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Saturday, 1 September 2012

A Blind Man's Game

This is NOT a technical article, it's meant for all readers; it may seem like one, but it is not. In fact, if you totally unrelated to any field of engineering, then it's a good opportunity for you to get a rough idea about engineering (Electronics and Communication in particular). This post is about my 'views' on the Electronics and Communication Engineering.

Since my school days, many engineers like Thomas Alva Edison(Ma nick name), Wright brothers, Dennis Ritchie etc. have always awed me, because they "created" something which never existed before.The MOST MOST, WILDEST-MOST (sorry about the grammar, but found it the best way to express my point) interesting part is that, each of their invention has steered the world in totally newer and different dimensions!! It's very difficult for people in 1600s to conceive about electricity, telephones,computers etc. But, it is a question of survival for people of today without these technologies.. So all these factors inspired me to become an engineer. I opted for Electronics and Communication Engg. in particular due to the kind of promise this field gave by its rapid pace of innovations.
At this juncture, one might as well ask,"Wow man!! you chose the direction you really liked. So, you must be shining in your field, that's what happened to Aamir Khan in 3 Idiots isn't it? ". But, after spending two years of my life on a course called Electronics and Communication Engineering, I was left wondering "What EXACTLY electronics and communication engineering is all about??!!".
This is not an exaggeration because, all I saw was equations in every direction of the course which I couldn't relate to the real life. And Please! For Heaven's sake don't give me answers like "Communication engineering involves the methods of communicating between a source and destination through waves in RF region, in electromagnetic spectrum" or "Electronics engineering is all about current flowing through different components like capacitor, inductor etc."; (What is wrong with those answers?)- Well, the problem is I DON"T SEE THEM HAPPENING!!!!

Usually for any given problem, I prefer relating with the problem throughout the process of finding a solution; and I definitely don't prefer dissecting the given problem into several mathematical models and, further complicate the situation by going deeper into deriving the equations and, finally analyze the solution in terms of a huge and ugly mathematical result obtained.
For example, given below is a basic schematic of a BJT(Bi-Polar Junction Transistor, it can be understood as a switch that controls larger current based on smaller currents). The current through Base (B) controls the flow of current through C(Collector)

Symbol of BJT

If a mechanical engineer or an aeronautical engineer is analyzing a machine or an engine, he can predict what the machine or engine does by 'observing' its individual parts. But, while analyzing a circuit( take BJT circuit given below as an example), it's not at all possible to predict it's functionality using the above logic. Though I tried many times to analyze the circuit based on the function of individual components, but finally, if I need to know its overall behavior, then I need to use the prescribed equations of BJT and apply Kirchhoff's voltage and current equations and interpret the result based on the mathematical result obtained. (Maybe an intuitive feeling is developed by repeatedly solving such equations, but the point is we cannot even make a rough guess about the behavior of the circuit without the support of mathematics)
 It seems as if, the whole circuit is a black-box and we need a 'tool' called mathematics to act as a mirror for us to analyze the internal working.

If this is the case with electronics engineering, then one might be as well dumbstruck when he sees the way communication engineering is being done. Because, as mentioned earlier, communication engineering is the ability to send a message from one point to another using 'electromagnetic waves'.
"Hey, wait a minute!!! Did I just say 'ELECTROMAGNETIC WAVES'? And whole of the communication theory is based on these waves?. Oh good, that's why communication experts say we live in a 'ocean' of electromagnetic waves; but can I see them?.... (NO!)..... Ok, so they are invisible (as waves are out of the visible spectrum). Can I hear them? .....(NO!)..... Ok, so they are not audible (as they are out of audio frequency range). But, if I am not able to see them or hear them, atleast I can feel them like I feel breeze, isn't it? ......(NOOO!!! these waves do not have mass to create a pressure on your body)"
Now, when I observed that, since it was not possible to feel the presence of the wave with any of the physical senses (Frankly, all these years I made my decisions ('think') based on what I see, hear, smell, touch or taste), I was very curious as how people were making a living in this field. Of course, based on my experience with this course, dealing with myriad of mathematical equations, I can immediately deduce mathematics as an answer.

Even when mathematical models are created, they are used as mere tools based on what we feel through our physical senses, but I observed that the communication theory entirely depends on the mathematics. For example, a sound engineer makes mathematical models for his audio system based on what sound he is supposed 'hear'; a civil engineer decides the reliability of the building foundation based on 'hardness', and then depends upon the mathematical models to measure the level of hardness. But a communication engineer mainly works on the mathematical parameters i.e., calculates how good the signal is, during transmission and reception (Signal-to-noise Ratio or SNR), calculates the error involved during the transmission -this opens the gateway to a whole new subject called, information theory which is purely mathematical. The funny part is even the atmospheric behavior (usually termed as channel) are tried to frame down into equations [I do sometimes wonder how 'my' behavior can be modeled into equations :P ].
Now that we have asked so many questions, we might as well ask one final one (the crucial one)- Is mathematics to be blamed for eliminating the 'aesthetics' of the subject? The answer-  NO (again)!!  Because on a closer observation we can see that communication engineering (and also electronics engineering) is a subject in itself that deals with something 'beyond the reach of our senses' and mathematics is the tool which makes it possible for us to be within the reach of the subject.
After this deep introspection, I feel a great gratitude for great mathematicians like Leibnitz, Gauss, Maxwell etc. without whom, it would not be possible for the engineers to make their inventions.

The bottom line - Mathematics is THE light for us (electronics and communication engineers in particular) to move forward. Electronics and Communication  engineering is indeed a blind man's game after all.......!!!!!

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