Monday, May 30, 2022

"It's like Grand Junction."

Today ends four days that my amazing girlfriend was out here in Oakland visiting me in the Bay Area from Colorado. We went to Muir Woods. We ate fancy food in San Francisco. We cruised around Oakland and Alameda. We went up to Napa Valley, where she made the title comment. 

Yes, Napa valley is like Grand Junction. We didn't have time or the reservations to hit up a dozen wineries, we just walked around the town of Napa, so take this with a grain of salt. The hills are maybe 2000 feet taller than the town. It's dry, very dry at the moment, but not quite a desert. All of the agriculture is irrigated. It was an interesting observation, and while I have only been here two weeks, I was not expecting it to be so dry in May. I don't think Grand Junction has any Michelin star restaurants or $175 dollar four course meals at wineries yet, but heads up everyone, it has wine and outdoor sports too.

In the short time I've been in the Bay Area I've realized that it's just different than other places I've lived because of the startup and venture capital scene. I don't have a ton of evidence yet, but two data points, I eat breakfast and lunch at work every week day paid for by my employer. Second I've seen more Lambourginis, Ferraris and Rivians in two weeks than I've seen in the last two years around Denver, and probably more than exist in all of Grand Junction.

Point being, if Napa isn't in the budget for your summer or fall vacation but you want to go wine tasting and take some hikes, check out Grand Junction, it even has an airport.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

I'm taking a job in the San Francisco Bay Area of California!

I took a job out in California and I'll be out there in just a few days! I'll write more about it in the future, and of course be as ambiguous and discrete as I can. A lot went into this decision, and I'm excited for this opportunity. I'm especially excited to explore California! While I have spent about three weeks there in my life, there is a lot I have not done. I hear the food is good too. :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

No Longer a One Issue Abortion Voter

Back in time, over a decade ago abortion was my big issue. I was a one issue voter, meaning I cared about that issue more than everything else and I voted for candidates based on their stance on abortion alone, either aligning with mine or not. As a Christian you can probably guess that I wasn't fond of it. I'm writing about this again today because of the leak that said the Supreme Court might over turn Roe v. Wade. Maybe Citizens United will be overturned?

In 2010 when I was unemployed I started to get into economics. Economics are not politics, but economic policy is driven by politicians and laws. When I was unemployed in 2010 I saw how little of a safety net the United States really has. For example, since I was graduating into unemployment, I did not receive any unemployment income, because I had not really worked in the past. Fortunately I stayed on my parents health insurance. And fortunately between a little bit of savings, money from my family, a job from my family, living with family, and then a summer camp job I made it through the year, but I maxed out three credit cards and deferred my student loans for most of a year. Point being, tax payers put a ton of money into my education, and then I put in a whole lot more, but without my family I don't know what would have happened to me by the fall of 2010. I probably would have ended up making snow at a ski resort with one of my good friends for a little more than minimum wage and living in the mountains, which would have probably been fun for a season, but there too, that connection was a friend, an advantage I have over others. In other words, there was a significant economic inefficiency.

We focus on abortion because it's black and white, good and evil. But I've come to realize that if we focus on the letter of the law like the Pharisees in the Bible, we miss the point of loving our neighbor. My voting philosophy for most of the last decade has been based on Jesus's second commandment from Matthew 22:39 "And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Every law I interpret through that lens, what would loving my neighbor more look like?

In the case of abortion it's about loving those little babies, which I think the vast majority of people can agree we want to. How can we do that better? It's easy to focus on the law of abortion itself, but holistically it's often the woman who will be making the decision, so how do we show her love?

First, let's start with child marriage, why is this still legal in the United States?! We should outlaw marriage under age 18 at the national level in the United States. Period. End of statement. For more information see this group.

Second, let's talk about the cost of just having a child. A lot of people don't like the idea of universal healthcare, they like adding to the profits of insurance companies and having the right to not have health insurance. However, if we as a country really cared about those little babies, we would fully fund maternity costs. It costs thousands of dollars simply have to have a kid according to WebMD. In we can't agree on universal healthcare, can we at least agree these direct costs of having a child should be paid for by us tax payers as a country? After all, that is a future little tax payer. 

Third, let's talk about paid maternity, paternity and family leave. Once again we have no laws to pay new parents in those first weeks and months as they figure out how to raise a little baby. Retirees live on social security for years, but at the start of every person's life we can't give their parents 12 weeks to get that new human off on the right foot? There are a lot of benefits to paying new parents for just a couple months. This one seems so simple, and in light of the current economy with jobs everywhere but no one to fill them, if the government won't implement paid family leave I expect many employers to implement it to keep employees, even low wage employees.

Fourth, let's talk about daycare and preschool. I've had quite a few friends go through this, and day care is not cheap. Assuming a two parent household, both working before they have kids, it probably makes sense for each one to keep working after the first child. In Denver full time daycare costs about $1575 per month. With two kids in daycare, now you're talking over $3,000 per month! Yes it probably makes sense for a parent to stay home. After tax, with two kids in day care you're talking about close to $40,000 in expenses. Pretax you're in the neighborhood of $60,000 for a parent's income, so if you make less than that and have two young kids, yeah you might as well not work. In Japan it's even worse. Of the four things on this list so far I realize this is the most expensive by far and I can imagine that a woman making $40,000 a year who is single and finds out she is pregnant might not be ready to have that baby because if her partner isn't going to provide, and the government isn't going to provide for that baby, who is?

Fifth, and this isn't economics, but social stigma. Because of the four above reasons, or at least a subset of them, prospective mothers and parents aren't feeling loved systemically. Mental health is an issue and I can imagine that both before women become pregnant and then after having an abortion there are significant mental traumas to work through. If we aren't addressing mental health for mothers and for children we aren't setting families up for success. In the US the CDC says that about 40% of births are to unmarried mothers. Additionally, a whopping 86% of abortions are to unmarried single and cohabitating mothers. Which I think is what you would expect, that's it's harder to have a kid when you don't have a ring (commitment) on that finger from a partner to help share the financial load let alone the daily chores. Quick tangent, when I was growing up I didn't know anyone that had a nanny. As I've gotten older I've met a few friends that had nannies growing up. Now, I have several peers who have nannies and my partner and I have made it to a financial place where we could probably afford a nanny if we ever get to that stage, which is bonkers to me. And it speaks to the whole ridiculousness of childbearing and rearing in this country. There are a lot of unloved mothers in this country, and yet because my partner and I have a certain skill set that financially pays well we can access this luxury. To phrase that another way, we're not better than anyone else, but we can have a service that is better than the alternatives, which feels like a failure of society to care for all little babies. 

To wrap up, yes I'm still against abortion, but does outlawing it show those babies and those mothers that we love them? No. Without addressing the five points above we as a society aren't actually serious about loving those babies and those mothers. In other words, right now for me it seems the most loving course of action is to say, 'do whatever you want'. Because for us to really say, 'do this because we believe it is best', requires us to back that up with economic muscle to cover the costs that new parents have. An analogy, we can drive 80 miles per hour on many highways because of the NHTSA requiring car makers to have seat belts, airbags, and crumple zones. We can drive on public roads without paying tolls because we pay taxes to fund those roads, earn drivers licenses to prove we are safe, and pay car insurance in case we damage another vehicle or injure a person. It's not just the seatbelt law that makes our value of easy transportation possible, it's because in that area we have a wide range of laws designed to love each other to continually make transportation safer for everyone. Similarly, I think we need a range of laws to show love to new humans and new parents.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Manufacturing from the Start

In April 2011, in my first couple weeks at work with the company I would spend seven and a half years with, I had a Webex meeting with myself (at the time the finite element structural analyst), the design engineer, and the manufacturing engineer for a particular welded assembly. I was presenting the results of my analysis, and then we would talk about next steps to try and optimize the structure to have a higher life, lower weight, and easier welding and assembly. The manufacturing engineer attended hundreds of meetings over the next four years before we actually started production of that particular item and many other similar items in January 2015. You should have heard the arguments over how big the internal access holes had to be!

I had forgotten about this experience until recently, and it struck me how talking about manufacturing so early in the design phase helped avoid future problems. I think for anyone reading this they will say "of course", but I wasn't actually able to articulate that until just recently. I remember one day back in 2011 recommending 25 mm thick steel plates for a component, and the manufacturing engineer essentially said no, 20 mm was the max thickness unless there was a really really good reason. In this case we found a way to use thinner plates.

In April and May of 2013 we built 24 prototype machines for this program, and we found major issues left and right! There were a lot of young engineers on the program and we simply didn't know any better. Looking back it had to be one of the best learning experiences for a 25-29 year old new engineer to be able to make mistakes and then have time to correct them.

However, also looking back we did a lot of things really right. Having a manufacturing representative involved in the structural analysis discussions two years before building prototypes and four years before the start of production laid a lot of good groundwork for designs that were structurally sound and not excessively difficult to manufacturer. For example, we did a lot of welding plates together, and had welding robots, so we optimized the design of joints for the welding robots. I was thinking about this because I was recently part of an issue that in hind sight we should have thought about before we encountered it. And frankly, it's a wildly different scenario holistically from the 2011 through 2015 manufacturing story, so it's not an apples to apples comparison. Still the recent issue was embarrassing and humiliating to me personally because I realized that it was totally possible to get ahead of the issue, if we had simply thought about it two years ago.

This is part of a larger arc that I'm articulating my way through. How do you go from nothing into something? How do you see a market need, and then put out a physical product in volume to meet that need? At some point in the future I'll go into depth on systems engineering, because that's pretty underrated. For today the lesson is include manufacturing early, even when you might not think to, like on structural analysis result discussions well before the first parts get made. I think it's probably faster to iterate with more people in the room than it would be to iterate on one aspect of a design at a time (strength of the part, manufacturing of the part, etc.) in series.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Leaps of Technology

In 2015 when SpaceX landed an orbital rocket booster, the world changed. People have landed rockets for decades, and people have used rockets to get to space for decades. No one had put the two together before.  Now, nearly seven years later it is mostly taken for granted that we can land rockets. Another example, aluminum in the early 1800s was worth more than gold because we didn't know how to extract it from ore. Now we use it on single use aluminum cans. Electric cars might be a similar story. Currently they are really only luxury cars, but continue another 15 years of battery development to halve the price of the battery and likely raise the price of gasoline, and that trade off in initial cost versus recurring fueling costs might look even more lop sided than it is today

I'm writing this because I have been doing a little thought experiment lately thinking about what the world in 2050 might look like. I don't know what the future holds. A friend was recently telling me about fusion power, and that's another area where the first commercial power plant would be a total game changer. 

Those cool things being mentioned, something that I don't expect to change much are the mountains I enjoy. Specifically the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado. They are some of the most rugged and most remote in the state, and I'm confident that many of those valleys in 2050 will not have roads, that they will be similar to how they are today. Of course they might burn in a fire, and not have the snowpacks they used to have, but in general they will probably look very similar. 

What do you think the world will look like in 2050? What will be the same and what will be different?

Monday, March 14, 2022

I have Arthritis

I have arthritis in my left ankle, in the talus bone, and the tibia. It's been giving me pain for awhile, I had an MRI way back in April 2021 before I went to Denali, and due to it seeming to be recovered didn't have it reviewed with me until November 2021. I recently had a second opinion on it, and yeah, there is cartilage damage and bone bruising there.

Is this my retirement from competitive running? Is this my retirement from all running? I have not run in over three months and at times I have yearned for that 30-90 minutes of relaxation and meditation in my daily routine. It's so easy to take running for granted when you are 25 and can run for hours. I've run around 40,000 miles and they have been beautiful miles. I never had this kind of pain before I broke my ankle March 9th, 2019. 

It's really a struggle. I can't get back what I had, the past doesn't work that way. Some day I'd love to chase little kids around a yard, and hike more 13ers. I will definitely sacrifice the short term opportunity (another Team USA opportunity) in order to have a long term healthy active future. 

I'm pursuing a new option, an option to use concentrated bone marrow from my hip to regenerate the cartilage, bone, and ligaments in my ankle. Who knows if it will work. This isn't my retirement from running article. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

The Conversion of a Reluctant Manufacturing Engineer

Back in 2010 I was interviewed several times and I would get asked what I wanted to do. Frankly at the time I didn't really understand that design, manufacturing, and testing were the three main areas of engineering. I didn't understand that engineers don't do all of those things. Then in the winter of 2014-2015 I was a design engineer and part of a big product launch when a weld manufacturing engineer I worked closely with asked if I would joint manufacturing. I laughed. I laughed because I saw how hard that job was, but I still didn't make the connection that manufacturing was such a key aspect of a business and the manufacturing engineers were no different than me. I think my ego of a masters degree and design experience seemed to make me uniquely qualified for my role, while I imagined that the manufacturing engineers had some special training or aptitude for their roles, while in general they didn't.

Somewhere I saw a quote attributed to the founder of Toyota that a good engineer gets his hands dirty on the floor and has to wash his hands at least three times a day. I can't find the quote after a short search so it's very possible it's misattributed or never happened. However, it's stuck with me for over a decade. I have always felt that an engineer needs to be out there on the floor or in the field touching the parts. That's how you understand the actual parts and not just the virtual models of those parts on the computer screen. Still, I never saw myself in manufacturing, despite the months of work days that I spent on the manufacturing floor starting in graduate school in 2008.

In 2020 for various reasons, a major one being how difficult the job is, both of the manufacturing engineers involved in daily manufacturing at my company left, and I moved over to manufacturing. I've been here just over a year and a half now, and I have learned a lot. For example, Elon Musk gave an interview last year to Everyday Astronaut Tim Dodd and about halfway through the video he goes on a tangent about how design is overrated and manufacturing is underrated. Based on my 12 years in industry, yes, design is typically perceived to be mentally challenging and manufacturing is not, even though it really is quite the mental challenge and a challenge for many companies. 

In January and February I polled 20 of my coworkers who are not in manufacturing and asked "What would it take to get you to join manufacturing?" Most laughed at me. All 20 initially said no, with one saying maybe when I poked and prodded on her career plans. For six of them I then asked a follow on question "What if we doubled your salary?" and still only three said yes. It's mind-blowing to me that people would not take this job for double their salary. Everyone I asked makes at least $80,000 per year. When I moved over to manufacturing there was no pay raise, I did it because it needed to be done. 

Seeing the war in Ukraine, and not to mention all the supply chain issues we have seen in the last two years both as a consumer and in business, I've been thinking about how important manufacturing is. Specifically, while the war in Ukraine is on the smaller side, if you go back to world war two American factories were pumping out tanks, planes, ships, and all manner of other equipment working seven days a week and 24 hours a day. The size of that effort now overwhelms me just thinking about it. My personal demand for manufactured things is small, I don't buy that much stuff, yet as I approach a car purchase in the years to come, I can't help but think cars are a wonder of manufacturing.

In Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs he recounts on page 546 in the hardcover how Steve told President Obama that moving iPhone manufacturing to the USA would take 700,000 people, which they could get, but 30,000 manufacturing engineers, which they couldn't get unless there was a way to get them all trained. As the war in Ukraine goes on and people fear a new cold war, I realized again how important manufacturing is. We can do without manufacturing for months, years even, by repairing the current things we already have, but if we want new things that are more highly engineered and more capable than our old things, we need to manufacture. 

Where am I going with this? Until just recently I still saw myself as a design engineer, that is where most of my career has been and I'm good at it. For years when asked to put a job title on a form I've just put engineer, and I'll keep doing that even as my title changes. I think I've had some shame at being a manufacturing engineer, it doesn't seem as illustrious as a design engineer, but the longer I live in the manufacturing world the more I realize how interconnected design, test, and manufacturing are, and how manufacturing is in many ways the most important part. For example NASA has designed dozens of space vehicles that were never built or tested, but SpaceX has already built and is about to test a rocket which, if successful, is a total game changer. 

So I encourage other engineers, especially ones with less than 10 years experience, to do a stint in manufacturing and see what the challenges are in person. It will be infuriating at times when changes so small you can't even see the difference with your eyes take days to solve. But that is the whole point, to solve the mundane issues so that it's easier to build the thing in the future.