Wednesday, 26 March 2014

BRRRTZZL! Or: How Electrical Engineering Can Be Fun.

Well, it took me a couple of days to get this one up, because there is quite a bit to write and also because there's not much to write. I could write loads and loads about the teaching material, but I don't want to go too much into details of topics that - as important as they are for my future trade - are mainly basics for the function of the equipment we're going to use or are already using, and neither you nor I expect that I teach you what we've learned in 4 days in just a few paragraphs. Where it is important I will try and explain as best as I can though. But I reckon this will be in the future, when we are learning about effects (filters, EQs) and microphones (condenser mics in particular). So, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday brought a change in our curriculum. We got a new lecturer and we started a new big topic. For 4 days we had the first block of electrical engineering (Elektrotechnik), presented by Patrick Newman, an audio engineer and electrical engineer with a great sense of humour and a very friendly vibe around him. Half of the time he's laughing and cracking jokes and it's definitely a lot of fun listening to him explaining electrical engieering. The somewhat barren subject is quite enjoyable when Patrick humorously remarks what dangers there are when working with electricity and what we should keep in mind. Those kind of lessons tend to stick. That's how  physics and natural sciences in general should be taught: interestingly.

First Patrick taught us about basic stuff - units, definitions and a basic principle to be precise.
1. electrons and their purpose
2. electric voltage/electrical potential
3. electric current
4. electric resistance
5. Ohm's law
6. electric power
7. level of efficiency

But then he went deeper into the topic and we learned about direct current, alternating current, AC voltage and how AC voltage can be describe. Which is pretty simple: through amplitude, period and phasing. But of course, it's not that simple. There are two ways to measure the amplitude: peak value (Spitzenwert) and peak-to-peak value (Spitze-Spitze-Wert). Well, and then there's RMS value (Effektivwert), which is approx. 0,7 times the peak value. After that we went on to the protective devices in electrical engineering: ground/earthing, protective insulation and extra-low voltage.

(1) peak, (2) peak-to-peak, (3) RMS, (4) period

The next big topic which used up the remaining time of the electrical engineering class was "component". Not just any components but 2 very basic and important ones: resistor & capacitor (Widerstand & Kondensator) that are used in various ways in audio engineering through electrical engineering. With two resistors connected in series you can build a "potential divider" which you might know as "fader" and "potentimeter" (or poti). Of course there are also "current dividers", but they are rarely used in audio engineering, so I leave them out.

Capacitors can, like resistors, be parallel- or series-connected, but the formulae are inverted: formulae for parallel-connected resistors match series-connected capacitors and formulae for series-connected resistors match parallel-connected capacitors. So, it's not that bad to do the maths with those components.

There's one speciality all of us will need as audio engineers: frequency-dependent potential dividers (frequenzabhängiger Spannungsteiler). These interesting elements are built with a resistor and a capacity AC resistors (kapazitativer Wechselstromwiderstand). First I have to explain what a capacity AC resistor is or rather does. Normally, a resistor has the same resistance value regardless of the frequency. But this bad boy is different. He acts on the following principle: the higher the frequency, the lower the resistance he puts up. 
You might be asking now, why this is important in our future line of work. Well, it's quite simple. Depending on the setup of those two components you either get a low-cut or a hi-cut filter and you can't argue that those are not important for an audio engineer.

But I won't go into further details. If you're interested, you can find most of those things in a good physics school-book... or all of it at the all-encompassing, omniscient entity called "the internet" and its messiah [enter search engine of choice]. But I have another suggestion: start studying at SAE or become an electrical engineer. *wink*

I hope I'll get to write a bit more, but those electrical engineering basic aren't really fun for you to read and if you had electrical engineering in school or your professional education, you might know this stuff even better than me. So, if I got anything wrong, don't hestitate to shout at me what an idiot I am and how I could make such blatant mistakes. But keep in mind: I was studying law until January of this year and my knowledge of technical shizzle wizzle like this isn't what I wish it would be. But it will change after reading up on this subject. Promise.

Well, that's all for today. Cheers!


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