Medical science to the rescue

Do you suffer from working for total douchebags? Do they ask you to do in five minutes what really takes you five hours? Do they then submit your work to their superiors or to the customer passing it off as their own? Well you need Fukitol.
That's right, medical science finally has the answer for you. We here at BioBlöd labs have been working away at a cure for cancer for twenty+ years now. Then we all got sick of each other's shit and decided to work on this instead.

Friends treating you badly when you fail to live up to their high expectations? Fukitol. Have three days worth of work to do if only you could get the damn machine working in the first place? Fukitol. Some asshole nearly run you off the road because he's not paying attention and definitely not using his goddamn turn signal? Fukitol.
Colleague Fluxor opines about bullshit review rating systems. Afterall, you do good work and you get a little fucking raise and a lot more work. Do totally shitty work and you get a little less than a little fucking raise and no more work. So what is the motherfucking point? We're sending Fluxor a free sample of our excellent new drug.
When your boss is a totally fucking useless douchebag, your coworkers are ignorant pieces of shit, and every other asshole is just pissing you off: Fukitol.


Procrastination bonus +2

I thought I'd make some progress on my work bench this weekend, but doesn't look like it's going to happen. I'll be working in the shop on campus tomorrow and will post if I get anything interesting. But if I just end up sewing all day again (yes my project is like that) than I won't bother. Meanwhile, love this video which reminds me I might need to go out and buy stuff as I'll soon no longer have access to a campus shop anymore.

Want and want. Btw for you sparkies who read this, is $25 and $200 for a function generator and a oscilloscope respectively good deals? Not sure where everyone gets their stuff, or if I'd even use it (I'd rather have the MIG welder obviously).

But I realize I'm going to have to start thinking about keeping an eye out for these things.


Emails I'd like to write

Dear Important Douchebag,
You might remember me, I've done a lot of the work that you and members of your group have passed off in communications to the customer as being your own work. I was a bit surprised when a customer contact looking for information came back to little old me. Because it seems like you sent them some instructions to use a piece of equipment provided by us and failed to indicate the part number or anything specific about that equipment. Then when you tell me it was a piece "made by engineering" I really have to wonder. Because I work in engineering and what we typical do here is put a fucking part number or name on something. We don't just make something and send it off to fairy land with nothing telling you what the hell it is or what you're supposed to use it on.
So when you calmly tell me there's no fucking part number I really have to wonder who's driving this thing and why some total fucking douchebag like you gets to take constant credit for my analysis and reports and then sends the customer a fucking instruction to use a fucking part that they have no fucking idea what it is. I'd really like your job because it probably pays 3-4x what I make and I wouldn't have to use my fucking brain which sounds great.
No fucking thanks to you asshole,
Your Mechanical Engineer


Crazy Cat Lady

The US DoD finally announced a winner for the KC-X tanker contract. The $35 billion contract was hotly contested with two major bids: Boeing and a team of Northrop Grumman and EADS/Airbus. After the USAF initially awarded the contract to the NGC EADS/Airbus team in December 2007 Boeing of course protested this award. This sort of thing is pretty normal in the defense industry. Slightly less normal was the patriotic response initially from Congress but eventually backed up by the Secretary Defense and a reassigning of who would make the final decision. Some stuff about European government support came to light to possibly explain the new award but in the end it was probably congressional pressure and the desire to award an American contract to an American company: Boeing.

In other news, not only do defense contractors manipulate congressmen to get contracts but turns out your cat might be manipulating you.
Turns out the relationship between your cat and you, especially if you are a woman, might be more interesting than you think. Turns out our cats actually form social bonds with us. They control when and how they are fed as do human infants and many cats take the place of a dependent child in families. In other cases, the cats and the humans both exhibit controlling behavior on one another.

Women tend to interact with their cats more meaning cats are more likely to approach women. But the kinds of relationships tend to be the same both with men and women.

Cats could very well be man's -- and woman's -- best friend.
"A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support," co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna explained. "A human and a cat can mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other's inclinations and preferences."
As a lady with several kitty friends in her lifetime I can definitely see this. Unfortunately for me, even my own cat came to prefer HerrTech over me so the preference for women doesn't hold true in personal experience, but I probably interact more with TechCat. And I'm sure we manipulate each other all the time. She's manipulating me right now by looking adorable in exchange for being petted. Tricky cats.

All systems go

Congratulations to the crew of STS-133 Space Shuttle Discovery for making it safely into orbit. Also a hearty thanks to the crews at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. An extremely historic day being the final launch of a space shuttle.


On which I rant with my ladybrain

My colleague over at Engineer Blogs wrote a great post on women in engineering. This is one of those cases where the internet both nurtures me and discourages me. It's nice to know there are dudes out there who respect me as a colleague and engineer first. It's nice to know there are guys who think society is largely responsible for the different career tracts men and women take. Before I graduated college I worked in the health care industry part time. And I really had no idea that there were still men out there who felt women were any less capable or intelligent.
But then I met so many excellent women on the internet who had the same experiences I did it was pure joy not to feel so alone. So this is just another rant about all the bullsh#$ floating around on the net and in my life and if you don't like it you don't have to read it.
The dudes on the reddit comments for Fluxor's article talk a lot about how women get all the jobs. That there are all these "big companies" out there who have to hire women to fill their diversity quota. Where are these companies? Perhaps someone could point me in the right direction? I'm job hunting in engineering with significantly more real world experience than my peers while applying for the same level of jobs. And yet, no bites so far. It would be interesting to know how many of my peers have job offers and whether that's overwhelmingly in favor of the perhaps 15-20% of women. But I can rant on what I do know.
In the last n+3 years my department went from having 0 female engineers to then 2, then it lost one, hired another one to bring it back up to 2, lost one, and hired back the one who left initially to push us back up to 2. In recent days we've swarmed to a whopping 4, three of whom are young early 20s and the other perhaps late 30s early 40s. These 4 people make up approximately 4.8% of the department's engineers. That's well below the national average of female mechanical engineers being something closer to 10%. One supervisor once told me until he hired his first female engineer that was the first resume he'd ever received from a woman. I don't know if that's true or not. With, as I said before, 15-20% of the engineers at my school being female one has to wonder why they either wouldn't be applying or would be getting screened out of even entry level positions.
And check this sh@# out, female engineers still earn less than their male counterparts. Glassdoor looked at female and male salaries based on years of experience alone. Looking at the bottom end you wouldn't expect "choices" about childrearing to have any affect on this. And yet, women compared with equally qualified men in the 0-3 years of experience range earn 97% the salary of their male colleages. Once you get into the 4-6 year experience category that gap widens to women earning 91%. Now I'd like to make some conclusions based on the women I know in the workforce but unlike the commenters on reddit, or many of my colleagues, I prefer not to draw conclusions from 4-5 people. When I've known perhaps several hundred engineers where 4-5 of whom are women it would be pretty idiotic to draw conclusions about their capabilities "as women" their relative ease or difficulty in career advancement or ridiculously unrelated things like their perceived level of attractiveness. I'll end this post with some quotes heard in the workplace and in all cases said to my face (not "shop talk" or "locker room talk").
Why isn't this organized? You should organize this, women are supposed to be good at organizing.
Could you go over to the shop and bat your eyelashes and make friends so we can get these parts done?
Did you know that so-and-so slept with her boss to get her job? She also slept with DudeA and DudeB. (All not true, but all none of his business regardless)
Well I had to give DudeX a raise, he has a family to support.
Who do you think is good for this role? Oh? Why would I promote her, she's preganant, right? So we're just going to lose her anyways. No, we'll find someone else. (She came back after the pregnancy and still works there).
What? That applicant didn't tell me she'd just had a kid. Can't believe she hid that one this whole time through the whole interview process.
I'm not sure why we're hiring another woman.
Stop disagreeing with me on this (engineering related discussion) I get enough backtalk at home.
Oh I see you're dressed like a lady today, that's a change. (wore a skirt, my bad)
Why are you working while in school, aren't you married?
And much, much more! Here's to me getting a job elsewhere as at the very least I'll have access to more data. And more data is always better.

Wear to Work Wednesdays #10 - The Interview

I've had a phone interview and attended a job fair where I got a lot of positive feedback. Hopefully it's not too overly optimistic to go purchase a suit. So I had a girl's shopping day with my Mom and got what I think is the same suit pictured above. Now I just need the interview. I was hoping time would pass faster with my being already gainfully employed and busy with other things, but waiting is still waiting and still frustrating no matter who you are.


Weekend Projects

Cleaned out my garage this weekend. I'm getting ready to build my workbench (Chris Gammell working on his this weekend helps the inspiration). Of course when you start digging through your garage you find all these pieces you saved for some other project you haven't even started yet. Notably the nice fabric to reupholster my dining room "bar" chairs. Given to us by my inlaws when we moved in they were really perfect for the backside of the countertop in the kitchen. But the seats themselves had seen better days.
That's cat fur all over the top of it and a huge tear in the side with the foam trying to battle its way out. My parents had given me this great selection of fabric to choose from so I went with this nice black patterned fabric. Now I think the seats make the chairs look more obviously worn, but it's starting to look like adults actually live in this house instead of a few rejects from the Lord of the Flies.
Pretty good for free, right? Also if someone's looking for a server rack you can stop by my garage, because I have one I really need to get rid of. There's a limit to projects and what you think you will do with the items you save, after a while you just have to give up for the sake of a cleaner garage. I'll post more garage pictures later when the workbench construction starts, but that's for another weekend.


Song and Dance

Thanks to everyone who gave me such wonderful advice before on interviews. I mentioned I'd have the opportunity to try it all out before long and indeed I did. In this case it was a job fair. One of the most nervous gatherings of people anywhere. A lot of young college grads who were inexperienced both in job skills but also in talking to recruiters.

I had gone to this job fair two years ago and felt crushed and demoralized after. My lack of experience, my confusing job status then, and my own self-confidence issues meant I did poorly. This time I started with my notes and did what several of you great commenters on here suggested. I practiced, practiced, practiced my self pitch and pumped myself up a little before each chat.

I got positive feedback from almost everyone I talked to. Of course in this economy that doesn't mean a whole lot but it was nice to feel like I'm on track. Like the sacrifices of the past couple years and the hard work and the drive and determination might just pay off. If not today, then soon.

It's not easy for me to project a self confidence I don't always feel. As a child I had much less caution or shyness in my life. Watching Michael Jackson's This Is It is an especially touching movie for me. I know many viewed MJ as changing and creepy and many other things. But for me he was and will always be the King of Pop. His songs inspired me to dance without self consciousness in front of the TV or the radio.

Sometimes I wish I could grab that younger me and take some of the energy and fearlessness into the future me. But it's enough that when I hear his music I want to dance and I feel the welling of joy within me. I get that same feeling from good times with my family and excitement in looking forward to future days well spent with those I love. But it's nice to have the music that brings my back to my youth and naivety before the scars and wounds of corporate America. But I survived this round of the gauntlet and will see if I can continue on to the next and higher level in the weeks and months ahead.


Insidious Inflation

It's another week of data mining for me. Trying to compare two equivalent pieces of hardware for what could be a very pricey subcontracting decision. It doesn't help the powers that be would like to limit the testing done (which of course limits the data) so that they look good to the people above them.
One place where there's plenty of data is the US Government websites. There's been some talk recently about the affects of TARP and the stimulus and the Fed buying up treasury bonds and pumping money into the economy and how that will affect inflation. There's been plenty of arguments that despite all this they haven't seen inflation really go up, and that's the Fed's major justification for not upping interest rates at this point. If you look at historic CPI you can see it's been pretty flat throughout this recession.

But of course the CPI doesn't include fuel or food or things most lower and middle class Americans purchase on a regular basis. Am I that concerned if the cost of my clothes or laptops is going up when food and petrol are my primary concerns? From my own personal data mining I've amassed a whopping three months of information on gas prices and you can see it's got a very obvious upward trend. The especially troubling part of that is that typical year end gas prices tend to drop and that starting the year on a high note for oil companies probably does not bode well for the rest of us.

Whether gas is really an early indicator could be argued. And the folks that are not inflation hawks will definitely argue to the contrary. Afterall, inflation is one of the best PR machines big business could really hope for. In many ways it's the opiate of the poor. It's much more satisfying to think back to what your father's hourly wage was in 1977 and think proudly you're making more than him. But you might not be.

The graph of median household income can be misleading and much more telling when you adjust the numbers for inflation. In actuality, real median household income has increased 7.5% since 1984 after being adjusted for inflation. (The numbers might be different if you look back to the 1970s, this was just the years I picked for consistency). So how does that compare to the economy?

The GDP can be seen to plateau during the recession a little and in fact the inflation adjusted gains make it look like GDP hasn't gained that much either. But in fact, US GDP has increased 73.9% since 1984, and that's with inflation adjusted numbers. So when we hear about how much wages are increasing or not increasing or try to compare ourselves to previous generations and measure how far we've come inflation can make it look like we're getting our fair slice of the pie when we're really not. And that's why I think the powers that be will not do anything to slow inflation anytime soon as it covers up the risking income inequality in this country and the gains business and industry have made on the backs of American workers.

All of these data sets were pulled from the US Census Bureau and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. I used the US BLS inflation calculator to adjust the raw data to an inflation baseline of 1984 when my data started.


That and $5 will get you a cup of Barley

Ever the overachiever I have stretched myself yet again. Not only am I also writing over at Engineer Blogs I'm also enjoying an exciting two weeks on the Scientopia Guest Blog. Myself and Paolo who is a Natural History curator are contributing our scientific observations to the Scientopia empire. Or is it scientific? In my introductory post there I talked a little about who I amand asked is engineering science? I also just wrapped up a post on NASA's Stardust mission and their efforts of marketing vs exploration. My blog colleague (blogolleague?) Paolo discussed a mystery item from his museum collection (I think it's a skull!) and discussed analyzing it to figure out exactly what it is.
My EB (that's Engineer Blogs) buddies have also been busy. Fluxor posted a circuit diagram and asked blog readers to pipe in with where the problem is in Part 1. My eyes kinda glazed over but he gives us the punchline in Part 2. Cherish discusses geological engineering and mapping of subsurface layers. Then last week we all discussed how we got into engineering (Cherish, Fluxor, Chris and me). Our two new guest bloggers joined: Paul Clarke and Michael Barr.
With all that great reading you shouldn't need me to say anything groundbreaking or interesting or remotely technical here, right? Good. Well I'll tell you something interesting anyways. Linda O'Brien can sell you roasted barley. You might be wondering, well wth can I do with that, FrauTech? Her husband being a farmer she was experimenting with malted barley and found it to have a coffee-like taste. So she's made ground roasted barley you can put in your coffee or espresso machine. She even drinks hers with creamer.
Like many serious coffee drinkers I often wonder what the heck the point is of drinking decaf. Either get over the caffeine, or drink something else. But I think this is an even better substitute because decaffeinated coffee still has small amounts of caffeine in it. So if you're trying to get that same coffee taste without the caffeine I'm now going to recommend you brew O'Brien's roasted barley, or RoBarr. Hopefully if she sees this she'll send me a free sample so I can review it. I've shied away from reviews in the past being only an average engineer and less than average at many other things but if there's one thing I'm damn good at it's drinking coffee.


Sell Yourself

I am not good at the interview. I have a tendency to ramble too much, a desire to fill the empty space with my talking. And whilst I am talking I can't think of the things I wanted to say. My elevator speech sounds more like a linear story of my progression rather than a sales pitch. All of the key points I try to remind myself ahead of time to bring up, all the ways to suggest I can really bring something of skill to the hiring manager, are forgotten in the heat of the moment.
Obviously next time I need to remember to have handwritten notes. Knowing ahead of time what I want to say is no good when I get nervous and blank out. But what else, how do you sell yourself?


Jet Engine Eats Tax Dollars

Here we again. More infighting and lying and bragging on the "alternate engine" for the F-35. You see, Pratt & Whitney won the initial engine competition for the F-35. The main competitor, a team of GE and Roll's Royce (not the same as the car manufacturer) lost the competition. You would think that would be the end to it. But no. Congress has been diverting program money towards the alternate engine. I talked about this before.
On Monday, just in time for a romantic Valentine's Day, the Department of Defense budget will be released. The budget will likely not include funding for the alternate engine. And the two engine manufacturers are trying to get ahead of the story with their own competing press lines.
So far Pratt & Whitney is running at 16% under cost per engine. But the new budget is going to include more funding for them, along the lines of a billion dollars more. GE and Roll's Royce are trying to draw plenty of attention to this extra funding as while some of it is for extra delivery of engines and related services, some is also pegged towards improvement. GE and Rolls are trying to demonstrate their engine is more innovative than the P&W engine and both are arguing about how worthy metrics like fuel burn are.
I suspect this will be contentious and I frankly don't care which engine is actually better. But we should be angry when competition doesn't fuel (see what I did there?) a better product but instead a hissy fit that serves no one, and congress while cutting budgets everywhere else continues to fund a defense item that is completely redundant and as far as typical defense programs completely unnecessary.


Engineer to Manager?

Does moving up in the business world require sacrificing all your ethical standards? Zuska just wrote a post on a string of crazy bosses.
True that. The comment thread pondered whether this phenomenon might be more prevalent in technical fields or a strategy used by some companies to get rid of low level employees in a particular group. I think these are valid and I also wondered whether the skills required to move up and be a manager don't automatically lend themselves to changing who a person is or self selecting for certain kinds of people.
You do not hear about the white collar, middle to upper middle class people who go shitznutz and instead of bringing a gun to work and shooting up a bunch of folks, just psychologically abuse the hell out of everyone under their control.
I've noticed the more I "move up" on projects the less hands on work I actually accomplish. More of my time is spent in a project management phase. And when you get to that point you're dealing in knowledge and tracking and conveying information. Which often means I've no longer designed the object in question but am just relaying its status. When you're talking to higher level people on a project, and your designers and technicians are not, this can seem to me like taking credit for their work. Or the more powerpoint I am required to do the more information I must "steal" from others to incorporate in a presentation that management will see. There's no decent way to "credit" your fellow employees, or even yourself, in these presentations. I've seen my name go on documents and projects I had very little to do with besides compiling information. But I've also seen comprehensive reports and presentations that I've poured my heart into get sent several levels above me without any mention that I contributed. There doesn't seem to be any logic to it and while I know I am queasy every time I take implicit credit for another person's work I realize my manager, and his manager, do not have the same qualms.
Chris Gammel over at EngineerBlogs just did a post on expectations for electrical engineering starting salaries. He talks about how the starting salary can seem high after being in school but often the growth flattens out over time. Unless of course, one moves into management. Is the tradeoff worth it? Is management self selecting or do people actually change in order to go into it?


Can college teach critical thinking?

Two sociologists wrote a book from a four year study that followed 2,300 students at 24 universities and tried to see what they actually learned. What they found was, in general, college students did not improve on critical thinking and writing skills. They blame a lack of "rigor" in university schoolwork and a system of student evaluations that pressures professors to assign less and less work. Students in liberal arts disciplines did slightly better than students in business or communications.
I first read about this over at Historiann's with a longer article on the study here and was reminded about this when one of the authors did an interview on NPR this morning. There's also an article on discussion on this topic over at Higher Education.
Personally I feel so much of it is a kids these days kind of attitude. It's in the ruling elite's best interest to prove that today's college students just didn't learn as much or as well as they did back in the day. But what with cutting funding over the last 30 years to public education institutions it's no surprise to me something would suffer as a result. But how about critical thinking or writing? Never once I have seen that directly asked in a job application or been able to deduce that an interviewer was actually looking for it. Especially in engineering there is a tendency to ask what products the person worked with, what kind of designs they can generate, their hardware and software skills. Back in my humanities days I wrote a lot. We had an excellent writing program in my high school which was topped off with a very specific writing program in college. Almost all my humanities classes required papers, easily hitting the 20 pages they discuss in that article. In engineering there was writing, but it wasn't as consistent. There was writing in early introduction and design courses, then again at the end in the senior level classes. But inbetween it's mostly problem solving. The occasional use of a CAD program or a few classes covering software programming whether in C or matlab were the only real take home assignments.
And why not? I write better than many of the young engineers I work with. But my writing skills have never come into play with my employers. I have a whole degree that covered writing, analyzing, critical thinking and other "soft" skills. Instead they ask what CAD program I've used, and for how many years, and did I use this other analysis programs? They ask what kind of hardware I've designed or tested looking for application specific knowledge. I think there's an assumption amongst employers that "soft" skills like writing can come in time whereas technical skills they really want new employees to have right away. I think this might be flawed, but it represents the system as it is. A good [designer] can learn to write whereas a good writer can never learn to [design], substitute in whatever the desired technical skill is.
But employers like to complain that college grads are not qualified period. That even in this economy they can't get qualified people to hire. Often this is attributed to a back in my day we used to kind of attitude with an assumption that whatever skills that manager learned in school 20 years ago are superior to whatever skills the student is learning now. I'm not saying the bar hasn't lowered for higher education. But a student graduating now is expected to have all the technical knowledge of an engineering degree, with the hands on knowledge of a shop, as well as software skills with programming, CAD, matlab, ANSYS, etc. They're also supposed to be pretty competent with MS Word, Excel and Project. Oh and they want specific application experience. I mean how can they expect to have this memorization and working knowledge combination and come out with a student who can think independently or apply the facts they've spent the last 20 years learning? I think new college grads will never be good enough for employers or for sociologists alike.
So much of what makes you who you are and what makes you good at what you do you learn on the job. This holds true for technical skills, application specific knowledge, and tribal knowledge. So why can't it hold true for critical thinking? If we aknowledge technical skills can be learned on the job, why not soft skills? We may not value it as highly but it seems like our employees could improve in many ways and we should stop expecting so much for an education system we've stopped adequately funding.


Engineering Ethics

How do you properly teach ethics in engineering (or for that matter any other discipline) in class? In my experience it gets lumped in with some more report-focused class taught as a few mandatory lectures. It's important, but I'm not sure it's always conveyed very well.
Students have seen the same Tacoma Narrows bridge, Challenger explosion, Columbia burnout over and over again. I suspect the Apollo 1 fire was featured more prominently in engineering ethics courses not so many years ago, but now it fades into old news. And the students in these classes are no longer old enough to remember the Challenger. They were probably in middle school or high school when the Columbia tried to re-enter earth's atmosphere. Two years after 9-11, and 17 years after Challenger, I can't help but think this didn't have the same impact that previous disasters did.
And college students are notoriously unresponsible immature assholes. I don't like the ethics lectures because when we watch a video on the Columbia taking off and it fades away I hear a few "boom"s from the lecture hall. When somebody comes on to talk about it they snicker at his 1980s mustache. This is a cartoon for them. They're not taking the loss of life any more seriously than they're capable of taking anything else. Sure, maybe some of it is a nervous humor, an attempt to not have to take it seriously. Because that might be too real. But these are America's future engineers.
I think my age both in Challenger having a greater impact on the lives of those around me as well as being past the point of making jokes in lecture is what separates me from the vocal minority in these cases. But I try to think about the lecturer and what I would do in his case to try to get through to these students. Mandatory ethics lectures are irritating to many people, myself included. We all have places we'd rather be and other responsibilities in our life. But a brief discussion and a thirty minute video doesn't seem to be reaching these people. I feel like only in remembering these tragedies and especially remembering the pain and terrible loss of life can we hope to do better in the future.


Better Cheese with Machines

Who would have known something so innocuous as cheese would be breaking so many boundaries. I talked last year about the cheese wheel that went into space. Now some research in the Journal of Food Engineering offers some methods for measuring cheese composition. You know an article that begins The cheese industry demands... is going to be good. I picture them to be a 1950s-esque men in black kind of organization setting the requirements for cheese.
But food composition is serious business, after all Taco Bell is being sued for its beef content in its tacos. Using ultrasonics to detect food composition has been around and has advantages over traditional methods. Mostly you don't have to destroy the food you're testing. In this case the experimenters were analyzing eight brands of cheese. They extracted cylinders of the cheese samples and used a pair of narrow band ultrasonic transducers. These devices generate sound waves in the ultrasonic range and in this case send them at the cheese. They rounded out their test equipment with a pulser receiver and a good old oscilloscope.
They then measured the ultrasound velocity of the samples at various temperatures. The receiver measured the time it took the wave to travel through the cheese, six trials each, and they had the cylinders measured to an accuracy of 0.01 mm. What maybe was expected was that the velocity would be based on the fat and water content of the cheeses. The fat behaving differently at various temperatures was what led to velocity measurements at different temperatures.
What they found was the structure of the cheese mattered a lot. The equations for modelling wave propagation based on dairy fat could change based on how the manufacturer made their cheese and the texture of the cheese even if the fat and water composition was very similar. The experimenters also made their own cheese blends using a vacuum to remove extraneous air and found their predictions fared better in this case because the differences in cheese structure and manufacturing didn't have as much of an effect.
So sound waves to test food? Probably not too far around the corner. It's easy to think of industrial applications where this would simplify your quality process or even better a way of making government food agencies much more productive with their limited resources. But there would have to be a lot of development and specialization to get it to be accurate.

Telis-Romero, J., Váquiro, H., Bon, J., & Benedito, J. (2011). Ultrasonic assessment of fresh cheese composition Journal of Food Engineering, 103 (2), 137-146 DOI: 10.1016/j.jfoodeng.2010.10.008


Roll Initiative

What's better than picking out new dice? Perhaps the excitement and anticipation of time spent with friends and people you love doing something sure to be fun. It's the people that make something awesome, but it's the dice that lets them know you are serious.


Cold Winter Weekend

In a show of solidarity for those of you suffering through snowpocalypse I had a Dairy Queen blizzard. You're welcome.


Imposter Engineer

Despite coming from the generation where supposedly every kid got a trophy just for participating I am not an overly confident person. Don't get me wrong, I am confident in who I am. Thanks to a family that raised me right, no adverse or unstable conditions in my childhood, and now a good support system of that same family, my husband and some friends I feel good about who I am. But when it comes to what kind of engineer I am I have a strong case of imposter syndrome.

Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study or what external proof they may have of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced internally they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are actually frauds. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

The engineers whose intelligence I admire come from a mix of backgrounds. Some from prestigious schools, some from less so, and still more who never got a degree but you would never know it based on their top notch job performance. Sometimes I see people at my age and career path who seem to possess a better working knowledge of the equipment and I begin to question why I am even here.

Only occasionally am I surprised in the other direction. I wrote just yesterday about my struggles with report and technical writing only to be surprised today putting together a report with some of my fellow students. Granted I have a lot more experience writing reports than they likely do, but oftentimes I am impressed with their previous knowledge and experience (some a military background) as well as their creativity and innovation. However none of this made them good writers and their portions of the report were unclear and not persuasive.

So I spend a lot of time checking out books from my university library (while I still have access) and reading up on what I wish I knew more about, the thing my group does primarily. Still I don't feel this provides me with the instinct and hands on knowledge I respect from my superiors. And yet, though I feel my university gave me a good theoretical background I've seen other students from the same university and at about the same career point able to grasp theoretical workings of the equipment much faster than I can. So I know there are two paths I need improvement on.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm just not good at this. That perhaps my sparkling personality (you didn't see that coming did you) or mere determination is the only reason I'm still here. It would explain a lot of the unfair treatment I get. At other times I wonder whether I am more competent than I realize, though possibly less so than the people I compare myself to. Other times I wonder if I am excelling and just don't realize it. Then I swing back to thinking I am incompetent and a below average Engineer. One small benefit of working on an interdisciplinary team is how it exposes you to what you do know and other engineers don't. And that's one of the nice things about being surrounded by sparkies (that's EEs) on EngineerBlogs. When they talk about something electrical or build something amazing it doesn't bother me as much because I'm not an EE and I don't feel as bad by comparison. It's more a fun experience of learning a little about something I didn't already know. If only I could apply the same attitude to my own discipline.


Path to a better writer

I am totes swamped today. Hence swamp thing perched above my words. And this is why I only have the neurons to spare for one thoughtful post today. You will have to head over to EngineerBlogs to read my post: Technical Writing Ups & Downs. Because hey, it's on my mind grapes right now. Because guess what I'm swamped with?


Wear to Work Wednesdays #9

The one advantage of Snowpocalypse has got to be cute snow boots.
Boots by North Face
Shirt by The Gap
A-line skirt from Land's End
Pashmina scarf from Amazon
Snowflake earrings from Kohl's
Wool coat from Ralph Lauren
Pair with some warm tights and shuffle on in to work!


Blogging about STEM

With all this talk about women science bloggers a few have been mentioning a problem. That it seems as if women who blog about science do not get the same attention/audience that men who blog about science. And that women who may start off blogging about science will eventually be compelled to blog about women in science. So I was curious where I stood on the balance.
From the pie chart (mmmmpie) I'm actually surprised how much engineering fills up my posts. Of course this is post only, not based on reaction/audience. And I'm surprised how little bitching about work is in there. The women thing I did not foresee when I started blogging but it's something I have strong opinions about so it doesn't bother me it's part of the balance. Clearly I'm not blogging about my cat enough.
If any readers/commenters would like to pipe up with suggestions or what they'd like to see more/less of, go right ahead! Like I told my professor today in lecture after he criticized my design and then pseudo-apologized, go ahead, I can take it!

A welding robot for all those hard to reach places

Many of the challenges in ship building or ship maintenance stem from environmental concerns: from the seemingly minor in not wanting ship material or ship waste to enter to the ocean to the obvious preventing future spills or catastrophic failures like the Exxon Valdez. One of the solutions to making liquid-cargo ships more resistant to failure is a double hull design.

When major disasters like mining disasters or situations like the gulf oil spill occur one question people often ask is why we still have humans doing these dangerous jobs. And that comes into play with the welding necessary in assembling a double hull ship design. The space welders have to be in to do their jobs are very small with floors and girders blocking them in and the areas can get extremely hot during the day. All this combined means the work can be extremely dangerous to the people involved. Attempts have been made before to design welding robots that could do the work in place of human workers.

Welding carriages exist but these are limited by often being able only to operate within a few axes of motion. Larger and more flexible 6-axis machines exist but the overhead devices needed to hold these robots don't fit within the confines of a double hull structure. The authors of the study found a viable commercial option that is small and lightweight and able to operate within the small area required but still unable to make the important u-shaped welds often required in these spaces due to limited control and degrees of freedom of the robot.
The designers took the leading commercial welding robot design and came up with some additions to optimize it. One issue with getting the welding robot into the space is the small size of the access hole combined with a heavy and large robot can make it near impossible for human hands to guide it in. They developed a bridge plate that supports the weight of the robot and along with two winches would allow two workers to move the robot in and out of the access hole.

The final design uses both driving wheels on the floor along with passive wheels for guidance overcoming previous design weaknesses that relied on driving wheels only and could not move as accurately with dirt and debris on the ship floor. The rails it drives along fold up to allow it to move in and out of the closed space. It contains a six axis welding manipulator, comparable to other high end commercial devices, along with a sophisticated controller and positioning device. Six AC servo motors (encoders) are directed by a four layered logic modularized controller in the CPU.

Designers also reduced the size of the hand held controller needed to operate the robot as well as adding in the capability of it communicating wirelessly with the robot rather than via a cable. In the end they reduced the time required to weld, still met satisfactory welding standards, and based on field testing have some ideas for future design.

As in many other applications, some of the best developments come out of combining previous successful designs or seemingly slight improvements to the existing solution. This is also one case where field testing proved incredibly useful and I'm sure we'll see some interesting follow up from this study.

Lee, D., Ku, N., Kim, T., Kim, J., Lee, K., & Son, Y. (2011). Development and application of an intelligent welding robot system for shipbuilding Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, 27 (2), 377-388 DOI: 10.1016/j.rcim.2010.08.006