Monday, September 28, 2009
We were supposed to see a foundry pour metal into molds and make stuff, but we only got to see them make molds. Still pretty neat. There was a cast of a giant eagle perched on top of the globe. And I mean giant. I had to restrain myself from asking how much I could buy the eagle for during the questions section of the tour.
Next time I need to do some research before I go on tours. It was like walking into Orthanc! Dark, firey, dark, dusty, dark, dirty, dark, warm, and... dark. I can't imagine working there for extended periods of time without coming down with some sort of illness, I've been spitting up sand and dust all afternoon just from a two-hour tour.
I need to get me out of a school and into the real world more.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
First full week of classes. Reflection!
Popsicles it took to get me through the first 3 days of class: 10
Final Exams until graduation: 9 (shit!)
Free hot dogs+hamburgers+pancakes+shampoo = 8 (shampoo?)
Dollars spent on Diet Coke this week: 7 (shit!)
Courses this semester: 6
Ridiculously hard to find 0.9mm pencils obtained: 5 (thanks, internet!)
Textbooks purchased off Ebay: 4 (thanks again, internet!)
"Oh shit I'm graduating this year" identity crises: 3 (...shit!)
Weeks it took for new roomie to walk in on me in the bathroom: 2 (shit again! literally...)
People in my smallest course: 1 (shit! no skipping)
Times fallen asleep in class: 0! (boooooo-yeah!)
Bicycles: -1 :( (shit! bastards...)
Sunday, September 6, 2009
For some odd reason, despite my inability (at the time) to visualize anything or work with spatial stuff in my head, and struggling with three-dimensional physics, I decided it would be a great idea to go into mechanical engineering. Subsequently, I was faced with the course that would cleave my brain in two and change the very nature of thought as I knew it. Everyone with any kind of ability to visualize things, or any mechanical aptitude loves that course. I thought it was kind of fun to draw all the 3D pictures that looked nice and to use the computer to make objects. At the same time, I was kind of upset because everyone else seemed to be waltzing through the material and I would spend days on the assignments, only to end up with 20, or 30% at best. The midterm didn't go any better.
Despite my best efforts, the fail continued. I guess you can't just make yourself think a different way all of a sudden, you just have to practice and practice until it happens. It wasn't working for me. I didn't want to fail the whole course after such a huge effort. At my weakest moment of desperation, I asked a senior student what she thought I should do. She mentioned that she, also, had struggled with the course and in fact failed it the first time. The only reason she passed the course the second time, she said, was because she had solved every single problem in the textbook. I swear there were thousands of them.
I abandoned everything and everyone and hunched over that book, sketching and sketching until I had to switch hands it hurt so badly. Many days and several dead trees later, it was the night before the exam, and there were (finally!) only a few problems left to solve. My sleep-deprived brain insisted on grabbing a few hours of sleep without notifying me.
This is when I began to be convinced that I was in the final exam. The exam question required that we draw time, and time, as everyone knows, is a rolling stone. I was very proud of myself for figuring out that it was a trick question, and that we weren't supposed to draw any moss because a rolling stone gathers no moss. It was a really tricky imaginary exam, because you couldn't stop drawing time or time would stop, and as you can imagine, that was very stressful.
At some point in real life, I noticed that I had dozed through my alarm and promptly grabbed everything in my immediate vicinity that could possibly be useful in an exam situation and bolted to the test. After being chained with the responsibility of drawing time for an evening, the final was comparatively easy.
When I got back to my dorm room, I noticed that the room was absolutely COVERED in drawings of a circle rolling down a hill, written on every available piece of material I owned, then taped or stapled to the walls, floors, and furniture.
I. made. time.
When the marks were posted for the course, I knew truly that I had commanded time and space, for I ended up with a fairly respectable mark. And most likely lasting mental damage.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
How the hell did I end up in the campus tours manual? Awesome sauce. I can't wait to hear what kind of mythical creature I grow into by the time I leave this place. Must increase proportion of mad science going on in lab.
Update: 2 days later, classes started, balloon of awesomeness deflated
Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
(it's 14:46, FYI)
Now that it's actually working, I suppose it's time to find a nicer container than the cardboard box, as much as it adds to the do-it-yourselfiness of the whole project. Eventually I'm hoping to make the whole thing fairly steampunk in a nice wooden box. Of course, I'll have to leave some sections open or behind glass so everyone can see the cool parts.
All in all I'm really happy with this! Everything started out being so confusing, but now it actually makes sense, and that really is way cooler than just having a pinball clock.
Last week - where the heck do these wires go? And what does this picture mean?
This week - According to the chip pinout, pin 3 goes to the battery, 1 goes to ground, 4 goes to power...
Monday, August 24, 2009
-Draft a paper before my boss gets back
-Finish my super awesome not really at all work related side project (a clock made out of pinball machine parts!)
Supervisor returns tomorrow. Clock is almost finished, hurray!
Priorities might not quite be in right order. It's such a nice clock, though! Hopefully it can act as a distraction for a few days while I churn out something remotely resembling a paper.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I'm somewhat irked. That load cell was my baby! It was a fusion of course material and theory with actuality, and it worked just as it should have. I was rather proud of myself.
At the meeting, I wanted to say, "$#%! was not diligent in his work and made a big, obvious mistake that broke the part and very nearly destroyed all the equipment." Instead, I said "Here is what I'm doing to replace the part and ensure that this won't happen again." Better! Then the captain chimed in with his ideas.
Unfortunately, it isn't practical to make the part stronger. It would lose the lower end of its range, which is where most of our measurements fall. Cpt. Useless said that if I can't make it stronger, I have to make multiple copies of the load cell for when (!) he breaks it again. At this point I lost my cool and sarcastically started suggesting that I order several copies of every single thing in the lab just in case he breaks anything else. He agreed with the idea.
Augh. I may have replied with, "Or maybe you should think about what you're doing and pay attention while you run experiments, you turd." Not a shining moment of professionalism, but not the worst thing I've said during a meeting either. Improvement!
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I watched my roomate play, and as soon as the game started, my sim walked into the house and promptly lit the toaster on fire. I protested, saying that I'm not THAT bad, and most of my clumsy incidents tend to be fairly minor.
This morning I lit the toaster on fire. I'm really not helping my case here.
Friday, August 7, 2009
One of the summer camp groups stopped by to ask me to help with their treasure hunt today. The kids are supposed to track down pirates who have stolen some treasure and hidden clues around the engineering buildings. I bet you can see where this is going.
I made them wash their hands afterwards, so it's all ok, right? My coworkers are looking at me like I'm some kind of monster.
Monday, August 3, 2009
This would be merely disappointing, but he also decided to cover his butt by blaming me for his holdups in an angry e-mail to our entire group.Since he explicitly told me he had no intentions of running the experiment this week, I figured the time was right to update the software for some equipment. This has somehow turned into "unauthorized use, damage, and theft of expensive equipment". Still unsure of how the "damage" part got in there. I'm not sure whether or not to send a reply to the group e-mail or to let it sort itself out. Grrr.
Also, he's complaining about the "theft" of some wire (clothes hanger, if you want to get technical) that he stuck to the machinery. Right next to the rapidly rotating tooling with no brake. It wasn't theft, unless you count it as me stealing his Darwin award prematurely. Multiple times. I'm tempted to send a reply thanking him for explaining the source of our safety hazards.
Good old wait-a-day-before-you-reply-to-an-email-that-makes-you-upset rule. Please save me from myself and the trouble I would like to get into.
Maybe I'll just compromise and yell at him until I feel better.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I am seriously resenting those Legos right now, ha ha. We showed the kids our autonomous robotic vehicle platform and talked about all the work we (well, my lab... not me) have done on it, and what it can be used for once it is complete. Usually when we show off the robot, there are oohs and ahhs and lots of questions. This time we mostly got sass. "Well that's nice that it can drive around, but today I made a robot out of my Mindstorms that can chase a tennis ball and climb up walls." Apparently we just got served.
Since the kids seemed a little underwhelmed, we thought we'd ramp things up and bring in the autonomous airplane in after lunch. The kids were excited to feel just how light it is, carry it around, and see the workshop where students work on the plane(s). That still didn't save us from the sassing. This one kid in particular decided that it was absolutely unacceptable that the plane ever, EVER crash, then proceded to berate them about all their design decisions.
Although he made us want to rip our hair out, he was a pretty funny kid. It was neat that he knew so much about stuff, but he hasn't quite got the wisdom yet to use any of his knowledge. From what I hear, he gave the shop staff a talking to about how they shouldn't be allowed to build anything out of steel because titanium is stronger and lighter and better. He commented on a 4th year design project (treads for a vehicle) that he couldn't believe that it took them three months to design treads because everyone knows that all you need to make treads is the treads themselves, three gears, and a spring.
Pretty impressive stuff for someone so young, though. Also, one of the campers, instead of using the visual programming language that comes with the Mindstorms, informed us that he was programming all his robots in C#. The general consensus from the volunteers regarding this was, "What the hell did I do with my childhood?"
It's hard to compare the two groups of kids and the two camps I visited this week. Even though I think the immigrant camp is so helpful and wonderful, I can't help feeling like those kids might still be screwed anyway as soon they end up, whether in a year or a decade, competing with the kids from a more privileged background. They have just as much potential as the other kids, but more challenges and almost none of the opportunities.
Agh, this makes me want to become a communist.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Improve the academic success and social behaviour of African children and youth;
Inspire children to stay in school and instill a desire to learn;
Increase awareness of career and post-secondary paths;
Inspire participants to believe in their potential through mentoring by culturally and age relevant role models and opportunities for progressive mastery of skills;
Increase participants' family and cultural connection and sense of cultural identity;
Encourage participants to make healthy life choices;
Provide participants with opportunities for leadership, decision making, collaborative experiences, teamwork, and networking with peers.
I am incredibly impressed with the dedication of the team of volunteers making this happen. I'm glad that our city sponsors programs like this, you really can't put a price on this type of experience.
One of the groups I volunteer with on campus was asked to come and do some science demos for the camps, and we were only too happy to oblige. We brought our rocket balloon kits to talk about air pressure, flight, Bernoulli's principle, and other wonderful things! Previously, the biggest group I did this demo for had sixteen students. This camp had one hundred! Even though we had tried to prepare for it, it was a bit of a logistics nightmare on our end and it took a while to get going.
When we finally got the rocket balloons shooting along, it was so cool to see what kind of designs the campers came up with. Their objective was to create two rocket balloons per group, one that would fly straight, the other that would twist as it travelled along the string. They came up with hypotheses and theories as to what would cause one behaviour or the other, then got to test them.
Compared to other groups I've done this demo with, these kids were really independent thinkers and came up with lots of variables and ideas to test. Kick butt! After they tested their rockets, they couldn't wait to go back and see how they could improve their results. It was really the best thing we could hope for from this type of activity, and there was a great post-activity discussion with lots of questions. Also, one group hoarded a bunch of tiny balloons and molded them into a rocket named (and shaped like) Megatron. I had to leave a bit early, but luckily my super demo partner was able to stay very late and conclude the discussions and other activities in the demonstration.
So in summary, I'd have to say:
-polite, enthusiastic, inquisitive campers!
-energetic, creative camp volunteers
We will continue to visit the camp this summer, hopefully more prepared, and with more challenging cool science activities! This activity went well, but it's hard to provide something that's fun for the youngest kids while still challenging and interesting for the older ones. Next time we'll be presenting to smaller groups so that we can better target the information.
(Tank by artist Hans Hemmert)
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Today, some other students asked me to help them calibrate their equipment, which is similar to mine. They asked a lot of hard questions, but I was prepared, since I had botched that stuff up before, and I was glad that I wasn't the only person having the same problems. I also got to share my fantastic spreadsheets that check to see if the calibration data agrees with theory or the manufacturer's specs. It's pretty cool when they ask for my opinion on things, I feel....special?
What I really like about my research stuff is that people listen to and appreciate what I say and treat me like an equal. That means scathing criticisms along with the nice things. At first I was afraid that people would be dismissive or dumb things down for me because I'm still an undergrad, but that hasn't been the case at all. Seems like a huge change from my 'real world' jobs.
Friday, June 26, 2009
In my defense, he really should know the material I explained to him five separate times today. In fact, he was the TA for the course where I learned that material. I've tried getting him to repeat back to me what I just said, asked him questions about what I've told him to make sure he understands... but somehow 15 minutes later he always comes back with the exact same questions. It feels like he just doesn't care enough to bother remembering. This also pissed me off because he later brought them up at a group meeting with our supervisors, which wasted the short meeting time we had, especially when they said exactly what I said, along with a, "You should know this." It also kind of made us look really stupid. Like, "We should take less data readings to get rid of the noise." stupid. Aaaaagh. I spent my entire morning explaining these things so that maybe we wouldn't look like fools at the group meeting!
Result: My solid steel equipment got deformed today because soooooomeone loaded it to 60,000 lbs instead of 1,000. Incredulous, I asked him why he would do that, and he said, "Well, I was just going to load it all the way (500,000 lbs) but it started bending so I had to stop when the pieces wouldn't fit together anymore."
I guess getting him to help draft the procedure wasn't any insurance that he'd actually understand it or follow it.
This week's lesson: Orders of magnitude?
Friday, June 19, 2009
Although I know he has good intentions and he tries hard, he is absolutely incapable of working on his own. If you asked him to pick a random number, he wouldn't be able to. He doesn't seem able to follow basic instructions (in English, which is his first language), never mind get into the design of the experiment or future test plans.
This leaves us in quite a strange spot. I'm here for half the year as a research assistant before I head back to class and get my undergraduate degree. So far, I've designed, built, and ordered all the parts for his experiment, looked through literature to predict things so I could get instrumentation that will measure things in the proper range, decided which variables need to be controlled/measured/varied, wrote a program to display and record the data... It's at the point where everyone refers to this as my experiment, and I delegate work to him only if it's trivial, simple, and not an immediate priority.
Basically, it's Freaky Friday, but all year long. What will happen when I go to grad school?
Sunday, May 10, 2009
When I was little, my mom told me that if I didn't change my socks and my underwear every single day, Santa wouldn't bring me any presents. Fast forward several months later, in the middle of July, I realize that I didn't change my socks that day and start bawling. I was inconsolable for days and didn't want to tell my mom that I had forgotten to change my socks, lest she call him and rattle on me. I thought maybe if I behaved well enough Santa would forget about the whole thing and bring me presents anyway.
I am still scarred. Cannot wear dirty socks. So, I wore fishnets under my steel-toed boots and hoped like hell that nobody would notice.
A film crew showed up at my lab today to film stuff for our department's 50th anniversary. Hopefully I might find this funny by the time the time capsule gets unearthed.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
If we do have important visitors I usually try to look as busy as possible while they tour the lab. I was almost surprised that they stopped on the tour to ask me if I could give a "quick, 60 second explanation" of what I was doing. Feeling somewhat impish, I asked if they'd like to see a demonstration of the super precise pricey positioning system that was part of our collaboration with medical researchers that I had been programming. I did this with my best serious face and my best making-things-seem-more-important-than-they-are tone of voice. Then I made the camera mount play a song while it moved to position.
I didn't expect the group of old men in suits to start giggling, but they did. Now the guy who ran that tour asks if he can see the musical lab equipment every time he stops by with a tour group. Maybe undergraduates/grad students that aren't bitter and miserable are a good selling point for the department?
Sunday, March 29, 2009
You get up in the morning to make some eggs, and realize that your kitchen window is dripping on to the stove. Pouring, even. The spring melt must be getting in through the walls somehow. You:
A. Call your landlord and have him send out a contractor to fix the problem immediately.
B. Take action yourself, rip out the panelling, dry it out, and patch up the holes.
C. Draw a picture of the Virgin Mary above the leak so that it looks like she's crying on to the stove, then interpret that to mean that the Virgin Mary doesn't want anyone in the house to cook today. Order pizza.
The answer, of course, when you live in one of my landlord's houses, C. Last time we had a similar problem (except it was the basement, and it was flooded), he chastised us for calling and told us to throw some towels on the floor then point a fan or a hair dryer at the (sopping) walls. So glad to be renting from a house owner, not a property manager next year!
Monday, February 23, 2009
Turns out that the musical lab equipment stole the show! It is a very large, somewhat contraptiony looking... contraption that looks like it should be doing something veryimportant, not playing "Baa baa black sheep". One girl saw it and said she wanted to be a mechanical engineer! Hah! Yes!
The sad side of my nerdy life is that lots of things I think are really exciting (analog pinball machines, shiny things, function generators) aren't necessarily interesting to anyone else. It made my day that the girls thought musical lab equipment was awesome. Sometimes I just need a bit of reassurance that I have some sort of contact with reality.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
- Our older girls (grades 7-8) - They're usually harder to impress, but as we were walking above the shop they were practically begging for us to take them in there and show them around! I'm so happy to see them so excited about things! They were originally skeptical that the water jet cutter could cut steel (would I lie about that?) and when the pieces came out, they were so amazed that they had to pass them around and hold them for the rest of the day!
- Grades 5-6: One of them said that her mom told her it isn't safe for girls to use power tools! They didn't get the chance to use any equipment themselves (helloooo safety!) but I hope that they gained something from seeing us use a bit of equipment and the projects we've made in the shop. Next year I'd like to do some more planning ahead of time and see if we can get the older girls using some of the simpler equipment.
- Grades 3-4: I took the student vehicles apart that I was showing you before we got to that part of the tour so that you wouldn't be tempted to turn them on and hurt yourselves. I am impressed that you re-assembled a motor behind my back, put the shafts back in the gearbox, and turned it on. You are so brilliant. Why did you have to stick your finger in the gear box?
- I also enjoyed when the shop staff asked this group if they had any questions. They spent the next several minutes listening to:
-a story about someone's cat
-questions about what kind of cars they drive
-another cat story
-a story about the moon
- I was looking down for a moment, and I noticed that one girl had these awesome toe-socks on. WAITAMINUTE! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR SHOES? I think the shop staff would have had a heart attack if they had noticed her standing in that pile of metal shavings without shoes on.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Well, that's what I was doing. Then, in a moment of brilliance, I realized I could change the speed of the mount as it moves around, and now it plays songs. It uses a bunch of stepper motors to move around, and it hums quite a bit, which is possible to tune by changing how quickly it makes the steps. I am so proud of myself. My dad is coming down to visit in a few weeks and he is totally getting dragged into the lab to see. All the students I know that were in the building when I made my exciting discovery actually flocked in to the lab to see. I love engineers.
Some people would probably be mildly upset for wasting time while I was at work, but my supervisors were laughing so hard they didn't say anything, so I think I'm in the clear. I'm counting this as an "educational experience", I'm sure I learned something that will come in handy eventually.
Friday, February 6, 2009
That being said, I still have some things to work on! I'm having trouble remembering more than 5 names at a time (and there are 30? girls in the room!) and I don't always watch my vocabulary as closely as I should. But I think I did a pretty good job with names this time, and I tried to bring up specific awesome things that the kids did in front of their parents ("your daughter has an impressive technical vocabulary! I never knew what that stuff meant until university" "so-and-so came up with a great solution to today's engineering challenge, it was the only one to pass XXX criteria" ).
Last time the girls were still kind of quiet and awkward around each other but this time there's a lot more socialization going on and everyone is getting included in the group activities (except the girl who doesn't listen to anything anyone says ever but she seemed happy grabbing random things she wasn't supposed to and ignoring instructions and gluing stuff to other stuff).
I am guilty of staying out of the nitty gritty details of the planning thus far, but soon is MECHANICAL ENGINEERING DAY. Uhh, is it wrong to be competitive about volunteering? Because mechanical engineering is great and I think the kids need to know that.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
The volunteers are SO GREAT! I can't believe how smoothly our preparations have gone so far and how friendly everyone is. Everyone is super passionate, giving up every Saturday of your semester is no tiny feat. Not just that but you have to be "on" the whole time the kids are there, you can't really just abandon everyone and go off somewhere to chill for a bit, and it's not very encouraging to the girls if you start complaining about your courses/homework/whatever.
It's really neat to work with a group of people from all the different disciplines of engineering that we have here. Each week we're going to focus on a different field of engineering, and we're already starting to flesh out possible activities, tours, and guest speakers. There are so many neat things to learn here that you might never find out about if nobody told you! I hope we can pass on our passions to the girls and to the other volunteers.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Well, I wasn't entirely wrong, both of them want me to work in different lab rooms (my lab! no, my lab!). I just assembled a computer and workstation for myself out of spare parts I found lying around to avoid going back to the old lab. It's not like I was miserable in there or anything, but it's out of the way and I already know most of the people in there. Gotta meet new people and do new things in new places! Oh also did I mention THERE'S A ROBOT IN MY NEW LAB! Good times are ahead.