Monday, June 19, 2006

Been a while? Sure. Doesn't mean anything has changed.

Yes folks, I've successfully allowed this stupid thing to lapse for a year and a half. After a promise to update it more frequently. Doesn't exactly inspire a lot of trust, does it?

Well, I'm gonna try it again. I've got a few ideas now, and given my line of work, I should have a fairly steady stream of things to write about.

So, a brief recap first.

I graduated successfully in May 2005, with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After dinking around for 7 months or so, with a few scattered job interviews for things I wasn't really interested in, I came across my current job. As of March 2006, I began working for Danfoss Bauer, division of Danfoss Inc, which probably means nothing to anybody. We are an international company that designs and builds electric motors and gearboxes for industrial applications, and my function there is to work with customers on various projects and figure out important things like power requirements, transport speed, powertrain layout, duty cycle, service factor, etc, and then figure out how to best solve their problems using the products we have available. It's relatively interesting and a nice integration of a lot of things I enjoy doing, on top of the fact that the office itself is a terrific place to work, and all of my co-workers are great people and it's a lot of fun every day.

So, having been with the company for a few months now, it's getting to the point where several projects I started out working on are now in the construction stage, and some are actually being used in their respective industries. For instance, one of the first projects I was involved with was to spec out the motors and gearboxes required for pumping water for a fire control system that monitors a large portion of the Panama Canal. This is currently undergoing installation and testing and seems to be working fine. Another involved wastewater and turbine control for a large water plant in Canada, and as of now the plant is fully operational and our products have been installed for a few weeks. A third would be an overhead transport crane that moves a nuclear weapons sensor around objects needing to be scanned for entry onto military bases. As far as I know, they are very happy with their machine and will be ordering more in the future.

If you notice, I'm reluctant to give any sort of permanance to any of these projects. It's always working 'as of now' or 'seems to be fine'. You see, I haven't quite gotten used to the idea that things I'm doing now are actually being used out there in the world. People are depending on the conclusions and recommendations that I've made, and are putting a tremendous amount of faith (and financial investment) into these recommendations. It's kind of a scary thought. We try and build in a certain factor of safety (both to cover those using the machines, and also to cover our asses in case we mess something up "a little bit"), but it's still always nice to hear good news - or no news, as the case may be. A lot of times we'll ship out a completed gearbox and motor without any feedback from the company as to whether it worked or not. You learn to accept this as a good sign. And more often than not, if it worked, we'll get another request from the company a few weeks or a few months down the line, because so far everyone has been very pleased with what we've given them.

It's also a little nervewracking to know that there are people out there for whom I'm now the 'go-to' guy for this stuff. People who call up every few days with technical questions regarding our products or geartrains in general. People who are involved with projects at their own companies using our stuff, and want to know about limitations or parts availability. I've established a very good working relationship with a lot of mechanical engineers at quite a few companies across the country - maybe you've heard of some of them: Daimler-Chrysler, Ford Motor Company, ConAgra Foods, Boeing, and Hewlett-Packard, to name a few.

So after four years of engineering school, six months of general contracting, and a lifetime of tinkering and designing things for myself, I'm doing stuff for the real world now. Call it growing up, call it responsibility, call it life - I just look at it as another stop on the same road I've been traveling all along.

Seriously, I'll try and stick with this thing. I like writing (can you tell?) and I like sharing this stuff, even if there's maybe only one or two people who will ever read it and enjoy it for what it is. Thanks for reading this far, and if you're new, check out the previous entries too.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas tidings.

It's been a while, folks. Sorry for the delay. School just got a little out of hand there in the last few weeks.

Today's observation concerns gift-wrapping, the traditional method of concealing gifts for christmastime. I suck at this.

This surprises a lot of people, because given my propensity for creating things, building things, and machining things to incredibly tight tolerances, you'd think I could handle a piece of wrapping paper. Unfortunately, all my attempts at this result in the generation of lumpy, ripped, patched, uneven, and generally fugly gift boxes. Whether this is due to lack of patience or lack of skill is still undecided.

So, I was discussing this with a few friends, in the interest of finding alternative gift-wrapping methods that don't involve regular old (sucky) wrapping paper. Here are the highlights:

- Black garbage bag. Simple, easy, to the point. Insert gift into bag, give a few good spins, tie a red ribbon around the top, and you're done. With the right variety your gift can also have a lemon scent. Also offers the convenience of a wrapping paper that requires no clean up - you can just throw it away as-is! Or even consolidate everyone else's lame-o wrapping paper into it.

- Duct tape. Why not? It'll keep 'em entertained for hours trying to get it all off. No peeking with this stuff. Probably not suitable for fuzzy gifts, or anything delicate. Also offers the convenience of a wrapping paper that can be used to restrain unruly small children during this hectic time of year.

- Steel plating. My personal favorite alternative. I work with metal on a near-daily basis, with much better results than wrapping paper, so it only makes sense. Get some 1/4" plate, weld up a box with an open top, insert item, weld top on. There's no peeking to be had with this one either. The only inconvenience would be opening it: you can't really just rip it apart. You'd need a cutting torch or grinder or some other such implement. Imagine rolling an oxy/acetylene torch into the living room on Christmas morning to open gifts. How cool would that be? Not suitable for wrapping flammable items or things sensitive to extreme heat.

A by-product of the above suggestion was the idea of using something pretty thick, like 3/4" plate, to build a gift-box for giving someone a honey-baked ham. By the time you managed to cut through the box enough to extract the ham, not only would it have been sufficiently warmed, but it will have taken enough time for everyone to be ready for dinner.

On that note, I shall retire for the evening, and wish everyone a happy holiday. Expect more frequent updates now that the hellish se-mess-ter is over.


Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Midnight in military ruins.

So Saturday night, my friend Tom and I decide to head over to the old Nike missile base, located on the Sandy Hook peninsula. This base was decomissioned in the 70's and has since been spiraling into an increasingly-decrepit state. While the majority of the land surrounding the base has been turned into a national recreation area and beach, the military history has been predominantly overrun by shrubs and debris.

Tom has spent the last year or so working as an intern for the historical preservation part of the park, and he has been involved with the reconditioning of these bases for tours and posterity. He has a key to get into all the old buildings, and he knows them better than anyone I know, so he's the perfect tourguide for a midnight adventure like this. With a strong south-easterly wind and rain approaching, we began to hike our bundled selves into the base.

Keep in mind, I love all these old buildings. The architecture of the Army Corps of Engineers isn't flashy or trendy, but it's certainly damn cool. The buildings are very daunting to look at, especially at night, and the layout makes them extremely fun to explore. Most people get really concerned at this point and begin to warn us of collapsing ceilings, weak floors, and drainage holes that will swallow people and cause massive injuries.

Come on. If it were perfectly safe, where would the excitement be?

The buildings we visited on Saturday are, for the most part, very well preserved inside. Most of the bathroom fixtures are still hanging, most buildings still have all their walls intact, and if you ignore the asbestos floor tiles and pipe insulation, it could almost pass for a modern (albeit messy-as-hell) establishment. None of the warnings passed on by wise old people really seemed to hold much bearing. In fact, I'd trust the remnants of some of these buildings more than I'd trust some houses I've been in.

This one communications trailer we explored still had many of its original circuit breaker panels intact, so by nature I felt compelled to flip a few back and forth. Just for the hell of it. Not that anything could have happened; these things haven't been powered in decades. And it's that last part, the length that they've been without power, that surprised me the most about my next discovery. In the breaker box I was playing with, one of the breakers was tripped.


This probably doesn't mean anything to 99.99730% of the people out there. But to me, I find it fascinating that something happened 30, 40 years ago to cause this breaker to trip, and it's been like that ever since. This isn't something that can happen on its own. Someone shorted something, or was careless in packing up equipment, and this breaker has been tripped since then. It's like walking in on someone's unfinished story from forty years ago.

So, partly out of reverence to the past history of this place, and partly because I wanted to see if the damn thing still worked, I reset it, and restored it to its 'on' position.

For me, this was the most outstanding thing of the night. It was almost like being part of a historical event, touching something that had once been significant decades ago. Sure, you can look around and see plenty of antique paneling and office furniture, but who knows how that got to be where it is. The only thing with a definite history to it is this little circuit breaker - a minor historical event between only myself and the person responsible for it, back when the place was still an active military base.

I'd be surprised if anyone out there appreciates this as much as me...sorry if that was an anticlimactic end. I promise future stories will be more exciting.

But I still think it's pretty cool.

Monday, November 29, 2004


First and foremost, I am a hopeless nerd.

I study mechanical engineering, but that isn't the defining characteristic here. I like computers, I've done my fair share of hacking, I think my calculator is really cool, and I can remember the very first time I completed an electical circuit that did something, with a switch, two C batteries, and a small lightbulb. All that is well and good, but there's something else too.

See, this stuff I study here in school, I live this stuff. And therein lies the problem.

I drive down a road, and everything I see becomes a study in design and engineering. That traffic light post there? I wonder how thick it is. I wonder how much wind it was designed to withstand before it falls over. I wonder about how it's bolted to the ground, and how deep the concrete base goes. And this isn't even trying - these thoughts all occur within the space of a few seconds.

To those of you who know Bijan Sepahpour - yes, I was thinking of these things well before he brought up this example in class.

Perhaps you can kind of see where I'm going with this. I guess I'm in a fortunate position where I actually like most of the things I learn about. To the extent that I actually think about and apply these things in my free time. To put it bluntly, I'm fascinated by engineering and all that it entails.

So, since you've gotten this far, allow me a few more sentences. The point of this blog, not that it really matters to anyone other than myself, is to share the more interesting observations that I have. Things that are out-of-the-ordinary, that I think are especially salient or just kinda cool. I'll attempt to minimize the technobabble and jargon so that people outside my general sphere of information can sort of understand what I'm trying to say, but also to keep it light enough that those of you studying this stuff aren't too burnt out to maybe enjoy it as well.

I'll close with this: I can't help the way I think. I can't choose to ignore these things any more than you could choose at any given moment to simply forget your own name. It's a function of my education, my upbringing, and my outlook on life as a whole.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.