Let's schedule a meeting on that

The NYT has an article up about the evils of powerpoint. Dean Dead offers his own well thought take on the positives and negatives of powerpoint. Having been exposed to it extensively both here at MegaCorp and also in engineering lectures I'll offer my opinion, appropriately in some bullet points.
  • MegaCorp likes a ppt for everything; a new design, a senior briefing, or why we should switch to lower cost toilet paper.
    • Sometimes they are useful
    • It is good to have a visual record of a design or project where drawings and photos are often a key component
    • All too often there is way too much text and diagrams jampacked into a presentation
      • This results in them wowing you with the visuals but telling you absolutely nothing concrete about the project (Avatar?)
  • Some people insist on printing their 100 page presentation for all the people in the meeting
    • This is unnecessary
    • Usually only one or two slides are actually relevant to the people attending
    • Departments attempt to make themselves look more important by pretending the new process is more complicated than it really is
  • Some managers get their secretaries to print copies of the drafts in order to finalize, rather than learning how to use the software
    • Is that the sound of a tree crying?
  • Most professors tend to use powerpoint for what it is best at:
    • Equations and definitions are listed, so the professor doesn't need to write them out on the board
    • The professor can then focus on a verbal discussion as to the significance of the equations
    • Neat photos of the material structure of rhino horns or charts on the hardness of human vs animal teeth make the topic more interesting
  • Some professors and some managers haven't learned that you don't need to pack your slides with text and then read every word
  • Most people are poor at eliminating unnecessary bullet points, as am I


When good sockets go bad

I wonder what the melting temperature of the plastic on this socket is that it would have needed to reach to melt like this.


Monday Morning Fix

Stop by my cubicle any given morning around 5 or 6am and you'll see I'm already jonesin' for that first cup of coffee. I can't imagine being an astronaut and having to go through all this trouble (is that a coffee drink or coffee jello?) just to get my fix. I'll try to appreciate gravity more next time I'm setting up my coffee drip.


DIY, now with fire!

Who doesn't like a good science project for home? And it's glowy.


Special Moments

There's nothing like running a test to isolate the cause of a problem, and finding nothing to even show that problem is occurring, and instead finding a new and totally unrelated problem. So you began your test thinking you'd figure out what was triggering the fault and ended up with two faults, more graphs, more data, and no causes or explanations.


Flying Fortress

It's hard to imagine what it must have been like in the 1930s and then in the 1940s when US factories were churning out these, to the tune of 12,000+ total, and air fields must've been full of them. They must have flown out of popular air fields all the time. Given how loud and low flying this single visitor to my neighborhood was I can only magnify the sense of awe I felt as it flew over to assess what it must have been like when these beautiful engineering feats filled the air.


Low Fat Wrap

  • Thanks to Mind Hacks for the link to this great video: that egotistical neurosurgeon you've all met, and quite funny.
  • Pascale writes a great post about women in male dominated fields being...well, womanly. Or, not womanly enough. Or striking a balance between being womanly and not womanly or whatever ridiculous advice-giving authors tell us we must do this week to succeed.
  • Engineered discusses high school students' expectations in a NYT blog of students getting rejected to their top choices, or sometimes all their choices and placing far too much emphasis on college being "the best four years of your life." All of us who've graduated and grown a little since college know that not to be the case. Certainly there are things we may remember fondly from college, but many of us would not willingly make the trade, or might prefer another block of time in our lives as being our particular best.


Spring is in the air

It's that season: campus tours season. They pile onto the shuttle, confused and nervous about where they are going and getting to the right stop. They ask the shuttle driver questions and then disembark and ask others questions about how to get where they need to go, even with maps in hand. When at last they finish they are back on the shuttle, waiting to see the number of the parking lot they started in. They look content; sometimes the kids look more nervous, and sometimes the parent. There is an expectation of that exciting fresh start which is to be that teenager's college career, right around the corner. They look around at everyone and everything they see, interested in all aspects and weighing their decisions heavily.
I must have been equally as bright eyed and fresh at that age, but it's hard to believe I ever was. It's hard to remember the me that had hopes and a huge future unknown to fill those hopes and dreams with. I didn't have plans. Now, I plan. Then I just thought and wished and believed. Most days I am thankful for my hardened cynicism that keeps me immune from that kind of naivety. But today I just looked across the shuttle and felt a little envy for being on that precipice with your whole life, wonderful and horrible, in the mists ahead of you only waiting for you to take the challenge.


Did you feel it?

Large plate of ham in front of me. Digging in with gusto when HerrTech suddenly says, "Is that an earthquake?" We all stop a moment to see if we can feel the same thing his clearly superior, animal-senses have felt. Sure enough the shaking intensifies. We're all quiet and looking around at each other, swishing around like a piece of debris washing down the drain. It keeps going, strong but unusually quiet. "Should we go outside?" Somebody asks. So we do, we all scramble out through the door and get out from under anything. For a while I wonder if it's still going or if I'm just still dizzy. Finally it stops. Almost an hour later we all feel a decent sized aftershock, me leaning up against a wall that seems to push me away from it once or twice before stopping. Then again at four in the morning when I'm getting ready for work, but this one is more normal, the house popping with the effort and I hear the earthquake more than feel it.
HerrTech did his civic duty and reported that we indeed felt it. You can see in the graph above one of my favorite USGS visualization graphs. A user-feedback based graph that attempts to determine how far away an earthquake was felt. While this was a 7.2 magnitude, extremely powerful, it was deeper than the earthquake in Haiti and so therefore it appears so far that less damage was done. I've only heard of two casualties so far, and hopefully that will be it. But you can see how far it was felt; Disneyland shut down their rides as a result (Disneyland on Easter Sunday?) The only drawback is how many times I'm going to have to answer the same question the USGS poses, Did you feel it? I think one would had to have been jogging or playing some extreme sport not to have felt this one, but the inevitable question will be asked and asked again today and personal stories of where were you when the earth wobbled a little will be told by coworkers who enjoy exaggerating their own peril.


Iche habe Angst

Read this great surviving engineering school guide. It's a little out of date, but the advice holds. Specifically the author (Richard Felder) mentions Imposter Syndrome, and his closing paragraph sums up how I feel every day:

If this advice is hard for you to take now, you're probably suffering from what psychologists refer to as the Impostor Phenomenon, which is like a tape that plays inside people's heads. If you're an engineering student looking around at your classmates, the tape goes something like this: "These people are good—they understand all this stuff. They really belong here…but I don't. Over the years I've somehow managed to fool them all—my family, my friends, my teachers. They all think I'm smart enough to be here, but I know better…and the very next hard test or hard question I get in class will finally reveal me as the impostor I am." And what would happen next is too horrible to contemplate, so at that point you just rewind and replay the tape.

What you don't know is that almost everyone else in the class is playing the same tape, and the student in the front row with the straight A average is playing it louder than anyone else. Furthermore, the tape is usually wrong. If you survived your first year of engineering school, you almost certainly have what it takes to be an engineer. Just remember all your predecessors who had the same self-doubts you have now and did just fine. You do belong here, and you'll get through it just like they did. Try to relax and enjoy the trip.

Good words to read every morning. Every day when I wonder whether I'm really as incompetent as I'm always afraid I am, or if that's just my negative inner voice talking to me. It doesn't help when others doubt my intelligence or my skill and I wonder, are they right about me? So I'll just print this out in bold and reassure myself, Stewart Smalley style, that I am smart, and gosh darnnit people like me. I think this holds for many of us small-ego types. So read these words to yourself, because dammnit, you are good at what you do and who you are, and don't let that negative inner voice or other blowhards convince you otherwise.


Yes. That.

This sums up how I feel about April Fool's Day.

The rumors have been greatly exaggerated...

Another soldier has joined the war to answer the eternal question, why do women leave science? According to Jennifer Hunt, Economics Professor at McGill University, it's because more women are leaving Engineering and the number of women who leave Science fields is actually comparable to men.
You can go here (TIME), or here (NYT Freakanomics) for some analysis. The paper itself is behind a pay wall however if you're like me and have a university connection you might be able to nab yourself a copy. Here's some choice points.
-"...the excess exits are concentrated in engineering rather than science, and in exits to other fields rather than to non-employment."
-"...the most important driver of excess female exits from engineering is dissatisfaction over pay and promotion opportunities, a factor explaining about 60% of the differential gender gap in exit rates."
-"...while many more women than men cite family issues as the reason for leaving engineering, the gender gap is as large in non-science and engineering fields."
-"The implication is that a lack of mentoring and networks, or discrimination by managers and co-workers are the more promising of the existing explanations for excess female exits, and that explanations hinging on the precise nature of engineering work should be discarded."
-"The panel shows that the exit rate from engineering is very low for men: only 9.8% of men trained as engineers are doing unrelated work. While the exit rate is also low for women, at 12.9% it is considerably higher than for men. The comparison of the gender gap in engineering with non-science and engineering fields therefore shows a statistically significant 3.2 percentage point excess exit rate of women from engineering."
-"...performing somewhat related work has a statistically significant but small wage penalty: 4.0-4.2% for holders of non-science and engineering degrees and for men trained as engineers, and 8.2% for women trained as engineers....[For] doing work unrelated to the highest degree...for workers leaving engineering, who earn 31 log points (36%) less than stayers if male and 41 log points (51%) less if female."
-"...indicating that most of the excess female exits from engineering are not attributable to children."
So a 3.2% significantly significant rate of more women than men leaving Engineering, and an 8.2% to a man's 4.2% paycut for doing something sort of related and a 51% paycut compared to a man's 36% for doing something not related. And Hunt went on to show that leaving for family or children plays little to no role in the excess number of women leaving the field.