Friday, July 26, 2013

5 Years

Five years ago tomorrow I started this blog. I was working at a job I didn't particularly like nor found mentally fulfilling, and the blog was intended to be a creative outlet. Blogging took a little getting used to. Honestly a sizable chunk of my first entries were blatant plagiarism of Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column. But it was something fun to do and I got better at it over the years. A couple or three entries had pictures of DIY projects I'd done, which gained traction on Google Image search and I get a pretty regular stream of 200-300 people a week to those particular posts. The other posts get about 20 readers.

But it was never about traffic for me. Or revenue. It was about writing. I'm sort of a weird engineer because I like writing. I like practicing it. And after 5 years of honing my writing, I'm ready to be done with blogging. My current job is incredibly exhausting, but I love it. My family, since I started this blog, has grown by two children and two dogs. I've bought a house (and everything that goes with it). My wife finished school and got a full-time job. My daughter starts Kindergarten in a few weeks. Life is just really busy.
And I committed myself to writing a book, which is coming along pretty well. And I'm trying to learn Spanish.

But the busy-ness isn't the reason I'm quitting. I'm quitting because I feel done.

I want to direct you to pretty much anything Freddie deBoer is writing. That guy can cut through B.S. like no one else on the internet.

Thanks to all my readers, I hope you found something on here you liked once or twice. I plan to leave this up and not archive/delete any posts, because there are several entries I am hoping my children will find and read one day.

And if you should never hear from me again, because you do not know me personally, cannot find me somewhere else online, or for any other reason, please go from here with the words of William Safire:
Our charge today is to value the goal of discovery that drives questing humans to take great risks.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

If A, Then B

WSJ Headline 1: Math, Science Popular Until Students Realize They’re Hard

 WSJ Headline 2: To Follow the Money, Study Engineering

 The conclusion isn't hard to draw.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Influence of Andrew Sullivan

Ross wonders if Andrew Sullivan is the most influential political writer of his generation. I humbly submit that my grandmother, who votes in every election, has never once in her life heard of Andrew Sullivan.

I'm not going to argue that Sullivan hasn't been influential. Douthat and Tyler Cowen rightly point out that Sullivan's crusade for gay rights has been both effective and important. And in general terms he obviously is a popular writer, Obama even reads him.

But outside the beltway...Sullivan's name and influence start to wane. And I have to wonder if all these writers and political journalists and political bloggers, all having their parties together and hanging out in their swank apartments where they all talk with and about each other...they have a skewed notion of what influence is.

I remember in high school there were these two kids that were really popular: Ky and Cameron. In fact they were so popular that even at the other high school in town they were respected. But go any further away than that, and no one had ever heard of Ky or Cameron. Nor did anyone feel it necessary to respect them.

Andrew Sullivan has his moments. Even at its worst, his blog is entertaining. But how can Ross et al. call Sullivan the most influential political writer in his generation if he can't even get enough subscribers to support his site?


Monday, July 1, 2013

America, June 2013 Edition

Never has the quote "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" been more aptly applied.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Long Arcs of Human Existence

Imagine me, 16. I'm a junior in high school, this is October 1998. I'm on the sideline of a football field, in the blue and gold uniform of the Olathe South Falcons. It's a Friday night and we're playing our town rival, the Olathe North Hawks. And we're losing badly.
Of course, I didn't normally dress varsity. I was a junior at a large school, so the odds were stacked against me just due to the sheer amount of talent available to the coach. But also I was pretty small, and not especially good at football. I played defensive back, along with about 15 other guys, so my chances of getting playing time at the Varsity level were pretty slim. Which was fine. I wasn't 100% obsessed with football. There were guys that would go ballistic when our team would score a touchdown, running up and down the sideline screaming their heads off and I would not at all understand this kind of ferocity. And I got knocked on my ass a lot.

But I'd had a particularly good week at practice, and combined with a couple guys getting stomach flu, I'd eased my way into backup backup backup varsity free safety for a night. So I stood on the sidelines as Olathe North absolutely demolished us. By the 4th quarter, we were miserably behind, and our chance of winning was gone. So I sidled up to the coach and asked to be subbed in. I figured this might be my one and only chance to ever take the field at a varsity football game, why not seize it? So I fired myself up and told the coach "sub me in, I want to turn the game around!" and the coach kinda smirked and sure enough he subbed me in.
So there I am, trotting out onto the grassy, lined plain. There's something magical about a Friday night football game. As soon as I got on the field I understood better why people liked playing football under lights. I eased up about twenty yards behind the D-line, watching the Olathe North offense work. Most of their starters had been pulled - they too understood the concept of a foregone conclusion. But their starting runningback, a sophomore phenom, was still in. His name was Darren Sproles.
Their quarterback took the snap and I saw him duck low as he moved to hand it off. Other defensive players began to shout "RUN" to as they recognized the play evolving. I kept my feet moving, quickly pulling in towards the defensive line to intercept their runner if and when he came through. My head was moving left and right as I wildly scanned the field. If the runner got through the line, I was the last defense stopping a touchdown.
And just like that a white and red blur went past me. No human being could move that fast. Some sort of projectile had been launched by the offense. I whipped my head around and watched Darren Sproles absolutely torch me for a touchdown.

That was my one and only play at the varsity level. Coach, after turning a funny shade of cherry red, pulled me off the field and I was promptly sent back to JV the next day. And shortly after that, I quit football. Not because I didn't like it, or because I felt ashamed that I wasn't especially good, but because I treated extra-curriculars in high school like a buffet, sampling as many as I could. Football was replaced with some other sport. I tried tennis, track, theater, Science Olympiad, marching band...the list is long to tell.

Off I went to college. Years passed. I neared graduation, and had applied to several graduate schools. On April 24th, 2005, I was sitting in the living room of the house I was renting. A letter had arrived from a graduate school and I was nervously opening it. It was the school I wanted to attend most. As I read, with a great, glowing satisfaction, their acceptance letter, on the television the Paul Tagliabue was on stage at the NFL Draft and he said "With the 130th pick of the NFL draft, the San Diego Chargers choose Darren Sproles."

Off I went to graduate school, then to a job, then another job, then to my current job. And last night, wife and two kids in tow, I headed over to have sandwiches at Chick-fil-a. There was a strange line outside the restaurant. Apparently people were waiting to meet some celebrity that going to be there signing autographs. My family went inside, we ate, and came back out. And as we were leaving I saw the celebrity had arrived. The people in line were wearing K-State Jerseys, or holding San Diego Chargers memorabilia for him to sign, or New Orleans Saints memorabilia. And as we walked past the little booth they'd set up for him, he looked over at me. Its been 15 years but I recognized Darren Sproles immediately.

15 years of life, and two humans who could not have possibly taken more different paths, who met as kids on a football field for 10 again in the parking lot of a Chick-fil-a for 10 seconds more. I'm not sure what sort of conclusion to draw here, other than that the arcs of our lives are impossible to predict. Where we'll be a year from now...five years from now...fifiteen years from surely a wildly different place than what we think it will be.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Electrical Engineer Unemployement Soars

My stance on immigration has always been one of open arms and open mind. That's all been tempered in the last couple years, as it became clear to me that many companies in the tech industry are pushing for the expansion of the H1B visa program solely so they can bring in cheaper workers and undermine the wages of degreed engineers already in the USA. R&D labor is expensive.

So here's an interesting little article from Computerworld (back in April) talking about a recent surge in unemployment among electrical engineers. The article also mentions the very low unemployment among "software developers." And finally, it touches on the IEEE-USA's attempts to inhibit random expansion of the H1B visa program.

A few thoughts:
1) In this modern app/software era, it is very possible that many electrical engineers have simply migrated from hardware to software. Typically an electrical engineer can program too, so its not that uncomfortable of a switch. And apps is where the money is right now. I have a friend who worked for Honeywell as an electrical engineer but he's now doing Indie games for iOS and making a killing.

2) It's interesting the IEEE-USA refers to the cohort as "software developers" and not "computer scientists" or "computer engineers" or "software engineers." My guess is that this group includes all the above and more: people doing software development that don't have a 4 year ABET degree.

3) This H1B visa thing reminds me so much of the old days when bosses would try to break the union worker's strike by bringing in foreign labor. And yet the idea of bringing in more STEM is generally lauded. What a strange paradox where bringing in foreign tech labor boosts the American economy while simultaneously driving down wages in one of the last high-paying wage sectors.

You can read more I've written on the STEM controversy here, here, and here. And I already linked to it above, but this is the most important article I've written on this subject.