A Journal of Applied Mechanics and Mathematics by DrD
© Machinery Dynamics Research, 2017
Time to Hang It Up
This will be the final post of Mechanics Corner here on Mechanical Engineering Forums. It has run almost exactly two years, and there have been ups and downs along the way. In this final post, I want to reflect a bit on my original goals for the blog, and also on what has actually happened.
When our host first proposed to me that I might write a blog for ME Forums, I was excited about it. About half of my career had been spent in engineering education, and I always loved working with students. It seemed like a way to get back to something that I had long enjoyed, and so I accepted his suggestion.
A long time ago, back when I was about 14 or 15 years old, in Junior High School, my shop teacher mentioned, in an off-hand way in class, that various curves could be described mathematically. I’d never heard that before, but I thought immediately, “This has interesting possibilities.” Moving ahead a few years, I discovered that I wanted to study and build my career around was the area known as Applied Mechanics, although it was a time before I first heard that term. In my freshman physics class, I discovered the laws of motion, and thought to myself, “This is great stuff! I can use math to describe how things move!” All of that happened back in the 1950s, and I’m still doing the same thing today (some might say I am in a rut!).
As a teacher, I taught mostly undergraduate engineering courses, although I taught my share of graduate courses as well. It was the undergraduate courses that I liked most, because I firmly believe that the economy of a nation is strongly dependent on the quality of the baccalaureate level engineers produced in that nation. Engineers with graduate degrees are valuable as well, but the vast majority of the national engineering workload falls to BS level engineers. Thus, I envisioned Mechanics Corner as a sort of continuation of the several undergraduate courses I most enjoyed teaching — kinematics, dynamics of machines, vibrations, and mechanics of materials. For the most part, I have stuck to the plan, so that most of the technical posts I have made have dealt with problems that I considered suitable for undergraduate engineering students, say perhaps, junior level. I have posted a few topics from my industrial experience, but those have been situations that baccalaureate level engineers would be expected to handle.
Now I knew it would not be exactly like continuing to teach my classes. In particular, you would not have any homework or tests, and I would not have any grading to do – a win-win, or so I thought. I did hope, that even with no assigned homework, readers would take an interest in the problems discussed, even to the point of working through the details for themselves (I was terribly naive, apparently!). I knew from my own experience that the only way I ever really learned a new idea was to get in and work with it, work some problems, make some numbers, plot some curves, until I really understood what it was all about. I’ll venture to say that nobody ever learned any technical material simply by reading only.
In actual fact, in the early days, I had one or two folks say that they would in fact work through the problems, so I was encouraged. What I was not prepared for, however, was the fact that the vast majority never seemed to even read very carefully, much less work through the problems! The questions that have come, and there have been a few, have largely been about matters totally unrelated to the posts. The most common question has been, “Suggest a topic for my final project,” which relates to not a single post. Needless to say, that aspect of my vision was totally unfulfilled.
But there is another side. I ventured to write a few “philosophical” articles, items dealing with academic integrity and cheating, with how to ask for help, with how to write a report or a paper, and various other matters. I really thought all of this would be considered obvious and trivial, so I was completely unprepared for the excitement that some of these articles generated. There were, in some cases, many, many comments, and people seemed to really be interested. I’m left to wonder: why? Are these ideas foreign to the culture of India and SE Asia? Are these things not all taught at home and in the public schools? I don’t know, but there was a lot of interest in these matters.
But Mechanics Corner was intended to be primarily a technical blog, and there, it just did not excite the interest of the readership. As time passed, there was less and less interest. First, the comments dropped off to just about zero, and later, there were fewer and fewer who even bothered to “like” the articles. Finally, the number of reads has dropped to almost nothing (there may be no one left to read this final note). Well, there could hardly be any more clear indication that it is time to stop.
I asked for opinions about this from some of the administrators, and was told that the blog was just over the heads of the readership. That makes me sad; that was never the intent. If it is true, I do not see how engineering has a very bright future among this readership. Even so, I wish all of you the best for your careers. I hope that you are able to find rewarding and beneficial work in which you will be happy and make a real contribution to your societies.
To use an old cowboy metaphor perhaps familiar to many of you from Bollywood, “It is time to hang up the bridle and saddle, and say, ‘Adios’ (Adios is literally, “to God”).