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Beautiful, elegant models March 27, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, geology, physics, research.
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I’m interested in the different uses of the word model.  Of course, the most common reference (outside of science and engineering) is to someone who wears expensive clothes.  Upon encountering such a model, most of us in the sciences and engineering wonder how they could charge so much for so little fabric.

In science and engineering, however, I’m discovering that I don’t like the use of the word because it’s ubiquitous and therefore nearly useless.  The problem I’ve run into is that everyone uses it but not necessarily for the same things.  In one field (or to one person), it means the equations describing a phenomenon.  In another field, it’s a computational model incorporating those equations in a specific configuration.  In yet a third field, it can describe a computational framework.  Then there are models that are simple calculations to describe inputs and outputs of a system.  And finally, I’ve also heard someone refer to it as a non-quantitative description of a process.

I’m slowly realizing that a model depends on what you and your field emphasize.  It’s used to describe an abstraction or an idea of the process, but what you’re describing as a model is extremely dependent on your training.

I think I may go back to using it to describe the walking mannequin.

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Assume a perfectly spherical circuit November 15, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, physics, research.
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It’s very fun having an interdisciplinary workplace and background.  Last week, I was finishing up some work while a couple colleagues were discussing a problem.  One was a physicist, and the other was an electrical engineer.  They were arguing about how to determine some value when the physicist piped up with, “Just assume the widgets are ideal.”

I was trying hard to mind my own business, but it was too much: I burst out laughing.  Loudly.  It’s probably a good thing because they both stopped and looked at me before anything came to blows.

I proposed November 4, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, writing.
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I’ve been a vegetable this weekend.  I had intended to fill out my ballot yesterday, but it had to wait until this morning.  I managed to get myself out the door for a 4 mi. run yesterday.  And then Mike and I went to dinner without kids.

But I have all this grading to catch up on, so it’s still going to be a long day.  (But did I mention that I voted?)

I’m a vegetable because I was involved in submitting a couple proposals last week, and I was seriously lacking sleep.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one going through this as there was something on twitter about advice for those writing their first proposals.  (Anyone remember the hashtag?  There was lots of good info there.)

This was quite the learning experience.  One of the proposals was for a very interdiscplinary project, and I learned one important thing: no one will get you their part of the proposal until the last minute.  I will say, however, that those I was working with did a great job on their parts…but it’s stressful and a lot of effort stitching things together at the last minute at 2 a.m.  I learned it’s also best if you can get a good head start writing stuff and letting people augment and/or correct their portions rather than just waiting for them to do it.  I will say that this is exceedingly difficult when you’re trying to write on an area of science or engineering that is completely outside of your realm.

The more important lesson was that I learned I enjoy writing proposals, despite all the stress.  It’s akin to blog writing:  “Hey, I have this great idea I want to tell you about.  If I do it well enough, you might even give me money.”  I suppose this is the same thing people think when they get into blogging: “If I become a famous blogger, I can retire off my advertisement revenues…”  Or something like that.

But seriously, I enjoyed sitting down and fleshing out the ideas, explaining how to best implement them.  I liked being able to convey why an idea is really cool.  And, well, I just really liked talking about my ideas.

Or maybe I just like the idea of a captive audience.  🙂

I also learned how useful it is to have multiple sets of eyes looking over your writing.  I do a good enough job of conveying meaning in my writing, but sometimes there’s a way to do it more convincingly and/or more elegantly.  I really liked some of the changes my co-authors made.  Sometimes they could do a much better job at capturing the essence of the message.

The best part of the whole experience, however, was that I was too busy to pay much heed to all the political ads that are now inundating me.  While I was really glad to have the proposals in and the deadline behind me, I’ll be even more glad when I can say the same about election day.

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