MITx 6.002x – week 5: sharp tools required

Week 5 on MITx has felt rather like revisiting week 4. The main difference has been that rather than using circuits with hypothetical voltage controlled current sources in them, we’ve been introduced to using transistors (or MOSFETs, as the course likes to call them) in their saturation region as a way of achieving a practical amplification circuit.

Even some of the homework on week 5 has had a sense of repetition about it. The first few questions in H5P3 are all but identical to those given as H4P2 last week. Still, I’m not complaining – definitely easy marks compared to the algebraic hell that was H5P1 question 3!

In the end, I decided that after an hour or two of managing to mix up my vINs, VTs and square roots, I’d do the sensible thing. Rather than carry on wasting time in hand-cranking quadratic equations, I downloaded a copy of Microsoft Mathematics 4.0 and let it do the non-value added aspects of the work for me. I’d have willingly paid for it … but it was free! Having this software available also enabled me to work out the partial differential equation required to solve the first part of H5P2 without using reams of paper.

This experience reminded me of the title of a chapter in the Mythical Man Month – Sharp Tools.  In this chapter, Fred Brooks argues that a common set of appropriate tools are required to enable a programming team to be productive. It would seem to me that as 6.002x is attempting to teach electronic engineering rather than pure mathematics, it might be a reasonable idea for future runs of the course to either point students to tools like Microsoft Mathematics or provide an online equivalent as part of the MITx VLE (virtual learning environment). After all, once you’ve identified the two equations from analysing the circuit that you need to solve, the rest of the process is purely mechanical and adds nothing to your understanding.

The only question I now have left to work out is the penultimate one on H5P3. I think I’m trying to simplify my algebra a little too quickly and as a result missing something. However, even though I don’t appear to have the answer completely worked out, I certainly had enough of it present to draw the correct inference for the very last question of week 5.

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Reader Comments

  1. J. G.

    Hi Tim,
    Your posts from when you did DD307 are great and thank you for those. I am getting ready to start TMA03, project proposal. I would be delighted for any advice regarding any part of the course including how and when to start revision for the exam in October.

    Best regards

    • tim

      Hi J.G,

      Two pieces of advice:

      The project – usually takes far more time to set up and conduct than anyone realises! Make sure you do your interviews / group discussion as soon as you receive ethical approval (but not before) from your tutor. That way, if a participant has to pull out you’ll be able to re-arrange. It didn’t happen to me – but it did to a number of people I knew last year. Also – choose a topic you’re interested in and use a methodology you feel comfortable with – but don’t over complicate the research question. This is an undergraduate course after all – not a piece of research for a Ph.D.!

      Secondly, the exam. Make your own notes as you go along in preparation for the exam and remember to take a critical stance to the material. The best answers critque the questions from all sides and often critique the critque! Most people spend too much time on TMAs with respect to the amount of time they spend preparing for the exam, so don’t make that mistake. If you spend 75 hours writing the 5 TMAs which go to make up the OCAS part of your score, I’d suggest that you probably need to spend another 75 hours or more revising.

      The OUPS revision weekend (at Warwick University) was excellent last year – well worth attending.


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