You know you’re an engineer when: You start to lose your audience…

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You know you’re an engineer when: You start to lose your audience…

I was at home in Marlborough the other weekend, while the country was still being inundated by snow. We were enjoying Second Christmas, a hobbit-esque celebration invented so we could celebrate Christmas as a family; my brother, Will, having returned from New Zealand that week.

We were sitting round the table before supper and I took out my new smartphone to send a text message. “Ooh, is that your new touch-screen?” asked Will, switching chairs for a better view. “It is – here, have a look” I offered, passing him the handset. He poked a few of the icons as I talked about the different features. Then, twisting it sideways, he noticed the orientation of the display change. “It can tell when you’ve turned it too… how does it do that?”
“Well,” I started, “it has an accelerometer in it that detects the acceleration in three axes” – I extended the thumb and first two fingers of my left hand to demonstrate – “and when you hold the phone still, it detects a 1g acceleration upwards due to gravity so…” – “Bet you wish you hadn’t asked now”, laughed my mother as she walked past us. Will went to get a drink. “I was trying to explain it simply…” I protested quietly as I put the mobile away.

Back at the university, I’ve finished the January exams. I had mixed feelings about them, so I’m in no hurry to find out my grades! I handed in my Part III Project Progress Report last month, to finish which I had to pull an all-nighter – something I can’t recommend too little, by the way – and now I’m back to working on the practical aspect again. The bulk of the work at this stage is programming and I’ve started writing the code for the PC application that will process the data acquired by my wireless receiver. I’m coding this in C#, which I like to call ‘The Devil’s Shorthand’. This is because I’m finding it rather difficult to work in a high-level programming language; the last flavour I used was Assembler, which is a very basic language with a tiny instruction set – by comparison, C# is a monster!

If I were to start waxing lyrical about my code, I’d say it was like a piece of art… then again, I don’t consider myself that pretentious. Suffice it to say, the skill to my application is to have all three pieces of software working in harmony, which is no mean task. I was elated on Thursday when I managed to get the PC application spitting out transmitted data for the first time, but it was all gibberish and it’ll be another week or two before I can get it outputting something meaningful.
At the minute, though, I’m really enjoying myself. Most of my afternoons are spent in the Third-Year project lab on one of the dual-screen computers and the place has a fantastic atmosphere. So long as the people around you are working (and not playing flash games!) it feels like YOUR lab. We have a few moments of banter and disruption, especially towards the end of the week when we’ve clocked up more hours than is healthy. However, if someone has a problem and voices it to the collective, within a minute a group of up to five or six people will have gathered round to discuss different solutions.

At least in the lab no-one bails on you when you start getting technical!

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