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Friday Fun: Minion Posters July 26, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in Friday Fun.
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I need to print these out and hang them up in my office.  (Apologies to my Facebook friends, who have already seen these…depending on whether or not FB lets you see all my posts.)





Wanted: Short yellow guy with suspenders July 22, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, research, work.
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I may have some funding coming in for a project soon, and it looks like I will need to hire a student to help me with some work.  Despite the fact that I have supervised students here and there, this will be my first time hiring my own minion.  It has me a little worried.  I have seen enough students come through to know that not every student will be as useful as the Minion was.

The easy answer is, obviously, to clone the Minion.  Sadly, I lack the ability to do so.  Even if I could, I’m worried I’d end up with the guy on the right:

Well, let’s be honest…I’m a bit worried I’ll end up with the guy on the left, too…although he has a lot more potential than Mr. Purple.

Some advice given to me by a more senior colleague (well, that’s pretty much all of them) was to come up with some really good questions.  That is an excellent suggestion, except that I will probably want a student early on in their career who doesn’t necessarily need to know a whole lot in the field yet.  I fully expect that, even if they were a senior, they’ll need some training to use our equipment (which they wouldn’t get in classes), and so it’s best if I find one who will be around a while.

No, I think I’m going to put together an obstacle course/logic test and check to see if they have the tenacity to get through it.

Can you imagine it?  “Crawl through this tunnel carrying this PCB and, at the other end, hook up the impedance analyzer and provide me with the reactance at 2.5 GHz.”

I hope HR doesn’t mind…and I hope I can find an empty office so I have a place to do it.  And I appreciate suggestions my readers may have for additional suitable obstacles.

Minion migration July 9, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering.
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Yesterday was a day that many of us were not looking forward to, though we had been anticipating it for many years.  Sadly, our Minion’s last day was yesterday.  While we are thrilled that he is taking off to a wonderful new job (that pays far better than a grad student salary), we’re going to miss having him around.  He was the most unbelievably handy student and continually surprised us with his amazing skills.

To give you an idea of what I mean, this is him with a 3D printer…that he built himself…in his free time:


He started working with us as a freshman, and I often felt bad for him because of all the strange things we threw at him.

Don’t know how to use a network analyzer?  It’s a good time to learn.

Hmm…maybe we need someone who can help take measurements in the antenna chamber.

How about I teach him to use the simulation software since I’ll be leaving in a couple weeks?

This is the kind of stuff we stuck him with as a sophomore, and he was always eager to learn.  By the time he finished with his degrees, he was designing and laying out RF packaging, antennas, and circuits.

The timing of his departure did have one fortunate aspect: Despicable Me 2 came out last week, and since he is the Minion, we decided to take him to see it.  We had a lot of fun.

I’m looking forward to his visits back home in the future and hearing about his work.  It’s wonderful to see someone who was once a confused freshman turn into an amazing engineer in his own right.

Therefore, as Alfred De Musset so aptly put it,

The return makes one love the farewell.

What have I done?! June 21, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, papers, research.
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(As I sat down to write this post, I realized I have a dilemma tangential to the point of the post.  The Minion is officially no longer a minion, given he’s finished his undergraduate education.  Formally, he’s been upgraded to a henchman.  However, if I start calling him the Henchman, I realize no one will know who I am talking about.  Therefore, I shall continue to call him the Minion, but please try to remember that his rank is officially that of a Henchman.)

A couple days ago, the Minion asked me for help on something.  He’s doing some work on a topic with which I have very limited knowledge.  (I consider this sad because it’s something I have interest in but little time to explore.)  However, what he needed help on was a mathematical aspect.  After finally getting a handle on what he was doing, we sat down and came up with a way to solve his problem.  Mike came in and overheard us talking and suggested there may be a paper in what we’re doing.  The Minion thought it would be interesting but wanted to talk with someone who has more knowledge of the field (as I obviously don’t), and he was going to check with someone he knows.

I sat down and spent an hour writing out the formal mathematics for the problem so that it would be easier to present this to someone.  It looks very pretty (especially since I did it in LaTeX).  However, I couldn’t help thinking, as I proofed it, that I managed to take what, to me, seemed like a straight-forward approach to solving the problem and obscure it with symbology.

I think I could potentially have a career writing textbooks.

My many hats February 9, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, engineering, gifted, homeschooling, math, teaching, work, younger son.
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A couple weeks ago, my blog was promoted by a couple of sites and the hits started flowing in.  I commented to someone (most likely Gears) how it’s nice to be recognized for my blogging about engineering but frustrating for the lack of recognition for my actual engineering work.  Guess I should’ve waited a couple weeks.

Normal work has also been crazy. I’ve been given full control of the Minion and have thrown him in on a new project where he’s learning everything from scratch.  It’s similar to projects that I’ve done, but even more complicated and using a different program.  So our next couple weeks are going to be real fun as we’re going to be trying to make our way through using this new program and occasionally resorting to the old program for reality checks.

The other serious challenge I’ve been dealing with this week is long division.  It’s pretty scary stuff, especially when you have a seven-year-old who is fighting some rather strong perfectionistic tendencies.  He’s been getting to the long division portions in his computer math, and he starts to shut down.  I’ve been getting more and more frustrated with it, so I decided to put an end to it tonight.  I went back and printed out some of the older homeworks so that we could take a couple steps back.  I think the problem is that he really thinks he can do everything in his head.  I have to admit that his ability to do mental math far outweighs mine: I simply have to write everything down.  However, he’s starting to hit the limit of this particular ability, and so he freaks out whenever he has to do a problem where he can’t do it all in his head.

I told him that tonight’s homework was going to be doing some work sheets.  With the problems written out on paper, he didn’t seem to have this idea that he had to do everything in his head.  The first couple were challenges, but then he started getting the hang of things and was able to execute the last few problems very quickly.  By the time we had finished, he was doing 3-digit numbers divided by 2-digit numbers with no problem.  We’re going to do some more difficult problems tomorrow and then try heading back to the computer.

We tried a similar approach when he started to get stuck on multiplication a couple months ago.  I guess there are some things that really have to be written out to be understood.  I just hope he starts to make regular use of his notebook from here on out.

The care and feeding of minions February 9, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, research, work.
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Shortly after seeing the movie Despicable Me, the younger son asked Mike if the people who worked for him were minions (like the little yellow guys in the movie) or henchmen (presumably from some other movie he’d seen).  When I was in the lab one day, I asked a couple such individuals which they preferred.  The one who’d graduated said he preferred henchman, while the undergrad liked minion.  After that, we determined that we’d call all the undergrads minions, and once they graduate, they become henchmen.

It turns out that we’ve had one minion who started as a freshman and is the only undergrad working for my husband right now.  Because we’re both doing electromagnetics work, I would sometimes get the minion on loan.  One of these episodes was during the development of the Widget.  I came up with the idea and did a variety of simulations.  Once I got to a point where I didn’t feel we could progress much using the simulations, I had the Minion build up some prototypes and test them out.  He’s far less concerned about losing brain cells from nasty chemicals more adept in the lab than I am, so despite the fact that what I asked him to do involved a lot of drudgery, he was very willing.  What he didn’t realize is that he would make something and test it…then I’d go back and ask him to modify it and test again…and repeat that ad nauseum.

I really hate giving him all the ‘boring’ work but I have to admit that without his help, the project would have gone much more slowly.  He was put as second author on the Widget paper, and has also been lead author on a couple other papers as they were his own projects.  Now, he will apparently get a bit of publicity for his role as an undergrad who has had an opportunity to do some research.  He deserves this as he’s one of those people who you can hand stuff to and rely on them to do a good job and get it done quickly.

In fact, he’s so dedicated to his work, that he’s even willing to risk his own health!

Just kidding.

But seriously, thanks for everything, Layne.  We’re glad to have you around.

He’s not carrying me November 20, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, family, papers, research, writing.
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(Image courtesy of the Wife Carrying World Championships.)

Way back in the dark ages (i.e. this summer before school started), GEARS and I were chatting (because he actually had time to breathe then).  The topic of me working with my husband came up, and he made a comment saying I should be careful not to publish too many papers with my husband because people will assume that he’s carrying me.  I said that was true, but the people who make that assumption are also likely to be the ones who assume I’m an idiot by virtue of my sex.  He conceded that was likely true, and then the conversation moved on to other things.

However, GEARS really does have a point.  This is particularly frustrating because of situations like the following:

About the same time that GEARS and I had this conversation, my husband asked me for help on a paper.  The paper was one written by The Minion and which Mike was a coauthor.  (I, however, am not.)  It had been submitted twice to a pretty good journal in engineering, and rejected both times.  He asked me to take a look at it.

After reading the paper and the reviewer comments, I suggested some major changes.  The problem was that the reviewer kept asking for comparison of The Minion’s widget to some other widgets, as well as a few other things that didn’t seem relevant to what they were doing.  I told them that while the paper was supposed to be about this new process The Minion used to improve and old widget to make a new one, the paper was written as though it was showing off a new widget.  If they could change things so that the paper was more about the process than the widget, than comparison to the other widgets would seem irrelevant as you already have comparisons between the old widget and the other widgets.  They really wanted to compare the old widget to the new widget to show that the process worked.

My husband rewrote the paper in line with my suggestions, checked with The Minion, and resubmitted.   I’d like to say the paper got accepted, but it didn’t.  On the other hand, the nature of the comments changed from assertions that the paper was useless to specific comments to improve the paper, all of which were easily addressed.  Once those changes were made, the paper was resubmitted and accepted.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of thing that other people see.  People seem to think that when you’re not married to someone you collaborate as equals, but when you are, someone is pulling more of the weight.  I imagine that’s true in some cases, but certainly not all.  And in our situation, my husband gets as much help from me as I from him.

If he really wanted to carry me, we could always look at participating in the actual sport of wife carrying.  Apparently we’d only have to go to Wisconsin to compete.

Of course, I’m personally more interested in the husband carrying competition:


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