A Tale of Our Engineering Projects

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There are many reasons a Computer Engineering course is a hefty educational investment.

First, as a five-year degree course, there are at least ten semesters to pursue the route. Sometimes it is longer. If things go wrong such as financial constraints, failure to cope up with subjects, and flunking due to lack of focus on studies, there is a risk that initial investment yields zero results. (Hint: parents whose failed Engineering ambitions pass the baton on their kids to make dreams happen.) At least, these explanations do not limit themselves to the course aforementioned.

As a cutting edge program (for such reason the course got massive following in the mid 90’s), Computer Engineering does the unconventional way of proving one’s worth. Although projects are only common in almost all disciplines, Computer Engineering students are driven by their innovative thinking and that technology unfounded yet are their masterpieces. When the first few “techno projects” were unveiled midway through the course and after half of the students parted ways, the enthusiasm emerged. Whether it’s our first foray of dealing with complicated circuits or fantasizing over our childhood chores of assembling our Lego blocks, the interest was there.

The multi-tester project has always been the baptism of fire for the group. Its introduction somewhat changed a student’s lifestyle. More often than not, project-making is dragged up to the last hour before the deadline due to poor time management. And the consequences can be costly.

And while time is gold, time management is vital in managing such projects. Lack of self-confidence translates to group project making. Perhaps Psyche Martirizar, Erwin Alfevin Dino or Jose Punongbayan can “host” tonight’s session. In doing so, those who do not have the tools (breadboard, connecting wires, power supply, typewriters or dot-matrix printers can take advantage of such opportunity).

Sky is the limit.Yet out of this world, thoughts prevailed in the early years. Once asked to do a feasibility study by Mr. Jesus Reyes in English 4A, our group consisting of Marlon Pabilona, Raul Ramirez, Vincent Guerra, Harold Daron, Oscar Barabona Jr, Anecito Dumdumaya Jr, and Lawrence Pantalla proposed a bulletin board system that will link Annex campus to the Main in Bankerohan. Excited but indeed doubtful of the outcome, the group went to talk with PLDT people about the cost of having leased lines. Dismayed over the high price per leased line, the group made another talk to PT&T, PLDT’s less sophisticated rival. On weekends, the group would go to Harold’s in Bangkal to work on one strength – the documentation, complete with schematic diagram, perspective layouts, cost of operation, and other justifications to overcome lack of practical know-how. But somehow, it served best as the subject was more focused on writing good technical papers rather than justifying what was written there.

Kita ta sa (gawas sa) Mercury Drug (along Bonifacio-CM Recto), alas 8 sa gabii. Ay 9:00 pm na lang. Pagdala ug chichiria ug soldering iron“, said one contact. “Panghulam ug breadboard sa kaila nimo nga higher year para naa koy magamit,“ replied the other after the late Strength of Materials class of Engr Narisma.

Waiting is one of the hardest tasks to do, especially if the one you are waiting for has loads of alibis prepared. “Sorry ha, gisugo pa man gud ko palit ug spark plug sa motor sa akong papa, traffic kaayo sa Uyanguren uy!

At a time when beepers outnumber cellphones with text messages, there is little chance of communicating with a mobile friend.

Breadboards cost hundreds of pesos, so are the resistors, connecting wires, and soldering rod. Much more to this is the convenience of family members of the ones who host the night’s project session. Guests come for dinner, watch TV, and do not start pulling out their things until Charo Santos says bye-bye at Maalaala Mo Kaya. Except for those who get started with project work at the campus lab, overnights have since become a pastime with very low productivity yield.

“Sige, ikaw lang sa diha trabaho sa breadboard nimo kay sundugon nalang nako unya. Nindot man gud ning palabas sa HBO. Isa pa, puno na man mo diha sa la mesa.” The more reasons you state, the more justified your gatecrashing-just-for-dinner-and-snacks-and-TV thing becomes. Thankfully, no big bellies were shown yet as proof of our late-night junk food binges.

Kle Roger Lazaga, Marlon, and Lee Anthony Taburno can attract lots of followers because of their uncanny ability to finish the job in no time. But while Lee can join groups, whoever invites him for the night, Marlon and Kle prefer to be secluded on their own homes after the proverbial “no thanks” to offers. No wonder they finish it way before deadlines. Such actions even drew criticisms that they are selfish and unable to share their electronic skills. Armed with long nose, soldering iron and other tools, a pool of reference materials, they made a name for themselves as the most successful performers.

Ironically, yet understandably, overnights work worst on Friday nights. It was supposed to be ideal since all can have the luxury of extending the work till mid-morning the following day. But it has become one of the most unproductive days to some. “Kapoy kaayo akong brain huna huna sa quiz nato sa Circuits bai, magbanig na lang sa ko diri sa sala para kung gusto pod mo mag nap, ready na ni. Pukawa na lang ko pag alas-12 na sa gabii.”

Frowned upon hearing this, the host nods his head and continues to disassemble the Magus multi-tester. As expected, the sleeping friend braces for tough days by semester’s end.

With the extended time of stay at the host’s home, family members could even recognize who was knocking at the door. “Ah kaila na ko kinsa ning nanuktok.” Baldwin Baldos’s father would quip. And even dogs get tamed, baby nephews and nieces get used to strangers hugging and carrying them inside the house.

Moving forward to non-procedural projects – designs that used to linger in one’s fantasy – it was crucial to be in a group with diligent members who can work on their own. As the cost of projects is much higher than in the past assignments, students have the freedom to select group mates, preferably those they get along very well and have less conflict of schedules to deal with the projects. Most groups have both male and female members.

Under Engr Marlon’s Casquejo’s Advanced Logic class, group projects emerged for the first time. Learning from the underlying logic teachings of Engr Allan Gierran, enthusiastic fourth-year students have pushed the limits on how these learning foundations will be used. From triggering solenoid to remote access, logic comes into different shapes and sizes. From then on, the group projects spawned little groups we call “barrios” where members spend more time with each other and less on “outsiders.” With a group concentrated on one particular project, members are delegated to buy materials, do research, submit project proposals, spend weekends together.

NAME OF PROJECT:
Keyboard Tester 
SCOPE/FUNCTION: To be able to invent a stand-alone device which will check the continuity/functionality of each key (101 keys-Standard) without the hassle of using the software + CPU + monitor.GROUP MEMBERS:
1) Baco, Lovella Concepcion D.
2) Dagaas, Rosamie
3) Malilong, Amerrynor A
4) Montecillo, Raquel F
5) Victorio, Veda Joy P
NAME OF PROJECT:
Phone Patch
SCOPE/FUNCTION:

Enable the ordinary telephone unit to receive or initiate calls from or to an RDO (radio).

Operate the switching on/off of any gadget or appliances which require a connection from a 220V source.

GROUP MEMBERS:
1) Marlon Pabilona
2) Psyche Martirizar
3) Rosalie Taga-an
4) Kle Roger Lazaga
5) Jonilie Echavez

NAME OF PROJECT:
Computerized Free Falling Device System (CFFDS)

SCOPE/FUNCTION:
The Computerized Free Falling Device System or shortly known as CFFDS eliminates the inaccuracy of performing experiments regarding
free falling bodies.

As you could remember in our Physics lab experiment about free falling bodies, it would take several persons to perform such research. One would be releasing an object from a certain vertical distance, and another would be starting the time clock and stopping it as soon as the object touches the ground and another person to measure such height or vertical distance. Such a manual method would inevitably lead us to inaccurate findings or results. Seeing the inaccuracy in such an experiment, we were able to have an idea of making it automated and computerized.
Through the materialization of our idea, we were able to make such an experiment an accurate one. The CFFDS would automatically pick up the metal ball and bring it to the desired height the user pressed or opted on the front panel.

The moving up of the metal ball is then simulated on a monitor showing its movement from the time the metal ball was picked up, brought to a certain level or height, and later released. As the metal ball is released, the timer would then start and end as soon as the metal ball reaches the drop point or level zero. The time is then registered and displayed at the front panel and the monitor, as well. Thus, the inaccuracy of such a manual experiment has been eliminated.

Group members:
Lawrence R Pantalla
Anecito V Dumdumaya Jr
Ronald S Andulana
Charlemagne Nambong
Danilo Quevido

This sometimes leads to developing romances that other classmates may not seem to notice at first. “Pirmi lagi mo kauban niya.“ ” Ay ‘langan, kauban man mi sa project.“ Even after the documentation has been submitted and the grades are released, the couple is still seen together. At this time, our raging hormones continue to manifest through a consistently present topic: the opposite sex. The Susan-Jopris romance, Marlon-Jonilie courtship, and seemingly random names of girls associated with Vincent and Lawrence. Over a bottle of beer, one’s failed love affair will dominate the story, as though he is the main actor of a soap opera. But in general, it was pure fun, for we are in our teens, and such topics never bore us.

But not all so-called barrios last long. On one February night, when Jonathan Ambong, Ronald Celestial, and Ronald Andulana has decided to work the power supply project of Engr Abad’s Electronics 1 subject at a kababayan’s place, all circuitry seemed to work well as theorized.

By midnight, typically early by overnight’s standard, auto shut off features worked. It was a sign of celebration. A bottle of two of the intoxicating Red Horse beer at Malativas, a stone’s throw away, seemed a perfect way to ease our stress. But Jonathan’s beer was digested in his brain and influenced the way he thought. Influenced by James Hetfield or Phil Anselmo’s videos shown at the overhead television set, he wailed “f*** you everybody” as the group started to move out of bar premises. Those who heard were students of the nearby University of Mindanao felt provoked and instantly surrounded the group, engaging them into a one-sided fist-fight. When the dust settled, Jonathan was left sitting in the pavement with a bruised eye, lost his left Tretorns shoe, and a ton of pride in the brawl.

The group quickly disbanded but somehow managed to reunite at times.

Other barrios don’t work well. After some differences in philosophy (whether in life or logic), group members leave and prefer to work on their own. Worse, renegade members don’t talk anymore with team leaders.

Seeing other then-freshmen friends have graduated in their respective four-year courses, it was time for the final test. About 60% of those who enrolled in 1992 have gone, but the ones who remain do not necessarily mean intellectually-gifted, at least there’s perseverance. Whether it was translated positively (thinking hard to learn Assembly Language lessons) or negatively (trying hard to copy Assembly Language assignments), it depends on who are you referring to. With recently-graduated predecessors becoming instructors, it was a walk in the park trying to win their nod on each group’s proposal and rationale.

Overhead:
Ah! approve man gain to ni Moso ug ni Casquejo, siya pa ba?” But sometimes, it just does not go it is way. Raul once had a disgusted look, sitting on the tiled floors across the former Annex Library, which now hosts the Audio-Visual Room. “Wa ko kasabot ngano dili daw pwede ning among project,“ referring to his instructor’s remarks on checking their project. Other members Rizza Rizada, Liezl Bravo, and Jumar Donque, sat silent, staring at the ground. With such experiences, many groups have shunned away from their previous projects and chose the more scientifically accepted laws of Physics. Two groups readily adopted it. Projectile motion simulator became the pet project of Ariel Falcis and company while Dums and his crew selected the more challenging free-falling velocity.

These projects were littered with bad experiences: rejected proposals, bruised egos, burned fingers, and failed courtships. But there are good too. One especially inspiring experience was that of the all-female group of Raquel Montecillo, Amerrynor Malilong, Lovella Baco, and Veda Joy Victorio. Often facing adversaries and the common stereotype that women are inferior to men in this field of work, the quartet quietly made a stir when they were among the first who finished their project, without the long overnight sessions. They occupied the corner at the Microprocessor and Digital Lab. While others were busy playing that bomb game and waiting for other group mates to arrive, Veda Joy was about to finish their documentation.

Projects, as tangible yet inanimate as they can be, could even be a reason for shedding tears too. When working for the free-falling acceleration simulator, the team of Butch, Lawrence, and Dums had some troubles. Results do not yield close to the widely accepted velocity. Having checked everything to be working, including transistors, power supplies, and timer sensitivity to calculate results, Dums, who was sleepless for days, just had to cry his frustrations out. Thankfully, it was a sob of motivation rather than a sign of surrender.

Six years later, the black hardbound laminated documentation may have been borrowed at the library a hundred times, or stolen for safekeeping and sold at the black market for a hundred bucks, the memory remains. Whether it was Jonathan’s black eye, Reynante vs. Deozar wrestling match during the exhibit, or Flint and Jose’s dance number at the presentation to the parents, it was in the essence of diligent project making. From the proposed Digital Bulletin Board Marlon envisioned to the remote-controlled security system his group implemented, it was a sign of things to come.

Lawrence checking the circuits on CFFDS (check article for acronym meaning). Photo credit: Lawrence Pantalla

Batch97 may have copied ideas from Sleepless, the theme of previous year’s Engineering showcase when it launched Unleashed. Nevertheless, it came out with its style, inspired by the successes of its predecessors. And even if it comes as an expensive investment and unsure of returns, the experience was worth more than the tuition fees, project costs, and personal allowances combined. Not to mention the trips up North.

Post Script:
We can only wish our projects were given more life and allowed to flourish if proven to be commercially viable, and not just a requirement to pass the course. If the more prestigious submissions got support from say, Department of Science and Technology or TESDA and harness the talents of engineering wannabes, we would have more concrete evidence we were once part of that team, rather than confine ourselves to memories (like writing this article) that we once built these fantastic projects.

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