Friday, October 29, 2010

The Smartest People in the World

Who are the smartest people in the world? Can you even name one of the top 100?

I think that absolute intelligence is defined by complex problem solving. The ability to take huge complex ideas and comprehend them. The problem with this argument is that a person who simply studies a system long enough will have a much greater understanding of it than a newbie who does not know the intricacies of the system.

This occurred to me on a run and I started thinking... The smartest people I have ever met at my age where physics majors. How do I know? You can tell by the questions someone asks. Can I give an example? No, I'm sorry. All of the most complicated questions I can ever recall seeing my peers ask were far enough beyond me that I do not even remember.

Let me explain, stumping a professor does not entail being really smart. I've done that enough times. It is asking an expert a tough question in his or her specific field of research that they can answer, but only because they have years of experience in that field. The most prominent example I can remember was in a physics class when I was having trouble simply following along. One of the students asked a question that made the professor pause and turn. He started explaining the answer using words that completely confused me. I watched the student and he was nodding along as though everything made sense. These were people who seemed to do three dimensional gradients in their heads, which I can understand using a sheet of paper, and they were talking in a language which meant nothing to me. For those that are not rocket scientists, the ability to do gradients is about as hard the math ever gets. There is more complicated stuff but once you master that, you can do anything. At least it feels like you can do anything.

I considered the richest people in the world. However, after reading about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates I was not so sure being rich means you are the smartest. I stumbled on an article about the growing mathematic ability on Wall Street and the short-sighted growing income inequality in the United States and it seems that the very smartest people sure aren't the ones managing the money.

I considered bank robbers, like Ocean's 11, but that seems more dangerous than requiring the smartest people on the planet.

I considered IQ tests, but those are not always the best indicator of intelligence and they can vary based on your background. That is to say the more math you do the easier math questions will be. I did take three online tests to see how well I scored. I scored a 132, 120 and 125. On the 125 I scored 10/10 but it took me 6:20, apparently getting under 5:00 gives a better score. Also, the plight of Christopher Langan confuses me a bit after reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. I would imagine that the smartest people all do some money management so that they enjoy at least some luxuries and are spared from some of the hardest physical labor.

I considered politicians. Briefly. In my opinion the job of President of the United States has to one of, if not the absolute, worst job on the planet. Just look at how presidents age in four or eight years. So much stress on one person. I understand the smartest people in the world might want to conquer the most difficult problems. At the same time, there is a good possibility that they see some futility in one person trying to change the world from such a public position.

So who are the smartest people in the world? I don't know. What profession would the smartest people in the world likely have? I don't know. How do you even define the smartest people in the world? I don't know. What do I know? Not enough.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Defining Hobbies

In interviews, and in person, I get asked what my hobbies are. I used to say all sorts of activities such as reading, rock climbing, blogging, painting, hiking, camping, whatever I put time into. However, I have narrowed my focus, at least in terms of what I define as a hobby, down to two: running and mountaineering.

What about blogging and painting and wood carving and reading Charles Dickens? Well I see those more as projects. My other activities are short term temporary recreation. Semantics, if you will, but there is a clear divide in my head about priorities. If given the choice between a great year of running leading up to a life altering race or a year of blogging leading up to something significant in relation to my blog, I would choose the running. It is the same for mountaineering. If given the choice between climbing Mt. Everest or writing a successful book about it, I would rather climb it.

I have said before, I love commitment. Calling something a hobby instead of a project or experiment means to me that I have made a commitment to work and play at it for years. While I may quite possibly blog, paint, and do other things consistently for decades to come, I have already been racing for a decade and I mountaineer at a fairly high level. I define mountaineering as the activities encompassing everything from urban buildering to summer alpine rock climbs to K2 in the winter. I have found, in my short time that when I focus on something or at least a small number of things that I tend to do much better than if I casually do a dozen things. A jack of all trades is a master of none.

So there they are, running and mountaineering. I have two hobbies. Now if only I could land a job...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So Incredibly Fortunate

An 87 year old on oxygen who volunteers to walk a mile to cash her check because she can't afford a cab. Half of the world lives on $2.50 or less a day, 80% on $10 or less a day. I have already made that much money in 2010 working seasonal jobs that do not require much education. How fortunate am I?

I often take what I have for granted. I buy another $80 pair of running shoes, another $45 tank of gas, another $4 mocha latte all without really considering if there is a way to get around it. How often do I actually consider how to save my pennies? Frequently now, but it was somewhat rare until 2010 and my subsequent unemployment came along.

How many things do I do, frequently, that is just not possible in other parts of the world? I run, which is very accessible, but it can be hazardous to your health in some places and many places after dark. I go to church without being taken to a prison camp and killed. There has not been any civil war in the US recently. We live in a country that allowed me to get an excellent education. In many places that would not be an option. We live in a country with paved roads so people can travel more than a thousand miles a day in a car. We live in a place where fuel for our cars is, to use an expression, dirt cheap.

I live in a time and a place where epidemics of AIDS, cholera, malnutrition, polio, influenza, bubonic plague, lead poisoning, and starvation are not issues for me. My family could survive for weeks on the food in our house. Fresh potable water is just not an issue in this country. There are potable water spickets run by solar power and windmills in some very remote places.

There are so many gifts and advantages that I have enjoyed that I feel guilty sometimes. I sincerely hope that I will be able to contribute to others what has been given to me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 29

The highlight of last week was by far the interview I had on Friday. After searching for the perfect position it seems that perhaps this position would be ideal for me. However, for the sake of possible rejection I will not go into details about what might be. Suffice to say, it went well, in my opinion, and I would very much like to work there.

Apart from that I only applied for a few jobs, received no invitations to interview, or much less a job offer.

I ran 47 miles this week, which was an improvement over last week. I was on track to run over 50 miles but Saturday I had problems. It started on Thursday and Friday while I was wearing my dress shoes. They have arch support and that inflamed the plantar fascia on my right foot. So when I returned home and went for a run Saturday I wore my Vibram Five Fingers. I was moving along fine until just before two miles I had a very acute pain on the outside of my right ankle. It hurt very badly, so I turned around and ran and walked back home. My leg is totally fine now. I think that since I have not run in Vibrams since August or July, my feet were weak again and prone to injury. The fix is wear the Vibrams with no support and hope my feet can handle it.

I did some more painting. I painted two metaphorical modern paintings. I painted them in "The Style" or De Stijl. In the words of my sister, "That's all you painted on this whole canvas... That's such a waste."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cincinnati Chili

Everywhere I go, they have a food they claim as unique, individual, and the best of whatever anywhere. Boston Clam Chowder, Manhattan Chowder, Maryland Crab Cakes, Sheboygan Brat Fry Outs, Cincinatti Chili, Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Seattle Samon, Costa Rican Gallo Pinto, Pakistani Dahl, Kansas Steak, and New Orleans Cajun are the few off the top of my head that I remember. Every one of them has involved a person telling me that they make the best.

The fascinating part is that people want to tell you how awesome their home is. All you have to do is ask. I admit, I get nervous interacting with other people and talking to strangers. Staring into my cell phone is a safe way to pass the time and avoid getting out of my comfort zone.

To get past that I tell myself that they want to talk as well, but are similarly nervous about starting a dialogue. Then I just ask one open ended question. A yes or no question would not work. Asking for a recommendation of some sort is a great conversation starter. Asking how they recommend I spend my money (food, fun, time...) is another good one.

Take that first step, that first move. You never know what you will discover.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Problem with Social Security

The problem is that it is nearly 20% of the United States 2010 fiscal year budget spending. (Image below from Wikipedia.)

The solution is raise the age needed for a social security beneficiary to collect full benefits. This has already been done a little by increasing the retirement age to collect full benefits from 65 to 67 for those born in 1960 or later. For those born 1943 to 1955 the age to collect full benefits is 66, which is where we are now. Of course under all ages it was and is possible to collect partial benefits beginning at age 62. 

The problem with this sacred cow is the risk of what is happening in France right now. Now the changes that are being proposed in France are already in effect and working here in the US. However, Social Security is still the single largest spending in the budget. Also, culturally, according to the New York Times article linked above, there is a feeling that young people need to participate in some form of "social movement" at some point in their life. It seems that the violent protests occurring are really only a very small fraction of the total strikes and protests occurring in France. Most demonstrators are doing so peacefully. 

The solution to raising the age needed to collect without risking massive economic complications is something that I do not know. I feel that most politicians do not know either, otherwise they would have implemented more changes. 

There are many other spending areas, as seen on the budget above, that could likely be reduced billions of dollars, with corresponding risks of protests. Many of those areas of spending I personally feel could be reduced significantly with positive long term effects. I feel that politicians have a pretty difficult job.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Marginal Tax

There is a lot of hoop la going on in the US right now about taxing rich people. So I decided to do a little research. Let's start with Wikipedia's slim but informative description of tax rate. Basically it says that you are taxed one rate up to a certain income and a different rate on the remaining (marginal) income. What this means in the US now is that up to a certain level (I believe it's 373k for a married couple, a single person, and the head of a household) your income is taxed at one rate and above that it is taxed at another, generally higher rate. Now in the US tax is charged a different rate on different incomes. That is to say the first $8,375 is at 10% then from $8,375 to 34,000 for single people is charged at 15%. For example, if I made 30k in this year my effective tax rate would be ($3243.75 + $837.50 = $4081.25) 13.6%. Which is to say it is still advantageous to make more money and get into the next tax bracket, you will not be set back by a higher tax rate.

The very highest rate is referred to as the marginal tax rate. Now the proposed non-renewing of former tax rate cuts I believe will be affecting the "lower" tax rates down to $250,000 as well. Throughout US history it is has varied from 92% to a lowly 7%. At 92% that means that only 8% of the money earned above a certain level is actually kept by the person who earned it. Sounds pretty terrible right? Well, imagine a theoretical titan of industry in the last century. This particular individual owned a company worth tens of millions. He had the capability to give himself a huge bloated salary. However, instead of "losing" hundreds of thousands of dollars every year through taxes he simply reinvested it in his business. That entails spending more on his business. More equipment, more people. So a person could become a multimillionaire or even a billionaire while still having a salary of only a few hundred thousand dollars per year because of what he or she owned, such as a business. At the end of the day does it matter if your corporation owns the private jet and you are the only one that uses it or if you own it?

So this means that for rich business owners their investments are limited by their ability to run the business. Instead of investing in foreign corporations and commodities they must essentially invest in their company or companies. If they continue to give themselves huge salaries they will be giving much more to the government. Which is really not a bad thing is it?

So who is hurt by raising the marginal tax? It would in part be those titans of industry and business. Instead of tens of millions of dollars in income and bonuses that they are then able to invest as they please they would have much smaller incomes and that money would be reinvested in their company. Which means a whole lot less investing in foreign organizations from personal investors. They would be forced, from an investing point of view, to invest in themselves. Who else would the marginal tax increase hurt? People who do not own a large part of the company that pays them. This would probably apply to management people who make lots of money in large corporations yet do not own much of the corporation. One option is to reduce their salaries to avoid paying taxes. In that case these skilled managers would likely strike out on their own into a smaller company where they could own a significant share of the company. By being high up in a company the benefits (jets, company luxury cars, lodging, travel, boats) that they previously enjoyed from their personal salary would still be available to them simply owned by the corporation. On the other hand salaries could remain the same and they would simply play more taxes and take less money home. To be honest, that is taking a huge financial hit in many cases. For someone that is smart enough, or hires the right financial planners and advisors, maybe even career advisors, I am sure that his or her quality of life will not decrease because of a marginal tax increase.

Taking a tangent, an interesting lesson that many wealthy or powerful or political should not forget is the history of revolutions. A few examples of notable revolutions are the French Revolution. Another example is the Russian Revolution of 1917. A nice Thomas Jefferson quote states,

"The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors."

Let us take a closer look at that. "The purpose of government is...", pretty self explanatory, then "... to enable..." that is not to give, or grant free of charge but to provide the opportunity. To me that means governments will tax the people. The quote follows, "...the people of a nation..." not the just people that have wealth. It follows, " live in safety and happiness." note that safety is mentioned first and I submit than happiness is the opposite of fear, whatever that fear may be. The second sentence is quite simple as well. A person can live without a government, although it may be difficult at times, but a government can not exist without people.

 In other, very harsh and direct words, the government exists because we want it to exist. Our government does what we think are in our best interests. We may not always agree what is in our best interests. For example, why do people speed when they are driving? The point being that at the end of the day, or year, or career, we agree with the decisions that our government is making. If they are not making decisions for our well being what is their purpose? 

I submit that a high marginal tax is a very good idea. By the world's standards living on more than $10 a day puts you in the top 20%. That's $3650 a year. So limiting the amount that a person can take home over $373,000 is not very limiting in the world context. If the marginal tax is going to put a cramp in people's style they might want to consider how they manage their finances. 

Expedition Behavior rule #3: Do Not Complain. About anything. Ever. Notice that people who complain about money or a change in money either have some money or once had some money. People who are really in need complain about food and water. Thus I say, if I have something to tax, tax me!

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 28

In the job searching world, I organized my trip details to Cincinnati for the interview I have there Friday. I am excited to interview with this company for this particular position. Specifically, they are an aerospace company and the position is in research and development with exotic materials. Part of the interview is giving a presentation on my research so that they can evaluate my presenting skills. At WPI we did so many projects and presentations that I really like that style of interview. I like it better than a question like where I see myself in ten years. I never saw myself being unemployed, ever. So where I will be in the future I do not know. I guarantee that whatever job I have will alter whatever course of life I am on. Where I am in ten years will depend if I get a job in Ohio or Maryland or end up back in grad school before getting an engineering job.

I only applied for a few jobs this week. I would apply for more if I was qualified enough to think that they would even give me a five minute phone call. I do apply for a number of jobs that I may not be 100% qualified for based on the years of experience they are asking for. I also apply for jobs that I am overqualified for and I don't get interviewed for those either. You would think they would hire a college graduate to make lattes right?

I ran 42 miles, which is a slight improvement in mileage from last week. My legs are still torn to pieces from the Wonderland Trail. That was one hard run. Put in perspective, I went the vertical feet from basecamp on Everest to the top of Everest and back down, twice, in 32 hours. The difference being I was wearing shorts a short sleeve shirt and running shoes and the elevation was always below 7000 feet, so it was much easier. Still it makes me think... Everest basecamp to summit in one day?

I also did a little painting. I painted El Cap and Long Peak. I'll do a post about them this week. I also plan to do a little more painting this week as well.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


It can chase you, you can chase it, and in many cases it goes both ways. How do you get it? What do you do with it once you have it? How do you keep it? To all of those questions I do not know.

Reportedly, one billion people watched the beginning of the rescue of the miners in Chile. One Billion. That kind of publicity compares to being the president of the United States.

Thinking of some of the recent big moments in history like September 11th, 2001 and the Beijing Olympics it is interesting what rivets the world. Tragedy (September 11th) and over coming tragedy (Chilean miners) as well as what I would describe as world peace (the Olympics) all seem to draw huge crowds of people to televisions around the world. It can be hard to say what will attract billions versus what will be far less.

It seems that for many organizations, publicity or advertising or marketing can all be difficult things. That is to say people would be interested in a service or a product but they simply do not know that it exists. It is also not always a glamourous job. What works and what does not work is hard to say. In most cases I do not know.

However, I occassionally submit blog articles to blog carnivals, a blog will post 5-30 articles from as many blogs and the hope is to get some readership from one blog to read another related blog. I have done this a number of times with limited success. However, earlier this week I had a great one. It was the Carnival of Money Stories. A whole bunch of articles about money. From how to save it to how to earn it to simply surviving unemployment. I received dozens of hits to my "Sleeping in Strange Places" article. After other blog carnivals resulting in single digit referrals this was a huge step up. Who is to say what will work? You will never know for sure unless you try.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

They Made It!

The 33 trapped miners in Chile are all out! So are the six rescue workers that were there to help. I watched a fair amount of CNN coverage and I have to say, I like watching this kind of news. For a good bit of coverage read CNN's coverage. I also spent some time on the Guardian's website. What can I say? 33 people were trapped 700 meters underground for more than two months. For the first two and a half weeks no one even knew they were alive. Over the last two days I learned their stories, I felt the excitement. For sure, I am excited to watch their interviews, read one of their future books, and see the movie.

Translation: End of Official Signal for Rescuing Miners

Way to go world! Way to go Chile! Now let's make mines a little more safe around the world.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From the Moon to a Mine in Chile to Mars?

Watching the first miners come out of the mine in Chile after being trapped underground since August 5th was interesting. As I write this only two miners have reached the top with 31 still to go. One of the commentators equated this moment with Neil Armstrong landing on the Moon. In large part because it was a technological achievement with lots of media coverage. I also read that NASA was providing advice and some health and medical equipment to the rescue effort. When it comes to putting human bodies in strange situations safely NASA knows what it is doing.

Every time someone compares something to the Moon landings I feel a little disillusioned. We landed on the Moon in 1969. It is 2010. What have we done in the 41 years since then? Okay, okay, we have made huge improvements as far as environmental regulations like clean air and water. We have advanced technology far beyond what most people even know how to utilize. My iPhone has more capability than a fifteen year old computer. We have done other things as well, such as address sustainability, efficiency, quality of life, disease, and of course crash a few economies. While all of that is very nice and that work is tremendously important, it does not inspire in the same way as exploration.

I really am a modern day explorer. "Had I only been born a generation or two earlier." It is the lament of every explorer. They have all felt at some point like they had to invent a challenge to overcome. The challenge of the Moon, circumnavigating the Earth, or climbing the highest mountain are all very legitimate and easily defined. They have also all been done. Next it becomes about doing the challenge in the best style. Which is an inspirational attitude yet fundamentally the challenge has already been completed.

I do not know why I want to do something no one has done before but I know that I do. This comes in many forms. My run on the Wonderland Trail in September was an example of doing something that no one had really done before. Yet it has been run in a much faster time and thousands of people backpack it every year so it was really not something new. As the NASA budget gets reorganized and re-prioritized it seems that the chance that the US will send humans farther into space is low. Our inspiration is so different and esoteric than in the past. Hundreds of years ago it was a new future in the New World. In the early part of the 1900s in the US it was a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. In the 1940s it was winning a war. In the 1960s it was getting to the Moon. To be honest it seems that the great problems that we are trying to solve in 2010 are things like the economy, national debt, healthcare, world hunger, clean water, and according the the commercials who would make the best politician.

What I'm trying to say is: let's go to Mars. Why? It would most likely create a number of jobs. We would develop and refine a number of technologies to be more efficient and reliable. It is something inspirational and tangible. It could be profitable. Besides the obvious book and movie deals there is the advertising. NASA and the US government in general has not really tackled this issue yet. For example, astronauts would probably spend most of their time in shorts and short sleeve shirts. Why not get some company to pay millions for the exclusive rights to have astronauts wear their shirts? Or why not put some nice flashy patches or stickers on astronauts space suits for other sponsors? There is also the space ship itself, pens, pencils, computers, watches, food, tools, utensils, and all of that other plain white stuff in a spacecraft that could take stickers. The astronauts, scientists, engineers, and others directly involved in the mission could be contracted for perhaps five years after the mission to make speaking tours, many of which could turn a profit for the government. There is also the merchandise and internet advertising, because I am sure they would blog their way to Mars and back. Why not sell a ton of Mars rocks?

Whoa, that paragraph kind of got away from me. I could talk about space profits for a long time. Anyway, what is next? I do not know.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Economy is...

With the news that 95,000 US jobs were lost in September it seems evident that the economy is not really getting better. If the GDP is what defines a recession, and it is calculated according to the Income Method, and the top 1% of households controls over 42% of the financial wealth, then a very few people have a whole lot of power and the statistics about the economy do not adequately reflect the reality. Which is to infer, from my extremely limited understanding, if the economy drops X%, that is the GDP in this case, the wealthy 1% who still have plenty of money will quite likely make layoffs and then in the next quarter the profits will go up because the expenses were down and the inventory on hand was enough to make up for the reduced rate of production. Another example is how the real GDP, that is more or less the inflation adjusted GDP, must supposedly increase more than 3% per year for unemployment to go down. This causes me a little distress.

It seems that we are looking at 5-6% non-inflation adjusted GDP growth necessary for unemployment to go down. That seems unsustainable to me. For example, what if agriculture reaches 97% of sustainable world wide production. We live on a finite earth it makes sense that there is a finite sustainable limit. Although the actual limit may be very difficult to reach we will get within a few percent somewhat rapidly, if we aren't there already. Which is to say that that particular industry would not be hiring anybody new except to replace those who leave the business. It would not be able to feed more people than the 97% of the total sustainable world population. Until, of course, they reach 97.1% of sustainable agricultural production then they would be able to feed 97.1% of the total maximum world population.

The graph above is my idealistic interpretation of reaching a sustainable limit in anything. Now ideal things do not happen too often. A more realistic approach to things like the economy and agriculture would look like the yellow line on the graph below.

What occurs is that growth occurs at some rate for a long time and begins using up non-renewable resources. At some critical value species become extinct or some sort of environmental collapse happens and it is no longer possible to continue the way things used to be. There must be a decrease of something if the sustainable limit is passed. I just threw together the graphs above together. They are not based on any particular scientific data. They are simply my general interpretation of sustainable development. Sustainable development is somewhat of a contradiction. To elaborate I mean continued technological advancement without using non-replaceable resources.

Taking a tangent for a minute I will make up an example. Imagine that the only source of heating in your house is burning one tree per year. You own a few acres of land and have figured out that you will be able to harvest one tree per year indefinitely. You are in essence collecting the interest from having a forrest. Much like only spending the interest from your savings account each year, except that a tree will go up in price with inflation where as the four dollars you make in interest every year will only be four dollars every year. Now pretend that you own 80 pounds of steel to make a fireplace or furnace. You have the choice of making one of two types of furnaces that require the same amount of metal and will both last for 50 years. Type one will cost half a tree to manufacture and require an entire tree each winter to heat your house. Type two will cost two trees to manufacture and require half a tree each winter to heat your house because it is more efficient. Obviously, if you plan to use the furnace for more than three years type two is a better investment. Type two represents a technological advancement over type one. The logical question that is asked about this example, who created the type two furnace in the first place? Well, I incorporated that into the manufacturing cost of two trees.  My theory is that necessity is the mother of invention. If 10,000 people are all using a type one furnace a few might not want or be able to burn a whole tree every winter and they will figure out a way to make it more efficient. Granted this is an extremely simple explanation for sustainable development. In reality the system would be much more complex because some complex problems are best solved when a group of people work on that specific problem full time.

Going back to the economy... It's a big world. My recent inspiration to search for work abroad because of the economy in the US inspired this post. I finished my masters degree when the US was experiencing 10% unemployment. Not great timing. It feels so often that the economy and in large part our financial security is beyond our control. I do not think that is entirely the case. I can not blame the economy for myself not having a job. I can list it as a contributing factor, but the way I see it my current plight is really about finding the right place to expend my energy selling myself. Ha! "finding the right place to expend my energy selling myself." I thought that getting the education would be the hard part! I think that was "old school" thinking. Well, I think that I have had to relearn some lessons from the Great Depression. For sure, I will not look at a dollar the same way in the future as I used to. I apologize retail industries. Had I started an engineering job directly after graduating college I am sure I would spend all sorts of money. Now, that's not where I will find security.

All of that being said, life is about relationships. Hopefully you and I get along well.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 27

This was one of those weeks that could be big or could be a typical fizzle. I applied for a huge number of jobs. Mostly at two large companies with dozens of new engineering openings that I had not applied to. The economy must be turning around because there are simply more openings listed than there were this past winter. 

I applied to roughly 50 jobs this week. With 42 of those being at only three companies. I also expanded my options this week. I have been trying to get a job in the US. Well, with news of 95,000 newly unemployed it seems that the US might not have a job to offer me. So I started to apply to jobs in other countries. I applied to jobs in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Canada, China, and the United Kingdom. All of the jobs were through two aerospace companies and three oil companies. That is to say, organizations I was familiar with ahead of time, and had even applied to in the past. Of the five total countries I have visited the US is my favorite. I would like to live here. But, if the US does not want me I will go work somewhere else for awhile. The concept of being a citizen in one country and working in another is common in Europe and a few other places near borders around the world. I had simply not considered that as an option. 

Fortunately, only one day after applying to a job with one of the largest companies in the US I was called for a ten minute preliminary interview Friday afternoon. It went well and they are inviting me to come interview with them in Ohio near Cincinnati. I like interviewing. I find that getting the interview is the hardest part. Once I get to talk to people face to face I do quite well. Only one interview I have ever had ended with me not getting the job because of me. The other times it has not resulted in an job was because of hiring freezes and budget cuts. It has not been a good time to get a job these last two years.

As far as the interview that I had in Maryland in August, I once again inquired about when they would make a decision. The response was "sometime before Christmas". Well, they didn't say no...

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Future of News, Media and Writing

I learned in the past week or two that newspapers had lost tens of thousands of jobs in the past few years. Which may not seem like a huge number, yet since 2001 about 25% of newspaper jobs have been lost. It is really not surprising that newspapers are closing. With the rise of the internet news is available to billions of people, free. Whereas a newspaper is limited by distribution, printing and journalist travel, the internet is not.

I feel that the recession has helped most of us in the developed world reevaluate how we spend our money. Eating in and saving money is as rewarding as eating out. Canceling a newspaper subscription is one way to save money. After all, most of the news is available on the internet as well. Is anyone really going to cancel their internet service to save money anyway?

This also provides an opportunity. A young person interested in writing can start at a very early age with a free blog and progress to more complicated traditional expensive writing outlets. Which is to say it is easier to get started as a writer. The barrier to entry is about twenty minutes of your time, probably less. Every industry can be categorized according to it's barrier to entry. Manufacturing cars has a high barrier to entry and writing used to have a high barrier to entry. However, an aspiring writer no longer needs a printing press or traditional publishing company to inform 100 or 10,000 people of an idea or event. Of course, this is assuming that success as a writer is defined as having a following and not the size of your paycheck.

YouTube has done a similar thing for videos. iTunes, Pandora, MySpace, and others have done a similar thing for music. Facebook has just accelerated the whole process for all sorts of media. The growing trend of amateur competitions to find the best performers such as American Idol will continue in one form or another in every media industry.

While it is not explicitly said, YouTube is where the next actors and film makers are now. Instead of film makers starting with a still camera at a young age and progressing to traditional film cameras when they can afford it, we are handing nine year olds video cameras.

Going back to the news, specifically newspapers, I can envision a time when there are no salaried writers, simply editors, fact checkers, and a slew of free lance writers that jump on a story and pump it out as quick as they can in the hope of getting the free lance fee first. At the extreme end of this imagine a Twitter feed scrolling continuously on CNN. Of course there could be an anchor reading the feed so that people don't have to read. There would also be pictures and videos, taken by more free lance people. Lest I paint an incomplete picture do not forget all of the advertising.

I think we are still years from having CNN be a continuous Twitter feed yet I feel that change is inevitable. We will still continue to consume media and information, probably many times more than we do now, and it will be different.

(On a side note, I jump around on topics in this blog. I do not intend to seem unfocused. I simply have many different interests and I am constantly learning different things. I am constantly learning how to function in this world. From create a documentary to write a book to be an engineer. I am constantly learning how to do.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010


The unexpected complement rocks! I don't know about getting it, but giving someone an unexpected complement sure is fun. Two examples:


"We just had our IPO [a few months ago]." Explains entrepreneur in a dull repetitive tone.

"Congratulations!" I reply with more enthusiasm than he has seen all weekend. The deal is done. I have his full attention. He invites me to come hang out with him (ice climbing in that case) the next day with a few of the other people at the gathering. Networking at it's finest.


"[My first novel] was released [a few months ago]." Explains first time published author in outwardly unenthused but secretly overjoyed tone.

"Congratulations!" I reply with excitement at the prospect of meeting someone who went through the traditional publishing ringer and succeeded. His attention is now on me. Time to ask the questions.

Why did I react in both cases with more admiration and excitement than any of my peers in those situations? Because I understand how hard it is and how long it takes. I realize that when it comes to the entrepreneurial hierarchy I am at the very bottom. Perhaps another reason I do not have an engineering job yet, I am simply not as skilled at selling myself.

In the first case, the person in question started a company in the outdoor industry, specifically the ice climbing industry. If there is any competitive industry ice climbing is it. There is a high barrier to entry, the market is small, and somewhat saturated. The profit margins are low and the top dogs are all in cahoots, albeit still competitive and secretive, but friends none the less. In other words, getting to the point where he was standing there selling his product was a huge accomplishment.

In the second case, a professor at a large university, who only in the last few years finished his Ph. D. was more excited to talk about his fiction novel than his work. After inquiring into his graduate school experience he confirmed what I expected: graduate school is not easy. It is stressful and requires thousands of hours. His novel was, in part, a reaction to the stress of graduate school. His writing was a way to relieve stress. Besides all of that, he was published. There is a huge difference between writing something and getting it published. It is a long process typically including a lot of rejection. With much "art" name accounts for most of the value. So getting the first book published, painting sold, line of clothing sold, album produced, even job landed I guess, is a challenge.

My point being, acknowledging the hard work that someone has put in to succeed goes a long way toward generating a sincere conversation about how they did it. To me it is valuable to see how people get to where they are. I am really good at learning. Perhaps it is my best skill... I figure that if I learn enough I will be able to replicate some form of their successes. What I have learned so far: hard work is the most important. Money, support, networking, previous notoriety, credentials, ideas, personality, ethics, and coffee usually play a role too.

So I say, congratulations on your successes!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Shoe In

"We'll be sure to get you something. I mean it will be three months, but... you're a perfect fit for this job! Yeah, you should at least come in for an interview." - Recruiting engineer at Large Company Inc. whom I was drinking coffee with at an informal meeting

(One week later)

"We regret to inform you that you have not been selected for the position of..." - Email from human resources at Large Company Inc.

This is not the first time this has happened to me. I talk to someone, in this case face to face, other times it has been over the phone or email. We discuss a specific job or opportunities at their company and they assure me that there is an opportunity for me at his or her company. Inevitably, they decide to go with someone else. Why?

I have gotten the response that others are more qualified. When I get rejected from an entry level materials science job even though I have a masters in materials science, good grades, a little work experience, plenty of computer simulation experience, manufacturing experience, patents pending, and on top of all that I am very healthy.

I am a shoe in. I could be bought right now for cheap. I could be anywhere in the country in two days. I will go to countries that most Americans and Europeans would never even consider. On top of all that, I engineer well. I have solved difficult computer problems that my peers did not even attempt. I have seen how hard graduate students from other countries and the US work. I will go toe to toe against any other similarly qualified individual to get the job. What am I supposed to do? Active military? I don't know. Recommendations?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Am Scared of Heights

I've said many times this summer to my friends and climbing partners that I am scared of heights. That is really a huge oversimplification. The issue demands a somewhat complicated explanation.

I could die climbing. It could be in the mountains at a remote location or a a 40 foot high cliff next to a paved road. The thing is I don't want to die climbing.

I went through a phase a few years ago where I saw death as a result of my mountaineering as inevitable. I thought that there would eventually be a day when something happened and I died. I still climbed safe. I thought that my fatal fate would be something out of my control. I guess it is the syndrome where everyone looks at the other people and thinks that bad things only happen to other people, not them. (Like with unemployment...)

Anyway, the significant turning point for me was probably taking a 40+ foot factor two aid climbing fall. I pulled two pieces of protection out of the rock and was stopped only a few feet short of a ledge that would have surely broken me.

During that time I decided that I really did not want to take falls like that. It was not fun. It hurt. I did not want to die at age 28 climbing a mountain. (I was only 22 at the time.) However, emerging on the other side of that phase of my climbing life I have a new respect for heights. Also, a new appreciation for injury and death. That is to say, I do not want to die, but it is a possibility. I take all sorts of precautions to minimize the chance of a dangerous incident. I use ropes. I wear a helmet. I place pretty good protection.

Colin Haley is featured in some new videos on the Patagonia website and he talks in Part 2 about being scared. There is a video of Alex Honnold getting scared on Halfdome, although it is in another language. A similar video of him free soloing Moonlight Buttress is interesting. It affects us all. To say that you are truly not scared of heights is crazy. My theory is that if you are not scared of heights you are not scared of death and as a climber you will inevitably jump off a cliff. That being said, fear manifests itself very differently in me at heights than others. I like heights. They are thrilling.

For example, in the video of Josh and I rappelling off of the diamond, still hundreds of feet in the air at a fixed anchor with tattered slings, there was hardly any fear in me. Rappelling, especially in an alpine setting off of fixed slings, is one of the most dangerous things in the world of mountaineering. It is nerve racking, especially on a six millimeter rope. It is scary. Yet I've been in that situation so many times that I am very comfortable with it.

Another example of me being comfortable with heights was teaching my friend Andrew big wall climbing. Watching him explain what happened is really the best.

Good huh?

So while I am quite scared of heights, I enjoy heights much better than most.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 26

The week had several highlights. On Wednesday I had coffee with a representative from Kohler Company about possible positions in their Engines and Generators divisions. We discussed possible openings and which positions would fit me the best. I am a huge fan of face to face meetings. Over email and phones it is hard to really get a feel for everyone's reactions and comprehension. In person concepts and situations are so much easier to explain.

I ran a stellar 36 miles. Mere peanuts compared to the steak and potatoes that I was throwing down a year ago this time or the other 100+ mile weeks I have done. However, I am having a tough time recovering from the Wonderland Trail. 93 miles and over 22,000 feet of elevation in less than 32 hours is not easy. However, recovery is going well. My runs toward the end of the week were averaging less than eight minutes per mile, which is good less than three weeks after such a strenuous physical event.

I applied for 20+ jobs in the new traditional online application process. It is such a strange method to find a job. Job descriptions do not always describe the actual position, I have learned after talking to numerous engineers. Furthermore, everyone that I know has a different opinion of what the prefect resume is. So I submit my resume and someone doesn't like the format so they throw me out. I am continually excited reading job descriptions of awesome positions are amazing companies. Only to never hear back. Following up typically results in a reply that the position is closed and they are looking at other candidates. It is what it is. On the very positive side, I can honestly say that I am not biased when it comes to resumes anymore. Having been through several revisions in the past several years I think that when I hire in the future I will be able to give a very unbiased look at the credentials on resumes and less focused on the format.