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Yesterday was what I would consider bitterly cold on the high plains.  The actual air temperature was around -15°F.  I have no idea what the windchill was: I don’t bother checking because it’s usually bad and only makes me feel worse.  Despite that, I tucked my lab notebook under my arm along with a mess of paperwork and trekked to the part of campus (i.e. the next building over, which is a long way in the cold) that deals with intellectual property issues. Those of you who read my blog may remember me talking about some easy funding I got for an idea.  The idea involved developing a special widget, and my supervisor thought it was an *ahem* novel idea.  He was hoping the widget might be patentable.  Granted, I may not be Hedy Lamarr, who patented the secret communication device below, but one can always hope that all this excess…

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How do you write your best reports? The hardest part for me is getting started. Back when I was a humanities student I had a post-it note system of organization. Rather than starting with a written outline, I’d go through the document and attach stickies wherever there was a point I wanted to analyze. Then I’d just go back through, cite it or paraphrase with a footnote, and write my analysis on the spot. Now it’s a bit harder for me to do this fly by night method. It helps to start with a template I think which can serve as a rough outline, but it doesn’t actually capture the main points you might want to hit. I generally have a really good idea of the overall objective and less of a good idea about how to get the reader through all the logical steps to get there. Often I…

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All across the midwest this evening, they’ve been calling the most recent stormfront the Blizzard of 2011. Whether or not it will develop into a truly nasty storm remains to be seen. But it did get me thinking (and yes, a little bit scared): If you had to generate all you own power starting tomorrow, do you think you could do it? Posing this question to a few co-workers and myself gave me pause. I understand the scope and magnitude of power generation. It’s no small feat! Aside from the fact that we just expect power to be there these days, we don’t usually have a real feel for how much total power we use and how hard it is it actually generate that power. But we’re all engineers around here, right? (or at least masochists who enjoy reading about engineering) So let’s figure out what it would take and…

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…or is it? Back when I was in university, when I was naive and skinny, when fresh hopes and dreams still sprouted from my fountain of cluelessness, when nubile bodies walked the same halls, I was unfortunate enough to have signed on to electrical engineering where the ratio of nubile bodies to geeky guys was 0.017 (not a made up number). It was also a time when the high tech industry was riding a humongous crest upwards. The first web browser was just released. Everyone was talking about media convergence and the new brave digital world. Upon graduation, my classmates went left and right into digital design. For me, I enrolled in a masters program researching … analog design. My sanity was questioned by family. My friends wondered if I will be one of those taxi-driving master degree engineers not unlike the fate of so many new immigrants. Many moons…

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I like to think that John Kenneth Galbraith was a bit on the cynical side. Still I’ve never been particularly fond of meetings (who is?). Despite trying to learn more about running effective meetings, I’ve lately been developing a list of pet peeves about meetings. Failing to realize that not everyone wants to listen to you hash out details There is nothing more annoying than listening to someone conduct a meeting within a meeting. Honestly, meetings should, for the most part, cover higher level issues on a project, such as progress or difficulties. They are meant to keep everyone on the same page as far as progress goes. They are not a good time to bring up this niggling little issue that’s been giving a person problems but that person failed to ask their coworkers about until they’re sitting down across from them. And double curses on people who carry…

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You hop into the shower. Eee, that’s cold! Your hand flips it up to hot. A few seconds (or minutes, depending on your geographical location and the power of your water heater) later and now it’s omg hot hot hot. Somewhere in there you manage to flip it back to a tolerable level and finish your shower. You are actually acting as a sophisticated controller/feedback system. Your skin is serving as a temperature sensor and feeding back information to your brain that tells you if it’s too hot or too cold. Your hand is serving as the motor that uses signals from your brain to tell you which direction to flip the nozzle in and by how much. Control systems are everywhere. They control everything from the total travel and position of a complicated robot arm in an automotive factory to the flap position of an aileron on an aircraft…

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This week’s theme at Engineer Blogs is all about salaries. Chris gave us some excellent big picture view for those starting out in engineering; FrauTech provided insight to the current conditions and future outlook for engineers in the United States; while for Cherish, the temporary-engineer and cash-poor grad student, she isn’t in it for the money. Bless Cherish for still being able to hold on to her ideals. Still, if you’re in engineering for the money, you’re in the wrong industry. But that doesn’t mean that as a practising engineer, one shouldn’t try to milk as much out of your employer as possible. At the very least, one should be able to get paid more than an academic. Given the big picture has already been covered, I will focus my attention on a specific case study and what lessons we can draw from this case. Let me start by saying…

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If there’s anything I’ve gained from corporate America it’s realism and bitterness in abundance. Chris just wrote an excellent post on the expectations for starting salaries in electrical engineering. His curve for how an engineer’s salary might start out comparitively high but then flatten out over time is spot on. Chris gives some good numbers that are fairly reasonable for a mechanical engineer as well. Back before this recession the average graduate with a BS from my institution (which ranks fairly well, but not in the top 10 or anything crazy) was about 55k. Most of these graduates would be taking jobs in high cost metropolitan areas so this might run a bit high compared to other places. And there are several great comments on the post. An old engineer discusses the importance of training in the latest technology and how companies often try to squeeze employees out if they…

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When a friend recently found out I was working as an engineer, he said, “I never saw you as the worker bee type.” It was a good assessment of my personality, but not a good assessment of my job. All engineering jobs don’t require one to become a worker bee. Because the theme this week is engineering salary, it’s a good time to talk about what I do and do not expect from a job especially as I hope to go into academia (which, as far as I know, is different from my fellow bloggers here). There is a down side to this career path…or two, rather. The first is the stiff competition for open jobs. (Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s not there.) The second is the pay. As a grad student, I’ve averaged around $20k for an annual salary. That may not sound like a lot, but…

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Time to look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook for engineers in 2010. The Occupational Outlook Handbook usually does a decent job at giving a very brief overview of a position, the number of people employed in the field, and an extremely rough estimate for median wages. They do statistics by metropolitan area as well which made it really unique and useful before salary websites started cropping up everywhere. One thing I don’t like is how the BLS decides to split up different engineering occupations. For instance, there’s aerospace engineer but no automotive engineer. Would someone who changed fields into aerospace consider themselves still a mechanical engineer? How about someone whose field was chemical engineering but got a job in the oil industry as a petroleum engineer? I just think there’s too much overlap in their categories which could make these numbers a little unreliable. But what’s…

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