Character Arc

I wanted to step aside from my usual topics and discuss one that I think is deadly serious: the presence of Han Solo in Return of the Jedi.
If you watch as many Star Wars documentaries and "making of" films as I do, you know that Harrison Ford asked George Lucas to kill off his character in The Empire Strikes Back. He (Ford) felt that Han had already made the switch from self-serving scoundrel to supportive rebel. If you watch the DVD commentary from Lucas on Empire you know that Lando Calrissian is meant to be character-wise who Han was in the first (or fourth) film. He's only looking out for his own interests and hasn't yet made the jump to supportive of the rebel cause.
However, at that point in the series Han has not made the jump either. True he's helping the rebels and staying there, but now it's out of love for Leia and friendship with Luke. He still hasn't committed to sticking around beyond having sympathies with these people and doesn't yet see the cause as his own. Not until the last movie does General Solo actually get ready to lead an expedition to the moon of Endor without even asking or volunteering any of his friends. He's so in support of the cause he initiates it on his own. That's full circle. That's why Han Solo needed to be in Return of the Jedi.


Priming and the justice system

You may have been wondering why it's been so quiet at Haus Tech lately and the answer is I was called in to do my civic duty as a juror. Due to being boring and having no strong opinions on anything they asked I was unfortunately selected to jury service. Four days later I feel I've aged by years. What began as the most boring multi-day episode of Cops ever ended as very angry and frustrated people arguing, patronizing each other, belittling and badgering the minority which was unfortunately where I found myself.
But before all that began I noticed how despite the admonition that an individual is innocent until proven guilty there's a lot going against that individual. The "defendant" doesn't sound particularly encouraging when he's up against "the people". The amount of authority we are willing to grant our police officers also seems boundless. Some of the other jurors felt that a police officer's opinion or viewpoint should be paramount and that because we were all "not on the ground" we shouldn't have an opinion contrary to that. Which of course made me ask the question of why we had a justice system at all if we were going to allow our police officers to be judge and jury as well as enforcer. Sympathizing with the cop or feeling that the cop should be vindicated in their actions led people to side against the defendant rather than be able to separate the two as a difference between an action taken on site or actually feeling a conviction was appropriate. I know I felt badgered and abused, and myself and another minority member had already withdrawn and were no longer able to articulate our viewpoints by the end of the discussion and I wonder how many times someone is convicted because the majority feel a police officer's word or opinion is law and use anger and insults to get the other side to submit to just have it over with. In the end we were a hung jury which I'm sure was a great disappointment to the majority who were surprised we could not come to conclusion by which they meant the minority didn't come around. They were able to see their viewpoint as "fact" whereas the opposing was just "opinion" and felt that because they were in the majority the burden of proof was on the minority rather than on them or the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Several of them opined how sad they were that there were people in this country who felt a police officer's word did not always have to be obeyed and felt we the minority were destroying the criminal justice system. I felt sad that they seemed to have forgotten what the purpose of a justice system was.


Latina Engineers

In my liberal pinko-commie state (that's desperately slashing education and medical benefits to children and veterans) it's Cezar Chavez day. In a state where there are more hispanics under the age of 18 than any other ethnicity it's probably a quietly underrated day. Ironically Chavez was from the state of Arizona where people perceived to be "brown" are losing their rights every single day. Even here, latinos are a silent soon to be majority. They do not serve in public office in the numbers you would expect, perhaps a result of their not achieving political parity as a voting block quite yet. Despite the ever increasing numbers you won't see them in your university system or working as educated professionals alongside you. However I see signs of hope in community events, in the homogenizing culture that brings us all together and pulls us all away from our roots so we can be closer to one another, and in days that are used to recognize what this silent near majority has contributed to our society and our culture.
As an engineer I thought it would be worthwhile to drop a line in recognition of people who don't get recognized except on days like this where we are reminded to think of them. It's a failing of mine as well and no holiday or single point is going to bring us to parity but one day is better than no days.
On that note, here's a snippet from a magazine last year on three Latina Engineers. They all work for AT&T and as far as I can tell are computer engineers, but besides being featured on a "women of color" magazine cover where would you expect to see a Latina engineer so prominently featured? Shayla Rivera is a somewhat well known comedian but also does keynote speaking events as the "funny rocket scientist". She backs this up with an aerospace degree and years of experience with NASA and the space shuttle program (of course she left the field, leaky pipeline and all).
If you're looking to get involved there's the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Of course you might be somewhere where the local chapter doesn't have much going on, so you can always start your own thing. I attended an event at Northrop Grumman a few years ago and was impressed to hear they have a whole lot of internal employee groups that are run by the employees and for the employees and encouraged by management (of course this was outside looking in, I don't want to paint an over-rosy picture). I've read a few stories where one woman decided she'd take a few other women at her university out for lunch once a month just to pick their brains and get their perspectives. I'm impressed by this and impressed by the groups at Northrop that had started recreation groups but also people of color groups and latino organizations within the company. It takes a lot of guts to network and stand up and be proud when you are probably "the other" in your professional environment so kudos to those folks.
There's also the Mexican American Engineers and Scientists society and the National Society for Hispanic Professionals which gives this good advice for mentoring latino students. Ask yourself if you've done your part this year and what you can do better in the future. Could you make a group where young people can get involved and network? Could you participate in groups like this that already exist and volunteer your time? If you're in a position of power have you thought about mentoring young students who don't look like you even if they haven't explicity asked you? If you're in a position to hire have you made sure you've done what you can to recruit from underrepresented groups and stood up for minority candidates in the hiring process?
Here's to a year where we make strides and make this world a better place for everyone. We can't let a whole crucial group in our society to be forgotten and ignored day after day whether by ignorance or self-interest. This is our community and by working together we can make it stronger.


The folks driving this bus

So I'm job searching in this terrible economy and I definitely wouldn't mind working for the feds. True they have a two year pay freeze on but they also get to work with some pretty cool equipment. You may wonder past the terribly long hiring time and low pay why the feds have trouble recruiting good people. You may think it's all the veterans taking your jobs. You'd be wrong.
GS-5:  To qualify for GS-5 entry-level engineering positions in the Federal government, you must meet specific education requirements or possess a combination of qualifying education and experience.
SPECIALIZED EXPERIENCE: GS-07 ONLY:   In addition to meeting the Basic Requirement, applicants must have one year of specialized experience equivalent to the GS-05 grade level in the Federal service. Specialized experience is experience such as: assisting to resolve technical issues on ship system design, installation, alteration, repair, inspection, maintenance, safety, and life cycle management; assisting to develop and monitor shipboard planned, preventive, and predictive maintenance systems.   Only experience acquired after graduation is creditable.   

To qualify at the GS-07 level based on Superior Academic Achievement you must have a bachelor's degree in engineering which meets one or more of the following areas listed below.   You may be appointed based on claimed academic achievement, pending verification of final grades.   However, if the required grades were not maintained through your senior year, you may not be able to retain the GS-07 grade level.

1.   A grade-point average of 3.0 or higher out of a possible 4.0 ("B" or better) based on 4 years of education, or based on courses completed during the final 2 years (60 semester hours minimum) of curriculum.

2.   A grade-point average of 3.5 or higher out of a possible 4.0 ("B" or better) based on the average of the required courses completed in the major field or the required courses in the major field completed during the final 2 years of curriculum (60 semester hours minimum).

That's right. Feds don't care what kind of internships you had while you were working on your degree. They only care what kind of GPA you got. In fact they're shooting their own vets in the foot. What about a vet who was an aircraft mechanic, reads and understands drawings, goes back to school on the GI bill, and graduates? He/she can not benefit from the experience of their stint in the military (true it does add to their total fed service time, but as the federal retirement benefits were obliterated and turned into a 401k-like system this is mostly useless).
So way to go federal government. Way to hand it to the guys who got the best GPA and didn't have to work while in college. I'm sure more silver spoon engineers is exactly what we need. They can also afford to take the appallingly low GS-7 pay for having an engineering degree.


Future of Spaceflight: No single point sollution

Too often we look for a single perfect answer to our problems. In the energy crisis people are often disappointed when hybrid batteries are found to be so environmentally unfriendly or that wind power is often incredibly harmful to local bird life or that solar cell arrays often use a lot of water in areas that are pretty arid to begin with.

Researchers looking into the future of space flight looked at combining a rocket propellant with an electric sail. An electric sail has some similarities to a solar sail in that they are both low mass propulsion systems however a solar sail uses the acceleration of photons to create slight accelerations to the apparatus while an electric sail uses an array of long, thin positively charged tethers that repel solar wind protons while attracting solar wind electrons. These arrays have all been proposed as a method of space flight that would require no additional propellant as accelerating and decelerating more mass requires more wasted energy. However an electric sail would only function in space and the gains to acceleration can sometimes be minute.

The researchers used the Hohmann transfer numbers as a starting point for interplanetary travel between Earth and its neighbors. Typical planet to planet rendezvous would include a period of time where the spacecraft was accelerating to give it a necessary velocity delta to escape Earth's orbit, then a period where it would coast to reach the orbit of the planet it's attempting to reach. Minimum flight times were calculated for this basic transfer orbit as between 0.289 years to reach Mercury and 30.613 years to reach Neptune.

The authors looked an ideal thrust-on time in comparison to minimum flight time because while shortest flight would generally be ideal you would also want to reduce your thrust time in case of your propulsion system failure. So it was better to look at a ratio between the two. They looked initially at having a secondary thrust phase after an initial coasting phase but found using the total time and thrust time ratio meant it was always optimal to have only one thrust phase followed by a coasting phase.

Their initial starting point was an object in circular orbit around the earth to which they then simulated times it might take that object to reach planets in the solar system using either a typical rocket propulsion system or the hybrid rocket and electric sail option. In the first option the rocket propellant and inertia allow it to reach the escape velocity. But in the case of the electric sail, the sail's acceleration can contribute during the thrust time towards achieving the delta velocity which of course reduces the amount of propellant the spacecraft would have to carry. I summed up their results in a slightly more clear graph.

Perhaps not surprisingly flights to Mercury and Venus were worse with the hybrid system. Though, an electric sail only system would save considerable fuel and mass and could be considered to Mercury and Venus. The major time savings were seen the farther out into the solar system. The hybrid system doesn't solve long term space flight concerns but it does add another weapon to our arsenal that perhaps future spaceflights will employ multiple methods of propulsion.

Quarta, A., Mengali, G., & Janhunen, P. (2011). Optimal interplanetary rendezvous combining electric sail and high thrust propulsion system Acta Astronautica, 68 (5-6), 603-621 DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2010.01.024


How to network without really trying

I went to a "technical talk" at another company in a related industry to mine last week. It was put on by the Society of Women Engineers and a local organization of Systems Engineers. I'll admit I had diverse motivations in attending this. The topic interested me, but honestly if I was 100% happy staying at MegaCorp I probably wouldn't have gone.

On the outside it looked much like my own company. Non-distinct white buildings with glass windows several stories high. Grass and other greenery around the perimeter, and the occasional benches and tables for employees taking their lunch. The lobby looked much like any lobby I've ever been in. Then I turn around and see a placard for Women's History Month. A variety of events were occurring, some with the company and some not. Let's just say that this sort of thing would not be tolerated at MegaCorp. Some dude would loudly ask when Dude History Month is and why we have all these "special" things for non-white dudes like himself. I mean, he never got an unfair hand up.
I was further surprised when I realized their women's bathroom had  "mother's room" attached. Or I am assuming, a lactation room or whatever you want to call it. I have no experience with motherhood but I probably signed something when I started at MegaCorp where I agreed not to lactate within five miles of any work buildings (see MIL-STD-JK). So all of this was pretty foreign to me.

But besides the obvious advantage we women had going into it, the actual talk was still overwhelmingly male from the local systems engineering group. There was one woman from that group, and two other women both members or officers in SWE. And all of the women there had jobs. There was another probably eight dudes, half of which were currently unemployed. And I couldn't help but wonder that their being unemployed was the only reason they were there.

They looked uncomfortable and awkward as you might expect from a guy without a job who showed up because he hopes he'll meet someone here where he can get a job. Some were "project engineers" (who blog readers will know I have no love for). All were easily over 40. Everyone there was white. I had to wonder as we all introduced ourselves and they heard all the women cite employers if the dudes watching were angrily thinking to themselves how easy it is for a woman to get a job and how difficult for them. And I wonder if there's not a difference there that's leading to this misconception.

I know several graduating female engineers who have job offers already, or at least some place to pay them for a while. I also know several still unemployed graduating male engineers. All the female engineers I know with early job offers worked internships. I'm not sure if this is because of a purely male/female thing; perhaps female engineers knew they would have to work harder to prove themselves and wanted "practical" experience. Perhaps the kind of woman who becomes an engineer is already more devoted to the field than the average undergraduate male. And when they all have job offers, but some percentage of the men do not, that can create a mis-perception that women have an easier time getting jobs.

And I wonder that maybe because of this, that women already in the field know they have to be ever vigilant and stay up to date in order to keep up with their male colleagues. That oftentimes they will be expected to work harder to be treated the same. Or in my case, feeling alienated at my own workplace I reached out to a woman's group just to meet people a little like myself and not feel so alone as a female engineer. So though we all had jobs, we were still there. But the guys clearly didn't need this support system until they were actually job hunting.

Just my observations. I'll wait for the barrage of guys who would like to write in and tell me how easy women have it in getting scholarships (I should know, I never got a single scholarship, as someone who worked full time and went to school part time the deck was stacked against me as well as most scholarships require full time status) or how easy women have in getting jobs (again despite having way more experience than my classmates my job hunting experience has been about average, or slightly below average when you consider I should be doing better). And all that is dangerously anecdotal. But I do think the way men and women treat networking is something interesting to consider, especially in a male dominated field like engineering.


Montag Morgen Katze

My sister's adorable new kitty.


Smog now in Technicolor!

One of the undergraduate environmental labs at my university uses colored dye, water and salt to simulate smoke plumes and pollution. In a tank of distilled water a mix of salt water acts like an upside down version of smoke or steam pollution. After time these slightly more dense solutions will settle on the bottom of the tank much like a layer of smog can lay at a fixed altitude over a city.

 In the photo below the red layer is a medium density salt water mixture that settled into the bottom of the tank like a layer of pollution. The blue mixture is even more dense and as it billows upwards into the atmosphere (or down into the water tank) it being slightly more dense than the red layer it will settle as a more dense layer below the red layer. Never expected my lab photos to turn out looking so artistic.


Leaky Engineering Pipeline

You ask managers why they have problems recruiting women they will probably tell you things like well, women just choose to go into other fields. Or they like more fulfilling careers helping people and don't like working with machines. Ask those managers why they have problems retaining women they'll probably tell you because all those women keep having babies and leaving the workplace. My own manager in the same breath as promising to finally help me out here (see me whine about my salary here with a colorful graph to illustrate) asked whether he'd have to worry about me taking a "baby leave" anytime soon. I should have turned the question around as he is equally married, only a few years older than me, and just as likely to produce spawn himself. Instead I just took some Fukitol and shut my mouth. Turns out plenty of other women working in engineering might be taking the same drug.
A new study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee nearly half of women who leave engineering leave due to the environment and working conditions. Only one in four who left did so to spend more time with family. How many never enter engineering? I know a female student who is graduating and may or may not enter the field. Nothing to do with babies either. According to the study, one third of women who graduate with an engineering degree but don't enter the field do so because of their perceptions about the field being inflexible and having a culture non-supportive of women. Listen to this chilling account from the article:

"Engineering school was pure hell for me," one survey respondent wrote. "My personality inspired much sexist behavior from my male classmates and my teaching assistants. At some point, after many interviews, I decided that I wouldn't want to spend the majority of my waking hours with the type of people interviewing me."

Holy crap. I'm happy to report no discrimination in my university experience. Or at least, none that I witnessed personally or can remember. But it could be my experience is not typical. And it's disappointing to me the cold shower of disappointment that hit after I entered the industry is actually getting to people before they even start working and discouraging them to enter the field. So what about the women who leave after they get started in the field?

Women engineers who were treated in a condescending, patronizing manner, and were belittled and undermined by their supervisors and co-workers, were most likely to want to leave their organizations, according to the study.

Long working hours, unclear work objectives and a lack of company planning also drove women to leave the field.


"This study touched a nerve with so many women," Fouad said. "Those who stay in the field differ in that they have supportive supervisors and co-workers, and they have very clear perceptions of their jobs and how they can advance in the field."

Total shock that women probably want the same things from their jobs that men want. We are not all baby making machines ready to leave once the 'mones kick in. Asking too much not to be belittled or undermined in the job, having some vague idea about what your job purpose is, and knowing how to move up? I know you're thinking, "Hey FrauTech, I'm a dude, and I have these same concerns!" You're right sir!

Men could have the same complaints, but they haven't left the field as often.


Many companies have struggled with employee retention.

"There are probably quite a few male engineers who aren't necessarily thrilled with the workplace climate," said Charlene Yauch, Industrial Engineering program director and associate professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.


It also says companies should have zero tolerance for bad behavior.

"We hope to reach out to men as well," Fouad said about another study she wants to do.

It's kind of sad that for this kind of thing to get traction means they have to "reach out" to men. Like we're two different species. I tend to agree with the statement in the article that states that engineering universities should "give women a more realistic preview of engineering tasks and workplace cultures." But I don't think that's a women only problem. And much as the macho/top-dog/kill yourself working culture hurts women it hurts men too. Only the other societal pressures on men are probably not as heavy as they are on women, hence why women leave the industry more often. But that doesn't mean fixing the workplace culture wouldn't benefit everyone. And it means it's not some crazy niche idea for women only.

But the numbers for women have stayed pretty flat: "Women comprise more than 20% of engineering school graduates, but only 11% of practicing engineers are female, according to the National Science Foundation." I hate to think how much talent we lose when we ignore the low numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering. Or the creativity and innovation we're throwing away when we stick to models of "good old boys" that hurt everyone, women, minorities, even white guys. I guess we need to "reach out" to those white guys to get them to buy into this idea that the system isn't working for them either. And that by working together we can make it better.


At last, validation

I just received this exciting email. Looks like my job search is over, this sounds like the right opportunity for me.
We have vacancy in ---- Inc.
We have reviewed your profile, and concluded you are the right person to become
our employee.

If you meet the requirements, please kindly send your respond.

Please NOTE: You must be US citizen
Best regards
Where do I sign up?! If they want my social security number straight away, that probably just means they're serious, right?


Humanoid Robots

Or how foolish scientists will open the doors to Skynet and a future in which we run from robots trying to kill us. Perhaps literally so. Boston Dynamics, who brought you the infamous "Big Dog" robot (here's a video) have been in the news this past month for the DARPA funding of their new cheetah robot. Supposedly the thing is designed to chase down human prey. Luckily in CAD form it looks less menacing so far.

I have been thinking about the Uncanny Valley in robot design lately. I like Disney's Wall-E and of course I'm waiting for this KeepOn robot to go on sale so I can purchase him and have more moments of squee in my day. But then robots go past the divide. There are plenty of scary looking singing Japanese robots out there. Even a German company has gotten into the race with their "fembot" that can lift things and do factory work. [As an aside, I hate how we have to sexualize all our robots. "Dude-bots" are not called "man-bots" or whatever, if it looks male it is male and the difficult and that doesn't need to be mentioned. In this case I'm not even sure why the AILA was given some approximation of plastic human female hair and vaguely human female curves. Reminds me of the exec in 30Rock complimenting Liz Lemon on being "a good businessman." "You mean businesswoman?" "I'm pretty sure that's not a word."]

While Boston Dynamics was busy making a robot that would hunt down human prey (I'm not sure what kind, or why...terrorists? illegal aliens? Convicts when we finally implement a "running man" or "the gamer" type of future where falsely convicted hero-types must compete for their freedom and lives on a gladiator-like gameshow that bloodthirsty Americans just eat up?). You might have missed their introduction of a bi-pedal robot, ATLAS.

Boston Dynamics already has a two-legged robot, and the video is seriously creepy. It doesn't help ATLAS looks like a freaking Terminator but imagine it walking around non-chalantly like their existing robot Petman and you'll see what I mean with uncanny divide. When the operator shoves him to the side (see me using masculine pronouns for this thing? dammit) I really expected the robot to finally go psycho after being pushed around one too many times and kill the guy.

It's only missing a nice big HAL light on the front of it. So sure Boston Dynamics I'm impressed. But I'm also creeped out. I'm going to go back to watching your snake robot and this weird climbing robot that looks like a lizard. I bet audiences in the 1980s seeing the movie Terminator for the first time wondered how stupid humanity could be that it created the thing that became self aware and destroyed us. But now I see it! We'll make them for coolness factor! Coolness factor is going to be humanity's downfall. Good thing my fallout shelter doubles as robot defense shelter.


Fool me once

Everytime I think I don't have to look for a new job and actually have a future at MegaCorp the brutal truth swings around and smacks me in the face. It's like the know exactly how to reel me in every so often to make me feel like I could stay here, just often enough to keep me from focusing as much as I should on the outside job search. At what point do you try more aggressive methods? Is it worth mentioning my unhappiness and pay disparity or is that going to piss them off to the point of me losing my job? I mean, I've mentioned it, but how in their faces do I have to be to get some traction. Or is it pointless to bargain with fools.


More on STEM recruiting

In BusinessWeek Sophie Vandebroek writes about why the US must promote engineering. She doesn't really do a good job at saying why though and I think her article is more of a how. She doesn't say why the US would be better off with more engineers or with discouraging fewer people from staying away from the field. And while I agree with her general premise, some of her points seem too out of line for me to ignore.
First, kids should experience early on how much fun science is. In my family, we encouraged our children to treat the world as their laboratory. As my now-22-year-old engineer daughter, Nena, can attest, she and her brothers watched minimal television throughout elementary and middle school, so they were left to find more creative ways to spend their time. Their afternoons regularly involved digging for bugs, building furniture for their fort, and constructing makeshift dams across the sidewalk after rainstorms.
Great that she didn't let her kids watch TV but she fails to realize that her own background (she's the CTO at Xerox) enabled her to give those lessons to her children. Being an engineer is a decidedly middle class, sometimes upper class, career. It's true that technicians, and mechanics and carpenters and many blue collar workers do excellent jobs at convincing their kids to go to school for engineering but many more parents don't convey that message. Not because they're too good for it, but because just as many kids don't know what an engineer does many adults don't either. And if you grew up and your parents were nurses or secretaries you may not know anything about engineering. I like getting parents involved, but it's not people working in STEM already whose kids we need to reach. It's the kids who no one bothers to tell them what an engineer does or why they might like it.
Second of all, my sister and I (though we watched TV) had a similarly creative upbringing. But we didn't spend hours building dirt forts, rather we spent hours writing creative stories or writing computer programs. Not everyone's path to engineering is the same and I think the implication that all kids need to build stuff when not every engineering career is even remotely like that is a rather closed minded way of recruiting kids. If you like programming, or like solving problems, or like writing reports it doesn't mean you shouldn't go into engineering because all these skills are in the field as well.
The author also talks about expanding green cards and trying to encourage immigrants to stay here after college rather than going back home. But I have to disagree with her there. It's good to have a flexible immigration policy that allows for new people and new ideas but with our economy still bleeding jobs and with the great many engineers out of work I know I'd rather focus on recruiting underrepresented minorities into the field instead of foreigners.
Over at Under the Microscope they talk about a program to recruit girls into engineering, Spark Talented Minority Girls' Interest in Engineering, Female Recruits Explore Engineering (FREE). A mouthful I know. Funded by the NSF the program follows and guides young women from high school, through college, and into their career.
The FREE project focus group included mostly minority girls from Ohio, Colorado, and Iowa from the following additional demographics: most came from low socioeconomic backgrounds; all were recruited through their schools; all were girls who were strong academically in both math and science; none had family members or extended family members that were engineers (to ensure few preconceived notions of engineering); none had decided with any level of certainty on one field; and all of the girls agreed to simply explore engineering as an option.
I really like how we're showing engineering to people even if they don't choose it as a career. I would love for more professionals to just know about what engineering is not necessarily that everyone needs to pursue it. In this case they were doing a study on these girls so hence their goals of not choosing girls who had family members who were engineers, but I think that goal is fantastic. Not that girls and minorities who are related to engineers don't need the help and guidance, but clearly that's not the demographic we're having trouble reaching. I think perhaps that's a noble goal for outreach programs to target only people who would not otherwise participate.


Geek Bait

I have a couple geeky things at my desk at work. They're like signals to the people who recognize them. A lot of people I've never met come by to compliment me on them and then we strike up conversation and learn we have something in common besides working together. That's that sort of networking bs the social media sites will tell you to do, but I just like meeting new people and flagging the geeky ones down with my signs. Plus I feel cool in an ├╝bergeeky sort of way using symbols in plain sight that are like a code to my comrades in geekitude.