California

•February 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I took an interesting class a few semesters ago that was devoted to the idea of cultural geography. This differed from a typical geography class in that the focus was on people that make up a region, rather than the physical land formations. We spent weeks reflecting on possible definitions for “place” and “landscape” and how important they are for people.

The class was different than my norm, with a philosophical standpoint as opposed to a physical one, but it was nice to have a new perspective on something that felt so worn.

Several articles we read for the course came from various countries, and the author’s tone and focus would represent the external worldview of the region from which they wrote (As an example, pick up some work by Charles Dickens. The words he uses and the patterns in his stories are deep in their description of the archetypal “British” landscape).

During an interesting discussion among our class, there was a blankness that came to our discussion of California and the Los Angeles region in general. Many of the students in the class had come from other states or even other countries, but no one had a specific story that seperated the identity of California apart from everywhere else. I found this very interesting.

At one point in the semester, I stumbled on a song that stuck with me, and I believe this song describes the identity that we were looking for. I wrote an email to my professor explaining my case, and here is a copy of it:

Professor Davidson,

This letter is in regards to a subject we went over a few weeks ago in your Geog. 301 class, about Los Angeles its lack of landscape. Recently, I’ve been listening to a song called “California” by Semisonic, and I believe that it adequetly describes that landscape described.

Here’s a link to the song: California
This song has a very mellow rythm to it, something that can be enjoyed in all of the finer Los Angeles pastimes, such as sitting in traffic in the morning, or driving up the coast in the sunset, or sitting at a backyard barbeque with some friends. It’s easy listening that is enjoyable without a deep rootedness in any culture.

The lyrics themselves are bittersweet, detailing what I believe to be the band’s experience of moving out to California to become famous, only to be swept in a sea upon arrival. It describes the driving experience throughout Southern California’s landscape (“Driven through the canyons/ I was dazzled by the mountains and we didn’t go very far”), and the global view of fame and stardom in Los Angeles (“Close enough to Heaven/ If you climb upon a mansion you too can swing like a star”)

Once the band reached California, instead of being greated with a red carpet they met a struggle to become a part of the city (“I tried to get inside I bought a ticket with my pride/ And I was gone right out of my head”). Feeling lost, they took off into the city, and came to realize that it was, in an abstract sense, their personal refuge (“I went out for a ride to go across a great divide/ And I ended up at home instead”).

From here, the experience drew back from the initial excitement to a form of survival by the band keeping their head down and just getting by (“A visitor, a stranger, thought I might pass/ For a regular if I just kept out of the lights”). In order to keep a sense of self, the songwriter put his experiences and feelings into the art that he had been familiar with all his life, much like the majority of the artistic population of the area (“I tore my heart out from my chest/ Mixed it up in my mind with the best freshest pieces of my soul”).

All the while, the chorus echos (“California/ I thought I should see/ Now I’m back home yeah/ With twelve little pieces of me/ California/ I dreamed I would find/ Some kinda sorta pick-me-up/ I got twelve little pieces of my mind”). California is sung with a reverence to the idea of a laid back atmosphere where dreams are possible, similar to [Kevin] Starr’s consistent naming scheme involving “dreams” for his papers on California. Also in the chorus, the writer reflects on the thoughts and dreams of coming to Los Angeles, hinting that things aren’t as he expected. I believe, however, that there is also hope in his voice about the making of Los Angeles into a home, as mentioned prior in the song, in a more abstract way than the author ever thought possible. As a side note, I believe that the “twelve little pieces of my mind” refers to the 12 songs on the band’s first album, which brought them the confidence necessary to make such a lifetime trip.

Overall, the difference between driving to California and living here is vast, and very scary for most people when things don’t turn up the way they expect in the first place. However, California, especially the Southern region, is filled with people in a similar situation, all at different stages of the process of home building. While each of us takes a different path to making a home out of the chaos, the unification is in the struggle and the joy of one day making it.

Let me know what you think by email me at michael.staudenmeir@gmail.com. I enjoyed writing this piece, and I wanted to share it on my blog to promote your thinking on the identity of where you come from, and to look for clues in the writing you come across.

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It Is A Chance

•February 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Today, I felt more like a valuable commodity than any other day of my life.

Job fair at my school today (we call this one Tech Fest, highlighting engineering firms that are looking for potential engineering interns and employees). I was extremely nervous; I tend to be like that for any event that registers as “important” to me. I had narrowed my desires down to three of the twenty-something firms that were present, and had run some background research. I had my resume re-worked, my clothes ironed, and my shoes buffed. Last night the hour between 9 and 10 o’clock was spent at Kinkos, printing and binding a fresh copy of a technical report that I had been involved in last semester.

 
At Tech Fest, I began to jump in and shared information about myself to some of the representatives. Most were friendly and informative. Some seemed like they were asked to be there yesterday by someone who simply couldn’t be bothered. Regardless, I learned a fair share about the companies and the people that they attract.

There came a big shock when I went over to one booth. I must have spent 40 minutes waiting in line to speak with a woman for whom I received a tip that she was hiring mechanical engineers. Nerves kicked in and out, but thankfully my buddy Mike was by my side to ease things out. I kept telling myself: “All I have to do is meet someone new and talk about the things I’m interested in. I do this every day.”

I apologize for the person behind me in line, because I must have spent 20 minutes speaking one-on-one with this woman. She was very enthusiastic about her work; testing navigation systems for aerospace research at a nearby and very respected facility. She asked me about my goals, my strengths, and spoke very favorably about what she had seen in me. I was given her email address to send .pdf copies of the work that I had brought in, so she could read it later.

Two hours later, I received a call from her, asking for further information about my graduation.

In an unfortunate mistake, I had accidentally silenced my phone on this woman when she called the first time, but she once again called back immediately. The way that she explained herself, and spoke so favorably about our meeting, was incredible. I have never before felt so honored and so able to be an engineer. Those words simply don’t say enough.

I thanked her for her time, and took off from there, standing a bit taller than my body gives me credit for (eat your heart out John Mayer). While this may not result in anything out of the ordinary, the extraordinary sense of accomplishment and professionalism has provided a much needed boost to my self esteem. Naturally, I will continue to apply to other firms, but for my first chance at speaking face to face with someone in a position such as hers… Nothing I can do alone can amount to that.

 
So I say thank you to those who helped re-work my resume. Thank you to those who helped iron my clothes. Thank you to those who helped me shine my shoes. And thank you to those who stood by me to calm my nerves, and help remind me of who I am.

 
This may not be my big chance, but it is a chance, and I will be looking into it with eagerness and critical eyes as the potential unfolds.

The Return

•January 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Hello again. This won’t be a very long post due to the little news that has happened recently.

CSUN’s Spring semester begins this Saturday, which will be my most ambitious semester so far. With eight classes coming up, I don’t know how often I will be able to post for the next few months.

I’ve had some leads with JPL, including a phone number and email for the person responsible for overseeing the summer internship program, as well as general help from people within the company that have been wonderful enough to share what’s going on. Just the same, I’m keeping contacts from Disney, always keeping my eye on that future. And once the initial rush of returning to class calms down, I will continue discussing other local internship/employment opportunities from companies that are on the rise.

In the meantime, I wanted to share my aerospace project on designing a sounding rocket that helped me ace my aerospace design class. Here’s a link to the .pdf: Final Project. It was an immensely fun project, and I am extremely thankful for the wonderful group of guys that were a part of that class. I look forward to another semester of working with them.

That’s about everything for now. Oh, Ashley and I are beginning to piece together our honeymoon plans. Woo hoo. Seriously though, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Book Recommendation #3

•January 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s that time of year again for reflection and ambition.

Okay, so I’m not a healthy eater. I tend to make more poor choices than good with what I eat, and then I eat more than I need to. It’s an unfortunately common occurrence in American’s today, but now that I’ve acknowledged it, I’m taking action.

I recently picked up a wonderful book called Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink. This book describes the thought process behind the food choices we make (including what we eat and how much of it we eat) and teaches the reader how to set themselves up to make better decisions without having to think about it.

The psychology boiles down to habitually snacking on unhealthy things that are convenient or buying large meals that we consider are better value. Wansink’s approach differs from a typical dieting approach that requires us to give up the things that we enjoy about food; he instead dives into the dining atmosphere that compells us to eat more.

Have you ever sat through a movie at a theater and, without realizing it, eaten almost an entire large bucket of popcorn? When you’re eating with friends at a restraunt, do you ever keep eating more and more, simply because everyone else is still eating? Despite the fullness of your stomach, it is easy to continue eating simply because the signs around you are sending your brain signals of hunger. This is just a small portion of the topics Wansink discusses in the course of his book.

Now, to promote my own healthier eating lifestyle, I’m taking the month of January to slowly settle into a new habit. I’ve chosen three things to help me do this:

  1. No eating after 10 pm.
  2. No eating at my desk or in my car
  3. Be the last person at a meal to start eating

These are three things that I have found are very common in my routine, but don’t help me with the outcome of what I eat, and following each will promote healthier eating subconciously.

The first point is to avoid late night snacking that fills me with empty calories. Studies have shown that our brains are more easily persuaded at night (which is why those stupid infomercials are suddenly so amazing at 1 AM), and hunger is a persuadable feeling that comes often.

The second point places focus on watching the things I eat. I spend a lot of time in my car or at my desk, and by trying to multitask with food, it’s easy to overlook how much is put in my mouth. Worse, Wansink describes that, in this form of mindless eating, our brain relies of some sort of external signal to determine when to stop. As long as there is food in front of you while you’re watching a movie, it is almost impossible to stop eating until movie is over or your stomach is beyond capacity.

The last point is a preventative step to keep me from eating longer than I need. When I’m at a restraunt with my family or friends, it’s easy for me to rush through a meal and then pick at extra food while I wait for others to finish. Watching people eat feels weird to me when I’m not eating, so I tend to pick at more food than I need to avoid this. By starting my meals last, I will eat less because the finished people around me will signal that the meal is over, even without my thinking about it.

Of course, I’ve tried forming habits before that simply didn’t stick, so this time I’m trying something new. I’ve placed a sheet of paper next to my bed with these three bullets and the numbers 1-31 for each day in the month of January in a spreadsheet. Every night before I go to bed, I put an X for each thing I missed for the day. So far, I haven’t had a day with all three X’s missing, but the daily reminder is powerful. Over time, I believe this will reduce my unecessary food intake by making these decisions automatic, and then I can move on to improving something else.

Quick update about the intellegent ground vehicle project: the mechanical team has finished fabrication of our new robot, shown here.

CSUN's project for the upcoming 2011 IGV competition

Everything looks great, and we’re on schedule to get all the wiring taken care of so we can begin testing. Everyone involved is very excited, and many of the students that graduated this semester will be poking their head in to make sure everything’s working well. We are looking forward to the competition in July, and hope to do well.

The Gift of Fallen Assumptions

•December 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Christmas is just two days away, tugging a new year along with it. The mental change between one period of time into the next is influencial in our lives, guiding our ambitions, as well as our fears. Some of these feelings affect assumptions we make about places or people, preventing us from otherwise enjoying variation from the norm.

It’s been a few months since I first applied for Boeing, and while I’ve put in applications, found some names, and spoke to some people, nothing has really come up yet. Their typical hiring period for the summer internships runs between September and November, and at a month afterwards, I don’t think it’s going to happen right now.

While I was (and still am) looking forward to the idea of Boeing, I know that it’s a big company; in fact, much bigger than any company I’ve worked for so far. Maybe there are still some kinks I need to work on in my resume, or maybe the market is too flooded, or maybe my applications simply got lost in the fray; I will apply there again in the future, but now just doesn’t seem the time.

Now, I’m not normally the type of guy that bounces back into the dating scene, but I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with some people at Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena.

This pleasure seems to have come out of right field. For a few years now I’ve had some sour script in my subconscious that has told me JPL isn’t where I want to spend my time. Don’t ask; I have no idea where or when this began.

This change of heart began about 2 weeks ago at a Christmas party for the church staff, when I met a woman named Karissa who recently landed a job at JPL. She is attractive and extremely charismatic, and I was shocked when she told me where she worked, largely due to my impression of a lab filled with shy, unsociable people. She mentioned how great the company has been to her and how quickly they sent word about accepting her application; something that I found particularly interesting. After hearing some stories, I thanked her for talking and left home with something under my skin.

Since that night, I’ve spoken with a few other people that have interned or worked for the company. Two things have come from this: first, I was completely misguided by my own impression, and two, this sounds like the kind of place I could enjoy working at for a while. Sometimes I get so focused on what I think or feel is right that, when someone breaks through my barriers at an unguarded moment, I begin to see people, places, and ideas in a more respectable light. It feels good to have a change of heart like that.

As an added bonus, I checked my grades for the fall semester today and found that I aced my aerospace design class. It was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, and I have never enjoyed working on a report as much as I did for the cumulative sounding rocket design project for that class.

The gift of fallen assumptions has come as an early Christmas present, and one that I intend to explore more in the upcoming year. After I put in my application for JPL this week, and for any other businesses I develop interest in, I know I will experience more to share as I live my life.

Failure, Continued

•December 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Finals week is over, and we’re winding down on a few papers that, for some reason, have been extended beyond the duration of the actual course. Whatever. My confidence is high, and with luck, my grades will match.

Now, my failure post about two weeks ago was by far my most viewed thus far, which is great. I have enjoyed practicing writing about plans and ideas, working through some negotiations about what how to best tackle them, and then setting out for accomplishment.

FAILURE  We can't spell failure with U.

Now, the idea of failure may still be a little vague, so before I continue I’d like to explain this a little more.

First, I don’t believe failure is a good thing, and I did not set out with my last post with a plan to fail. I do, however, believe failure is natural and that anyone who has failed can make better use of their time and abilities by working through and learning from those failures, rather than sulking and complaining. This brings me to my next point, which has been a large part of my mindset over the past few weeks: set out with better (read: more realistic) expectations about failure, and practice getting back up on my feet.

Ever since I asked this initial question, a number of failure scenarios have opened up; however, the one that stuck out the most was responsibility. Responsibility is a big word, both in idea and character count, that I and everyone else fail at.

Responsibility is a careful balance, but not between having too much and too little. The goal of responsibility should be to have a lot; in fact, I want as much responsibility as I can handle. The balancing act comes from the dissertation between beneficial and extraneous responsibility.

Side note: sometimes I like to use big words to sound important. It’s common for people with blogs.

Beneficial responsibility comes in many flavors, often categorized by the area of existance. We have work responsibilities, family responsibilities, and friendship responsibilities – I don’t have to list any of these, because I’m sure you have a good idea of each already. And yes, we fail at these, but it’s not the end of the world.

Extraneous responsibilities grow from ideas and comments that are put in our head that distort our perspective of expectation for ourselves and others in the world. When I wanted to pick up an exercise routine, I set a Saturday aside with no plans becuase I believed that it would be better for me to practice devotion to a good cause; however, this set my mind into a state where working out all day was my responsibility, and the natural tiring of my body avalanched into feelings of failure. Despite my high ambitions and motivated approach, most trainers and health coaches will agree that beginning slowly is the best way to start a new exercise routine, such as this post from SixWise.com.

The dissapointment from failing to meet these extraneous responsibilities can be extremely difficult to bear, which makes the process of learning from and moving on almost impossible.

My extraneous responsibility is being a role model for my friends. While thinking about outcomes that would lead me to be a good role model whenever I make a decision affecting multiple people is necessary, the idea of other people relying on me to not fail is unrealistic and stupid.

For example, my cousin is the closest thing I have to a brother, and when he started having issues with some friends, I made it my goal to spend more time with him and be, well, a role model. In my clear mindset, I know that he doesn’t expect this from me because I’ve been screwing things up his whole life and he sees me as a normal friend. However, when school kicked back in and I was unable to spend enough time to keep him away from the same old issues, I failed in my extraneous responsibility.

This failure is key because of two effects it had:

  1. I was unable to devote the proper time to other beneficial responsibilities (such as finishing my work on time) because I was so focused on the failing.
  2. All of my thoughts and feelings moved from him to myself, which made me selfish and stupid.

I’ll keep focusing on conquering responsibility failure over the winter break, but first I plan on writing a short list of beneficial and extraneous responsibilities that I face regularly. In the meantime, what responsibilities have you failed at personally? Which of them (if any) are extraneous? Which are beneficial? Feel free to email me at michael.staudenmeir@gmail.com with any thoughts.

Failure

•December 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. There were plenty of familiar faces I enjoyed seeing, and plenty of familiar faces I did not enjoy seeing. The holiday spirit is upon me.

As a topic that’s come up a lot lately, especially in light of the holiday season, I’d like to talk a bit about failure today. Failure is something that a good engineer comes to expect and anticipate, something that a great engineer can work with beneficially. But the overall idea of failure goes well beyond structural fractures or meltdowns, and my focus today is more in the direction of abstract failure as we so eloquently complain about.

Failure happens to everyone. It happens every day. And yes, it is a scary thing, but as humans we are fortunate enough to be able to adapt to any and every scenario, including failure. Typical failure may be failing a test, or failing to yield at a red light, or failing to have that cute girls number written for your own pleasure, or even failure at simply waking up on time. Each form of failure has negative consequence(s), especially the failures that I’ve been hearing about lately: failing at personal goals such as losing weight, saving money, or failing to secure a job through an interview. We become so intimate with these undertakings in the planning phase that, when the mere concept of failure is presented to us, we either ignore them or, worse, shut down and cancel our plans.

I have failed many times, with the most painful ones to me being failing with women or failing with career-oriented goals. For years I chased women (unsuccessfully) and was turned down at what felt like the most emotionally catastrophic timing. And as I mentioned in a previous post, despite a lot of hard work and the appearance of confidence (at least in my blog post), I struggled with submitting my resume to Boeing. I was so taken back by the fear of rejection that I did nothing.

However, I don’t have to live like this, and neither do you.

From what I’ve learned lately, particularly with Ramit Sethi’s excellent blog/email newsletter titled “I Will Teach You To Be Rich,” we can make habits that will, over time, develop our minds to actually ANTICIPATE failure, and then turn it around to better ourselves (the article can be found here, but I will briefly describe it below for relevance). The best example he gives is such: you go in to a job interview, feeling confident (and of course, slightly nervous). After waiting a week or two with confidence enough to start celebrating, the daunting news arrives that the position was given to someone else.

What do you do?

 


As an angry and ill-thought person, I would have begun blaming everyone involved but myself; the interviewer, the receptionist with whom I coordinated the meeting, even my friend or relative that pushed me into that position. I know I’m not alone; we see these reactions in others that seem irrational at a distance, but when we’re in it, there seems to be no alternative.

But wait… There is.

What Ramit has done and teaches readers to do is be thankful for the opportunity (see what I did there?) and remain in contact. For example, after receiving the news, I can reply to the representative and thank them for their time shortly, then maybe end with an offer for follow up information. A week later, I may send another email with some research I have done about that specific position, maybe some big news that just came out, or perhaps my own solution to a company problem. Yes, this takes time, and yes, this takes extra work, but if you play your cards right and leave them wanting more, it is extremely likely for you to get your foot in the door with the next employment opening.

My goal: I want to make this normal for me. I want to do something, expect failure, anticipate failure, and work with it beneficially to prove not only that I’m a good engineer, but I’m a good employee. The dilemma is that I am working through finals and have my life focused on school, where I surely do NOT want to practice failing, but I don’t have the time to practice with job interviews. So, what can I do in the meantime to practice failure in a way that is beneficial? I was thinking of beginning with my credit cards and trying to negotiate better terms (which is primarily useful during this time of year), but if I do fail, the follow-up that brings positive rewards is missing – if I keep calling the company and trying to negotiate, they are likely to see my hassling as grounds for cancellation. I will still probably try this, but I am unsure if the risk is worth the reward.

For any ideas about how you or I can practice failure in this time, or if you simply have an opinion to express, feel free to drop me an email at Michael.Staudenmeir@Gmail.com. In the meantime, try to use this to your own advantage and see where you end up.