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The STEM of All Evil

Eventually I intend to talk about technical topics like the creative methods engineers can use for destroying MOSFETs, but instead, once again, let’s talk about something of general, philosophical interest.

It’s not all bad news in our tough, rapidly changing industry. One thing very gratifying over the last few years is the rise of the MAKE meme: Experimenters and hobbyists are back in fashion with our youth.

Old coots like me fondly remember Heathkits: We got started in electronics with kits, soldering irons, and scavenged parts. I actually built a Heathkit console TV, and it worked. What a miracle.

Now we have Arduinos and Raspberry Pis and Schmart Boards and Parallax Propellers and Intel Galileos — a mind-boggling cornucopia of self-contained boards and assemblies and software tools that cater to the curious and tech-minded. If you know of a young person interested in technology, you could do worse than buying them one of Charles Platt’s fashionable Make:Electronics books for Christmas. We had a whole generation turned off by the difficulty of experimenting with surface-mount components and obtuse software. Finally, technology has developed to the point where ease of use creates low barriers of entry.

We should encourage bright and motivated young people to embrace STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) topics. In particular, the way we teach math makes me angry. Many people look at an equation and their minds shut down — which is sad, when they are perfectly capable of understanding the concepts if the topic is explained properly, tied to a useful example, and presented in a non-threatening manner.

A formula is a tool: It should be our slave, and it should be subservient to us, not the other way around. If a formula is not useful or does not make sense, that’s the fault of the teacher or the formula itself, not the motivated student.

It’s interesting to imagine what our technical education system will look like in a few years — after a healthy dose of Internet ingestion. There is value in our engineering programs, and there will always be rigor and challenge in creating an engineer. On the other hand, information wants to be free. We need technical workers, but the expense is a barrier.

Frankly, the idea that a poor student anywhere in the world can’t get a technical education when they are capable and motivated — that’s plain wrong. The Internet is a powerful force for shrinking the world and reducing the friction of transporting data.

What are your thoughts? Set me straight in the comment section.

17 comments on “The STEM of All Evil

  1. goafrit2
    December 10, 2014

    >> Frankly, the idea that a poor student anywhere in the world can't get a technical education when they are capable and motivated — that's plain wrong. 

     

    Sure but poor students in some parts of the world are not like American “poor” kids that can afford snickers and iPhone. I know U.S. has this esoteric definition of poverty. When you move into some parts of the world, you will see poverty and in those cases, I can say Internet does not help because Internet is very expensive. It will cost you $60 to consumer one hour of video in Congo and that must be prepaid. I am not sure how a poor kid gets that when the father earns less than $2 a day. But in U.S., the kid has a library to visit but in most parts of the world, you see libraries in coloring books but not physical spaces.

     

     

  2. goafrit2
    December 10, 2014

    >> The Internet is a powerful force for shrinking the world and reducing the friction of transporting data.

    The world needs to invest a lot of resources to make Internet accessible to poor kids. Provided that most parts of the world especially in poor nations have metered Internet which is Pay As You Go and which must be prepared, it will not be heavily adopted. When the cost of Internet affects the files you download and what you click, you do not have real Internet. When I travel to some African countries as part of my job, I see people avoid some sites that auto-refresh because that costs them bandwidth as that is metered. In short, you will notice that people prefer the old bland Internet with no graphics. The world is not the same and we have to be there to see that Internet we enjoy here in America is a luxury for many.

  3. Davidled
    December 10, 2014

    Online Education supported by internet might be used in the poor country. Then, they could access all resources remotely as well as virtual engineering and science lab. To do that, internet infrastructure should be built in the poor country. Or full internet might be accessed for only urban education institute.  Therefore, they could get the same benefit as that of other country's student.

  4. Roland66
    December 10, 2014

    Think through your hypothesis and develop problem solving process flow even in the brainstorming session. Ask questions and answer them. Once you identify what it is you need to accomplish then research what ever method it takes to communicate. Your mind solves problems. Technology is the implementaion portion.  There are many ways to gather the technology.  Internet like books are tools but it never impededd technology advancement.

    Roland

  5. Bob.Shepard
    December 11, 2014

    From the title and content, I expected a plug for EVILMADSCIENTIST.  The site provides parts, controllers and kits and the people there support STEM in a number of ways.   Sorry if this sounds like spam, but it's right on topic.  -Bob S.

  6. Victor Lorenzo
    December 14, 2014

    I agree with you and from my point of view we could add some more to this.

    Even if we make a combined global effort to bring them free access to personal computers, printers, kits and internet in libraries and other public locations the root cause making them unable to get the technical education is still there: no effort has been taken by their governments to provide them with, at least, a good basic education, many of them can't just even read and write in their language so reading in english, french, german or spanish can be considered just science fiction, and one thing more with even more importance, many of them can't just have the “priviledge” of taking time for studing and learning, they have to go to work from an early age so their family can survive, some times surviving just for another day.

     

  7. SunitaT
    December 31, 2014

    @Victor: You are right. It is almost impossible to find an all rounder government which has been issuing quality technical education to its young citizens. Also, giving access to internet doesn’t help a bit, because things of distraction are advertised much more than things of education.

  8. SunitaT
    December 31, 2014

    @goafrit2: What a country with a lot of poor, illiterated population needs are properly maintained and free schools and colleges. I know most of the capitalist countries charge a ton of money as tuition fees but that should not be the case. In many countries of Europe, education is free, but it is not well maintained (most colleges in Europe don’t come within the first 500 colleges of the world) since there is no real funding. Also, if a country has problems like poverty, civil war, drug trafficking etc then education and free colleges can’t help the folks in the country. You won’t see a hungry child wanting to read a book.

  9. chirshadblog
    December 31, 2014

    Well said, it all depends on what the requirements are. All we have to do is to cater the requirement. 

  10. fasmicro
    January 1, 2015

    >> Online Education supported by internet might be used in the poor country. Then, they could access all resources remotely as well as virtual engineering and science lab.

     

    That is exactly how World Bank works and thinks. Replicate what has worked in developed nations into developing ones. But someone who has lived in a poor country will know that only the very rich can afford watching videos in the poor countries. So you may have the website but that does not mean you can get students to afford to pay for broadband to watch the courses. But of course you can subsidize Internet access. That will be help then.

  11. fasmicro
    January 1, 2015

    >> Think through your hypothesis and develop problem solving process flow even in the brainstorming session 

    Great insight only if the person understands the problem very well. The challenge most times is that we do not understand the problem and all hypotheses will be off from that point.  Today, it is still a mystery why people can be poor in America and homeless despite the wealth and government services. How can someone be homeless when walking to a relevant government  office, the person can get a home! Yet, some remain homeless. The same applies in technology. Many things are simply complex to fix.

    That explains when the great minds solve them, they create great wealth.

  12. goafrit2
    January 1, 2015

    >> In many countries of Europe, education is free, but it is not well maintained (most colleges in Europe don't come within the first 500 colleges of the world) since there is no real funding.

    My problem with Europe is if I am living there, there may not be a lot of incentives to even worry THAT MUCH. You get free education, free health insurance and that means your kids do not task you that much. You can always get them food and shelter. Life is good. Compared to US where you are on your own, you need to be creative. 

  13. Davidled
    January 1, 2015

    Great technology produces great wealth in the most case, causing people on the earth might see more gap between rich and poor because technology might require more financial assets.

  14. goafrit2
    January 6, 2015

    Great technology produces great wealth in the most case, causing people on the earth might see more gap between rich and poor because technology might require more financial assets.

    I may not understand the point. If you mean that even though technology improves everyone, the investor has an upper hand that the mere consumer I agree. But if the point is that technology narrows wealth gap, I may have a problem with that.

  15. fasmicro
    January 8, 2015

    The only constant is that technology will continue to add value to human productivity and improve welfare. It is also true that it makes everyone good. However, when it comes to the money matters, that may not be obvious. You can have a job of $30k because the old one of $50k was gone because of technology. Yet, now, you do not need $1k to own a cellphone as was before. So, technology has reduced some of your costs. Too bad, this is not linear in all your budgets as you rent may not be affected. It is complicated but in human history, tech has aways be a positive.

  16. fasmicro
    January 10, 2015

    >>  at least, a good basic education, many of them can't just even read and write in their language so reading in english, french, german or spanish can be considered just science fiction

    Great point – with highly poorly motivated teachers that are not paid for months, you can throw all the technologies you want, nothing will happen. Technology does not make a poor teacher better. Technology only enhances and accelerates efforts. You can be a bad writer, having a computer will not change that until you improve in your skill.

  17. Davidled
    January 11, 2015

    I am wondering why STEM is associated to “Evil.” The STEM of saints may be an appropriate title for educator or students. Title may be saints-centered STEM.

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