Thursday, May 31, 2007

Illogical Loop

I'm currently overseeing about 30 third year engineers, for their projects, here in the Engineering Department. I'm overseeing two projects, a VLSI design and a data logger project. Today, I was totally drained by one particular student. If you're a third year B/F engineering student here, you will know who I am talking about.

I don't usually have problems with personality defects. As someone overseeing a student project, I will help a student with their problems as long as it is a legitimate problem. I try not to help people who ask me questions that they can figure out for themselves in 5 minutes. But, if the student is still struggling, I will ultimately help them. However, no one gets stuck once I tell them "it only takes 5 minutes to try it out." This is engineering, which is about doing. They are not going to learn anything if they don't try. The answer only becomes obvious when you try.

So, for the VLSI project, the only trouble student that I have is the rocker dude, whom shall remain nameless. He once jammed with me when I was practicing my drumming patterns for lion dance, in the lab. He has tattoos all over his arms and hair longer than most girls. I'm just quite glad that he has not shouted at me yet. I have once witnessed him shouting at Zern, who was just trying to help him out with an experiment. His only problem is that he has not been handing up reports. However, as long as he is learning something, that's the most important bit. I hate writing reports as well.

But, for my data logger project, I have this other student who is terribly long winded and incapable of understanding what is happening. I'm unfortunate enough to be one of his subject supervisors as well. I believe that he lives in an alternate dimension where the laws of physics work the way he thinks they work. Anyway, his group is the only group that has major problems with the project. When this particular student comes to me and tells me that something is wrong with the hardware or firmware or development environment or sample code, I sigh with exasperation and try my best contain myself. He fails to see the source of the problem.

But, I've been a little evil today. It was a long day. He came to me with problems during my off-day on Tuesday, while I was looking after the VLSI project. He told me that the firmware and software hangs. From his verbal description, I didn't see how there could be problems since he seemed to be doing the right thing. So, I told him that I would have to look at his code to help him. This morning at 9.00am, he promptly asked me to look at his code.

for (i=0; i=63; i++) { ....... }

Now, at first glance, anyone who is remotely familiar with C (or any other language) would be able to instantly spot the error in the loop. If you didn't, look again. Alright, you may think that it was just a typo. Well, if it happens once, it's a typo. When it happens twice, it might just be a careless mistake. When it happens more than that, you just have to suppress a laugh. There is no other way about it.

There were other problems with their project as well. They had happily made modifications to the sample code provided, without understanding what the original code did. As a result, they didn't know what they had changed, nor what was wrong with their current code. As diff wasn't available on Windows, I didn't want to spend ages tracing their errors. So, I just told them to replace their code with the original code, and make changes one step at a time. Voila, it magically works.

By 5.00pm, I had quite enough of him. His partner had quite enough of him by that time too. I was just ignoring him and telling him to keep quiet, in the nicest possible way. Good thing that I was only paid to stay till then. Another half hour with him and I would have blown my top. The lecturer in charge took a look at me, smiled knowingly and said, "Shawn, you look drained."

I didn't have any good comeback.

8 comments:

dan said...

if you were a chem engineer you would have said the Cf is exceptionally high today. :P

Shawn Tan said...

i don't get it?? conductivity factor??

dan said...

friction coefficient :P makes you lose energy with no useable gain. :P

Shawn Tan said...

... ... ...

Chet Wei said...

Shawn, I feel for u. I hope i dun fall under that category when it comes to VLSI. sigh.. it's hard being a student and a demonstrator as well, alot of communication errors. >.<

Shawn Tan said...

hehe... you fall under the category of "people who still owe me makan"...

Anonymous said...

i never thought students studying at Cambridge would be so stupid....it seems that poor students can be found everywhere...

Shawn Tan said...

hehe.. yes, bad apples can be found everywhere.. so can good ones too!!