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What do The Titanic, an iceberg, and your money have in common?

Short promo video explaining uber-pimp Peter Schiff’s book “Crash Proof 2.0” :

Not Being Miserable, Part 3: When work isn’t work

2009-11-13 3 comments

About the series: Not Being Miserable is my ultimate goal, and I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it. All other goals are pursued solely for the purpose of serving the needs of this ultimate goal. This series catalogs various insights I have in this area. Please excuse the mind-diarrhea.

Part 3: When work isn’t work.

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” In other words, if you find something that you like doing (it engages and challenges you) and you manage to earn a living doing it, you’ll be very fortunate indeed. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, that is my goal. I want to be able to say what this guy said in an article:

A couple of days ago, as I sat in a park in New Orleans with a friend and her son, I was checking my email only to have my friend, who is also an academic, turn to me and say, “Do you ever stop thinking about work?” As I thought about how to answer that question seriously, I realized that it was based on a flawed premise: that I perceive what I do as “work.” That’s not the way it feels. I answered, “In some sense, no, I don’t ever stop thinking about ‘work.’ But what I do does not feel like work. It’s a calling.

–Steven Horwitz

Good luck.

Categories: Career, Life Tags: , ,

“Who is your Daddy and What does he do?”

2009-10-19 2 comments

If my illegitimate child were posed this question he would be at a loss for words. And that’s assuming he speaks English! All bastards aside, I would like to take a minute to try to articulate my current career, irrespective of how unenamored I may be of it at the moment and how balls the job market is from a hire-ee’s perspective. Specifically, I would like to define what domain I studied to attain my Scientiæ Baccalaureus, what field I am applying to jobs in, and how I, the individual person, might fit into that greater picture. If I have the chance, I will even try to answer life’s deeper mysteries:

  • Why don’t penguins feet freeze?
  • Why does grilled cheese go stringy?

OK, so how the hell do those underlined words relate? Time to talk to our boy, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (check him out at TED). And by the way, dude, have you really been using that thing to fill in forms your whole life? I do not even think I could do write that last name in cursive if you held a Avtomat Kalashnikov 47 to my head (to clarify, his name is actually Hungarian which is in the Uralic family which makes it closer Finnish and Estonian than the Russian of the AK-47 but they both look the same kinda crazy to me). From his book, Creativity:

p.27-28 The first question I ask of creativity is not what is it but where is it?

The answer that makes most sense is that creativity can be observed only in the interrelations of a system made up of three main parts. The first of these is the domain, which consists of a set of symbolic rules and procedures… The second component of creativity is the field, which includes all the individuals who act as gatekeepers to the domain. It is their job to decide whether a new idea or product should be included in the domain… Finally, the third component of the creative system is the individual person. Creativity occurs when a person, using the symbols of a given domain… has a new idea or sees a new pattern, and when this novelty is selected by the appropriate field for inclusion into the relevant domain… So the definition that follows from this perspective is: Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one. And the definition of a creative person is: someone whose thoughts or actions change a domain, or establish a new domain. It is important to remember, however, that a domain cannot be changed without the explicit or implicit consent of a field responsible for it.

Djeah boi!! So the domain is the content (the cultural space to be altered) of a particular field and the field is the discipline or the branch of knowledge which includes the people who have it. Okay so how does this relate to anything? While this excerpt is fairly abstract I would like to think that the perspective of creativity is a good one to take, because if you are not creating, what are you doing? That is meant to be a rhetorical question, but “Having sex with chicks!” is an acceptable answer (gotwavs.com/0085412111/MP3S/Movies/Idiocracy/poundonthat.mp3).

Okay, so let us focus some. Shalln’t we? I will try to define my domain but I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little difficult to pin down…

My Bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering, short for Biological Engineering, came from UCSD which has consistently ranked in the top 5 for such programs over the past 15 years, however, as far as the importance of rankings, I borrow from a post on collegeconfidential.com (member, s1185’s) due to its author’s frank message and organic context, “You go to college for the overall experience, since most of what you learn in class will be irrelevant for work, and your employers will pay little attention to US News Department rankings (as opposed to their unreferenced belief as to which is a better school) when hiring you.”

Okay, so people care enough about it to rank it, to find out what it is, let us break it down into parts (from Princeton.edu):

  • Biological:  Pertaining to biology or to life and living things.
  • Engineering: The discipline dealing with the art or science of applying scientific knowledge to practical problems.

So…putting it together, that means, Bioengineering is the discipline dealing with the art or science of applying scientific knowledge to practical problems in living things, or more simply, any type of engineering applied to living things. From a department webpage (University of Toledo):

Bioengineering is the application of the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and engineering principles to define and solve problems in biology, medicine, health care and other fields. Bioengineering is a relatively new discipline that combines many aspects of traditional engineering fields such as chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering.

The UCSD Bioengineering Department actually offers four tracks/majors for undergraduate students:

  • Bioengineering: Biotechnology – Biotechnology deals with the implementation of biological knowledge in industrial processes.  From Wikipedia: “Modern use of the term usually refers to genetic engineering as well as cell- and tissue culture technologies. However, the concept encompasses a wider range and history of procedures for modifying living things according to human purposes, going back to domestication of animals, cultivation of plants and “improvements” to these through breeding programs that employ artificial selection and hybridization.” Sex with sheep?
  • Bioengineering: Bioinformatics – Bioinformatics can be considered a branch of Biotechnology, it may be referred to as computational biology. This is a crazy domain that involves a lot of gnarly programming to apply information technology to the field of molecular biology. Sex with computers?
  • Bioengineering – So we tried to define this one already. Also from Wikipedia: “By comparison to biotechnology [see above], bioengineering is generally thought of as a related field with its emphasis more on mechanical and higher systems approaches to interfacing with and exploiting living things.” Sex with sex toys and robots?
  • Bioengineering: Premedical – This is the one I was in. A lot of overlap with the Bioengineering track above, this track contains all the courses a medical school would hope to see taken by an applicant. From what I understand, the UCSD medical school adds something to an applicant’s GPA for being in the Bioengineering department, something like .2 or .3 which is significant (too bad I do not plan to go to medical school). Sex with nurses?

To add to the confusion, some schools do not have Bioengineering but rather Biomedical Engineering. MORE CLARIFICATION! Wikipedia again:

Biological engineering (also biosystems engineering and bioengineering) is a broad-based engineering discipline that deals with bio-molecular and molecular processes, product design, sustainability and analysis of biological systems. Generally, bioengineering encompasses other engineering disciplines when they are applied to living organisms (e.g., prosthetics in mechanical engineering). Bioengineering is often synonymous with biomedical engineering, though in the strict sense the term can be applied more broadly to include food engineering and agricultural engineering. Biotechnology also falls under the purview of the broad umbrella of bioengineering.

So generally, biomedical engineering is the medical application of bioengineering, but the terms are often used interchangeably. Whew! So, I think I have done something to clarify domain and the fields within it. Here is a cursory glance at some of the applications:

  • Agricultural Engineering-Harvesting genetically altered wheat with a combine.
  • Aquaculture – Also known as aquafarming.
  • Artificial Biospheres – Yes, even Pauly Shore helped out.
  • Biosensors – Think a machine that reads your fingerprint.
  • Bio-based material-Simply an engineering material derived from living matter
  • Biomaterials – Natural or man-made that comprises whole or part of a living structure.
  • Drug Delivery-Ask a junkie.
  • Industrial Fermentation
  • Industrial Enzymatic Reactions
  • Life Support Systems-Like when Tom Hanks & Brian Boitano had to do the C02 filter modification.
  • Metabolic Engineering-Often involved in producing beer, wine, cheese, pharmaceuticals.
  • Production and Purification of Biopharmaceuticals
  • Prosthesis

Do I know how to do all this stuff? The answer is unfortunately an emphatic, no. But I am not an entirely useless individual. No really! Let me explain. Back to our first definition of bioengineering: “any type of engineering applied to living things,” we basically focused on Mechanical Engineering applied to the Human Organism. We studied math, chemistry, physics, physiology, basic programming, biomechanics, circuits, biochemistry, genetics, bioinstrumentation, statistics, biomaterials, yadda yadda yadda.

All of the above is good, but as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (copy and paste, I refuse to type that shit) said in his lecture at TED, it takes 10 years for someone to build up enough technical knowledge to change a domain. Likewise Dr. K. Anders Ericsson and Malcom Gladwell , both referenced in the most recent season (7) of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit might tell you that the difference between genius and mediocrity is about 10,000 hours of practice. So basically what my degree earned me is the chance to enter a field such as medical devices as I have (to some extent) as well as pursue more degrees, in the hopes of reaching that 10 years of technical knowledge or 10,000 hours of practice even further down the line, garnering at least a pittance in the process.

All these topics interest me but I am not sure I want to spend 10,000 hours on medical devices. Excuse me. Where are my manners? I should say what a medical device is (from Wikipedia):

This is an extremely broad category — essentially covering all healthcare products that do not achieve their intended results through predominantly chemical (e.g., pharmaceuticals) or biological (e.g., vaccines) means, and do not involve metabolism.

A medical device is intended for use in:

  • the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or
  • in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease,

Some examples include pacemakers, infusion pumps, the heart-lung machine, dialysis machines, artificial organs, implants, artificial limbs, corrective lenses, cochlear implants, ocular prosthetics, facial prosthetics, somato prosthetics, and dental implants.

This industry is highly regulated and very conservative (like Aerospace apparently) and is thus difficult to “break into.” It is also said to be a smaller more incestuous group than one might expect and thus one is advised to “never burn a bridge in medical devices.” A friend who works for a company that makes endoscopes told me that the best and brightest are in the medical device industry. I do not know how that claim could be supported but I am just giving you the word on the street. Unfortunately, the regulated and conservative nature that makes it so well “protected” from other job seekers would seem to make it less pleasant to work in. While computer engineers and programmers at Google sit in bean bags and take time for reflection and stretching, people in the medical device industry must cater to a series of auditors and make sure that they are always seen walking briskly and with purpose. Granted, I can only present my view from a very lowly position in a particularly bureaucratic office.

The industry has a development side (Research and Development, Product Development), a production side (Sustaining, Manufacturing, Growth), and an oversight side (Regulatory and Quality). It also needs Marketing and sales people to get the product out and Clinical Research to test the effectiveness and get things to market. Beyond that it has all the basic office and legal functions (Document Control, IT, Maintenance). What is true for me (some of which you may have gleamed from this blog) is that I like to understand how things work in the physical world, I like to create, and I like to stimulate peoples’ minds in creative ways. The kind of position I am looking for as a next step, in this industry at least, is on the development side, to up my scientific knowledge, and I could see myself continuing in that fashion or moving over to Marketing because it affords the opportunity to coalesce the needs of physicians, the technology limitations of the developers and scientists, and the capability of production, all the while requiring a well spoken and intelligent presentation. Regulatory deals with government bodies, Quality tells people they need to do more tests to make sure they do not make bad product, and Sustaining/ Manufacturing keeps those assembly lines running and tries to find ways to standardize, improve, and cheapify the process.

So while I can see some opportunity for engagement and learning, it would seem that jumping into a job that sounds interesting without a higher degree, without lots of experience, without awards, without a big penis, takes a lot of schmoozing and “being professional” day in and day out which is not easy when you have a restless mind and are in an office setting. I will say, however, that being in a place long enough to get acquainted with the people there does make it seem less abrasive but at the same time you can get complacent and the only thing that really matters is if you win the respect of the gatekeepers. That is, those you would interview with, if you applied to a better job. I guess that does not matter too much because my company has all but killed its Research and Development department so I am looking elsewhere (still in Southern California).

I still say that educating people on a grand scale sounds like more fun. But hey! The teamwork skills and Medical Device, Bioengineering knowledge could still be applied to developing educational products (game) down the road! Right?! I hope so. I am keeping myself open to a form of creation that would reach a customer in the form of an audience rather than a patient, to aid in the process of discovery, because that is what I seem to enjoy the most.

Oh yeah, here it is. From “Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze? And 114 Other Questions:”

  • “Two mechanisms are at work. First, the penguin can control the rate of blood flow to the feet by varying the diameter of arterial vessels supplying the blood. In cold conditions the flow is reduced, when it is warm the flow increases. Humans can do this too, which is why our hands and feet become white when we are cold and pink when warm. Control is very sophisticated and involves the hypothalamus and various nervous and hormonal systems. However, penguins also have ‘counter-current heat exchangers’ at the top of the legs. Arteries supplying warm blood to the feet break up into many small vessels that are closely allied to similar numbers of venous vessels bring cold blood back from the feet. Heat flows from the warm blood to the cold blood, so little of it is carried down the feet.”
  • “The uncooked cheese contains long-chain protein molecules more or less curled up in a fatty, watery mess. When you heat cheese, the fats and proteins melt and if you fiddle with the fluid, the chains can get dragged into strings.”

Propaganda in a Biology class

2009-09-12 5 comments

Here’s an open letter I wrote to the Physical Sciences department at Santa Monica College.  I was enraged but I managed to refrain from dropping F bombs all over their asses.  Make sure you watch the video; just be ready for a cold shower because you’re blood is going to boil.

I’m compelled to bring to your attention an upsetting matter:  Bear with me for just a moment.  “The Story Of Stuff” ( storyofstuff.com ) is a so-called documentary that expresses the all-too-familiar opinion that capitalism and America are evil.  It purports to explain the chain of production and it’s effects on the environment, but it also spills over into the the arena of politics and economics. It makes so many arguable statements, exaggerations, and even outright falsehoods that one could spend hours discussing all the misinformation it contains.

This is not new.  Having graduated from college, I am accustomed to having liberal arts professors use their classrooms as podiums to spout their political and social opinions.  What is the shocking news here?  This video, “The Story Of Stuff,” is part of the required coursework in a college biology class!  This is a perversion of an institution of higher learning.  This video does not belong in a biology course!  This professor should not be allowed to get away with this.

Sincerely,

Jay
Los Angeles, CA

P.S. Here are the specifics on the class.

School: Santa Monica College (Santa Monica, CA)
Course:  BIOL 2, Human Biology
Instructor: Jacki L. Houghton
Term: Fall 2009

I’m not deluding myself into thinking that anything will be done about this.  It just depresses me that even science, which I thought was the last bastion of critical thinking left in colleges, is polluted with vile indoctrination.  Et tu, Brute?

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Not Being Miserable, Part 1

2009-08-14 1 comment

About the series: Not Being Miserable is my ultimate goal, and I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it.  All other goals are pursued solely for the purpose of serving the needs of this ultimate goal.  This series catalogs various insights I have in this area.  Please excuse the mind-diarrhea.

Part 1

What do I need to do to be satisfied?  Tough question.  One of the things you learn as you gain wisdom is that many things are  too complex to be accurately expressed in simple terms.  But inasmuch as it’s possible to sum things up in a word, my latest answer to that question is this:  Create.

Start small.  Begin cataloging your thoughts, insights, musings, ideas, etc.  Write.  Record.  Draw.  Design.  Audio, video, graphics, text, web.  If you look at the careers of people who’ve created something that you find respectable, you’ll usually notice that they’ve been expressing themselves in various forms for some time.  They may have shifted from one form to another as their careers (I hate that word) took them from one medium to another.  For example, a comedian may have in their body of work various books, audio, articles, blogs, stand-up routines, podcasts, radio shows, etc.  At first glance a radio talk show host may seem to have little in common with a stand-up comedian or the author of a book.  But one person could do all three things.  They’re all just different methods of getting their creation out of their brain and into a tangible medium that can be utilized by others.

Don’t forget that creating doesn’t have to be artsy fartsy.  A scientist who expresses a new idea or research findings is creating.  The key is that rather than managing something that’s already there, you’re generating something new with your brain (which certainly includes synthesizing existing stuff).

Now get out there and live, damn it.

Yes, but what have Video Games Done for You?

2009-07-25 21 comments

Today, a conversation I had with a comrade (22) at my work  ignited me to ponder a career path which I imagine, if followed, could lead someone like me, in fact, me to an Arnold Schwarzenegger style c[u]ming all the time lifestyle. All of  sudden I was metaphorically grabbed in the lower cajones region and forced to dwell on all that time and money I spent on Education and Video Games (not after turning to the side to cough, embarrassingly hoping that my semi might pass for a generous flaccid).

Bien sûr, this brain wave doesn’t involve a spin-off from something we were nominally employed to do, no siree to The Bobs! (See what I did there: Olde timey saying mixed with an Office Space reference! … I really have to get some of my lower ribs removed.) My work is at a large evil medical device company which makes large evil life saving products but we were scheming up large evil ‘serious games’ to combat the void left by the large evil K-12 education system. That includes you Kindergarten Cop!  Dective John Kimble played by a cu[nn]ing Arnold Scwharzenegger and even your teacher-turned-cop partner Phoebe O’Hara.

Yes, that ‘Serious Game’ term is new to me too, I came (hehe) across it while I was researching: the barriers to entry…, more positive; the lay of the land…, more directed: my potential mode of attack into the video game industry. Speaking to my fellow chronically-under-stimulated-Compañero-de-Trabajo, I brought up my vision of a video game that is equal parts entertainment and equal parts science information, I was thinking knowledge of the human brain (maybe the immune system?). Not only was he interested but he was, as was I, practically foaming at the mouth at the thought of how stimulating that would be.

Understandably, this might not sound that novel but think about the current tradeoff curve for the industry, go ahead, plot “y=-ln(x)+2”and imagine the y-axis is the Learning Quotient and the x-axis is the Gameplay. It’s steep! Can you think back and verify this? You can either learn or have fun, but the learning will be about as fun as your class in high school, minus being high. Notice that if you take the xmax and ymax out to 10 you can see the curve fall below 0. They are so fun people get dumber from the games! Wohoo!! Here I come Calypso!

So much precious youthful brainpower goes into learning facts like, “The largest Tauren tribe, the Bloodhoof Tauren, reside on the top of a cluster of tall mesas known as Thunder Bluff, in the grasslands of Mulgore.”  That’s fucking great! Thank you Blizzard Entertainment! Maybe Michael Jackson and I will go vist them one day!! (Your mom’s “too soon.”) To be clear, I don’t condemn the exercise of creating fantastic fictional universes, but as a man of science I hate to see a good mind maneuver its host into a career at Best Buy or worse yet a Psychology Major because, “OMG! I love it, and I it’s really great because I feel like, you could do anything with it.” Building that deeper intuitive understanding is what so many people spend so much time studying to get, and if you could just put that in the form of a video game (which is a natural fit as I see it) … or a supository

As I now understand it, the role that me and homeslice from work were pinning for is the Game Designer (look at the Roles).

Anyways, I would not divulge how I would start to make my dream a reality and my reality a dream (as Arnold [Cumings] did) but a big part of my point (hehehe) is that it is not everyday you find a job that simultaneously calls upon all of your aptitudes, not if you have a lot of them, and if you hold them dear, especially the creative and the spatial ones. Take now (as I write this), for instance: I get to be random and self referential. This is fun. I get to connect with people but still work independently, use logical reasoning skills, call upon my memory. Awesome. But is my right hemisphere really being utilized? That big ganglia might try to make himself known as I add colons and parenthesis and brackets and italics; as I insert hyperlinks and graphs; banging on the inner walls of my skull like Trick or Treaters locked in the basement. But let’s face it kids, at the moment, there’s no getting out.

I want to make a game that pushes the trade-off curve to the right and puts it right at the 50-50 point, where y=x. Not to say that there are no games like this in existence. Par exemple:

This one is not that much learning and not that much fun but it’s equal parts both.Granted, it’s only learning if you believe in that evolution stuff.

This one was created by a Harvard/ Stanford Business Professor and I’m told it’s legit. Looks like Sim City.

The kind of stuff people in that industry know is not easy, “most job solicitations for game programmers specify a bachelor’s degree (in mathematics, physics, computer science, ‘or equivalent experience’).” I’m taking a class right now, Mathematical Methods of Theoretical Physics and that shit is not to be taken lightly, even by an Asian. But a game designer does not need to be a programmer. I have no idea what it would take to get a hold of those kind of resources but I relish the thought. (Hmmmm, r-r-relish, aghrghghhhhh).

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