For my senior project I am supposed to program an Android app that uses Bluetooth to communicate to a timing board. This sounds reasonable; I am an electrical engineer, we program apps all the time, right? Wrong, prior to being assigned this last semester I had no Object Oriented Programing (OOP) experience. I spent the Christmas break frantically trying to learn Java and start in on Android programming. By the end of the break I realized that there was no way for me to develop a reliable app, keep up with my other classes, and go to work.
Then I found MIT App Inventor. App Inventor is a block-based programming tool aimed at making Android programming accessible to the OOP-ignorant masses. A team of people came together to work on an open source program aimed at unlocking the magic behind smart phones.
This didn’t used to be a thing. Not just open source, but the whole needing-a-team-of-people-to-understand-an-everyday-device thing. I remember when one of my older teachers asked the class if we took apart radios as kids and figured out how they worked. He was shocked to figure out that most of us never had. I have taken apart an MP3 player/radio combo, and know how much I understood: pretty much nothing. While it might have been possible several decades ago, at least for the tech savvy ones, to take apart radios and understand them, this is no longer true. Large vacuum tubes and wires have been replaced by hundreds of tiny resistors, transistors and PCB traces. Often, one can’t even follow the traces from start to end. In short, it is more complicated and obfuscated. Now it takes a team of people working together to unlock the secrets of technology. It takes active effort to find kits and tools that are on the hobbyist level; you can’t just pull apart a near-by electronic gizmo and know what is going on. Except for desk fan controls. I still remember pulling apart a broken desk fan, messing with the rotation mechanism and understanding how it worked, and that was a great feeling. Fortunately, there are kits and tools available help bridge the gap, and that make the tech world open for exploration once more.
My name is Caroline Storm Westenhover. I am a Senior Electrical Engineering student at the University of Texas at Arlington. I am the third of seven children. I enjoy collecting ideas and theories and most enjoy when they come together to present a bigger picture as a whole. Perhaps that is why I like physics and engineering. My biggest dream is to become an astronaut.
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