Category Archives: Engineering Mindset

I happened to be scrounging through the supply cabinet at work and found this relic of the computing world, a 5.25″ floppy disk. Putting them in the cabinet may have just been someone’s idea of a joke, but it brings up the very real point of dealing with legacy data and compatibility. If there was anything on the floppy, it was probably so old that it couldn’t possibly be important to us anymore, but if it was, the chances of finding a computer on the premises that could read it would be slim to nil. Now as a mechanical engineer, I don’t typically encounter legacy operating systems (COBOL, anyone?), but I have had to dig up some very old technical drawings. I was working on a radar system upgrade and had to pull up technical drawings from the radar’s original construction in the 1960’s. The drawings were stored on microfiche, and…

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It’s been a bit quiet here on EngineerBlogs lately. Everyone is no doubt busy with their real jobs, myself included. The reason is for me is simply workload. As an ex-pat, you are expected to communicate with HQ on a regular basis. The only ex-pats that don’t need to deal with such odd hours are ex-pat engineers. After being here for 2 months, I’ve only met 1 ex-pat engineers — a fellow from France that sits 10 ft. away from me. Every other ex-pat that I’ve met that does engineering related work are engineering managers, myself included. Unfortunately, the ex-pat high tech community isn’t all that large. So far, I’ve met an analog IC manager from TI and an IT director from Alcatel-Lucent. Almost everyone else works for companies noted for their mechanical engineering products — GM, Ford, Volvo, and a few other companies that cater to big manufacturing industries…

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Lately, I’ve been looking for manufacturers for an injection molded project I’m working on. Requirements at my previous job forced us to source parts in the US, and most of our work was CNC’d aluminum, so exploring overseas suppliers is a new prospect for me. There are some clear advantages to staying in the US and I thought I’d talk about the pros and cons running through my head. Trust The first concern I have with a supplier is trust. Can I trust them to make quality goods and deliver on time? In the US, I feel like basic interview questions and social cues will lead me to conclude whether you’re a worthy supplier or not. I can call you on the phone (because at most you are a few time zones away!), communicate with you in fluent English, and also check your references, who probably also speak English. If…

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I often work on many projects at once. Finishing a project gives me great pleasure- I like to look at it, talk about it, and feel the sense of accomplishment that is nearly analogous to a runner’s high. But getting there takes some practice at the skill of Finishing Stuff. Universally, it is recognized that the last 10% of the project is 90% of the work. I’d say that the first third of the project is 2% of the work. Can someone do the curve and put it in the comments? Why is it so tough to finish projects and so easy to start them? Starting is easy, involving large portions of researching, discussion and shopping. These tasks don’t actually involve producing any results but they feel as though something has been accomplished. Making something out of nothing, to design something or to build something where it wasn’t in existence before…

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Last week, I complained on my own blog about how I wasn’t looking forward to school starting.  In the meantime, it has started, and I’ve made it through the first week of classes.  Now that I’m starting to get back in the groove, I’m looking at things a different way. First, as much as I love summer, I like the fact that my life is now moving back into a predictable, albeit busy, routine.  I have certain days I’ll be teaching, certain days where I take my dogs to class, certain days I’ll be running my kids to events, and certain meetings that I simply cannot avoid.  Taken as a whole, I really like having a schedule and knowing where and when I need to be a certain place.  Summer, with it’s lack of structure, sometimes leaves me feeling a bit lost. Second, I’m happy to be teaching again.  I…

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I threw a BBQ last night. The food and drink, though not cheap, was delicious. All of the guests complimented me on my ability to bend smoke and heat to my will and tame the fibers of a beef brisket. Really I did this because my wife decided she wanted to have a party for friends and family, but it got me thinking about the concept of social capital. Do I trade food for friends? No. Do I think giving someone a slice of brisket will necessarily endear me to them? Nope. Even if there’s lots of free beer to go along with it? Nah. Do I think good things happen when you bring people together and help cross polinate your social groups and try to find commonalities among them? You bet your brisket I do. Remember, you don’t have to have a reason to hang out with friends. But…

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One of the problems luxuries of having a spouse who is also a mechanical engineer is that we are both completely capable of fixing stuff around the house. Moreover, DrWife and I both enjoy fixing stuff around the house, something that I don’t think should be taken for granted. Recently, we just bought a new house which has left us with numerous evening tasks and weekend fun like: re-tiling the bathroom, installing new outlets and lights, painting, re-screening screens, assembling furniture (see picture), and general unpacking. And now that we’ve established what we need to do, now all we need to figure out is who’s going to do it??!?! It turns out, answering this question isn’t always so simple. DrWife and I end up arguing more about this than just about anything else (I guess that’s a good thing?!??). For the small stuff, it tends to work (after arguing) by splitting the job. I’ll…

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The most difficult aspect of being on a multidisciplinary team is the fact that you don’t always speak each other’s language.  Communication can be a problem.  All of us are so immersed in what we do that we know what we need and our limitations.  If we knew that the people we were working with didn’t understand those limitations, we would gladly explain them.  However, it doesn’t become clear that there’s been a miscommuncation or lack of communication until we’re looking at a project and asking why the person didn’t do things a different way. From my perspective, it’s a bit difficult to do modeling and then hand my work to someone who will make the thing I’ve modeled.  Often, the way I’ve designed the model isn’t exactly the way the object needs to be built.  Then the question is whether the model is a sufficient representation of the device.…

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There was a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed this week in which the author was advising a smart but abrasive younger colleague to “try being likable“. The phrase that really struck me was “Think of what you could accomplish if people actually wanted to help you”. The piece was focusing on interacting with peers, but it reminded me of discussions I’ve had with peers about interacting with the people who make it possible for you to do your job, which I’ve touched on previously. For example, most of my work is done on a super-computing cluster. In order for me to do research, I need the server up and running. Last Friday was System Administrator Appreciation Day, and so my group brought the sys admin team various goodies. They just did some major system upgrades which are having stability issues. Because they remembered me , when I contacted…

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I’ve never actually carried a backpack on a regular basis. I was homeschooled all the way up through highschool, so there was no need to carry textbooks back and forth – they stayed on the bookshelf for when I needed them. And then in community college, by random chance I had a shoulder bag from Land’s End hanging around, and I decided to just use that. I’ve grown accustomed to the shoulder bag, and then when I moved to undergrad from community college, I just stuck with the genre. (Under family “bag,” mine would be genus “shoulder.”) I had one bag that lasted me all the way through undergrad, then in grad school I got a new bag for the occasion, and barring unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions, it’s going to last me until I finish here. In my bag: Wallet and keys So many keys! No, I did not murder a janitor, but I…

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