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State of the Art

State of the Art November/December 2021
Alone With My Thoughts
They call them earworms, those songs and ditties that roll around in your head whenever there is nothing else going on. Even when you want to be alone, they are always there, whether one wants them or not. And they resist being forgotten. Some are simple little things, jingles that keep ringing in my ears all day and all night long. They can be triggered by some simple reminder, like catching a television or radio ad, hearing children singing familiar songs, or listening to a choir sing a catchy gospel melody. “It’s A Small World” is particularly deadly... Read more
State of the Art September/October 2021
Getting Past the Know-It-All Stage
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Most of us have heard of this admonition, and it applies directly to engineering education. It turns out that people who know just a little about a subject greatly overestimate their understanding and abilities. “The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills”... Read more
State of the Art July/August 2021
Are Viruses Just Spores?
Something amazing happened early in the history of the Earth. Molecules were formed that had the unusual capacity to reproduce. And, not only that, but these molecules reproduced to the limit of the resources available and competed with other, similar, molecules to utilize every available reserve necessary to their growth and reproduction. These molecules were nucleic acids... Read more
State of the Art May/June 2021
Innovation Is Tied to Optimism
I wonder, when this coronavirus pandemic is finally behind us, if we will have seen a pause in the technological and social progress that had been happening at such a breakneck pace before the illness had spread throughout the world. I wonder if the attention that we have been forced to place on our own survival has stolen from our ability to innovate and create. This, despite the extra time that many of us have had to endure away from our jobs and normal activities, and the time that we would now have to dream up new ­possibilities... Read more
State of the Art March/April 2021
Best If Used by Date
We have likely all seen the dates stamped on food packages in the United States that say “Best if used by …” or “Sell by …” or some other phrase that suggests that the food item is not to be consumed after the date specified. It is not really clear by the phrase used if the food item becomes poison after this date, or if the food quality declines after this date, or if the date is just a convenience for the seller to move the product. There is a great deal of confusion about what to do with the product after the date given. Should it be thrown away or can it still be consumed safely but with some degradation of its quality?... Read more
State of the Art January/February 2021
Racism and Me
Racism is wrong! But, my reason for saying so is probably at least somewhat different from those other people might give. You see, racists are ruining my country, and keeping it from all of its promise. Let me explain... Read more
State of the Art November/December 2020
There’s Nothing Like Real Experience: II
As the saying goes, the point on a pencil is the inspiration and the other end with the eraser is the experience. A pencil without an eraser is next to useless, as I have found out. Yes, I know that, instead of using pencils, we all type on computers these days, but the principle still holds: Experience tempers our creative endeavors with realistic expectations. Whether we are considering engineering solutions to outstanding problems or are considering more broadly how to live our lives, real-life experiences guide our every move... Read more
State of the Art September/October 2020
Harmonicas
It is easy for me to imagine life without harmonicas, but for my parents’ generation, harmonicas were as common as rain. They were small and easy to fit in a shirt pocket or kit bag, and, whenever an idle moment presented itself, out came the harmonica to render a slightly reedy version of a well-known song: songs like “Red River Valley,” “You Are My Sunshine,” or “Tennessee Waltz.”... Read more
State of the Art July/August 2020
Collateral Learning
Students take engineering courses to learn techniques for solving problems. Thus, most engineering courses taken by undergraduate students are highly technical in nature. But, there are many additional techniques and skills that can be learned along the way... Read more
State of the Art May/June 2020
Ethics in the Era of Artificial Intelligence
Ethics can be interesting and fascinatingly compelling because of the subtle natures of its solutions in ambiguous situations. Articles on ethical issues and college courses on ethics rarely present answers to the questions that are posed. That is because ethical responses are highly situational and depend a lot on commonly accepted, but not codified, beliefs, and attitudes... Read more