[Beowulf] Re: about clusters in high schools

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Sun Jan 29 18:35:58 EST 2006


At 11:43 AM 1/27/2006, Tom Zickuhr wrote:
>Concerning programming languages not being required by Engineering 
>schools, here's what I've learned as part of my AIAA activities.
>
>The ABET certification is now emphasizing more soft skills such as team 
>work and presentation skills.

This is not necessarily bad.  Back in the late 70s, when I was in college, 
they were just getting started with REQUIRING group efforts in software 
classes (egoless programming, etc.).  Sometimes it works well, sometimes it 
doesn't.  When interviewing freshly graduated students, it IS something I 
look for (along with basic technical competency).  Sadly, the huge 
competitiveness thing going on in middle and high schools, and in college, 
as well, seems to breed a "shaft your neighbor to improve your score" 
attitude, which, back in the day, was only characteristic of pre-meds.

And, as far as presentation skills, as long as we're not talking about 
"basic power point", everyone should know how to get up in front of a group 
and explain what they are doing, what they plan to do, and respond to off 
the wall questions in a tactful manner.  Hey, they should also be able to 
*quickly* write coherently too.  I see a lot of folks coming through who 
can turn out fine, polished written work, but it takes weeks and weeks, and 
the "quick memo to describe an analysis" suffers.

I don't worry about facility with programming skills or RF design.  That's 
really something you can't learn to a high professional standard in a 4 
year curriculum anyway.  I figure they can learn by doing things like large 
scale software development or how to design receivers, in the context of a 
structured project which keeps them from killing themselves or 
others.  Yes, fresh-outs need basic calculus skills and to understand 
fundamental electronics (more current = more power = more heat) and basic 
software design (one big program with no modules is bad).

>  This leaves fewer hours for technical classes.  The states are pushing 
> to guarantee incoming students that they will be able to graduate in four 
> years, so the schools are reducing the number of hours required to 
> graduate.  This leaves fewer hours for technical classes.  The simpler 
> engineering analyses can be done with a spreadsheet and fairly 
> complicated work can be done with Matlab/Mathcad.  There are plenty of 
> commercial systems for CFD and FEA.  In the squeeze, the schools have 
> dropped programming.

Which is fine, if you're a ME or a EE.  I wouldn't expect a ME to know how 
to program at a high level any more than I would expect a software person 
to know how to make integrated circuits and discuss the radiation tolerance 
issues of thick or thin epi layers.  I would expect the ME to use paper and 
pencil and a non-graphing calculator to figure out whether a column would 
buckle or a canteliever would fail, and, what's even more important, I'd 
expect that ME to give me a prediction of what the FEA program would crank 
out BEFORE they built and ran the model AND I'd expect them to be able to 
explain why the results differed.  I wouldn't expect them to tradeoff the 
relative performance advantages of Gaussian Elimination vs LU decomposition 
vs an interative solver.

>And none of this even addresses the issues I heard about the attention 
>span and interest level of the students for anything they don't see as 
>immediately applicable.

This is nothing new.  In 1977, students griped about the seeming 
irrelevance of what they were learning in class.  Why learn to program an 
OS kernel in MIXAL when no machine made executes it? Why not use PDP-11 
Assembler or BAL?  I will confess that when I took number theory, and the 
midterm had a question along the lines of "given the existence of zero and 
one, derive the existence of all rational numbers" I realized that perhaps 
I wasn't destined to be a math major. So my Erdos number is infinity.

All 18-25 year olds are flakes and chase whatever is interesting at the 
moment. And well they should!  Before you're saddled with the quotidian 
constraints of earning a living, supporting others (family and work 
teammates) you should be able to be a flake.   The consequences are 
relatively small, and that's your chance to find what YOU really should be 
doing with your life. It's telling that lots of Nobel prizes are won for 
work that answers questions that arose in the winner when they were quite 
young, even if the prize is awarded to middle aged and elderly men and women.

Jim 

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