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I'll figure it out Wed, Jan 26, 2022
I'll never forget being a 17-year-old kid visiting colleges with my mom, when we were invited to sit in on a random class to just get a sense of how things were.  The class was some sort of computer architecture class for computer science majors, which I didn't have any experience with and wasn't interested in at all, but it was the class that was happening at the time we were there.  I remember sitting there feeling a bit overwhelmed by the process of applying for colleges, feeling unsure of where I should go or what I should study or how I should know anything about any of that, and feeling completely dumbfounded by the class itself. 

But for whatever reason I had a moment of absolute crystal-clear clarity:  I would figure it out, and I'd be fine.  I don't know how I reached that conclusion or how that muddled series of experiences led to that idea, but I distinctly remember walking out of the class after a few minutes while the professor sort of joked about scaring us away, and realizing that those students in the class didn't just show up on their first day and dive into the most complicated topic imaginable.  There was some sort of process, some sort of series of steps that regular people took to wind up in that classroom at that school, all without having a mental breakdown (that came much later).  It was an absolutely pivotal moment for me. 

I ended up not going to that school, and instead went to a similar school that felt like a better fit for me.  But having that realization as a high school student helped me approach my time and challenges in college in a different way.  Instead of seeing complicated topics as unapproachable and unknowable, I tended to view everything as a problem I hadn't yet solved.  I wouldn't say I was self-confident, or even self-aware.  But I figured if I put in some work, I'd see if that produced results. 

No one graduates on their first day of college.  Being around other people who were in the same situation as me, with the same doubts and struggles as me, helped me cement the idea that I'd figure it out, and if not ... well I don't really know because I didn't think far enough ahead to have a backup plan.

Semi-metric Tue, Jan 25, 2022
The engineering community commonly uses the metric system, both because a lot of the early math and science was performed by Europeans, but also because it makes a bunch of calculations simpler.  English units have pounds of mass and pounds of force, which are both equivalent and not equivalent, depending on some criteria I have to look up every time I use them.  So it's common to scoff at people who use English units because it adds unnecessary complexity. 

But not all engineers use metric units.  Mechanical designers and metal machinists use English units, [I've heard] because the cutting tools use English units.  We don't have 6.4-mm screw holes; we have 1/4" screw holes because we have 1/4" drill bits.  Some raw materials come in thicknesses measured to the nearest 1/8" or 1/4". 

But at the same time, metal machining often specifies tolerances using a sort of semi-metric system, e.g. something is measured at 1/8" +/- 0.010" (spoken "ten thousandths").  Similarly some engineers use feet as a unit of distance, but if the magnitude of the values they deal with is greater than 10,000, they use the term "kilofeet", which is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. 

Electrical power is measured in Watts, but mechanical power is measured in horsepower.  [Hint:  they're the same thing, i.e. units of power.]  But it feels wrong to say I have a 147 kW engine in my car, or a 1.36 hp microwave in my kitchen.  It all comes down to what you're used to. 

The metric system is really just a standardized unit (m for length, kg for mass, etc.) plus a Latin or Greek prefix denoting the decimal point.  English units almost sort of use a crappy version of this with things like inches (10^0), feet (inches x 10^1.0792), yards (inches x 10^1.5563), miles (inches x 10^4.8018).  I don't know what the solution is, so I'm gonna go walk a few hundred mega-inches to de-stress. #science

Traditional vs. mRNA vaccine Tue, Jan 11, 2022
I'm not an expert so I'm quite possibly wrong about this, but one way to think about the difference between a traditional (viral vector) vaccine and an mRNA vaccine is this:  A traditional vaccine is like if you took a partially-eaten cookie to a bakery and asked them to make you a similar cookie.  An mRNA vaccine is like if you went to a bakery and asked them to make you a cookie with the recipe you just handed them. #science

Monday Night Mannings Tue, Jan 11, 2022
Peyton and Eli Manning have been hosting a show on ESPN2 during the broadcast of Monday Night Football on ESPN.  It it, these two future fall-of-fame quarterbacks casually chat about the game while making brotherly fun of each other, and they invite a series of guests to chat and joke with them.  All of it is done remotely, which adds some technical difficulties and audio hiccups.  It's not traditional sports coverage, with play-by-play and in-depth analysis.  It's more like watching a game with a friend you haven't seen in a few weeks.  You watch the game here and there, but it's not really the focal point. 

Here's my take:  This is the best sports show in the modern era.  This is must-see TV.  It's made even better by its haphazard schedule, which wasn't weekly and seemed to follow no pattern at all.  You have to look for it, or better yet, stumble upon it.  The guests are varied (athlete, coach, broadcaster, comedian, musician), and the remote nature of it means we're watching people in their homes, on their couches, wearing around-the-house clothes.  It's very intimate, but at the same time completely comfortable.  One guest did fake broadcaster commentary (he was a real broadcaster); another guest dropped an f-bomb.  I'm not sure what the censors thought of that, but I think it added to the casual nature of it all.  They interview current players and show old footage of their bloopers.  They bring up unflattering pictures of their guests as kids.  The comedians and musicians they interview are just there for fun; they're not promoting anything.  It's a breath of ridiculously fresh air. 

Monday Night Football, and really any primetime sporting event, is usually pretty boring.  It's an arbitrary matchup, it's late at night, it's slow-paced and full of commercials.  The ManningCast is the perfect antidote to that.  It's funny, it's simple, and it all happens directly alongside the traditional primetime broadcast.  Just brilliant. #sports

Wrong clocks are worse than broken Wed, Jan 05, 2022
I was visiting someplace that had an analog clock on the wall, and it was working fine but it was set to the wrong time (which I figured out later).  A broken clock is one thing -- you notice the hands aren't moving, the time hasn't changed since the last time you looked at it (which you keep checking because you're a dumbass).  But a clock set to the wrong time?  It's actively bad.  It's not just "not working".  It's giving you wrong information.  It seems like it's right because it's giving you an actual real time.  But that time is a lie, and now you're in a strange place with no idea what time it is, and you're an idiot for believing that lying clock.

That's a good question Mon, Jan 03, 2022
I took training at work a few years ago that involved standing up in front of the class and presenting some material while being questioned and sort of hassled in an attempt to prepare the student to operate in that sort of environment professionally.  Needless to say, I hated it, I've never encountered anything even remotely close to that in my professional life, and if I did, I'd quit on the spot.  Anyway. 

One of the things the teacher criticized me for was for saying, "That's a good question," when he asked questions during my presentation.  His logic was that high-ranking people don't need to be complimented on the quality of their question.  Whatever, bro. 

I realized I say "that's a good question" a lot when I'm presenting something, typically in a work setting.  My primary goal is to communicate, and that involves both the sender and the receiver.  I'm typically not standing up and speaking in front of a group of people for fun, so if my audience doesn't understand what I'm saying, that's a failure.  Since I usually don't know the background or experience level of each person in the audience, I do a mix of dumbing it down and avoiding jargon.  If somebody asks me a question, it usually helps me clarify something, or add more detail to something I might've glossed over, or even include something that I neglected to mention earlier.  In any of these cases, my audience is gaining a better understanding of what I'm saying, which is the whole point.  When I say it's a good question, I mean it. 

So if you're the kind of person who thinks "that's a good question" is somehow patronizing or offensive, you can feel free to shove it directly in your ass.