Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The job - Pt 3

So no one really explains to you what Electrical Engineering is.  If they do, it's explained from the perspective of that person's specialty.  In the case of my professor father, his specialty in EE was Control Theory.  In layman's terms, control theory is this - "When you going up a steep hill in your car, and you have the radio and their a/c going full blast, control theory prevents your car from conking out as it's climbing the hill."  Your engine is driving the gears on the car to make it climb, but it's also responsible for generating all the electricity going to the dashboard, the a/c and the radio.  Control theory constantly goes around re-adjusting the electrical supply in your car to make sure that everyone is satisfied or is satisfied enough (your a/c suddenly isn't as cold for a few seconds).  It takes a lot of math as the electrical circuits are re-adjusting the supply in your car.

Electrical Engineering is designing algorithms, materials, or systems which generate or use electricity. 

I wanted to be a programmer, but Dad said be an EE first.  And so, you have to go through boot camp and learn the basics.  I'm surprised people don't ask (more), "Why is it that EE's design computers when computer programmers actually use them?"

Back to the analogy, you drive a car.  You think you drive (program) a car very well.  But could you design a car to climb a hill and not stall out? 

You've learned that the basics of computers are ones and zeroes.  The "things" that make up ones and zeroes are the electrical circuits that EE's design.  Yup, you've heard of that.  But did you know what really makes up a "1"?  By rule/design, circuits range between 0 volts and 5 volts.  The value 0 to 3-ish, makes up a logical "zero".  And the values above "3" are mostly "ones".  Why do I say mostly?  Well, there's a fuzzy are where EE's don't want to be pinned down.  You can't guarantee what something will be at exactly.  You can just say, "something above"......ish.

So the fuzzy rule of thumb is:
0.0 Volts - 3.0 Volts equals logical zero
3.25 Volts - 5.0 Volts equals logical one

And what if it falls between 3.0 and 3.25?  That's were EE's say, "Well...eeeeh.  the goal is to make sure it doesn't get down to that range"

And so they teach you to overdesign.  The design of electrical circuits within the EE field is called "electronics".  Since I received a "D" in that class (60% of an infamous class taught by an infamous lecturer received D's and F's) and had to take it TWICE (never happened before or since), I know a bit about electronics.

You design the circuit to shoot for something high like 4.5 Volts.  And then you expect over time, the electronic circuits will slowly wear out due to heat, age, dust, and environmental values.  In other words, you'll throw it out before it starts dipping below 3.25 Volts.

But you overdesign as well to take into account poor manufacturing.  Everyone wants something cheap.  If you had to replace your laptop (Johnny's rule of thumb is that laptops become obsolete after 3 years), you would balk at paying $2,000 for a new laptop (Apple!).  No, you would demand that a new laptop cost no more than $500!

Remember when the Apollo 1 tragedy occurred? During the investigation, one of the astronauts kinda shrugged his shoulders and said something to the effect of, "What do you expect when you ride a rocket made of millions of parts that were all the result of the lowest cost bid?"

As an example, here is the number 500:
111110100
and if the leading "1" dipped below 3.25 V because the circuit was getting old or it was poor design or it was poor/cheap manufacturing then the number would look like this:
011110100
And that number is 244

Now suppose those circuits were part of an altimeter on a jumbo jet coming in for a landing.  Suddenly your plane would tell you that you are at 244ft instead of 500ft, maybe.

Don't worry.  First of all:
a) overdesign (you hope)
b) quality control (you hope)
c) redundancy (required)
d) service (required)

But as an EE, your eyes open up a bit. 

Inductors + resistors + capacitors = OpAmps = circuits = ones/zeroes

You hope someone along the line did their job and did it well.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Job - pt 2

The first question is:  Why electrical engineering -> programming -> babysitting?

I've thought about that question over the years.  I think there are two reasons:

a) My sister
b) Drama club!

As these years pass, and I continue to barely speak to her (we've exchanged maybe 2-3 sentences over the last 5 years), I come to the realization that my sister never did like me that much.  But, she didn't really hate me - to be clear.  But she didn't want to hang out with me and just be with me.  Which makes pictures of my kids enjoying just being with each other all the more enjoyable:


And because I didn't have a "bud", what I learned was that computers were interesting.  They liked to play games (I like games where the outcome is never the same each time).  They were willing to play whenever you wanted to play.  And you could play as long as you wanted (or until the modem hung up on you).  And remember this was the days of a green screen with block characters - not Xbox or Playstation.

And then drama club:  putting plays together.  I was never really big on acting, but it was enjoyable being backstage, being in on the "secret" that those in the audience couldn't see.  Also it was a required "ballet" of everyone working in a coordinated manner to produce something.  It was also interesting how people who hated each other could suspend that dislike for each other for the 5 minutes or so they shared the stage together.

So when it came time to think about my career future, I remember that a stage electrician told me that I would probably make a good stage electrician (if you show up on time and not strung out on drugs, you make a good stage "anything" in the theater).  Hmmm, technical theater major.  Or, a programmer.  And when I become this programmer, I can write games! (I was already writing rudimentary programs while in high school).

So, I had a sit down talk with my Dad:
Me: Hey Dad, I think I know what I want to major in college.
Dad: Oh yeah.  [putting down the paper] What would that be?
Me: Technical theater!
Dad: What is that?
[a short explanation to him]
Dad: Well, all I'm paying for is Electrical Engineering [retired a few years ago after 40 years as a professor of Electrical Engineering]
Me: [thinking, thinking, thinking] Well, how about computer programming?
Dad: Well, if you first get an EE degree, then you'll really know how a computer works on the inside.  And after you get your EE degree, if you want, I'll pay for a Masters in computer science.
Me: [mulling, mulling, mulling] Okay, I guess.
And he was right. The analogy was I spent 4 years learning how to be a race car mechanic.  And then, I spent 2 years learning how to drive the car I could fix with my eyes closed.

But of course, I never got around to working on any part of the car.

But I could have!

At any time!

Yeah, right.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Job - pt 1.

Hmmm, am I trying to avoid work?  Have there been things on my mind?  Can I actual finish off any series of blog postings that I actually start?  Eeeh [shrug].

Currently, I'm in the middle of attempting a job "backflip".  I'm trying to go backwards to my last job from my current job.  Which is tricky since I kinda burned my bridges with my last boss, but they loved me and they're willing to forgive me if I promise them I won't quit on them like last time.  I have an "interview" this afternoon so they can gauge if I'm jerking them around or not. 

But in the meantime, guardian angel manager sent me this email this morning:

I'm at a 3 day [redacted] technical leadership workshop and met Rick [redacted] today. I asked him how you were doing and he was very positive on how quickly you've grasped the world of [redacted] so quickly. He also mentioned that he'd been giving you [redacted]-related assignments that would benefit both teams and that he'd wished he started doing that sooner as a way for you to get more exposure to the process and their team.

I did not mention that you were considering moving to another assignment in the near future. If you do end up staying I wanted you to know you are definitely on the right track so keep doing what you are doing ...

So, that's nice.  But it's typical for me.  I usually hit a new job running and give people the impression they didn't hire a numbskull.  But, let's go back-back-back to this whole career thing.

How does an electrical engineer, who has never done a day of "real" electrical engineering, end up a programmer who ends up a project manager who essentially has skillz at babysitting technical people?

So, I'm going to try to discuss how I ended up here, as a career, without getting through too many details.  After all, how can you beat the insanity of trying to get someone to do their J-O-B and trying to sell chocolate ice cream to those who only love vanilla?

Hopefully, the enthusiasm will last long enough for most posts!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Me versus Super Dog

The onging saga of a cute, smart, loving dog who thinks that our daily game is: " Daddy tries to keep me from escaping the yard, and I keep escaping.  Fun!"

So, after a quiet period where there was a halt in dog escapes, Pepper revved it up again.  And my emergency supply of Quickcrete was exhausted.  There was also a 3 day session where she got the chicken wire unwired.  She sits there and pulls and tugs on the wire and eventually one strand snaps and the rest peals open and a hole can be created where she can scoot out.  The only solution to that is to place a patch square of chicken wire on top of that and make parts of that somewhat double-banded.  And then she goes elsewhere looking for the next weakness.

This week, she got out.  And I went around looking for the latest break, and I couldn't find it.  That's scary when I can't see an obvious break.  I walked the yard twice.

And then, one day I came home from work and she was in the backyard.  But, there was a new dog toy I'd never seen.  I'd never given it to her.  So.....she has broken out, roamed the neighborhood, stole a dog toy and returned THROUGH THE FENCE with the toy in tow.

Gah!

But, she was back on the deck and I couldn't figure out how she got out and back in.  Plus, I looked at her collar and her rabies vaccination tag had been torn off as she was probably upside down getting out from the chain link fence.

And then one day, I came home to work from home at lunchtime and here she was trotting from across the street back to our house.

Gah!

I once walked the yard THREE TIMES.  I nudged fences, I pulled on chicken wire.  I could not figure out how she was getting out.

The weekend was approaching and I would have to figure a way to deduce how she was getting out.  And as last minute "how fun!", she got out Friday night.

Gah!

I was trying to figure out how to deduce where she gets out.  I need:
a) something that leaves a trail.
b) something is not toxic to the environment or dog
c) something cheap.

I first thought of white chalk, like stuff they lay on football fields.  I get it at Home Depot?  Then, duh, I thought of general purpose flour.  After brunch this morning, I went to the grocery store and bought 10 lbs of flour for $3.

And then, I went through the outside perimeter of the yard.

This is the back of the yard before spreading the flour.  You'll see the chicken wire and the solid blocks of hardened Quickcrete sitting on top of them.


And this is after I've finished sprinkling flour along the outside edge of fence line:


And just wait for her to get out.  About 5 hours later, she was waiting at the front door to be let in.  I quickly went to the back yard as it was starting to lightly sprinkle.

And there it was.  I had seen disturbed earth before, but I couldn't be sure it wasn't from a previous breakout.  Also, the gap was so, so tiny.  She has to elevate herself, and go ABOVE the chicken wire and then almost go vertical and go under the bottom wire of the chain link.  It's hard to see it with the chicken wire being almost invisible.


I had though, "I wonder if she can elevate and get into this tiny gap?"


I always travel to the back yard with a bag of zip ties.  You see an older zip tie she has chewed through attached to the chain link.

And so, the latest counter-measure:


Friday, December 27, 2013

Six Movies, Five Days

In college, I would come home during Christmas break and spend almost 3 weeks at my parents' house.  The dorm was closed and my college buddies were scattered to the wind.  I only had a few friends from high school I kept in touch with, and even then the concept of "hanging out" with them wasn't expected.  They were working jobs or hanging out with their boyfriends (I, ahem, had a few female friends).

So, what I did was I went to movies.  Back then the "Dollar Movie" was literally $1 (I think the concept of dollar movies they started at the time I was going to college).  And so, since I didn't actually go to many movie theaters during the just-finished semester, I would go see movies.  Lots of movies.  Also, you have to remember that "back then" (the 80's), they actually held movies for months instead of weeks at your local theater.  So something that came out in October, that I missed because I was busy with school, I could still catch in December.

And sometimes, I went and saw two movies on the same day (hence the title 6 movies, 5 days).  I've actually seen (sometimes) more movies then normal days to see movies.  I would go and pay the $3.25 to see the "first run" movie.....and then wait an hour and drive to the dollar movie theater and pay $1 to see something that had already left the regular theater and was down one notch in the distribution cycle.

The thing is, I used to enjoy this and also get depressed about it.  First, I'm a person who prefers to see a movie by himself.  There's nothing worse than going to see a movie you enjoyed with someone who may want to make a comment to you during the movie.  Or worse yet, after you finished watching a movie and wanted to talk about how great it was, they turn to you and say, "Man that sucked."  I like going to the movies to just enjoy it by myself with no debate or distraction.

That said, I remember driving from the regular theater towards the discount theater.  It was rainy and cold.  They day was gray.  And, I was alone with no friends in town.  And because of that, I had all the time in the world to see many movies.  Happy to see movies, but sad I had the time to see the movies.

So anyhoo, some comments about movies I've seen the last 3 weeks.

"Saving Mr. Banks"
Wifey got tickets for a sneak peak where they wanted to get viewer feedback.  For some reason, I expected it to be more cheerful, but there was a sadness throughout the movie.  With Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson I thought it would just leap off the screen.  But the flashback to the author's life kept sobering us up whenever we were smiling.  Wifey (who liked it) said, "I wish I'd known to bring tissues to this movie!"  She cried during parts of the movie.  Also what bothered me was that it was a generalization of the effort to get Mary Poppins made.  It wasn't true to history, so bothered me just a bit.
Johnny's Grade: B-

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
After the first movie in this series, I left the theater muttering to myself, "You have GOT to be kidding.  This is what everyone is losing their mind about?  What people who loved the series of books were jumping up and down about?"  I then went onto Wikipedia and read the synopsis of the whole series and thought, "OMG, how are they going to slowly plow through this series like this?"  I had read that Catching Fire was an example of a movie were the sequel was better than the original.  I have to agree that after watching Catching Fire, I said, "Well at least it moved faster and there wasn't all that whining about how unfair things were". 
Johnny's Grade: B+

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
I was looking forward to this, especially when I read that this was another example of the sequel exceeding the first movie.  Wifey wanted to go see it, but she hadn't seen the first movie.  I said, "Do ya really want to go see a sequel when you didn't see the first movie?  I mean, I can't even remember parts of the first movie since it was so long."  Wifey being Wifey just "poo-poo'ed" me and said, "Of course, I read the book."  (Yeah, like 35 YEARS AGO).  So, I just happened to schedule our "next" Netflix movie to be the first Hobbit movie.  She was surprised and confused while watching the movie, "Hey, I don't remember that in the book."  Yeah, so, so lucky that we happened to have it in our Netflix queue hunh?  And yes, the movie was better than the first.  But Wifey was totally caught off guard when it stopped at a climactic scene.  "Wha?!? Wha?!"  I said, "Ummm, you know there's a third movie right?  He just can't show him killing the dragon in the second movie of a trilogy."  (Duh)
Johnny's Grade: A-

"The Dallas Buyer's Club"
Besides Wifey hating Matthew McConaughey (BTW, Wifey hates about 7 of the 10 top male stars of movies - I have no idea why.  Everything there is a trailer with a top 10 star, she goes, "Yuck, I hate that guy"  Anyway, there was NO WAY she was going to see a movie about AIDS after I explained what it was about.  And I was just as happy to go alone without her saying "Yuck" every 10 minutes.  Good movie.  I kept thinking, "Would they seriously give McConaughey an Oscar?  They don't take him very seriously and Wifey would want to barf if he won it"  (By the way, like almost all the top male and female actors - so I'm rooting for MM).
Johnny's Grade: A

"American Hustle"
Wow, the stars in this movie.  All those big names come spilling out of the trailers.  All that big hair!  All that 70's music!  It was very good.  The partial, initial narration from the characters took a while to get used to, but then it went away.  I kept thinking, "I know I've seen Amy Adams in movies, but wow....this is big for her"  The second thought I kept thinking was, "Did you ladies run around in dresses show your boobs like that?  A little over the top 'cause as a guy I'd just be staring at your chest as you were talking."  Still, lots of Academy Awards are going to shake out of this movie, I believe.  The odd thing about this movie was, I kept thinking...."This is so good and so sad.  This is essentially a love story.  Odd"
Johnny's Grade: A

Movies I'm still trying to see before the holidays are over:
Anchorman 2 (I know!  I know!)
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Movies with poor scores I'll think about seeing but probably not make it to catch them in time:
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Lone Survivor

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Letter to Customer Service of a Local Merchant

There is a store I am always leery of going into to shop for Wifey for gifts.  I've always thought about writing them a letter about their customer service.  I was hesitant to do so right now, since it's so close to Christmas (Here's a lump of coal for you!), but I figured if they want to stay in business they need to know HOW to stay in business (they have been in business for a long time).  In this case, there is a bit of reverse age-ism and sex-ism.  But, obviously it's been gnawing at me for quite a while so I sent them a note.  Better to do it than talk about doing it.
 
----------------------------------------------
 
 
Hi,
  I am an occasional shopper at your store.  I live fairly close to the store and it offers a highly varied selection of [College Name redacted] clothing and items.  However, each time I enter the store to purchase an item for my wife, I find the same level of customer service (towards me).  I find that single, "younger" men are ignored by the sales staff.  They don't ask how I'm doing.  They don't ask if they can help with any selections.
  Most recently, I was in the store to buy Christmas presents for my wife.  I was looking for a
particular type of lined windbreaker jacket.  I was looking through many of the racks and no one
asked to assist me.  Then, I went to look for a long sleeve t-shirt in the women's section.  That would
have been a distinct hint that I was maybe needing help as I was holding up shirts trying to guess arm
length with shirt sizes.
  Even Ms. [Elderly Owner]  ignored me as she was nearby and was fretting about the rain causing a
slowdown in business.  My opinion is that the person (me) who drove through the rain just to shop at
that store (rather than buying online) should be a person you would want to cater to.
  The reason I can state that single (looking) males seem to be ignored in the store is that the moment
an elderly man enters the store, the staff immediately asks if they can help.  I've experienced that
several times at the store.
 I've worked in retail, and I'm not trying to berate your store.  I've been thinking that sometimes
people don't see the same perspective.  And, I would like [Store Name redacted], a local merchant,
to continue to be in business. Thus, I ask that you sometimes ask the young-ish looking, single guy
who wanders into the store if you could be of assistance.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Are You Lame - 2013 Edition

Lucky that Wifey has low enthusiasm for going out NY Eve. 

Dinner at our house (for the LAME) from the past and the present.

(Different Evite entries)

From 2010:

Are you lame?  (We are)

Do you lamely want to be in bed before midnight?  (We do)

Are you going to get a dinner reservation where they warn you that you HAVE TO finish dinner in 2 hours because there's another booking after yours? (We're not)

Do you look forward to a Prix Fixe menu in which you're told what you can order? (We don't)

Do you want to get home, safely before the drunks hit the road?  (We do)

Are you just too old and cranky to Party Like It's Nineteen...Ninety-Nine? (We are)

Do you even understand that last reference? (We do)

If you are as lame as us, please RSVP and join us for a New Year's Eve dinner.  The menu is undecided - but the wine will be excellent.

No worries if you are un-lame.  By 2011, we will have forgiven you for being cooler than us. 



For 2013:


Are you lame?  (We are)

Do you lamely want to be in bed before midnight?  (We do)

Have you dozed off in front of the TV and struggled to keep your head up waiting for midnight? (We have)

Have you realized that some people booked the prime dinner reservations months ago and your best choice is a restaurant you go to anyway? (We no care)

Do find that many of the people you want to celebrate New Year's Eve are as unenthusiastic about going out as you are?  (We do)

Do you want to get home, safely before the drunks hit the road?  (We do)

Are you old and cranky and can't keep up with "those kids"?  (We can't)

Are you wondering it it's going to be cold and rainy or nice and dry when watching firewords? (We won't)

Will you be elbowing your way through crowds downtown just to get to a restaurant?  (We decline)

If you are as lame as us, please RSVP and join us for a New Year's Eve dinner.  The menu is undecided - but the wine will be excellent.

No worries if you are un-lame.  By 2014, we'll find lame people to replace your un-lame-ass!