Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Rust Belt

I spent 5.5 hours in the car today, and here are two things that I realized along the way:

  • I established a new personal benchmark for the western-most point that I have driven to. And I'm really not all that far west-- I'm in Chicago. (But until today, the farthest west that I had ever driven was Indianapolis, which is a scant 1.5 hours from Cincinnati.)

    I've been here a couple of other times, but I've always flown before. Ditto for every point west of here.

  • I have a special place in my heart for Rust Belt cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. (I'm sure it stems from the 5 years I spent in Cleveland.)

There's just something unique about Rust Belt cities-- They're unpretentious, but they have a sort of sturdiness and just a hint of swagger to them. They have a confidence that comes from knowing their purpose:

They make stuff.

These cities weren't built on marketing, finance, government, entertainment, or tourism. They were built on a foundation of manufacturing. And even though the foundations have crumbled in some areas, the Rust Belt cities retain the special traits that they developed along the way. They're still proud of their solid work ethic, and they've accumulated a rich cultural diversity from centuries of immigration. In my opinion, these are some of the best qualities of America.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Demotivational Favorites

Saw this comic in the newspaper today, and it reminded me of something that my friend T would say.

It's also a very appropriate introduction to some of my favorite posters from Despair, Inc.

  • Motivation - I wonder if they have motivational posters in India?

  • Government - Or, as I like to say, "Government is the least effective way to do just about anything."

  • Beauty - Because everyone knows at least one person like this.

  • Pressure - Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

  • Teamwork - My all-time favorite, and so completely relevant to being on ski patrol.

  • Destiny - For Hubs, because I know he's reading this!

P.S. Their t-shirts are also brilliant.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

An Age of Lies

So let me make sure I've got this straight...

Over the course of 25-30 years, Mao's lies caused the deaths at least 40 million of his own people and now we're supposed to be shocked by the idea that the Chinese government might have fibbed about the ages of their Olympic Gymnasts?

OK, that's what I thought.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A pig-lizard kind of day...

I love Galaxy Quest. It's such an underrated classic. There are so many great quotes that it's hard to pick a favorite. But today, I'm going to have to go with the pig-lizard scene.

For those of you who haven't seen the movie, Tim Allen's character is on an alien planet, about to get killed by a rock monster, while the rest of his crewmates have returned to the ship. They want to rescue him by teleporting him up to the ship, but they've never used the equipment before. So they decide to see what happens if they teleport the pig-lizard animal that was used as bait for the rock monster...

From Wikiquote:
[Fred has tested the "digital conveyor" teleportation device on a pig-lizard that was chasing Jason Nesmith, but the pig-lizard has been horribly mutilated by the process.]
Jason Nesmith: [over the comm] What was that?
Alexander Dane: Uh, nothing.
Jason Nesmith: I heard some squealing or something.
Gwen DeMarco: No, everything is fine.
Teb: [cheerfully] But the animal is inside out.
[Gwen quickly tries to cover Teb's mouth]
Jason Nesmith: I heard that! It got turned inside out?
[The pig-lizard bursts, spattering the area with gore. Some of it lands on Teb.]
Teb: [unphased] And it exploded...
Jason Nesmith: Did I just hear that the animal turned inside out and then exploded!?!
Gwen DeMarco: [distressed] Um... hold, please.

So I've been working on a kinematic model for several weeks now. It's supposed to be a sales demo for a potential customer. They provided me with CAD files and information on their spring properties, etc. For some reason, I just haven't been able to get realistic results from the model.

After several rounds of back-and-forth with the Design Engineer, I finally learn that they're in the middle of changing vendors, and the information that I've been given is a mish-mash of data from the "old" design and the "new" design. So I've spent most of today rebuilding the model. When I tried to delete one of the "old" components and replace it with the "new" component, the model turned inside out.

And then it exploded.

And of course, as I was in the middle of making the change, I thought to myself, "I should really make a back-up file, in case this doesn't work correctly." The problem is that I had that thought just one minute too late. So I lost several hours worth of work, and now I get to do it all over again.

And it's my own damn fault.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Pandora's iPod

This is brilliant.

I got it on my iPod touch, but it's also available on your computer. Now I've just got to figure out how to get it in my car!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Working from Home

Back in June, I started working for a small engineering software company.

Really small. I am Employee #7.

My salary is much lower than what I was earning at my Corporate job, by a factor of about 1/3. But there are some key benefits that are worth far more than money ever could mean to me:

  • I'll own a stake in the company, and I can see how my hard work will contribute to the company's success.

  • I have the rare privilege of doing meaningful work for an ethical manager.

    After my own work experiences and witnessing all the struggles that several of my friends have gone through in the past few years, I started to believe that good jobs just didn't exist. So now I'm especially grateful to have a job where my boss respects me and I actually enjoy the work I'm doing. I get to do real engineering, without the paperwork and bureaucracy and politics that consumed 80-90% of my time at my previous jobs.

  • I get "six or seven weeks" of vacation!!! (My boss wasn't worried about the details when he offered me the job.)

    When I was working for the big Corporation, I had to use some of my precious vacation days to run errands or even to take a nap. Now that I have a flexible work schedule, I have no real need for six or seven weeks of vacation. My husband gets four weeks, so that's pretty much the upper limit for us to travel anyway. The real beauty of the whole situation is that I'm free from the stupid pettiness of tracking and hoarding half-days of vacation.

  • I get to work from home!!!

    In fact, the company has no central headquarters. Everyone works from home, and we're scattered across the country-- Massachusetts, Ohio, Iowa, and Colorado. (Future-Employee #8 lives in California.) We communicate with each other mostly by email and IMs, and our weekly staff meetings are on IRC. Sure, there are times when it would be easier if we could communicate face to face, instead of using GoToMeeting. But the upside of working from home is that there are fewer distractions-- no coworkers talking on their speakerphones, no need to trek to various ends of the building several times a day, and no mandatory meetings consuming 10-20 hours every week. I feel far, far more productive than I ever did living in cube-land.

    SIDEBAR: In my not-so humble opinion, cubicles may be one of the most evil, demoralizing inventions of all time. And don't even get me started on the new trend toward lower walls...

I've got to tell you, I really LOVE working from home. There are too many benefits to list them all, but here are some of my favorites:

  • I finally have an office with a window and a door. It's comfortable in a way that a cubicle could never, ever be.

  • I get to bring my dog to work with me. She naps under my desk while I'm working.

  • I sleep an hour later every day, and now I don't wake up every morning feeling like I've been hit by a truck! (I never realized how chronically sleep-deprived I really was.)

  • I can wear comfortable clothes, and I don't have to put on make-up or do my hair if I don't feel like it.

  • I eat healthier food for lunch, because now I'm not choosing between fast food or the cafeteria. There are no french fries in my kitchen, so I don't have to deal with that temptation at lunch time!

  • I have the flexibility to volunteer more of my time for things I feel passionate about (like getting 60 inner-city kids organized to go to camp) and I can go to yoga classes in the middle of the day. In fact, I usually work at my church on Thursdays-- Free coffee, free wireless, and free yoga!

In thinking about working from home, it occurred to me that for thousands of years, people worked in or near their homes. Whatever their trade or profession might be, they worked within walking distance of their homes. For many workers, it was normal to go home in the middle of the day for lunch and maybe even a siesta. So why on earth did we ever accept that a "normal" day should include an hour or more of road-rage and 8-10 hours spent sitting in a cube?

In the immortal words of Peter Gibbons:
We don't have a lot of time on this earth! We weren't meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements.