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Engineering and math

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by [email protected], Oct 11, 2006.

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  1. Guest

    I'm an EE and taking classes for my Master's. And I am again realizing
    my distaste for math. I don't hate it, I just really struggle with it.
    Is this weird?

    I have always really enjoyed designing and building electronic things,
    and even daydream about it. I analyze everything beyond what I believe
    is normal, and am always trying to figure out better/easier ways to do
    things, and I'm employed as an engineer. Yet anything beyond
    high-school level math drives me nuts. Is it an oxymoron to like
    engineering but look at a complex math problem like it's written in
  2. Studio271

    Studio271 Guest

    nah... I understand and appreciate the math, but I can't stand seeing
    it as anything beyond a tool for computing, say, the gain of an
    operational amplifier across a band of frequencies. Anything beyond
    that, and it's just an exercise in understanding something that will
    only be used to program a simulator.

  3. Yes. There is no engineering without math - just guesswork. We aren't
    cathedral builder from the middle ages.
  4. mark

    mark Guest

    Don't worry. I think most engineers have the same feelings to some extent.
    I know I do. (But it is neat when some math you barely remember solves the

    M Walter

  5. Before, before my American friend.

    Middle Age is approximately at 1300 to 1600.

    ~870, the first mentionable 'Dome' in Cologne.

    'The' Cologne Dome started approx. 1000-1100 and ended (never ended,
    though) about 1760. With many festivals (part finishings, gotic chorus
    in 1322 for example) in between all that time.

    Best Regards,

    Daniel Mandic
  6. Eeyore

    Eeyore Guest

    Those cathedral builders knew a thing or two actually.

  7. True, but they built by experience - sometimes terrible experience.

    "About 10 years ago it was discovered that the Flying Buttresses on the east
    end were no longer connected to the adjoining stonework and repairs were
    made to prevent collapse. The most recent problem was the discovery that the
    stonework of the Dean's Eye window in the transept was crumbling. It has now
    been replaced, but there was a period of great angst when it emerged that
    the stonework only needed to shift 5mm for the entire cathedral to

    Equally there have been a number of modern collapses where what looked solid
    failed - often due to errors of math or failures to calculate the correct
    structure design.
  8. Tim Wescott

    Tim Wescott Guest

    Many EE's are highly effective even though they don't spend much time
    with the math. There's a lot of craft in EE.

    -- and I _like_ the math and IMHO I'm pretty good at it, so it's not
    like I'm trying to bolster my own position, or anything.


    Tim Wescott
    Wescott Design Services

    Posting from Google? See

    "Applied Control Theory for Embedded Systems" came out in April.
    See details at
  9. Not at all. Most practical design engineers will avoid complex math if
    at all possible.
    I don't think so.
    A good majority of real world electronics engineering design does not
    need complex math. Triple integrals or other nasty squiggly lines in
    complex equations are fairly rare. For instance, I can't remember ever
    having to solve an integral since doing math at uni, but it's important
    to understand the concepts and be able to relate them to practical

    Of course, it all depends on the industray you are in. Some will use
    complex math every day, but for your everyday design work basic math
    will get you through - logs, trig functions, basic equations (often
    with mechanical aspects), complex numbers occasionally etc

    Dave :)
  10. John  Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    Academic "engineers" love complex math, calculus and stuff. As a
    working circuit designer, I don't use calculus at all (except in
    understanding the basic concepts, integration and differentiation and
    differential equations aka closed loops) and could mostly get by with
    a 4-function calculator with square root. A little basic algebra is
    handy. For anything really complex and nonlinear - and everything is
    nonlinear - simulation is the way to go. A good feel for signal
    processing - Fouriers, convolution, mixing and modulation, stuff like
    that, is invaluable, but "feel" is usually enough.

    Design is an emotional, qualitative activity, and analysis is an
    intellectual, quantitative activity, and Spice can do most of your
    analysis for you. So get that degree somehow and get out in the real
    world and design real stuff. Send me a resume.

  11. Eeyore

    Eeyore Guest

    Don't fret real engineers use less math than you might think.

    As long as you're ok with complex numbers and can handle simple integration
    and differentiation you'll be fine. Programs like Mathcad can do a lot of
    the tricky stuff these days anyway.

  12. Guest

    Indeed, a lot of practical engineering is more seat-of-the-pants math
    in terms of understanding the implications rather than doing
    complicated problems as they were done in school. You need to know
    what it is going to look like, but you can resort to the computer for
    the actual numbers.

    That is, assuming someone's already written the software, and that you
    have it available. Ironically, I do more "engineering math" in support
    of hobbies than I do for "work"... things like machining parts for
    musical instruments, or arguing about movements in ballroom dancing -
    when there aren't textbook methods to resort to and you are exploring a
    new field with methods borrowed from another, then you end up deriving
    (or rederiving) a lot of things from basic relationships.
  13. Joel Kolstad

    Joel Kolstad Guest

    If you want to be a "cookbook engineer," sure, I'd agree -- and there are
    plenty of jobs for such people. If you actually want to be a *circuit
    designer*, no way -- you at least have to have an understanding of the
    somewhat more complex math that governs active devices, filters, etc. If you
    look at the work of well-known designers such as Bob Widlar (as in current
    source), Gilbert (as in mixer), Bob Pease ("bandgap czar"), etc., it's clear
    that -- no, they're not using finite field theory or something equally
    esoteric, but it's definitely some solid undergraduate math... bits and pieces
    of calculus, Laplace transforms (or Z transforms for discrete time),
    sensitivity calculations, etc.

    There are many ways to be highly creative in, say, digital logic or software
    design that requires pretty much zero math... although even there, if you're
    called upon to make something really fast or complex, the math comes back (the
    folks who design the math co-processors for CPUs do some pretty heavy lifting,
    for instance, and the search routines in Google require a solid grounding in
    undergraduate linear algebra to understand -- your average programmer wouldn't
    have a clue how to make Google as fast as it is...).
  14. Yep, I always laugh at engineers with their fancy programmable
    calculators as I watch them struggle to do their day-to-day maths
    problems, the most complex of which is usually calculating a parallel
    resistor value. Fancy stuff like square roots only come up about 10% of
    the time :->

    My programmable calculators batteries have run dry *twice* since I last
    used it, it just sits in the cupboard gathering dust.

    Dave :)
  15. Guest

    What, you don't love triple integrals? ;-0

    Welcome to the club. I never could figure out what Sturm-Liouville
    theory in Partial Differential Equations class was all about, either.
    (Can't think of the last time I needed to use it, either.)

  16. Well, if you use a straight wire you should know its impedance.
    Go to my page to find why and then read more on the Bessel functions and
    Sturm-Liouville theory.

    All who use a straight wire should know its impedance :)
    Ok, I'm just joking! ... , or maybe not ...
  17. That's because Engineers cheat with math in order to get results :) The
    cathedral builders used maths for others to get a result long after they
    retired - they used simulators.

    Visiting Barcelona I learned that the spanish architect Gaudi used string
    computing to calculate the placement of arches and pillars:

    Real, physical, strings with scaled weights attached at important points along
    the string. The model would be inverted so he placed a mirror underneath to
    display the results of the simulation. I think that the string model must be the
    equal of a fairly decent computer running for a long time.

    Gaudi robably learned that trick from the Cathedral builders.
    I've got the name of a good psychologist who may be able to help you

    In the time it would take to analyze that piece of wire in that way,
    most practical engineers with their rules of thumb and orders of
    magnitude could have designed an entire product! :p

    Dave :)
  19. Deefoo

    Deefoo Guest

    You blame their limited math skills for defects in a 600-year old cathedral?

  20. Fred Bloggs

    Fred Bloggs Guest

    What are you calling a "complex math problem?" You don't need much math
    for electronic engineering if you work at low level applications, so I
    wouldn't be worried about it. And then again, just because something is
    amenable to a mathematical representation does not necessarily mean it's
    reasonable, realistic, or useful, nor does it imply you have an answer.
    Also, most of the mathematical presentation at the master's level is
    just so much immature junk.
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