Pointless Cat Photo

TechCat is doing much better since we've come back. She's freaking out less that we'll leave again or send her off again. She's been doing what cats do. Napping during the midday, sharing the fan air with us and trying to stay cool in this heat.


Stylish Saturdays #1

Due to my aforementioned vacation some casual clothing beyond sweats and bunny slippers was required.
Cowl neck tank from Old Navy
Boot Cut jeans from Old Navy
Fourmal boots by Madden Girl (via Zappos)


Fancy Free Friday

I've been off the grid this past week. Okay not really, but I have been sort of unplugged and sort of distracted with vacationing. It all started with some insect much smaller than me that's been feasting on my house for who knows how long. Due to financial uncertainties, this was the summer to get stuff done. The last hoorah to buy toys and fix up the place. So I paid a professional to shoot poison through my entire house and skipped off to a locale even warmer than my own to enjoy some time off from MegaCorp. I'm pretty sure I forgot how to be an engineer in the meantime, but oh well I'll worry about that later.
TechCat got to spend the week rooming with three dogs and while she got some love and attention she seems to be pretty happy to be home again. Or, I'm guessing that's why she woke us up multiple times during the night to make sure we were still there and she was still there and we weren't going to ship her off to the doghouse again.
In honor of my absent design fridays post today, I wrote about Lockheed's HALE-D unmanned airship over at EngineerBlogs. Hope you are all as well rested and even keeled as I feel today (even having to go back to earning my paycheck again). I raise a toast to you and your weekend so we can focus on alcoholic beverages or tasty non-alcoholic beverages and fondly remember days when insects are our worst enemies and having no financial ruin that lay ahead and politicians who we can't tent out of our house. Oh I ruined it already didn't I. Have another drink.


Smell of Diesel in the Morning

What happens when you put sixteen men in a house after asking them not to have drank alcohol for the last 24 hours and no smoking or caffeine in the last 4 hours. No this isn't the next reality TV show. One at a time and every two weeks subjects underwent two hours of testing with a stationary bike in a chamber that may or may not have been pumping diesel engine exhaust fumes into the room with them. 10% of the exhaust gas from a 2.2L diesel engine was diluted with air and fed into the room in such a way that there was a 300 μg/m^3 concentration which is supposedly similar to high traffic areas or especially congested and polluted cities. In another configuration they passed this concentration through a teflon filter and in another they had a concentration of carbon nanoparticles.

It's no secret diesel technology is of great interest to me. Over at Engineer Blogs one of my earliest posts was on the Military's Love Affair with Diesel. I also just talked a few days about how the Chevy Cruze might have a diesel version coming to America. So it's interesting to see where we go forward as we worry about emissions and cardiovascular health. Also what kind of technology might move us forward in the direction we want.

When the research team filtered the exhaust gas they ended up with a much lower concentration. Their exhaust gas averaged 348 μg/m^3 and regular, filtered air was less than 1 but the filtered exhaust averaged 6.

So what's the end result? Well a lot of things were, perhaps surprisingly, not affected by the fumes. No difference in resting heart rate or blood flow. Systolic blood pressure took a hit up, but diastolic did not. What their carbon-only concentration was useful for is that it could be it's not the parts of diesel exhaust that we need be concerned about but something about the whole. Something that's happening in combustion might be making these nanoparticles more harmful.

Their conclusion is this: diesel exhaust fumes in the concentration tested impaired vasomotor vascular function. Filtered exhaust and the carbon nanoparticles did not affect vascular function. What they showed is a filter than can reduce concentration effectively can make a big difference. But they admit at the end that these kinds of filters are pricey and not applicable to a lot of commercial applications where those filters would have to be tested separately. Being an engineer, I keep thinking about the engine sitting in another room idling for two hours. Still the implications for design work on reducing the environmental impact of diesel exhaust is there. And there's the lesson that individual pollutants can't always be used to draw conclusions from as it's important to test the whole system and see what a difference that makes. The combustion was obviously a key factor in making this combination of elements dangerous, and possibly more dangerous than the sum of its parts.

Mills, N., Miller, M., Lucking, A., Beveridge, J., Flint, L., Boere, A., Fokkens, P., Boon, N., Sandstrom, T., Blomberg, A., Duffin, R., Donaldson, K., Hadoke, P., Cassee, F., & Newby, D. (2011). Combustion-derived nanoparticulate induces the adverse vascular effects of diesel exhaust inhalation European Heart Journal DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehr195


Technorati Blogger Drivel

Dear Technorati,

Stop emailing me random requests to blog for your network. I respect what Technorati does. It's a decent blog aggregator. It does a good job at separating "real" human blogs from bot blogs and links to some interesting stuff. I understand you want your own content so you can make money off of that. That's all fine and good. If you sent me an email asking me to write about something I have a proven skill with and maybe a decent following to show for I would completely understand.

But by your standards my blog's "authority" is not so fantastic. You've also asked me to write about autos which was probably the best guess but still not something I've written about more than a dozen times. Then you decided to ask me to write about books, business, and amusingly enough travel. I have a constantly fluctuating authority level in those topics and pretty much never travel. This leads me to believe you are sending me spam emails.

Which is pretty crazy because otherwise I'd say the request is legitimately from you. Why would a high profile site need to send generically generated emails to random people in the blogging world? Upon visiting your about page I also discover that you all have emails either from gmail, cox, and scarily enough yahoo. Even gmail is pretty unprofessional coming from someone supposedly employed at a business. Also some of your twitter handles are neither your name nor say anything about who you are. That's pretty crazy. Someone too busy to go to the Web 2.0 seminar?

So feel free to invite me to blog for your site in the future. But please ask me to write about something I'm already doing a kickass job at. When I'm way down in your rankings and don't even have an authority level on a topic you ask me to "professionally" blog about it just makes me question you and your business model.


In Development: Detroit Diesel

So far American car manufacturers have been hesitant to adopt diesel for small cars. That might start to change as technology for clean diesel improves, the US continues to set high fleet standards for MPG, and the efficiency of diesel can sometimes far outdo that of petrol.

GM is planning to bring diesel into the US by having a diesel version of it's Chevrolet Cruze. It's rumored to be capable of 50 MPG and might hit showrooms in 2013.


The Metrics of War

A couple days ago a bunch of new "snowflakes" were released on the Rumsfeld Library. I almost want to put that library bit in quotes, but really it's somewhat commendable such a controversial public figure would be willing to release so much of his own documentation and leave it open to public debate. I'll let the former SecDef (DefSec?) tell you what a snowflake is:
The term “snowflake” covers a range of communications, from notes to myself on topics I found interesting, to extended instructions to my associates, to simple requests for a haircut. There was no set template; some are several pages and some just a few words. They were all conceived individually and I had never considered them as a set until I started work on the memoir. I then found that when reviewed together, they give a remarkable sense of the variety of topics that are confronted by a secretary of defense.

Paul McCleary over at the Ares blog at Aviation Week already did a very interesting post on these. How Rumsfeld was known as somewhat of a detail oriented micro manager. Yet these new memos show him as being out of touch, slow to respond, and forgetful in following up on issues.

Among some of the older, previously released memos I found this gem from Ryan Henry, the Principal Deputy for Policy under the Secretary of Defense (how do fit all that on a business card?) back in July 2004. He seems to be responding to Rumsfeld asking about certain metrics that a senator had asked be included in the Iraq Weekly Report. Henry states they were already using all of the metrics besides two: number of prisons and number of tv stations broadcasting.

He comes off fairly professional but you can almost hear his incredulous tone as he later explains that they could report number of prisons or number of prisoners but feel that reporting the number of prisons up to international standards would be a more valuable metric. I've certainly got a few politely worded emails under my belt that similarly dance around the "really? you want me to start doing what now?" issue.

If you were wondering what they did track here's some of it:

  • MW of electricity produced, percentage of Iraqis with power
  • Numbers of schools open, percentage of boys and girls attending
  • Number of hospitals open, percentage of Iraqis receiving care
  • Timetable to democracy (hahaha)
  • Crude oil production
  • Number of militia and police, and number in training
  • Gallons of water available, number of Iraqis with fresh water access
  • Number of troops from other countries (you'd hope someone's keeping track of this)
  • Number of US troops (again...)
  • Food available, number malnourished
  • Unemployment rate
My favorite part happens in the header of the next page:
I'm curious if 7 years later if we have finally "built justice".



When did it all start to fall into place professionally? That's a paraphrase of a question Female Science Professor asked a few months ago on her blog. Or specifically in her case, when did most people start taking you seriously (as a science professor)? I am not and never have been a member of the communist party or a science professor. But I did wonder at what point my career would start to feel more solid. When I would feel like I was being pulled up not dragging my broken body up and clawing my way past obstacles and attacks?

I still wouldn't say I've achieved some magical level of respect. When I started working in a technical field I got treated very differently from my clerical days. And when I first started getting mistaken for an engineer (though I wasn't one at the time) that was a big boost to my confidence.

I'm an ambitious person. I'm not going to be a shrinking violet or hide that under a bushel(which apparently some yahoo named Matt originally coined in something called The Bible, who knew). I mean look at this freaking mandarin fish, do you think he gives a @#$ about what you think?
He doesn't. But moving up can be tricky. I've had to employ an almost reverse psychology method of maneuvering the corporate world. Sound like you are too interested in extra responsibility and a couple of things can happen:

  1. Your immediate supervisor/lead will feel threatened and try to hold you down.
  2. People will think you are an arrogant ass, not want to work with you, and management will think you are demanding.
So I've had to tread water carefully (boy is this post getting fishy with its analogies). But it seems to be working. I've had to focus on projects and pretend like I'm not interested in their promotion potential, visibility, or in any credit I might receive for doing the work (monetary or just the thanks and positive feedback that I think all employees appreciate from their superiors). It seems to be working. If I look glum when they suggest me as a backup, I pretend I am so overloaded and treat it as just another onerous task, the more they seem to make me want to do these things. 

I think managers must have some higher level of sadism than ordinary people. Appear too eager for something and they won't give it to you. Only when you grudgingly agree to take it on as a humble and hardworking employee do they suddenly see leadership potential. So nothing yet, but I seem to be having some initial success gaming the system. Which of course means I'm going to be just like them some day: unrepentant, self absorbed, narcissistic, sadistic asshole. So not much will change really.


Conservation Caturday

Western presence in Afghanistan: now good for more things than just war. Conservationists set up camera traps and caught what they believe to be a sizeable population of snow leopards living in Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor. All this is thanks to efforts by the Wildlife Conservation Society as they've been working under USAID funding to perform outreach to locals and train rangers in wildlife conservation. They've also been working on establishing Afghanistan's first national park, Band-e-Amir.
Larger photo and another photo over at Wired. I guess I fall prey to the urge to protect animals based on their cuteness factor. And snow leopards have a very high cuteness factor that is scientifically proven*. I love that the one above is rubbing its head against the rock just like my cat does against the furniture. Time to go donate to the Wildlife Conservation Society or the World Wildlife Foundation again.
*Citation needed.


Design Fridays: A Successful Design

Over at Engineer Blogs today I'm talking about the Key to a Successful Design and asking whether confidence plays into presenting your solution and getting it reviewed and approved. Last week I talked about the Army's Biometrics Device they are using in Afghanistan and the week before was compressor design.
I'll pose the same questions here; do you think it's more about being confident than having a good design? Does attitude and how you present yourself factor in to whether people will back you? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Business Friends

If you're in my line of work you deal with a lot of people at geographically disparate locations and on the phone. Sometimes you're on calls with these people numerous times a week and sending emails back and forth. Sometimes you get rather friendly with them (especially if they're your customer and you're sort of obligated to be nice and polite).
Sometimes I get an overly friendly note in response that if taken on its own sure it makes it look like we are pals. But these people haven't even seen me! It's sort of amusing to think how friendly you can get before you see a person. I'm always a little taken aback. It's like hey I could be Jabba the Hutt for all you know. And I don't just mean large with a penchant for eating live food, but also diabolical and vengeful as well. I'm just sayin'.
Awesome Jabba the Hutt birthday cake courtesy here.


Future of Engineers

Tom Gillis writes a post on his blog on Forbes today called The End of the Engineer. It's sort of like reverse STEM recruiting we typically see everywhere else. Which would be refreshing if it wasn't so ignorant. He first posits that post industrial revolution the need for better machines and manufacturing has been outsourced (not going to argue manufacturing has been outsourced). Then he talks about how the slight differences in performance that engineers generally strive for are no longer as crucial. He cites Apple as moving away from the engineering model towards one of marketing and customer understanding. Saying instead that that is what makes Apple successful.
He may be right that incremental improvements no longer please consumers. But I think that's always been the case. I think music industry people were surprised when MP3s gained such popularity. Their quality was a lot lower than CDs. However their portability and ease of use with a variety of devices was what had the mass appeal. And the same with cell phones and smart phones. We use them for convenience not because the sound quality is fantastic (anyone remember the old hear a pin drop Sprint commercials?) Now industry executives are surprised that the mainstream way to watch music videos is YouTube. Watch what you want when you want at your own convenience and for free. That's what consumers want rather than the high quality that executives might have assumed consumers would always be demanding. However, these incremental changes are still appreciated when your smartphone or your LCD TV gets slimmer or the next model of car gets a little lighter and a little better fuel economy.
So none of this means engineering is no longer crucial. He mentions the hoardes of engineering graduates from India and China. But for now, whether its societal or level of education, these high numbers have not meant Chinese and Indian companies are always able to compete with equal fervor with western companies. Part of Apple's success is certainly marketing based. But a lot of it is a core product that required a lot of fantastic engineering. And just because Chinese companies have no qualms about stealing IP and churning out cheaper products later doesn't mean they actually have the independent engineering knowledge to make another Apple. And as the sole commenter on his blog alludes to, not every American company that relies on engineering talent is a consumer electronics company.
True we're no longer innovating as much in agricultural machines, but we are in power generation plants, offshore drilling, mining applications, solar and wind energy, automotive design, aerospace, weapons, military technology and medical and biomedical breakthroughs. I think Mr. Gillis has really been sheltered too long in the bubble that is Silicon Valley. Apparently he is a VP at Cisco and his Forbes profile includes such excellent buzz words as "social networking", "new security paradigm", "leverage today's tools", "strategic" and he goes on to claim credit for making Cisco strong in the security market. I hope none of the engineers on his team who helped him position Cisco as a strong security leader read this article and realize their head honcho doesn't appreciate their technological contributions. For all his flattery of Steve Jobs and Apple one can only assume he's trying to get a job there. I hope Cisco recognizes this and lets him go so he can make his move. If I want marketing and social media BS I'll go talk about it on Twitter. If I want a company that makes reliable hardware and services because I know they have a good engineering core I will continue to go to companies like Cisco. When a VP doesn't see what's right beneath his nose he doesn't deserve the job.
Gillis goes on to recommend that people get Liberal Arts degrees and that he will give that advice to his own children. I sincerely hope he's kidding. As a highly paid executive I'm sure he'd have no problems placing his children with jobs after they get their Art History or Communications BA but he's not only living within the soft bubble of Silicon Valley then he's living within the privileged bubble of upper class if he thinks liberal arts degrees are a viable path to a solid middle class lifestyle. Engineering isn't as respected as it used to be (as evidenced by this article) but I wouldn't tell an intelligent young person who had strong math or science skills not to major in it any sooner than I'd suggest a broad liberal arts degree is a good path either. People should follow their passions certainly as success tends to be elusive no matter what path you take. But underestimating the need for some percentage of the population to be engineers is complete ignorance. Just because we aren't always putting these minds to the best use is a limitation of our policies and a focus on short term growth. If we were thinking Apollo Program big again we'd be able to achieve things way beyond what Gillis could imagine. And we'll need engineers to get us there.


How the party started

Whenever you see a news or documentary clip that talks about the great depression they always show pictures of flappers and 1920s parties. So much of the financial bubble that led to the 1929 stock market crash we seem to portray as a wild party leading up to it.
I can't wait to see how the exuberance leading up to the 2008 recession is graphically depicted. I hope to see photos of those wild parties of the early 2000s.



How much of your day do you think you spend actually doing something that is, we'll say, technical. As in you got your degree in engineering, microbiology, whatever. How much of your day (or week, or month) do you spend actually putting to use that knowledge versus maybe auxiliary skills (implementing a design change, writing up a presentation, writing a grant)?


What do you do for a living?

I was curious what the most common occupations were in the states and as I started to dig through BLS data I discovered they produced the table already. I'm not surprised to see retail at number 1 and food prep and food service at number 4 and waiters at number 6. I guess I'm surprised elementary school teachers even made the list (this is from 2010, I wonder if it will drop for the current year) and very surprised any management type occupation made the list at all: operations managers at number 12. Given the disparity in mean annual salary between that and everything else it seems like not a bad job to get into.
What do you think, does this look like what you thought it would?


Man Woman Job Recession

The Pew Research Center put together an interesting report on how the recession and subsequent "recovery" has affected men and women disproportionately. You probably heard all of the media crying about how this was a mancession or some such BS that made it sound like it was women's fault for men losing jobs at the early part of the recesssion.
The story you won't be hearing is that men have been recovering quickly since the end of the recession while women's employment is staying flat or dropping. If men took the brunt of job losses early on maybe it's to be expected they'd be picking up faster. But the report goes into talking about how layoffs in state employment might be contributing overwhelmingly to the loss of jobs for women. And while we hope construction and manufacturing will recover in this country it seems like state employees are the new favorite punching bag of free market junkies. So I wonder if this recession will be more permanently painful to women than it was to men. And probably an ignored storyline.

Wear to Work Wednesdays #13

Summertime and this tweed dress looked nice for work and nice for the season.
Tweed dress from Anne Klein.
Walnut pumps from Anne Klein (via Zappos).
Rose pearl necklace from Sasina (via Overstock).
Pair with tights or with no tights depending on your office's formality. I always wear tights because nobody wants to see those veins. But that's just me.


Mercenary Engineer

One of my classmates from undergrad coined the phrase mercenary engineer in place of mechanical engineer. At the time, about to graduate, we were all desperate for employment and opportunities. After years of being sold the bill of lies that is STEM recruiting we'd all felt certain we'd have secure and financially rewarding employment very soon. Whether it was all oversupply or just effects of the recession everyone had become a little less picky and us mechanical engineers were willing to work pretty much anywhere doing pretty much anything. Will engineer for pay.
One of the reasons I went into mechanical rather than electrical or structural or chemical was how diverse the field seemed to me to be. Don't get me wrong there's a lot more to sparkies than I realized at the time. But whether you're developing a box for one application or another a lot of the design can be the same if you're working within your specialty. I knew mechanical engineers worked in the auto industry, industrial manufacturing, wind power, mining, aerospace and aviation, space, defense...you name it! Developing one product can be wildly different from another. I liked that kind of variety though I'm sure it's not easy to jump between industries. So I thought my classmate's description of the mechanical engineer was pretty apt: a broad set of skills and an engineer willing to work in a lot of different fields.
The picture is a miniature from Reaper Minis and is Rosie the Chronotechnician.