Monday, November 12, 2007

Crushing Blows

Rarely in our lives do our eyes rest on something so awe-inspiring that our jaws lie agape. Even more infrequently must we raise our hands to protect our wide-open mouths from rock shrapnel. This past Friday, I had such a moment.

Now, because I signed an NDA, I can't get into specifics. Suffice it to say, I visited a company that produces equipment used in the mining industry. Common sense would dictate that such a company would have test equipment designed to analyze the mechanics of their products. For an entire minute, I could have cared less about numbers indicating forces and displacements: there was a machine merely feet away showering rock everywhere. It was a demonstration that would humble any engineer who is used to using screws as small as those found on eyeglasses and is normally specifying intricate rounded corners on exotic metals. This was steel crushing rock. This was awesome.

Just after the demonstration ended, the little man in my head turned off the giant Inject Adrenaline valve, giving me a few more minutes of gradually-subsiding head rush before I returned to planet Earth. It was at this point that I realized a very important and hard truth. The machine I designed and helped to build needs to do exactly that. The valve re-opened.

It's going to be an interesting couple of months as this project comes to a head. Once my company releases the design to the public (and we get our patent stuff in line), I'll show off some pictures here. You won't be let down.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Where has Brad gone?

Breathe deeply, my dear friends; breathe deeply. I still exist, and I still wish to become an astronaut. Things, as "things" are wont to do, have gotten a wee bit crazy in my life.

First and foremost, I have decided to bump up my hour commitment at work from 80% (or 32 hours) to the standard 40-hour week. Coupled with my 6 hours of classwork (and associated travel time), my leisure time has taken a considerable hit. Working on the weekends is now the norm rather than the exception.

So why have I decided to take on a hellish schedule? An obvious answer might be money. And while the extra padding in my wallet is nice, the true answer lies in my workload. Put simply, I noticed that my employer needed some extra work from me. Since working hard only gets so far, I offered to work an additional 8 hours each week. I'm still adjusting to the new schedule, but no one ever got anywhere by taking it easy.

In more specific terms, I have certainly been up to plenty of shenanigans. Halloween is, shall we say, an important Madison holiday. Aside from the typical children under 12, pretty much everyone between the ages of 18 and 30 dons a costume. I tend to take pride in making an original costume that is truly unique. This year, I used my basic knowledge of circuitry to make a ghost costume. This was not any typical ghost costume, mind you: it was a Pacman ghost costume. Beneath the white sheets, I wired up both red and blue LEDs to simulate Blinky's in-game appearance. By my side, my lovely girlfriend Marie dressed up as Ms. Pac-man. We were a hit, especially when we chased each other, turning only at right angles.

More recently, I served as a technical judge for a LEGO tournament last weekend. The participants, aged 9-14, displayed some serious creativity and ingenuity. I can only hope that all of us judges imparted some sense of excitement for the engineering field. The world would do well to encourage them in their pursuit of the sciences.

I close this post with yet another example of my perpetual undertakings: my current location. I am presently in Pennsylvania on a business trip. Rather than sitting in a conference room listening to a paper's exposition, I get to assemble parts of my design into a working rock-crusher. And not just any rock-crusher... no, no, no. This behemoth is a prototype for a lunar-based autonomous mining machine. While I can't delve into specifics due to company secrets, let me assure you that you will not want to get in its stone-obliterating way.

It is here that I now sign off. Thanks for reading. I will strive to keep you abreast of my activities on a more-regular schedule.