Storytelling Part I

Something's got me thinking about storytellers. Who do you know that is a great storyteller? Are they young? Are they old? Is it their style that's interesting or the substance of their stories? Is it because the stories are so vastly different from your own experiences or because they are so relatable? Are you interested in the stories based on skill or content alone or is there some motivation of respect for the person outside of them being a great storyteller?

I'm thinking here mostly of hearing a story, not necessarily reading a story. I think storytelling is such a huge part of our culture we don't even realize in what ways people use stories to frame who they are or form relationships with other people. But what makes someone a good storyteller?


Enjoy the Time Off

One of the both disturbing and also great things about the holiday season is that my regularly scheduled NPR programming gets interrupted. At first, I'm irritated. Then, I catch a program not normally heard out here, like the brilliant Radiolab.

Of course the advantage of it not being here means I can spend my time off glued to their podcasts, I lack only in popcorn.

Wear to Work Wednesdays #4

Well it's a working day again. For whatever reason(masochist, bad boss, too much work, no vacation time), you're in the office this week when you should be enjoying a holiday. I mean, the kids are off, your neighbor's off, but you, no you're working. So what to wear. Start off with some beautiful dangling earrings
Stay warm with this comfy, short sleeved cowl neck sweater
Underneath wear a thin long sleeved black shirt

Wear your basic black pencil skirt

And get all your walking around done (don't forget the tights too) in these adorable boots

Well back at it Science Soldiers, and keep up the good work (or whatever it is you do).


Drive On

No original thoughts here, just think this is badass.


Wear to Work Wednesdays #3

Another day, another dollar, and here you are back at the office. Wear this comfy scarf on your way in
Add in this excellent chunky bracelet

I like this nice silk shirt

Now get thee to a conference room, woman!


Chapter 1 Interactive Exercise

So I'm reading ahead over the holidays because while I am one of those students who shows up to class every day and does all the assignments (or tries to do all the assignments) I'm not one of those overachieving, naturally smart kids. I'm a C's pass classes kind of working-slave right now. So to get into the holiday spirit, I'll do a little "design problem".
Let's suppose all of Santa's reindeer get Swine Flu. So he's got to figure out some other way to propel his sleigh. We'll assume he's got a whole group of elves/interns/grad-students to build this thing once he decides on a design. We'll leave out the more complex decisions Santa might have to make and assume for today he's trying to narrow it down to what type of engine might be best.
We'll say he's got X quantity of reindeer poo that he can use as combustion fluid. However, he still wants his sleigh to be fairly fuel efficient if it can be as his magical reindeer poo (remember, they fly, so don't try burning the normal stuff at home folks) is what he also uses to heat his ridiculously cold and poorly insulated home during the next several months. We'll say he works as kind of a paper boy and need only toss gifts in the right direction as he whizzes by. So we'll reduce his circuit to three circumferential passes of the earth to hit the major population centers, or approximately 120,000 km. We'll also say he's got the rising sun behind him at all times and give him 24 hours (or 86,400 s) to make this route. That means he needs to have an average speed of 1388 m/s, which would be a mach 4 speed. Well that makes this kind of boring, but let's carry on.
Santa probably looked at a basic chemical rocket to start with (that's what his elves asked for anyways) and dismissed it straight away. An engine with a propeller can use the airflow passing through the prop to increase efficiency. This allows your propeller engine to have about ten times the thrust (per energy use) as your chemical rocket. But wait! While a chemical rocket can cruise along at maybe 5000 m/s max, your propeller engine can only max out at subsonic speeds, maybe up to 130 m/s. Why's that? Well, whatever speed you're flying at increases the propeller tip speed which increases the velocity of air that's flying at the propeller blade. This can't be very high or you end up with fluid separation and shock waves on the surface of your blades. Therefore, anything approaching the speed of sound is out for the prop.
So let's move on. I'll add in a picture here of the turbojet, turbofan and turboprop engines. The turboprop has an increased airflow that gives it a fuel efficiency advantage over the turbojet at lower air speeds. Your turbofan engine could be seen as a compromise between these two designs. It has an enclosed fan, allowing it to achieve much higher mach numbers, around 0.85. This is still not fast enough for our Santa though. Your turbojet efficiency is limited by the fuel to air ratio, which given how fast Santa plans to cruise shouldn't be a problem. Because he's going so fast, it turns out he doesn't even need a compressor in his engine. This leaves the ramjet design. With a maximum mach number of 6, and a compressor-free ability achieved at around mach 3.5 or mach 4, the ramjet becomes the most efficient engine at these speeds.
Great so we're done, right? Wrong! Ramjets can't operate at a steady state at subsonic mach numbers, so we'll need something to get us up there. Because the limitations of the turboprop, we might be able to get away with using a turbofan to get us up to mach 0.85 and then let the ramjet kick in or we might have to resort to a turbojet for the initial speed up.
This is pretty lame, as Santa is a toymaker not an elite R&D facility for hybrid engines. He's pretty PO'd. Because Santa's been supported by some US Government TARP funds (he had branded himself as a financial institution, and was heavily invested in some risky mortgage derivatives), we'll say he decides to stick to the US this year and outsource the rest of his route. We'll give him three passes over the US at an approximate length of 4000 km, and twelve hours of nighttime to get it done in (I know this is probably inaccurate, I'm not a time-expert here people). This means he needs an average speed of 279 m/s or mach 0.82. Perfect! Didn't we already say the turbofan was capable of speeds up to mach 0.85 and more fuel efficient than a turbojet? Woohoo!
Sounds like Santa's got some great options. Clearly, magical reindeer will continue to be the best option until our technology can catch up with it, but for now there are some viable solutions to world travel. And thank you, dear reader (the one of you who got this far, or the three of you who skipped to the last paragraph in utter frustration) for following along with me in Chapter 1. And feel free to correct Santa's calculations if you see any gross errors, after all he's still studying this stuff.


Comfortably Numb

I wonder if in today's day and age it's much more difficult to tune people out and retreat into your own mental world. Every time I try I'm brought back to reality, to the annoying person I'm trying not to listen to. Perhaps with the advent of portable music players, headphones, smartphones, blu-ray movies, and immersive video games we're just too used to getting really good engaging stuff from outside sources. And so we've forgotten how to really focus on our innermost thoughts and tune out the world. Today I really wish I could remember.


Wear to Work Wednesdays #2

It's that time again. Time to put together an outfit for work (ugh, work). Start with this interesting necklace

Pair with professional looking patterned blouse

Love this great tweed skirt with pockets

Finish off with shoes with a smidgeon of decoration

And don't forget your black tights. I know, live life on the edge I do not. Now get back to work!


No, I work harder

In honor of final exams being over, thank the Goddess (yes I'm reading The Mists of Avalon), let's talk final exams. Historiann posted an interesting discussion with some followup. Now Dean Dad has inadvertently picked up the same general idea in a question asked of him. Of interest to me is anonymous who posted in the comments with:
"The bottom line is that faculty jobs aren't 9-5, 50 weeks/year kinds of jobs. I'd love to be able to get all of my responsibilities during the semester done in 40 hours ... The alternative is to have me on a clock -- and pay me overtime."

What, exactly, are these professional jobs that are 9-5, 40-hour weeks, with nothing taken home, that pay overtime?

Every professional I know -- doctors, lawyers, teachers, IT managers, you name it -- works far longer than 9 to 5, either takes work home or is on call, and is not paid overtime.

Incidentally, the local teacher's union is currently making the same complaint -- "you people don't understand: we may have a contractual workday of 6 hours, but we have to TAKE WORK HOME." To which I reply, WHO ON EARTH DOESN'T?
Anonymous could've been me. Except I don't post anonymously (anymore), and would be nicer because I have no spine and worry even about being disliked on the internet by people I don't even know. But I thought the opinion was just one. I know some of you might disagree, I'd be interested in why.

10 Luftballons

DARPA recently held an interesting challenge, where 10 large red weather balloons were released and held at various points in the US with teams mobilized to find and verify all balloon locations. The winning team, from MIT (no surprises there, DARPA hogs), won in approximately 9 hours.
It's interesting to contemplate how one would mobilize their own "network" of people that fast, and under what motivations this huge (likely thousands) group of people would actually be motivated to take time out of their day to go looking for balloons. Frankly I'm impressed with any team that found at least two.


Here There Be Dragons

This morning a Delta II rocket launched from California and set off to map the sky in infrared. Sure it's no manned Moon mission or anything, but it's still pretty damned awesome.


Different Era

So I was watching an old sketch on SNL where they were making fun of Liz Taylor for being a portly 167 lbs. It was kind of crazy watching 1970s SNL where John Belushi was considered one of the more chubby members and in today's terms would probably not even be called chubby. I tried to console myself in that many of them were doing cocaine during that time as well.


Wear to Work Wednesdays

Because I don't think there's enough guidance out there for women in the "business casual" world I'm going to take some time to construct an outfit. Obviously each woman's tastes will vary, so this is only my taste. But here's some stuff I think looks really great right now:

Pair this simple turtlneck:
With these great slacks:

Add some cute and affordable shoes:

Add in the necklace of your choice for some flavor and call it a day. Dare your male colleagues not to respect you in your crisp, Katherine Hepburn-style slacks. Don't give them an inch.


Hats Off

For some insightful posting and comments check out this by Female Science Professor , and this by YoungFemaleScientist. I am really quite pleased at all the good writing going on in my Google Reader this week.


I Dream of Heat Exchangers

If I'm working on something intently I tend to dream about it. I don't suppose that's unusual. After watching a lot of Law & Order suddenly my dreams have that sound inbetween all the scenes (DUN DUN...don't lie, all you Law&Order addicts know exactly what I'm talking about). So when I'm working on something equally engrossing and technical I dream about that as well. Whether that's the software logic I was working on a few weeks ago for work, or my Heat Transfer design project that's been keeping me up nights for a while now.

Figure 1 FrauTech Plays With Visio

Earlier in the week my dreams involved me running the equations and not ending up with satisfactory results. Last night having finally finished the project my dreams involved the equations actually working out to realistic completion. Sometimes I feel like I'm about this close to being able to do my homework in my sleep. Anyone else have technical/sciencey dreams?


Self Doubt

So I got the courage to visit my professor in office hours. And interrupted a conversation between him and a colleague, to which the colleague looked agitated. Then I asked my question. Then the professor started to explain, and asked if I remembered the combustion equation of oxygen and methane from my thermodynamics. I admitted it was a bit fuzzy. He looked at me squinty eyed. Later he re-iterated the part he had helped me with was only the first part and that I sitll had the majority of this to tackle.
Thanks, I didn't feel retarded enough on my own. Yes of course I have memorized all applicable chemical equations in my head. Yes I know I still have most of this problem to do and I'm sure I'll meet your expectations by not doing spectacularly. I'll remember next time not to visit your office hours unless I want some patronizing and very little help. I'll go back to teaching myself the material since you'd rather not today.
On another, less bitter, note, Dr. Crazy was kind enough to respond to one of my comments as part of a greater argument over tenure versus renewable contracts. I'll reiterate here, that despite my bitterness towards my OWN professor today, I do believe tenure is the only thing that will keep researchers motivated to work for 10 years of their life for very little pay and lots of stress. And it has to be there as a protection so that academics can feel free to express their ideas and research topics that maybe wouldn't be "popular" with the powers that be. I just think the "flexible" (yes I said it again, I'm ready for the blowback) schedule that academics CAN achieve should not be undervalued as part and parcel with the carrot of tenure.


Nobody Panic, I'm in Charge

So what have we learned this week. That sometimes great learning opportunities can also be great failing opportunities. Or how would Peter Parker's Uncle have put it, "Sometimes with great power comes great responsibility; and great failure. Yes, huge, crushing, failure."
I thought I'd be on the bench today, but it just goes to show you some people are gluttons for punishment. They're thinking, Well it didn't quite explode right? I mean, what's the harm in sending her back tomorrow. Can't get much worse.
Thank you, gentlemen, for your vote of confidence. I shall carry on.



So let's say I've spent the last n years (where 1 < n < 4) working on piping systems. There's not much to a pipe; you get the standard components and they are portrayed in a diagram with the pertinent length information. I haven't been involved with pipe manufacturing, pipe layout, pipe design or pipe systems. Just the diagrams.
This has been frustrating considering I'm working on my degree and am not directly handling anything that will better aid me once I finish my degree. The interns have, up to this point, been given more applicable experience than me.
So due to the whole kerfuffle I whined about a few posts ago, I was finally given the opportunity to work on incorporating a new piece of pipe systems' hardware (more work for free, as my Mom would say). But it's been a really interesting experience. I'm learning a lot. I haven't contributed a whole lot, but here and there I've been able to get involved on some of the documentation. So using some other pre-written docs I had compiled a written procedure for part of the system use.
Unbeknownst to me, our customer had had some concerns with this system and stopped by to make sure we were running it all up to their standards. So as I was standing and working on other procedure, one of our guys and two customer guys come buy to look over our documentation. And our guy pulls out the packet and goes through it explaining what all we have put together. And there it is, my procedure. And he explains what it is to them and goes through it a little with a convincing familiarity. Let me tell you, I was pleased as punch to see my little procedure there being shown off to these guys like it's something important, and not something I just crammed together. Later I heard the customer was pleased and everything went well. How nice to have contributed to something. Finally.


WoMAN with a Plan

I really like this post by Evil HR Lady, not only for the grammar/spelling mockery, but for the practical advise. She reminds everyone that you need to have a plan. And not just one plan, for your current job and current company, but a second plan; for your career in total. I'm going to add this to my to-do list. It's true I think a lot about long term goals and short term goals, but it would be more efficient to have something really written up. Perhaps Evil HR Lady will expound on the how-tos, or perhaps I need to search her archives and see if she's already gone over this.

Good Signs

The Wall Street Journal reports more people are tinkering. I'm not at all surprised as I've seen much of this myself and think it's a sensible backlash against the financial system's fail, the overabundance of MBAs, and the crashing economy. The question is how much of a positive effect this will have on the economy. I'd like to think a lot. I'd like to think this is the kind of innovation seen at crucial times in history. Though the students are pulling away from the software/internet based economy of the 1990s, that was an important time because of all the cutting edge development and the sudden ability of an individual to start their own company and create and market their own product. So though these students are pulling away from that model in their minds, they are actually benefiting from what lessons we learned about what people are capable of. So I'm excited to see this noted as a national trend. I think this can only mean good things, and better engineers.



I was so angry today I spent five minutes digging through my purse for my car keys before realizing they were IN MY HAND.


What Was I Thinking

So before I went into engineering, I was a political science major. Life was easy. I worked some breezy part time job that was completely unchallenging but had some friends there and was totally mothered by all the employees. Then I graduated and the harsh realities of the real world started to sink in. First, I couldn't seem to land a paying job in anything at all related to my degree. Political jobs were for the most part non-paying, and even then the few non-paying gigs I'd try to land while still in college never panned out. I was frustrated by the obvious practice of filling these jobs with cronies or family members, especially the paying jobs, leaving a whole bunch of students like me stranded.
Not to get off on a soap box, but there's way too many people my age who graduate every year with useless humanities degrees. We were told all we needed was a degree and our intelligence and determination. But I couldn't even get a job that would match the not-so-posh student pay I was making. So I landed an unrelated job at a good company elsewhere and started to make plans for a more challenging and more rewarding career.
Fast forward four or five years. Corporate America has sucked more life out of me than I knew I had. The bags under my eyes have their own bags. I get called "m'am" more and more. I'm not bitter about the choices I've made since, I think I've done the best I can with what I have. But I didn't foresee how this technical, white collar institution would be so much like my former field of study. The politicking. The cliques. The gossip. The undermining. I certainly expected plenty of this, but what I didn't expect was how often it gobbles up the technical or even profit-making goals. I knew I was going to have to "play the game" to succeed. And I'm glad I didn't come in with any naive expectations since I'd already had most of those destroyed after the fallout of my first degree. But it wears on me. Every time I think I'm getting away from it, every time I've cleared a little space in "technical experience" land an army of shmoozers and corporate yahoos tries to invade. I keep hoping that at the "next level" I'm going to be able to settle in somewhere. Build up some defenses on a small hilltop and enjoy a few years of relative security. But maybe I'm fooling myself. It's not that I'm averse to playing the game, I could probably get good at it if I really tried. I just didn't think that's what I'd be doing right now, so early in my career. So I'll keep trying to clear that space and keep trying to build my fort and hope that it's not all in vain. Maybe this next year is my year.


Fire Hose

I have a tendency to talk over people. In an annoying way. When they are trying to explain something to me I will just interrupt them and start talking right over them. Sometimes I feel like one of those hose attachments. Either I'm completely off, or on at full pressure. Either I'm sitting in a meeting unable to say anything or offer anything, or I'm talking over everyone. Either I'm unable to make small talk or I'm just interrupting someone trying to have an actual conversation with me. I can't seem to find the happy medium.



I'd like to think my car is fun. Fun to drive and fun also because of all of its "quirks". It's like a person, getting older and getting more and more little issues. Just that the pharmaceutical companies haven't found a way to capitalize on auto-aging (yet). How about a list for fun.

  • On cold mornings the heater doesn't work, even after 20 minutes on the freeway. And I'm not talking that cold.
  • On hot afternoons, or during periods of idling, the car tries to overheat.
  • The passenger side window motor is going out.
  • The passenger side window seal is falling off.
  • It takes a while to start in the cold or when the tank is low.
  • Sometimes the engine won't turn over at all and the key needs to be taken out completely then re-inserted and it will start.
  • The car randomly locks itself, sometimes locking people inside.

Too bad there's no overcompensated industry benefitting from all these little ailments. Instead there's only me to appreciate them. As I get a little older, and get called "ma'am" more often, my car gets a little older too.


Start Counting

How many times a day I want to crawl under my desk and curl into the fetal position. I'm sure this can be directly correlated to exactly how much respect I'm getting any particular week. The number's been going up a lot lately, to the point where I have to resist the urge multiple times an hour. That can't be a good sign. Or maybe I should just give in.


Thanks For Nothing

Dear You,
You know who you are. You are, I am fairly certain, about to hold me back yet again doing what you think is in my "best interests" but of course implicitly stating you think I don't know what's best for myself. The fact that I know you at all should have helped me. But it hasn't. It's always hurt me. If you didn't know who I am I would be free to go on the path that I think is best and I have seen many people have the freedom to do so. But here I am with you holding me back. You think this is best for me, that these people will be good mentors for me. They are not. They don't care. And if you lecture them on my development they are just going to resent me even more. I am so ready for a change and obviously someone else agrees my skills could be of use and that there would be development for me elsewhere. But once again you're going to hold me back aren't you. I'm dreading the phonecall. Not from you of course, but your name will be mentioned. And we will all have to abide by your decision. Thanks for all your "help".


Thanks for the inspiration!

So one of my professors sends an email out to everyone in several different classes urging us to pay attention in class or we're "in the wrong major" and as motivation links to a popular consumer product.
Now, don't get me wrong here, I'm all for paying attention in class. But I think linking to some consumer product that was likely made by a talented inventor is not necessarily what most people go into engineering for. If you already have those skills, you don't need the motivation. And if you don't have spontaneous million-dollar-idea skills, the things that might thrill you are things like this or this or this or this.
Maybe that's the problem with science and engineering. People get the idea there's some sort of quick fix out there, that you can develop oxyclean and become a millionaire. They miss how cool developing something is, even a small subsystem of an overall more impressive project. And that's what the engineers my university educates will likely be doing. So why do professors continue to mislead? Either I hear about that, or they talk about the workplace like it's some kind of '90s style "no bad idea" laid back atmosphere when in reality it's a lot more paperwork and drudgery, but the payoff comes in the thousands of unique and considerable pieces of hardware being developed for all sorts of purposes. I think they miss their target, as well as fail to prepare students, when they present the world in this way.


The Engineer's Apprentice

So I was listening to some classical music on the radio the other day, and they played Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. You know, the one from Fantasia. The one with all the centaurs. (on a side note, apparently the original had some racist elements to it, search youtube for the "uncut" version and you'll see, I don't believe I ever saw the uncut).

To get back to my point...I was thinking what we need is a Fantasia for Science. The same way that colorful little centaurs or dancing mushrooms or dinosaurs made classical music accessible to children for decades to come, we need a similarly splendid "digestible by the masses" scientific cornucopia of media. I don't know what that would be, just something to sink your teeth into.