Posts Tagged ‘student project’

John Duhring, What Art Offers: How to unlock talent through hands on courses

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College Submitted to the VentureWell Open 2015 Conference

Abstract
Fleshed-out characters, roles and narratives lie at the heart of both art and innovation. Recent revelations that Apple and others are looking for an appreciation of design in their workforce calls for innovation programs to strengthen this approach. This paper will expose the importance of art and design in the entrepreneurial/innovation process. By harnessing the imagination of collaborative teams, crossing boundaries of practice and function, students in college can establish their pathway to innovative and successful careers.

Image at http://www.fastcodesign.com/3034240/how-apple-uses-picasso-to-teach-employees-about-product-design

Playing with the world in new ways as part of a team, of imagining together what could be and then creating products and services for that world, sets in motion tools for learning that will be revisited and refined over a lifetime. Ultimately, the practice of artwork as described here offers visceral, quantum level expression to and understanding of the characters and scenarios that play out in any venture.

Introduction
In the heart of Silicon Valley, Cogswell College encourages engineers and artists to work together in collaborative teams to produce mobile apps, animated films and video games. Students enter the college with an interest in becoming a coder, a musician or an artist and with a portfolio of work already accomplished. Then, they are challenged to both refine their skills and to cross borders to engage in projects that draw from the entire gamut of potential across the student body.

The art program starts with hands-on skill building then evolves to figure drawing to deepen understanding of anatomy, movement and emotion as the basis for “character development”. Students then use digital tools to bring collaborative projects to life. This approach goes far beyond programs that “teach the tool” by addressing the foundational elements that make the tool valuable in the first place.

To establish art’s role in entrepreneurial education, talking about it isn’t good enough. Entrepreneurs can feel good with some exposure to art, but they will forget it in an instant if they haven’t been involved in art projects themselves. Working as part of a team, boiling down a project to its essence, switching perspectives and picking up new skills on the fly help entrepreneurs stay on course. By integrating hands-on art and design projects into entrepreneurship education, faculty can provide a rich set of experiences that mirror real-world practice in an academic environment.

Most importantly, art in this approach scales from the earliest doodle to the most complex app, video game or interactive film. The following table provides dimensions to consider when developing courses that bring art into educational experiences. Each assignment takes on deeper significance as the scope moves from intimate to social. Along the way, students develop their perspective, voice and value to teams. Art, when practiced in this context, is not an isolated act. Nor is the refinement of imagination. As part of their college experience, students enter an evolving play-learn- make cycle that will repeat itself throughout their lives. They explore their skillset and aptitude as they relate to the professional options they can pursue. Their college experience, then, becomes a safely scaffolded environment surrounded by guiding faculty and surprisingly gifted peers. It’s an environment designed to help students step into being extraordinary.

Art For Entrepreneurs And Engineers
Requiring hands-on art projects for those who do not self-identify as artists is similar to teaching science to students who don’t expect to become scientists. Practical art skills and the development of a healthy respect for what is learned leads to a deepened awareness of options to bring to bear on future endeavors. In college courses, almost any assignment can be turned into an art project that challenges students to imagine the world in a new way and to create pathways through it by exercising the skills and technologies
at their disposal. The context of these experiences can be adjusted to address issues that will come up in a student’s chosen profession.

In an approach that is becoming increasingly significant in startups and innovative projects within larger organizations, well-developed usage scenarios and well-articulated personas combine to inform engineers and entrepreneurs of the core values they are bringing forward through the intended use of their products. Artistic renderings enable quick evaluation of many options prior to “hard coding” a final product. Simple sketching, storyboarding and prototyping methods become tools for developing walk- throughs and quality assurance throughout even complex projects. Simply put, they force the organization to consider the world in a multitude of dimensions and to evaluate options that go unnoticed otherwise.

The learning outcomes offered by the experience of creating art involve not just the skills of producing artwork, but also the disposition to factor complex problems as well as the deep knowledge of the problems that are solved through critical thinking and methodical execution. Students emerge from such programs with an ability to commit themselves wholeheartedly to projects, to understand their role and to adapt to critiques of their work. They learn to play with new ideas in a fluid way, to toy with a variety of approaches to a given problem. From such free play, the imagination to try new things, to model imaginary worlds, radically shifts perspectives and opens opportunities for everyone involved. The adaptability required in such art serves to produce articulate and considerate members of entrepreneurial teams.

Skills
Just as coding serves as a starting point for software engineering, basic handwork forms the foundation of art education. Sketching starts for many as a fun way to doodle, to play with line, stroke and shadow, as a basis for increasingly complex structures. Once a student learns to draw lines of varying widths and to shadow, they can combine these elements to program objects and scenes, rendered in real time. They are challenged to consider the properties of light and perspective that shape a two dimensional image. They toy with various approaches until what emerges mirrors for others what the artist sought to convey. A skilled non-artist can develop their craft to such an extent as to inspire their collaborators to think differently, to imagine new possibilities, by forming a simple image for them to consider. Even a single picture can form the basis of decisions, which underscores their value to an entrepreneurial effort.

Basic sculpting skills bring such images into 3D space. Once again, beginning students learn by playing, in this case with clay. They feel the plasticity and toy with their sense of structure, texture and balance. They learn the language of addition and taking away, smoothing and adding texture in real-time. They create and destroy their work until they find admiration from mentors and peers. What emerges can be surprising, as by simply rolling clay into a log or straw or wire, they can create a leg or finger or wisp of hair. With a simple gesture, an eyebrow is lifted, a nostril flared or a muscle flexed to express emotion or vitality. They examine symmetry and perspective to craft works that literally stand on their own. Just as a startup needs basic underpinnings, so does each piece of
sculpture- it is obviously ill formed otherwise. With a basic level of sculpting skill, non- artists can render product ideas, make characters of customers (or partners) and render reference works that can be examined at all angles to show the effects of point of view, lighting, handling and usage.

Similar evaluation methods can be applied to painting, dance, music and acting. Each art has its own language to express, elaborate and accentuate. Traditionally, colleges have focused on writing skills and the results are unquestionably valuable. But, when we are talking about creating enterprises and making industry-ready graduates who can commit themselves to making startups successful, a broad exposure to creative methods can only help students become increasingly aware of their own unique perspectives, limitations and realistic expectations within fiercely collaborative environments. At the very least, traditional hands-on art classes offer engineering and business students the opportunity to stand up to critiques and to develop their voice in ways that can be applied to their chosen specialty.

However, what is strongly suggested in this paper: art skills should be applied towards telling a story to an audience. In many Fine Arts programs, the concept of coherence is not always considered an important ingredient. Unfortunately, graduates from such programs are not always well suited to startup ecosystems. Associate professor Reid Winfrey says, “Cogswell is a design school. Telling a coherent story, whether in a drawing, an animation, a 3D model or a game, is the most important thing.” As students advance, they engage in collaborative projects in which they take on roles in telling a story that is bigger than they themselves. These collaborations develop the “soft skills” that are a trademark of Cogswell students: the ability to imagine alternative scenarios and to harness their creativity across the boundaries of traditional disciplines to create new products, services and experiences through the resources of those involved.

Disposition
Creating artworks yield significant value beyond the expression possible via written words alone. Whether in class, club or studio environments, students form teams to produce sophisticated, collaborative works, to develop workflows and to define roles for themselves within dynamic project environments. Describing these with words alone does not do them justice, just as simply describing a business plan does not a startup make. At the heart of Cogswell’s approach are project teams that coalesce around bringing characters to life and bringing meaning to the stories they produce together. By way of example, here are two kinds of team approaches: the studio and the agency.

Studio projects involve a mix of engineers and artists who come together over multiple semesters to build an animated film, mobile app or video game. Since these projects evolve from concept to story and character development, through pre-production and production processes, students must wear many hats. They become co-creators, imagining scenarios and bringing them into being with sketches, clay models and written scripts. Each scene is storyboarded for evaluation and to inform the team as to the articulation needed for character models, environmental assets and audio soundscapes. Clay reference models are put under lights to identify how they can be presented with realistic integrity. Character sketches are elaborated to show emotion and emphasis, bringing to light the students’ deep understanding of anatomy and movement as they have learned through figure drawing.

interactive ebook emotional timeline from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTv8U7n_cIg


Going through multiple large projects, a student becomes a senior team member. These students are given responsibilities that mirror real world practices, to show “newbies” the ropes and to work collaboratively to solve the very real problems that inevitably crop up. For instance, once all the characters have been digitally modeled and rigged (their anatomy has been programmed to move appropriately when animated), the lighting and textures for scenes require unique skills in which a master rigger might become a junior lighting artist or a novice animator might supervise a group producing texture art to finalize the project. Veterans of such projects take to honing a breadth of skills in order to make themselves indispensable to the team and with an eye towards roles they might choose to take on after graduation.

Another kind of project is that of serving as an agency for external clients, often startups themselves. Typically, startups must focus their scarce resources on building a product that customers love. They don’t have the bandwidth to articulate their corporate message or the means to present their brand with sound and animation. While the outcome of such projects might be a one-minute video that exudes the client’s brand, the path to achieving an acceptable outcome provides students with opportunities to toy with a variety of possibilities and to respond to real-world feedback. In these projects, the students’ artistry must take a back seat to the story they will tell on the client’s behalf. They must imagine with the client to describe a world that will unfold with time.

Client meetings include all students on the project team. Students ask the questions and develop a variety of treatments for the client to consider. They learn to decode expressed views, develop briefs and receive critiques. In but one aspect of such a project, audio students provide soundscapes to evoke the emotions and energies that often go unexamined in traditional engineering and business disciplines. Mixing audio with characters and animations affords powerful story options. The students must listen carefully to both what is said and unsaid by clients who are often unaccustomed to working so closely with elements such as these that can unlock their narrative and bring their story to life in the world.

As the process continues, alternatives take on a resonance with the client and students can hone in on true needs. Typically, clients are surprised by the options and the freedom they have to choose or discard as they see fit. The team then executes a series of options based on earlier feedback. At the end of a six to eight-week process, a client makes their final choice, such as what is now on display at Hacker Dojo. In this piece, students imagined a world where everybody and everything is connected. They worked with the client to develop scenarios where the Hacker Dojo could be seen as an enabling platform for networked learning. They then created video animations and audio sculptures to express that world via the visual element of a puzzle piece that is carried from one project to another.

Video at http://www.hackerdojo.com/


These design and engineering exercises are not unlike that of a startup (where a problem is identified and a solution developed that provides such a benefit to a target population as to underwrite the costs of production and distribution): They are more easily said than done!

Knowledge
Students working on studio and agency projects exhibit a fascinating ability to access knowledge as needed to become experts quickly. In one film project, the class decided to
make the central character an animated goat. In order to model that goat so that the team might realistically articulate its movements, the lead modeler was prompted to research the bone structure and anatomical behavior of goats. Little did he know that a goat has no top teeth at the front of the mouth. As he designed his goat, what he learned propagated naturally across the team.

This describes what John Seely Brown calls “pull” learning: spreading knowledge throughout teams to radically improve overall performance. In this case, no one started the project as a science lesson. After all, the group played around with many ideas before deciding a goat would be their central character. Now the entire team can tell you more about goats than you might ever wish to know!

In an interactive ebook project that features a seven-year-old boy as its central character, students immersed themselves in the psychology and physical processes involved with discovering the world outside the family, particularly for boys of that age. They naturally re-imagined their own childhood experiences and integrated surprising features that enable readers to use their fingers to nudge illustrations, to shine a flashlight into the woods, to combine stars into their own constellations, even to add their own doodles to the boy’s sketchpad.

At a quantum level, the knowledge gained by observing teammates while co-developing illustrated and animated stories based on direct feedback through critique and reassessments provides an education that cannot be matched. The knowledge is tangible, timely and appropriate to the project at hand. The lessons learned have proven to last and evolve throughout the careers that lie ahead.

Art To Venture
Want to get to know your customers? Identify them in practice, develop characters that stand out and create a story around them. Animate your story with scenarios in which they experience problems getting to where they are going. Share your story and get feedback on your perceptions and descriptions. If what you share rings true, your potential customers will see themselves in your story and offer up their own accounts along with their appetite to change things if they could. Your customer stories need to be refined continually to provide your venture with perfect knowledge of every aspect of who they are and where they are going.

This is what many call “customer development”. It’s the lynchpin for validating a business idea and is second nature for experienced entrepreneurs. In its execution, there are no short cuts. Each new venture must start with a blank canvas and develop a true picture in order to build the right product. The stakes are high and failure must be accompanied by learning in order to pivot into a successful next chapter.

Unfortunately, most ventures develop these stories with mere words and numbers on paper. As should be clear by now, the language of words and numbers lack the movement, expression and emotion that surface through pictures, timelines and animations. Simple slide decks typically illustrate what was written, not what is true at a quantum level. Art, even as illustrated here, reveals what can otherwise only be described as a “gut feeling”. When “customer development” is executed in a straight- jacketed way, with a goal generating hoped-for data and optics limiting field of view, then a venture is doomed out of the starting gate.

But, when customers emerge in sound and motion, fleshed out in 3D, moving through scenarios that reflect the world as it will be, employees and investors “get it”. Creating such new worlds, to make a “dent in the universe” requires more than applying technology to a problem, it also involves articulating possibilities that do not yet exist and behavioral responses that have not been imagined before. Without bringing forth the skills we have described here to harness a collective imagination and to document using the technologies now at our disposal, ventures are limiting their chances for success.

Conclusion
On a recent tour of the Cogswell campus, a visitor abruptly stopped in a hallway and exclaimed, “This is what makes this place unique”! He pointed to the open door to his left, which led to a clay-modeling studio filled with students rendering figures poised to leap. Then, he pointed through the glass window to his right, which revealed a class of students at keyboards working their way through a Python class. “You force these people together”! It’s true. Engineers don’t have to go to another building to find an artist. Video game designers can find engineers without looking too far. For colleges to do what is described here might only require such close proximity, as is now available at USC.

Increasingly, employers from startups to studios to enterprises are not looking for what a student did in college. Rather, they are looking for what an individual might contribute as part of their team. A recent graduate who learns by “pull”, who commits enthusiastically based on the experience of previous projects, who toys with ideas and who mentors collaborators, stacks up well against more seasoned alternatives. Being comfortable crossing boundaries, mixing coders, designers and technicians, requires an imagination for what is outside a given skillset. It requires an appreciation for the perspectives of others and for the endless possibilities that can be brought into play.

And, just maybe, as artists become part of engineering teams and as non-artists learn what is to be gained through practice, the problems that are identified and products that are built can more fully benefit the population that uses them. Through the practices described here- sketching behaviors, employing storyboards to describe processes, developing personas to gain insights, painting scenarios and articulating the narratives that unfold in any business- loosely coupled teams can more effectively execute their plans, engage customers and persuade investors. What art offers might ultimately be a more refined imagination that opens new worlds of possibility to ventures of all kinds.

Star Thief Studio Teaser – Animated Film and Interactive Book

Friday, December 19th, 2014

We’re excited to announce the teaser for the project that Star Thief Studio – one of our newer studio classes – coming in Spring 2015!

Star Thief Studios - Animated Film and Interactive Book

Star Thief Studio is one of several on-campus Project-Based Learning studios at Cogswell College. These studios mirror professional production studios and allow students to collaborate with their peers – whether they be artists, animators, technical artists, engineers and sound designers – to create outstanding large scale projects.

= ABOUT STAR THIEF STUDIO =
Star Thief Studio is guided by faculty with industry experience and student work is regularly critiqued by industry professionals. We are focused on creating engaging story-driven content in the form of animated shorts and interactive stories. Currently Star Thief Studio is working on an unannounced project which will feature a stand-alone animated short and an interactive version of the story, bundled together as an app for the iPad.

Our development artists work in a dedicated studio space and use everything from pencil, paint and clay to Maya, Zbrush, Mudbox, Photoshop, Renderman and Fusion. Much of our digital painting and sculpting is done on Cintiqs. Our engineers use tools like X Code, Flash Professional, and Maya, writing code in Objective C, C++ Maya API, Action Script, Mel Script and Python.

Star Thief Studio offers students the opportunity to be an important part of a major project that will deliver a great experience, film credit and professional quality content for their demo reel. The large group, project-based environment of Star Thief Studio gives students the opportunity to develop and exercise the skills needed to work effectively with a team over an extended period of time. Skills like communicating professionally, being a team player, taking initiative and learning to lead, as well as managing time-sensitive tasks and completing work within deadlines. In the end, students will have work for their portfolios which has been refined to an extremely high standard and used in a major animated and interactive project.

See more at: http://www.cogswell.edu/student-work/studioe.php

http://www.cogswell.edu/student-work/star-thief-studio.php

Concept Art Process for Award-Winning Short Animated Films

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Kong Vang, Cogswell alumni and Art Director of two short animated films

Kong Vang, Cogswell alumni and Art Director of the two short animated films “Driven” and “Worlds Apart” – both created in Cogswell College’s Project X class – shares his process of creating character concept designs and more.

While working on the films created in the Project X class, I learned that it takes a very dedicated team to make a short film in four semesters or less. Many of the students on this team are attending classes full-time in addition to contributing their talents towards making an awesome film.

Here’s an overview of what happens during the production process of a short animated film: First the script and storyboards are completed and approved, within the first semester. Meanwhile, the concept team begins creating concepts for characters and environments.  Approved concepts are sent into the modeling pipeline as soon as they are approved where our artists create 3d models. As each model is approved by the Director, they are sent into the texturing and rigging pipeline. Technical artists create animation rigs for each model and prepare them for animation testing.  Animation is a long process so it is important to get the rigged 3D models to the animators as soon as possible. Animation takes almost a year to get all of the shots approved.  After the animation is polished, the first test of the film timing is created, approved, and sent off to the sound effects and music score team.  Also during the process of animation, approved shots are sent to the lighting team for light set and test render. When the finalized lit shots are rendered out, they are sent to the compositing team for the final clean up. After the composite shots are cleaned up and finalized, they are sent off to the film editor who creates the final cut of the film and music score.

On the latest film ‘Driven’, each member of the team wore different hats depending on which stage of the production pipeline the film was in.  For instance, initially I started out in the concept design pipeline, then moved to the animation pipeline and finally to matte painting for the final stage of the film.

One of my jobs as a concept designer was to collect the approved designs from the other artists and finalize them. Because most approved designs are from different artists, each with their own distinct style, the finalization process ensures a consistent look and feel. After finalizing the look and stylization of the characters, I would render each character in 2D using Adobe Photoshop so that it would represent its 3d counterpart.  This allows the Director to easily visualize how each character will look before it gets passed along to the modeling team.

Digital media is the fastest way to work and Photoshop offers the perfect tools and work flow for this demanding field. With infinite tool presets, custom brushes, and limitless iterations, it allows me to work more quickly and easily compared to traditional mediums like paint or ink.

To block out the initial character’s silhouette, I like to use a standard round brush, which I adjust into an ellipse shape, then angle it 45 degrees. This style of brush setup creates a line weight that flows much more nicely than the standard round brushes. Once the silhouettes and internal shapes look good, I create a new layer in Photoshop and start to block out the forms with one color value. At this early stage, I prefer to work in black and white.  It makes it easier to focus just on values and form rather than getting caught up about the colors. My preference in digital painting is to work from dark to light values, or shadows to highlights. It has been my experience to get results much faster using this method than trying to paint from light to dark.  I push and pull (lighten and darken) the values until the character forms are clear.  During this process, I maintain a wide range of values to create depth and realism.

Once the characters have been sketched out, it’s time to experiment with color palettes. I like give a slight color tint to the values before painting on top of the black and white image. The tint layer acts as a color wash so none of the black and gray value show through later. I create a new layer and set the Layer Mode to “Color”. I start by painting over the character with the color palette that the team agrees on. By using multiple layers, I don’t lose my original black and white image – and I can test out different color schemes.  Once I’ve added general color blocks to the characters, I use a new layer to start painting in details. For the final detail stage, I use textures and custom brushes to polish the look of the characters.

The development stages from concept to finished product vary from character to character; it all depends on what the Director is looking for. For example, secondary characters may be approved before main characters. Main characters are often challenging as they have to be visually pleasing and have the right visual attitude. On the other hand secondary characters have far less restrictions, allowing flexibility for designers to explore their creativity.

The concept team spent almost an entire semester designing characters. After four months and multiple iterations, all nine characters were finally approved. Once approved, I took the concepts and started finalizing each character’s look. It took me roughly four or five hours to render out the first pass of each character to show the Director.  One character in particular – the adult Biff cop – took almost ten hours to design.  After multiple small changes, the final designs were approved.

One of the most surprising and challenging characters to design was the Jet Bike that the main character rides.  Its importance in the film is equal to the character that rides it. Although there were many great concept designs shown to the Director, none of them were approved. That’s when I was given the tough task of designing the bike. After fifty designs, we started to narrow down the concept. Once the main silhouette was chosen, I mixed elements from the best three designs together to get the final jet bike concept. The process for this single ‘character’ took three or four weeks, from start to finish, working with traditional mediums like graphite and paper.

This is just the front-end of the production pipeline for a short animated film. It takes a strong team and lots of man hours to complete the film. In the end many people had come and gone, and lots of talented people contributed to the film. We were all so glad that the film was finally finished. It took the PX team about four semesters and two summers of hard work to accomplish the short film, Driven. The Project X class has given me the best hands-on experience possible. It has definitely changed my future and life for the better. Thanks Project X!

Kong Vang

Scoring a Film

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Unlike my previous projects, today I am going to talk about a future project I am somewhat excited of doing. This project is for my Desktop Audio Production course, in which we are given a scene from a public domain movie and we are to score the soundtrack, and put together the sound effects to the picture. The movie is a Sci-Fi title and we are to score the music as if the movie was a serious fil not something that was “cheesy.” This might be a challenge as a lot of public domain movies are edited very abruptly, so creating something that flows with the picture can definitely be a challenge.

For the project we are to put together the project and delivering it in a Logic session. As of right now I have some ideas as how to approach the musical composition, but as for the sound effects, I’m thinking I should try to design some sounds of my own, or use some sounds that are in the Cogswell sound library. I will probably end up using some of the samples from the library, and trying to make a few sounds of my own.  Sound design is one of the elements of the Digital Audio Technology program where students can really be original.  I am looking forward to having some fun with this project!

-Jared D.

Programming a binary search algorithm

Monday, April 11th, 2011

My newest software engineering project consisted of writing a program that would write a binary search algorithm. In my previous project, I had mentioned that I avoided using arrays, but in this project I had to use arrays. An array is an arrangement of objects, but in this case it would be an arrangement of integers. The binary search function should look into the array and find the index where the value is being held.

For this project I decided to take an extra step. I was to assume that the data pool size was given and the data was sorted. However I took the approach to figure out how to dynamically allocate an array in my C programming course during run-time. This means, that the program would ask the user for the size of the array, rather than having a fixed sized. This part wasn’t too difficult. I needed to allocate space in the computer’s memory in order to be able to create an array that will fit in the allocated memory.

So now that I’ve set up my array at run-time, I now gave the user the option to enter the data pool. However I had to make sure that the data was sorted, as the user may input the data in no specific order. This was tricky, as I have not worked with arrays before, I searched online on how to sort arrays, and I found out a sorting technique called bubble sort. Bubble sorting consists of looking through the array and comparing adjacent value and swapping them if they are in wrong order. This type of sorting is somewhat slow, but in my case, I’m not expecting to sort throw large pool of data. Great, so now I have established my dynamic array and I have sorted the array, now I can focus on writing the binary search algorithm.

The idea behind the binary search algorithm or half-interval search algorithm is to compare two values (the first index and last index) to the middle index of the array, if the values are equal, there value has been found, if not, it will take a new set of values and compare the middle index again until the values are equal. The comparison is done with by size comparison, is the middle index greater than or less than the search query.  For this part I tried a few methods and I wasn’t getting quiet what I was expected, so what I decided to do, was to visually see how the algorithm worked and for that I did an example on paper and pen. After I saw what actually needs to happen, I could then write the algorithm so replicate that process. I found out that writing the algorithm down in paper helped a lot as I was able to solve the algorithm after 1 single try after writing it down, in comparison with 2 of my previous failures of just thinking of the algorithm.  This is how I went about completing my software engineering project for my C Programming course. I enjoyed working on this project mainly because I did most of the work without getting extra help

-Jared D.

Programming a website

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Over spring break, I decided to try to use some of the knowledge I’ve learned in my software engineering class and try to apply it in other projects.  I found out that the programming language PHP which is used in web based applications, is very similar to that of the program language which I am currently learning, C programming. I finally found a side project to work on that would also help learn another programming language.  The project would consist of making a website that would allow the user to register and login to view the member only section of the website.

In my previous blog, I spoke about “for loops” and these loops also are used in similar way in PHP, lucky for me, I had some experience working with for loops. I was amazed in the similarity of the two languages. It seemed like I was coding in C with slight syntax changes, but the overall experience is very alike. Function calling in PHP is just like function calling in C, which helps organize the code so that you can read the code nicely.  I had to use a function call to display the country option in the register page, so that when the user puts in their info, they can also select what country they are from. Although I got the basic pages down rather fast, it took me some time to learn how to error proof the registration page, as I haven’t spent much time doing this. I had to make sure that when the user was asked to input some information that the field was not left blank or that if we ask for a first name, it wouldn’t allow the use of numbers, but would allow certain special characters that might actually be used in names.

Overall this project was interesting, although it is not completely finished, I completed a large section. I learned that material learned in class can be applied to other projects that don’t necessarily need to be of the same type, some skills are transferable and a lot of what I am learning are the building blocks for other programming languages.

Programming Pascal’s Triangle

Monday, March 14th, 2011

After long hours of studying and trial and error at Cogswell’s programming lab, I’ve finally completed my software engineering project.  The project was to re-create Pascal’s Triangle in C programming.

Sure, it may look easy, but I’ve stumbled across multiple problems with this project.  First I needed to decide how I was going to approach the problem, and how to create a formula for the program. Luckily, Pascal’s Triangle is a well known problem. There are plenty of examples online explaining how the triangle works.  After I figured out the formula, I then had to write a function so that the computation could take place and the output is printed to the computer screen. This is where I encountered the most difficulty, writing a function that prints the output in a triangular form. To achieve this, I had to use all the resources I had available to me:  the internet, tutors, and the professor of Cogswell’s software engineering program here. I decided to look online for examples of the same program.  Fortunately, a lot of examples online involved using methods that utilized arrays or the examples were just too sloppy, which meant that the project would be a good challenge for me. I thought to myself, surely there is a better way of making the program without utilizing arrays, and sure enough there was.

My solution to this problem was to make use of the “for loop,” a conditional statement where if all the statement are true, it will perform the indicated piece of code, or if the statements are false, it would proceed to a different set of instructions. At this point I thought I’ve finally finished my project, and all I had to do was to write the “for loop.” Sure enough, this is the point where I stumbled across the issue I mentioned earlier.  I had to figure out how to make the output print out in a triangular form.  The method I used to approach this was through trial and error with help from the debugger. The debugger allowed me to figure out where and when the program was printing the output, which allowed me to change the code to make the necessary adjustments so that it printed out correctly.

Finally I finished my project. This project may not seem like much, but I did get to learn valuable lessons from it. What I really learned from this project was how to use “for loops” and how to successfully use the debugger in order to find out where the problem is located. These tools are essential for any programmer to learn. The “for loops” are an important part for programming and can be difficult to understand as a first time programmer. Next time I am asked to write a program that uses “for loops” I can be assured that even though I may run into some problems, I will always know how to debug the program.

Student Project Makes A Difference

Monday, March 1st, 2010

DeanSala

Cogswell College prides itself in providing students with the practical real-world learning opportunities and skills they need to be successful in industry. An innovative spirit is critical in the digital media and engineering industries and Cogswell focuses on preparing students to problem-solve and think as an entrepreneur. Cogswell graduates are unique in their ability to address the needs of society and employers by using a blend of science, technology and art.

Dean Sala graduated from Cogswell in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering. He returned to Cogswell and completed his second degree in Electrical Engineering Technology in 2009. He represents what Cogswell’s programs are designed to do – enable students to turn their dreams into productive careers.

Following, he describes his senior project:

1. Briefly describe your project.

My project is a portable solar powered generator that tucks away into in a small brief case. When you open it up, there is a large solar panel inside that can be unfolded to an 80 watt sized solar array. The device includes an AC inverter, 12volt DC power, LED indicators and power switches.

2. What was the inspiration behind developing this particular project?

Well, I have always had a passion for solar energy. I am very fascinated how light can be converted to electricity.  But my inspiration comes from long camping trips that my family and I go on every year with friends and where there is no grid power. I have a camper with 12volt batteries and it’s a challenge keeping them charged when out in the wilderness. You can start the vehicle’s engine to charge the batteries thus producing noise and eating precious fuel. I solved the problem when I installed a solar system I developed. I guess you could call it a mini, off-grid system. I thought why not build a small portable version of this system.

3. What challenges did you encounter in bringing it to a marketable stage?

We are still being challenged with the marketing stage. It is very difficult to know if your product will sell. You get caught up trying to decide whether to purchase more materials, put them together and take a chance that you can sell the product. How many should we make? How do we find customers? How useful is our product really? These are hard questions. I am an engineer not a marketing professional. But I am steadily becoming better at it. Luckily my business partner is better at this then I.

4. I understand that the project started as your Cogswell Senior Capstone project. Did you originally plan to sell a product based on the technology?

Yes, I actually had the product idea before I came back to Cogswell. I guess you can say this was an incentive to finish my second degree. The fact that I had already figured out a lot of the technical details before starting Senior Project I made the process easier but not simple by any means.

5. Tell us a little about the company you and your partner have formed and your plans for the future.

We are now about one year into this. Our company is in the business of providing portable solar power solutions and perhaps solar panels themselves. We can make our own custom high quality solar panels. I think these solar panels are our greatest asset.  They are different because they do not use glass. Instead, the panels use a special Teflon front sheet that is better than glass.

For now, we have taken a step back and decided to make a small product to get us off the ground quickly. We are currently producing a small, 5 watt, folding solar USB charger. With special circuitry, we have been able to charge many USB type devices like phones, GPSs, etc, including the iPhone and iPod!

Our big goal is to make small to medium-sized portable solar power generators that could be used for a variety of applications. One of which is disaster preparedness.

6. How do you feel running your own company?

I have been a software engineer for many years working for a big corporation. There have been good and bad times working in the industry. Although, our company has not made any money yet, I am very motivated. Failure is not in my vocabulary. Over the years many colleagues of mine have always discussed new ideas and products that could potentially form a new company. I am finally doing just that and loving it!

Please visit Suntactics for more info on the company’s future products.

-Bonnie Phelps, Dean of Institutional Advancement

What do Comic Books and Dragons Have in Common?

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Dragon Mural

They are both elements of a new mural at Cogswell College – the result of a creative effort between 5 student volunteers and faculty member, Reid Winfrey.

Cogswell’s President wanted something on the wall leading to the Dragons Den – the room where the majority of the College’s events are held – that would attract attention and give visitors and students a reason to pause, reflect and experience imaginative minds at work.

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