UBC Course Reviews: Mechanical and Electrical Engineering

2020 June

I'm in the middle of moving out for my first full-time job on June 9th, so this June blog post will just be a skeleton for now. I'll add the meat and flesh after I'm done my job.

MECH 260: Introduction to Mechanics of Materials

Clarence de Silva, 2016W1, 73%

Statically determinate frames and trusses; normal and shear stresses and strains; shear force and bending moment diagrams; theory of beam bending, torsion of circular rods; transformation of stress and strain in two and three dimensions, Mohr's circle; yield and ultimate failure criteria.

What an apt course to introduce you all to the absolutely awful, atrocious, no-good, very bad UBC Faculty of Applied Science. Every engineering course I have ever taken here sucks, across the board, and it all started here in the fabled halls of MECH 260. In first year, nobody had any real opinion this way or the other about engineering courses, mainly because we never took any. But from our very first lecture at 8:30 am in Dempster 110, confronted by the wall of PowerPoint text in 3-bit red and blue Comic Sans, pressured by the 10% iClicker participation grade, enticed by the professor's recommendation to buy his own textbook, you couldn't not have an opinion about Professor Dr. Clarence Wilfred de Silva, MASc, P.Eng., Ph.D. (MIT), Ph.D. (Cambridge), D.Eng., D.Sc.

It gets better. Barely a month into the course and attendance supposedly dwindled to a dozen or two people, in a class of 117. (For obvious reasons, I cannot confirm if this number is accurate.) The good professor threatened us with surprise iClicker quizzes that never came. I'll never forget the day we got back our midterm grades, when with shaking hands I read out an incomprehensible mark, 25%, coincidentally the same number de Silva now announced to the class: "Unfortunately, 25% of you failed... but congratulations to the 25% that got a perfect score..."

Two weeks before the end of term, the dreaded iClicker pop quiz finally came. The next lecture, class attendance quintupled. There would be two more iClicker quizzes, each of them ultimately worth 3% of our final grade. Now deserved or not, back then I was somewhat proud of Engineering Physics; our averaged median entrance average was something like 86%, versus 73% for Mining Engineering and 69% for Materials Engineering, which were with Integrated Engineering the three lowest entrance averages in 2016.

Under de Silva's MECH 260, the 2016 ENPH/IGEN average was 66%, and 10% of the class failed. The 2016 MINE/MTRL average was 69%. The next year, de Silva's ENPH/IGEN average was 60%, and 22 out of 124 people failed. He never taught MECH 260 ever again.

That's what we call, a UBC engineering education.

MECH 280: Introduction to Fluid Mechanics

Gwynn Elfring, 2018W2, 83%

Fluid properties; statics; kinematics, dynamics, energy, and momentum principles for control volumes; dimensional analysis and similarity; laminar and turbulent flow; pipe flow; principles of centrifugal pumps.

I don't remember anything about this course. This is a good thing, because it means it wasn't that awful. It was probably the best engineering course I took at UBC. I didn't expect my only use of tensors in my entire five-year degree to be in a second-year course, though.

MECH 325: Mechanical Design I

Jon Mikkelsen, 2018W1, 90%

Selection of flexible drives, bearings, fluid power system components, and couplings. Design of bolted joints and power screws. Design and selection of gears, gear trains, and mechanisms.

Another terrible engineering course, with stupid group projects to boot. After dealing with MECH 260, I was so traumatized by shitty mechanical engineering courses that I dropped them all. Only after I was kicked out of co-op in third year (cause I couldn't find a job), and then (surprise) couldn't find a job in fourth year, was I forced to confront my demons, which is how I ended up taking MECH 280, MECH 325, MECH 326, MECH 360, ELEC 302, APSC 278, APSC 279, PHYS 350, and ENPH 352 all in the same year. Every one of these has a welcoming home in my List of Top 10 Worst Courses I've Ever Taken.

That said, I don't regret compressing all my stress and suffering into one hellish year of pure physical engineering. I got to meet some really cool folks in the years below and above me, due to MECH 325 and MECH 326 group projects of all things, and I'm sure my schadenfreude in third and fifth year was all worth it. And from my 90% (the highest mark was 92%), you'll find it's not impossible to do well: just read all 1105 pages of Shigley's Mechanical Engineering Design over and over again until you can swim through spur gears, bevel gears, Zerol gears, hypoid gears, spiroid gears, helical gears, worm gears, planetary gears, sprockets, crowned pulleys, grooved pulleys, sheaves, flat belts, round belts, V-belts, timing belts, roller chains, wire ropes, helical-thread screws, ACME-thread screws, cap screws, machine screws, power screws, flat heads, hex heads, truss heads, Fillister heads, nuts, bolts, washers, rivets, cotters, fasteners, ball bearings, self-aligning bearings, thrust bearings, needle bearings, tapered roller bearings, sleeve bushings, two-piece bushings, solid film lubricants, elastohydrodynamic lubricants, square keys, gib-head keys, Woodruff keys, taper pins, split tubular spring pins, flanged rings, retaining rings, cup point setscrews, cone point setscrews, half-dog point setscrews, hubs, splines, helical springs, compression springs, extension springs, Belleville springs, volute springs, ball valves, check valves, piston valves, flow control valves, pilot valves, screw pumps, vane pumps, piston pumps, gear pumps, and pump gears in your sleep.

MECH 326: Mechanical Design II

Peter Ostafichuk, 2018W1, 90%

Design of shafts and welded joints. Fatigue and fracture considerations in design: failure types, failure under static and dynamic loading, fatigue failure, crack initiation, and propagation. Introduction to the FEM in mechanical design.

Another terrible engineering course, with stupid group projects to boot. This time, I was stuck with the fifth-years rather than the third-years, and the beloved avuncular Dr. Pete instead of the widely-looked-upon-with-an-uncertain-air-of-disapproval Mikkelsen. The course wasn't much better, but Dr. Pete tried his gosh darned hardest to make it just as fun and exciting as in his APSC 100 days. The fifth-years, having taken APSC 150 instead, were not particularly impressed, but I had grown up on Dr. Pete's sketching interludes and I couldn't bear to disappoint him by dropping the course with a F.

If it were any other engineering prof, I certainly would have. One week after the deadline to drop courses with a W, at the annual Beef and Pizza whinefest, our enlightened program director finally caved in to years of demands and removed MECH 326 as a graduation requirement for all current fourth-years. Now, MECH 326 is on the fifth-year schedule, so theoretically, there should be no objections to this humanitarian class act―if were not an idiotic fourth-year student who was taking said course in that very term, hoping to minimize their suffering in the next year!

I was so mad that I read all 1105 pages of Shigley's Mechanical Engineering Design over and over again until I could generate FEA meshes; draw Tresca–Guest, von Mises–Hencky, and Coulomb–Mohr envelopes; multiply geometric stress-concentration factors by stress intensity modification factors by shear stress-correction factors; plot the Langer, Gerber, modified Goodman, ASME–elliptic, and Soderberg lines; decipher AWS symbols for bead, fillet, butt, plug, slot, square, bevel, J, T, U, and V-welds; and apply the Paris equation, the Reemsnyder algorithm, the Manson–Coffin relationship, the SAE approximation, the Neuber equation, the method of Dowling, the Smith–Dolan locus, the Palmgren–Miner rule, the Manson method, the Hertz equations, Rayleigh's method, Betti's theorem, Dunkerley's equation, and of course the Marin equation S_e = k_a k_b k_c k_d k_e k_f S_e' in my sleep.

Then I got 90%. Then almost nobody took it ever again. Then they renamed it to MECH 426 for no reason. But the highest mark in the section for mechanical engineering students was 87%.

MECH 360: Mechanics of Materials

Xiao Liang Jin, 2018W1, 96%

Beam deflections, singularity functions; use of tabulated solutions; column buckling; Castigliano's theorem, statically indeterminate beams, bending of beams with asymmetric cross-sections, shear centre; principal stresses and stress invariants in three dimensions.

Rounding out the mechanical engineering section is my catharsis, the sequel to where it all began, MECH 260. You can read these five courses in order as a tiny epic, if you ignore that I took MECH 280 after all of these, and I probably overcompensated with my studying, but never again can anyone claim that Eugene Y. Q. Shen can't do mechanical engineering. Key to my success was in fact taking all three MECH 3xx courses in the same term, so I could learn about Mohr's circle for the first time, three times, even though we were probably supposed to use them in MECH 260.

Like in MECH 325, I was only 2% away from the highest mark in the section, 98%. Like in MECH 325, I read all 898 pages of Hibbeler's Mechanics of Materials, a book I never touched in MECH 260. Like in MECH 325, anything I absorbed from those endless hours of studying promptly evaporated the second I left the final exam. That's what we call, a UBC engineering education.

ELEC 204: Linear Circuits

Salome Motavas, 2016W1, 85%

Basic concepts and analysis techniques in the context of electric and electronic circuits including Bode plots and the Laplace transform. Treatment of RLC circuits, phasors, op-amps. Introduction to nonlinear circuit elements, diodes, BJT, FET circuits.

We spent the first half of the course on nodal analysis and mesh analysis, so I figured I could just review my PHYS 158 notes for a day or two and show up to the final exam. Back in first year, my only course below 90% was CHEM 154, so I was pretty shocked I "only" got 85%. Then my MECH 260 mark came out, and now in hindsight, yeah, I could just review first-year physics and show up to the final, with absolutely no idea what a BJT or FET circuit is, and still easily pass. I'm almost certain we didn't learn about Bode plots or the Laplace transform either, and nobody in my cohort has any idea why this was a four-credit course.

ELEC 221: Signals and Systems

Paul Lusina, 2017W1, 98% (second-highest in the year)

Complex numbers, LTI systems, convolution sum, discrete-time Fourier series and transforms, z-transform, sampling, introduction to filtering and modulation, feedback systems, stability.

Paul Lusina, who now seems to be the exclusive instructor of this course, is mostly a meme. To this day, the racially-exclusive Messenger group "asian bois squad" proudly exhibits his visage as the emoji of choice. I set out to convince the world that he really isn't that bad in my presentation at the inaugural Fizz Talks, but mostly failed. Highlights include mistakes on every WebWorK quiz, awkward tutorials scheduled at awkward times, TAs marking a question wrong for everyone (then insisting they weren't marked wrong, then demanding people personally schedule appointments to correct the mistakes, then locking themselves in the office at the appointed times), and most infamously, banning people with fake names from Piazza for "seditious behaviour", which unfortunately included international students whose legal names differed from their preferred fake names.

Honestly, I blame the textbook, Lee and Varaiya's Structure and Interpretation of Signals and Systems, which is without a doubt the worst textbook I have ever tried to read. I'm surprised Sussman didn't sue them for defamation. WordPerfect should have revoked their license for publishing text blatantly violating the Geneva Convention. As the weeks went on, we found ourselves knowing less and less about Fourier transforms and transfer functions until we went into the final knowing absolutely nothing at all, and we blamed it on Paul Lusina's hopeless lectures, when in reality, that unholy eldritch book was feeding off our souls the entire time. That's what we call, a UBC engineering education.

ELEC 302: Electronic Circuits for Electromechanical Design

Kenichi Takahata, 2018W2, 76%

Semiconductor fundamentals; modelling of electronic devices including diodes and transistors; design of power supplies, waveform generators and logic circuits; signals in time and frequency domains; operational amplifiers; active filters; oscillators; device specification and selection.

Let's start by discussing another course, ELEC 301: Electronic Circuits (say, for, Electronic Design). Taught by husband-and-wife professors Nicolas and Carol Jaeger for time immemorial, dreaded by legions of engineering students electrical and physical, yet an essential rite of passage as the last course before asserting one's right to practice electrical engineering.

As with MECH 326, I tried to cheese it and failed. Engineering Physics has something like 36 required courses, and it's often difficult to massage such a rigid schedule to avoid conflicts and satisfy prerequisites for your five technical electives. So, our enlightened program director, hallowed be his name, generously offers to swap just one course in your entire degree with an equivalent course, if only you so ask. Examples of successful course swaps include:

OK, I didn't come up with the idea, but the person who did emailed Dr. Takahata and he kindly allowed him to register. Then he emailed Dr. Marziali and after much debate, he kindly approved the swap, so when I emailed him again he accepted it without question. Unfortunately, Dr. Takahata didn't like me (for good reason, as we'd later find out) and rejected my sincere appeals to be let into his class and avoid the dreaded ELEC 301 "mini" projects, but fortunately the blessed EECE program advisor Cathleen secretly registered me without a word.

The final was a day after my flight back from Portugal, where I got deathly ill, so I skipped it and failed the course, so that's probably why he retroactively didn't like me. Eventually I took the final in the summer and thought I did terribly, until I took...

ELEC 341: Systems and Control

Leo Stocco, 2019W1, 70%

Continuous time system analysis by Laplace transforms; system modelling by transfer function and state space methods; feedback, stability and sensitivity; control design; frequency domain analysis.

This is my worst grade ever. It's due to a bad student, not a bad prof; he was probably the best engineering prof I ever had, which is almost a compliment.

tl;dr: That's what we call, a UBC engineering education.