Retiring a giant

I have personally worked at 3 different NASA facilities and
visited at least half a dozen. I also worked for GE Healthcare for
a while, which endeared me to that brand in ways few outside
of GE could understand. So when I first started at Stennis Space
Center (where I currently work) a giant piece
of machinery being uninstalled caught my eye quickly.
This piece of equipment had been on site for probably longer than I
have been alive. At all NASA facilities, and manufacturers like the
one I worked at while I was with GE,
old machinery is surprisingly common. Calling
either GE or NASA “cutting edge” would be an understatement, but
you don’t need glass office desks, or brand
new everything to be cutting edge. Older equipment that
is still in use today is there because it was built to last. I
really loved seeing this article about
the NASA Crawler, which is essentially a
GIANT tank that carries the shuttles
out to launch. In the article it talks about upgrades to the
system, but how it couldn’t possibly be replaced. When I see
machines like GE Space Heater get retired it feels a little like
the changing of the guard to me, and I only hope the
equipment that our generation builds is not only better, but
performs as long as the equipment our grandparents built.

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2013 Goals

So I have spent the last few weeks working on my goals for 2013. They aren’t perfect, but I’ve come to realize (or re-realize) that goals are moving targets. They should grow and evolve as you get closer to reaching them. So rather than postpone this post until the end of the year I figured I would post them now, and then follow up at the end of 2013.

Posting these here isn’t about bragging (especially since I know many friends who will set and achieve higher goals this year). It is an attempt to make myself more accountable for these goals.

Graduate

I am 6 months into an 11 month Executive MBA program at the University of New Orleans.

University of New Orleans Privateer logo

I can’t think of a much better mascot for an MBA program than a Privateer

Graduation is December of this year. So my number one goal, and my largest time commitment outside of work, is to graduate. During my undergraduate career I honestly didn’t care that much about my GPA. I cared about learning (both inside and outside the class), paying for school (I worked at least 2 jobs and graduated with less than $5k in loans), my research, and my social life.  But this time around I care about my grades, what I’m learning, and the connections I’m making. I have a number in my head of what GPA I want to achieve. Lets just say more As than Bs and no Cs.

200 pages a week

My brother Tac Anderson had a goal for 2012 to read 52 books, 1 book per week.

I like the idea of setting a reading goal, because reading good content is a great stretch goal for any individual. If you read/learned something new every day of your life not only would you know a lot by the end, but you would stay forever young by ingraining the openness and collaborative nature of learning in your character. But with my MBA, work, etc. I felt like a goal of 52 books was ambiguous because of the drastic difference in length of the books I read. I also fear that I would finish or select books based on the goal. So after much thought the idea dawned on me to set my goal by number pages. That way whether I read a 7 page scientific journal article, a 1-2 page blog (actually read, not just skim), text for my MBA course, or science fiction, the total number of pages I digest in a week from any source would add to the goal. To help make this goal more real, track it better, and hopefully get more out of it, starting next week, I hope to have a weekly blog post of the 200+ pages I’ve read. It will hopefully be a brief (1-2 sentences per source) digest of the pages I read during the week.

I hope the weekly digest of the 200+ pages/week I read, will be useful to everyone as I hope to summarize dozens of blogs, a handful of science articles, and large chunks of fiction and non-fiction in a sentence or two each.

Run a 5k 

History:

You may or may not know that in September of 2008 I as hit by a car while ridding my bike.   In the accident my the bike frame was thrown into my left knee dislocating it, and worst of all doing bone damage to my the femur at the joint. Since then I have had two knee surgeries. The first to replace my torn ACL, micro-fracturing of the bone in an effort to induce new cartilage growth to cover the damaged bone, and repair the meniscus and MCL. The second surgery a year later was to repair a bucket tear in my lateral meniscus . Because of the location and size, removing it would have left me with almost no meniscus.

When I was hit I was training for a triathlon and hoping to work up to an Ironman before I turned 30 (I turned 30 this last year). I ran cross country in high school, swam my first 2 mile competition when I was 14, and have always been and avid cyclist (usually mountain biking). So it has been hard to not run. Both of my doctors have told me that I will eventually need a knee replacement. It is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. And that the more running I do the sooner I will need it. My first surgeon said “you should save running for the sports you do”, when I responded that “running is my sport” he recommended that I “find another sport”. He suggested cycling, but as you can imagine a month after getting hit by a car I wasn’t too keen on getting to heavy into that sport. Currently I cycle more (not as much as before the accident) but I am still weary of any and all roads, especially now that I live in the south where the apparently don’t believe in bike lanes. I currently can’t run faster than a jog and for more than a few dozen strides at a time. If I run pushing the stroller to stabilize and support I can currently jog almost a mile. But that is progress that I’ve made within the last year.

Goal:

My goal is to at least run a 5k by the end of the year. There are several training methods I have in mind to help me reach this goal, it largely depends on the progress of my knee as I go through strengthening, pre-running, and other rehab exercises. One of my biggest problems with training is not pushing myself too hard. I know there are athletic people out there who are shacking their heads and possibly yelling at there monitors that you have to push yourself, let me clarify. I have found out that I either have a high threshold for pain, or I have a neurological block. I’m don’t want to give examples for fear of sounding like a on-upper, so let me just say that I have a history of pushing to the point where I do more bad than good, I’ve been told in those instances that what I was doing should have been painful, but for me they weren’t particularly painful.

This goal includes several sub-goals. I have more specifics in writing right now (including a training calendar etc.) but as it is a living goal I will list just the higher level stuff.

  • Achieve and maintain weight of 170 pounds or less than 12% body fat. I hope to further reduce that, but for this years goal I think this is sufficient.
  • Exercise 5-10 hours per week. That is both an upper and lower goal. I don’t want to work out more than 10 hours in a week for fear of getting burnt out and/or interfering with my other goals. When you are training for long distance running it isn’t that hard to put more than 10 hours in in a week. If I start getting to that length of training I will re-evaluate the goal, but I honestly feel that if I am spending 10+ hours/week running that; 1) my knee is obviously feeling better, but that is still probably more running than is good for it, and 2) I need to rethink how I am training.

As time goes on I hope to post the things I am doing as part of my training and knee rehab. Not sure if I should start a separate blog just for my knee, but seeing as I don’t even blog here often enough I don’t think I’ll keep up with two blogs any better 😉

give up single player games

As much as I love Angry Birds, Sugar Crush, and Lego Lord of the Rings, playing a game by yourself is an addictive waste of time. There is so much more I would love to do when I manage to get a spare minute to myself. Between my MBA, work, a startup (shhh it wont launch for a few months still), a 2 year old, and a loving wife, I have to dedicate a lot fo time to the things I love; leaving fleeting few minutes to myself. So why would I spend them doing something that doesn’t matter? Of all the things I will wish I had done more of on my death bed, Angry Birds will not be one of them.

– List of things I’d rather do with my spare time:

  • Read books.
  • Make things. (the 201 & counting Instructables I’ve bookmarked in hopes of doing later)
  • Watch Battlestar Galactica. That’s right, I’ve never seen it. I’m almost ashamed to admit it openly, hopefully they won’t deny me tickets to comic-con, or revoke my engineering degree. The good news is that Haley and I started watching it, we finished episode 2 last night.
  • Write
  • Do any of the numerous things I’ve been putting off… or maybe I’ll just continue to postpone them in favor of something else on this list.
  • Watch all the movies I want to see but I know my wife doesn’t want to. Including Will Ferrel’s last two movies Casa de mi Padre and The Campaign 

There are a few more goals, but these are the big ones.

We need to think differently about Sandy Hook

As an Engineer and Scientist I greatly respect the work of Albert Einstein. I particularly enjoy his ability to see and think from a perspective that is rational but that many people overlook. One of my favorite quotes of his (and there are many) is:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”Einstein Quote Gun Black and White

 

There have been many tragedies over the years, and they seem to be escalating. Sandy hook is a recent and horrific example. My heart and my prayers go out to the families effected by this tragedy. In reality I think that applies to almost everyone.

It seems as though the vast majority of people instinctively insist that the solution is either more or less guns. Guns are neither the problem nor the solution. We need to think differently about the problem.

My suggestion would be to focus not on firepower but education.

No, not education about firearms. If that was your first thought when I said education then you need to completely rethink the situation.

I mean reach out in your community, both to your own children, nieces and nephews, and to those who may not have someone to look up to, and read to them. Talk to them. Be there for them. It takes a village, and a child cannot have too many good mentors. When I was young it felt like adults were constantly asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I rarely hear adults ask children that question anymore. Maybe it’s just me, but those are the type of questions we should be asking kids so often that they roll their eyes at us.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales” – Albert Einstein

Modern day boilermakers

What do Rocket Scientists and Boilermakers have in common?

Steamboat boiler explosion

Helen McGregor 1830 Wikipedia

Sorry there is no punch line to that joke, but there is an answer in there somewhere; give me a few paragraphs to find it.

Most Americans familiar with the history of the industrial revolution, or engineering are familiar with the unconscionable number of deaths related to boiler explosions. Just to give you an idea of how serious the situation could be, in 1865 approximately 1,600 of the 2,400 passengers aboard the SS Sultana dies when 3 of the 4 boilers exploded. All of this lead to the formation of ASMEThe American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Despite the name ASME is now multidisciplinary and world wide. I guess it would be too hard now to change their name to Global Society of Engineering & Stuff (GSES).

Fast forward 100+ years from the Sultana accident and we have a wide variety of engineering fields and disciplines, and thousands of sub specialties; and almost none of them are boilermakers. Yet ASME’s biggest area is pressure vessel code. Last week I spent a week in Vegas for training on Section VIII Div I. A handful of you will know what this is, for everyone else “pressure vessel design code” is a sufficient explanation.

view from the cosmopolitan in Vegas with Haley

The view from the pool at the Cosmopolitan. We were there to see Blink-182, great show.

“Wait, I thought you worked at NASA?” you might say. That’s right, at Stennis Space Center we have nearly 1,000 pressurized vessels. And to keep the center running right a lot of work goes into making sure those vessels don’t fail. And by fail I mean either exploding, or more likely, cracking/leaking liquid nitrogen, hydrogen, or oxygen everywhere.

NASA Stennis A3 Rocket Test Stand

Construction of A3 test stand at Stennis Space Center. Capable of test firing rocket engines under vacuum.

“Aren’t you a Material Science Engineer or something? I thought you played with lasers and x-rays?” Another good question. Yes my BS is in Material Science Engineering, and I still play with X-rays sometimes, as well as several other forms of NDE (Non-Destructive Examination). I work with Mechanical Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Industrial Engineers, Certified Inspectors, a variety of highly specialized machinists, welders, etc.; and during training this last week I met programmers, chemical engineers, and just about every variety of engineering discipline you can think of.

In the last century or two, while the field of engineering has drastically grown and subdivided, it still takes all of them to make a good product at the end of the day. Not every engineer is a mechanical engineer, the same way not everyone that works at NASA is a rocket scientist. ASME was formed to prevent loss of life from poorly made boilers. That president of smart engineering, and value of life in the pursuit of advancements in science and industry, set the stage in the 19th century for what NASA has done in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Graduating with a degree AND a resume

Boise State Engineering #13 in public undergraduate Engineering programs.
http://bit.ly/OJvGmg

For those of you that don’t know I Graduated w my BS in Material Science & Engineering for +Boise State University in 2009. While there I was afforded with the unique opportunity while there of working on three different research projects. Most Universities with nationally ranked Engineering programs don’t let undergraduates touch research, let alone pay them to do it. The longest of the three projects is in the October issue of The Journal of Solid State Chemistry, http://bit.ly/OpXNLf
I also had the opportunity to present that same research at PacRim8 http://bit.ly/OJA4BI
This isn’t meant to be a brag post, because honestly while I’m smart, I’m not smarter than thousands of other students graduating every year who didn’t have the opportunity to graduate with a resume in addition to a degree. I graduated with a great education, having passed the FE, with a 5 year degree, a laundry list of scientific equipment acronyms I know how to run (SEM, XRD, TEM, STM, etc.),  and a 5 year technical resume.

If you in the wild time of a life where you are trying to figure out how to go about transitioning through college and into the real world (whether you are still in high school, or already in college) I would give you two conjoined pieces of advice:

1) Look for opportunities! Look for an environment rich in opportunities. One of the greatest advantages to going to a school like MIT isn’t the absolute hell they will put you through to get your degree. It is the status of the degree that says “I’m smart enough to cut it at MIT”, the opportunities that degree will provide; and almost more importantly, the opportunities that will be provided to you WHILE you are there. One reason many people join fraternaties and sororieties is for the network, and opportunities that often come up when connected to those networks, though the greek system is not necessarily the best or only network on campus. Join clubs (or at least show up to the meetings for the free pizza and listen until the talk about doing something you want to be involved in) Engineers w/o Borders is a great one for the future engineers out there. If you have a specific dream or asperation, start chasing it now, don’t wait till later, there will always be a later, and if you make that awesome contact “too early” the worst thing they could say is “call me when…” and then you have a legitimate reason to bug them later on. Even if you think “it would be cool to…” then pursue it. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to google up whoever is successfully doing whatever it is you want to do and reach out to them. (tip: don’t just reach out to top dog, reach out to every person who looks like they have experience in what you want to do, especially if there is some sort of connection, even if that connection is that you both live in the same state or that you both like [insert a movie/book/tv show/artist/whatever here])

2) Take those opportunities! Both of the first two undergraduate research positions I landed was because of one simple fact that I don’t think I’ve told many people. I was possibly the only person to apply, and I followed up. It was really that simple. It helped that I was in a new program (Material Science had just started its undergraduate program a few years earlier), and every professor in the program had multiple research projects going on.  In no way am I saying “give up on your dreams” and take the first thing that comes along. But I am saying DO NOT hold out for something better to come along when you still have no idea what better is. If you have no idea exactly what you want to do, then you would be stupid (don’t worry we are all stupid at times) to turn an opportunity simply because you don’t know if you would like it.

Knee Surgery

For family and friends, and anyone else who wants to know, I was struck by a car while riding my bike on September 10th.  On November 18th I underwent surgery to repair my meniscus as well as other damaged cartilage (I do not remember the technical name for the other parts of my knee that had lost cartilage), my ACL was replaced with a donor ligament, and scar tissue was removed from my MCL and other parts of my knee.  I was told that I would most likely need a complete knee replacement later in life if I wished to walk unaided.  I was also informed that I could no longer run as a sport, that running would have to be limited to “life and death” situations.  This was all very disheartening to me, but the good news is that I should be able to continue snowboarding, although if I do I’m sure I will need that knee replacement sooner than I otherwise would.  The following link has a small amount of blood, but shows my knee 24 hrs after surgery for those who wish to see it.  knee.

As of right now I am recovering well, and hope to be healthier than before by the begining of next snowboarding season.