10.29.2010

Civic Duty and Laziness

So we are less than a week away from voting day. Much like my exams, I have good intentions of really studying the candidates and ballot measures far in advance, but that never works out. If I am lucky I look at it a few hours beforehand. If I am not lucky I am winging it, voting for city officials by their formal job titles or going by the party line in other cases.
It's disappointing that less than 100 years ago women fought for me to have rights I can't even muster up the appreciation for. I'm thinking about how I'm going to get to work and to school and to my other class and how I could possibly fit in a trip to the polling place during the hours it's open. I mean, employers have to give you time off if your work schedule doesn't permit you time to vote. But what if you have other obligations after? I think of all the working poor for whom voting is not always possible. They can't get the time off work if work doesn't technically interfere with the polling hours, but due to transportation or kids might not be able to find the time to get there. Or they might move too often to consider a mail-in ballot a good option. I guess it's like jury duty for me. I believe in a fair justice system that has a trial by a jury of your peers, but when I get the notice myself wish I could get out of it as it just piles on top of the mountain of other obligations I have. It's interesting how passive we can allow ourselves to be in a democratic country and how necessary it is to remind ourselves to take responsibility for our citizenship in that society.

10.27.2010

Technology for good and evil

Electronic devices make our lives easier and safer. They can also enable some of the more fascist elements of society easier access to the elements of monitoring and control. Sometimes I see the benefits, and sometimes I wonder if Ben Franklin didn't have it right when he said Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.
 
There's the story of the college student who found an FBI GPS device on his car. Another individual, a US citizen from Yemen Abdo Alwareeth, apparently had the same thing happen.

At his home in San Rafael, he sifts through a binder of papers he's gathered trying to understand why he was targeted. The U.S. citizen from Yemen says in all his 40 years living here, he's received nothing more than a traffic ticket.

"Why I been singled out? Let them tell me, 'We are singling you out because you are an Arab and a Muslim and that's it,' " he says. "That's what I want to know."

Well yes Abdo, it's because you're an Arab and a Muslim. Or maybe more importantly because you are a Muslim. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (who you would think would be all over individual rights) said it's okay for the FBI (or I would presume any law enforcement agency) to put GPS devices on people's cars without a warrant. And we know the FBI and police departments profile. It's a thin line, and it's certainly not fair or right. We may as a society acknowledge something is wrong when African Americans are targeted by the police more often than white people or people who "look" Latino in Arizona will now be asked for their citizenship papers. But although Juan Williams was fired for making anti-Muslim comments, his biased opinion is one that has a lot of sympathy in this country. As long as it is the other who gets the closer look at airport lines, not "us", because clearly "we" are not terrorists, "they" are. I think I can be sympathetic with the fear that gets people there, but not with the biases they insist on holding.
 
At the same time, I can't be sympathetic with a Muslim American who doesn't understand why they are receiving extra scrutiny. I'm not saying it's right, but I'm saying it should be pretty clear to them what forces are at work there. But how easy to drop a GPS device on someone's car? And for now, these agencies don't even need a warrant. Presumably if I put my own GPS device on somebody else's car that would be illegal, but for now the government has a legal right to do so to anyone it pleases. And I trust the government, but do not trust the individuals who must carry out these tasks. The laws of the bureaucracy usually have the best intentions and it's overzealous crackpots like the Arizona Sherrif Joe Arpaio who are able to bend the system to fit their devious means. And what makes them any better than an actual terrorist who slips through our security? How can you separate one as having any better intentions than the other?
 
The inevitable drumbeat of technology brings us closer to a future that will be determined by what kind of people we are. Technology is only a tool. Webcams can monitor hurricanes, tornadoes, weather disasters, and fires to prevent loss of life and aid in where to quickly send emergency personnel. But they can also be used by schools to spy on their students or cameras in general, as in most of London, whose goal is to keep street crime down but are everywhere monitoring the citizenry. For those of you worried about being targetted by tracking devices, you can use one of the many anti-GPS tracking devices out there. They emit a frequency in a range that should block GPS devices on your car from working. Though I suspect there's some legality issues as private citizens are not supposed to be operating jamming devices of any kind. It's kind of amusing that the FBI that was so anti-computer when Robert Mueller took over in 2001 would have progressed so far to using the tools of technology as part of this post-9/11 security frenzy. But I think in the end it's not the devices nor the government that we need to worry about. It's ourselves. We allow the hysteria and the racism and the hatred and set the moral bar for what will and will not be allowed. I know libertarians like to blame the government for encroachments on our freedoms and liberty, but in the end it's a society that sets the standard, and we are each one of us a part of that.

10.26.2010

2010: A Class Project

Is that a yellow monolith? Are astronauts standing in its shadow on the other side of it? Of course not. It's the reason I haven't been posting. Because I've finally learned how to use bones as tools. Or maybe because it's part of my mechatronics project and I haven't been writing or sleeping as much as I'd like.

10.22.2010

Deathmatch: Scientists vs Engineers

Is engineering a science? Is science sometimes engineering? Some British guy thinks cutbacks in government spending is going to cause a rift between scientists and engineers who will continue to argue over who does better work or deserves more funding than the other. Well, I can't tell if he's really British or not, but with a name like Colin Macilwain you'd sure think he is. I can't really tell who's side he's on, or what the point is. Maybe he's blaming UK engineers for throwing the first stone via a letter from the VC of the Royal Academy of Engineering that science does not directly lead to technology. The implication being, I suppose, that engineering does.
 
But then Macilwain goes on to defend the lack of respect he sees engineers getting and aknowledges where engineering has the edge in output. Though his argument seems mainly to support the science side, stating that "state programmes that concentrate on applied work — such as the European Commission's Framework Programme — tend to be more politicized, less meritocratic and less efficient than science programmes such as those of the US National Science Foundation." In wikipedia, crap like that would be followed with a citation needed comment. Because he mentions how engineers in academia have it even harder than engineers in industry (who supposedly "have other things to think about, such as their superior pay, company cars and career opportunities." Where the heck is my superior pay? Company car? What the heck is that?) I'm guessing he's an engineer in academia. And what's an engineer in academia anyways? A scientist that is better paid than his colleagues?
 
My point is, I don't think this is going to be the dog fight he seems to want it to be. Scientists and engineers are basically on the same side. If there's some argument over public funding it's because as societies we just don't value knowledge like we used to, and there's going to be some struggle along the way. But honestly, everyone wants the same thing. And more honestly, you need both. Sometimes academia leads industry, and sometimes it is the other way around. There's no "better" method. Since when is an engineer not a scientist? And since when does a scientist never engineer? I feel like Maria in Metropolis suggesting head and hands both need each other. I don't think it works as a justification for capitalism, but I do think it works for the betterment of society and technology.

10.21.2010

Diversity and Disability

It's National Disability Employment Awareness Month. I have many faults, but one of which is while I try to preach the advantages of diversity in the workplace I'm probably a lot more narrow minded than I think. I know, with my brain and my heart, that a more diverse team/group/company breeds success and innovation. But I'll admit to having the first images in my mind after the word diversity be a mix of races, ethnicity and gender and its taken a good amount of education by people whom I respect immensely to remember the disabled.
 
In some ways, they are the invisible members of our society. Overlooked and ignored, when we talk about rights we don't often think of the rights of the disabled. But if we know more diversity is better than we know it's as important to champion the rights of the disabled as it is to stand up for anyone else.
 
So I've already mentioned my general ignorance, but the other important thing for me is that I'm an engineer. I like to see technology make people's lives better. Certainly there have been social improvements in the lives of the disabled and that's what we need to take into account when we're trying to recruit a diverse staff, retain good employees, or just to have as standard commitments in the employment world. But there have also been technological improvements. The semi-obvious: improving mobility, as well as the less obvious: better treatments for chronic conditions, lighter and more flexible implant devices. Chances are we all know somebody who's life is touched by disability, whether it's an obvious physical manifestation or not. The law grants us some basic protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but we can do better. We know the law is the low pole in the tent, that basic protections for other categories of people only work when there is a concentrated effort from society to improve itself. One person at a time.

10.20.2010

Thank you Anita Hill

Nearly 20 years an African American woman spoke the truth in front of a bunch of white men with real, political power. I had never seen the hearings myself, having been too young to be considering either politics or my place in the workforce. I know, of course, what the general take from it was. I suppose that depends a little on your political bent as well. After reading how Clarence Thomas' wife left a phone message at Professor Hill's workplace asking her to "apologize" I decided to look into it a little more.
 
Back in 1991 you couldn't slip back into historical congressional testimony with a few clicks of the mouse, but now thanks to modern technology I can access a few snippets rolling around on YouTube. I am incredibly impressed with her poise in the interviews. She describes herself as being 24 at the time of the harassment. What a tender age for a young woman trying to find her way in a man's world, law. I'd like to think law is a little better now, but was surprised to see from the National Association of Women Lawyers that even though women have been entering law firms in near equal numbers to men (48%) for the last two decades, they do not move up at the same rate as men. The percentages of women at higher levels in law firms gets much lower very quickly, both from women not advancing and from women leaving law firms. A quick google search shows there's even more complaints that women's pay in law might not be keeping up with men either.
 
So I wasn't in the workplace in 1991 and can't compare. It was a nostalgia trip to see a young (and still weak and incompetent) Joe Biden as well as a younger Ted Kennedy, both allowing Arlen Spector to rant on (now there's someone who should apologize) while a confident, youngish African American woman kept full composure. If she was lying, why not make the complaints something The Menz could understand? A man trying to make excuses can see "So I was watching this porno last night, and I thought of you, and here's what they did..." as just idle talk. People who have experienced sexual harassment or bullying know it's never in a quotable obvious form. It never comes perfectly packaged with a bow on top that will help your HR department can that idiot. If it had been made up, it would have made better headlines. The truth isn't always pretty and hard to digest. But she was there, and still is. Being a strong, intelligent woman. I'd like to think little girls in 1991 saw her calm and poised testimony and could ignore the babbling talking heads just long enough to think maybe they could grow up to be like her. I know the workplace was changed from that moment on. Yes it's not perfect and still a work in progress. But it was a monumental step forward, on one woman's shoulders.

How your company's stockroom is like a pharmacy

You show up with your prescription/request and stand at a little counter. A clerk takes your list without saying anything and then wanders off. Other clerks come by and make sure you don't find yourself wandering back where you're not supposed to be, eyeing you suspiciously.
 
You stare at walls and walls of pill containers/parts for what seems like too long. Other people come up behind you wondering what is taking you so freaking long and wonder what weird disease you have/how stupid you were for not ordering what you needed. Nobody talks to each other. At last the clerk comes back with what you hope to be your pills/parts. There is a hiccup of course, didn't you know your insurance doesn't cover this/we ran out of this part 15 minutes ago? But I need those pills/parts! The clerk looks at you uninterested and not caring that you were supposed to start these pills/making your part today if not yesterday, and that it's really the doctor's/your supervisor's fault for screwing up the prescription/the order. Is there somebody else who can- ...no? Can't you just call-. Well why does have it to be through your special system and in paper, can't you just call my doctor/supervisor? All right well, you have a nice day too. I guess.

10.19.2010

C's Pass Classes

This graph demonstrates how I've reasoned out the minimum level of effort I can put forth to get a passing grade in my classes. The amount of effort required to get a B is much, much higher. As a person with a job, a husband, and a cat I'd like to see and spend time with I just can't convince myself to go beyond the C level of effort. Even when I try mind games or psyching myself out, it always comes back to that C.
 
In the "real world" here at Megacorp, that is no problem. My coworkers tell me stories of how harrowing were their days studying engineering and their grades abysmal. I nod and pretend I too spend hours and hours every week earning my C's, but the fact is I don't; I have it down to a precise level of minimum effort. In school I have to hear the students who have fairly high GPAs complaining about the difference between an A- and an A. Or for my mechatronics project my teammate turning down one of my ideas because it would "slow our robot down" and "we are being graded on time." I am certain if our robot works, performs the tasks, and doesn't move abominably slow he'll still be able to his A or B or whatever it is he's clamoring for. I've seen these things fail and not work. I'm not to the point where I'm thinking how fast we can make it, I'm thinking how we only have two weeks to get all this together which is basically two weeks or four days. I'm thinking I'd rather it work, and work reliably, than be the fastest in the class. Coming in last is still completing the competition, and I'm sure there will be failed bots along the way.
 
Sometimes I wonder if there's something wrong with me that I lack the spark and excitement of these youths in their drive for perfection. I wonder if it's really the cold, hard corporate reality that's driven me to this or just a failure in who I am.

10.14.2010

Fat and Happy

It takes a lot to feel confident and satisfied with one's life. We have many measures that we hold ourselves up to: work importance, title, paycheck, net worth, philanthropy, volunteering, family, friends, intelligence, wisdom, skills, physical prowess, material possessions, you name it. We identify markers of how we feel our peers are doing and compare ourselves to them on various things we rank in importance. Maybe having the nicest car isn't important, maybe the biggest paycheck isn't as vital as having a job where you feel you are doing good work or having a happy and healthy family. One of the most crucial markers in American society is physical appearance.

Second City, the Chicago comedy group perhaps best known for being a feeder group for Saturday Night Live, has this great video up I'll post at the end. The woman in question states she has a great job, a wonderful husband and two good kids. But she's fat! Says the announcer. And you know what? This comedy video has a point. Why do we as a society condemn ourselves for being overweight when otherwise we might just shut up and consider our lives are pretty good. We get good jobs, have good healthy familes. Many of us who are overweight are often otherwise healthy. But we look fat so we beat ourselves up.

I'm not a part of the Fat Acceptance movement, but I think it has some good points. As in, accept and love your own body. Yes you should strive to be healthy. Eat healthy, eat fruits and vegetables, and get enough exercise (which most Americans do not). But otherwise don't hate yourself or your body. And learn not to judge or hate others who look overweight.

Unless you're a medical doctor, like total a-hole George Lundberg, MD who uses his pretigious medical degree and experience in the field to treat your obesity with this sound advice: stop eating fatty. I know fat shaming and mere words have always worked for me. I know when I just think oh, I need to eat less! I just lose weight like it's melting off. All the comments who back him up come from people who jog five hours a week. So I think the real message here is to just start jogging five hours a week. If you're not physically capable of that right now, well f- you buddy.

So what the hell does this have to do with engineering? Nothing. But I might write Mr. Lundberg and tell him that I spend 40 hours a week or more in a cubicle designing the giant, mechanical machines that defend this country from terrorist threats like Godzilla and Mothra. And I've tried eating less, but the shame I feel about how I look just makes me hungry, as did his article. Pretty much everything makes me want to shove food in my mouth, or watch Star Wars, or both. And if I'm supposed to go start working out who will build the machines to stop Godzilla? If Godzilla finds Mr. Lundberg and starts picking him apart for his juicy bits and a tasty meal I hope the good "doctor" has more sound advice like "hey Godzilla, stop eating me! You're fat enough!" I mean, that'll probably work. He's already solved the obesity epidemic, he might as well move on.

Now for the laughs.

10.13.2010

New Camera


It was time to replace my old camera so after a little bit of research I picked up this, the Nikon Coolpix L110. My old camera was cute and small and with 6 megapixels was probably plenty for what an amateur like me needed. But I wanted something heftier, something that would fill my hands and preferably do something about my infamous shakey hand. This thing has 15 megapixels, takes AA instead of me needing to charge a special battery, and has optical zoom which the old cheapo camera didn't have.

I haven't taken very many pictures yet, and I think it's still too early to say whether it will be better or not. The anti-shakey hand is definitely great, and I'm not running into that problem anymore. But there are a lot of settings and it's hard to tell if it's giving me better quality photos as yet. Time will tell! Here, via the old camera, it is in my hot little hand(s).

Shifting Gears

Time for a fresh perspective.

Photo from my old camera that didn't turn out like I wanted, but looks interesting. New camera on the way!

10.12.2010

the wonders of technology

I'd like to know who it is that leaves the coffee pot encrusted with burnt coffee sitting in the sink filled with soapy water. I imagine my walking into the breakroom at the moment that person leaves it there to go something like this;
 
What are you doing?
Oh just filling this coffee pot with soapy water.
And then what are you going to do?
Oh just leave it here, let it soak.
Are you planning on coming back to it after you've "let it soak"?
Umm...
Does soaking it clean it?
Umm...
Is there some new technology I'm not aware of whereby soapy water spontaneously cleans things?
Well it just needs to be soaked.
Yeah okay, it's been soaked now, you can clean it.
Well I think it should be soaked a little more.
Do you have some religious faith in the power of soapy bubbles? Have you been watching too many cleaning commercials while you're high on mescaline?
Umm...
 
I suspect that if I were to go into these people's homes I would find they just fill dishes with soapy water and then come back the next day only to see their faith has been rewarded. Much like the spontaneous generation theories of maggots magically appearing on meat these dishes just magically get washed. And lo and behold, it just happened again. The coffee pot spontaneously cleaned itself and coffee was made. If this doesn't restore people's faith (in Mr. Clean) I'm not sure what will.

10.11.2010

TechCrunch: Women in KerfuffleTech

Time to play the blame game again. From Workplace Diva I stumbled upon this panel from TechCrunch. It's a "Women in Tech" panel. As Workplace Diva states, it's very cringe worthy. The host of the panel apparently didn't think out of three days and what I count as 60+ panels there should be one devoted to women.
I get it. There was the "I don't support affirmative action" comment from one of them, or a "people should get here on their own merit" comment, or the "only 12% of people graduating with computer science degrees are women." Those are all the same old tried and true arguments. If a woman is truly qualifed, she'll get the job/panel talk based on her merits and doesn't need to be singled out based on her gender. They don't want "token" women. I get that. Only one woman was unafraid to keep spouting an opinion contrary to the panel host. I mean, if you don't agree with the idea of a panel to begin with, why host it? Maybe they can have a panel on social networking next year and I'll host it and tell them all what a waste of time Facebook is and how I think social networking is a bunch of crap and that nobody should be spending any time on the sites to begin with so why bother with new codes. Yeah that would make sense.
Only on a panel of "women in tech" would they have a host who thought they didn't need that panel. Then one woman asked that they expand their definition for what a woman in tech is, mentioning entrepreneurs who don't necessarily have a STEM (that's Science Technology Engineering Math) degree. I died a little inside when another brought up the "women they know" really are interested in more to their life, a work life balance.
Well I'm sick of that crap, and while someone tried to make the counterpoint I'll make it here. Most of the dudes I work with have wives and children. Most of them even want to spend time with their families. My boss rushed me out of his office yesterday to take a call from his Grandmother. Family is important. They don't necessarily want to spend 20 hours a day in the office. Yes they like what they do or they wouldn't have been promoted into leadership positions here, but they don't neglect their families or play any harder than I do. Yet the assumption is that I will want lower pay or less responsibility simply because I have a uterus, or because I am married clearly I can't handle the reponsibility at work. If anything I think I'm better able to handle the extra responsibility. My husband works like me versus some of these guys have stay at home wives who are waiting for them to come home for dinner with the family or texting them impatiently when 5:00 rolls around. When both of you are working, and there are no children involved, it's much easier to understand why there will be days working late. But I don't get to benefit from any of my actual circumstances because I have a uterus.
And finally to the host of the panel who thinks women should only be given positions as speakers due to merit I'll assume her ignorance is because she's worked for some hippie social networking bs site. Dudes think women don't go into STEM because...it's women's fault. They assume we'd rather "work with people" because we're good at it, or would rather have babies and raise families. That the low numbers in the field are because choices we made, nothing to do with societal expectations or the men themselves. They think when we don't get promoted it's because we're not as good at that thing as they are.
And it all comes down to visibility which I have talked about again and again. If men don't see women in tech they think we either don't want to do it, or aren't capable of doing it. Showing a few "token" women at these things gives them a few more examples of people who want to do the work and they can make their own internal judgment as to whether the women are capable. But more often than not, the "token" (especially at a large conference like this) will be more than capable of standing amongst her male peers. And every time someone sees a capable woman succeeding in tech some dude at a company thinks "huh, well if that woman is okay, maybe not all women are incompetent uterus-holders, maybe i'll hire one" or "huh, that woman sounds a lot like my employee, Alice, and while I never thought Alice was real bright maybe she's okay and I'll promote her to Peon II next cycle." And maybe some high school student is watching the conference at home and thinking about what she wants to do in college: software engineering or art history? And she sees these women and thinks, well maybe I won't be all alone if I go into that field, maybe it is something women can succeed at. That doesn't mean women need their own panel, just they should be represented there. Someone should be making an effort that if 10% of people working in tech are women (probably higher given not all the men they had on were technical experts) then 10% of the panelists should be women. If you're not accomplishing that it means you're only asking the same people every year, or only asking your friends or friends' friends, and other networks of women and minorities are not even being given the opportunity. And if you had to ask 3x as many men as agreed to show up to the panel, that means you need to ask 3x as many women or minorities who you want to be there. Yes women are busy and they may say no. But men say no too. So if you want women and minorities there, you will have to ask more people than will accept.
Maybe I'm way out of line here but I just can't help thinking if people made slight efforts they'd get huge gains. Everyone on the panel seemed to agree more women working in tech meant a more diverse group and meant a better team and better product. But maybe people only say that and don't actually believe it? Actions speak louder than words.

10.09.2010

Too many wires for me

What's with all these phooey electrical things cropping up in my studies? My boss even asked if my project was for a "mechatronics class." It's interesting how much senior projects can vary based on what the specialty is of the professor who designed the series. We'll see if the machine shop portion is gritty and mechanical enough for me. For now, my MCU (Microprocessor Control Unit) and my motor driver board in all their spaghetti glory.

10.08.2010

LEDs for your hot rod

Now you can outfit your classic sports car with fancy new LED tail lights per this release. Probably nothing new, you could build custom LEDs, but looks like Spaghetti Engineering will provide car-specific kits for some badass Chevy models like my favorite, the Camaro. LEDs are obviously more power efficient than the old incandescent and I think just look better.
 
Now I just need to get my hands on the car.

10.07.2010

the growing divide

If you're looking for a scapegoat in public education teachers unions make a good one. Most people don't understand how they work so charges of lack of accountability or costly pensions or healthcare (paid by your tax dollars) are more likely to go unchallenged. The WSJ has an interesting article on two latino students in Oklahama City. One goes to a public high school and one a charter school. They compare how many are eligible for free lunch (95% at the charter, 96% at the public) and numbers of college bound (62 out of 71 seniors at the charter, 40 out of 147 at the public). Both students miss a month of school to go to Mexico at some point, but only one student is working two jobs. One is college bound with scholarships, the other got one scholarship but will keep working locally.
 
I question their supposed implication for who is really successful. The charter school student, not having to work, got to participate in a lot of great high school programs. He left his gang days behind and instead "took to wearing straight-leg jeans and fashionable glasses." Do clothes make the man? Does imposing a uniform set of dress that society does not associate with hoodlums actually do anything for the "reformed" youth? And when he graduates in four years with a degree in whatever liberal arts discipline interested him will he be better off than she is as she continues to work?
 
Besides teacher unions, distracted parents are also blamed for the struggles these students go through. Often it is their teachers who are encouraging them to get into college. I can't help but wonder if that isn't imposing some western ideals on families whose definition of success might be different. I do think education is a great thing and that every student should have the opportunity to go to college. But maybe sending away the community's best and brightest without clear goals of what kind of degree is necessary to succeed, having them break ties with their neighbors, and not preparing them for what a college degree is actually worth these days is selling them a rotten deal. First generation college students, or students for whom very few members of their network went to college at all, may not realize what the struggles are. And we're only preparing them to get there, not showing them how they can then use that opportunity to leap to greater success.
 
The real heroes of the story appear to me to be the community leaders. The ones who stayed, invested in scholarship programs for these students, and organize the community events that both of the students were involved in.
 
I also dislike the comparison between a charter school and a public school. Besides the obvious, a charter school not having to "deal" with unions, laws, and many state or federal mandates on how to spend their money, the article sweeps over the difference in extra funding charter schools often get. All the benefits of public funding without any of the mandates, usually a much newer school than the public (this one is nine years old) and often with significant private funding. Yes I do think charter schools are useful to try new things that might get incorporated into public schools, but a school with private funding that gets to cap its enrollment is definitely more likely to help its students succeed than an overflowing public school that may have less freedom in booting out the less academically successful students. You'd think the conservatives over at the WSJ who applaud charter schools and their innovations could move pass the obvious teacher's union strawman and realize that more money means a better school.
 
We are left feeling the public school student will be less "successful" in terms defined by a white, middle-class business-centric authorship. I hope she is happy and satisfied with her life and that she still finds opportunities and challenges that she seeks, even if they aren't the ones the authors would consider important.

10.05.2010

What do you want to be when you grow up?

DamnGoodTechnician has a great post up over at LabSpaces on how she got into science, what she wanted to do as a kid, and the path inbetween. Maybe I identify with it so much because engineering was similarly circumstantial for me. I wasn't one of those kids who knew I wanted to be an engineer from an early age. Some of my classmates like to talk to me about how they always liked taking stuff apart or playing with Legos (seriously, who didn't like playing with Legos?) It can be almost intimidating to work amongst these people, and reminds me a little of Mike the Mad Biologist's musings on Is Science a Job or a Calling? 
 
As a little kid I wanted to be a ScientistExplorer, whatever that was. I suppose in my mind it was like Indiana Jones wandering jungles and doing whatever scientists did. I wanted to be active. Maybe work with animals. I must have overlooked my paralyzing fear of insects and spiders. Later on the OJ Simpson trial would inspire me to want to become a lawyer, and then a corporate lawyer so I could earn a ton of money without dealing with defense attorneys. After that and into college I wanted to be a diplomat.
 
The fact that I'm almost a Real Engineer (yes Pinocchio) could have gone any number of other ways. I was pretty close to going to nursing school. Sometimes life is not linear. I probably would have been happy in any number of professions, but this is how it all turned out. For now anyways. I'm happy with the path I've chosen, even if work can sometimes frustrate any natural love of engineering or design I have.
 
What about you, dear readers, what inspired you to take your path? Did you always know what you wanted to do?

10.04.2010

Full Circle

Four years ago I worked on my freshman design project with three other students. Today I walked into my senior design lab class to see one of those group members in my section with me. It's thrilling to have come this far. To know that four years ago what seemed so far away is now so close.
 
Also, I hate group work and was lamenting the kind of partner I'd have. But I lucked out. He has machine shop experience and loves tinkering and taking things apart, so definitely not the lazy type on the assembly aspect of it where that seems to me to be a time consuming waste. Sometimes I think the working world has crushed any interest I ever had in this subject. But then, not all engineers are equal in what interests them I suppose. Give me a nice CAD program anytime.

10.03.2010

Caffeinated News

A new study says that healthcare professionals are some of the people who rely the most on coffee. Nurses and physicians come in as numbers one and two on the list of professions who drink the most coffee. Could be all the shift work often necessary in the healthcare industry. The top 12?
  1. Nurses
  2. Physicians
  3. Hotel workers
  4. Designers/architects
  5. Financial/Insurance sales representatives
  6. Food preparers
  7. Engineers
  8. Teachers
  9. Marketing/Public relations professionals
  10. Scientists
  11. Machine operators
  12. Government workers

Either way you look at it I am definitely on that list. I'd like to argue drinking coffee helps me to be more productive.
 
But then there's this other study saying Germans are more productive in their 1400 hours a year than Americans are in our 2000 hours. They cite some anecdotal evidence of Americans clumped around their coffee machines and breakrooms while Germans are not only extra refreshed from all their extra vacation time but realize they need to be more productive because they have all that government mandated leave they have to take.
 
This came up in my German class, a comparison of the paltry amount of leave given here compared to the many many more days given to many European countries and our professor asked us which was better or worse. As in, if the supposed point in America is to allow free reigning capitalism so we can be more productive, are we succeeding? Obviously this study says different. I say I've only worked under on system so can't comment on the viability of other systems. However, their little jab at us chatting in breakrooms is a little off the mark. Let's keep in mind in Germany it's not uncommon to be drinking a few beers during the day, at least one with your lunch. Last I knew beer didn't increase productivity, right? Or maybe I'm doing something wrong.