than 50%. So, theoretically, if you were able to eliminate two possible answers for every question on the test, you should pass. Of course, this is not practical. In reality, there are some questions where you absolutely know the answer and some questions where you have no idea, but this does highlight the effectiveness of strategic guessing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

TI-36X PRO: Programming Bug Info (VIDEO)

In a previous post (link), I explained why the TI-36X PRO is a great calculator is you are taking the Fundamentals of Engineering or PE Exam. But it has one problem: a programming bug. Essentially, the bug is a display problem which only occurs when you try to display a mixed fraction involving pi, but still, any time your calculator is giving you wrong answers it is a serious problem.

I made a video to illustrate the bug, embedded below:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fundamentals of Engineering/EIT Exam General Tips

I took the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam in October 2011. Two months later I received the results, stating that I passed (YAY!). Hopefully I can pass on a couple tips from my experience with the test!

 Pass the FE Exam
Waiting time to get results: Like I said before, it took me two months to get my results. I took my exam on October 29, 2011 and on December 20, 2011 I got an email saying “Your results from your recent NCEES exam have been released. To access your results, log into your NCEES exam registration account.” When I logged into my NCEES account I was able to see a message stating that I passed. I got an actual letter in my mailbox about a week after that.

Calculator: The most important tip I can give is to get a good calculator and learn how to use it to the fullest extent. I’m partial to Texas Instruments (TI) calculators, so I looked up what was allowed for the exam. I found that, for TI branded calculators, “TI-36” must be part of the name. The most powerful calculator fitting that description was the “TI-36X PRO,” so I ordered it. I did a review of the calculator in a previous post (link). Bottom line is that it is a great calculator for this test. I know that some people take pride in doing calculations in their head, but during the morning portion, you will have so many questions to answer that you will likely be crunched for time. Some of the math questions on the morning portion will simply take a couple keystrokes on the right calculator. This time savings will help you when you reach the subjects you struggle with.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Product Review: Texas Instruments TI-36X PRO Calculator

Summary: The only reason you need this product is if you are taking a test which has a strict calculator policy, such as the Fundamentals of Engineering or PE Exam. It has high level math capabilities without the graphing and programming of TI-89, TI-92 etc. But if you are taking one of those tests, this calculator is a fantastic.

Price: Under $30 (I bought mine from Amazon) And here is a link from officemax for$22.99:

Review: The TI-36X PRO is a calculator which seems to be designed specifically for standardized testing. Basically, it takes most of the features of an advanced graphing calculator, such as a TI-89, and puts them in a package that is allowed on your standardized test. I bought this calculator for the FE Exam and I as amazed at how much it could do.

Solver: One of the most powerful features is the numerical solver. You can enter any single variable equation and solve for the variable (a numerical result). This comes is so handy on a test where you are provided a formula and the variable you need to solve for is not isolated. You have to be a little careful, though. The numerical solver only returns one solution, even though if the equation you entered has multiple solutions, and there is no warning. The polynomial solver, on the other hand, does return all possible solutions. Obviously, the equation must be in the form of a polynomial to use this feature but usually that is not a problem. As if that wasn’t enough, there is also a system solver. This can be used when you have a 2x2 or 3x3 linear system of equations. This feature is somewhat duplicative since you can also just transform a representative matrix into reduced row echelon form (rref) on the matrix menu, but oh well.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Q&A: What is a development board?

A development board is a printed circuit board with circuitry and hardware designed to facilitate experimentation with a certain microcontroller.

Imagine if you had a microcontroller which could do all kinds of cool things but to be able to use it, you had to set up a bunch of circuitry and hardware on your breadboard each time. Obviously, this would get sort of frustrating, especially when there are circuits which are going to be the same every time, such as the power circuit. Also there are certain hardware circuits which greatly aid testing and debugging such as pushbuttons and LEDs. Having all of the hardware and circuitry already constructed makes life much easier and is much more conducive to experimentation and general prototyping.

Typical components of a development board include:
-power circuit; typically set up to run off of a 9V power supply
-programming interface; an easy way program the microcontroller from a computer
-basic input; usually buttons
-basic output; usually LEDs
-I/O pins; to be used for everything else, motors, temperature sensors, LCD screens, etc.

Probably the most popular and recognizable development board is the Arduino, and for good reason. The Arduino is exceedingly simple to use and even open source. But there are many, many other great development boards such as the BeagleBoard, the Chumby board and the TI Launchpad. Again, these are only boards that I have had contact with but there are many others.

Working with development boards can be educational, fulfilling and fun. Go ahead and try working with one and I bet you will learn something new.