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I think you have the wrong engineer December 12, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers.
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Every few weeks, I get a request to review papers for a conference.  (For those who are sciencey types, a lot of engineering conferences require full, peer-reviewed papers rather than abstracts.)  At first, this was rather cool and accepted the first half dozen that came to me.  Then I started realizing that it was a bad idea, but not simply because, as you expect, it required a decent amount of time.

I started realizing I had no business reviewing some of those papers.  The reviews often request that you assess your own knowledge and expertise in the area.  Unfortunately, many of them didn’t have an option that was similar to, “Ignorant dolt.”  The best I could do was say I had a passing knowledge and try to make constructive comments on the lack of legible text in the legend and poor grammar here and there.  Oh…and finding out that half of their text was copied and pasted from another document.

I have to wonder why they aren’t more careful about screening potential reviewers given most of my requests come from a service which describes my qualifications.  After all, there are several subdisciplines within electrical engineering, and I don’t imagine too many people are knowledgeable about the state of the art for all of them.  Beyond that, my undergrad is in physics, so my knowledge of EE is probably even more limited than your standard engineer.

I guess I’m probably a decent reviewer as long as as you’re only looking for someone who can point out when something is undecipherable.  Maybe I should add that to my skills: unenlightening critiques.

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Fields of irony July 1, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, geology, geophysics, grad school, research, work.
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When I started thinking about what I wanted to do for grad school, I thought geophysics was a good option because I enjoy getting outside.  I figured that if I were doing something related to geology, that opportunity would present itself much more often than in electrical engineering.  I suppose this idea came because I was used to spending most of my time in a 10’x20′ windowless room…or a much bigger windowless lab.  Either way, cabin fever sets in quickly when one is deprived of fresh air and sunshine most of the day.

Unfortunately, I discovered I wasn’t as crazy about ‘outdoor’ geology but fell in love with computationally intensive topics.  I love getting outside and collecting rocks, but I view it more now as a hobby than as a career path.

Recently, however, I’ve been working with some people in another department on a project.  This new project will probably require me to spend some time outside doing field work.  It’s rather ironic that I may end up getting my outside time because of a project I’m doing in electrical engineering.

I guess it all works out in the end.  Now if I could find a way to teach programming outdoors…

Repost: The varied and graphically-intensive world of nomograms March 3, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in electromagnetics, engineering, geology, geophysics, grad school.
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I spent a good chunk of time yesterday dealing with Smith charts, and I remembered in the recesses of my brain that I had once posted something about them in the old blog.  Sadly, it wasn’t as technically intensive as it could have been, but I still decided it was fun enough for a repost.  If you would like to read something with a bit more technical content, you can check out Fluxor’s post on Smith charts at EngineerBlogs.

A nomogram is an incredibly useful tool. It is a visual “solution” to an equation. Usually it is some sort of chart or plot that allows you to figure out “what you’ve got” and you can move from there to “what you need”.

Anyone who works on the analog side of electrical engineering often gets to play with Smith charts, which were of course invented by Baker*. They’re rather confusing looking things:

The usefulness in Smith charts is that they can allow you to determine things like how much more transmission line you need to get an impedance match in your device. Rather than trying to solve an equation using complex values, you can just move along the curve in a Smith chart. (Disclaimer: While I learned how to use Smith charts in my microwave engineering course, I unfortunately would need to spend some time with my buddy Pozar to remember how to do it now.) I’m also aided in my negligence by the fact that there are a lot of nifty software programs that will compute the necessary values, reducing the necessity of using a Smith chart. (Thank goodness for computers. If it weren’t for computers, I’d probably have to learn how to use a slide rule, too.)

What brought this up is that I was introduced to a nomogram used by scientists in the field of paleomagnetism. The nomograms in this case showed relationships in demagnetization of magnetic minerals. For instance, if you have a mineral that has been exposed to a temperature of 400°C for 1000 seconds in the lab, you can follow the line on the nomogram and discover that the same amount of demagnetization could be caused by sitting in a temperature of 350°C for 100 million years.

So why do I spend time mentioning this on my LJ? Could it be because knowing that there are graphical methods to approximate solutions to problems is good to know? It is good to know, but it’s not why I bring it up. The reason I felt the need to post about it is because I had an entirely different picture of nomograms when I was sitting in class:

tastee nom-o-grams

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*Just kidding. It was developed by Phillip H. Smith.

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