Design Fridays: Engine Runs on your Dreams

Cyclone Power is developing the Mark V engine and claiming it can run on "almost any fuel." In actuality it looks a little like a lawnmower engine in size. In principle it runs off a rankine cycle or regenerative heat cycle or, they claim, a Schoell Cycle named after the inventor who originally developed the cyclone engine. Rankine follows a four step process:
  • 1 ->2 Fluid in liquid stage pumped to high pressure
  • 2 ->3 Heated at constant pressure, becomes a saturated vapor
  • 3 ->4 Vapor goes through a turbine, generates power
  • 4 ->1 Vapor enters a condenser and becomes a saturated liquid
I'm a bit skeptical as to their claim of this being anything "new" or being able to run on "any fuel." I talked a bit on Engineer Blogs about diesel and the way a compression ignition engine versus a spark ignition engine functions are pretty different. Just because their engine might have some flexibility does not mean it wouldn't lose a lot of its efficiency depending on what the working fluid is. They're claiming they can use algae or waste oil as fuel but honestly this is nothing new. Most diesel engines can be easily (or fairly easily given you have time and know what you're doing and have a little money for parts) modified to run on many other kinds of fuel. That's the whole point of biofuel, it runs in engines we've already designed and are using. Especially in large vehicles and trucks which still account for a huge percentage of our transportation costs for shipping product in this country.
Getting all that aside, I do think it's interesting. You don't see a whole lot of radial engines these days. Combining it with a rankine-type cycle and focusing on growing demand for biofuel power generation devices is probably pretty prescient. But there's reasons we don't use external combustion engines in our cars or airplanes so we need to keep looking for practical solutions for that fit our society for both cost and environmental reasons. And maybe something like this can be a part of it.
I think hydrogen engines are promising (maybe that's a whole future post?) and while small, solar powered stations might work for individual's cars it won't serve as a substitute for the whole power structure. Clearly we need diversity in our power solutions and maybe this clever little engine can be a part of that.


Kissing Up to the Boss

There was a segment on Marketplace Money last week on the art of sucking up. They remind you to be subtle and give three basic tactics:
  1. Phrase your compliment as asking for advice and guidance
  2. Pretend to disagree at first before coming around to their point of view, supposedly this will come off as more genuine
  3. Pass compliments through a third party
Is it true that the ass-kissers really do move up more? Probably, though it's disappointing. I mean pure flattery probably isn't going to get you somewhere, but as someone in the segment put it, flattery lets someone know what qualities you value in them. It's almost a way of encouraging a certain kind of behavior, especially if it's done to subordinates or colleagues rather than to your boss.
One of the successes in the story when asked for a tip reminds the listener that often when someone gets made a boss they expect others to ingratiate themselves to him. Maybe that's what I tend to forget, that sometimes "the boss" wants you to at least pretend you're kissing up now just because he expects it from everyone. I've certainly seen it after promotion.
How about in your experience, does kissing-up help? What are your strategies for using flattery as a job aid?



How do you know when it's okay to settle for something? I mean, I'm relatively happy now at work and while maybe I didn't get everything I wanted I did get something, a lot more than I thought I'd get, better than meeting in the middle. At what point is it okay to just sit back, relax and enjoy that? Especially when everyone else is in my life is telling me to keep job searching and keep striving for stuff elsewhere?
Have you ever settled? Did you regret it?


Great kid, now don't get cocky

There's something to be said for getting more important and respected in your profession and at your work. You get noticed more, you notice people treat you with more respect and deference than they did before, you're a lot more high profile. There's good and bad to this, obviously the growing plague of more and more meetings and phone conferences being on the bad side. But sometimes you are cruising along like the cat who just ate the canary and someone turns on the vacuum cleaner.
Now you're a scared cat hiding in the corner. Your goofs and mistatements are a lot more high profile now too. You can't hide behind the "well I just work here" when you're supposed to be running a project. Or to quote Spiderman's uncle, with great power comes great responsibility.
And it's tough to take that slap in the face. To know that you, oh great rookie whom much is expected, can also fail and do wrong every now and then. It's a painful reminder of your own humanity. Or to quote from The Philadelphia Story, with the rich and mighty, always a little patience.
You can't let yourself blow up like a balloon just because you're a rising star. That balloon rubber is awfully thin material and punctures easily. You'll need a thick skin for when you get blamed for other people's mistakes as often as you get blamed for your own. I think it's easier getting yelled at for something you didn't do than for something you know you goofed on. Even if you think you didn't know any better at the time you keep telling yourself you should have known better. I had this same problem more than a year ago and I've apparently learned nothing since. I'm trying to tell myself that on the inside a little humility is a good thing. But on the outside, I need to put my shield up and be ready to take no prisoners.


Highest Paid Jobs For Women

There's an article today in Forbes discussing the highest paid careers for women in 2011. I condensed their very graphical gallery into a clean little graph. You'll notice some of the higher numbers for percentage of earnings as compared to men are also in the same careers where the percentage of women employed is a much lower position. This is a man's world, to quote James Brown. I guess I'm a little surprised some of the more people oriented careers don't have better equality and surprised there's only 31% of doctors and surgeons that are women. I mean we've been hearing for years now about how more women than men go to college and medical school and how that spells the end of dudes. The article quotes one dude who dismisses the pay gap with some great mansplaining:

"We may be witnessing an aging factor," speculates behavioral psychologist Matt Wallaert, lead scientist at compensation website GetRaised. "The highest paid doctors are the oldest doctors. With more women in the field, they may be aging up and earning more."


Right, we also may be witnessing a bullshit factor in which monkeys fly out of your ass. Women programmers make up 22% of the profession and earn a much better 95% salary compared to their male peers. So don't tell me we just need more women or time or some such crap.


They talk a little about "engineers" by which they mean software engineers coming in at #5 on the list:


"Engineers are generally employed by younger tech companies with less entrenched male-dominated cultures," says Wallaert, pointing to Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg as a female leader in the field. "Women need to embrace tech. It's a growing industry, and gender doesn't apply."

Technical occupations may be particularly promising for women because they are high-paying and require clear, objective qualifications. "You can program or not," says Blau.


Yes, technical positions are so clear that's why women kick ass at them. Oh wait, we don't. Any working engineer has known several douchebaggy coworkers who kissed ass and moved up in title and pay despite having no marketable technical skills or even a good understanding of the product they're on. So don't tell me this is a job position that doesn't allow for forms of discrimination. And secondly, looking at software engineers as working only at brightly decorated flip-flop wearing Web 2.0 companies is probably a very small piece of the pie. Some of us are working for dinosaurs who won't be satisfied until we've all sold our souls and self-respect for health care benefits and a 6x6x6 cube (notice a numbers trend?) to spend 80 hours a week in.


Not sure what I'd recommend women go into based off this list. Programming or software engineering where the pay discrepancy is lower but they have to deal with overwhelming numbers and possible dominant and established male culture or maybe healthcare where the earnings are decent though not fair but they'll have more female allies and mentors and superiors. Tough call.


Wear to Work Wednesdays #12

I was looking around online when I stumbled upon these new 9-5 looks from Nordstrom. This one caught my eye and then my eye caught the price tag and rolled into my head. Something in the range of $700+ not including the pants that apparently aren't for sale anymore.

So this week's outfit is using this as inspiration but hopefully using some slightly more economical choices (though for me still on the pricey side, but a girl can dream.)

This sweater from Banana Republic ($80) with this striped tee underneath from J Crew ($45). I liked the darker shirt underneath, swapped the dark and light emphasis from the Nordstrom look, and dropped the belt in favor of a more fitted sweater.
Pair with these wide leg trousers from Lands End ($20!), this great chunky bracelet from Amazon ($20) and these affordable and comfortable looking platform sandles from Old Navy ($32). All together that's $197. Certainly not on the cheap side of clothing life, but a lot more reasonable than Nordstrom's overpriced outfit and with all the same feel and class. All right you, get back to work!

2012 Mustang's Dials

Simple, elegant. Almost art deco. Interior lighting can make them blue and more modern looking if that's your thing.
Test drove an SS Camaro and a Mustang GT a few weeks back. More to come, but this camaro-lover really dug the Mustang's design style.


We all make hypocritical mistakes

I just made a huge mistake. I sent a document to someone that wasn't supposed to see it. We all know email recall doesn't really work, especially outside your own organization. So I had to make some crap up and tell them not to pass it on. Theoretically they are principled and it will be fine.
The funny part is, the document is not incorrect or misleading in any way. In fact its just the direct result of what these people have been involved with for a long time. But apparently we're not supposed to send them the truth, the whole truth, without shining it up for them first. Despite the fact they are equal partners in this we can't send them even draft information in an effort to help ease communication. And when this happens to us, and people won't send us the direct information or the "raw" data before polishing it for us first, we get angry. We get angry they dare slow things down and hold stuff back from us. We're adults, we can handle "draft" forms of stuff that we know might change, we're not going to forward it to our planning people and let them freak out over it.
But this apparently crossed the line. It's okay for us to be adults and see some raw data that might change, but apparently we don't extend the same benefit of the doubt to the other end of the line. We're afraid they'll really see how the sausages are made around here.

Jesus died for your SUV

If I were a prophet in Israel a couple thousand years ago I'd be pretty psyched to know my name, method of death, and some occasional cryptic messages were not only used to power the capitalist Christian materialism market but also to cover people's cars and minivans. I mean you could donate that money to the poor or work towards a better world, but having a brightly colored bumper sticker is like pretty much the same thing, amirite?


Cost of a college education

What's it cost to get a college degree these days and is it worth it? The economix blog at the NY Times talks about the rising cost of student debt. Graduates who took out loans left college with an average of $24,000. That might not sound as high as the scare tactic numbers you've been reading everywhere, but of course the concern is that not every college student finishes their degree. So while the total lifetime earnings of a college grad are better than those of just a high school graduate, they aren't always achieving higher starting salaries when they need them to start paying off expensive student loan payments.
Cost of college does seem to be more about choices though than the media makes it out to be, Bankrate has this list of the 10 top most expensive and cheapest private and public colleges. Sarah Lawrence tops out at 30k+ a year (not including room and board I'm guessing) but even the most expensive public colleges range from 8-10k. That's probably in-state tuition, and probably not including room and board, and there's always the top 10 affordable public colleges in the range of 2.6-3.2k a year. Not too bad, and several of them are not bad.

Has college tuition and student loan debt gotten out of control? Or are too many people making poor choices and not attending local and affordable state colleges? Or is that not even an issue when expensive colleges and student loan companies are fleecing parents and students?


Hello there old chap

How often do you use the phrase "good morning"? And how often do you use the phrases "good afternoon" or "good evening?" I say good morning or, alternatively, mornin' quite often. But good afternoon makes me feel like some old timey gentleman who's taking off his top hat and inviting you to tea and good evening makes me feel like that or like a Bond villain. Sure you might say these things on the phone occasionally, but how often do you say them in person? Discuss.

Can't we all just get along?

Today over at Engineer Blogs I talk about the age gap in the workplace. What to do when your manager is younger than you, or when you are now the young hotshot boss supervising older employees. Feel free to stop over and pipe up with your experiences with this.


Economic Trifecta

There's good news and there's good news. But is any of this anything other than corporate bull or unrestrained economic optimism?
According to The Detroit News, the auto industry faces an engineer shortage. Of course if you read the article there's no real data to back this up other than this tidbit:

The nation's auto sector added 32,000 jobs during the past year, and thousands have been among engineers.

General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC announced last fall that they were hiring 1,000 engineers — though some are contractors. Ford Motor Co. is hiring 750 salaried workers in product development this year; many are engineers.

No real numbers on how many of the new hires are auto engineers. Or how that is supposed to backfill all the positions they laid off. Also the assessment that "the future is brighter" is pretty weak compared to their overly optimistic title.

CNNMoney has decided similarly to be optimistic reporting jobs recovery is fo' realz, yo. Yes hiring picked up last month. Not sure where there's any data to show it's sustained. I'd sure like it to be, but I'm also not afraid to be all Debbie Downer on this sunshine and rainbow fest if I need to.

And lastly, CNNMoney is all like engineering is the best paying college major. Fantastic.

Chemical engineers were offered the highest starting salaries this year -- an average of $66,886. Mechanical engineers received salary offers averaging $60,739, and electrical and communications engineering majors saw average offers of $60,646. Computer engineering was the fifth highest-paying major, with offers averaging $60,112.

Rounding out the top ten best-paying majors were industrial engineering, systems engineering, engineering technology, information sciences and systems, and business systems networking or telecommunications.

What, really? Where are these jobs?! I'm pretty shocked EE isn't much higher on this list, or CE as many of those people end up working in software. Which is where I've seen all the jobs lately. I guess this is the average pay if you were lucky enough to actually get a job. If you were part of the 10% unemployed who can't get a job, sorry. Or if you're part of the unknown percentage of engineering graduates who gave up and went into some other field just so you could earn a freaking paycheck not sure what your average salary is there. I'd definitely recommend engineering over art history, but I'm not sure we can celebrate about who has the "highest salary" when it's all moot as no one's hiring anyone anyways.


Next step in space

SpaceX, a private rocket and space flight company, is designing the second most powerful rocket in history. I talked on here before how disappointed I was when Obama (and congress) cut the Ares Rocket program which was supposed to be the replacement space flight rocket after the shuttle is retired. Nothing compares to the Saturn V rocket that was responsible for the impressive Apollo program, and SpaceX's new rocket is supposed to have about half the power. Meaning we'd need two, or two stages, to get to the moon again. But it's still better than anything we've got now, especially as our soon to be defunkt shuttle program is only a low orbital space program.
To Obama's credit, I guess we do see that private industry is developing and doing amazing things. But of course if we wanted to use these we'd actually have to buy them. SpaceX estimates they'll cost $80-$125 million for each launch. Angry commenters on the NPR article ask what good is it to spend $125 million when we're cutting money on education and social programs every day. And I agree, it's frustrating. I don't think we should educate kids any less just to go to space. But maybe we need to put this $125 million into perspective.
Currently each shuttle launch costs us $1.3 billion. That's including total equipment cost, subcontractors, and support. So that $125 million mentioned above would have to be rolled into a larger number to include a lander, training, ground support, electronics payloads, etc. I've also talked about the alternate engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter in the past. The alternate engine, meaning the one that lost the initial development contract, made by GE has continued to be funded by congress at a total cost since 1997 of $2.5 billion. That's for an engine we haven't actually bought any of and probably will never be able to use or buy. That is pure development dollars for GE. Funding was cut off earlier this year and it was estimated $900 million to complete the F136 development engine. That's right, before we could even buy any.
The estimated total cost of the Iraq war up to 2010 has been estimated to be $704 billion. Combining that with the war in Afghanistan it's expected to cost $2.4 trillion by 2017. One week into our "no fly zone" in Libya we were up to $550 million in additional costs to the department of defense for that effort.
Don't get me wrong, I am pro-defense spending. But like Secretary Gates I'm for smart spending. Spending that supports our troops and develops new and uesful technologies when we need them, and holds defense companies accountable for cost and timetables. But more importantly, this is not an either or situation. We don't have to gut defense or education in order to have a viable space flight program. We may have to stop giving people tax breaks on their second homes or stop taxing capital gains (interest earned) far less than we tax labor income. We may have to raise the edge of eligibility for social security or reduce benefits to those who have assets above a certain amount. But when you put the costs in perspective, especially when you compare it to a few wars nobody really likes, I think it's worth it.
I hope the US develops an earnest interest in science and technology again. I hope, like the title of an excellent book, that we develop a passion for mars.


You Get Stronger

Heard this on the radio last week, NPR's Fresh Air and felt like it was powerful enough to reiterate. Terry Gross was interviewing columnist and author Dan Savage and his husband and author Terry Miller about their It Gets Better project and their book on the topic (transcript of the interview here).
To quote Terry Gross and give a background if you are unfamiliar:

The project is a collection of videos on their website and YouTube channel addressed to teenagers who are bullied because they are or are perceived as gay, lesbian, bi or transgendered. On the videos, people share their own stories of being bullied and then urge teens to hang in there because things will get better.

Savage and Miller founded the project after reading about two 15-year-olds who were bullied at school and then hanged themselves. Savage and Miller made the first video, in which they talked about how they were bullied in school and how their lives got better, much better. They found each other; they adopted a son.

When they launched the website, they were hoping to get 100 video submissions, but the website went viral, and before the end of the first week, they had 1,000 videos. Now they have a book version of their project, collecting some of the stories from their website. The book is titled "It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying and Creating a Life Worth Living."

Then Gross asked for their favorite ones and Savage described the following (emphasis mine):

One of my favorites is by a lesbian Latina poet in the Bronx named Gabrielle Rivera, who said - really contradicted the message in a powerful way. She writes: As a gay woman of color, I just want to let the youth know that it kind of doesn't get better.

All these straight, rich celebrities, I'm not even going to name them, they can tell you that it gets better because they've got money and people don't care what they do. They're coming from a good place and stuff, and I appreciate that.

But I'm going to be real because I live this life and I'm not rich and I'm brown, and I probably look like most of you. It doesn't get better, but what happens is this: You get stronger.

And I thought that was so tremendous when I watched Gabrielle Rivera's video because it's really the Latina, lesbian, Bronx way of saying it gets better: You get stronger.

I think that speaks to a lot of people and is such a universally awesome message. So wherever you are this week if you're having a tough time or know someone who is: You get stronger.


Coffee Addiction Hardwired?

Is caffeine addiction in our genes? Maybe. Researchers at Virginia University found a gene that may be responsible for caffeine consumption or at least possibly the ability to metabolize more caffeine.

Miniature: Halfling Rogue

Well technically the mini is of a dwarf. Unpainted shown first, the character I'm playing right now.


Design Fridays: Ideal Coffee Temperature

A new entrepreneurial approach to that perfect cup of coffee in the morning: Coffee Joulies.That largish, metallic "coffee bean" is not just a paper weight to say how much you love coffee. Supposedly it's filled with a phase-changing substance that will both quickly cool your coffee to an ideal temperature and then keep it from cooling quite as fast after that. Though I find the reference to it being filled with a phase-changing material a little non-specific and bordering on marketing woo. I mean, water is a phase changing substance.

Some sites have said metal is in it, which is possible, though all the makers are willing to say is that it is an FDA approved substance. Remains to be seen how effective they are (compared to say, little spheres of metal that might have the same affect because they are thermally conductive: soak in the heat of the coffee to cool it to a certain temperature quickly, then retain the thermal heat therby not allowing it to cool very fast). But I do agree they are cool looking which is half the battle, so that's why I'm showing them here. Cooling looking coffee bean paper weights. Maybe they work better any other thermally conductive substance at keeping your coffee in the ideal temperature range. Maybe they don't.


DARPA Thursdays: 3D Holographic Battle Planning

One of the challenges facing the military is how to effectively communicate a battle plan. If you're going to a physical place it's helpful to have as many visual aids as possible. One of the things DARPA has tried to develop along these lines is a 3D holographic display. And they've succeeded.

Not that 3D holographic display, this 3D holographic display.

It's called UPSD Urban Photonic Sandtable Display. It allows a 3D display that does not require any special glasses and allows up to 20 participants to stand around, look at it, and interact. Or interact so much as freezing, rotating, zooming, etc. Freeze and enhance! (I know mixing my Star Wars metaphors with my Star Trek quotes is just asking for it).

It can be any where from six inches to six feet and is meant to process data (possibly population or medical data) and interpret in like a 3D graph. They're working on incorporating that with previous 3D technology they've developed for mapping that is supposedly being used by troops in Afghanistan.

So what does this mean? Doesn't look too impressive admittedly at the moment but clearly the capabilities and options are there. And while now it's being developed by the military for urban missions I could see it being used by city planners and developers or by aid groups who are going into devastated areas. I can think of a wide range of applications from medical professionals looking at treatment and spread of disease or just basic medical care in a geographical area to a Dilbert-esque style marketing corporate tool who wants to see how well they can sell widgets in a city and monitor real time influence or purchase of their product to find better ways to appeal to the consumer.
The technology and the implications so jaw dropping even Nien Nunb can't keep his mouth closed.


Wear to Work Wednesdays #11

Time for a nice outfit for the spring and summer. Shirt from Eshakti, pants from the Gap, shoes from Clark (via Zappos), necklace from Urban Outfitters.


Graying workforce, the easter bunny, and other myths

Apparently one of the popular search terms that brings people to my blog is jobs for older engineers. Not sure why I, total newbie engineer, would draw this crowd of experienced and wise folks looking for answers. Probably because the economy is total trash. I've done my own share of job hunting and been rebuffed and ignored, had only a few phone interviews (I'm beginning to think I get called simply out of curiosity and then no one wants to talk to me anymore). So I'm not really sure who's taking all these lowbie jobs in my stead. If I had to guess based on my internal experience at MegaCorp it would be that we're hiring no one. That we have a ton of jobs open, are totally overworked, interview a bunch of people, and then don't hire anyone. Not sure why this is, remember I'm just a newbie.
I always enjoy the Editor's Desk over at Aviation Week. I've linked to it before, and Tony Velocci is a intelligent writer with contacts in the defense and aerospace world who looks beyond the line his contacts feed him. He's warned the industry can't get too comfortable with itself and assume endless funding for overpriced contracts will continue, that pricing and timetables will become important and that programs need to start operating like businesses rather than government pork. He's also talked about the lack of recruiting women in the industry which when you are a guy who's friends all work in defense is a pretty brave thing to do.
Last year he talked about the expectations of young engineers not being met when they go to work in the industry. And again he's covering similar topics on the attrition rate of young engineers in aerospace and defense.
I have less confidence in industry's appreciation for how challenging it will be to attract, and especially retain, young engineers and technical specialists--the men and women who will develop the technologies the country needs.
In a recent visit to a leading engineering school that also is the alma mater of some of aerospace's most celebrated, most highly accomplished individuals, I was stunned to hear that 80% of the graduates who chose to pursue careers in aerospace five years earlier either had left the field or are on the move. Eighty percent!

He discusses how young engineers leave the challenging environment of university, that employers require to remain increasingly competitive, only to end up not being tested or tried in their jobs.
The one place where Velocci loses me is his concern over all the retiring old people who will leave this big gap of tribal knowledge and experience (where he argues they need to get young people up to speed). In my experience, neither young people nor old people are being encouraged or hired. Well, in fact, no one's really being encouraged, but there's this middle section of people in their 30s and 40s who seem to be getting hired and getting promoted at MegaCorp. I don't see us losing a whole lot of people in their 60s. There are a few, but they aren't the ones with crucial knowledge and none of them seem ready to retire yet. The typical notice to retirement around here seems to be about two to three years and there are quite a few people who've retired on the job. We don't seem to be doing anything to retain these people, and haven't hired anyone over 35 in quite a while.

First, I think the idea of a huge gap arising from a bunch of people retiring is a huge myth, and mostly a scare tactic. Companies have been saying that for years, and so a ton of people I went to school with went in thinking they could get stable jobs and do this for life. Many of them have been jobless and wrong and have left for other careers. Many older engineers working in industry may also have the experience of stagnant wages which I think contributes. I think the only reason companies try to hang on to older workers is because they are actually cheaper than the star player in his 30s who thinks he's going to move up in the company. The older workers still in the industry are less demanding and willing to work for lower wages considering their experience, probably because they've been through too many layoffs.

Second of all, if you build it they will come. If a ton of people leave engineering (like all those nurses were going to retire, right?) we won't have any problem getting bodies in. If there's a demand for engineers it'll lead to better wages and better working conditions and people will be flocking to the industry in droves.

Now if these companies want sustainable recruitment and people with a wide variety of skills and backgrounds that's a completely different thing. If they want new ideas that will save them money and lead to future contracts they're going to have to work hard to recruit, diversify, and raise job satisfaction. But I suspect the government pork buffet they've been enjoying for decades isn't going to force them into any kind of competition over engineers anytime soon. I recommend going to medical school: can't outsource doctors and despite all the bureaucracy and long hours and poor locations and stress and the suffering that is trying to support a family on six figures in this country it's still not a bad job to have. So it's pretty much like being an engineer except you probably won't get laid off and you'll probably make more.


News flash- poor people still poor

A new article in the NYT is discussing how economic security is beyond reach of ordinary Americans. I'm not sure how this is even news, or why this is any revelation of anything new. I suspect if you looked back at the last 100 years in America you'd discover the same thing with possibly a few years of exceptions here and there. I'm not even sure why we're talking about it when one party in power thinks it's a great idea to cut government funding of everything from infrastructure programs to medical care and food banks for the poor. I mean even that's a misleading term, the poor, the unfortunate, who are we looking at here?

According to the report, a single worker needs an income of $30,012 a year — or just above $14 an hour — to cover basic expenses and save for retirement and emergencies. That is close to three times the 2010 national poverty level of $10,830 for a single person, and nearly twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

A single worker with two young children needs an annual income of $57,756, or just over $27 an hour, to attain economic stability, and a family with two working parents and two young children needs to earn $67,920 a year, or about $16 an hour per worker.

That's no small change. The burger place near my work just put up a sign that they are hiring at $10 an hour which sounds like pretty good pay for flipping burgers. And by pretty good I mean I'm surprised the fast food industry pays any more than minimum wage, not surprised that somebody should earn that much for doing what I certainly wouldn't want to have to do for a living. It's scary to me how much my income is not above that dotted line and I think what it took to get me here. Are we really going to expect every single person in America to get years of education and work experience where they can reach a level that they can actually have a savings account? This doesn't even cover trying to pay for healthcare which I suspect most entry-level jobs are no longer providing.

The numbers will not come as a surprise to working families who are struggling. Tara, a medical biller who declined to give her last name, said that she earns $15 an hour, while her husband, who works in building maintenance, makes $11.50 an hour. The couple, who live in Jamaica, Queens, have three sons, aged 9, 8 and 6.

"We tried to cut back on a lot of things," she said. But the couple has been unable to make ends meet on their wages, and visit the River Fund food pantry in Richmond Hill every Saturday. With no money for savings, "I'm hoping that I will hit the lotto soon," she said.

Medical billing? I remember when that was supposed to be the cash cow for people to train and do for a living. Like nursing it was supposed to be a given that it would provide stable employment for a ton of people. I think there's a misperception that the poor are out of work people who hit their limit of savings and are struggling. But the real case is they've probably been struggling all along. They've been doing all the things that were supposed to grant prosperity: getting training, getting a job, working hard.

To develop its income assessments, the report's authors examined government and other publicly available data to determine basic costs of living. For housing, which along with utilities is usually a family's largest expense, the authors came up with "a decent standard of shelter which is accessible to those with limited income" by averaging data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that identified a monthly cost equivalent for rent at the fortieth percentile among all rents paid in each metropolitan area across the country.

They chose a "low cost" food plan from the nutritional guidelines of the Department of Agriculture, and calculated commuting costs "assuming the ownership of a small sedan." For health care, they calculated expenses for workers both with and without employer-based benefits.

Ms. Kuriansky said that the income projections do not take into account frills like gifts or meals out. "It's a very bare-bones budget," she said.

They said they are still working on stratifying this to cities and states. Meaning I bet these numbers will rise in what kind of income it takes to live in a city somewhere, which is of course going to be where people have the best chance of getting employed to begin with. We all know the job market is rotten right now and I'm sure we all have that number in our heads about bare minimum to survive. But if we keep cutting taxes for the wealthy and closing off opportunities for the lower middle class and lower class what can we expect for our future? I mean these people did the right things. Medical billing usually requires some training, and frankly building maintenance is not a job without experience and skills needed. I know I couldn't turn around tomorrow and work in that industry successfully.

I think we have our eye on the wrong ball here. We've been worried about the high unemployent rate and the ever growing time it takes the average unemployed person to find another job. But it's not Joe the office worker who's having to dip into his precious 401k who I think should tug at our heart strings here. Compounding all the difficulties of just getting a job in this economy we're ruining the financial futures of those lucky enough to get these "low level" jobs. And that's not really sustainable economic development.


Miniature: Merchant Princess

My first painted miniature, just a test not a character I'm playing. The unpainted photo first, and please excuse my low quality photos.


Enhance your experience

Wizards of the Coast, current owners of the D&D property, are having some fun today. Only question is, will they be forced to offer their owlbearskin rug for sale eventually in the same way ThinkGeek was forced to sell the Tauntaun sleeping bag that started off as an April Fool's prank?

Shut 'er down

It's time to close a chapter in my life. After spending maybe $50,000+ to become an engineer I've decided to find a more lucrative opportunity: plumbing. I've talked about plumbing on this blog before, so you'll know why I have a genuine interest in it. It's not that I can't take the sexist crap or the unfair treatment or the daily battle just to keep my head above water it's that I'm not sure I can do this anymore. Sure, designing things in CAD and testing hardware had its appeal but all this time I've been harboring a secret love of plumbing.
I'm planning to start my own business, maybe something like Keeping Your Water Running Regularly or We Fix Your Shit whichever one does better with the focus groups. I keep reading that plumbers make more than engineers which I think is total bullshit so I'm ready to cash in on that. Plus it can't be all that difficult, right? I mean for heaven's sake, I'm pretty much a rocket scientist so this is going to be easy. A super easy payoff.
I'll still blog here, but it'll all be about plumbing or maybe about golf which I plan to take up as a new hobby. No more adorable pictures of cats because that's probably killing my plumber's cred. Here's to a new life.