Monday, August 22, 2011

Fall Semester Schedule

It’s a vast understatement to say that this summer did not turn out as I expected it to. If you had asked me last April what I thought I would be doing this summer, I would have told you going to Florida for my co-op, reading a lot of books, and blogging regularly. Turns out none of that was true. I got offered a full time job in Albuquerque, I only read about 10 books, and well, you can be the judge of whether I blogged regularly or not.

Despite my full time job, I’m not actually done with school. I have one more class and my master’s project left to complete. Which means this next semester is going to be crazy. Not only is my work going to be busy, but I have to take a class and complete my research for school. Essentially, if I survive this semester without pulling my hair out, it will be because of the grace of God.

So blogging isn’t going to be exactly high on the priority list (though I love doing it as a stress reliever and stress relief is pretty high on the priority list). Therefore, the attempted daily blogging schedule is going to be erased. We will be going back to a Tuesday/Thursday blogging schedule.

Because I’m only having two blogging days, they will have no theme. I will post about whatever I want to (and whatever you request).

So I just wanted to let you guys know what’s up.

Wish me luck in the following semester.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Killing your...uh...very much loved things

(I know its Wednesday, which means I should post something Western themed, but since I didn't post on Monday I decided to post on Writing today instead.)

I was going to entitle this "Killing Your Babies", but I thought non writers might not get it. They might think I was actually talking about killing your children. Which I absolutely am not talking about or anyway condoning.

I am, of course, talking about your manuscript.

That first shiny idea for a manuscript is very near and dear to your heart. And your manuscript is in many ways like a child, your baby that you've created that you love more than anything. You don't see its warts and wrongs. You think its perfect and wonderful because its yours.

But sometimes, your kid is a punk. Sometimes your kid is spoiled rotten. And sometimes, your manuscript needs to be completely changed.

So Spirit Riddled, my completed MG novel, has undergone many changes at this point, but its still not the manuscript it needs to be. And last year I got a lot of really good feedback, but some of that feedback involved things that pretty much surmounted to completely changing the story, to killing my baby.

This is something I've been dwelling on for a while. Which feedback is legitimate and will make the story better and which feedback is simply because the critiquer doesn't understand my story like I do? It's a fine line, a very fine line.

So last night I called one of my friends and we talked for two hours, mainly about my story, and which changes we thought were actually necessary to the story. We also talked about my vision for the story (the story arc that will hopefully cross multiple books) and how I can condense that so it can actually be sold. (No one is going to sign me for an a million book series, lol).

I think the solution we settled on is still true to the vision of my story but addresses many of the concerns of the critiquer.

But as I mentioned before its still a fine line. An author has to balance their true vision with something that can actually sell. Where is the balance? At what point are you giving up your artistry to be sale-able?

Any opinions, any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Engineering Conferences

I attended my very first engineering conference last week. Though I went to two years of grad school and numerous reviews and workshops, I had never had the chance to go to an honest for goodness engineering conference.

This past week I attended the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah.

And it was awesome.

Imagine 500 engineers, ages high school to 90 years old, all in one place. All talking about something their incredibly passionate about.

Essentially, imagine DragonCon, but instead of people going all fangirl over Brandon Sanderson, they're going fangirl over James Wertz, the editor of Satellite Mission Analysis and Design. Seriously, I haven't seen that much excitement over the new release of a book since Harry Potter Seven. And this book weighs four pounds. Literally, everyone I knew at the conference bought one.

Personally, I went from booth to booth, trying to find vendors of reaction wheels. And when I came across the reaction wheels for CubeSats my mind was blown. CubeSats are satellites that are 10 cm by 10 cm by 10 cm. So basically their reaction wheels are the size of quarters.

Mind blowing.

It's amazing how technology adapts and changes. How people can find solutions for the impossible. And that's the great thing about conferences. You get to discover what everyone else in your field is doing: the work that has been actually accomplished and the work that is cutting edge theory. I sat through four days of lectures and I only fell asleep in a handful of them.

And the falling asleep is inevitable, because engineers love to party.

Granted its not always what you imagine a party to be, since a lot of engineers tend to be socially awkward, but its our version of partying. I saw three movies (Cowboys and Aliens, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Captain America). I went bowling four times (won two of those games). And went to two "socials" (officially approved events by the conference). But the "real" party-ers spent all their time at "The White Owl", Logan's only bar. (It's not exactly a big city). I don't drink and think movies and bowling are MUCH more fun, but apparently its like the whole conference shows up there every night.

So that's what engineering conferences are like. Anyone else out there every been to an engineering conference? Any great stories? I have plans to go to several more this year (now that I'm a real person and all), so I imagine I'll have many great stories.

Especially since I don't plan on getting sick for multiple days the next time. (Yeah, it wasn't pretty. I hate being sick on travel.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Traveling, Again

I know, I failed to post last week and this week! But its because I'm traveling. I do that a lot with my new job, plus all my friends decided to get married this year so I have three weddings this August. So last week I had to prepare for a wedding, the Small Satellite Conference, and the Preliminary Design Review of the University Nanosat Project. All in all, it's a week and a half of events which I managed to pack for using only carry-ons. I call that a success. :)

As for the blog schedule, I can't say it will resume with the posted schedule next week because SCHOOL STARTS next week. And even though I have a nice shiny new job, I still have to finish my Master's Degree. Which means I'll be working, taking one class, and finishing my thesis. But the good news is that come December, I'll be done with school forever. And then daily (minus weekends) blogging can resume for life.

So next week we'll talk about the School Year blogging schedule. It'll probably go back down to Tuesday/Thursday. So the daily themes will probably go away. But I'm going to dwell on that some more this week and if you have any thoughts or comments, please leave them below.

I hope you're all having a good week and having as much fun as I'm having at the Small Satellite conference. I just saw a presentation about Star Trackers that are the size of a two euro piece. (The guy presenting was German, hence the European money). So I'm really excited. And I bought a copy of the New SMAD--which is also really exciting.

Yes, I'm a nerd. I know. I know.

So regular schedule to resume next week. Look forward to next Tuesday's post being about the Small Satellite conference in all its fun and glory.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wanting to Slap a Minion

If you’ve ever worked with engineers, you’ve probably experienced this. And it doesn’t necessarily happen with only minions (aka people much lower down on the totem pole than you), but you get the feeling most strongly with minions.

A scenario will play out like this:

A professor, who has a doctorate in the field plus 15 years of industry experience plus a book written with his name on it, will be explaining something to the class. It will be something extremely well studied that was discovered a long time ago, probably by Bernoulli, and a student will challenge him. The student will argue with him for ten minutes about something not pertinent to passing the class which is basically saying, “I know you have all these degrees and experience and I’m a 19-year-old boy, but I’ve thought of something NO ONE else has, and basically, I’m smarter than you.”

Unfortunately for that student, most professors aren’t afraid to embarrass you in front of the entire class. Depending on the professor there can be several responses: 1) handing the marker to the student and asking him to teach the class if he’s so smart, 2) just verbally smacking him down by listing your accomplishments versus his (I’ve got five degrees and a Nobel Prize. And you’ve…graduated from high school), 3) telling the student to get out of the class and not come back until he’s ready to learn, and really the possibilities here are endless. Professors are creative people.

But this doesn’t just happen to professors. At my new shiny, real job, I have an intern who makes me want to slap him daily. A scenario will play out like this:

Melody: The type A bolts go here. (pointing to a series of holes)

Intern: You’re wrong.

Said intern couldn’t even see where Melody was pointing. He just assumed that she, a woman with a college degree (which he doesn’t have) and two years of working experience (which he also doesn’t have) is wrong. He then proceeded to give us the “right” answer by pointing exactly where Melody just pointed.

About this time I have an overwhelming desire to slap him upside the head.

He does this a lot and he’s not alone. Many engineers have this “I’m always right and you’re always wrong” mindset. Which absolutely makes no sense to me.

I always assume my superiors at work and school are correct and if there is something where I really feel they’re wrong, I just don’t state “You’re wrong.” I’ll usually say, “Should we double check that?” or “I seem to remember being taught such-and-such (which is the opposite of what you are saying) in class. Is that wrong?”—thereby forcing the person to think about what they said and explain themselves.

Basically there are nicer ways to say things without making your superior want to slap you or just stare at you and say, “I have three degrees. Who do you think you are, Mr. I’m-about-to-be-a-third-year-in-college?”

Currently, we’ve ignored this interns “you’re wrong, I’m right” tendencies. He’s leaving in two weeks. It’s not a big deal. But I’m not sure what the appropriate way to deal with this behavior is. (Slapping is, unfortunately, not an option). Has anyone out there dealt with this attitude? Anyone out there ever wanted to slap a minion? What have you done instead? How have you dealt with it?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Elementary School Sucked

Last week we talked about how I was a weird teenager and a few teenage stereotypes that I really hate. This week I want to talk about another stereotype. This one doesn't just afflict teenage characters, but children of all ages.

Namely its the stereotype of how wonderful/awful different levels of school are. Elementary school is a time of unicorns and butterflies, utter perfection, and everyone getting along. Middle school is a time of confusion and horror. And high school? High school is utter hell.

I contend that this stereotype is grossly inaccurate.

Elementary school was probably the second worst time of my life. (Second, of course, to grad school, which is, was, and forever will be the most miserable, horrible, awful time in my life. It would take an awful lot to top wanting to cry under my desk almost everyday. And I'm not exaggerating. I cried more during grad school than I did as an infant.)

Stereotypes would have us believe that in elementary school, kids are too young to see differences. That they are pure and innocent and all get along without any problem. But in elementary school, I was an outcast. In third grade, no one in my class talked to me--but at least I had friends who had the same recess period as me. Fourth grade? Don't even get me started. I literally did not have a single friend in my school in the fourth grade. In fifth grade, my two best friends hated each other and made my life absolutely miserable.

All through elementary school I was the weird one. I was the girl who liked to read--heck, for a long time I was resented for being the girl who COULD read. I was reading middle grade novels in the third grade when some of my classmates couldn't sound out words. I was the girl who wasn't interested in boys. I'm fairly certain the girls weren't actually interested in boys. They just thought they were supposed to be. But because I didn't, because I saw boys as friends and classmates instead of boyfriends (whatever that means in elementary school), I was weird.

In elementary school I was stuck in a class of thirty other people that didn't change, except maybe (if I was lucky) at recess. (Note: my fourth grade school didn't have recess. Just PE everyday, so you were stuck with your class during that as well).

Then middle school came. We changed classes. Not just rooms, but we changed classmates. You were not guaranteed to have the same thirty people with you. The classes shifted, exposing me to more kids. And something miraculous happened.

I discovered I wasn't alone.

There were other girls like me. Other girls who liked Star Wars. Girls who liked writing and using their imagination. Girls who were still willing to play games of make believe even though we were "too old". Girls who didn't think I was weird. Girls who liked me.

Finally I had friends.

Middle school still wasn't easy, because I do believe that middle school is a time of transition. Things hurts more in middle school, because you're not entirely sure how you should react to them. You're trying to be grown up and a kid at the same time. Its hard. And there were difficult times. But it was SO MUCH BETTER than elementary school. I can't begin to describe how much better it was.

And it only got better. High school? High school was freakin' amazing. Want to talk about finding people like you? Meet the 300 person band. Meet the other thirty kids who think Latin is cool. Meet a school that offers every club for every interest: Aviation Club, Latin Club, Science Olympiad, Quiz Bowl, Honor Societies, and so much more.

And by high school, I knew who I was. I was (am) a nerd. And I had friends who were nerds. And despite popular stereotypical belief, I was respected for my nerdiness. As I've said before, teenagers aren't stupid. They realize the value of intelligence. And they realize that meanness gets you nothing. But if your nice to the nerd. If you genuinely like the nerd. If you get behind the nerd? Well then, maybe on the rare occasion when she thinks an assignment is grossly unfair she'll do the assignment and then send her homework out to the entire class*. Maybe she'll actually let you copy her Latin homework**. But only if your nice. Only if you respect her. Only if you realize that what she's doing for you is a favor. Not that the nerd is mean. She just requires human decency.

And I believe I mentioned before that I was on Prom Court. (Which before that goes to anyone's head, was only second string popularity at my school because if you were on Homecoming Court you weren't allowed to be on Prom Court (and yes, that's me in that picture right there. Not too pretty. Not too thin. Way too much hair on my head)). Being Woodwind Captain of the Marching Band, President of the Latin Club, Captain of the Quiz Bowl Team, Treasurer of the Aviation Club, and President and Founder of the Science National Honor Society may have made me a nerd, but it also meant I was pretty well known. In a school of 3,500 getting the votes of a measly 400 band nerds and general nerds actually goes a long way. And my friend AJ (Brass Captain) made his entire English Class vote for me to spite me. But heck, I got to go to Prom for free so I came to terms with it.

But pretty much everyone on Prom Court was in AP classes and other "nerdy" endeavors.

High school was awesome. I had a ton of friends. I had a ton of activities. I was always busy. I never felt like anyone was out to get me (except possibly my one friend, but she was going through some real emotional trauma, so we forgave her for being crazy). (And before anyone contends I must not have been that much of a nerd, below is an image of me and my friends playing Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. We were huge nerds. And yes that's me with the awful triangle shaped head. I cut off all my hair after that prom photo).

I thought it was just me. I thought I was the only one who suffered through elementary school and found rest and acceptance in high school. But its not true. After talking to several friends, I've found I'm not alone and this stereotype is simply false.

In elementary school you're forced to be with all these other kids. In middle school and high school? You can find your people. And among your people, you find acceptance.

So lets get rid of this tired old stereotype and write characters who have friends. Who don't care about stereotypical popularity. Kids who are odd but liked.

*I actually did this once. My senior English teacher assigned a totally unfair assignment, where she kept changing what was actually required everyday. The assignment was ridiculous and at least ten pages of work and she expected us to do it practically over night. So I sent it out to my entire class (via email). And yes, the teacher did realize what was happened. She pulled me aside in class the day we turned it in and asked, "Mandy, did you help people with this assignment?" To which I responded to the affirmative. She gave me extra credit. Go figure. But I would like to note that no one coerced me into doing this. There was no bullying. Heck, no one even asked. But I saw an injustice. I saw unfairness. And I was sort of a superhero when it came to brains in high school, so I swooped in and saved the day.

**I only did this in AP Latin when we had a crazy teacher who refused to teach us other than saying "Go home and translate that", but never actually teaching us how to properly translate it--the tricks of the trade. It was stupid. So every morning before class, the kids in my AP Latin class would meet in the band hall (there was only four of us) and they would copy the homework from me. Occasionally, when I was busy, I made the others do the work instead. Was this cheating? Possibly. But helping my classmates like this, cheating if you will, was my revenge on the teacher for being awful. She spent our class planning her wedding instead of teaching us and made me teach the Latin III kids we shared a class with on several occasions. Another injustice. Another superhero action on my part. I'm positive the teacher knew it was happening, because on most occasions, if I didn't do the homework that meant no one did the homework. So when she walked in and asked the four of us if we did the homework and I said no she would postpone it to the next day.