Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Note: I apologize for all the weird extremely large breaks in the text. I don't know what's wrong with my html, and I apologize. I'm thinking it's some weird interaction of blogger's interface with my actual html code. If anyone out there knows what's going on, please let me know.

First off, I am not a geneticist. DNA, genes, and all that jazz are not my specialty at all. I, in fact, harbor a deep dislike of biology. This is why I went into aerospace engineering. However, that being said, I did take biology in high school and know the basics of dominant and recessive genes.

It seems to me that many modern authors have forgotten their ninth grade biology.

I have gotten this impression from several books I have read recently, books where I have been jarred by a child simply having the wrong hair color, eye color, or skin tone. (I say skin tone instead of skin color because it is much much much more complex than "black", "white", "brown" color words that people use. And not just politically correct complex. I mean like genetically complex).

So let me remind you of Punnett Squares.

Punnett Squares are this simplifying tool people use to predict what trait a child will have if their parents have certain traits. For example, the simplified eye color Punnet Square. In this square capital B means brown and lowercase b means blue. Got it? Ok. So let's say the mom has brown eyes with a recessive blue gene (meaning one of their parents or grandparents had blue eyes). The mom then has the gene 'Bb'. But the dad has brown eyes with no recessive gene trait. What is the probability that the child will have blue eyes? Let's look at our Punnett Square.

In order to have blue eyes, the child has to have a completely recessive set of genes, or bb. As you can see in the table, it's not possible. These parents cannot have a blue eyed child. Now that is not always the case for brown-eyed parents, as I'm sure you know. Let's check out another square where both parents are Bb.

As you can see from this, most likely the child will have brown eyes, but there is a one in four chance that the child will have blue eyes. So it is possible to have parents with brown eyes and a child with blue, just unlikely. Even if one parent is blue-eyed and the other parent has the recessive blue-eyed gene, it's still very likely to have brown-eyed children.

See, that's a fifty/fifty split.

Eyes are actually more complicated than the 2x2 square indicates. I found this blog post that describes the more complicated square that takes into account that people can have green and hazel eyes. The writer does show it's possible (but extremely rare) for parents with blue eyes to have a brown eyed child. But the matrix just as easily shows that blue eyes are the most recessive of eye types, and therefore, theoretically, the rarest.

So why did I go to the trouble of explaining all of that? Because if both of your character's parents have blonde hair it is highly highly highly highly unlikely (if not impossible) for the child to have black hair. If both of your character's parents have brown eyes, it's most likely that your child should have brown eyes. Don't just make these things up. Don't just think "Hey wouldn't it be cool if the mom was blonde hair/blue eyed, the dad was red hair/brown eyed, and the kid was black hair/green eyed."

It's not cool. It's wrong. And your readers will know. Especially if you write YA, because guess what--teenagers have to take biology.

So do your research and think about the genetics. You don't have to get complicated, just write out the basic Punnett Square. Give easily overlooked stuff like genetics an actual thought and your readers will appreciate it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Engineering Spotlight: Jennifer S., IE

Name: Jennifer S.
Major: Industrial Engineering
Title: Quality Assurance Engineer
Company: Lockheed Martin

What is Industrial Engineering?
Historically, Industrial Engineers were employed in the manufacturing field to increase throughput, decrease costs, and ensure quality. Today, manufacturing is still a major IE focus but IE methodology is now applied in healthcare, finance, the energy sector, transportation networks and many other areas. Industrial Engineers are continually looking to improve the way things are done, maximizing efficiency and effectiveness. They use math-based techniques to optimize a complex system of people, technology, and resources.

Why did you want to become an engineer, and more specifically, your particular type of engineer?
I actually never wanted to become an engineer. I am in the engineering field today because of convenience and aptitude. Convenience due to the fact Georgia Tech, a premiere engineering school, is less than an hour away from my parent’s house; aptitude because I am intelligent and excelled in math and science during high school. I am thankful I happened to choose Industrial Engineering because it is a great fit for me. I like the math-based approach to solving problems and the basic idea that Industrial Engineers find efficiencies to make things better.

What do you do?
In my current job at Lockheed Martin I help ensure certain quality standards are being followed and implemented. As an aerospace manufacturing company, Lockheed Martin adheres to standards such as AS9100 (aerospace specific) and ISO9001 (quality management). These are usually contractual requirements but I also ensure other regulatory or legal requirements are being followed.

During college I worked in the Industrial Engineering department at Walt Disney World. This job was a more typical IE position and I used techniques like simulation, calculating throughput, and statistics. I worked on projects that included optimally deploying buses throughout the property to ensure guests are where they want to be when they want to be, making lines move faster, efficiently washing and handling the 100,000 pounds of laundry A DAY Disney guests use, and improving processes in the warehouse that maintains stock of Disney products used in the parks.

What do you do outside of engineering?
My current endeavor is decorating my new apartment. I am on the hunt for the perfect couch and am looking for simple, cost-effective ways to decorate. I love to read (recently getting into the SF genre). One of my favorite things to do is relax on a boat and have fun water skiing, jet skiing, or wakeboarding. I also like to run.

Anything else you would like us to know about you or your work?
My favorite foods are sushi and cereal.

Where can I find more information?
Georgia Institute of Technology, the number one school in the nation for Industrial Engineering, is a great reference for learning more about IE and its application.

Watch this video to learn more about IEs at Disney.

The professional IE organization, Institute of Industrial Engineers.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Team Cinna

Why are you reading this post?

I mean, seriously! Do you realize that Mockingjay came out today? You should be at your local indie bookstore, B&N, Borders, Walmart--whatever place you buy books--and get it.

What? You've never heard of Mockingjay? You mean, you haven't read The Hunger Games?


You did not just say you haven't read The Hunger Games. Did you not see my post on how awesome it was? Shame on you!

Seriously, go buy the entire series.

Ok, I'll stop gushing now. So what makes these books so good? Many many things, but one of them, I think, is how she makes readers love her characters. Take Cinna for example.

Cinna is Katniss' fashion designer. He makes her clothes, helps her with his own clothing line, etc. He's really a secondary character, and yet he has an incredible following. Why? Because of a few comments he makes. Because of how he behaves in the few scenes with Katniss. The man is endearing. Despite the fact that he has a small part, readers like him.

So read The Hunger Games. Come to love Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and Cinna.

And then read Mockingjay to see how the revolution ends!

(Sorry for the shortness of this post, but I'm reading Mockingjay. I'm sure you'll forgive me.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Sorry about not posting yesterday. My new roommate was moving in and things were a little crazy. I also had to go to school and sort out some stuff with the professor I'll be grading for. I don't think I've mentioned it previously, but this semester I'll be grading for Orbital Mechanics. It's going to be awful. Bleh.

So school starts on Monday. What that means for this blog is that I will be reducing my posts to a Tuesday/Thursday posting schedule. For now Tuesdays will be random and Thursdays will be Engineering Spotlights. I wish I could maintain the posting every weekday schedule, but I simply can't. Between taking three classes, grading, holding office hours for the class I'm grading, and doing research, I simply won't have the time.

Makes me wonder if I'll have the time to write at all, but I live my life in hope, and I guess I could always give up going to football games.

Hah. What am I saying? I can't give up football games. That would just be weird and unnatural. GO JACKETS!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Engineering Spotlight: Logan W., AE

Name: Logan W.
Major: Aerospace Engineering
Title: Graduate Research Assistant
Company: Georgia Institute of Technology

Why did you want to become an engineer, and more specifically, your particular type of engineer?

Truth be told, it was a bit of a convoluted path. I grew up under the shadow of Cape Canaveral where my father worked for a time, and my grandfather was involved with the Apollo program. Needless to say I was watching shuttle launches from the front yard before I could understand what I was looking at. While I was interested in the space program, I never really considered actually doing anything related to it; instead I always figured I’d go to med school though I don’t remember why. That changed in high school physics when I realized that the immutable laws of the universe, albeit sometimes unknown, were much more interesting than a study of medicine. Adding to that, I found I would rather do something with this knowledge – application of knowledge, rather than the pure study of knowledge. Thus I decided to be an engineer.

There were two fields of study in physics that I found the most enjoyable and fascinating that I wanted to work in: atomic/nuclear physics and astronomy. For an engineer, the applications opened to me were fission/fusion research for the former and the space program for the latter. It was only in my last year of undergrad (which was in mechanical engineering, as it was the most general major) that I read about the Deep Space missions and the use of ion engines as the primary propulsion unit. One of my professors informed me that Georgia Tech recently picked up a new professor starting a lab researching these types of engines. As this type of technology, called electric propulsion, combined features of both atomic physics and the space program it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. That is how I ended up in aerospace engineering working on electric propulsion.

What do you do? (At your job or in your research)

The kind of research our lab focuses on is prototyping new technologies and testing new concepts, be it new engine concepts or modifications to existing engines. Currently I am involved in two avenues in research: ion engines and helicon plasma sources. Ion engines operate by ionizing a gas to form a plasma. The ions are accelerated out of the engine on an electric field generated between two grids. These engines are characterized by very low propellant consumption rates with very high exit velocity, making the engine very efficient when used over long periods of time. As a rough analogy, think of a car with very low acceleration but very high gas mileage and very high top speed. My involvement is focused in trying to improve the efficiency of the plasma generation within the thruster.

Helicon plasma sources are devices that generate a plasma using radio-frequency waves. Most thrusters in use today ionize their propellant using electron collisions, which can be inefficient as electrons tend to collide with the engine walls, other ions, etc before colliding the desired neutral atom. This wastes energy that could have gone to thrust generation. Helicon sources have been found since the early 1980s to be more efficient for generating a plasma, but the problem is that why it is so efficient is not well understood. I work to better understand how these devices operate and how to predict their behavior and performance given a set of operating conditions.

What do you do outside of engineering?

I am a voracious reader; I’ll read almost anything, from the classics to military history. I also enjoy music, both listening to it and making it when given the opportunity. I must also confess to being a fan of computer games, particularly of the strategy genre.

Anything else you would like us to know about you or your work?

Truth be told, electric propulsion is one of those research areas that doesn’t have a field per se. I am in the aerospace engineering department, but my work is mostly electrical engineering with a mix of mechanical engineering, chemistry, physics, and a little bit of aerospace. So the next time you hear someone talk about “multi-disciplinary fields” don’t snicker too much, you just might find yourself in one.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Book Review: The Way of the Kings

Title: The Way of the Kings
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 1008

Quality Rating: 9
Content Rating: PG-13

Yes, 1008 pages is long, but trust me, it's worth the read. Dive into a world of intricate magics, ancient promises broken, enemies unknown, lords searching for long lost answers, men striving for the life they once had, and women desperately seeking the truth. I fell in love with the characters as we explored their journey, whether it was on the Shattered Plains or in ancient libraries. Brandon Sanderson lives up to his promise and delivers a story worth reading, for every one of the 1008 pages. I can't wait until the next book comes out! (The Lord knows how long we'll have to wait, since he's still got to finish The Wheel of Time).

This book gets a PG-13 rating for fantasy violence, some rather cruel military slavery, and lots of death. But other than that, it's pretty clean. No cursing. No sexual content. However, the book does center around a war so violence is expected.

Books! Books! Books!

I couldn't do it. I couldn't finish the toad. It's halfway finished and sitting on my shelf. I was determined to finish it. I really was, but then something miraculous happened.

I received an ARC (advanced reading copy) of The Way of the Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

Brandon Sanderson is one of my current favorite living authors. Like he's at the top of the list. I have a lot of favorite books, but that doesn't make the writer my favorite author. In order to be a favorite author, the person has to consistently write pheneomenal books that I want to read. Brandon Sanderson does that.

Seriously, if you haven't read any of his stuff, you should, especially if you like fantasy at all. And if you like MG books, his MG series is fantastic.

Look him up. Read his books. You won't regret it.

So on to today's review. :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Means Little to an Engineer

I was reading a thesis today. Yes, that's how I spend my Tuesday's. Reading theses. Anyway, I was reading it and had to stop when I read the sentence: "This definition means little to an engineer."

It's really not a surprising sentence or unexpected. It was referring to a mathematical straight-up definition that basically means nothing outside of a theoretical sense; therefore, it doesn't mean anything to the ever practical minded engineer. But it made me laugh as I thought of a multitude of engineer jokes. Yes, sometimes I make up jokes about my own kind. Ask me about band jokes sometime. (I was in band for eight years).

Anyway, after I was done laughing at myself and my clever wit, I started thinking about engineers, engineers as portrayed TV and books, what engineers are, what engineers aren't, etc.

So rule number one: Engineers are not scientists.

What does that mean? We don't deal with much theoretical stuff. Oh, there are theoretical engineers, but they're the sort of engineers who spend their lives teaching and doing research at major universities. Not the sort of engineer that's going to be working on the flagship of your naval fleet.

Number two: Engineers are not magicians.

We can't pull something out of nothing. We can't defy the laws of physics. Heck, we usually leave the disproving of laws and the creation of new ones to scientists. We deal with what's real in the here and now.

Number three: Engineers are not mathematicians.

Sure we can hold our own in a math discussion. We may know what a Hilbert space is and how to derive a cross product, but we don't learn these things for the joy of learning them. We learn them because we need to know them in order to make working Kalman Filters, so that our spacecraft can detumble properly.

Number four: Engineers are not people.

Ok, I'm joking about that one. We're people.

The bottom line is that 90% of engineers are PRACTICAL. We design, build, and operate things. We solve problems as they're presented in real world scenarios....though we tend to ignore friction and atmospheric drag...We do use computer programs a lot to help us model and determine things. We are not generally theoretical, and we don't care for the mathematical definitions. Tell us the real deal, so we can solve whatever problem we're given.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Unconstructive Criticism

One of my fellow aspiring writers--who I critique for--recently had some very unconstructive criticism. This writer fellow of mine is fairly new to the game and this is his novel numero uno, draft two, which he has sent out for us, his readers, to critique. One of his readers read three chapters and told him that the story had no merit and that he should move on. He at least said he should move on to a different story and not give up writing all together, but still! Unconstructive criticism!

First off: how can anyone tell from the first three chapters if a plot line has merit? This is why agents ask for summaries with partial requests. The first three chapters do give a person an excellent feel for the writer's style and whether their writing has merit. But in the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone did JK let us know about Professor Snape--one of the greatest character/plot lines ever? No. In the first three chapters of The Hunger Games did we know that Peeta like Katniss for realz? No. In the first three chapters of Ender's Game could we have guessed practically anything to do with the plot? NO! You can't judge a plot by three chapters.

Second off: Not every story is publishable, true. I myself have at least five completed novels lying around my apartment that I will never ever publish. I would be ashamed if they ever escaped my shelves. But each of those novels was a learning experience! I do not regret writing a single one of those stories. In my opinion, unless you--the writer--are no longer satisfied with the story line and no longer think its appealing or worthwhile, you should never stop writing it. Write it to completion. Revise it. Revise again. Even if its not publishable. Writing and revising will teach skills that you can't gain any other way. Skills you need to write that publishable book.

I've read about seven chapters into the manuscript that the other reader deemed "worthless". It's true that there is a lot of work that needs to be done. My comments filled the edges of the manuscript (though I tend to be verbose in general--even if the manuscript is awesome). But it's only a second draft. A lot of work always needs to be done at that point. The plot seems to be moving along quite well from what I can see. I point out things that don't work for me, things I think he should expound upon, opportunities that I feel he missed, etc., but I never say "this is stupid. Move on with life."

Because it isn't stupid. Writing never is. Everything we write as writers hones are skills. So even if what you're writing never will be published, it's still worthwhile. We are learning every time we write a paragraph, every time we revise a chapter.

Unconstructive criticism is worthless and should be viewed as such. Yes, it hurts when a reader completely disses a manuscript. But put it aside, move on from their criticism. See if you can see what they're saying, address it, but don't let it get you done.

Your writing is worthwhile.

Keep writing.

Note: It should be pointed out that unconstructive criticism and harsh criticism are not the same thing. The difference is that a harsh criticism points out the faults but also gives suggestions on how to fix it (or at least starting points to go from or points to think about). Unconstructive criticism is when people say something like "This is stupid" or "give up."

Friday, August 13, 2010


Dear Blog Readers,

I apologize for not blogging the past two weeks. This is what happens when I go home home (aka my parent's home). Internet access is sporadic, as my parents would rather I socialize with them then play on the computer (ridiculous, I know...lol).

Next week I will blog every day as was per the normal for the summer; however, it will be the last week of every day blogging. August 23rd is the first day of classes at Georgia Tech, and I will not be able to maintain such a rigorous blog schedule while taking graduate level Orbital Mechanics, Rocket Propulsion, and Legal Issues in Mechanical Engineering. Ok...so that last one is a fluff class, but while I'm taking my two hard classes, doing research, and being a teaching assistant, I won't be able to blog everyday. My blog schedule will go down to Tuesdays and Thursdays. Engineering spotlights will continue on Thursdays. Tuesdays will be random.

Once again, I apologize for not blogging the last two weeks, but no worries. This year, I will maintain a schedule during the school year!