Although I have a sheeshload of work to do and a list of books that I want to read that can keep me busy for the next couple of years, I still somehow manage to find other worthwhile lectures. And this one I feel the need to share here.

As the good engineer that I’m trying to be, I regularly read the IEEE Spectrum Magazine. Sometimes I read it online, or if I’m lucky enough to have co-workers who have done a Ph.D., they usually receive the printout version, lurking in their mailbox years after having finished the degree. This month, I read the Reflections column and, having no idea about its history, searched more about its author:  Robert W. Lucky.

I was surprised to find out that he invented the adaptive equalizer, which I’ve studied in one of my Master’s courses, more so because his name didn’t sound familiar. Was the time when people named their inventions after their own names gone by then1? I don’t know, but for sure the “Lucky equalizer” is a name you wouldn’t forget at an exam. Anyway, he also won the Marconi prize, which is kind of a Nobel prize in the field of communications2, so he’s a big name in the area.

So it turns out that another thing Lucky is famous is this column and, if you’re an engineer, you might like his articles that discuss various tech topics, the culture of academia, or the life of an engineer, in general. Plus, they’re five-minute reads, so they fit in perfectly when I have a procrastination craving. Here are some of the articles that I enjoyed the most:

I’m cheating a bit, as I first read his Ten Favorite Columns, and most of the titles listed above are all included in that list. A complete collection of his IEEE reflection articles is on his website and some of them are also compiled in his book, Lucky Strikes… Again.

These being said, I will be nitpicky and tolerant at the same time and I will say that I am ready to forgive him3 the article about the certain look that engineers usually have, which dismisses a (still small) proportion of engineers. You know what I mean. I, for one, have come to terms with the fact that I look nothing like an engineer. There’s even a mildly funny story that recently happened to me, which anti-mirrors his experience at the airport. I was on my way back from Romania to Switzerland, where I study, at the airport in Bucharest. At the passport control, the police officer, probably animated by the fact that it was the second day of Easter, seemed eager to engage me in a longer conversation than the usual:

  1. Greet.
  2. Give passport.
  3. Conspicuous look of the officer, trying to figure out if you’re the same person as in the passport.
  4. You wondering how much you’ve changed since the time that picture was taken (and what a horrible picture) and do you actually look like a serial killer?
  5. Officer returns you the passport.
  6. Say goodbye.
  7. Go find a place where you can kill time until WizzAir decides on the appropriate delay for the day’s flight.

No, the officer on that day was in a jolly, chatty mood. He asks, “What are you doing in Switzerland?” to which I reply that I’m studying there. He seems a bit taken by surprise, but recovers quickly, as if he had a reply that nailed the situation. “Aha… And what are you studying? Medicine?” A bit reluctant to crush his hopes, I say “No, I’m studying engineering.” Surprise again. A bit less transparent this time, he hurriedly asks “What kind of engineering?” so I deliver the magic words — electrical engineering — and that was the final nail in the coffin. Greetings on both sides. On my way to the gate. Needless to say, this confirms that I probably look nothing like an engineer. And back to Robert W. Lucky, I guess there’s something to learn about not agreeing with everything that someone you admire says. But more on that another time.


Footnotes

1. I remember that during a lecture a professor remarked almost with nostalgy that once upon a time it was so easy to name things after yourself that the simple triangular window used in filters is also known as the Bartlett window. Yup, it’s just a function that has the shape of a triangle, but I still remember the guy’s name. [Back]
2. I hope it’s clear that I’m talking about communications in engineering, the invisible magic sauce of smartphones. It’s a pain that, when mentioning my field, I always feel the need to specify “communication systems” or “wireless communications,” so that it won’t be confused with the PR stuff. [Back]
3. Because he obviously needs my forgiveness so that he can sleep better at night. [Back]


Credits

Header photo by Stellan Johansson on Unsplash