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Comments on James Boyk's Course
"Projects in Music & Science" (EE/Mu 107)
California Institute of Technology
From Former Students & Others

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Students are not asked for comments until after they've graduated.
No negative comments are present because none have been received.
Emphasis added.

 

Comments Received in 2002
"Exactly the kind of thing I came to Caltech for ... my most memorable, unique class.  —Ben Brantley '00. (TA in 107.)

By far my favorite and most memorable course at Caltech... I would rank EE/Mu 107 among the top of all my Caltech courses, along with CS91 and the EE5x series taught by Glenn George.  —David Barksdale '96 BS E&AS. (TA in 107. Projects: Class A headphone amp, Class AB high-bias-current minimal-global-feedback power amplifier.)

A perfect blend of engineering and science.... Best class I took at Caltech.  —Bruce Miller '89 BSEE. (Project: Stereo miking demo CD.)

Taught me how to approach engineering like science.... filled in many of the gaps left in the more "mainstream" classes while still being a lot of fun.  —Ken Walsh '96 BSEE, MS'97. (Project: Very high speed linear phase D/A.)

EE/Mu 107 provided a great opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge I gained as a Caltech student to practical problems.... As a working engineer, I find that practical experience and good instincts are often as important as theoretical background. EE/Mu 107 is one the relatively few courses at Caltech that can provide that practical background.... One of the most enjoyable and interesting of all my courses.  —Chris Ulmer '93 BS/EE 1993, MS/EE 1994. (Project: Software to implement a spectrum analyzer that could display spectral change of sounds.)

I liked the freedom to design a unique project and execute it, learning what works and what doesn't through direct experience.... I'm now glad that I was required to listen to live, un-amplified music on a regular basis.  —Victor Chan '89 BSEE. (Project: Enclosures for 24" woofers).

By far the best course I took (and TA'ed for) at Caltech. Its blend of music appreciation, writing refinement, audio technology, and practical experimentation involving both material and human resources, is probably unrivaled anywhere in academia. This is a course that deserves far more recognition than it receives, and is perhaps Caltech's strongest and most unique offering.  —Mark Neidengard '97, BS Computer Science; MS 1998. (Ph.D., Cornell University.) (TA in 107. Project: Two-term investigation of the perceptual accuracy of the MPEG audio codec, culminating in blind comparison testing using Caltech students.)

The personal attention all students received in this course, added to the encouragement to explore areas we were truly interested in, was an unusual experience for me as a student at Caltech. Learning how to work on long-term projects has...been a great help. As I was not exposed to any other engineering courses while at Caltech, EE/Mu 107 provided a way for me to learn about engineering by combining it with one of my life passions (music). As evidenced by the fact that I took the class for four terms, I rank the class very highly.  —Brigitte Roth '99, BS Economics. (Projects: Electric guitar. Science of the voice.).

[O]ne of my fondest memories and most valuable experiences [at] Caltech. I learned to listen carefully to what I hear...learned an approach to writing that I had never encountered before...learned that there is always more to learn. If Mr. Boyk's teachings could be summarized in three words, they would be: 'Relentlessly pursue excellence.'  —Glenn M. Lewis '88 BSEE, MSCS '90. (Project: Infrared audio link.)

It would not be an exaggeration to say that it has given me a more profound sense of the world, for it certainly opened up my ears and my mind.  —Eileen Lau '96, BSc Electrical Engineering.

Far and away the most "real" [course] in that it didn't revolve around contrived problem sets and scripted experiments that had been done hundreds of times before. The only class... that required me (through field trips) to get off campus and interact with real people doing real work in related fields. The practical training in technical writing, experimental procedure...and construction of projects have all been beneficial in varying degrees. I've written about a dozen technical descriptions of services my company provides, and the writing training from EE/Mu107 has proven invaluable. The writing training has also helped me take on managerial responsibilities as my company has grown.  —Steven Ginzburg '98 Computer Science. (Projects: Winter 1996: Used polygraph to measure subjects' physiological response to various pieces of music. Spring 1996: Built and listened to the Nelson Pass "Zen" amp.)

"The best course I've taken."  —Adam Urbach '97.

I took EE/MU107abc as part of the inaugural class [1979-80].... I am now the Director of R&D for J. D'Addario & Company, the world's largest manufacturer of musical strings. I spend a lot of time evaluating the way our products affect the production of sound. I am often asked to develop objective measurements that correlate well with what we hear, or asked to substantiate (or refute) claims of sonic superiority of technologies or products. The training I received in EE/MU107 has been invaluable for this type of work.
     Mr. Boyk's emphasis on the importance of clear and concise writing was unique in my education and a major positive influence.... I think that every Caltech student would benefit from taking his course as a writing requirement!
     EE/MU 107 was one of the three most valuable, influential, and enjoyable courses or experiences at Caltech (along with Olaf Frodsham's Glee Club and Prof. Middlebrooks' EE114). I wish I could take this course as a refresher every year!  —Fan-Chia Tao '81 BSEE. (107 projects: Decoder for rear/side speakers. Experimental test of theories in "The Language of Music," by Deryck Cooke.)

I learned some basic signal processing theory and some electronics. "Raw" information, so to speak. Then I learned less tangible things. What do I like about the music that appeals to me? What aspects of this can audio systems reproduce sucessfully? What aspects don't seem to make it through to the far side of an audio reproduction chain? And then, how do I evaluate an audio system? Do I make up my mind instantly, or do I sit with it for a while? What kinds of details can I listen for? What would it mean to defocus from the details and take in the gestalt? How useful is theory in predicting the performance of an audio system? Are the good audio systems exactly the same as the audio systems that measure well, or do these categories merely overlap?
     As the teacher, [James Boyk] convey[s] great enthusiasm, something I only got from a handful of Caltech profs.  —Mike Mossey '91 BS, E&AS. (107 projects: Loudspeaker and cabinet design. See photos on Music Lab home page.)

 

Comments Received in 1988
"More real laboratory science went on in that class than in any other I took in my Caltech career." —Bruce J. Sams III '83. (Ph.D. Astrophysics, Harvard; Max Planck Institute)

"The highest standards of scientific honesty and thoroughness were demanded.... Supremely valuable." —Denes Zsolnay '84.

"Valuable in that it was the experimental class in which things were the least clear cut. In [other courses] the experiments were completely cut and dried." —David Hull '85.

"The theory of double-blind testing was not presented in any other course I took at Caltech." —William Snyder '82. (Later chief engineer, Krell Electronics, makers of Class A audio amps.)

"EE/Mu 107 is of international importance... I instituted a third-year Option course in ĎAudio' which follows [its] example..." —Prof. Peter B. Fellgett FRS; Head, Dept. of Cybernetics, University of Reading (England); co-patentee of Ambisonics and the Soundfield microphone.

"One of the most valuable courses at Caltech." —Caltech Prof. F. Brock Fuller, Mathematics

"Unique perspective on the art of engineering.... Made clear to me that instrumentation is merely a tool.... Excellent input on technical writing style." —Rick Walker '82. (Hewlett-Packard/Agilent; holder or co-holder of 13 patents)

 

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