QBasic Instinct

PZ Myers has an interesting post up about the human instinct for war and violence. He's discrediting the theory of humans as natural aggressors. I just laughed myself out of my chair with this quote:
Most of our interactions with other people are regulated by deep-down protocols that we're socialized into — if someone cuts into a queue ahead of you, we don't pull out a stone axe and take care of the problem, we either roll our eyes and acquiesce or we complain verbally and get other people to shame the interloper. It's relatively harmless. We go to work, and maybe you share an office with annoying jerks (of course you do, we all do), but we don't go on a rampage and fight the boss for dominance, so we can purge the tribe of the ones we detest, who borrow our stapler and don't give it back — no, we grumble and accommodate and cope somehow, and maybe try to work our way into a better position with social networking.
Given how wolf-pack-like my group already is with everyone competing for dominance it's totally fun to imagine this playing out. Standing at your cube, hissing at others and peeing on the floor to mark your territory. Triumphantly jumping on the copy machine and growling. Asserting your position over the interns with nips and bites to keep them in check. Your boss in his office with a pipe fighting all-comers to maintain his authority. I don't suppose work would get done in this scenario but it's interesting given the group dynamics are already there, just without the violence and physical confrontation. Or maybe I just want to see my boss fight a giant lizard is what I'm saying (ok Gorn).

BBQ Tips and Quickies

Ok this has nothing to do with BBQ. In an effort to jump on the 4th of July holiday bandwagon a few people are misunderstanding the spirit of summer. First, Paul La Monica of CNN Money says our recovery will be a "BBQ Recovery: Low and slow". Haha, I get my kicks from timely summertime headlines.
In other more explodey news, some coolant company decided to melt an engine block in an effort to advertise their coolant. It's cute because it's on a grill. Get it, summertime, grillin? No? Well just look at the burning and then buy some coolant. Personally I prefer my engines more on the rare side.


Enough to make a libertarian cry

Apparently there is a program being funded (by the guv'ment) to make better alcohol detection devices. Apparently, built in breathilizers in your car are just out of style and passé. I guess that's just too timeconsuming and unfair to those convicted of drunk driving to ask them to BREATHE first before starting their car. Whether this expensive new program is going to be as accurate as a built in breathilizer remains to be seen. But clearly those involved in the program foresee this become a requirement for everyone in all cars regardless of your DUI convictions.
I'm not a libertarian, so I'm not totally against that. It seems like it would save lives. I do see us having to build our cars to be smarter than us and prevent us from killing ourselves. I know a lot of motorcyclists who say if there was no helmet law they wouldn't wear one. So we'd all kill ourselves if left to our own devices. Problem is with cars you end up killing each other. Even living in a state with cell phone and texting laws I still see people all the time yacking on their cell phones. I guess the fine involved is not substantial enough. I predict in the future cars will come with some system that kills your phone signal and forces you to only route it through your car from the hands-free bluetooth phone functions that are already in a lot of cars. I can see where libertarians start to whine and cry about calories on menus and a nanny society, but when that system saves your child's life because some other driver was stupid, I think we can all see the benefit to that. But libertarians just aren't happy without a government to rail against. And free-market anti-government nimrods don't see the need for regulation until there's a whole ocean filled with oil.

July Scientiae Carnival: DreamCorp

Summertime and the livin is...well not quite easy, but here we go. JaneB is hosting the July Scientiae Carnival and I thought I'd finally trick my procrastinating evil twin into taking a nap while the productive half of me writes my first entry. The theme is Fantasy Institute.
The rules of the game are simple - you have been selected as the Director of a newly endowed research institute. It is your job to decide where the institute will be based, its codes of conduct, its structure, and who you will hire.
Naturally I work in industry so mine might be a little different from the usual posters, but variety is the spice of life, yes? A good (profitable) engineering company needs a product. Something that sells so that you can keep all your employees gainfully employed. In DreamLand I'd pick something "friendly" that still required some engineering know-how, but something where I thought there was room for improvement. For me, right now, that is wind turbines.
Designing a blade is no easy task. And once you get past that hurdle, there's material and size. I keep thinking what with all the development in carbon fiber material there's a real opportunity to make bigger, lighter wind blades. If you get the weight right, you should be able to get more power. Plus being green is so the in thing right now, and it's nice to have something your employees can be proud of. Once I've gotten my successful line of wind turbines off the ground and running (or spinning, as it were) I'd try to make the company a better place for my employees. I'd branch out and have a strong R&D department. DARPA has usually got something kickass going and I'd identify defense and DARPA contracts that wouldn't require a lot of capital investment but would rely on the smarts of my engineers. Then I'd use the R&D department as a reward incentive. You do well, you get to spend more time in it. You do great and come up with an idea you'd like to try, we'll roll with it. So much of engineering is reinventing the wheel and I think managers fail to realize engineers need mental rewards just as much as financial to keep doing well.
Work environment would be a maze of offices, rooms and desks. I think cube farms are terrible, but of course where do you stash all your people. It's not always space smart to give everyone an office, but sequestering people into smaller rooms rather than one large one can foster teamwork and positive relationships. On top of that I'd have a few general use spaces; a "quiet" room, and a few open conference rooms anyone could use at any time for group or solo work. There's only so many days a year you can stare at your wall. And definitely would need a lab or two where everyone felt welcome to drop by and tinker on their project. You learn by doing and keeping engineers away from the doing is not creating good engineers.
After all that, obviously there'd need to be free coffee for the employees. And maybe a soda fountain machine. I mean, what can that cost compared to employee satisfaction. I'd make an effort not to grow too big too fast. I think it's a mistake to hire too many new people when you could be using the same money to reward your best people already on the project. I'd fire people who don't do their work, have bad attitudes, and lie. Bad eggs bring down everyone else's morale and most managers are cowards who are afraid to deal with them.
I know that's a lot more "don't do this" than "do this" but they outline what I see as the dream institution. Formal mentor program, and group/specialty training rotations for new hires rounds it out for DreamCorp.


Now, what did you say?

I'm tired of the double standards. Especially the one where women have to be meek and kind and subservient to get shit done(good thing HerrTech doesn't read this blog, he hates it when I curse needlessly). A couple weeks ago one of my colleagues told me not to become "a bitch, like so-and-so" is. So-and-so is extremely polite and optimistic. She encourages everyone, even douchebags who should be slapped back to Failville. (Failville, the new Farmville for Failbook!) But I guess any woman in authority becomes a bitch. He attempted to correct himself and say that that was ok and necessary in the business world, that he himself was an ass more often than not. But the fact that his immediate impulse was to not appreciate how authoritative, confident and proactive she had become was discouraging.
So imagine my lack of surprise when this all broke out on the blogosphere. Where two of my favorite female bloggers were called out for being bullies on the merits that they had called out another blogger for being a racist. Supporting data that when people left comments on their site they actually defended their own opinions on things or disagreed with said commenters. And other people disagreed too. That made it a conspiracy.
But the problem here isn't discourse or what has happened to being polite and the usual whining about anonymous commenters on the internet...the problem is two women had strong opinions. This isn't allowed. Even on the internet. Even where either one of them could be a dude in real life pretending to be a woman (for what purpose I don't know, but there you go). All it takes is an internet moniker where someone can place you in the female category and then immediately lump in all their stereotypes about what you're doing right or wrong. Isis gets accussed of blogging about her kid too much or blogging too much about shoes. Because in order to be a "true" feminist, I guess you can't like shoes or heels. That is just wrong. And on the other end of the spectrum Zuska is often insulted as being not feminine enough, one of those "hairy legged" feminists. So there's no winning. And now because people read their blogs some douchebag is asserting they have "power" and that by disagreeing with other people on the internet that is considered bullying. I hope said douchebag moves on to topics of more interest because Isis and Zuska know as well as I do the real crime here; blogging/writing/speaking while female.

I became an engineer for this?!

I haven't always been the smart and talented pseudo-engineer you see before you (and I've never been modest). At one time in my career I did the dirty work; cabling. Nobody becomes an electrical engineer and thinks "I know, I'm going to design cabling systems and draw schematics!" No no no. You're probably thinking robots. Big, scary, zombie-killing robots. And nobody becomes a mechanical engineer to put together cable parts on a drawing. You were probably thinking badass jet engines or missiles or rockets or what a Transformers movie would've been like if Michael Bay hadn't fucked it up. Twice.
Then there's this terrible void inbetween; electro-mechanical devices. Much like Dante's Purgatorio it is all stillness and emptiness and boringness (is that a word?). Electrical engineers try to pass it off to mechanical engineers and vice versa. Engineering is all about passing the buck. You do your bare minimum within the confines of your responsibility and then pass off the project to somebody else with some quick justification as to why it's now their problem, I mean project. So like a dinosaur lingering too close to a tar pit I sometimes get pulled back into this morass of electro-mechanical devices with their silly wires and ridiculous rules of heatshrink and sleeving. Like apparently nobody appreciates it when my power cables spark and everything explodes, even if there's an action star nearby to run away from it in slow motion. So there you are staring at line after line on your drawing thinking: if I had wanted my work to be this tedious, I'd have become a software engineer! Have I insulted enough engineers in one day? Yes? What are your pet peeves for least favorite tasks oh dear reader(s)?



Germany has a "big" game coming up, they made it into the final 16 to face off against England this weekend. Germany's Özil has been a breakout star or "starlet' as some news sources are dubbing him. I realized why he kept catching my eye in games (beyond his obvious talent). Peter Lorre's twin? You decide.

For bonus footage, here's a great picture of him frickin flying, which is probably why he's been able to kick such ass in the games.


Honda Fit vs Ford Fiesta Part II

Now to looks. Fiesta offers a baseline four door that actually runs cheaper than its hatchback. But for the sake of comparison I wanted to compare hatchback to hatchback, and compared the lowest trim of each. Both are cute in their own way and your preference over which one looks better is going to be a personal thing.

The color choice was limited on the Fit. Again, this is looking at the lowest trim option only, so likely more colors are available on higher trim Fits or the Fit Sport. So Ford was clever here to include a wide variety in their hatchback, maybe because their sedan is actually their lowest trim on this model.

Interior is very close. Don't let the pictures fool you as the Fiesta picture includes leather seating that you can not get in the lowest trim hatchback. So obviously that's going to look nice from the photo but you can see both have a very similar layout, similar use of space and nothing special.

A look at the dash shows both car companies are learning you have to make your dash look nice. People want to see lit-up widgets on their dash they same as they have loaded onto their iGoogle homepage or on to their Windows 7 desktop (do you hear me Chevy?).

I thought I'd give this one hands down to the Ford. If you've been looking at the new line of Fords (Focus, Taurus) you'll see they've done a lot of work in redesigning the "view" from the driver's seat, and to great effect. But here I think the Fit just looks cooler. Maybe it's the blue, maybe the lights are brighter, it just looks a little nicer.

The final consideration for a car is of course the price. Lowest trim hatchbacks of both (remember the Ford offers a slightly cheaper sedan) left the tally at Fit-$14,900 and Fiesta-$15,120. Certainly not much of a difference, clearly both cars are aiming for the same demographic and the same price range here.

In conclusion, I personally think the Fit has an edge in looks; both interior and exterior. But the mileage of the Fiesta can not be argued with. Since they're priced the same, and horsepower and torque are pretty much the same, I'd have to leave the deciding factor up to a test drive. Maybe next year.


World Cup Fever...

...I has it. Now so does my car.

Honda Fit vs Ford Fiesta Part I

When I heard about the Ford Fiesta I was very excited. Ford slipped it into its line-up by moving the Focus up in price a bit from its initial offerings, but it makes sense they'd want to add a sub-compact to their range. It's true that most consumers are not looking for small cars and that it's hard to convince an American to want something of that size but I'll bet oil prices start going up as soon as the economy has recovered and then the Fiesta will be in a really good position. For now it's competing with all the other sub-compacts (Versa, Fit, Aveo, Rio). As someone who will be replacing their 65 mph oil leak, I mean my car, in a year or two I wanted to compare the Fit to the Fiesta.
At first glance they are very similar. Horsepower and size they are almost identical. And for me looking for a car, horsepower and mpg are probably my primary concerns.
Head room (front)40.439.1
Leg room (front)41.342.2
Shoulder room (front)52.752.7
Hip room (front)51.549
Despite similar interior room and exterior size the Fiesta comes out ahead on the mpg. This could be because it's a generation newer (2011 Fiesta vs 2010 Fit). It might be we'll see Honda try to play catch-up and improve their mileage in a year or two the same way the 2010 Camaro outdid the older Mustang on a few things. Now it looks like Ford is releasing their 2011 Mustang with these things running the other way; the Mustang sporting slightly better mpg. I'm sure in the next release of the Camaro, rumored to be 2012, we'll see Chevy trying to catch up again.
So this difference might be temporary until Honda makes much of the same design choices that are already in the Fiesta. But right now, on mpg, there's a clear winner. Tune in next time for comparing that all important car feature: its looks.


No pudding until you eat your meat

I don't talk about work a whole lot on here. If I got too specific with some of the kickass stuff I get to do, I'd probably be fired. And frankly, the kickass stuff is usually sandwiched between a bunch of big, fat, boring slices where I'm making spreadsheets, lists, and powerpoint presentations. But here's something that's on the plate. This fancy graph from my propulsion book shows you a little of what goes into designing a good turbocharger.
On the y-axis is your compressor's pressure ratio. This can vary based on what components go into your engine or by varying your altitude and effectively changing your incoming pressure. On the x-axis is a function of your mass flow of air going through the compressor. In design you can change your compressor ratio and change how much air flow you're letting get through there as well. Typically you'd run some tests and they'd plunk out this neat little graphs. Each line shows how efficient your turbocharger is being. You come up with a baseline like this, then you can increase/decrease your mass flow of air (the easier option) or switch crap around to change your compressor's pressure ratio. On the left is the "surge line". You definitely don't want to be on the other side of that. When you do you get something uncomfortable as seen in this video below. That strange flapping sound is the sound of surge.


McChrystal gets told, Iraqis aren't cold

That photo almost looks like Obama is grabbing General McChrystal's boob. But I'm pretty sure he's about to do some kind of impressive martial arts or maybe a force push to slam McChrystal into the wall. When your Generals are treating Rolling Stone magazine like it's their personal therapy session or think gabbing and gossiping like talk show guests is cool you have a problem. McChrystal is no better than all the dumbasses who tweet about their boss or facebook-status complain about their company and he deserves the axe more than anyone laid off this year does. However, I'm sure he won't be too hard hit as he'll probably have his own hit Fox TV show before the year is out.
In other war news, an Iraqi minister decided to be the fall guy for continuing electricity problems in Iraq. Seven years later and these guys still can't turn on a frickin lamp reliably. I guess it's no surprise the country that didn't bother to fix its levees, isn't doing anything about global warming, can't stop our ocean from turning into a life-killing oil well, and can't seem to get a joint strike fighter built on schedule or make a simple decision about which fueling tanker to use. I mean for [deity]'s sake, the Chinese built this:
And seven years later we can't turn on the lights for the Iraqis? I bet we could squash this insurgency once and for all if these young and unemployed kids had video games. They'd be like me every Saturday: pale, fat, avoiding sunlight, getting "achievements" on my Xbox, and too damn lazy to go do anything. But here's where I'm not sympathetic.
But even with the generators, you can't run air conditioners - only fans at best. So you talk to Iraqis and they just talk about how miserable it is and how it is so difficult for the elderly, the young, or the sick. And now that security has improved in much of the country, people are rightly asking: Why can't you fix this?
Really, Iraq? You're complaining because all you have are some fans? I mean I think it's pretty damn lame you can only run your electricity a few hours a day. But please don't complain about not having AC. I don't have AC in my house or my car and have not for 20+ years. I live in the desert and I am doing just fine. You want AC stop fighting each other, get some frickin industry and get it the way the rest of us get it: at work. I'm ready to go lay all the blame you want on the crappy engineering in the US of A, because we certainly can't help ourselves so why the hell would we help you. But please, AC? I wasn't pulling for a "cut and run" strategy anytime recently, but now I sure as hell think we should get outta there. You'll get your shitty infrastructure the same way we do; by the skin of our teeth or never.

Lady Gaga, feminists stereotypes and the myth of sexual power

There's an interesting opinion piece in the NY Times called Lady Power. The author is Dr. Nancy Bauer, philosophy professor at Tufts. She starts off with a risky sentence.
If you want to get a bead on the state of feminism these days, look no further than the ubiquitous pop star Lady Gaga.
Yuck I immediately thought. Lady Gaga is a dime a dozen pop star not an example of a feminist. However, Bauer seems to pick this up right away. She seems to be referencing the problem that a lot of today's young women "embrace the old canard that a feminist is by definition a man-hater".
The tension in Gaga's self-presentation, far from being idiosyncratic or self-contradictory, epitomizes the situation of a certain class of comfortably affluent young women today.  There's a reason they love Gaga.  On the one hand, they have been raised to understand themselves according to the old American dream, one that used to be beyond women's grasp:  the world is basically your oyster, and if you just believe in yourself, stay faithful to who you are, and work hard and cannily enough, you'll get the pearl.  On the other hand, there is more pressure on them than ever to care about being sexually attractive according to the reigning norms. 
Bauer seems to understand how there's a new game in town. One where women can supposedly be anything they want to be, but are punished if they don't conform to cultural/societal standards of beauty. And it's hard to say someone like Gaga (or many of the other 'strong' women out there) are really changing norms and encouraging women to be self-confident and feminists when they themselves conform so perfectly to the visual standards that our society accepts of them. So what that she wears weird clothes or weird hats? As Bauer says...
Of course, the more successful the embodiment, the less obvious the analytic part is.  And since Gaga herself literally embodies the norms that she claims to be putting pressure on (she's pretty, she's thin, she's well-proportioned), the message, even when it comes through, is not exactly stable.
Bauer addresses the near-heartbreaking way this middle class woman tries to convince herself she's living her own narrative rather than one written for her. Convince herself that being objectified somehow gives her power. This is I think the most poignant part of Bauer's piece (yes it's wrong, but it's worth it to read the whole thing).
If there's anything that feminism has bequeathed to young women of means, it's that power is their birthright.  Visit an American college campus on a Monday morning and you'll find any number of amazingly ambitious and talented young women wielding their brain power, determined not to let anything — including a relationship with some needy, dependent man — get in their way.  Come back on a party night, and you'll find many of these same girls (they stopped calling themselves "women" years ago) wielding their sexual power, dressed as provocatively as they dare, matching the guys drink for drink — and then hook-up for hook-up.

Lady Gaga idealizes this way of being in the world.  But real young women, who, as has been well documented, are pressured to make themselves into boy toys at younger and younger ages, feel torn.  They tell themselves a Gaga-esque story about what they're doing.  When they're on their knees in front of a worked-up guy they just met at a party, they genuinely do feel powerful — sadistic, even.  After all, though they don't stand up and walk away, they in principle could.  But the morning after, students routinely tell me, they are vulnerable to what I've come to call the "hook-up hangover."  They'll see the guy in the quad and cringe.  Or they'll find themselves wishing in vain for more — if not for a prince (or a vampire, maybe) to sweep them off their feet, at least for the guy actually to have programmed their number into his cell phone the night before.  When the text doesn't come, it's off to the next party.

It's tough because women should feel free to be as sexual as they want to be. That it's no longer a man's domain to enjoy sex and be promiscuous. But at the same time, being convinced that this is some kind of power when it might well be making them feel empty or used doesn't seem like feminism to me.

Bauer goes on to discuss Jean-Paul Sartre and being both an object and a subject, and unable to reconcile the two. Then she brings up Simone de Beauvoir (whom Bauer has a published book on Simone de Beauvoir, Philosophy, and Feminism.)

When it comes to her incredibly detailed descriptions of women's lives, Beauvoir repeatedly stresses that our chances for happiness often turn on our capacity for canny self-objectification.  Women are — still — heavily rewarded for pleasing men.  When we make ourselves into what men want, we are more likely to get what we want, or at least thought we wanted.

It's not a short opinion piece, and the inclusion of Lady Gaga might make you think it's some useless pop culture reflection either praising her or shaming her. But Bauer does neither, and teases you with a few philosophers to give you a taste of analyzing the self-objectification vs power in today's society. For my own part I can picture these young women. I work with some of these women; walking the fine line of acting in a way that makes them feel free and powerful but also succumbing to visual standards and confusing power with objectification. I don't think Bauer or any self-labelled feminist would tell these women they are doing any wrong either way. The road they walk is not one where walking a certain path will give them the power they want. They can only try to achieve some satisfaction in making choices for them and not for somebody else. But we can't be holding up our women to impossible standards (the virgin/whore complex) or expect them to always be happy with the limited set of choices they are being given. I'm not a philosopher (Dammit Jim...) but I think Bauer captures this dichotomy pretty well in a relatively short opinion piece. I hope the inclusion of a pop culture icon means more women are reading this and feeling less guilty or abused over the decisions they've had to make. I think the message in the article is more empowering than anything Lady Gaga is doing.


Ways your significant other is like your cat

  1. Will sit there patiently listening to you but not actually listening to you.
  2. Want your attention when you're just falling asleep or just waking up.
  3. Need to be coddled every now and then when they've had a rough day.
  4. Think most of the bed/couch/chair belong to them.
  5. Start to get grumpy and noisy if they are not fed.
  6. Love to have new toys, but may spend more time playing with the wrapping.
  7. Can entertain themselves for most of the day.
  8. Appreciates things about you nobody else does; like your body heat.
  9. Perfectly happy just to lay around the house with you.
  10. Will sometimes kill bugs for you.


Are you smarter than a kindergartener?

In an effort to compete with students from China and Europe, US children as young as kindergarteners are being included in engineering for kids programs. First of all, don't you hate that we can't do anything in this country unless we're competing with somebody else? Like the USSR fails so suddenly we don't care about space anymore. Btw, read Frank Morring Jr's wonderful What We're Giving Up on his On Space blog, it's the same old argument for why we need to go into space but with a human element that almost breaks your heart.
So back to that engineering program for five year olds. Developed by the Museum of Science in Boston, it's called Engineering is Elementary and includes a bunch of cool looking projects and shiny new books with illustrated kids all over the globe taking you through each project. For instance one of the projects is designing windmills and the kit the MOS provides includes paper, cards, twine, fishing line, sticks and tape. Presumably the accompanying book or chapter for that unit walks the kids through what windmills are used for and how to make them in something geared towards their grade level (the windmill project is for grades 1-2).
I think it's fantastic just to expose kids to the word engineering when they are that age. Show them it's not some big scary thing. That they already have the natural curiosity to take stuff apart (the expensive things you buy them) and put stuff together (legos come to mind).
But let's not kid ourselves here (har har). I know all these little monsters want to do is replace me. Come into the workforce just when I'm getting tired and show they can be faster and younger than me. And now they're training them so young, how can I compete with a 5th grader? What manager is not naturally going to be drawn to their youth and how cute they are, and give that person all the plum assignments! A conspiracy I tell you.


Perception, with all four of my eyes

From FlowingData. Pretty amusing, what do you guys think, do glasses change your perception of others?


Star Wars and the Zombie Apocalypse

Sometimes I feel like Han Solo. I mean, I think we'd all like to be the cool and detached scoundrel with badass piloting skills (Who you callin' scruffy looking?). Sure when you were eight years old you wanted to be Luke Skywalker, but then you grew up. More and more though I feel like the Han Solo of my work. It's like they're all convinced we're doing this really great thing. And maybe a few years ago you could've convinced me. I believed that the experience was worth it. That it was ok to get crappy raises and be monumentally undertitled. But you know what Princess? I ain't in this for your rebellion.

Ok? I am here for my reward. As in the almighty American dollar. I need you to pay me before I can continue to grovel for you and pretend tomorrow's powerpoint is more exciting than the price of coffee or frozen orange juice on the commodity exchange. And speaking of Han Solo's reward. why is it in a bunch of ammo cans?

My best theory is that in this technologically advanced world where space travel and hyperdrives are the new normal, laser weapons are also older than dirt and somebody had to figure out what to do with all these surplus ammo cans. I mean what do you do when you're an arms manufacturer and everyone stops using the projectile weapons you've been selling for generations? I guess you dump all your useless ammo and convince everyone the cans are the best place to keep your money. That or Han is thinking of travelling to some post-apocalyptic America where everyone's busy fighting over 9mm rounds and gasoline, mad max style.

So bottom line is I'm not here for your cause. I can no longer convince myself that just because this is a "good thing" or because you need me I'm going to sacrifice all my mental well being, extra time and financial security on your behalf, ok? Because maybe I need to start buying up the post-apocalyptic currency of bullets of gas and build a shack on top of a well in the middle of nowhere. Maybe I need to buy weapons for both zombies and nazis, ok? So I'll get on board, I'll back you up Luke Skywalker when you need to show the board members that you're a "great shot." But first? I need my motherfucking reward.


Pay me in coffee

Saw this alarming news that coffee is up by 20% in the last six days. Sure enough a trip over to ICE Futures shows some helpful graphs of what coffee's been doing over the last day, three months, and a year.

By the look of it I'd suggest buying into coffee now (or maybe that should be sell your coffee now, I always was the kind to buy high and sell low). They also have this helpful guide on coffee as a commodity. Goes to show I'll click on anything with coffee beans on the front of it. Love their chart that shows the biggest importers and exporters of coffee in 2007. Europe is kicking our ass in coffee consumption and it's interesting how much these biggest exporters really depend on coffee and the price of coffee.

I tried to get into the coffee trade but I kept drinking all the shares I owned.


Get 'em while they're young

We were over at the inlaws over the weekend to mooch off their cable and catch some World Cup (gooooooo Deutchland! Ultimate champeeeeeeeeeens!) My eldest sister-in-law is fifteen and has expressed prior interest in maybe marine biology or maybe ocean engineering. She asked yesterday if we'd be needing the calculators we have as she'll be starting Algebra II next year and needs a graphing calculator. Unfortunately we'll both be using ours in the fall but I said I'd look for an old TI-82 that used to be mine (I guess the kids these days use TI-84s or TI-84+ or something).
It got me to thinking though about an opportunity here. Usually I try to be an example of a woman in engineering, but I'm not even sure these girls know what I do or what I'm studying. But maybe they do and maybe it means it's something they won't rule out purely on gender. It's hard for me to be an avid recruiter for women in engineering because some days it's so hard I can't imagine bringing another innocent soul into this world. I asked her if they did fundraising for the calculators like they used to, but I guess not anymore. And it sounded like her parents didn't want to buy her a new calculator and had probably prodded her to ask her older brother for one. That disappoints me a little, as they are not dirt poor and a good graphing calculator can be the foundation to a great engineering career. I know plenty of people who swear by theirs, whatever model they learned on, and it's one of those things that's part of your toolbox for life.
So I'll have to talk to my husband about this. I mean, I can give her the old TI-82, that is certainly an option. But maybe we can offer to split the cost of a new one with the parents. And maybe part of the deal is she has to take a few tours. There is a local site that if I can find someone willing would be a fantastic place to fuel her interest in science, and right up her alley. I haven't wanted to push what I do, or what I think they should do on to them. I made some bad decisions but I ended up okay and it's hard finding that balance of letting them choose an interest but also not letting them flail around lost and confused. I could take her around where I work as well but somehow I don't know that MegaCorp would be as exciting. It would be a great "backup" idea for her if she does go into engineering, but I'm not sure it's what she wants to do. It's hard walking the fine line between being a positive ambassador to my field without becoming a used car salesman.



It's one of those days where you've been assigned some horrible list-making, power point embellishing tasks. You're an engineer. You'd rather be writing about your injector failure and actually get something accomplished from that day you spilled fuel all over yourself. ("Is that you?" "Yes, it's my new fragrance, Eau de Diesel.")
So you can't even wrap your mind around this atrocity that will reduce all your carefully crafted test plans to a few business-y slides with some clipart cause some guy in a suit wants some justification for what you're doing next week. Instead you're thinking about cookies, and structural integrity. And you're thinking, what kinds of cookies would make a better building material? Clearly oatmeal has its advantages, and chocolate chips tossed in would make a better strengthening mix than raisins for sure.
And then you find out someone's making this android-linked coffee machine recognizes you from your phone, plays your music, and brews the cup of coffee you want it to. Or maybe that's how the robots want us. Nice and relaxed, too coked out on our coffee to resist them. Hello! Skynet anyone? I don't think that powerpoint's getting done today. Better to wait for Our Robot Overlords anyways, they'll probably have their own markups of my presentation.

More on coffee



BP, Coffee, and Tears

I haven't talked much about the BP oil spill. Because it's tremendously depressing. And I feel the mainstream media outlets are doing an excellent job at showing you once adorable birds covered in oil and doing miserably. And the fact that BP or the platform builder had no real plans for catastrophic failure is disheartening.

But not surprising. I do work for an engineering company, I know how the "this won't happen to us" mentality is there, how the most inexpensive solutions are looked for, how it's about putting out little fires and ass covering and not about making big improvements ahead of time or seeing little problems before they become big problems. Probably a symptom of corporate america (capitalism?) moreso than engineers. Just goes to show engineers are people too, and no smarter than your retarded mortgage banker or your SEC regulator or your Ivy league educated Presidents (pick any). And I'm no chemical engineer, and certainly can't comment on the validity of their solutions or the timetable or anything. But tip of the hat to Evil HR Lady for this great video:


Fog of Warhammer

Any day now they're going to figure me out. I have what you might call imposter syndrome. But not so much about work anymore. I've decided not to care if they think I'm competent or smart. Because who cares. The way they pay me would seem to imply they don't so what the hell should I worry about that anyways.

No I'm worried somebody's going to figure out I'm not a real adult. I do all these things on the outside that make it seem that way, but honestly I'm just faking. Sure I own a house, I work a full time job, and I just finished up my last final exam for the quarter.

But I'm worried someone's going to walk into my house and find the kitchen a mess. It's Thursday and we're out of spoons again. Or see my table covered in two months worth of mail. The threadmill's got blankets on it and hasn't been used since January. I've only eaten vegetables once this week. But instead of fixing it all I can do is wait in fear that someone's going to figure me out.


Wear to Work Wednesdays #8

Another summer outfit for warm days in and around the office. Shirt by Eshakti, pants by J Crew, shoes by Payless. Happy working days!


I think I Can't

So I'm a bit of a cynic. When you announce your intentions to become a professional interpretive dancer, and everyone else is just standing there smiling and nodding their heads, I'm the one who's going to tell you how and why it's not going to work out for you. Not like it matters since I've never heard of anyone really changing their minds once set on a thing like that. NYU started calling their students and verifying they were aware of and ok with the high tuition cost and they still kept paying $50k a year.
I had a good friend in high school who was a dreamer. Even then I fancied myself a practical person. I had a major picked out by sophomore year and figured I had a good idea of some jobs in that field as well as some backups (of course it turns out I wasn't practical enough, or didn't have enough backup plans, hello College Part II). So this friend. He told me he wanted to create stuff. I kept asking him what that meant, did he want to be a movie director? Not exactly he'd say. He just wanted to leave high school and create stuff. Well I probably tried to stomp all over his tentative plans like the hard boiled bitter young pessimist I was already becoming (my Native American name is Dreamcrusher).
Turns out that's what he does now. He creates stuff. He's a bit of a minor internet superstar. I don't know if he makes any money off of this stuff (he still lives in Hometown, but then again, so do I, so that's not conclusive). But he has travelled to other countries, and done videos for major game websites like IGN. And obviously he's not starving to death so some kind of support is coming in from somewhere. And he looks happy. And he's doing what he always told me he wanted to do. So to all the people who's dreams I've walked all over, and insulted them for naive, I'm sorry. There, I said it. When you told me you wanted to be a chef at a restaurant and I belittled your dreams and told you you'd probably quit the program after a year- I'm sorry. When you were convinced you were going to open your own business and have more money and more time teaching Austro-Hungarian Jujitsu to preschoolers and I laughed your face off- I'm sorry. Turns out I can be wrong. Turns out some people really can live their dreams. I don't think it'll make me any less cynical or bitter than the coffee I drink but my eyes are open just a little more.


School: what is it good for

So I have a little bit of graduation envy. The bookstore has a centrall displayed cap and gown setup and it's hard to see that or graduation announcements and not feel a little left behind. One more year to go but it sure seems like a long year, and it's hard to really accept it since I had been hoping I was graduating this year. So I guess I'm afraid to really get my hopes up and invest in myself.
Ever since I started going back to school (College Part II) I've asked myself certain questions; How will what I'm learning in school tie in to what I do on the job? How much of this will I need to retain? How much of this should I have memorized? How will my grades affect what kind of engineer I will be? What makes someone a good engineer? How do I become a better engineer?
I'm finally to the point, four years in, where I'm starting to figure out how the education connects to the job. Even working full time I couldn't quite connect the dots, so I can imagine how daunting it must be to a "traditional" engineering student with less experience. A lot of it is proving you can learn the material, and being able to teach it to yourself again if you forget or learn something somewhat related. So much of the job is measure, test, report. When you get into the senior level classes the same core class materials you keep coming back to are the same you might need on the job to run an equation or get a baseline. But for the most part, engineers are not physicists. You always run a test. And some of the smartest guys I know who can pull some wicked analysis out of their heads or put together something really impressive in matlab usually learned it on the job. So it's never too late to be a better engineer.


Hot Jobs

The Federal Government releases its Occupational Outlook Handbook for every year and then news sites make the best of it by making silly lists like the 10 top paying jobs for women or the hottest jobs for the next decade.
The WSJ has an article looking at the same issue and I think it makes some good points. Like how recent nursing graduates are not taking over the market like they thought the would. In fact, I'd bet the recession and delayed retirement has had a huge effect across all industries. Journalists keep projecting some mass retirement of our nation's scientists and engineers that has yet to pan out. There's still an overabundance of PhDs given the number of jobs out there. I'd argue of course we need more to be a strong, competing country but that relies on businesses creating these jobs or the government and tax payers deciding it's a priority.
I have more hope for the former case given how well the local fundraising is going to save a planetarium. The author discusses how such facilities inspired him to want to be an astronaut or astronomer growing up and even he is torn on whether money to save the place is worth it. Obviously a bunch of angry parents can put together a facebook page but seem to fail where it comes to shoveling out their own money. And certainly fail, like most places, in allocating more tax tollars to education or science resources. We want it to be there but seem to think someone else can shoulder the burden of making it happen. We want to go into space, but seem to think NASA wastes too much of our tax dollars...so now we won't be going into space (manned) anytime soon. Reminds me of an acquaintance who admitted if there was no helmet law he probably wouldn't wear his while riding his motorcycle. So clearly, we'd kill ourselves if it wasn't for some independent entity, so it's no surprise that entity (the government, or The Man, if you will) needs to be the leading edge of our attempt to boost science. And that's not looking so good in the current climate.
So I got a little off topic and ranty, but one thing in the WSJ journal article that stuck out to me was a quote from a 28 year old who went back to school for a career in filmmaking and will "do whatever it takes to land a job in film photography. It's going to be hard, he says, but it's totally worth it. " And to me that seems like one of the symptoms of the disease of jobs and science funding right now. This kid is absolutely certain that with X amount of effort he will achieve, after a certain point, his goal of Y. But effort, or wanting, does not automatically lead to payoff. "Suffering" through something doesn't mean you will automatically "earn" your payoff. Life has a way of not being fair. If there are only 10 new PhD jobs in some specific field of science, and there are 50 new PhD graduates, there are going to be 40 angry or frustrated people. People who probably put in the same effort as the 10 lucky ones. And when you as a country decide your tax dollars are too high and that you want the government out of your lives so you can  go on living the way you please you can't come crying when your planetarium closes or when some unregulated oil platform dumps oil all over your shorelines. It's terrible, but it doesn't matter how hard you work for something. Sometimes it's dumb luck, and you will definitely have to suffer to achieve your goal. But sometimes you won't achieve it anyways. Sometimes working hard and paying what you think is too high of taxes just isn't enough to pay for the planetarium, get astronauts into space, or be an effective watch dog of the banking or offshore oil industries. Something's got to give.