My husband is an ultrarunner and he ran in the Jemez Mountain Trail Race this past weekend. Since this happened to be during my time between the spring and summer semesters, we decided to turn it into a vacation since this would probably be our only chance this year. The neat part is that this race was in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Now I’m a huge Feynman fan and I’m fascinated by the Manhattan Project so I was actually pretty excited to visit this area. I knew about the history of the area I had no idea that there was still such an extensive research facility there.

There is a neat little museum there called the Bradbury Science Museum that talks about this history of the area as well as current research. The museum is sponsored by the US Department of Energy and  I’ll admit that one of the videos had a little bit of a propaganda slant to it, but overall the museum was really informative. The IEEE sponsored a neat little exhibit about the supercomputing that happens there at the laboratory. Who knew that the first petaflop computer, called the Roadrunner was developed in Los Alamos?

The town itself was incredibly interesting. I went to the Starbucks while my husband was out running and there were people doing intense looking physics all over the place. There were small children speaking multiple languages and ordering short decaf dry cappucinos. The race director was resigning that year because he was going off to Vienna (or Geneva?) to work in some nuclear research facility for a few years. Basically it was a small town full of some of the best scientists from around the world. I would love to live there!!

While we were there, we visited a surplus store called The Black Hole. I walked in and was completely overwhelmed. It was probably over 10,000 feet of stuff from floor to ceiling, literally millions of items just piled on top of one another. Quite a bit of the stuff seemed to be non-functional but there was everything from hoods, centrifuges, CRTs, giant old multimeters, desks, 15k volt oil-filled capacitors, etc.  My husband is a HAZMAT firefighter/paramedic and he kept commenting about how horrific it would be if the place ever caught fire. As I wandered up and down the aisles, at points literally crawling over junk, I felt like I was traveling back in time and seeing the progression of technology. It was so amazing, but there was so much stuff I couldn’t decide what to buy and came away empty handed.

We had a great time escaping the heat of Texas and spent one night camping high in the mountains. Our old tent had literally melted, (even though it was properly stored dry and indoors!) but thanks to REI’s wonderful return policy we were able to get a really cool new one. The engineering behind making these tents light, strong, ventilated and yet waterproof is incredible!

I’ll start up my summer classes soon; I’m taking Electrical Network Analysis and Signals and Systems. Both courses are supposed to be pretty difficult at my university, but I’m hoping that being able to just focus on two courses will be manageable. I can handle two things, even if those two things are pretty difficult. Also on the school front, grades are all in and I’m sad to say, my 4.0 is gone. I’m down to a 3.965 🙂 I got an A- in one class and at my university an A- is around a 3.6. I think it’s a little weird that you get docked for an A- but don’t get any extra boost for an A+. Oh well, I can’t really complain!!

Clean ALL the things!

I have been taking my winter break to do those annoying cleaning tasks that I never seem to get around to during the semester. I went through bathroom cabinets and threw out expired things and old makeup. I washed my makeup brushes. I went through the file cabinet and shredded things that were no longer necessary. My husband and I went through old “childhood” boxes and threw out things that we weren’t sentimental about anymore. I scrubbed the microwave. We bathed the dog. I donated old books to the library and made a big pile of things for Goodwill. I can’t even begin to tell you how good this feels.

On the digital side, I deleted old databases off of my server. I deleted stupid emails, and I got off pointless mailing lists. I backed up all sorts of things and I’m trying to organize my music (monumental task!!). I’m still trying to figure out a workbench so I have somewhere to put my new electronics toys. I must admit that my toys are pretty limited right now but I bought a few essentials like a breadboard, jumper wires, good flush wire cutters, a tip cleaner that actually works and of course an Arduino to add to what I had before.

After cleaning out all sorts of things, I’m still working on where to put the workbench. We have a super crummy Target desk that I’ve had forever that our iMac is hanging out on. It’s totally inefficient, complete with sliding out keyboard drawer and I’d love to get rid of it. I’m still waiting for the perfect bench to come along on craigslist for for nothing, but that probably isn’t going to happen. I could probably build something but it wouldn’t be pretty. My best option might be something from Ikea. Ugh, we’ll see.

Well, this post rambled quite a bit; however, it’s what I’ve been up to. School starts next week and things should get really interesting as I’m actually learning about electrical engineering this semester. I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous. I anticipate long, long hours in the engineering reading room. Yay?


Yes, I shouted in the title. Finals are upon me, I have a lab final this Friday, another final next Monday and then one the week after that. Again, this is not the fun part of going back to school. I’m pretty stressed about grades and exams and such, but I’m trying to keep on going.

Some people say that the Thanksgiving holiday is reinvigorating and helps them “charge up” for the coming exams. For me, the Thanksgiving holiday just made me realize how much I’m ready to be done. I’ve done all the learning and now I’m just at that horrible testing phase.

There has been something else weighing on my mind for a little while now. I’m never going to learn everything in electrical engineering/electronics. Now this is probably very obvious to anyone who has knowledge about the field, but for me it was a little hard to swallow. There is just so much to know. I’ve talked with some older engineers and they are so full of experience that will take me years and years and years to learn.

I’m also thinking about trying to dip my toe into research and I’m stymied at the process. Where do I begin? Should I just go through the professors at my school who are doing research in areas that seem interesting to me and then ask them if they need any help? There doesn’t seem to be any sort of centralized listing of openings so it looks like I just need to approach professors individually. I’m thinking I’ll do some research over the Christmas break and then from there I’ll send out some cover letters/resumes. Hope I can find something!

Oh! Head over to The Amp Hour for a great show this week. LEDs!!

Shout out!

Squee! I got a little shout out on my new favorite podcast, The Amp Hour. I have to admit, it was a little weird listening to two strangers discuss my decision to go into electrical engineering but I’m always open to opinions. I have a brief discussion of my story in my inaugural post, but I wanted to address some of the questions posed in the podcast.


Many reasons. I went into undergrad convinced that I wanted to be a medical doctor and so I majored in biochemistry. I loved DNA and genetics and I thought that this would be the best fit. Little did I know that biochemistry was mostly horribly confusing cycles like this. I worked in a lab researching chemokines for about a year and a half and realized that my options were some sort of professional school, a PhD in Biochem or going into something like pharma sales. I spent a summer working at a large law firm and really enjoyed it so to law school I went.

Then, I learned what lawyering was really about. It was not the shiny 9-5 internship that I did over the summer. It was a job of long days, long nights and minimal weekends. In big firms, most of the clients are large companies and cases drag on for years, sometimes decades. I spent a summer in law school working at a local non-profit and loved the work but couldn’t see myself lasting very long before getting really burned out.

My husband likes to tell the story of one day during my first semester of law school, I was so frustrated with the socratic method and the “grey logic” that I pulled out an old differential equations book and started working problems. I craved the simplicity and beauty of pure math. I craved the notion of a “right answer.” I was too stubborn to recognize that maybe that was an indicator that law school was not the best fit for me so I finished law school.

Did I work as a lawyer?

I did a variety of internships during law school and clerked for a judge but never worked as a lawyer. Due to hefty scholarships and family support, I managed to get through undergrad and law school without loans, which gave me the freedom to head back to school. I was a little nervous about the experience but it’s just as magical as I thought it would be. I’m actually really good at it so far.

Did I tinker much as a kid?

Not really. I was more of a bookworm/math geek. I read . . . a lot. Anything and everything I could get my hands on. I had older brothers so I loved legos and such and I made various contraptions but I didn’t have anything as dramatic as Feynman’s propensity for fixing radios as a teeny lad. I LOVED “brain teasers” and those kind of problems that really made you think. I remember reading the “Sideways Stories From Wayside School” in second grade which introduced verbal arithmetic and I was hooked on that for a while.

Anyway, I really need to go study for my programming exam, so I’m going to end this fairly abruptly. I went to a lecture on robotics last night and I plan to address that later today, get ready!


Rough week

I had one of those weeks where life got in the way of education. I’m not ready to talk about it here, so I’ll share some of the engineer related things that did happen. I ordered two books that I’m really excited about reading. I ordered “To Engineer is Human” by Henry Petroski and “Code” by Charles Petzold. Look forward to book reviews on these two in the coming weeks.

In my programming class, we’re finally starting to get beyond the programs that print “Hello World!” on the screen. Some of the programs we’re making now are actually useful! Our last assignment was an assignment to teach loops that had to accept an unknown number of inputs and calculate the mean, standard deviation, maximum, minimum and SEOM. Of course all of these things could be done in something like Excel, but this program had a real purpose.

The only foundation course that I’m wishing I had done before this semester is logic. I didn’t realize how integral logic is to programming and apparently later on in systems. So, does anyone have any suggestions for a great beginner book on logic? Obviously, the stuff we’re currently working on is pretty self-explanatory but I can just sense that it will begin to obfuscate itself.

My math professor handed out a short survey with our last homework assignment and I was pretty surprised with the sentiment of many of my classmates. A majority of them were griping about the pace of the class being too fast, the professor not explaining her examples and also that the class was “worthless.” My only complaint was that the book was pretty terrible but the professor herself has said this many times and often provides lengthy online notes to supplement the book. I’ve found the class to be very useful, taking principles from calculus III and taking them to the next level. She expects quite a bit from us but is also really good at explaining things in a way that my brain just “gets it.”

Still looming, the group project. Ugh. Thankfully, it’s a small portion of our grade so even if it turns out a little iffy, I’ll still be okay grade-wise. I just want it to be over. I like to work in teams and I consider myself a good team-player but this particular project is difficult because of the varied commitment levels of all the members. Again, we’ll see how this plays out.