Monthly Archives: February 2014

Passion - Are You Looking Forward to Friday or Monday?



Recently our department had Dr.Roel Snieder of the Colorado School of Mines over for a visit, colloquium talk, and a seminar.  Dr. Snieder has written multiple books, including one that is given to all first year graduate students in our department "The Art of Being a Scientist."  While I highly recommend this book, I wanted to write a post or two concerning some things Dr. Snieder said during his brown-bag seminar on the art of being a scientist.

One question that everyone in attendance wanted to know about was choosing your passion.  What is the niche that you want to fit into and work at during your career? This is something I often struggle with since I'm interested in a wide variety of questions.  It's easy to give lots of things a little thought, but choosing one or two topics to deeply address over an extended time is rather difficult!

Dr. Snieder related a story about working in Holland.  He wasn't very satisfied with where he was.  One day a colleague asked him a question that pushed him to change his situation: "Are you looking forward to Friday or Monday?"  The point isn't to make weekends miserable, but are you excited to come in on Monday and work on something you are passionate about.  If not, you probably are looking forward to the end of the week and are ready to get away.  Generally we don't run from our passion.

Deciding what your personal passion is depends on your background, experiences, etc and can change over time.  No matter what it is, there will be some boring and unpleasant activities.  For example, I'm passionate about my research, but sitting next to an experiment at 1AM waiting for it to finish isn't exactly exciting.  So to follow your passion you must first know what it is, which for someone like me involves making lots of lists, mind-maps, flow charts, and notes to store other ideas for future times.

Another component involves choosing who you work with.  In graduate school things are relatively flexible and collaborations can come from anywhere.  I really enjoy reaching out into other fields and trying to learn new perspectives on our data.  Almost daily I talk to professors in seismology, glaciology, engineering, or even water science to learn about new things going on in their fields (and read other literature).  It's common to see a connection or how to apply something from those fields in our work.  (Not to mention that nerds such as us love to talk shop.)  Passion is also important to convey to our students, a type of co-worker, especially with the loss of passion in undergraduate education.

In conclusion I'll ask a question that we were asked... Why are you here? Right now, in this room (or reading this post).  What are you passionate about?

Never Confuse Chip Pinouts Again!



UPDATE: John Meacham commented below letting us know that he has updated the package.  It can now be installed with it's new features by installing the packages I mention below and then:

>>  sudo apt-get install libfile-slurp-perl
>> apt-get install darcs
>> darcs get

This is a topic of interest to a rather limited group, but one well worth posting I believe.  Those who build electronic circuits regularly know the pain of constantly swapping back and forth between datasheets when trying to remember which pin of an integrated circuit does what.  It's different for almost every chip and can slow down prototyping when you're on the fly or don't have internet access.  John Meacham over at Not A Number  decided to remedy this problem after noticing that 6mm tape from a Brother label printer fit perfectly on top of his chips!

You can find his Perl script over here, but I wanted to elaborate on how to get it working and my experience with it thus far.  I ended up running the code on an Ubuntu virtual machine with Parallels.  I had lots of problems getting the libraries needed to run on Mac OSX, but the Linux install took just a few minutes.

First, download and unzip the files from John's website.  There is a read-me telling you how to run the scripts, but we don't get there just yet.  First we must install the GD module for pearl and the cups-bsd for printing utilities.  To do so, follow these two commands:

>>  sudo apt-get install libgd-gd2-perl
>>  sudo apt-get install cups-bsd

Since we're going to make our own custom labels as well, we'll need two more packages.  The barcode and YAML packs.  Just run:

>>  sudo apt-get install libconfig-yaml-perl
>>  sudo apt-get install libgd-barcode-perl

Okay, now we need to install our printer.  Just plug in your Brother printer and follow the normal steps to install it just like any other device.  Ubuntu automatically found the drivers for me and set it up.

Next I just printed out a 555 timer IC label to get started.  My printer is called labelprinter, so the command was:

>>./print_png.prl -Plabelprinter -w 6 out/555.png

The label printed out! Now I did notice that sometimes there is some garbage at the beginning of the label, but I trimmed that off with scissors anyway.  I do wish there was a way to prevent the printer from feeding and cutting after every label though, it wastes some label tape.  There may be a way to modify the scripts.

While there are a few included labels, you'll want to make your own eventually.  This is done with YAML.  Let's make a label for the 74LVC244A octal buffer/driver.  First we'll look at the datasheet (here) and get the pinout.  Below is the screen-shot of the datasheet spec.


We must write a YAML file to describe this pinout:

name: 74hc165 - PISO register
- /PL
- CP
- D4
- D5
- D6
- D7
- /Q7
- Q7
- DS
- D0
- D1
- D2
- D3
- /CE
- Vcc

The / before the pin will add the overbar to indicate the active state of the pin.  The YAML code is added to the file chips.yaml and we run the script:

>>   ./chip_label.prl -c 74LVC244A

We now have a new label to print and affix to our chips! 74lvc244a

There we go! Sorry this was a bit lengthy and technical, but this tool is incredibly useful for anyone involved with prototyping!