Thursday, March 31, 2011

CDO: Collateralized Debt Obligation

Well, isn't that a fun word? Collateralized! It means that the loan is backed with collateral, typically a house. CDOs are most of the reason that we are where we are economically. For an in depth understanding of CDOs start reading the CDO Wikipedia page and then read the references. For starters, let's call this the The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown (and I'll offer another opportunity for you to buy an Amazon book).

File:Securitization Market Activity.png
$2 Trillion in Lost Money
The other figures that you see aside from CDOs are Asset-Backed Security (student loans, credit cards, car loans, etc), Commercial Mortgage-Backed Security (commercial mortgages for Target and Starbucks and the like), and Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (your parents mortgage). All of these things are related, specifically the CDO was typically composed of MBS (either RMBS or CMBS). It was basically hundreds to tens of thousands of MBS bundled together. As long as the people were paying their mortgages, everything was fine. 

Then some people got greedy or "smart" and decided to split the CDOs based on the ability of the homeowners to pay, based on their credit score more or less. The advantage of this is that while the people are paying you are making more money on the sub-prime CDOs than the prime CDOs. Secondly, there is a little thing a called selling short, which means you borrow shares to sell then at a later date you buy those shares back and return them to the lender. In other words you make money when stock prices go down. With so many sub-prime CDOs available when the market started to go south just about anyone on Wall Street would probably have the insight to sell short on bad CDOs, even though other financial institutions. In other words, people got rich using CDOs and then by watching the market like a hawk, they  stayed rich while people across the county lost their homes and retirement savings. 

In short, when Warren Buffet says it's a bad investment, it probably is. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Economics Week: Unemployment and Economic Recovery 2009-Present

In the book I am writing, I address the issue of where have all the jobs gone? As well as where will there be jobs in the United States in the future? The answers are not particularly complicated, but they are also not particularly easy to swallow.

First, a simple observation that has huge implications. With advances in technology less people are needed to produce the same amount of product or provide the same amount of service. Although technology thus far has not accelerated the ability to reduce staff in the service industry nearly as fast as in the product industry. In other words, working at Target, McDonalds or Starbucks is a more stable long term career choice than working in the manufacturing industry for Ford or Catepillar despite less than half of the starting pay, based on the past several decades in the United States. Of course, that is my opinion and it is based on non-management, non-salaried, hourly wage employees. If you have a education, such as engineering, manufacturing on the other hand provides far greater opportunities for job security. Lest anyone get an ego too inflated, no job is secure. Even Tiger Woods the first athlete billionaire is certainly not making as much money post-scandal as he once was.

What does the above paragraph mean? It means that working at American Eagle folding clothes and selling me jeans is likely more stable than painting car panels at Pontiac, wait Chrysler, wait... Toyota is still around I think. In the service industry (like at a nursing home, mortuary, Starbucks, or American Eagle) you are less likely to be susceptible to mechanization and automation that is taking over everything from farming to manufacturing, and soon enough, driving.

In other words, if 20% of the workforce is laid-off because of advances in manufacturing technology and outsourcing, consumer spending might only decrease 12% because those people who are laid-off will receive unemployment benefits. Additionally, it is possible that those left working will receive raises and spend more money. (I only have one example to prove that statement and it involves manual labor and working more hours. Not the ideal situation for the population as a whole.)

Second, lay-offs typically have a slightly positive affect. Despite our capitalist society, we typically pay people based on their initial formal education and their years of experience with less regard given to performance. Due to a variety of factors some employees are not as profitable to the company as others. Some are possibly even unprofitable. Lay-offs are a way to reduce the number of under-performers. That being said I do not blame the laid-off at all.  I would imagine if given the chance to work for 2/3 of the money or even half of the money to keep their jobs, most would gladly accept rather than be unemployed for several years. It is not an employee's fault that he or she was gradually paid more every year at a faster rate than that particular employee's productivity increased.

Additionally, some people are in the wrong industry. Plain and simple I've met a number of them doing something because they have a degree or the money is good that they are really not cut out for. I do not know, but I feel if this type of person was laid-off hopefully they would find more suitable employment.

Third, after lay-offs and after automation the people that you are left with are the high performers. When given the chance to work 60 hours instead of 40 they jump at the opportunity. These people might fall into the work-work-life-work balance but that is what the US economy typically rewards. That is actually a subject that I take great pains in my book to deal with, because work is one small aspect of our lives. We need to value more than work and our jobs. Easy to say, but it took me months of anguish to really understand that.

Currently, many companies are offering their employees overtime instead of hiring new employees despite business drastically picking up within the last year. The theory is that employees cost money for health insurance and training and other expenses while simply giving employees overtime reduces the training, healthcare, hiring process, 401K and other expenses that employers have to pay. All of this means...

Fourth, employers have a greater choice of employees and are able to pay less and not give out benefits to find people. One person I know referred to the new trend in lower wages and no benefits as "indentured servitude". I would probably not go that far because working 65 hours a week still leaves over 100 hours a week to do whatever. The point being my first three jobs after college did not include any kind of health insurance, vacation, sick days, or retirement planning.

It is more competitive now to get any job than it was pre-2008 and to be honest I do not see that trend changing much for several years. To those of you currently racking up college debt, stick with it even though you are going to fight for lower wages. With a degree you will probably still make more money, and hopefully enjoy a job that does not degrade your health. The road ahead is hard, but you can make it. If the basket case of pent of emotions and egotistical grandeur that is me made it than you can certainly make it. Plus I'm writing a book that will hopefully help you.

Fifth, and finally, it is to everyone's advantage that you succeed in life. While the multimillionaires on Wall Street will be selling short (making money on stock that goes down in price) on your 401K as your 401K gets cut in half they still need you, otherwise they are out of a job. They need your commissions. If Warren Buffett did not have thousands of people working in companies that he owned, he would not have as much money as he does. If you did not buy Microsoft products Bill Gates would not have the fortune that he does.

Every society in history that has created a lop sided wealth structure has eventually gone through a revolution to change that. France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, and it appears most of the Middle East in 2011 are a few of the rather significant ones. The point being, it is in everyone's best interest if everyone is making some money. Of course the opportunity to make more money typically encourages people to work harder. That is where capitalism works.

The point is, you can make it. You will get a job and it will be good. It may take far longer than you would like, but it will happen. It is in everyone's best interest that you succeed. Wether anyone admits it or not your success will help everyone from the places you spend your money to your employer who you make money for. The economy will recovery, but it will be different.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Economics Week: Inside Job Movie Review

Last week I watched the movie Inside Job, somewhat on accident. (My sister and her friend rented it not knowing it was a documentary.) The information conveyed is astonishing. I suppose if I read enough news I would know everything in the movie, but I do not read everything and thus do not really know the extent of the 2008-2010 economic disaster. This movie was enlightening.

In short, and really the basics of the entire crisis boil down to a few simple points:
  • Everybody was in on it, economist professors, stock brokers, corporate giants, lending companies, politicians, rating agencies, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • Everyone who was in a position of power during the crisis is either still in the same position of power or in a different well paying or powerful position, none are in jail or destitute.
For example, the merger between Citicorp and Travelers in 1998 was illegal due to a law passed by congress in 1933. Hopefully 1933 rings a bell as a year when the government was taking active steps to ensure that a depression would not happen again in the United States. Repealing those laws seems ridiculous. We are not smarter than they were in 1933. Changing laws that they set up to prevent a depression having seen a rather bad one is a ridiculous thing to do.

Moody's and Standard and Poor's are two rating agencies. In other words they rate mutual funds and bonds among other investment funds so that little investors like you and I can make more informed decisions about the risk of a particular investment. For example, mortgage X taken by two people who both have credit scores over 800 would have a much better rating than mortgage Y taken by one person with a credit score under 700. Mortgage Y would be referred to as sub-prime debt because there is a large risk of the debtor defaulting and not being able to pay. Of course in real life these things are bundled and split and rearranged so that it is not as simple as buying a share of a specific person's mortgage. Also, people with worse credit typically have to pay higher interest rates because there is a higher risk of them not being able to pay the loan.

Consider the fact that Fund X was composed of many mortgage X loans earning 5% interest. Fund Y was composed of many mortgage Y loans earning 12% interest. As a small time investor all that you see on the basic information page about any investment is the rating given by Standard and Poor's and Moody's and the price growth rate. AAA is the highest rating followed by fewer As and Bs. If you are saving for your retirement, and retirement is less than ten or twenty years away, you do not want to be taking risks with your money thus investing primarily in AAA funds is a wise decision. What happened was that the rating agencies were giving both Fund X and Fund Y type funds AAA ratings. So naturally hundreds of thousands of people invested in Fund Y because it had a higher interest rate for the same rating. When the debtors to Fund Y were no longer able to pay their mortgages the investors in Fund Y lost nearly everything. Additionally the debtors to Fund Y lost their house. The banks and investment houses that brokered (sold) Fund Y lost out on commissions and had to lay thousands of people off. So investors in Fund Y, debtors to Fund Y, and former brokers for Fund Y quit spending money, because they didn't have as much money. That affects everyone. When I don't go out for coffee Saturday morning, that's $5 that my local coffee shop will not make. If everyone does that the shop goes out of business and half a dozen people lose their jobs. In a paragraph that was the mortgage crisis. 

Why did people with mortgage Y loans even get loans in the first place if they were such a credit risk? There is a quote by George Bush from 2002 in the movie that explains that. Additionally, lenders and real estate agents are paid on commission for houses at sale, not monthly at payment of mortgage. Secondly, lenders do not own the mortgage, that is owned by large publicly traded banks and funds, like Fund Y. Thus it is better for real estate agents to sell a house and lenders to grant a mortgage to someone who probably can't pay because both of their immediate commissions is high.

In short, the movie is well worth your time and $1.05 from Redbox. I will go into more detail about other aspects of the crisis in the next few days during: Economics Week!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Life of a Contract Engineer: Week 9

Well, some weeks are better than others, and this was a rather nice week. I was offered a long term position! Of course I took it! A week and a half ago on Friday I was interviewed by some engineers at John Deere. Tuesday I was offered a job. Thursday I accepted it. I will be moving to Dubuque, Iowa to start work April 18th. For now, that is all I will say because the papers have not been signed yet and during unemployment I had my hopes rise just to be dashed so many times that I feel it is not real until I'm there long enough to get that first paycheck. There are so many things that could happen between now and then that are totally out of my control, and few within my control, that I will still live one day at a time with the knowledge of how fragile my personal economic situation really is.

I am so excited! I mean this is a contract position, but it starts at one year in length and will most likely be renewed. That kind of job security is nearly unfathomable to me right now. There is so much to say about this that I won't even try in this post. I will be using HyperMesh and Abaqus to do almost exactly the same thing I am doing now (stress analysis).

How does this affect my work at Kohler? First of all, I am incredibly thankful for the Kohler opportunity. The least productive three months of my entire career are the first three months, I expect. To have a company that was willing to take that kind of a chance on me and allow me to learn two new pieces of finite element software is phenomenal. No company will probably ever be as generous to me as Kohler was. If I am as productive in May, June and July as I was in January, February and March I will be terribly unproductive. Additionally, I worked with an amazing group of people who exceeded my expectations and taught me all sorts of things. I will miss the people most, I always do.

My running had a bad week that ended with the best workout I have ever had. I was tired all week and I ran a 4 mile tempo midweek and I ruined it by going out at 5:10 pace for nearly a mile and putting myself in anaerobic debt. I even had one day where I ran only 2.5 miles. Finally, Saturday I ran 14.1 miles in 1:21:54. That's a 5:49 average on a breezy 31ºF day with flurries. I set personal records at every distance from 7 miles through 14 miles including a half marathon PR of exactly one minute to 1:16:06. Setting a half marathon PR in practice and running a little farther is generally a good indication of running fitness. In total 85 miles with 18.3 of that at sub 5:50 pace.

What else? I am up over 51,000 words on my book. A slow week for writing. I watched the movie Inside Job and it, as well as two chapters in my book, and the newspapers I've been reading lately inspired me to do four articles this week about economics. I'm doing a review of Inside Job, one about CDOs, and then I'll probably do one about the economic recovery that we are experiencing 2009-present as it pertains to unemployment because it pertains directly to my book, and I have no idea what a fourth will be about.

I will be writing a number of posts about Iowa and such in the future, but I feel talking economics this week is more pressing. Thank you all for reading and hopefully you had a week even better than mine.

Friday, March 25, 2011

User Friendly?

Recently I had to show someone how to use a very simple piece of electronics. As I was demonstrating the two step process I realized it should not require two steps to do what that person wanted but only one step.

Often it seems that the people capable of developing things are not the people who really understand the end users. Case in point, traffic flow patterns decided by civil engineers because civil engineers know how to build roads. I know a lot of civil engineers and they are very good at what they engineer and build, but ultimately they think differently than the average driver. I don't know who would be better at designing traffic flow patterns but I am sure that some profession would be. Another example, computer programs are all written by computer programers. Again programers are great at making things work and getting software to do what I want, but sometimes it seems like the person using the software was an afterthought to the purpose of the software. The Janzen Gear ice axe was in many ways a lesson for me about the whole just-because-you-can-doesn't-mean-you-should aspect of industry.

If you are ever in the position to create a product that will be used by people, keep user friendliness in mind. After using dozens of software programs and driving tens of thousands of miles I feel we can do better. That of course starts with me since I try not to be a hippocrite all of the time. If I ever make something and you can not figure out how to use it, let me know and I shall change it. If we all make our products just a little more user friendly just imagine where we will go.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Fear of Unemployment

The first chapter in my new book is titled: "Unemployment Is Good". I realize that might be debatable to many people, but I believe it. A little bit of unemployment can go a long way toward changing a person. Unemployment made an impression on me that no other lesson or life experience ever has. Now that I am getting paid I appreciate the money so much more. There are other reasons unemployment is good which I won't cover in this post. They will all be in my book!

Since getting my paychecks I have been putting away half of my pretax and other fees income. In other words, somewhere around 2/3 of my actual paycheck has gone to my savings account. It is building rather rapidly. While there is a temptation to spend some money and buy something like a motorcycle, the truth is I am afraid of being unemployed again. That fear is still so strong that I have not bought anything over $100 since being employed for over two months. No 15 year old Laphroig, no new computer, no new cell phone, no new car, no new flat screen, no new iPad 2, or even a set of ice tools. All of the things a year and a half ago I planned to buy once I had a job seem immaterial now. I hope to just be able to pay my bills for the next year.

The fear of unemployment drives my purchases. The fear of unemployment drives my savings account up. I feel that I am taking a much more active role in lowering my expenses and raising my income than I did before I was unemployed. Although, Janzen Gear has not sold anything yet and my Amazon sales are one total sale for a commission to me of somewhat less than $0.50.

One of the benefits of this blog is that a number of times my friends have said something like, "Isaiah, I read your blog and... it's depressing sometimes." They are of course referring to my unemployment posts. While I hope that the general attitude here is far more positive now, I am happy to know that my experience can vicariously teach others who are still in school. I had no idea that I could possibly be unemployed. WPI is too good for that! Yet it happened. Now I know that it can happen to just about anyone. You are not protected entirely by the name of your school or your GPA or your patents or your software expertise.

While I fear future unemployment and I diligently plan for it, I do not worry. Whatever happens will happen. I am working now and will be for some time. With quite a bit of help from those who care about me I made it through unemployment once, I will be able to do it again, if I must.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't Judge

I know it's hard. We see others and think about how in some way they are inferior. It's a bad cycle. On the other hand, no one is prefect. Not you, certainly not I, and no one else that I have ever met. We are all inferior in some way to someone else.

I think being critiqued is a great thing. Having another tell us our weaknesses helps us overcome those weaknesses. That being said, when offering a critique to anyone remember that you are not above being critiqued yourself. There is a difference between a critique and being judged however. Judging leaves a verdict of some sort about the situation whereas a critique is about past performance. Judging implies some sort of punishment is deserved. A critique offers the ability to address weaknesses and improve.

In short, don't judge. Don't condemn another because of one facet of his or her life that you see. Who are you to know what another facet of his or her life might contain? Perhaps that person you seek to destroy mentally, at least in your head or amongst your friends, is experiencing a rough patch and soon enough will change the world more than all the Presidents of the United States combined have. It could happen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Not Fast Enough

I was going to title this "Too Slow" but then I thought that that was too negative. There is also a difference between not keeping up and not pushing the pace.

Living on the east coast was good for me. Going to WPI was great for me. The urgency in the atmosphere that is exuded there is intense. That being said, to the best of my knowledge it has been over 20 years since WPI has had a suicide. MIT averages something like three per year.

The pace of classes is unlike any other college I know of. the year is divided into four seven week terms with a fifth term in the summer. Everybody only takes three classes at a time (although four is relatively common, and addicting). The point being, everything happens really fast. In the space of a week you can totally fall behind. Thankfully, I never had a sick day in 11 semesters of college and graduate school. Well I had one, but that was because I fell 40 feet climbing not because I was actually sick. Also, that happened during fall break, so I did not have anything to miss.

I was recently talking with an engineer with experience in Arizona, California, and Seattle, and he was commenting on how intense or hard working people in the midwest are. I tried to stifle the smile on my face. People in the midwest are extremely hard working. In fact in rural areas there are farmers and ranchers that maintain hours and a pace in their work that is simply astonishing. I'm not diminishing that at all. However, I think that in the midwest most people have a nice work-life balance. On the east coat it seemed to me that many people did not have a ultimately beneficial work-life balance. It was more like a work-work-life-work balance. My experience could be unique because of the intensity of WPI, but I had the feeling that many people on the east coast put in tremendous hours.

Every once in awhile at work I get to a point where I am waiting on someone else for the next step of my work. I apologize to other people for my impatience and demanding nature. While I may not show it often or try to hide it, and considering I like teaching I must be less demanding and more patient than I give myself credit for, the standards that I set in my head are ridiculous. If I accomplish 1/4 of the things I would like to I'll have more success than I can even comprehend at this point in my life. I feel that most people do not share my ambition for better or for worse.

Returning to the topic, you could die today. You could be paralyzed today driving home this evening. You could slip in the shower and break your neck. You could die of carbon monoxide poisoning tonight. All of those scenarios are highly unlikely, but the point is, if you want to do something you need to work toward it, today. I'm not going to try to describe any sort of strategy because I have no idea what you want to do in life. My life is pretty simple and my daily run or runs as well as engineering are two things that I am very thankful to be able to do every day which help me work toward several of my goals. I mean, how do you describe putting energy into your family?

The east coast and WPI put me through the ringer, as I hoped, and that coupled with life in the midwest, as well as family tradition, and not dying in Pakistan, has helped me bring a sense of urgency to my life, that I am happy to have. Perhaps, just maybe, I can be fast enough.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Life of a Contract Engineer: Week 8

This week, like most weeks, had it's ups and down. Monday around 1:30 PM was a rather significant down. I learned that the person who I am currently replacing is coming back ahead of schedule. When I originally was informed about this position in December the chances of the person coming back were dubious. Fortunately, he will be returning to work and whatever issue that he may have had is clearing up. That being said. My time is limited. He returns Thursday March 31st and there will be "several" weeks of overlap when we are both working there, but the insinuation is that I have more job hunting to do. I'll get back to that.

After a rather unproductive Monday afternoon wallowing in depression I rallied to have a very productive week. In fact Thursday from 4PM to 5PM I had my most productive hour of work yet. I received a modified CAD model of a support beam that I had been working with over the last two weeks and in that one hour I imported it to ANSYS, created all of the connections between the 19 parts, applied the forces and boundary conditions, meshed the part, and ran the simulation. I was so on the ball that as I was clicking things I vividly remember having to wait for the computer to process that action before I could make the next click with my mouse. My mind was moving as fast as it ever has. Considering that I was going head to head with a 3.7 GHz quad core computer with 20GB of RAM, I'm pretty excited. There was a lot of background experience to get me to the point where I knew what to click in what order, but still my mind was just flying. At this point in my life I would consider that a 100+ dollar per hour work effectiveness. Probably more like 200+.

Friday, I did not go into work. Instead I went to an interview at John Deere in Dubuque, Iowa. They are looking for people like me and I happen to have spent most of my life around rural locations where machinery is common. I've done my share of manual labor and operating large equipment so I think I'm a good fit for the job. But after five on-site interviews and only one job offer, who knows what a feeling is worth.

As far as tackling unemployment possibly again. I am far more prepared this time. I have Janzen Gear and my book in reserve. Plus I have been saving about 50% of my pretax income in my saving account so that I can hopefully pay bills on my own for a few months in case I spend a few more months unemployed. Additionally, I'm in a better mental state now than I really have ever been. Read the last paragraph of today's post to better understand what I mean.

In investing news, I'm really getting into the stock market thing. There is just so much money to be made with the right strategy and research that to ignore that kind of opportunity I feel is ignorant. I didn't buy any stock this week. In fact I haven't for the last month. I'm saving up for the first quarter statements to come up because it seems that there is generally a 1-2 month uptick on stocks with the best quarterly earning statements. Seeing as how I don't know which stocks are among the best right now, I'm waiting until some numbers come in. Additionally, there is a company that I am interested in investing in but they recently filed a document with the SEC when I feel the need to read before I invest.

In Janzen Gear news I'm waiting on the manufacturer to finish the boards. Lead times even in a little shop two miles away from my house can be rather long. That's a good thing to learn now when I am young.

In running news I ran 84 miles including a nice 9.7 mile tempo at 5:59 pace. I had two runs in the 6:30 pace range for a total of 22 miles and a 15 mile long run. I was aiming for higher mileage but I'll take the quality running any day over extra miles. My hip is coming around really well. For the upcoming week I was aiming for 100 miles, but I think 90 would still be nice. More importantly I want to get in two tempos one at half marathon pace and one a little slower than marathon pace. I'd also like to do some strides or short hills.

In writing mode, I passed 50,000 words on my manuscript! That's a huge milestone. After probably somewhere around 100 hours of plain writing, plus more than a year of unemployment and misemployment and countless hours of research and "testing", I'm at 108 pages of single spaced, 12 point, Times New Roman text. I'm probably 90-95% done with the actual writing. However I have to do some formatting and rearranging which I am maybe 20% done with. I also need to edit it extensively before I start showing it to people and realistically I'm less than 10% done with that. (As I read what I wrote weeks ago I often edit it that's why I've done any at all.) I have not queried any agents at all yet or set up any speaking engagements, but that is all part of the plan. This is very exciting for me because I feel this has the real potential to help other new graduates dealing with unemployment. I hope this book is a resource both from a physical point of view, such as giving direction about how to get a job, and the economic influences post-2008 that are creating the mildly unique employment/unemployment patterns. Aside from all of the technical aspects I devote much of the book to maintaining and creating a positive mental attitude. For me the most important lesson that unemployment taught me was a more appropriate value system. While the values at the high end of my priorities scale did not really change, the order of my priorities and my appreciation of those factors and relationships has greatly increased, even if I still rarely show my changed disposition. In other words, I became more comfortable in my own skin, because I made changes in my head. How do you change your thinking? That's a good question! Buy my book!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Buy Amazon! Buy Through Me!

Many people buy things using Their product selection continues to get larger and larger. What started out as a book store is now the World's largest online retailer and 16th most popular website over all. One of the things that has helped Amazon grow is the support it has in the online community. Many people, such as myself, participate in the affiliate program. That means that if you click on one of my Amazon product links you will get taken to their website and if you buy something I receive a small percentage of that sale. The nice thing is that as long as you don't close your browser, from my understanding, whatever you buy will be credited to my account. In other words I can advertise a Dan Brown book but after clicking the link you buy a J. K. Rowling book instead I still get a percentage of the sale.

This is my shameless plug for myself. I know that most of the people I know have bought something from Amazon at one point or another so I encourage you to buy from amazon after clicking on one of my links. You don't have to pay anything extra, and I get a small percentage of the sale.

Why should you spend the extra minute of your life to click through my website before buying something on Amazon? First, because this site does actually cost me a little bit of money. Due to coaching and DVD sales in 2010 I made money but we are about 10 weeks into 2011 and I haven't made a cent despite the largest rate of visitors yet. Second, buying Amazon products after clicking through my links is a way that you can support Learning to DO without spending any more money then you would have already. You spend the same amount of money and I make some money. Third, this website is free and not password protected. Unlike a book or newspaper, you get this information free. Buying a product at Amazon after clicking on one of my links is a way that you can say "Thank You" without much effort and requiring no extra money.

Perhaps you are interested in buying the Amazon Kindle Wireless Reading Device. Simply click on that link and then buy it! It is their number one selling product after all.Or perhaps you are interested in clicking on a picture. You can do that as well. By clicking on the picture or text below and then buying something.

If you are not into digital reading there are other options, such as books made from paper. For example perhaps you have not read the third Robert Langdon book, The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. It sold over 15 million copies in hardcover, so you know that it wasn't a terrible read.

Or perhaps you are interested in the Acadamy Award winning film The King's Speech. I actually went to see it in theaters recently and it is a very good movie.

If you take pictures or video on anything other than your cell phone you probably need another SD flash memory card. Who doesn't need another one, right?

On the other hand Amazon sells many other products besides books, media and electronics. Perhaps you need to buy your sixth pair of Saucony Grid Fastwitch shoes.

More than likely you are interested in something else all together. That's fine, if you simply click on one of my links and buy anything without closing your browser in between I still get a few percent of the purchase.

If you read all the way to the bottom, thank you for listening. It is strange for me to ask people to buy something. I feel that this relationship (sharing the story of my learning) should not be built around money. Money comes and goes but friends and family will, hopefully, be there either way. It is similar for my readers and I. My goal with this website is to provide information so that some people will learn something that will help in their life, hopefully at the price of free for them. To that end, it does cost me money and if people are going to buy things on Amazon they might as well contribute a few percent of their purchase to me. Thank you again for reading and if you buy something, thank you even more.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Movie Review: Limitless

I had the unique opportunity to see the new movie Limitless in theaters Monday night several days before it came/comes out. If you have not heard of it watch the trailer. The movie is about a struggling writer who is offered a pill to open his mind. With that one pill he is more productive in one day than in the months before hand. The movie then follows his rising stardom while he tries one new things after another successfully. Soon enough he encounters a number of challenges. To learn the outcome you will need to watch the movie.

Based on the title you can probably guess that the main character at times feels that he has no limits. That is exactly what happens. The concepts of the movie were, mildly motivating. The encouraged me to fly past 50,000 words in my new book the next day. The movie suggests that a person could have the ability to retrieve every piece of knowledge he or she has ever learned as well as learn at an incredible rate and use all of that on command. Just imagine, understanding stock market rumors so well that you buy and sell stocks based solely on what people are saying instead of anything to do with the company and actually knowing enough to make money every time. Of course, people would find out and you could have a whole new set of problems...

What was my favorite aspect of the movie? Easily the dialogue. There were a number of quotes that I found pretty funny. At one point he says something like, "Math was suddenly useful, even fun." Maybe I'm missing something, but I've felt like that as long as I can remember. Another time he mentioned the need to go forward, because otherwise he feels as if he is going backwards. Again, doesn't everyone feel like that?

What was my least favorite aspect of the movie? It turned into a little bit of a MGMT music video at some points. The first part of the movie also felt like something that even I could have filmed and edited, although, I was in the second row, so I had a bad angle.

I enjoyed the movie and in two years when it is playing on FX I'll watch it again. Worth your $10.50 to see at the theaters? Depends on what you like. I'm not going to see it a second time, but it was good. Worth the $1 at RedBox? I think so.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Care Too Much

I might not show my emotions too often, but I definitely put my emotions into the things I spend my time on. My relationships, my work, my running and my goals all get pieces of my emotion. I feel that emotion has the ability to cause more stress than simply physical or mental challenges. Emotion is also a whole lot harder to quantify, which can be exceedingly frustrating to an analytical person like me.

I realized this as I was once again knitting my brow at work and getting depressed that I wasn't making as much progress as I would like. I immediately got up and refilled my water bottle or some other excuse to walk around for two minutes and relax a little bit. I get so bogged down in the pursuit of perfection that I get frustrated when my work, or other things, is harder than I expect. Running in many ways is a great way to deal with that frustration because you are only as good as you can run. The times are concrete. You can't fake a distance and a time. By the same token you get out what you put in. If you want to get better, you need to run a lot. That nice, rather linear quality allows me to not care so much about the progress that I am making because I can easily track how well I am progressing.

Engineering progress on the other hand, at least for me in the area of finite element simulations, seems to be hit and miss more than linear. I can go days without getting anything completed. That is frustrating and I care about being able to show at least a little progress every day. Even just a little measurable progress helps me maintain a very positive attitude.

Fortunately, I have had a number of break throughs the last couple of weeks at work. I am feeling more confident about my abilities. It funny, I spent so much time trying to get my self-esteem out of engineering out of the fear of unemployment and now I am putting as much emotion into work as anything. Emotions are a difficult thing. Feelings are not facts. I can say those things but at the end of the day I still want to feel good.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Life of a Contract Engineer: Week 7

Seven weeks! It is still surreal that I have the opportunity to go to work and get paid for doing something that I enjoy. I spent the majority of my week learning how to use HyperMesh, which is part of the HyperWorks finite element suite. This is the third finite element software that I have learned. First it took me a year (working part time) to understand Abaqus and DANTE, then it took me a month to understand ANSYS and in less than a week using HyperMesh I have made significant progress. I now feel more valuable as a finite element engineer than I ever did in graduate school. I just need CATIA and NASTRAN to round out my repertoire and I'll be more qualified than most of the tech support for all of those companies.

Secondly at work, I enjoy the people I work with. I think that is an important factor. I have never really been in a bad working situation, but I can imagine and I have heard stories. Even five minutes of socializing with my coworkers per day is a nice mental boost.

My running injury just took a ginormous (that is an actual word!) leap forward! I went to a massage therapist and had fingers and thumbs pressed into my knots to the point that I was in significant pain and the knots started to release. I continued to do my exercises and I even bought a foam roller so that I could work on rolling out my tight muscles. In total I ran about 77 miles including a 3.3 mile tempo at 5:54 pace and a 12 mile and 10 mile run at 6:55 and 6:50 pace respectively. Those are three very pleasing runs compared to the amount of pain that I was in for two weeks.
Foam Roller
In other news I started an account with at the recommendation of a friend who is traveling in Laos right now. It is pretty cool. It updates all of my account information every time that I log in so that I can see how my net worth or paying off my loans is going. I am worth negative tens of thousands of dollars. That's old news, but it's nice to see it change for the less negative. For me simply seeing the numbers helps me make the numbers a little less terrible to look at by applying money where it makes the most difference.

Additionally relating to money, I've done some reading about history and it is not that hard to make substantial profits in the stock market. From a mathematical point of view there are a number of quarterly published variables which indicate that certain stocks are worth more than the price that you have to pay for them. It's not physics, so you will not get the same reaction every time. However, it is statistics, and if you play the numbers in enough quantity for long enough, according to the history of the stock market, you will make money. I'll write more on that in the future.

I hit a deer with my van. It has a huge dent in it and I would take a picture except that it's dark out right now. I'll do a post about the six accidents I have had in the last nine years.

Finally, in news relating to the book I am writing, I passed 48,000 words and 100 pages this week. That's 100 pages of single spaced writing with only four pictures and four pages of contents and title stuff. I am very excited about how well that is going. Although, I don't have an agent, much less a publisher, and I have not done any speaking engagements yet. So I have a long way to go, but I feel I am on the right path. My goal is to have a rough draft finished in the next few weeks. I do not have too much more left to add. I am sure that things that I have written thus far could be a huge help to others in their early 20s tackling unemployment, underemployment and misemployment.

Oh and one more note along the investing lines, about a year ago I solicited investors for Janzen Gear. I had a few bites but did not reel in the kind of investor that I was looking for. I am thankful that I did not find an investor at that point in my life. I learned a lot about product costs and failure. The hangboards are a much better situation. I am able to fund the costs out of my own pocket, and thus will put all the profits back into my pocket, or rather into manufacturing more. This product has a much greater ability to generate profits from batch one (ten hangboards). The ice axe would require huge batches (hundreds and ideally thousands) and even lower profit margins (although not much lower) and required safety testing. I just did not understand all of those challenges a year ago, yet it makes a huge difference in business. Also, running this as my second job allows me to think small. I am not relying on Janzen Gear to pay my bills. It allows me to deal in smaller volumes with lower profits than the big boys. Which means a high value product for the price and the prestige of limited quantities.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Type A Personality

I was reading a magazine recently and it mentioned running at 6:00 AM willfully as being an attribute of a type A personality. I've never really thought of myself in that context. I like to imagine that I can be relaxed and patient like a type B, but I guess I am ambitious and I do stress myself out. Hopefully I am a mix of both but honestly I can not view myself as well as others. Am I a type A personality?

I feel that I more closely associate with the risk taking type T personality. I suppose that everyone is really a mix of the three, or a mix of how many personality types there are. The point is I've been running willfully and excitedly at 6:00 AM since I started working over a month ago. I really got burnt out on 6:00 AM running in high school and it took me about two years to recover before I could set personal records again. Now that I am doing a few 6:00 AM runs most weeks it is strange to remember how hard it was when I was 17. It is interesting how people grow, mature, and change.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Life is Fragile.

Wednesday at lunch I read Runner's World Racing News, like I do most days, and learned that Sally Meyerhoff died. While many people have told me they read my blog only about 5% of you have probably head of Sally Meyerhoff. She was a 27 year old professional runner and triathlete. A mid 20s athlete trying to excel in two sports, crazy.

Her last blog post on March 6th welled up tears in my eyes. Near the end she speaks about how well life is going. Then two days later she rides her bike across an intersection and gets hit by a truck. How many thousand intersections have I run across? Probably over 20,000 or 30,000 intersections (thank you Worcester) in my over 18,000 lifetime miles. All it takes is one mistake to end your life.

I still think about Christina Castagna who died on Broad Peak a few thousand feet above me while I sat in camp three as one of the few who was not totally exhausted. She was then still better than I am now in terms of high altitude experience, yet she took one wrong step and now she is dead.

These things scare me because I realize that I could cross an intersection or trip while climbing a ridge and die. It hasn't really stopped me from doing those things, but it has helped me to be more cautious. I like the mental state that I have about risk now. I assume that in the future I will take even less risk as I have others that depend on me, yet there are things I want to do that involve risk. I am scared that I will put myself in a destructive situation, and that fear keeps me sharp and aware. If I wasn't afraid of getting hit by a car I would probably take even more risks. I do not want to take more risks. Fear is a good thing. Without the fear that I have I would not appreciate how fragile life is and I would not take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to me. If I ever seem to be impulsive or move things along rather fast it is because I am afraid that if I don't act now, I might not have the chance to do it later.

We only get one shot at life. It is your choice what you bring to the table. I know what I want from my life, and in many ways I am getting many of those things every day. I cannot slow down. I cannot turn my brain off. I cannot stop. This is my life. I am doing things. I am learning. If I die Thursday, it will be okay. That's not ideal for my family and friends as far as I can imagine. I am planning to live to be over 90 (so that I can set some age group world records) but I prefer to confront the possibility that I might not live that long. I am so thankful for all that I have both in terms of relationships and the other shallow stuff. I think that my life has already impacted some other's lives in a positive way and if this is all there is so be it. Life is fragile. Do not take your life for granted. Not everyone that was living a week ago is living today.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ansys: The Pinball Region

Bonded Details (Pinball Region)
When specifying a contact between two bodies or two surfaces such as Bonded, No Separation, Frictional, or Frictionless you can specify the distance that the contact surface, line, or point and the target line or surface. The way that you specific the distance is either Program Controlled, Automatic Detection Value, or Pinball Region.

The Pinball Region allows you to specify a distance and view a little blue ball so that you know if the Contact will actually find the Target. This is important because in manufacturing geometric design and tolerance of parts means that in a CAD model the parts will not actually touch, and may be rather separated, even though in real life they may be welded or bolted together. Additionally, many assemblies are modeled as mid-surface extractions because that drastically reduces the number of elements in the simulation as well as allowing the user to quickly change the thickness, which means different designs can quickly be tried to find the thinest gage of steel or other metal used, and thus reduce cost. Mid-surfaces further separate the surfaces, or lines, for desired contact so that a larger pinball region is necessary. Parts can sometimes be separated by up to half an inch after mid-surfacing!

In the Automatic Detection Value below you can see that the distance in all directions from the Contact Surface reach those of the target surface (the thin line on the left of the green surface). This is what you desire. In this case the Program Controlled or Automatic Detection Value detected the the target surface and no further modification was needed.
Automatic Detection Value (Acceptable Pinball Region)
Adjusting the Pinball region manually in this case to .1 inches allowed the contact sphere (pinball region) to shrink so that the contract surface would not find the target surface. If you saw this happen when you were using Program Controlled or Automatic Detection you would have to adjust the pinball region to a larger number.
A pinball region that is too small for the contact surface to reach the target surface

For clarification, a diagonal view of the two mid-surface extractions show the two small circles that are bonded in this case with the Automatic Detection Value shown. 
Diagonal view of Automatic Detection Pinball Region with two circular contact surfaces shown

The program used for this tutorial was ANSYS Workbench v11.0.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

8:30 AM to 3 PM

I've begun investing in the stock market. In fact I invested more than half of my first two weeks pay the day I was paid it. The New York Stock Exchange is open from 9:30 AM to 4 PM Eastern time, which is 8:30 AM to 3 PM Central time. In other words, it opens an hour after I get to work and closes an hour before I leave. My iPhone has a stock tracker so when I am waiting for program to open or a simulation to run or a part to mesh I will take a look and see how my stocks are doing.

So far I haven't done awesome. At one point I was up 4% but now I'm down about 5%. That's part of the game though. On the plus side I am gaining experience. The first few days I would be ecstatic when I made $15 in one day doing nothing, then there was the day I lost more than $40 in one day. Experiencing that has helped me to view the hourly and daily ups and downs with a more level attitude. I will lose money on many days. I will also make money on many days. The hope is that when the time comes to sell the stock the value is higher than when I bought it.

What have I learned? If anything I have learned that stocks typically change values by about 1% per day with 3-4% changes in value being fairly common. There also seems to be somewhat little reason why stocks go up for down. A stock can make a huge 3% swing in a few minutes even though, to the best of my knowledge nothing about the company has changed. Only six and a half hours per day, five days a week, yet it is something that businesses in our country thrive on and rich people use to get really rich. 8:30 to 3, five days a week.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Life of a Contract Engineer: Week 6

Six weeks! Nearly a month and a half! That is about 10% as many weeks working as I was unemployed. It is a good start. I am still in the honeymoon phase with work though, I am so excited to go to work every morning that I sometimes wake up before my alarm. That being said, I sit at my desk just about all day long and I get antsy to move around a little bit and when 4 PM rolls around I want to go running. It's not that I want to leave work, it's that I want to run. I built up so much self-esteem and positive daily attitude around the simply act of running that even now it seems as important as ever. I'm addicted to running. But I am able to feed my habit with a mere 20 minutes per day and it keeps me mostly healthy so I don't plan on changing anytime soon.

Tuesday I spent the day training how to use another finite element software, HyperMesh. After Abaqus and Ansys, it will be my third FE software. It seems to be very powerful, but my experience is limited thus far.

This week I had a breakthrough Wednesday! The simulation that I have been working on for about three weeks worked! I mean I finally got all the boundary conditions and connections and material properties right so that the results were about what I expected. At 11:30 AM CST Wednesday I was ecstatic. I was so happy that you would have had a lot of trouble bringing down my enthusiasm. The next two and a half days were some of the most productive that I have had. I was setting up simulations and running them and getting results that made sense. Much of engineering is really common sense. I set up the specifics and run the model and I expect to see results in a certain range and when I do I know that I doing most of it right.

I ran 44 miles this week which is one mile more than last week. Sunday I ran 3.3 miles and every day I ran a little bit farther until Saturday I ran almost 10 miles. I had a massage Friday and the therapist poked and prodded and pressed until I was in pain and my muscle knots started to dissipate. I felt amazing better Saturday than I had for almost two weeks. It is amazing how someone besides me can stick a finger in my hip and put me in incredible pain which releases the knots and "toxins" from my muscles. I say toxins in quotes because I'm not really sure what that refers to but I assume it is something that prohibits my muscles from functioning their best. It was a good week.

Socially I had a rather nice week as well. I had two hour long phone conversations with two friends in other time zones. I don't talk to my friends often enough and it was nice to spend some time doing that. I also went out to eat with my sister and some of our friends twice. There was a little more social interaction than that, but I would rather not give the personal details of everything that I do.

This week was so good. Considering the number of the things that I did for the first time this week if they happen again I would be thrilled. If some of those things develop into greater parts of my life I will be even more thrilled! I am so fortunate.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Ideal [Apple] Computing System

In 2004 as I headed off to college I bought a laptop and a cell phone. It was my first personal computer and personal phone. When I was trying to make the decision of what phone I wanted, I took the phone that was free with the cheapest nationwide phone plan. Why buy something with an mp3 player or camera when I already had an iPod and a digital video camera? Buying a computer was still a somewhat geeky proposition. There was really only the choice between a desktop and a laptop. The details of processor speed, memory, graphics cards, and hard drives were the type of thing that we geeks discussed, because we were all geeky future engineers and scientists. The Internet was accessed on a computer. A small computer was a 4.6 pound laptop.

My how times have changed in seven years. Wednesday Apple introduced a 1.3 pound iPad 2 with a dual core 1 GHz processor. That is faster than my current computer. Something that doesn't even pretend to be a computer is better than a computer that is not even seven years old. Now the Internet is accessed on millions of phones, tablets, gaming consoles, and of course, wicked fast computers.

My six a half year old computer is getting ready to move to another owner. It still works fine. I create and edit documents, surf the internet, stream videos, and listen to music. Yet, it encodes video really slow, has all of an eight minute battery life, and is not capable of running some complex new programs due to a slow processor speed. On a similar note, I am on my third cell phone, an iPhone, whose contract ended a few months ago. The battery life is not as great as it once was, and I would like a better camera. So I am in the market for another piece of technology.

So as I examine the options, within the context that I am hopelessly sold on Apple products, I wonder what is my ideal system? Starting with a phone, I want to upgrade to the iPhone 5. Mostly because of the  video capability and higher resolution screen. Having a new battery will also be a plus. Apple has not released it yet so it might be called the iPhone 4G, but regardless I am sure it will be amazing.

So that covers an ultra portable device. What do I do on a computer or larger device that I do not or can not do on a phone? First, the things that I can do either on a phone or a computer. I typically blog, check my email, pay my bills (some I only pay using my computer), surf the Internet, listen to music, watch YouTube videos, and check the weather.

Things that I currently do strictly on my computer include creating and editing documents and presentations, edit videos, burn DVDs, dabble in computer programing, and using various engineering related programs. Wether or not I use those engineering programs on my personal computer in the future remains to be seen. For the most part of my time in the future (90%+ of the time) I will probably only need the capability to create and edit documents, including pdfs and spreadsheets, and edit video. Both of those are possible using the iPad. Although that does not give me the ability to burn DVDs which is a capability that I value.

So requiring the use an an optical drive, more I nearly always burn DVDs at home so a desktop computer with an optical drive would be nice. The capability of a desktop computer also give me the opportunity to use complex programs and enhanced video editing.

In bullets by device:
  • iPhone: surf the Internet, use email, listen to music, ultra portable, a camera and video editing, ebooks, weather, banking, games, directions
  • iPad: all of the above, very portable instead of ultra portable, and not as capable to give directions. On the plus size, the screen is huge and thus more user friendly and the battery life is great. 
  • Macbook Air: very portable, camera, a full opperating system so that advanced programs or programming can be done, a full keyboard, descent battery life
  • Macbook/Macbook Pro: all of the above except it is less portable (a little heavier) and has much better battery life as well as an optical drive and phenomenal processors speed
  • iMac: not practically portable on a daily basis, very advanced processors and an optical drive, needs to be plugged in
Use and probably best or two best device:
  • Hiking, Bicycling, Directions, and short term travel (a few hours): iPhone
  • Expedition to Asia: Macbook Air (7 Watts/hr) or iPad (2.5 Watts/hour) (must be able to be charged by my 20 Watt solar panel, necessitating using less than 20 Watts per hour. would typically be used to watch movies, play games, listen to music, and read)
  • Coffee shop Internet use: Macbook Air or Macbook/Macbook Pro I really like the use of a key board
  • Group homework: Macbook Air or Macbook/Macbook Pro
  • Burning DVDs: iMac or Macbook Pro
  • Editing and Encoding Video: iMac
  • Programming and using complex programs: iMac
  • Surfing the Internet on the couch: iPad
  • Gaming: depends on what game you are playing. I am perfectly content with the Sudoku on my phone
  • Bicycle commuting: Macbook Air
  • Cutting food: Macbook Air or iPad 2
What does all of this mean? I will probably buy a new iPhone the week it is released and will probably get a Macbook Air this fall when they will likely release one with a faster processor. Although, I have not played with the new iPad yet and I am very excited about that. I mean, it has a better processor than my computer! I could easily get away with an iMac and iPad instead of a laptop. I want to get the best value and functionality for a system that will last me at least four more years, the phone excluded. I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud. If you have any comments let me know below. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Two Years?

So I started doing this blog thing in February 2009, and I'm still doing it, as much as ever, two years later. I totally started this on the whim that I was going to start a company with employees. It has turned out to be a more holistic view of my life. I feel that for the most part I am staying true to the title, Learning to DO. I just am learning about far more than business.

January and February were the too highest months I have had for visits yet averaging over 40 unique visits per day for both months. Hopefully those that read this are learning something just as I am continuously learning.

What defined my second year of blogging?

  1. Going restricted for a few months. That really cut down on my visits. I am sure that people who would have liked to know more about Abaqus did not get the same kind of help that I have on here. I also did not being restricted. I highly doubt that will happen again. Chances are this blog will continue until either the Internet vanishes or I do. Even if I pass away, my sister could post all of the half finished blog posts I have.
  2. Weekly series happened just about every week this past year. That's a trend that in some way will probably stay with me for a long time. The titles and content will change. I suppose that some day I might have a series like "Doing Retirement" or "How a Child Raises a Parent" or Countdown to Wedding Day" although, none of those are even on the radar yet. 
  3. Unemployment turned out to be a huge theme of my life. I've said about all that I can say about that. 
Thank you for continuing to read! Without all of your visits I would not be as motivated to keep writing. I keep on keeping on with the hope that something that I write will help other people. If just one person is helped in a positive way, it is worth it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You Need a Job to Get a Job

I do not know if that saying is true, but I can attest that since becoming employed the few jobs I have inquired about were interested in me. Whether that is simply the right people looking at my credentials instead of the wrong people, I am not sure.

The idea behind needing a job to get a new job is that people who are employed are doing something right. Employed people are not crazy enough to be fired. Employed people are currently valuable to some company. Employed people, engineers and scientists in particular, are staying current with new developments in the field, which will allow them to make better products and cut costs. Employed people are not lazy. I have no idea if anyone actually things that last sentence, but I always had a hard time describing what I did while I was unemployed. I applied for jobs. That was kind of a big part of most of my days.

For people who have recently graduated into unemployment this is a catch-22. You need experience to get experience. On the upside, our time in life is the one thing that everyone shares. Billionaires aren't awarded more of it than poor people. Which is to say, all of life is an experience. Work experience may be valued by an employer more than unemployment experience, but they are not interchangeable. The experience I had unemployed will probably stay with me the rest of my life and help me far more in the future than one year of engineering. That being said, now I have a contract engineering job, so I hope that experience will help get me a long term job.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Man Behind Apple Inc.

In case you have never heard of Jonathan Ive, I'm telling you now. This is the guy that brought us first the iMac and every significant Apple design since then. If there is one guy to blame for how cool Apple products look, it is this guy.

He is in the news because there is a rumor that he is going to leave the United States to head back to the United Kingdom, where he is originally from. Apple, it seems, will not allow him to stay with the company if he moves. I am somewhat surprised. This guy has done so well over the last 15 years that they should let him live wherever he wants and send a staff of 10 or 20 people with him. I'm sure it is more complicated than that, but I am not sure why it has to be.