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entitlement and overflowing trash cans

I walked into a bathroom my first year of college and had to step around a very overflowing trash can. Families moving college students in had grabbed fast food, and if their kid didn't have a personal trash can yet, they found the bathroom trash can, found it to be full, and set their fast food trash and cups around the trash. I was furious. There were dumpsters out back. Most students eventually would get a little trash can for their room, which they'd empty into the dumpster. But these parents and students alike had decided that they deserved to be able to use the first trash can they saw, which happened to be the one in the bathroom. The cleaning staff member who comes in once a day would have to not only take the trash out but pick up all the trash on the floor, too. It would take a while.

Entitlement: "Not should someone pick up my shit, but in special circumstances, on a busy day when the established system doesn't work, someone else should still pick up my shit."

How often do we stop and think about how pampered our lives are, that our trash is magically whisked away to a landfill we never have to think about. That's nice, just by itself. Go camping in the wilderness where you're expected to haul your own trash back home with you in your car... really makes you think about it.

Overflowing trash cans became my pet peeve, forever. Is the trash full? Then take it out. If you can't, then go find another one! Setting your trash next to the trash can is the worst thing you can do. You're a real asshole if you think that's okay. It sends a message that you think someone failed you, they weren't there to take the trash out fast enough so they deserve to be punished. Their punishment is more important than you taking a few more steps to find another place.

The next year at college I was the RA so I was in charge of the floor. I removed all trash cans from the bathroom and hid them for the first three days. It forced people to ask where trash belonged. I told them about the dumpsters outside.

They survived.


spacefem's guide to pokemon go

Figure since I hit level 23 this week and have a 1900 CP Vaporeon, I should write about pokemon go. I'll write it in FAQ format, because I like to be helpful, so if you're not playing this will help you get started.

1) I have a smartphone! Should I play pokemon go?
Nope. It's totally dead now, everybody's over it. You might as well go back to facebook and play farmville.

2) Well I want to try it. What do you do?
Playing is really easy, you just walk around and try to catch virtual rats and pigeons in your neighborhood. Not real rats and pigeons... avoid those. These are in the game, they pop up in phone world, and you throw pokeballs at them to capture them.

3) Then what?
That's it.

3) It takes me 10 pokeballs to catch one effing pigeon, I hate this game.
You go to blue pokestops and spin their circles, then go to the next one, then the next one, and you get free pokeballs so you can keep wasting 10 or 20 on every damn pigeon. Pokestops are next to historical sites and local art installations.

4) That sounds nice. So I get to look at local art?
No, I wouldn't recommend that. You need to look at your phone. If you're looking at the art everyone will know you're there to play pokemon go, because nobody looks at this stuff normally, but they'll think you suck at it and aren't really into the game, or you have attention span issues.

5) Okay, I will stare at my phone. I will be into the game!

6) What happens when I get an egg from a pokestop?
You incubate it by walking around and it hatches a free rat or pigeon. Or you can ride your bike.

7) I heard I can't ride my bike, bikes are too fast so it doesn't think you're walking so it doesn't count towards your eggs hatching.
Oh sorry I forgot, yes... you need to ride your bike with a distracted six-year-old who doesn't like riding in a straight line. You'll make so little progress it thinks you're walking, and you will hatch all kinds of eggs.

8) What's better, the rats or pigeons?
Pigeons since they're easier to evolve... but really it doesn't matter you will hate them both.

9) Everyone is playing this game! When will it be over?
Educational moment, based on conversations overheard in public and in my office today.

In a hurdle race, the point is to get to the end of the finish line first. Hitting a hurdle could slow you down or make you fall, so hurdlers try not to hit the hurdles, unless they're big beefy guys who can run through them without being phased. And you do see that. But generally speaking every hurdle you hit takes away a little bit of momentum so you try to skim the top, don't go high over them and waste energy, don't hit them and waste energy. They are heavy.

There is no "score" penalty for hitting the hurdle or knocking it over. Unless you intentionally do something unsportsmanlike, and that's a separate call. But if you accidently knock into it, even if it goes into the next lane and takes somebody out, you don't get a time deduction. There's no "points", this is not gymnastics, nobody cares about your style, this is track.


advice to interns on their last week

At the beginning of the summer I told you guys to take pictures, and you did right? Even though engineers hate having pictures taken? I know it's awkward. And I know I said we like having photos of interns having a good summer and you probably thought oh, she's trying to look good for HR. Maybe! Maybe.

But there's this picture of me at a test bench in 2005 and I'm really glad it exists. I regret that my group lead was the one taking the picture so he's not in it. He was wonderful. He was my second boss but probably my best and he's retired now. He told me months later that he hand-picked me for the program, he liked to give young people a chance, keep the team small and lean and mean and "give a young lady like yourself a big bite to prove herself". And I did. I specked out a whole crew alerting system in six months and wrote a database to do it and it drove me crazy, then I was the one who had it all in my head so I'd be crouched in the middle of a light jet fuselage plugging a laptop into the 232 data ports under the floorboards surrounded by mechanics, like clowns in a car. I was getting a masters degree. I'd come to work at 6 or 7am, write my reports and do drawings because I couldn't get on the airplane, it was too busy. I'd go to my night class. After class I'd come back to work because the second shift guys were cooler and would let me on the plane easier. I was exhausted! it was terrible.

it was wonderful.

We take pictures of vacations because we're supposed to enjoy them. Work, you get paid for, so you don't have to enjoy it. Why take a photo of a test bench, or a cubicle, or a primer-colored plane with half its panels missing? But I'm saying to do it because when you think back on the times that were wonderful you'll be happy. Even if you're not sure it'll be wonderful, take it just in case.

Okay some of you are rolling your eyes thinking oh sure, she loves this place, but can't it be just a job for us, do I really have to be IN LOVE with a company where all I've had is an internship? It's okay! Not everybody loves it, I'm not saying you will. Hell, some people outright DON'T like it, maybe you'll leave, I don't know. We had a guy spend five years getting an engineering degree, come work here, put in three years and then turn in his notice, he wanted to be a Christian camp councilor. Quite a direction switch, right? I was stumped but I had to hand it to him, he made a call. He didn't stick in this job and make everybody work with a guy who didn't like his job. We are passionate about the things we're good at, get better at the things we're passionate about, that's the cycle you're trying to find your way onto.

We have these annual performance reviews. Engineers groan at them. Just wait. But I think they're important because they're a timestamp, our vain attempt at emulating the semesters that added a page to your transcript. Otherwise there are no transcripts here. What were you doing in 2016? I promise you'll forget. It will all run together.

Back to the photos... here's what really got me. Our project engineer was trying to put together a booklet for a guy who's retiring. 35 years with the company, and he said it's so hard to find any pictures. The guy just quietly loved airplanes for decades and now we want to send him off and we can, that's great, but I wish we had some more evidence.

I love my photos of my childhood, my friends in college, my wedding, my babies, my dog as a puppy, all of that is important. But everybody knows to take those photos. Work is a part of your life that naturally gets segmented off as the thing to not love and not make memories of, you just do it with your head down. It's fine to treat it like that 90% of the time. But once a year or so, take a picture? Especially if it's a boss you like. Or someone who mentored you. Okay yes that's what I'm getting at... the technology in the photo backgrounds is fun to laugh at, the computers behind you, the phone clipped to your side, but the people are what you'll really want to remember.

They say family is important because they're your people. Here you will meet all kinds of people. You won't love them all, that's okay. But I have met some amazing people here. Who'd have thought it? I didn't know I'd make airplanes, in life. I didn't learn about airplanes in college. I learned to love them because I was good at them, I got good at them because I wanted to love what I was doing for a living, otherwise I couldn't do it.

But the people, I loved accidentally. And I didn't realize it when they were here, some of them, they moved on and there are just thumbprints.

my first supervisor told me that cream rises to the top. it didn't matter what decisions I made, he said, I would succeed here, he said "your career will accelerate one day at a pace that makes even you uncomfortable". it echoed in my head when I became a manager.

I think about him all the time because he was right. It does go too fast. but now I'm realizing, not just the career. it was everything.


average day in the life of an engineer

I got a message lately from someone who was thinking of going into engineering but not sure what we do, exactly, what an average day is like for an engineer. I couldn't find where I'd written about this and was kicking myself because oh man, outreach 101 if you want to get kids to go into engineering you're supposed to help them visualize what the hell it IS. People don't know, we're trying to lift the curtain. Haven't I written about this before? What I do? Well not for a while I guess. So, heck! Okay, here goes...

First challenge is that there is no average day for my job. There is no average month or average year. That's part of what I like about it - I've moved around in the company a LOT. Technically I'm doing a time warp for this entry anyway, I'm a manager, I spend a much higher percentage of my time in meetings and I do not do any design work, but I thought it'd be more helpful to pretend I'm still a 3-5 year experience engineer, for this entry.

Here are some things I've done.

The "day" depends on program phase. If we're making a huge big new airplane we'll spend weeks at a time doing design, weeks doing testing, weeks writing reports. Once it's being cranked out on a production line we have all these random little improvements we're doing so in one day you'll do a little of everything and juggle as best you can... every hour something different. I've spent more time in "every hour is different" mode than "every month is different" mode, that's for sure. Here are the tasks:

Design: Using computer programs that I'd never heard of before I came to work here, I lay out system wiring diagrams for airplanes. We identify a component we need, then read installation manuals and sensor specs. If one box says it needs to know airspeed on a data bus, we find the other box that puts OUT airspeed on the data bus, and produce a diagram that shows them wired together, with all the disconnects needed to make airplane building easier... for example you would not want to run a wire all the way from the wingtip light straight back to the tail. We build the wing, run all the wires to one connector, so when they mate the wing to the fuselage there's just one plug to plug in. My drawing shows that.

Sitting with headphones on, drawing the diagrams, getting everything to make sense and be pretty and readable, I spent several years where that was a good chunk of my job.

Of course, that's systems integration... a lot of electrical engineers do component level, lay out PC board stuff, don't ask how I went into systems, I think it was an accident. That's the story with a good 80% of my career circumstances, it all just happened.

Testing: You know how the system works. Write a test for it. Get with the "official" people and run the test in front of them and get all the paperwork done that says you ran it for that fancy report you're writing. Sometimes you're in a lab, sometimes you're on an airplane. It's never happened at my desk. Actually I will say there's so much involved in getting the paperwork in order for an official test, that when you're testing you're testing, that is your day, no matter what phase of a program you're on.

Certification: We write reports. We have a list of federal regulations, we copy every one, we write down why we're good on it. For instance, here's a rule that says you have to make warning lights red. Our job is to prove we met it... was there a test, or can you just see from the engineering drawing, or both? On new experimental programs I spent weeks at a time when I spent 70% or so of my day working on these reports. I know you're thinking that this must be a special activity for engineers who work on airplanes, but it's also for engineers who make big structures and meet construction requirements, engineers who make medical devices and have to prove they're healthy, in fact I don't personally know any engineers who don't have to prove themselves to the government in some way or another, or at least to some industry group like UL. We type, draw pictures, dig for information, state cases, review each other's reports for checking.

Troubleshooting: The technicians plugged everything in just like you said and the fuel level doesn't show anything, what's wrong! You're getting a call, go down to the line. There are whole days you spend on the airplane.

Meetings: As a new engineer I had meetings 2-3 times a week. Now it's 3-5 times a day... but ugh, whatever, lots of meetings. Get everybody's opinions on your design, talk about the status of things, learn what's next for the group, hear what everybody has learned, there are meetings.

Phone calls and emails: The more you do the more you're the one who understands it the more calls you get. From the sales people, the marketing department, the program managers, everybody. I have no quiet days. If I ever have a quiet day I know better than to brag about it because it will bring on the curse of tomorrow being "LET'S ALL CALL SPACEFEM" day. The random questions come every day, from everywhere. I will sometimes go a day without getting a call to troubleshoot an airplane. I will NEVER have a day where I'm not digging up some answer.

Process improvements: My big company means there lots of options for streamlining things, introducing new software, writing down best practices, holding training classes. I spent a whole year where I left my avionics engineering department to work as an IT liason for engineering.

Organizing nacho day: sometimes we need a spreadsheet for a potluck, just sayin'. Or we have to decide where to go out for lunch of Friday. Office stuff. We have departments of 5-15 people and we get very close and like each other and try to have fun.

So that's it. It would be very normal for an engineer to spend 4-6 hours drawing diagrams and writing reports, 1-2 hours in meetings, 2-3 hours troubleshooting, researching, and seeing how things are going on the airplane. That would be a typical day.

Final interesting note: I didn't learn how to do any of this in college, so if this isn't what you're taking in classes, fear not. There'd be no reason to learn how we write certification reports... just learn to write. No reason to learn to test every specific kind of potentiometer setup in existence, just learn how to run a voltmeter. My dad used to say that a college degree proves you are educatable. True. It also shows you can commit to something - you won't leave a job in six months if you spent four years getting the degree for it, so you're someone we're okay training for all the big crazy stuff going on with our industry. Don't sweat it. Good engineers don't know everything. We're just gritty, scrappy, ready to learn, unlikely to break down if something goes a little weird, interested in blinky lights, and for best results... not assholes. There, you have my recipe for success at this. Go study.

Cleaning out the office fridge

Back in good economic times, my company used to have lots of administrative assistants and the nice ones would clean out refrigerators when things got bad. They didn't love this, it wasn't their job, but the mess bothered them and they didn't feel like it was totally beneath them to do it. Sometimes there were passive-aggressive signs involved about how "your mother doesn't work here, claim your food!" Then there'd be a sign that said, "Everything in this fridge will be thrown out Friday afternoon!" Then the admin would go to work Friday, spending a day throwing out old food, washing out people's tupperware and glassware and setting it on a table to be claimed, scrubbing the shelves down. The fridge would be sparkling.

Well we don't have those people anymore so the fridges filled up with crap and I recently moved to a new building and had no place to put my lunch. It was shoved full like a slidelock puzzle. And to be honest, it smelled so terrible I didn't think I'd want my food in there anyway.

I also didn't have a Friday afternoon to sacrifice and I am even FURTHER from being everyone's mother.

But I could spend five minutes a day improving things. So that's why I've started my gradual fridge cleanout program. Nobody knows it's me. Here's how I do it.

1) Find out when the trash gets taken out. Let's pretend it's Wednesday AM. So you're going to plan your cleanup for a Tuesday afternoon - you want to throw stuff out after lunch, obviously, to avoid accidentally tossing out somebody's lunch.

2) Make a bunch of labels with Monday's date and "this will be thrown out August 11 if it's not claimed". Mailing labels work best for this, not post-its. Tape also works but it's a pain to write on. Give people a nice solid week to claim their stuff. Don't worry, they won't. Don't sticker a million things at once. Go for, like, six big things. Volume is the goal, clear out whatever is taking up the most room.

3) On Tuesday, make your move. Throw the stuff out. While you're in there you'll probably find some other gems - expired yogurt, shriveled old oranges, those will make you feel good to throw away also. Yes, you are probably tossing perfectly good tupperware. Who gives a shit.

Nice lunch bags, I spare. I still sticker them but rather than toss out the whole insulated bag, I just unzip them, empty the contents, and set them on the table next to the fridge.

4) Go wash your hands.

5) Wait a week. Lurk. Repeat the process.

Slowly over time, the fridge will have room in it. Maybe the shelves don't get scrubbed, maybe there's still a scary yogurt from 2014 lurking back in there, but life is about baby steps. There is now a 6x6" square for me to put my lunch now. I feel pretty good about that. And no giant passive-aggressive signs for everyone to ignore and scoff at! Win.

Ordering pizza for engineers

I need to stop re-asking people about their favorite pizza every time when I order for large groups, the ratios don't change that much. So for the record, here are the answers to the vague "What's your favorite pizza?" question, when asked to a department of mostly electrical engineers (with some mechanical - it's hard to say if this messes up the sample).

Combo meat29%
Hawaiian 8%

Other answers include: Taco, hamburger, spinach, green olive, mushroom, veggie.

I'm the one who said veggie.

friday 5

this week's questions...

1. Would you ever go "under the knife" (or laser, or dental pick) for cosmetic purposes? What and why, and would it really be worth it?

I kinda did when I got my front teeth fixed. The only issue with that bonding was a stain nobody but me noticed and this tiny chip, and the threat that bonding isn't meant to be permanent anyway. I got porcelain veneers. Kinda vain maybe.

I've said I will never get a facelift or any anti-aging cosmetic surgery. A lot of people aren't lucky enough to grow old. Others aren't lucky enough to see their loved ones grow old. I want people to see me grow old and I want to be proud.

2. Describe your dream home, including location, design, and who/what’s in there with you.

I'm getting closer and closer to wanting to pitch all this junk and live in a tiny house. It'd need two bathrooms, is all.

I could easily go back to apartment life, if I had cool neighbors. You need someplace with character to have cool neighbors. Living in old town was pretty darn close to perfect, just not for the kids.

3. You have one month to travel the world, all expenses paid. Where do you go and what do you do once you arrive?

That's two questions. And wait, the last question was five questions! This set is shenanigans. I'm not answering this.

4. What scares the bloody heck out of you? Would you face it down if someone paid you? What’s your price?

Angry person with a loaded gun. Fuck no at any price.

5. You’re stranded on an island. What five simple items do you have with you? How do you survive? Anyone in particular you’d like to be stranded with? What would they bring to the table?

THAT'S EIGHT QUESTIONS in one question! Friday 5 do not test my patience! I would obviously bring my husband, the skill he'd provide would be optimism. For my items I would bring:

1) A warm blanket
2) Magnifying glass to start fires
3) Laptop and satellite internet terminal
4) Hatchet
5) Tent, air mattress, air pump, generator, library, wine distillery, airplane for escaping

SEE friday five, two can play this game!
I read that IKEA is recalling dressers because people don't anchor them to walls and the dressers fall over and crush little kids, and wanted to write this post about my feelings, and I hope it gets shared a bit.

The IKEA recall is a step, but recalls aren't 100% complied with and IKEA is only one company. The page Meghan's Hope reported this year that 70 kids a DAY are injured or even killed by falling furniture. The founders of Safe and Sound with Amaya said in an interview that a fatal accident occurs every 9-11 days. Similar statistics get posted in places like Kate's Foundation for Child Safety, Brace It For Brayden, Curren Collas Our Blue Eyed Hero... on and on and on.

It's not just IKEA furniture - it's everybody's furniture, dressers, shelves, TVs. How many of you know a family that experienced one of these accidents? And from what I've read, the injuries could have been prevented by just securing furniture to a wall so it wouldn't tip over.

A few years ago I read another sad toddler death story on Facebook, looked around, and realized that I had furniture anchor kits just laying around in the dresser drawers they came with, doing no good. I also looked at my nutball acrobat of a 2yo and realized she was definitely a candidate to be the next Facebook memorial page. So I stood up. I got my drill and a stud finder, went around and secured everything I could find in the house.

Are my kiddos 100% safe in the world now? Oh gosh no! The world is scary and dang it these kids have no sense of self-preservation, I am still worried sick! But at least I did one little easy thing to make them less likely to be killed by falling furniture.

What was stopping me?

I thought I might want to rearrange the furniture someday.

Didn't feel like looking for the drill.

I was on Facebook.

I wondered if my husband could get around to it.

Those excuses might sound funny and relatable but if an accident happened, and I was in the ER with my baby, THEN which of those excuses would make sense?


So here's my campaign: I don't want anything to stop any of my friends from having furniture secured to the wall. Need a drill? Borrow mine! Not handy? I can help you! Can't make the time? Let's set an appointment together to hold each other accountable! I'll bring the hardware, you bring the chardonnay, it's a date! I am not a professional childproofer. But DIY wall anchors have been shown to prevent accidents so let's take this step together as a start, shall we?

As moms we talk about all kinds of things. We know which of our friends breastfed for two years, who feeds their kid all organic foods, who will lend us a Baby Bjorn to compare to our Ergo. But when do we sit around the table and ask who's got their cordless screwdriver charged up to anchor some furniture while we're thinking about it? If we're going to give each other advice, how about we start with the important stuff?

TELL YOUR FRIENDS if you are also willing to help them anchor furniture. You don't have to be an expert. You don't even have to do it for them, if you're not liability-proof-confident in your skills, maybe just put the offer out there that they can borrow your tools or you'll professionally BUG them to do it, that's something! I just want to talk about it and knock down everybody's excuses. No more hurt babies, okay? Help each other! Concerned citizens with drills and screwdrivers, visit your neighbors, share the tools, open the dialog and help each other out.

garage doors - call a person!

Edit: Entry was titled "Call a guy" - I want to emphasize that a male or female could be qualified to fix a garage door and I would not worry about the gender of the professional sent to repair my house in any case.

Marc and I have been trying to fix stuff ourselves lately, inspired by the makerspace culture of DIY, attempt the unknown! this includes stuff around the house.

Cue the soundtrack for this entry: Weird Al's I'm so handy

Our garage door has always sounded a little weird and then Marc bumped it with the car, sending it off track and part of it just hanging down precariously, definitely not moving up and down when we hit the button. So we spent two mornings working in the heat trying to get the damn thing snapped back in. The pins that hold it to the track were impossible. We almost died, separately, but frequently. The door was heavy and one person would hold it while the other tried to re-coil these tense wires around broken drums.

Finally on day 3 Marc said fuck it and called a guy.

So the guy came out, replaced the broken spindle thing that we were trying to make work, re-set everything in its tracks, lubricated appropriately, and now the garage door is FANTASTIC! For, like, $160 or something stupid like that? Now when we hit the button the door not only moves up and down, but it doesn't sound like someone throwing a garage door down the stairs, it was weird to us since it's always sounded questionable but suddenly... professional!

I was so happy I started telling people that we should have called a professional out sooner and a few coworkers were like yeah, actually, these things are freaking dangerous to work on. I googled and yes, there are many many injuries every year from garage doors. Who knew!

So that's the PSA of the week - even if you're an ambitious DIY-er, maybe a garage door is too much for you. Don't lose an arm or a head or whatever you can lose. It's okay, you're still tough.


gun people

I unfriended a guy on facebook last week after he posted about wanting to make sure he could get an AR-15 before they were banned. His friends were commenting in support. Hell of a priority to have the day after 50 people are killed in an Orlando nightclub, right?

I am no longer a good freedom-loving libertarian on the issue of gun rights. I don't trust gun people anymore. Sorry. I am convinced that their priorities are totally out of whack, that they care passionately about their guns and their "rights" but do not give two shits about safety. If gun people cared about safety, why would there be 12,000 non-suicide gun deaths in the US every year?

Where I work in the factory, we have this philosophy about safety: that for every actual injury, there were near-miss incidents that should have clued us in and made us change something. So we obsess about every near-miss or close injury or minor injury. Even if you get a bad paper cut and go to health services for a band-aid it's a "recordable injury" and taken very seriously. If an actual death were to occur? We would not shrug it off as an accident, we'd start going back through the records of all those minor things that could have POSSIBLY told us we were going down the wrong path. It's the famous OSHA safety pyramid.

So pretend for a moment that a toddler finds a gun and shoots herself. The gun was kept loaded, and not locked up. This fatality is the top of the pyramid. Then we'd ask ourselves if there were other gun injuries in the news lately... yup. Then we'd look at property damage and accidental shootings that don't injure a person.

According to the pyramid, you multiply your near-misses by some factor, 20 or 50 or 100 depending on the data, and you get the number for "at risk unsafe behavior". In other words for every one toddler who accidentally shoots herself there are hundreds of loaded guns in this country now that were, luckily, left alone today. But maybe not tomorrow.

Where is the evidence that gun owners are being safe?

Why should I trust them?

Why do you need a semi-automatic weapon that can kill 50 people at one event?

Sometime if you want to feel terrible, click around the Everytown map of gun deaths in the US. They happen almost every day. I almost reposted one but didn't want to ruin anyone's morning because they are horrible.

Instead I just unfriended the guy. I don't want my kids playing at his house ever again, even though all our daughters are friends. I told my husband we needed to "distance ourselves" and he agreed. It is obvious to me, from the statistics, we have too many guns in the population of America. So even if these accidental deaths are not all mass shootings, I think we should TRY reducing the number of guns as an ATTEMPT to limit the mass shootings, right?

Guns are doing more harm than good and I don't trust anyone who fools themselves into thinking otherwise.
I was invited to come visit a summer camp sort of program for 5th-7th grade girls. There were eight of us women who were in engineering or science, and eight tables of girls, and every 10 minutes we switched and talked to a different group. They were pre-assigned to ask us questions about engineering.

Here's a composite of some of my table conversations.

Spacefem: Hey girls how are you doing? Having fun?

Girls: Yeah!

Spacefem: So I'm an avionics and electrical engineer. All the displays you see in the front of an airplane? I figure out how to make that work!

Girl 1: Oooh do you know my uncle? Dave Smith! He works at the same place you work.

Spacefem: Is he an engineer?

Girl 1: He makes the PARTS for the airplane.

Spacefem: That's, uh, not very specific... I don't know him, sorry, but there are 8,000 people who work at my company so it's hard to know everybody.

Girl 2: What about Bob... uh... I forget his last name! But he's my neighbor!

Spacefem: Sorry, no... do any of you have questions for me?

Girl 3: I do! How can I be a veterinarian?

Spacefem: That's not really... well, you'll have to learn a lot about science and biology and how bodies work. Do you like science?

Girl 3: I like science experiments. But I don't really care why they work.

Spacefem: Well veterinarians have to know why things happen so you'll know how to treat animals. And really, it's not that great a job if you LOVE animals, you know that right? It's not just playing with puppies all day? People only bring you their animals if they're sick. You don't see cute animals, you see animals throwing up on you or pooping everywhere.

Girl 4: I want to be a veterinarian too! But I heard you have to neuter dogs! And I've never even seen a naked boy before!

Girl 5: I've seen a naked boy!

(all girls ask me if I've seen a naked boy)

Spacefem: Um... did anyone have any more questions about electrical engineering?

Girl 6: Is there anything else you wanted to be when you were a kid?

Spacefem: Oh sure, lots of things, actually I had no idea what I wanted to be. I thought maybe an architect because I liked to draw pictures of buildings and things. But it turns out that's a really competitive field.

Girl 7: If you could change jobs what would you change to?

Spacefem: I don't know, I really like my job. Maybe I wouldn't make airplanes. Electrical engineers make lots of stuff, like medical devices, that's really popular, we make pacemakers for people to keep their hearts working. Or robot arms for people whose arms get cut off.

Girl 8: Do you cut people's arms off?

Spacefem: Um, no. I mean in accidents, people get hurt, we help them!

Girl 1: What part of the airplane do you make?

Spacefem: Well I don't make any part really, I draw pictures that tell technicians what to hook up. All those antennas you see, they have to go to the right radio.

Girl 2: I went on an airplane once! There was a storm and we got stuck in Orlando.

Facilitator lady: And... time to switch tables! Great job, hope everyone learned a lot from talking to the engineers!

Girl 8: Wait I didn't get to ask my question! Can I be a fashion designer engineer?

Spacefem: Sure.


I forgot what summer was like. It only took a day to remind me though. I wish our brains were better at recalling memories, I'm all the time wishing I could close my eyes in the winter and bring up a feeling like it's summer, just for a break. I could even swap days around, in August when it gets exhausting I could just say let's store this one for later and not experience it too much right now, swap it with a cozy february on the sofa.

The kids alternate between wearing swimsuits and wearing nothing. Olive especially. Age 3 - she just wants to constantly put on a swimsuit in case swimming could spontaneously break out. We have the plastic kiddie pool out back, and Marc takes them to the YMCA pool a couple times a week.

Olive even got up one night after she was changed for bed, took off her jammies, put on a swimsuit, and that's how we found her the next morning.

The kids are protected by a layer of dirt, sunscreen and bug spray, and more dirt, at all times. We have a bath every other day or so to re-start the layers. If we didn't do that they'd get rings like a tree.

There's no school so we stopped caring about bedtime. If they want to have a sister sleepover in the basement in their playhouse with blankets, whatever. We can't hear them down there.

I get home from work and change into a skirt and tank top, sit out back with a glass of chardonnay and watch the kids or work in the garage. We get invited to friends houses for dinners and I'm still outside in a skirt and tank top with someone else's chardonay and the only thing that's changed is the yard, and only barely. The TV isn't on as much unless we really need to come in from the heat and relax.

More outside time, less caring about plans, more late meals, more going to visit friends, there's so much it can feel exhausting and we have to remind ourselves we've got three whole months.

friday 5: close friends

friday 5 time!
1. How many close friends do you have?
One. Sometimes in my life I've had two. Other times zero. I am definitely not someone who needs/has lots of close friends. Oh and husband doesn't count.

2. Do you make friends easily or more slowly?
I think really easily, but I can't just casually run into someone at parties several times and call them my friend. Someone's gotta take a step and say "we should do a thing!" and then we do a thing. Dinner, lunch, drinks, something not accidental, and a lot of people don't seem to understand leaving the house or something so it doesn't work out. That's okay.

3. Who is your friend of longest standing? How often do you talk to him/her?
Well now we're in the wider definition, my "close friends" definition is "one who I could call up right now and make a date with". In the long standing friends world, heck I'm facebook friends with a girl I was BFFs with in elementary school, she became a scientist too so we love each other's statuses and even though we live in different cities, I'm certain that if we got together we'd have a blast!

4. Do you think that your closest friends today will be your closest friends ten years from now?

Marc and I recently discovered a nasty catch-22 we're in that has to do with friends. A few years ago we discovered that we can only really be friends with other people who do not have family in town. Actually this might have been my mom's theory, but we confirmed it. People with family in town have no need for friends, too busy for friends, their parties are auto-filled with cousins and their kids never need playdates because that's what grandma is for.

So our best friends have always been the isolated family-less adults like ourselves.

On the other hand, people with no family in town have nothing to anchor them here, and they move away. That sucks.

We are destined to just always be losing our friends. Crap.

5. What's the best basis for friendship: shared values, shared opinions, or shared activities?
I'm not sure I like any of these options. It's a personality thing. My best friends have always been the right amount of chattiness. They've always been really practical, down-to-earth, more likely to be blunt or overly honest. They're women who others might see as stand-offish but for some unknown reason we just hit it off.

Coincidence... they're usually capricorns.

I've had little activities here and there that I shared in common with friends, but I've never met a friend because of, say, sewing or whatever. The only thing they have to value is getting the hell out of the house every once in a while. They have to be at least a little interested in politics and making the world a better place, so I guess that's the shared opinion thing.

building libraries

I keep making little free libraries and they keep getting better. I can't wait until one is up for real and I can put up photos. I've learned more about how more types of hinges work, how to puzzle together a door frame, sizes of clear acrylic, the best place in town for 1/4" plywood (menards) and the best place in town for primer (habitat restore).

I had some people on our facebook page offer help and I posted about some steps volunteers could do, but coordinating is a project in and of itself.

Several cities have had big coordinated projects to deploy little free libraries en masse around the city - that's not what we've got going on. Six libraries have passed through my garage this year now. Three were built by a volunteer day at the makerspace, all three are the same except the paint jobs, they're too big so a lot of houses don't want them to be honest - but I'm slowly at least getting them claimed, someone's supposed to come out and get one for a school this week. Then there's the three I've made. One is just sitting and waiting, it just got put together. The other two are at people's houses getting paint and waiting for concrete to set in the holes, so, REALLY close to being out, we just dug the holes this week.

Back to big projects - they all have one thing in common: the libraries are stamped out of a very well-defined pattern and they're all the same. When it comes to getting 40 volunteers to do something, there's not much time to art, right? People can paint creatively sometimes, but the shape and wood just has to get nailed together, and that's where I get lost because my favorite part of libraries is thinking up new shapes.

I've made house-shaped ones with scalloped roofs. I made a round one that looks like a hobbit hole. There's one with a pointy curved top like a fairy tale house.

I use the laser cutter at the makerspace to make the door first, I cut out the acrylic window and three frame-shaped pieces to sandwich a door frame together. Then I laser cut the back. Then I use the back as a pattern to cut 2x4s like a frame so I have something to screw into. It all starts with a vector design in inkscape though. That's what I like sitting and doing - just making lines.

If we had some big project, where would my designs go? I'd lose my favorite part.

Habitat for Humanity gives 20 high schoolers 6 hours of community service just by telling them here, brush paint this house, here's the paint brushes and the paint. They don't have to think much. It's great! I've done it, I really do think it's great. But you can't make art like that right?

Today we went out to someone's house, she'd painted the library I gave her and that's nice for me, I'm finding that most people are willing to paint their own. My inspiration ends when the wood is screwed together. We set the post and got the door hinges in and window caulked, we got to work in the shade, marc said it was really nice. It was. No masses of volunteers. No matching t-shirts or photo ops. Are we doing the absolute BEST thing for a community in need? Probably not. What a random project. Maybe I am selfish, concerned more about feeding my creative spirit. But that's worth something too, right? There are worse things I could be spending time on.


TED thoughts

koremelanaigis asked me: What do you think about TED and TEDx?
Well, I haven't been to either. Can't afford to go to TED obviously but I like that they put the videos on youtube so everybody can see the speeches, critics of their insane ticket prices lose a little cred when you take youtube into consideration. Tickets become a supply vs demand issue.

My favorite TED talk was Malala Yousafzai's father giving credit to his daughter's amazing achievements in furthering education for girls. Makes me cry every time. Like, just typing this.

I've thought a lot about Toastmasters vs. TED. Toastmasters has quietly EVERYWHERE for 90+ years, giving thousands (millions?) of people training and a platform to speak. There are a dozen or so clubs even in little Wichita Kansas. Toastmasters is open to everybody, if you attend one meeting they will likely let you give a 4-6 minute speech next week's meeting if you want, especially if you agree to pay the $20 new member fee so you get the books and stuff. My club doesn't even require joining for your first speech. So it's incredibly accessible.

I have heard so many fantastic stories about people's interests in my Toastmasters club. Bee keeping, shed building, kickboxing, disc golf, and in my club, AIRPLANE STORIES from the huge (why the Douglas DC-3 is the best airplane ever) to the tiny (how to get a 4mm white ball to float in a clear cylinder of fuel).

The downside to that model is, well, dozens of clubs in every city, quietly everywhere. These awesome speeches I heard were given to a room of less than 20 people.

So I like both. I like the river of speeches in Toastmasters, and the fireworks of TED. I think that TED is increasing the popularity of speaking in general. Heck there's even in-between - Moth StorySLAM! They're all different but all helping the same thing: talking to each other. Reading is nice, but there's so much you can't read in a book, and hearing people talk is therapeutic and interactive. There's a connection there you can't get through pages of an article.

All of these organizations give voice to people who's voices I like to hear. Ordinary but passionate people with something to say. I'm not saying Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton have *nothing* good to say, but I do think maybe their voices have been amplified enough and not always for the right reasons. Let's drop the glamour and give a voice to scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, scholars, parents, historians, travelers.

TED is part of a picture for me, not the end-all-be-all for public speaking, and that's okay.
For my question meme jume asked "What would your #1 piece of advice for expecting first-time mothers be?"

I sure can be opinionated about a lot of this stuff. In 2014 I actually published a list of 75 pieces of advice for pregnant moms and the list GROWS.

Looking over the mega-list, if I had to pick out one thing, it probably would be to warn more people about post-partum recovery. I think it's a very overlooked topic, the biology of healing after childbirth. This is both a motherhood and a feminist issue for me, so it's kind of my public service announcement, even though my second childbirth recovery was really easy. My first was NOT and I felt totally caught off gaurd and after talking about it, more issues surface. The bottom line is that my healing could have been made easier with real pain meds, witch hazel pads, colace, ice packs, and I had none of these things, I was under some stupid idea that I could just tough it out for a few days. My own naivety after never having any kind of surgery or major injury, maybe. But if I missed the memo, it means someone else might, too.

When I read Half The Sky I was struck by something. We all hear creation stories: nearly every culture in every corner of the world has some unique and interesting story about how the world was made. What we don't all talk about is that nearly every culture of the world has some unique and interesting story about how women are supposed to suffer to bring babies into this world.

Consequently there's a whole list of "lady problems" that I think STILL get swept under the radar. From menstrual cramps to morning sickness to postpartum depression, doctors told us it was all in our flighty lady heads for decades. We're slowly crawling out of that, but not quickly enough. The severe form of pregnancy sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum, can be deadly, and forums are filled with women who can't function but who are still trying to convince their doctors to actually treat their symptoms instead of flippantly telling them to eat more crackers.

So my real advice for first time mothers, now that I'm narrowing this rambling entry down: you are not supposed to suffer.

You are not supposed to be crying for weeks, haunted by images of doing something terrible to your baby. You are not supposed to tough out having your vagina sewn back together with ibuprofin and water, ESPECIALLY while attempting to care for a five-day old. You are not supposed to feel totally alone.

Motherhood can be beautiful, but it's also hard, and you should talk about what you're going through to see if something can be done. Be honest with yourself and your network. Don't be afraid to ask for help. I'm not trying to scare you. Maybe nothing that awful will happen. But it's not like you're just bracing for impact that you know will be terrible. Listen to your body and be pro-active in taking care of yourself. Like they say on airplanes, put your own oxygen mask on first, then you can put it on your child. Don't let anyone blow you off.

bike riding

For the first time in a bit of time, I put air in the tires of my own bike! It happened Saturday. My family was gone off to a picnic elsewhere in Kansas and I was alone. I went to the makerspace to build in the woodshop and it was wonderful. Then my phone popped up with an event, a friend of mine from flight test was having a housewarming party barely a half mile from my house.

So I pumped the tires up, took the bike around the block to make sure I remembered how to ride, then headed out.

His old house was neat to explore and there were lots of people. We sat out back eating fruit and drinking lots of wine. I'll admit, I drank more wine than I would have if I'd be driving home. Driving, I basically don't drink, maybe sip half a glass if my stomach can be full and there's hours of drinking water too. I'm not saying it's totally safe to drink and bike... curious what the personal rules are on that one I guess.

Then I got to bike home while the sun went down on a perfect evening after friends and conversation and I wanted to duplicate my whole life, just for the moment.

In the morning I woke up again and took Josie on a bike ride. I'd been walking alongside her when she had training wheels, but now without the training wheels she was fast, so what if we went together? She is getting slightly better at using her brakes, that was an important thing we practiced more and more, stopping when cars went by and at intersections and sometimes just randomly to practice. We found a paved bike path and took it until we were a good 2 miles from the house, then we turned around and came back. She was tired and grumpy by the end but it was good for her.

We bought her a new helmet. I noticed today - helmets come for "ages 3-5" and "ages 5 and up" so it was time! The 4-year-old helmet was supposed to be retired! Her new helmet is a bright florescent unicorn face that's easy to spot from 5000 feet away and she loves it.

All kinds of adventures ahead for us!

how engineers think about people

sandokai asked me: Do you think like an engineer, and if so how do you think this affects who you are as a social being (including romantically)?

Long rambly post ahead, sorry about this one. I re-read it to see if I needed to be more focused and finally decided to give up and post.

And a disclaimer: there are many types of engineers and we don't think one way. At times in this entry I didn't do a great job drawing the line between how I think and how all engineers think - obviously I'm not qualified to speak for all engineers. So if you're an engineer and disagree with a point on this, say so, it's interesting, we can still be cool :)

First, there's a common intersection between being an introvert and an engineer that's hard to untangle, so I'm not sure which chicken/egg is to blame for all my differences. There are things I'm okay with that not everybody is. For instance recently I listened to a podcast on ghosting and how mean it is... I love ghosting! Ghosting at parties is the only way I know how to leave, I hate spending 30 minutes telling people goodbye and I REALLY hate when people stand in my doorway yammering on with their coats on because they just keep thinking up shit to talk about. And relationships? Yes I tried to ghost on a relationship once. It was the best. It worked because the guy slowly realized we weren't going to be together. Men say they want blunt honesty but when you actually do that, they flip their shit on you about how "this was all so sudden!" and "you've known for a long time you just wanted to say this and you HID it pretending everything was great meeting me every night didn't you!" When you kinda just gradually get too busy for them they feel like they have figured something out or they are making the decision that you're not giving enough and they let you go and they might say they're insulted by the ghosting but in the time it took them to figure that out, they came to terms with it and aren't flipping out.

There's a lot of people I just don't like and I don't feel bad about it. There's a lot of people who don't like me and I've learned to accept it. I frequently feel really really awkward. There are some people though who make me feel at ease the moment I see them, no matter how long it's been or even if we just met, and those are the people who I try to be better friends with.

I hate social niceties. I like IM at work, because you can just shoot someone a question... "what light was that again?" On the phone you have to say "hi how are you? do you have time for a question? that's all I needed..."

I did once date a guy who said emotion wasn't for engineers at all. If we weren't passionately in love, that was okay, because passionate love was some hollywood movie conspiracy, we are smart enough to just identify compatibility and should go with that because there's not some magic extra spark. He really thought like an engineer.

He ended up being wrong. We can be passionate and magical, there is something we can't explain, I'm happy to say. Maybe it's better because I didn't assume it would happen.

I have insensitive thoughts that I keep to myself. When I hear that someone's great grandmother died my head always goes "well yeah she was 97" when on the outside I know I'm supposed to say "I'm so sorry for your loss, you must be devastated." I once took out a life insurance policy by telling agent I needed "just enough to get me in the ground if I kick it" and she corrected me, saying that's called "final expenses". Oh yup that's it. I sometimes think I was so obsessed with statistics when I was pregnant because I just wanted to know my odds, and when I know my odds I know my risk, and I could say "okay that's the risk I have to accept". So the 30% miscarriage risk, the 1 in 5000 SIDS risk, I just had to know the numbers and obsess for a bit. There are very few funerals I've been to that affected me deeply, the only ones that did were for tragic losses of kids, and even then I was trying to logically figure out why I was so much more sad about these, and the bad insensitive part of me wondered if it was a return-on-investment issue... you invest so much in a kid in order to see them turn into bright adults, when the worst happens it's like a project you spent 10 years of your life on just sink away.

And speaking of kids, I trust doctors more than most women I talked to about pregnancy. The other women were pretty sure the doctors were just trying to schedule c-sections to make their golf games in time, and vaccine companies were just trying to make money off us by selling unnecessary and potentially harmful snake oil. But as a scientist I knew that those vaccine doctors were vaccinating their own kids, just like I fly my own kids around in airplanes we make, would you accuse me of wanting the airplanes to fall out of the sky just so I could sell more spare parts? I am part of that system of the scientific method so I assume good faith. I know what the Toyota engineers were thinking when they heard of uncommanded acceleration - they wanted occurrence rates and wanted to know if anyone had duplicated the problem, when the media just wanted to tell personal stories. (actually, I think I wrote a whole other entry on this topic of engineering and safety issues)

So we get accused of being insensitive and not caring about people because when one accident happens and the non-engineers say EVERYONE DROP EVERYTHING we rationalize and say "Well how about we have four people drop everything? With an intern, to learn on this!" Not nice. We ask the wrong questions. We aren't interested in the youth and beauty of the people hurt, we ask about coefficients of friction, flammability requirements, whether the specifications were followed, and all that is not sensitive. We do care about people and do love people but we also have this other place, and it doesn't look right to everybody, and that's why we're different. I read books on people and use methods to figure them out when it's not natural, that's my strategy, everyone and everything is a system. When I'm at peace I know I'm doing the right thing.

teach someone something

I was talking with other parents about school choices, good schools, getting kids into gifted, summer reading programs, curriculum to get their kid "ahead" before school started again. It all rubbed me a little wrong.

I think it's because where I work, we don't really have much need for turbo-geniuses.

I mean yes, of course, we have some VERY smart people at the airplane company! But they're also good communicators, because in our industry you're not allowed to make something that only you understand. You have to get the FAA, safety regulators, sales people, and customers to understand it too. If no one wants to buy it there's no point to making it. If we don't think it's safe it's not allowed to fly. So there's this tribal understanding that's incredibly important. Intelligence in a bubble is fine in school where you're graded by yourself, but come to work and the bubble makes you worthless.

Every summer I am sent interns and new college grads and we have to train them on our internal processes, which are complicated and not part of any college curriculum. The guy who just learned the system has to train you, and there's uniqueness for every assignment, and there's a million tools, and it would be pointless to try to teach it in classes. How long would it take to train someone about products that thousands of people spent their whole lives designing? Maybe impossible - and it'd be forever before they could contribute and earn their paychecks. So we just throw them in the deep end and they do productive things and learn along the way, mostly from the people around them, not teachers.

It's said that career success is based 70% on experience. You can't learn it in a class. And the way to do stuff is to have a team who can give you little pointers along the way. So we need engineers who can train other engineers, find them perfect assignments, communicate communicate communicate.

So put yourself in my place: how would you feel hearing that one of the new grads took differential equations in the eighth grade?

That's nice, you'd say. But we're not doing differential equations today. Is he good to work with?

If you knew that classes could only account for maybe 10% of career success, how would you feel if you heard your new grad was good at classes?

When we talk about who's important in our department, we talk about the good mentors. One genius cannot do the work of one "fairly smart person" who can get 10 other people to also be fairly smart people... that team will always out-produce the one genius.

When I think of my kid in school, I don't want her to be ahead of the whole class. I want her to be "of the people" and if she's got time, helping someone else at her table learn the concept she grasped quickly. Her knowledge isn't worth anything unless the people around her are on the same page.

But I don't think that's a thing schoolkids get to do, is it? There's no line on the report card for "can train others". There's only one person who's supposed to do the training... the teacher at the front of the room. And there are group assignments later on, but even then the end result is prioritized over the learning. The group is sometimes asked who did the most work, but I don't think there's ever a question about how effective the smart person was at bringing the other group members along with them.

Maybe it's an irreconcilable gap between school and industry that I'll just have to deal with. It's great that we get graduates who've taken lots of calculus to prove they're smart. Being smart is a first step, I suppose. But the ability to expand your toolbox, keep learning, teach others what you've learned... is that a thing in school?

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