Wit-NESS January

Newsletter EditorDriving Then & Now

Peg Pickering Goter – Newsletter Editor

“We might not have to watch Red Asphalt,” my daughter just told me. We were talking about her driver’s training class.  She has completed about 24 hours in 4 days, with two more days remaining this weekend.  She assumed that I would be familiar with this video series, because the first installment was created in the mid-sixties. Since my intention was to write a humorous article, I need to tell you that these videos were never intended to be funny.  Having said that, the first one is so outdated that it would provide almost no relevance to today’s teen, and the third installment was so cheesy that it was hard not to laugh. This article is also pretty funny.

Anyway, each day I have picked her up from class, she has informed me that she was mostly being taught about all the different ways one can die while driving a car. She did say that she got a 95 on “recognizing road signs, ” so I feel confident that there is some technical driving knowledge being imparted. She also told me that my hands were in the wrong place on the steering wheel, and the airbag would break my wrists if it deployed at that moment.  So much for the old “10:00 and 2:00!”

In 1976, I did take a driver training class, but the only thing I remember is that the instructor was a football coach, and that he marked me incorrect when I said a “lead foot” was a driver who drove too fast. He insisted that it was somebody who drove at a constant speed (which was obviously very dangerous). Duh.  I got a permit at 15 and 6 months, and a full, unrestricted license on my 16th birthday.  I was the last of four, seven years younger than my closest sibling… Mom could hardly wait for me to drive, and got me hooked up with wheels almost instantaneously.  I was given use of a 1972 Chevy Vega, which consumed a quart of oil with every other gas fill-up. Alas, the Vega “met with an accident” in my second year of college (I SWEAR it was NOT MY FAULT!)  Then my parents bought me a 1980 Ford Pinto…

mazda_rx-y_gsl-se_84_04

I drove the Pinto Pony until I was able to buy my first car with my engineering salary. It was a 1984 Mazda RX7. Vroom… (Actually, the rotary engine went “hmmmm.”)

So now we are considering what type of vehicle we would feel comfortable having my daughter drive. She will begin on-road training in about 6 weeks, and I intend to have her learn on both our Pacifica (big and safe) and my Subaru Legacy (safe but fast!). When she starts driving solo, I would not be comfortable with either the Pacifica that can comfortably seat 6 additional teenagers, nor a V-6 that does zero-to-60 in about 6 seconds. She has expressed a love of the VW Beetle, and we are considering one of those. I am trying not to think about the Beetle my friend had in 1977… I used to sit in the back seat because the front passenger seat had been removed when the floor rusted through. No heat. Seatbelts??? HA!

So, friends… the next time somebody wistfully opines about “the good old days”, please remind them how much safer today’s cars are. Even with faulty ignition switches and exploding airbags, we are safer on today’s roads because of seatbelts, infant car-seats, airbags, drunk-driving laws and graduated teen-licensing programs. While we’re listing things, cell phones allow us to call for help, steering-wheel-mounted radio controls help us keep our eyes on the road, GPS navigation keeps us from getting lost, automatic lights stay on so that we can see our way to our front doors. I’d like to think that many safety features came about as women engineers began working in the auto industry. Yay us!  As scary as it seems to be putting my daughter behind the wheel, I KNOW that she has a much better chance of survival than I did at her age.

Wit-NESS October

Newsletter Editore-Birthdays

Peg Goter – Newsletter Editor

I just celebrated another birthday, and while some people my age feel conflicted about getting older, I usually like to say, “It sure beats the alternative!”

If you are active on Facebook, you know that you can choose to have your birthday made public, and you can also be notified of friends who will be celebrating a birthday in the upcoming week.  You can post greetings on their “wall” and even send a virtual gift card. I think it’s actually pretty nice to be able to easily reach out to somebody to let them know you are thinking of them.

My dentist sent virtual cupcakes!So, who else is getting in on the act? This year, I received birthday greetings from my dentist (Thanks for the cupcakes, Dr. Nelson!), my insurance agent, and my Subaru dealership. Starbucks offered me a free coffee (I didn’t go to claim it) and Savers offered a discount on my “special day” if I sign up for their rewards-card.

This morning I sent an e-card to my best friend, though I will see her this weekend for a joint celebration.  I suppose some people may feel that these techie greetings lack the sincerity of those in days-gone-by,  but it is WAY easier than schlepping to the store, picking a card, writing in the card, finding the stamp, finding the mailing address, and posting said card by snail-mail. Frankly, these are greetings which might otherwise be late,  forgotten, or never even considered with today’s hectic pace. I have four grandchildren… ask me how much I love Amazon Gift Cards!

So when it comes to the electronification of birthdays… I say YAY!

Wit-NESS September

Newsletter EditorROBOTS in NERDVANA!

Peg Goter – Newsletter Editor

Here we are with summer nearly over, but experiencing some of the warmest and stickiest weather of this season. Go figure!  Even though our Labor Day cookouts have come and gone, (yes… I am getting a late start writing my article…) there is obviously still plenty of “grilling season” left to be had.  You might recall my June article about my new robots, and how much I like them… Imagine then, how quickly I clicked on an email link which advertised something called “Grillbot.”

This article is not intended to convince you of the merits of the Grillbot, though.  I have not seriously considered buying one (yet), therefore am not prepared to recommend them for you.  What intrigued me more than the actual tool, was the sales pitch presented for them on ThinkGeek.com.  I also wrote about this site before, because I have so much fun shopping there. I’m sure they won’t mind my sharing their description with you, since I’m offering you links directly to their site...

You know, we used to think that robots were all about saving time. Then we got our Roomba, and we delightedly watched it clean. So it didn’t actually save us time, because, well, ROBOT VIEWING PARTY. Maybe cleaning robots aren’t so much about saving time as about not having to do the cleaning ourselves. That seems like an okay compromise.

The Grillbot, however, will actually save you time, because you’re probably not going to be able to watch it work its magic. What kind of magic? The grill-cleaning kind. Unless your grill has a lip, you’re going to need to put the lid down to let it do its thing in private. Now, you’ll know it’s working. The clanging gives it away. It sounds as if a robot has broken into your backyard and is thrashing about, which is basically accurate. You come back 10 or 20 minutes later to all that burnt-on ick gone as a result of Grillbot’s 3 motors, built-in sensors, and replaceable brass brushes. The brushes are top-rack dishwasher safe for an added bonus. Let your robot dishwasher work on your robot grill cleaner. It’s like you have your own robot army.”

Interestingly, the item is currently sold out on ThinkGeek’s site.  It was NOT sold out two days ago.  It appears I am not the only geek who was entranced by ThinkGeek’s clever banter and dorky charm…  There are other places that sell this little beauty, including the Grillbot website, which provides a nice little tutorial video.  But I think you might enjoy viewing the geekier offering first. Enjoy!

Tech Tales June

Newsletter EditorROBOTS!

Peg Goter – Newsletter Editor

 

It is a beautiful day at the beginning of June.  I am sitting on my screened-porch, enjoying the greenery and flowers in my yard.  I am also vacuuming my bedroom. Well, I am not actually doing this… Scooter is doing the work for me.

From the first time I saw one advertised, I was curious about iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaner  It seemed so cool… but I had doubts whether such a thing could really work effectively and be worth the cost.  This Mother’s Day, I finally decided to take advantage of attractive discounts, and broke my “no cleaning tools as gifts” rule to buy myself a Roomba.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time giving you technical details… you can find reviews all over the internet, and iRobot has a pretty cool website.  Instead, I offer just a few words, and my spiffy movie.

So here are the few words.  This thing is so cool! For reviewers who complained that it is loud… well, it is certainly not as loud at my traditional vacuum cleaner.  I wouldn’t run it at 2 AM, or during a phone call, but as you can see in the video(s), my two cats are not particularly distressed by these machines. So… not loud. As for coverage? I have no problem with the idea of running the machine multiple times in one room if I feel it has stopped running too soon. I just move a few pieces of furniture around to allow different access, then run it again.  I love it so much, I decided to add iRobot’s Braava mopping robot to my collection. The two machines navigate differently, and I haven’t had the Braava long enough to evaluate which programming is more effective, but I really just find the differences interesting. If you are not tired of watching cats and robots, you can watch the Braava in action below.

To sum things up, I love these things.  Are they perfect? Perhaps not.  We will still need to break out the traditional vacuum cleaner to do furniture, stairs and tight spots… but my house is definitely cleaner on a day-to-day basis, and time between “big cleanings” is extended nicely.  Given how much I hate cleaning, and the extreme toll such work takes on my arthritis-y, carpal-tunneled hands and wrists… .   Let’s just say I’m sorry I waited so long to buy them!

Wit-NESS May

Newsletter EditorLabels Revisited

Peg Goter – Newsletter Editor

My daughter is going to Disney World with her high school band, leaving May 2nd.  This morning I decided it would be smart to label some of the things she would be taking with her… Some of you might recall that I own a label-maker.

First, I needed to find six AA batteries. This is actually not a huge problem, except that we are a frugal family and rather than just break out six brand new ones, I wanted to find rechargeables… of which I found zero. I blame my daughter for this.  I think they may all be downstairs in abandoned Wii controllers. Next, I located some previously-used AAs.  My husband (more frugal than I) insists on testing all batteries before throwing them away, and keeps a box of “still good” batteries on his workbench. So I put six of those in the machine.

Casio Directions

Great!  Machine comes up with “ERR” message, but after whipping out my handy-dandy directions, I am off and running. Type out “Paige Goter” and hit PRINT.  Machine dies because my husband’s “still good” batteries aren’t as good as he thinks. So I install brand new batteries. Type out “Paige Goter” and hit PRINT.  Whirring sound achieved, but no label appears.  Open machine to find tape doubling over on itself. Whip out handy-dandy directions again and fix the problem.

I now have several lovely labels, some with name, some with email address… Just waiting for things to stick them to.  Remind me again – why didn’t I just use a marker?

labelsagain

Tech-Wit April

Newsletter EditorWhat Did She Just Say?

Peg Goter – Newsletter Editor

I studied French for six years, progressing to the point that my college did not offer a class advanced enough for me to continue on. Thus ended my pursuit of a second spoken language.  Today, I might be able to comprehend a few lines from a written paragraph, or catch some words here and there within a conversation, but I am in no way qualified to speak French out loud.  It does come in handy when doing crossword puzzles, though.

Fortunately, there is technology available to help us navigate potential language barriers.  I have used Google Translate to help communicate with a South Korean family who shared our bus-stop one year, and also to read and write Spanish Facebook posts.  One friend seemed delighted that I could communicate in Spanish until I told her I used Google Translate, and then she seemed disappointed. I thought I at least deserved points for effort… I once used Siri to write out spoken words for my deaf nephew and his wife, because it was important that they understand there was a risk of flu for their baby as they visited my mother in the nursing home.  Ordinarily I would stumble through using mutilated American Sign Language, but I wanted to be sure they understood the situation. It was quite useful.

Better yet, I have an iPod app which will translate spoken words into a number of languages, and speak the translation audibly. It is called Voice Translator, by Greenlake.

Translation technology is constantly improving itself.  For instance, in the video above, the app “heard” me incorrectly the first time I said my sentence, and if the printed words hadn’t been available, I might not have gotten my message across. I spoke more clearly the second time, and then the app heard me correctly with each subsequent repetition. Still, the translations are often not perfect.

Here is an example of the pitfalls of programmed translators, which was in fact the inspiration for me to write this article.  My daughter has been studying Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Just to amuse herself, she ran some verse through Google Translate:

Original:  Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Do with their death bury their parents’ strife. The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love, And the continuance of their parents’ rage, Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove, Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage; The which if you with patient ears attend, What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

After going through Google translate with German, Korean, and Latvian…

Overall, the majestic second-generation, We placed the scene in Verona, honestly Rome’s ancient grudge break new revolt Population blood in the hands of citizens illegally site. Two enemies in the back of her fatal Star cross’d lovers of his life couple Misadventured a plaintive abalone Do you want her death bury their parents’ strife. Fear of death mark’d love their transition And continuation of parental anger, Anything that can be removed and words, children Now it’s only two hours traffic; The patient, if you are attending the ear, What’s missing here, will try to mend our work.

Obviously, Shakespearean English is difficult to understand in the first place, but we did feel bad for the “plaintive abalone” who seemed destined to be late for his rendezvous because of the “two hours traffic.”

I am excited to watch as translation tech evolves.

Have a nice day! Que tengas un buen día! Haben Sie einen schönen Tag! 좋은 하루 되세요!  Ir jauka diena!

Wit-NESS February

Photo Jan 23, 9 12 54 AMFun with Photography Apps

Peg Goter - Editor

I began writing an article about the LFHCfS  (The Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists™)… but when I looked through my past articles, I realized I had already told you  all about it!  What’s even funnier is that I started my new article with almost exactly the same words as I used the first time.  I guess great writing style is timeless, eh?

So instead, I will tell you about one of the photo-editing apps I downloaded, just because it seemed like it would be fun.  Let’s start with my thumbnail picture at the top left of this article.  Yes, that is my face… but the “luxuriant, flowing hair” was achieved using the Pho.to Lab app.  Even though I already have a beautiful head of my own hair… I was looking for something to make it appear a little more “luxuriant.”  The following are a few of the other hairdos I tried…

Photo Jan 23, 9 07 35 AM

I thought this one with the glorious lion’s mane came out fabulous… but not necessarily luxuriant.  Other animal options include hamster, tiger, gorilla, cat, rabbit and a few more.

 

Photo Jan 23, 9 57 16 AM

This Marilyn Monroe look-alike shot is a gif, so the hair really did appear to be flowing. I should put on some underwear, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 I look like Photo Jan 23, 10 13 36 AMa hundred bucks!

 

 This one is for Michele.Photo Jan 23, 10 07 28 AM

 

 

Some people might think these things are a waste of valuable time… but really, I spent only and hour or so writing this article.  Each little picture took only a couple of minutes of my time to create.  I believe that it is important to emphasize the FUN things we can do as engineers an scientists.  While anybody can learn to use these tools…. remember that the person who designed the app is likely a computer scientist or programmer with a technical education.  I think it would be great to be the developer who created this tool!

Wit-NESS November

Newsletter EditorCh-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…

Peg Goter – Newsletter Editor

Now that I have created our new Awards and Recognition page on the NESS Website, I have been going through the stuff which SWE-NESS had stored as “archives.”  Donna Matthews dropped off two large boxes filled with scrapbooks, binders, plaques and whatnot.  One such “whatnot” was somewhat amusing, so I thought I’d share it with you.

I found a thick folder containing several old copies of Graduating Engineer magazine, and some photocopied handouts from the University of Rhode Island guidance department.  It seems apparent that we were saving them for a future Collegiate interview-workshop, but it was unclear how long we had actually been holding on to these things, hidden away in a box.  Most of the resources were from the early 1980s, though one article was dated as late as 1988.

Some of the advice was timeless, and we will still be instructing graduates to dress appropriately, to research companies in advance of the interview and to keep track and follow-up after visiting with a prospective employer. But one article particularly struck me as being in need of an update.  Written by Dr. Ellen Brandt, PhD, in the February 1988 issue of Graduating Engineer magazine, it was entitled “Reading An Interviewer Like A Book.”  Dr. Brandt referred to Carl Jung’s personality types, Intuitors, Thinkers, Empathizers and Sensors.  Within a text-box entitled “The Telltale Desks,” Brandt noted that we could figure out an interviewer’s personality type by what we found on his or her desk.

Intuitors would have lots and lots of books.  Besides a dictionary, look for “…atlases, almanacs, thesauruses and directories.”  We are also supposed to look for rolodexes, “…crowded in- and out-boxes, mobile sculptures, globes and calculators.”  Thinkers supposedly maintain austere desks… “…even their telephones are concealed!”  Empathizers might have crowded desk-calendars, and Sensors are apparently “sloppy”, but usually prefer to do  “…much of their own correspondence”, so expect to see “…stamps, a postal scale, zip code directory, envelopes and numberous pens and pencils.”

In today’s offices, we might still see pens,  a mobile sculpture, and perhaps even envelopes and stamps… but almost all of the other resources would likely be replaced by the interviewer’s laptop computer, or if they were truly a minimalist … on their HIDDEN TELEPHONE!

SO…. The magazines went into the recycle bin, and I am now using the thick stack of photocopied URI material as a welcomed source of scrap paper for my printer…and our “archives” are a little bit lighter to carry around.

Turn and Face the Strange…    David Bowie

Wit-NESS March

Newsletter EditorNerdvana

Peg Goter – Editor

Every once in a while I stumble across an online retail site that really strikes a chord with me.  We have a number of Dr. Who fans in my family, and while online gift-shopping for Tardis toys, I landed at ThinkGeek.

This place is great.  The first thing I bought was an ornament for our holiday tree.  I have been buying an ornament each year for my daughter, with the idea that when she moves into her own place, she will have a whole bunch of memories to take along with her if she chooses to decorate a tree of her own. After purchasing a bunch of Dr. Who stuff, I decided to stroll around a bit to see what else they had to offer.

What did I find? Way cool stuff!

Do you have Star Trek fans in your family?  Yup! They have that!  Here is a list of some of the other choices available if you choose to shop by “interest.”  Star Wars, Tolkien, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Big Bang Theory Mad Scientist and much, much more!  I just saw a Star Wars “Death Star” tea infuser… How cute is that?

So I got a Wookie plush key-chain for a nephew (it makes the Chewbacca sound when you squeeze it!). Big Bang Theory t-shirt, wind-up Dalek… And for myself?  The Ultimate 5-in-1 Geek Pen!

Indulge yourself!  Embrace your inner nerd!

Wit-NESS February

Newsletter EditorHow many engineers does it take to print a label?

Peg Goter - Editor

Some years ago, I took advantage of a Black Friday rebate to obtain a free label maker. It is a battery-operated Casio with no power cord option.  I can’t say that we had been in dire need of a label maker… There are only three of us in the house, and it is not that hard to keep track of whose things are whose.  We do have a whole bunch of rechargeable electronic stuff though, and it can be very handy to know which adapter goes with which item such that one does not try to recharge the Black & Decker Scissors with the Nokia phone charging cord.

I made a few labels early on, and immediately realized that the spool of label tape included with the device would be of limited value, since it printed black letters on clear tape.  You might have noticed that many charging cords happen to be black.  I haven’t yet bothered to purchase any additional label-tape (costing as much as $10 per cartridge), for reasons I am about to describe to you.

OK, so the Casio EZ-Label Printer (LABEL IT!) label maker makes labels.  In order to do this, you might expect it would need some number and letter buttons. You might even expect to see a single button for each letter (26), though many other devices save space by grouping letters.  The Casio has 54 buttons, including a shift key and a function key, which activate some secondary functions.  It’s a pretty impressive keyboard for a device which does only one thing.  I have no idea what most of the keys do.  I have only used the letters, the space button and the shift key (to achieve capitalization.)

I use the machine so rarely that it is often necessary for me to change the batteries before use, which requires a reinitialization procedure so complex that I need to fetch the instructions.

The instruction sheet is 16.5″ by 23.5″, printed on both sides.

So while the labels do look smashing on my iPad/iPod chargers, allowing me to easily tell the 10 W  from the 12 W…

 

 

…in the end I have to wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier just to write on them with a sharpie.