All posts by Patrick Estabrook

ECE Spring Banquet


(I’ll be there too!)

6 PM, Marriot Hadley, Friday April 27

THERE ARE STILL TICKETS AVAILABLE!!  Talk to Sandra Gross on the top floor of Marcus (room 201). (Ten bucks!)  You can get ’em until 3 PM Friday.


UMass Team gets 2nd Place in IEEE Ethics Competition!

Congratulations to ECE students Chris Garry, Brian Giang, and Allen Chew for getting second place in this year’s Ethics Competition at the IEEE Region 1 Conference in Hartford!

The Region 1 SAC Conference is a one-day affair, from breakfast at 7AM to dinner at 7PM, where students can attend workshops and lectures, and with competitions in the afternoon.  There are three competitions: the Micromouse competition, the Student Paper Competition, and the Student Ethics Competition.  This year’s conference took place on March 10 and 11.


For the Ethics competition, there were ten teams of 2-4 students each.  UMass had two teams at this year’s conference: Chris, Brian, and Allen on one; and Sandy Jenkins, Hayan Xu, and Andy Yee on the other.  At the start of the competition, the teams were given a case study and one hour to prepare a presentation that analyzes the case study based on the IEEE code of ethics.  In other words, each team was given an ethical dilemma relating to engineering, and had to say what their decision would be and make a compelling argument in favor of it.  When it came time for a team to present, they had 10 minutes to make their case followed by a 5-minute question and answer session with the judges.  They announce the winners later that evening over dinner.

Brian tells me that it was a great hotel with a pool and hot tub, and that the whole experience was worthwhile and fun.  There was time allocated specifically to meet the other students and professionals at the conference.

The IEEE is great!  Get involved!



Bridgeport Milling Machine — THE LEVIATHAN

Milling machines; they take as input a chunk of solid metal.  As output, they produce whatever it is you wanted carved from that chunk of metal.  Different milling machines are capable of different levels of precision and different numbers of axes; that is, different ways in which they can cut into the material.  Here is a video of a very sophisticated computer numerically controlled mill carving a motorcycle helmet out of solid aluminum:

While our mill isn’t capable of such gymnastics, it’s still unspeakably cool.  And big.

If you have any questions, ask David!  He’s our shop guy.


M5 Museum – Data Storage on Magnetic Tape

Hey ECE people!  Surely you’ve seen the M5 museum on the way in the door.

What you may have seen, but didn’t know you saw, were these large rolls of magnetic tape.  10.5″ diameter, to be precise.

Each roll holds about 2400′ of tape.  That’s, like, half a mile.  Look a little closer, and you’ll see some cryptic labeling.

BPI stands for “Bits Per Inch,” and CPI stands for “Characters Per Inch,” which, because the characters are in ASCII, is another way of saying “Bytes Per Inch.”  BPI and CPI convey the length of tape required to store one bit or byte of information.  The tapes have 9 tracks, meaning that there are nine parallel stripes going lengthwise down the tape.  Each track holds one bit, so there are 9 parallel bits across the width of the tape.  SO COOL.  ~Patrick

M5 has Super Awesome Toys

This 300 in One Electronic Project Lab thing is unbelievably cool.  It comes with a book that tells you how to build all kinds of circuits, analog and digital, with the user friendly breadboard-on-steroids you see above.  The schematic I took a picture of up there is an AM Morse-code style transmitter.  We have all the components you would need on the famous parts wall.  Check it out!!!!








MCC Data Acquisition Software Usability Testing

On Wednesday, February 22… come test some new software from Measurement Computing!

Measurement Computing (MCC) is giving UMass students a sneak preview of their new data acquisition hardware and software (aka DAQ). This will give you a unique opportunity to see how you can easily capture multiple signals from your circuits via a simple USB device. 

Come test some new software from Measurement Computing!  Two UMass alums, Robert Vice (CSE 2004) and David Fraska (EE 2009) who work at Measurement Computing (MCC) will be here with new software they would like your input on. Students will focus on providing feedback on how intuitive the User Interface is to new users.

You are invited to sign up for a 30-minute test drive session, between 2 PM and 6 PM. These will take place at M5.

One $25 iTunes card will be given away to one of the participants in each half-hour session.

Limit of 5 testers per session.

You’ll learn abouts DAQs and you’ll also be helping MCC improve their new product.

Sign up for any available half-hour testing session here:

Sessions are every half hour from 2 PM to 6 PM, limit 5 attendees per session. Two of the sessions are already full.

Afterwards, at 6:30 PM, there will be an info session for Measurement Computing.

RSVP for the info session here:

What’s in a Name? Reclaiming “Hacker”

   To those who frequent M5, or receive our emails, the word “hacker” has likely shed its negative connotation.  While originally the term was reserved for those committing white collar crimes using computers, now it is synonymous with “maker” or “inventor.”  We in M5 readily identify as, or aspire to be, good hackers in the new sense of the word.

However, there are still people out there who are made uncomfortable by this new use of the word, and perhaps reasonably so.  Facebook is about to have its initial public offering, which means that the company is about to start selling its stock publicly.  Naturally, they want to sell their stock for as high a price as possible and sell as much of it as they can.  Being that Facebook has been so successful, investors are paying very close attention to the company and scrutinizing it closely to make their decisions about investing in it.

On this eve of their initial public offering, CEO Mark Zuckerberg authored an essay which investors will read, and which will contribute to the decisions investors make.  In this essay, Zuckerberg steps out and reclaims the word “hacker” in much the same sense as DIY/maker types like us have already.  Zuckerberg has nearly $30 billion at stake in this initial public offering; naturally, investors tend to be cautious with their money.  Was Zuckerberg ill-advised to identify himself as a hacker in the new sense, or will his identifying himself as one inspire confidence in investors and help change the culture of hacking for the better?

If you’d like to know more, the full article is here:

For Facebook ‘Hacker Way’ is Way of Life


Vinyl Records: An Argument for the Old School

     In the age of digital music storage and playback, the technologies that have taken over the market hold convenience as the highest virtue.  Indeed, the market has spoken, and people readily pay good money for the ability to hold a large number of songs and albums in their pocket for immediate playback into ear-bud headphones.     Commuters listen to music on their way to work as a welcome distraction from the other cars on the road, or from the other passengers on the train.  Here at UMass, it’s hardly uncommon to see students listening to a few songs during the walk between classes.  The generations that comprise the undergraduate population here scarcely recall a time when we couldn’t play any music we wanted on demand, wherever we are.

     I invite you to forget for a short while the joy of this convenience, and imagine a different kind of appeal.  Perhaps you’ve haven’t ever removed a record from its sleeve, wondering if you’re harming it by touching it, placed it delicately on the platter of a turntable, pressed play, and gently rested the needle on the edge of the record.  Your senses heightened, you sit and wait in anticipation of the beginning of the first song, listening through the soft pops and crackles of dust.

    You may have heard folks talk about the difference in audio quality that vinyl has, but to me the vinyl medium offers much more than just a different sound.  The songs, the album, the music now has a rather large, fragile object it is stored on that requires care in handling and a playback mechanism, the turntable, that requires careful calibration and maintenance.  The record itself comes in a giant sleeve, a spacious canvas for the visual part: the album artwork.  All of these factors together create a listening experience fundamentally different than the one offered by mp3 players.  Moreover, the process of finding new music to listen to is made cheap and easy by used record stores which often give away free used records, or sell them for a dollar or less.  Northampton and Amherst used record stores both have free bins and dollar-record bins.  I got 12 records at Turn It Up Records in Northampton yesterday for 7 dollars.  In this way, one can avoid the piracy that is, whether or not you disagree with the law, illegal.

   Check it out!  ~Patrick


Among the clutter of other satellites and space trash, there are 31 satellites in orbit around planet Earth that might just help you with your current project.

Adding GPS to your project gives you real-time updates (sometimes as fast as five times per second) of its location, and of the current time, so long as it has a clear view of the sky, though completely regardless of the weather.  You can find GPS modules ranging from about thirty dollars to around a hundred.

If you’re familiar with serial communication, then using a GPS module is remarkably easy.  It has an RX pin, a TX pin, and pins for ground and power.  The RX pin is there so you can configure the operation of the module if you like.  There are several different strings of information the GPS module can spit out, and you may only be interested in some of them, and you can tell that to the chip through its RX pin.  (There are likely other configuration details I haven’t yet needed to explore.)  The TX pin, as you may have guessed, spits out the GPS information at whatever baud rate the chip operates at.  The one I’m using, the LS30021, operates at 57600 baud.  When I power up this little guy, so long as I’m outdoors, it gives me my location ±2.5 meters within about 10 seconds.  It’s unspeakably awesome and tremendously satisfying.

If you’re unfamiliar with serial communication, Arduino is a great place to start.  Head to and see what all the fuss is about!  (I use the Arduino for just about everything, including my senior design project.  It is a magic little device.)