[EAS]NSDL Scout Reports

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sat Mar 16 23:01:38 EST 2002

Subject:   NSDL Scout Reports

Dear Colleagues -

The NSF-supported Scout Project at the Univ. of Wisconson
<http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/> has reported in its Scout Reports on
quality Web resources since 1994 (!), often to the benefit of this

Earlier this year they started, as part of the NSDL project
(National Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Education
Digital Library), the bi-weekly Internet NSDL Scout Report for
quality information in those disciplines. It comes in three flavors

NSDL Scout Report for Life Sciences:
Biology, Zoology, Ecology, Botany, and other Life Science topics.

NSDL Scout Report for Physical Sciences:
Geology, Chemistry, Astronomy, Physics, and other Physical Science

NSDL Report for Math, Engineering, and Technology:
Industrial Engineering, Calculus, Algebra, Geometry, Civil
Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Environmental Engineering,
Computer Sciences, Human Factors, Hardware, and Software, and
related topics.

The last is probably closest to the interests of the majority of
EAS-INFO readers. Have a look at the table of contents of
the issue current at the time of writing.

Each item is a link to a short description, which in turn takes you
to the described resource. You will find much of interest here.

Well-meaning colleagues have assured me that nobody takes the time
to click on the links I send out in these mailings. I can only hope
that not all of you have such confined and driven existences. Of
particular interest to me in this issue were [with my reasons

JPL Sensor Webs Project
The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has devised a remarkable new type
of sensor that could revolutionize the way scientists gather data. A
Sensor Web is a network of many individual sensors that are about
the size of a ping-pong ball. By themselves, they collect a single
measurement-like temperature or humidity. But an entire Sensor Web
can be spread out over a very large area and collect vast amounts of
data remotely. The Sensor Webs Web site has a lot of information
about the technology and its applications. A fun activity for kids
is also given that teaches the basic techniques that Sensor Webs use
to collect data.

[There has been a lot of suggestions for EE teaching lab activity in
remote measurement, ineptly described as students being able to do
lab experiments from their dorm room. But using serious distributed
remote measurement to bring data _into_ the laboratory from outside
settings, e.g. in environmental engineering, is indeed educationally
fitting. --PJK]

FreeCalc.com: Online Applications for Engineering Design
FreeCalc.com has over fifteen engineering design applications
developed by Beacon Engineers Inc, which are useful for quick
calculations for work or research. The applications can be used
freely online; to be able to save your work and get further
benefits, a subscription is required. Categories include general
engineering, liquid and gas flow, fans and HVAC, pumps, heat
transfer, vessels and tanks, and civil and structural engineering.
Each application has a very easy-to-use interface, and there are
many options from which to choose. Equipment data sheets are also
given on the site for quick printing and submittal to suppliers.
There are several additional applications under development.

[This represents a developing facet of software as education will
use it. Instead of struggling to maintain complex design and
simulation software on campus, one will access it via the Web at the
host company, on a fee-for-use basis. Whole large-scale corporate
project management processes are already being handled this way.
Instances where a much touted corporate software donation to a
university became a white elephant there could be avoided. --PJK]

Introduction to Mechanisms
Most grade school students learn about the lever, the pulley, the
inclined plane, the wheel and axle, the wedge, and the screw. These
are collectively known as the six simple machines. The Introduction
to Mechanisms offers a much more in-depth look at the underlying
principles of these and other more complex devices. The material is
appropriate for advanced high school students, engineering students,
or anyone interested in learning how mechanisms work. Hosted by
Carnegie Mellon University, the site is essentially an online book
with a well-defined table of contents and hyperlinked index. Besides
the simple machines, other topics include physical principles,
kinematics, planar linkages, cams, and gears. Each chapter has many
figures and diagrams that illustrate the concepts.

[There is already numerous electronic textbooks on the Web that can
be tied into courses. This is an example on an introductory level.
Others have been mentoned on this list before, e.g.
and others.  --PJK]

Bad Human Factors Designs
Here is a site that is not only useful, it is also somewhat amusing.
The basic concept being conveyed is why learn from your own mistakes
when you can learn from someone else's? Any type of engineer,
student, or professional should know the difference between a bad
design versus a good one. This site has a long list of bad designs,
and new ones are added regularly. The material is maintained by a
usability engineer, which means he obviously knows a lot about the
topic. Some examples include a stapler, a paper towel dispenser, and
a shower faucet. They might not make sense right now, but look over
the site. You should soon realize the importance of a good design. 

[Although Donald Norman tried to call attention to the difference
between good and bad design in his 1988 "The Psychology of Everyday
Things," most engineers and engineering teachers do not spend much
time on this topic. Even ABET, our engineering accrediting agency,
though concerned about ethical awareness does not show explicit
concern about the related issue of distinguishing bad design from
good. The need is as great as ever. --PJK]

Anyway, bookmark the NSDL Scout Report of your choice, or subscribe
to the email version at

All best,  --PJK

More information about the EAS-INFO mailing list