Thinking like a manager

It just occurred to me how high turnover might actually be a cost savings for the employer. I mean, you hire a bunch of young engineers, they take 2 years or so to get up to speed. You work them for the next 5-7 years until they're burnt out and hate engineering and leave to become yoga instructors. Then you just hire new ones. The two years you lose training an entry level engineer is probably more affordable than the salary increases you'd have to pay that engineer if he actually stuck around after a decade of abuse.


Crucial Milestones

First, humans learned to use tools, such as rocks to pound their beans.
Then, humans discovered fire, so as to heat their water.
Next, people invented water wheels and pipes for improved irrigation.
And finally, the Romans developed concrete.
Now the pinnacle of human dominance over nature: the concrete coffee machine.


Amazing Medical Developments!

Do you have problems checking your email? Do you often forget your underlings' names or feel compelled to make rash decisions? You may have, Executivitess. But don't worry, there's a cure.

We here at BioBlöd Labs have been working on developments in the biomedical-technological-venture-capital sciences to help people just like you. We have a patented and FDA approved treatment to make your life better. You probably stay up late at night asking yourself questions like, Am I going to have to fire another secretary? What was that guy's name who gave me that report that I used to impress the shareholders? Why do I have to have the burden of so much responsibility around her and all I get is this huge paycheck? What kind of yacht should I buy this year? Why do my employees working on Saturdays feel the need to call me during my golf game? And what's my daughter's name and who is this lady sleeping next to me?
Yes, it can be overwhelming at times. But medical science has the answer for you. You may feel tired often and have difficulty sleeping. If so, this is definitely the treatment for you. Ask your doctor about it or contact us for the free brochure. The good news is our treatment is a proven and effective method at overcoming Executivitess. You'll be happier. You'll have more time and energy to not play with your children. You'll find yourself able to think more creatively allowing you to finally profit from your totally incompetent employees while you relax and feel better about yourself.
Ask your doctor today.
Stop waiting for everyone to appreciate and respect how important and essential you are. Finally get rid of that guilt over making three hundred times as much as the person who performs an essential function by emptying your wastebasket every day. Don't feel so pressured about all those emails asking for a decision or warning about a potential flaw in the product. These meddlesome little problems and anxieties are behind you.
Ask your doctor today.
Give yourself that extra boost, your golf game really deserves it. Master that placid smile you wore when you purchased last year's Ferrari. It's your right to be happier, less guilt-ridden, and more empowered in your ability to look down upon others. Free yourself from the problems of your past.
Ask your doctor today.
Symptoms may include douchebaggery, selling your soul to Satan in exchange for $0.02 extra shareholder profit, worn out palms from whipping your employees with expensive leather flails, carelessness to the point where you forget some of your relatives are actually normal people too, getting indignant when your employees complain about stagnant wages while you're accepting a mere tripling of your yearly bonus, running out of devious ways to motivate or demotivate your employees and resorting to responding to their complaints with general meaningless phrases like "huh" or "is that so" or "umm"...

Engineering Changing the World

So often we take our technology for granted. Family arguments can now be settled by someone pulling out their smartphone and accessing wikipedia. We can send email to a vendor overseas and receive a near instantaneous response. You can watch live video of shuttle or International Space Station astronauts streaming on the internet or on your television. Access to information is easy for those of us in the middle class western world.
And yet it's hard to fathom the ships of 1865 having the capability and the audacity to line the first transatlantic telegraph cable. That's some of the cable above, showing you the cross sections from this great site which has scanned images, maps, diary entries, news articles, and detailed descriptions of the whole venture.
I particularly love this piece of art showing the American eagle and the English lion with a cable and an ocean inbetween them, made to commemorate the clever businessman who's idea this all was. CBS news his carrying a brief article on this right now, but better to head to this site to get more details, first hand accounts and more accurate information. It's hard for me to believe they were able to accomplish this on the wooden sailing ships at the time. Harder still to know the initial attempt at running a line to Newfoundland failed when the cable snapped and they ended up going back later and miraculously retrieving it from the bottom of the ocean. It was clearly not an issue without its detractors given their was a saboteur on board the ship that laid the cable.
When completed it allowed telegraphs to be sent between at a lightning fast speed of 2 minutes per character, later 2 seconds per character with the 1866 cable. The cable predates Verne's 20,000 Leagues and yet opened the door to communication not possible before, messages that would have otherwise taken weeks. In today's world it's easy to see how technology has changed us. People question how its changing us, with some of the usual scare tactics claiming its weakening us; that with shorter attention spans and the constant attempt to multitask we're becoming a less capable society, generation by generation. That could be a whole three posts in and off itself. So I'll just stick with how impressive it is this feat was accomplished in the mid-19th century, how important it was to international relations, and how it continued to be a trend that follows us into our modern world today.


Work Travel Redemption

Well it was off again for work travel. Nothing like a boring rental car and a long drive to get you in the mood. Often, the most interesting part of a field trip is not the destination but the journey. Some unexpected view from the highway as you're rumbling along. The actual destination was a scene out of the new videogame, Red Dead Redemption.

The game is an Old West action adventure from Rockstar so naturally each scene is something out of a Sergio Leone film. You can almost hear Enio Morricone's famous western music rolling along with the tumbleweeds or expect to see Clint Eastwood come galloping over the next hill. Just picture it a little flatter and with me in a rental car instead of on a horse (and no cool hat either). There were also a couple impressive views and rock formations along the way. Oh and our hardware test went well. That was the point, right? Well whatever, all I can remember are these gorgeous views.


Attrition rate

I really like the Editor's Desk blog over at Aviation Week and this op-ed is no exception. The author, Tony Velocci, poses this scenario:
The next time you are in the company of a young engineer who has been working in the aerospace industry for a relatively short period, ask them if what they are doing in their job even comes close to what they envisioned when they were still in school. While you're at it, ask them how long they expect to remain with their current employer.
Don't be surprised if they tell you their job falls short of expected and that they are looking around. This disconnect is a problem for aerospace companies, because it gets at the heart of why the industry generally has a poor history of attracting and retaining top talent.
Apparently turnover is increasing for young professionals with the full workforce study showing up in next month's magazine. As his editorial states, the young professionals who they contacted for their article were not surprised by the overall survey reports. I was only surprised by this tidbit:
When they entered the aerospace workforce nearly 60 percent thought they would promoted within 18 months.
I guess I didn't realize people were still that naive. I remember reading an article quite a few years back about what high school students expected they'd earn in their then top choice careers. And they numbers were way up there. Gender played a role as women had more toned down expectations (commenters on the internet argued this was because women were wiser about the real world, not that they understood they had less earning potential than the boys). The minimum experience around here to even think about getting promoted is generally two years, but I've seen that stretched out. Granted some people will do well and get promoted very soon. But many more will be waiting for a better title, for recognition of work done, and for the opportunity to work on meaningful projects where they are learning more.
Right now I don't think anyone cares. There are enough out of work engineers and enough senior citizens delaying retirement that it's no big deal. But give it another ten years and companies are going to be hurting for mid-level people. Around here at MegaCorp we already are. You get the fresh out of college faces and the leads with 15+ years of experience. There's not a whole lot in the middle, the kind of people who are generally your workhorses.
I can't speak to exactly what I envisioned in school. I went back to school with my eyes wide open. I had a pretty good idea engineers didn't sit at their desks running equations all day or building new mousetraps in a lab somewhere. It's a lot of paperwork and drudgery. You don't get to go back to everything you learned in school, only some of it. There's a lot of red tape and a lot of oversight. And all those junior and senior level engineers who think they finally make "enough" money are fighting even harder for the few interesting projects. So maybe in school they're imagining recalibrating the warp drive and reversing the polarity. But in practice it's a lot of climbing through jefferies tubes.


Fun and snow in the summertime

I've talked about our icebreakers before and the need to have a presence in the arctic, both scientific and military. I know there are plenty of hippies out there that would like to send a bunch of scientific vessels to these places, give some polar bears hugs, and set up some scientific bases. But frankly that kind of money and research investment doesn't just happen spontaneously. And in the arctic it's worse than in many other places on earth, minus deep ocean exploration. So often the government has to get involved. And no matter your opinion of the military and its place it tends to be a good funding source of scientific exploration.
Now it looks like thanks to budget cuts and economic problems, funding for arctic military programs is on the chopping block. Per Ares, at Aviation Week, we're behind in charts, ships, and don't have a solid plan to get up to speed.
"Decent charts really don't exist," he[Stephen Carmel, senior vice president for maritime services of shipping giant Maersk Line] said, "aids for navigation don't exist, emergency response capability does not exist, so there's things that need to be done before you can really support shipping up there." In general, "there are a lot of things overall that are still far from certain in terms of the practicalities of working" in the Arctic, he concluded.
Now, our old enemies are moving in:
The Russians, meanwhile, with their already large icebreaker fleet have announced plans for more nuclear-powered icebreakers, more ice-capable submarines, and as of 2008, had resumed surface naval patrols in Arctic waters. Moscow has also announced plans to land paratroopers on the North Pole some time this year.
We have two, broken down icebreakers. We are sadly in need of two new ones and nobody wants to fund it. Maybe a new "cold war" fever (literally) will finally inspire us to take the efforts we need to be there. It's not just about shipping and protecting shipping lanes, it's about capable emergency response, security, and scientific endeavors and opportunities that would otherwise be left behind. Knowledge is power. We need charts, plans and the ships and forces necessary to explore and get us there. And we need that to support scientific teams that used to go along on our now, harbor-tethered icebreakers. 


Viscous Cycle

I was going to stay out of it, until they knocked my graph paper shirt. I saw this originally on PZ's blog; some dude posted a page of "15 sexy scientists". Other people have already said better what I could have said. PZ says:
I think it's an excellent idea to promote the idea that scientists can be sexy, and women who are comfortable with that should be able to proudly present themselves as sexual beings. But the important concept is that women should have the choice, and their decisions should be respected. Men do not get the privilege of having the roving eye, of being able to pick individual women out of the crowd to tell them that here, they get to be object of sexual interest, especially not if they're going to then publicly display them as clever eye candy.
Comrade PhysioProf says it rather well also(with his trademark sailor-based vocabulary):
The fucking skeevd00d's post is leering. Leering tells the person being leered at that their value as a human being is defined by how much other people want to fuck them. That is not a compliment. It is an oppressive boot on the neck designed to put women in their place. The internal mental state of the leerer and his "intentions" are wholly irrelevant to any of this.
Then YoungFemaleScientist mocks my graph paper shirts and asks whether it's so bad. That shouldn't we use sex to promote science to young women since sex sells. Well, it's true that sex sells. However, a list of women's photos with limited description of what they do or what is so awesome about their science is not even selling science. It's selling more "hot" photos of women on the internet, except now probably to men for whom the "scientist" mantle is appealing. And it's fantastic that there are dudes out there who want their women to be smart as well as sexy. But sexy still comes first. So that's not promoting science or intelligence so much as reminding us all how we look is still the number one game in town. This doesn't just hurt women. YFS links to a newsweek article where we're all held to ridiculous standards of beauty. How it hurts everyone who is more on the average scale. How pretty women in lower level or secretary jobs might benefit but the higher up you get your superiors assume beauty means lack of intelligence.
I haven't seen that so much in the corporate world, probably because we're all stupid. The "pretty" guys move up and the "pretty" women get promoted. Maybe the women don't get taken seriously at higher levels, but frankly so few women move up around here, and so many of the ones hired, period, are attractive so it's hard to make the distinction of whether their being attractive or not really helps them. Newsweek has another interesting article about what if men had to follow women's standards of beauty in society. As in, what if roles were reversed and shallow women held all the power while men were society's sex objects. I found this paragraph rather illustrative of the difference:
You certainly wouldn't see many paunchy, balding, older guys on TV. Sitcoms would feature couples where the men are tall, muscular, and hot, while the wives are chubby and witty. Salons, cosmetic-surgery offices and Weight Watchers meetings would be filled with men who spend a fortune trying to get that iconic masculine "V" shape women crave.
Humorous, though unfortunately not the situation we have. I'll admit unattractive guys suffer in the workplace as well. I have seen it. But I think it's more than just "pretty" vs "ugly". The executives at most big companies, like here at MegaCorp, are good at what they do. Or they think they are good at what they do. Confidence is key. Most of the decisions they make are a fly by the seat of your pants judgment. A quick, intuitive command. Frankly, we're all creatures of snap judgment and intuition, but in the executive ranks those judgments can actually affect people's lives and the confidence of years of experience make it all the more likely they'll rely on that.
I'm pretty sure the White Men Rule the World at my company isn't a conscious conspiracy. Sure, there are probably a few racists and mysogonists who know that's who they really are. But the rest of them are well meaning Good Guys(TM) who believe in equality and think they are operating under that. Unfortunately, when they think about what makes a good engineer or what makes somebody a good manager they have to rely on what they know. And for a lot of people making these decisions, its their intuition and their experience that guide them. And in their head are all these images (engineers tend to be visual) of who've been good engineers and managers in the past. So they aren't necessarily thinking of ruling out minorities and women, but the built-in montage in their heads is dominated by white men. And so the cycle repeats.
I was just talking about this to a minority at my workplace. His eyes looked around nervously as we spoke. I could tell he was afraid to say anything. He offered that it was hard for a woman at higher levels to succeed around here and waited to see how I took that. Was I a feminist-denier? Would I tell him that that wasn't real sexism and so we didn't need to worry about it? No, I said, he was right. Then he mentioned talking my old boss about it, about how hard it is for a minority to get a chance around here. And he waited again. We are so institutionalized here that it's moments like these where someone yells you are being a bitch, or getting too emotional, or taking things too seriously at this point. That they too, as white dudes, have it hard. I don't hate white people, my coworker told me, in case I was going to be one of those people and chew him apart for mentioning it's not all milk and honey around here. Moments like these are a brief respite from the usual struggle to fit in, shut up, and keep your head down. He told me how hard my old boss had had to work, to fight, you have to work twice as hard he told me. I agreed. I told him how tiring it was to keep fighting. To wonder if some a-hole would be chewing you out and cursing at you if you were a 6'2" man or if it's because you're a woman and your disagreement means he feels the need to put you in your place. That he's threatened by your intelligence, but not by you as a person, and needs to build the box around you again.
It's like you swim for a living. And swimming at my last job was just swimming. Now you're swimming in some highly viscous fluid. They've replaced your pool with honey, or molasses or hot fudge instead. So you're working twice as hard and you're fighting. You're fighting not to make the sarcastic comments you want to to the executive who makes snide comments about women. Instead you just ask him what his daughters would think if they knew he thought like that and move on. You don't tell him he's an unstable douchebag who shouldn't be in charge of a houseplant because he's in your chain of command and you don't have the freedom he does to be a jerk, or in your case, a bitch.


You make Spock cry

When I buy a box from a vendor I expect it to have been tested and for it to work. When it doesn't work, I don't expect the vendor to deny culpability. Then when they realize it really is something on their end I definitely don't expect that I should have to do more than half of the investigation to find the problem. I mean it seems obvious. You make a product, you sell that product, you are responsible for getting that product to work. And when it doesn't, you are responsible for troubleshooting. Sometimes I feel like I pay for parts and labor and get parts and laziness instead.


Inverted Pendulum vs Mothra

So I'm in Control Theory and one of the common problems given to undergraduates is the "inverted pendulum" problem. I guess the practical use behind it is maybe trying to launch a rocket at a certain angle by controlling the platform the rocket's on. Or in very simple terms, it's like balancing a broom on the palm of your hand and physically moving your body in order to keep it upright. Here are the equations in case you wanted to go build your own controls robot.

Balancing a broom by moving your whole body has got to be the stupidest way to balance a broom. Certainly we are evolved and can use our opposable thumbs or ducktape or something. So mostly it's just a useful example for understanding systems of equations for a physical controls problem. But people are stupid. And in real life, we do a lot of dumb things like try to balance something top heavy by wandering with our feet. How many times do we accommodate some unwieldy project by changing all the parameters and requirements surrounding the project rather than directly changing what the project is or what its goals might be? If you are like me this week and swamped with tasks and ignorant people asking you to jump through hoop it can definitely feel like you are balancing a broom on your hand. Sometimes it feels like you've got brooms in both hands. Then your boss or his boss (illustrated, accurately, by Mothra here) shows up and starts shooting giant lasers at your project. And you're like, wtf? It was hard enough keeping these projects upright without you sabotaging them.

So even strange examples given to undergrads that seem unlikely in a real physical world seem to have some place in the corporate world(which as we know, is its own system of equations attempting to model the real, the physical, world). Here's a cool video of someone's inverted pendulum robot:


High expectations for America's youth

The Control Theory I class I'm currently in is being taught by two professors. The second is a diminutive Russian fellow who's clearly a much newer immigrant to this nation than the other one. I always find these "new" professors amusing because there's so much they don't know about American culture: like our poor education system.
Circuits are some of the systems as unlucky mechanical engineering students are being asked to model in this class which requires a basic understanding of circuit analysis. Most of us grudgingly had to take a circuits class prior to now, but for me it had been a while. And while Kirchhoff's Circuit and Voltage laws were familiar to me I realized I was a little rusty and would need to review the material on my own before the homework. Because as our Russian professor sped through the material, without going over the laws or nodal analysis explained, this is really high school material, you should have learned all this in high school.
It makes me wonder what high school students in other countries are really exposed to. When my professors comment on how basic circuits or heat flow or basic thermodynamics is something we should have learned in high school I wonder what high school they went to. I took honors physics and it was pretty cool, but we didn't get far past Newton's laws. Beyond that it was a lot of building stuff, running experiments, and a few days where we learned the whole series of events that took place at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Am I missing the boat here? I went to a "good" school for the county, what is everyone else learning in high school?


Ich bin durstig

For those that read over at ScienceBlogs you're probably overly familiar with the whole Pepsigate debacle (SciBlogs added a blog without specifying it was actually a corporate funded blog, or paid advertising, in the "blog" section of the page, later added language to let people know it was actually paid for, then later either decided to remove the blog or Pepsi decided to leave. Some bloggers left, some stayed, I woulda stayed but then I'm a corporate toolbox so there ya go).
The whole thing just made me very thirsty all the time. For Coke. Or more specifically, Diet Coke(Diet Coke, Stay Extraordinary).
However, my usual drug of choice is coffee. Office coffee (or flavored water) because it is cheaper than the tasty/fattening stuff at Starbucks or my University's knock-off Shtahbuk. After a few cups of even the watered-down drip stuff I can start to get a little anxious and paranoid (it's entirely possible this is actually just my normal awake state). So I've often wondered, how much coffee is too much coffee? On weekends, Diet Mountain Dew is my caffeine of choice and I can chug those cans down like they are water (actually I think their principle ingredient is water).

Thanks to Mind Hacks, I found this nifty tool for seeing how much of a particular caffeinated substance it will take to kill you by punching in your weight and habit of choice. For me, 66 cups of Starbucks Mocha Lattes, 80 cups of office drip coffee, 210 cans of Diet Mountain Dew, or 270 cans of Diet Coke. I think I'm safe for now.

Note: This blog is not sponsored by and does not receive any payment from Coca Cola, Starbucks, or whoever the hell makes Mountain Dew. However, I would be willing to consider sponsorship or some sort of blogging-for-caffeine arrangement with any one of these fine corporate entities because as stated earlier, I am already a corporate toolbox, so it would be nice to actually benefit from that for once. Thanks.

Catastrophic Events

Oh you thought I meant the oil spill. Turns out the cap actually worked so for a few hours now oil hasn't been leaking into the gulf. Woot. You can go here to watch some undersea machines doing something that's not entirely clear. Presumably attaching the cap but what that is in the video I have no idea. All this hullaballoo over a few drops of oil in the ocean (yeah yeah yeah) and we've forgotten about a recent life-changing earth-shaking event: the earthquake in Haiti.
Turns out, we're still there. And much like worries in the Gulf, hurricane season is fast approaching. US soldiers and engineers are building four schools and ten medical sites, including bathrooms on site for the school children. There's still a lot wanting in Haiti right now. Looks like something like a million people are still without even a temporary place to call home. It's a disappointment we don't seem to be building homes or clearing areas in some of the hardest hit parts of Haiti. But it seems like the efforts of the US military are at least partially directed by what the Haitian government is asking for. And they're asking for schools and medical facilities, not homes or clearing. And they're on a time deadline needing to make these buildings strong enough to withstand hurricanes. Sounds like less than a thousand total military left in Haiti, and probably closer to 500. Unknown to me whether they will continue to build infrastructure and improvements come the fall when they plan to have completed these projects or whether that is the end of the line for US military support to Haiti. Part of me wishes they could have stayed and done more to really improve the country. But then part of me thinks how we're so lacking here in so many places of communications (fiber optic cable laid, or cell towers) and roads and failing bridges and I wonder why we don't have 500 US military travelling around the US and improving our space. I guess that's the selfish part.
For more you can go here and here.


DARPA Thursdays: The Matrix Has You

  • Per Wired: human testing of neuro-prosthetic arms. Part of DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics program is soon to have human test subjects for the first time. I think this is a great step forward for prosthetic limbs and am very hopeful it goes successfully. Compare early prosthetic limbs to today's and it's a world of difference. One can only imagine if they are capable of testing early stages of mind-controlled artificial limbs now what the development might be in the future. I'm hopeful for plenty of people who could benefit from this program.
  • DARPA is also looking for academic based computer scientists to become a part of its mission. I'm not sure if this is really an attempt to reach out to the academic community or possibly just trying to get cheaper labor from people who already have technology, space and support systems in place. Reminds me of all the internships for software engineers I see. It seems no one wants to pay full price for those anymore, they keep hoping they'll stumble upon a multitude of code monkeys willing to work on the cheap.
  • The modern infantry soldier is a lot more connected than a few decades ago. As technology changes it's more and more common a soldier needs communication devices, support systems, and gadgets to do an effective job. But how do we power all these devices? It's difficult to find a power outlet in a war zone. Per this DARPA is working on something that would derive the power directly from the human body. Guess somebody was watching The Matrix and got an idea (Per Morpheus, The human body generates more bio- electricity than a 120-volt battery and over 25,000 B.T.U.'s of body heat.) Now I'm curious how much energy the human body really dissipates. "The Internet" says it might be around 100 watts or less per hour in expelled thermal energy. But I'll save my curiosity for another day when I'm not worried the machines are getting ready to harvest my body for energy.


Future Imperfect

A good colleague of mine is leaving and I am a little sad. It's not like you don't expect people to move on, but it's hard when it's the good ones. And you're stuck behind. Somewhere you don't feel motivated and nobody respects you. And you wonder what kind of effort it's going to take to keep dragging yourself through the motions. And you worry it'll show and the people who don't respect you will just start resenting you. And you try to envision a bright future somewhere past this limping economy. I leave you with this video of an imagined future, maybe to cheer us all up.


Happy Horsepower

Fiat is making a 57 mpg car from a TwinAir engine. It will be a two cylinder with up to 110 hp for the turbo version, or as little as 65 hp. That might be more than you need given how small the car looks. Wired is speculating on whether this will be introduced in the US. I sincerely doubt it, though it's possible work on this engine may lead to introduction to other smaller, more fuel efficient engines from Fiat in the future.
GM is upping their game by letting Corvette buyers assemble their own engine (for a price of course). They're charging $5,800 for it which is pennies compared to the price of the Z06 or ZR1 engine. If I were a Corvette buyer (and had that kind of cash laying around) I'd definitely take them up on this. How neat for the engine enthusiast but non-expert.


What's the matter with kids

Actual photographic evidence that college students are a bunch of losers with no taste. I mean really, toe shoes? Outside? Have you no shame? I have to wonder what went in to designing something like this. Was somebody thinking gee, I'd like a shoe that proves I have toes but doesn't actually show them directly. I'm really hoping I'm wrong here. That I just imagined the harder rubber soul on the bottom and that maybe these are scuba shoes or surfing shoes or something and the kid was in a rush to get his X-treme day going. Any other bizarre fashion trends I should be worried are further signs of the apocalypse?


Ye Olde Inertia

When I think of the future I think of flying cars and jet packs. Like the rest of you, I'm frustrated the future is taking so darn long to get here. I can only hope hearing aids have improved significantly by the time I get "old" because I'm pretty sure me and everyone else who uses iPod earbuds is pretty screwed for permanent auditory damage. However, I'm even more disappointed my floating chair isn't here yet. I've seen them on Wall-E and I think I have the body shape and lack of muscle mass to really fit well into that thing. What, you expect me to walk? Pfft.

Japan's working on something but I think they're going to be too late for me when they get it past the prototype stage.


Engineering for Dummies

Inspired by this Engineering to English Dictionary I wanted to add my own translation for some commonly used sayings:
  1. "Risk mitigation built into the software" = Rather than fix the problem in the hardware we got the software guys to come up with something when it fails.
  2. "Non-mission critical hardware" = There's no way this will be the component that fails because so much else will fail first, trust us.
  3. "I'm polishing the final report on that" = I haven't even started the report, must stall for time.
  4. "We're focusing on design improvements right now" = The last several designs all failed miserably.
  5. "The vendor hasn't gotten back to me on that" = I forgot to call the vendor.
  6. "I'm still waiting for parts to be delivered" = Oops I forgot to order the parts.
  7. "Another project has priority on the equipment this week" = Some kissass got his project on the schedule ahead of ours.
  8. "I didn't get that email, can you send it again?" = I'm too incompetent/lazy to search my inbox.
  9. "The customer would like to see some results on this" = We'd better actually do some work this week.
  10. "It's powered by an extremely sophisticated algorithm" = Only one guy knows how it works and he's not here right now.
  11. "The solution is in development" = We haven't figured it out yet, hopefully you'll forget about it.
  12. "We suggest a more sophisticated design" = We'd like to charge you more money for this.
  13. "We'd like to arrange a visit to your facility" = We're looking for a boondoggle, and you're located in a nice place.
  14. "We're still testing the feasability of that design" = We don't even understand the design you want.
  15. "We have our best people working on that" = I've already pawned off responsibility to someone else.


Elastic Surgery

Sorry about all the face changes, I'm still hunting for a template that isn't impossible to read and doesn't take 1,000 years (internet years obviously) to load. If you have any strong opinions on the subject please let me know with a comment somewhere. Always nice to read comments and know readers exist. That you're not all internet zombies.

Lockheed's Cost Saving

One thing defense contractors do to try to win contracts is prove how light and efficient they are. They want to show that when it comes to overhead costs (costs that can't be charged to a specific customer, so either the company or shareholders usually eat the cost) that they can keep them low.
Well Lockheed's trying something pretty revolutionary in the corporate world; they're offering voluntary severence packages to thin their executive herd. Right after their CEO decided not to take the trip to an upcoming air show. I'm pretty impressed given we just flew a guy out to our site for a week, the sum cost for travel expenses and time here being 90% of my yearly salary. A few weeks ago we flew four intrepid executives off for a thrilling european tour where each person's airfare was about two times my raise this year.
We don't have the problem here at MegaCorp of Vice President of Douchebaggery, Director of Nice Corner Offices, General Manager of Passing Around Birthday Cards, Chief Window Curtain Color Officer, and Foreman of Office Cockroaches. However, I appreciate a good corporate cleaning as much as anyone. I hope this becomes a trend as to how defense contractors can save money rather than cutting back on R&D or on manufacturing domestically. Or to paraphrase the author in the blog I linked, I hope this isn't a gimmick to benefit shareholders only.

Engine Problems

Not my car, the Coast Guard's Polar Sea. Its sister ship, the Polar Star, is undergoing renovations and not expected to be ready for several more years. The Polar Sea was the only remaining, active ice breaker left. Both ships hail from the 1970s so excessive wear in the cylinder assemblies doesn't seem too surprising, although it was just retrofitted in 2008 so certainly this hurts.

The Coast Guard's two icebreakers are essential for a number of functions that should appeal to almost anyone; arctic sovereignty, rescues of trading vessels, clearing trade routes for all your righties, and "changing ice structure" research (*cough* global warming), oil spill recovery, as well as ecosystem research and biological studies. With a replacement cost estimated at something like $925 million I'm sure it will be a tough pill for a largely anti-deficit (in words at least) congress. Senator Murkowski, R-Alaska, has supposedly introduced legislation to build two new icebreakers along with additional funding for mapping and navigation improvements in the arctic. Let's hope she gets the support she needs to pass this, because America needs some modern and capable icebreakers for arctic patrol.
In order to convince you I've included some pictures, some patriotic and some of adorable fluffy animals.


DARPA Tuesdays

  • Plans to develop an airplane/submarine hybrid. Something that will have the capacity to fly low then dip below the water to avoid detection.
  • DARPA has the Urban Challenge which involves created an autonomous vehicle that can maneuver around obstacles in an urban environment and reach a destination. As an add on to this Virginia Tech will be working with DARPA again but this time developing a car a blind person will drive including a high tech vest that will send physical signals to the blind person to allow them to be aware of their environment.
  • Wired points out some of DARPA's new hilariously acronymed projects: BaTMAN (Biochronicity and Temporal Mechanisms Arising in Nature) and of course RoBIN (Robustness of Biologically-Inspired Networks). Their list doesn't include my new favorite: OBTW or literally Oh By The Way. Even the description sounds like something a project engineer would develop (yes I do think they are the lowest lifeform): interactive interface, "online plan monitoring and user-in-the-loop plan adaptation" and "algorithmic techniques for robust course of action analysis." Using the word robust seems borderline corporatey-bullshitty but there's also a good translation here at the Engineering to English Dictionary.


Quit talking about women already

Dammit Jim, I'm a designer not a sociologist. But I just can't help it. Per the NYTimes, the Pew Research Center did an international poll on gender equality. I think the more surprising results are maybe many countries not associated with gender equality (i.e., in the Middle East) that show a majority believe in a woman's right to work outside the home. Or high percentages in those countries that women should have equal rights to men. It's surprising because from a western perspective they seem so backwards about women's rights it's interesting what they actually perceive as "equal rights."

And then there's America, where while most everyone believes in equal rights (we are a country of rights after all) a whopping 30% of women and 47% of men think we don't need to be making any more changes to equalize things. One of the study authors, Professor Ibarra, sums that up in what I'll call the Pie Theory (mmmmpie):
Likewise, a strong core in several countries said men had more right to a job than women. More than 50 percent in 10 of the 22 countries said that when jobs are scarce, they should go to men. "If we think that it's a growable pie, equality is fine," Professor Ibarra commented. "If we think it's a limited pie, it's not."
That seems to be the impression from some dudes I know. Giving a woman equal rights will somehow take away from their pie. We all want to get ours, and we all are angry when somebody gets something unfairly. So it seems natural that measures to increase minority/female representation in certain instances would take away from the pie of highly qualified white dudes like themselves. Of course, it's not a zero sum game. And it's likely the incompetent white males who will be getting less pie, and clearly nobody here whining thinks of themselves as an incompetent worker. But that's hard news to swallow. Not like eating a delicious pie. (Have we talked about pie enough?)
In other news, Deutsche Telekom (third largest German company) has set a quota to increase its percentage of women in management from 12% to 30% in five years.
Deutsche Telekom's initiative follows a wave of efforts across Europe to increase the number of women in corporate leadership posts. Since 2008, Norway has mandated that women hold at least 40 percent of board seats at publicly listed companies, while Spain, the Netherlands and France have passed similar laws.
That's pretty crazy stuff. I can't even imagine how proposals of this nature would go down in the US.
Affirmative Action is pretty much despised here despite agreement that racism is still prevalent and that discrimination still holds minorities from accessing equal potential as non-minorities. Probably a bunch of Neo-Cons wouldn't be able to handle any kind of regulation on the "free market". Still, there's got to be a better way than quotas. What I'm not sure though. Here at MegaCorp we have similar quotas, not that I'm sure anything happens if we don't meet them. Based on our dealings with the guv'ment we're supposed to meet certain minimums of numbers, but as far as I know those numbers are just industry average numbers and not difficult for us to meet. I also wouldn't be surprised if hiring more secretaries is somehow counting positively to our total number of women in engineering. I guess it's better than nothing though.


Live to see yourself become the villain

I'm a known cynic, getting more hardened and bitter year by year. So I was intrigued by this post over at Zuska's asking us to give our opinions to Skeptifem who's trying to decide whether a career in STEM is really the right thing for her. I've blogged about this before, in that it's hard for me to recommend STEM to anyone because even though I think the pros outweigh the cons for me there is a lot of soul-crushing life changing negativity and obstacles that's hard to suggest anyone follow in a similar path. Some elements of Skeptifem's personal story remind me of myself five-ish years ago:
What happened to me was that I never imagined I could be a college graduate or learn the sciences/maths (mostly because of being a woman in this culture)...
For me not because I was a woman (that kind of opposition hadn't kicked in yet) but I definitely felt like math and science were these amazing/elite things I just couldn't come close to touching. I believed I was smart, just not math smart. Now here I am, a bazillion calculus classes later, knowing if you're smart you're probably math smart too. Or at least math capable. Skeptifem goes on to add in a comment(emphasis mine):
People who work in STEM have the products of their labor used in ways that oppress other people. I mean, the military subsidizes research all the time, and then turns it over to companies when the resulting technology can be sold for profit (this happened with computers). All the fun of inquiry is within this toxic context.
Women in STEM careers gives me the same feeling as when they become CEOs- it is being an honorary man. We are being equal in a patriarchal and oppressive system. If women had some kind of say in how complex systems like this operated I doubt that it would end up being the war machine that we currently observe.
I once had similar ideals. I was in college thinking positive thoughts about the environment and though I wasn't specifically anti-corporate I knew there were good companies and bad companies. Say Google is your good company and Exxon or Enron or Raytheon were your bad companies. I felt like Skeptifem seems to me to be feeling; I didn't want to entrust my work or my heart to these places. I worked in a non-profit for a few years and I did "good" things.
I'm not sure when I turned the page. Maybe it was just for a paycheck. Or maybe at my non-profit I saw how even well meaning medical clinics become a place for BigPharma to dominate and control. I saw the dichotomy where people who couldn't otherwise afford care and drugs were able to get on them for lifesaving help, how so many others were turned away, and how many in third world countries would never see the drugs or care we were testing. There was no clean cut "these drugs save lives." Period. There was no way to put in all the expense on developing these drugs and then testing them in a clinically repeatable way that would allow them to get to third world countries. And in order to test them, and make better drugs, you had to have reasonable studies. Meaning enough people were on placebo and many people could not qualify for the medical help they so desperately needed. Yet at the same time, people were no longer dying of this horrible thing. This research and testing had allowed probably millions to extend their lifespans and live much more "normal" lives. So maybe I realized there's nothing altruistic left in this world. That in order to do good you have to do evil, or allow evil to happen which seems much the same.
Or maybe it was because I wanted the paycheck and a steady job. Those things don't necessarily fall in your lap when you want to save the world. Maybe we all justify what's "good" and "bad" at any time in our lives and it changes for our convenience and experience rather than the world changing. I certainly wasn't anti-military but I resented the military-industrial complex. Now look at me. All my ideals of youth have melted away with only a cold, metallic exterior that thinks we had better stay in Afghanistan or Iraq until we're sure it's the right thing to do to leave. I could be blindingly anti-war only a few years ago, but now all I see are shades of gray. I'd like to think it's more than the paycheck. That I've realized the world is a gritty, multi-faceted place where extremes have no place. But maybe that's just what I'm telling myself so I can sleep better at night. I'm not sure.


Textbook Mafia Wars

My Control Theory I Professor just saved me $160.00. There's a required textbook for the course but he told the class no one has to buy it. That if we do, it won't be a waste because he'll be using it in Control Theory II as will another professor.
You see, he originally started teaching when the 3rd edition of this book was out. So he crafted his lectures around that book. Now, X years later (or maybe six months in the textbook industry) the 6th edition is out and he doesn't feel we need to run out and buy new editions just because some editor changed a few things. Maybe because the 5th edition is so hard to get ahold of.  He's said the course is "self contained" and we'll get all we need to know from lectures. We can use the book if we want, but don't have to. This year even he'll be writing his own homework problems for the class instead of using those from the book. Double advantage to me, the person who never has solutions and/or friends which should keep all the cheaters from automatically getting a full homework percentage. It's always nice when a professor respects your budget as much as you do and does what they can to save you money, even if it means a little extra work on their part.