Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Engineering Lawyer

People haven often told me that I should be a lawyer. I really don't know what it is about my personality that motivates them to the point of vocalizing their opinion, but it happens... frequently. I have to admit that I have thought about it, and it would probably help me in my run for the presidency. But, considering that running for president may just be a dream, perhaps my limited time is better spent on a Master's in Mechanical Engineering, or Engineering Management, or even an MBA.

Speaking of litigious email situations, I recall an instance when working at a small aerospace company in the Pudget Sound area. I was a fresh grad, only working there for a few months, maybe a year. I was in the Tool Design department and kept busy. Our department did the original conceptual design and released drawings. We then threw the drawings over the wall for manufacture and the Tooling Liaisons took over. Once it hit the floor, the Manufacturing Engineers worked with the Liaisons to troubleshoot any issues. Rarely did the original designer or engineer get a follow-up call. Until one day...

This particular Liaison was known to be difficult. Of course, being new, I wasn't aware of the fact. She calls me up one day and starts ripping me a new one. I politely request information in an email since I wasn't able to get an answer right away, and that would have to ask my Lead how I proceed (as there were specific rules on how to charge to jobs and I needed to learn). He enlightens me and I politely respond to her email with all the answers I am able to provide. She writes back, again with an attitude. Let me tell you, she portrayed emotion in her email just fine. I answer back again, politely, and CYA by copying my Lead. It wasn't really CYA, because I needed to inform him of my actions anyway as well as have him give a sanity check. She would reply just to me, I would reply and copy my lead. This happened several times. We get to the a point where her only reply is "You should be a f'in lawyer." I dutifully brought that one up to my Lead and he just laughs, finally filling me in on the well-known personality of this particular person. She's lucky that I wasn't overly offended by her emails and that enough people within the company knew her in person. I'm not saying she couldn't use a lesson in email ethics, but a simple phone call or walk up from production (or vice versa for me to take the initiative to walk to her area) would have resolved the issue much quicker.

So perhaps I would make a good lawyer. Perhaps having a law degree is beneficial for an engineer. I have pointed out obvious areas where knowing legal precedence would benefit an engineer, especially a self-employed one. Here are some more examples:
contract law
conflict of interest resolution
business law
patent law

And if you decide that being a self-employed contractor isn't for you, I hear patent attorney's make good money. Of course, they aren't really engineers with law degrees so much as lawyers with engineering degrees. Is there a difference?

Ethics of Email

Libel: A written, printed, oral, or pictorial statement that damages by defaming a person's character or reputation.
Slander: A false and malicious statement injurious to another person's reputation.

I had an eye appointment last night. I arrived a little early so started looking through the magazines. He had no interesting titles, so I picked up one of the medical trade journals he had on the table and thumbed through the headlines. I found some interesting headlines, probably because they were a bit techie, and realized that the medical profession is going through a learning-growth curve that engineering has been treading on for a while.

The article started out dealing with online security. For those not in the U.S., a directive has been issued to transfer to Electronic Medical Records (EMR). Basically, your personal medical records go in a national database and then you can go to any doctor anywhere in the States and they'll have your current, and complete, medical history. That's the theory, anyway. The issue comes in with hacking and security, privacy and HIPAA, as well as usual online netiquette. (Face it, we believe and forward more junk email than we ever did snail-mail chain letters.) As part of the netiquette, there was a bit of a comparison to online ethics as well, and how flame wars, heated arguments, and miscommunication often occur as we hurriedly send out that last email for the day, only to see a nasty reply in our email the next morning.

I attended an NSPE seminar on electronic safety. It covered topics on file transfer, proprietary information, and other measures to take to protect proprietary intellectual information. But no where in that seminar was anything on drafting a proper email and leaving out the emotion.
"Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts."

Email is used quite frequently between team members, coworkers, customers, and vendors. When a problem arises, emotions often rise to the surface as budget and schedule become critical. Pressure from management to meet the project metrics has everyone tense. What happens next, somebody on the team comes up with an idea. Someone else on the team thinks it is stupid and blatantly says so. A flame war has started. But it isn't just an argument between the two individuals, because each one is using the convenient "reply-to-all" button to make sure others hear the words of the idiot they're conversing with. In that case, I renamed the reply-to-all button the CYA button, because that's what it gets used for.

What we forget to realize is that each of those injurious and spiteful words we flame to the next party are often libel, especially when others hear of it directly. Not only that, but there is written proof of the act.

So take that extra minute and proof read your emails. Only reply to those who need the information contained within the text. Don't use reply to all to Cover Your Ass. If the email discussion has gotten that far, it's already too late. Call the person or go their desk. Face to face is the easiest way to resolve an electronic miscommunication.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Don't Fight an Idiot

I love reading Seth's Blog. It really doesn't have much to do with my industry, education, training, or career, but it is still a very good read. His comments are full of so much common sense, do I dare say pragmatism, that I sometimes schmack myself in the forehead and say "Duh." I know I'm not the only one. His posts often remind me of Bill Engvall's stand up comedy routing "Here's your sign." (Bill even has a blog.)

We've all had a sign handed to us. We've all said things that are readily apparent and after the words leave our mouth wonder why we wasted the breath. But every now and then, someone bothers to challenge your idiocy. For those moments, remember this advice given to me long ago.

Don't fight an idiot, they'll just drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

CAD and a Sense of Community

What I find interesting in the world today is the sense of community a person feels from a group of total stranger merely because they interact with them on a daily basis through some form of online correspondence. I think we all know that emotion doesn't get portrayed well through electronics: sarcasm, dismay, hatred, or humor just to name a few. Emoticons just don't fully encompass the level of emotion one feels when typing. So how is it we bond to certain individuals through online medium? I know what you say, but I don't get the entire meaning of the words without the displayed emotion, either through facial features, vocal inflection, or body language.

Knowing this, we still find ourselves bonding to certain groups or not others. Personally, I find myself bonded to the SolidEdge bbsnotes, the Alibre Design forums,, and The Hunting Lodge (a World of Warcraft community). Of all the people I converse with daily, I have met maybe a handful face to face. Why is it I haven't bonded with the Solidworks community, or the NX community, or TeamCenter. Why is it as a Seimens product holder I'm not welcome into the NX or Team Center Enterprise Community? (Don't take that too literally, I'm being facetiously factitious to make a point.) Why do some people bond to those groups but not SolidEdge or Alibre?

What I find even more interesting is being branded based on guilt by association. Members of other communities brand me into one just because of my association with one. I'm ousted from their community no matter what I do, or what I have done.

I learned about a sense of community when taking Sign Language classes. Like so many analogies, picture a bullseye. The bullseye defines the rings, or stage, surrounding the deaf community.

The outer most ring is hearing people. They just don't understand. They think deaf people have a handicap, or are less intelligent because they can't communicate in the same manner as hearing people. They are either ignorant or naive. (There is a difference, a very definitive difference between being ignorant and naive. Perhaps that's a topic for another soapbox.) They will never be welcome into the deaf community.

The next ring is people who take a sign language course. They are at least working on communicating with deaf people and welcome to a certain degree. They still don't "get" what it is to be deaf, but at least they have educated themselves past the stereotype.

The next ring is people who are related to a deaf person. This person usually signs. If they don't, they are often cast into the outer ring, but sometimes not. It is situational. They not only communicate with the deaf, but they also have a first hand understanding of what it is like to live in a hearing world. The difficulties that deaf people must overcome that hearing people take for granted: ordering through a drive up window, talking to a bank teller or grocery check-out clerk, using a telephone in an emergency, and the list goes on. Of course, they still don't really "get it" because they don't have to do it. The moment their deaf relative isn't around, life goes back to "normal."

The inner most ring is being deaf yourself. This is the deaf community. Anybody who is not deaf will not reach this bullseye. The few hearing people that do pretty much are surrounded by deaf and live a deaf livestyle. Even hard-of-hearing people who sign 99% of the time may not ever make it into this ring.

I use Solid Edge because my full-time employer has that tool equipped.
I use Alibre Design because it is the affordable CAD package for my side-job that does pretty much everything I need in a CAD package.
I don't use SolidWorks regularly. I have a license of NX available just to use to communicate with suppliers and customers that use NX. I no longer use CATIA in a production environment. Perhaps that is why I don't fit within those communities. Since I'm not deaf, I just don't get it.

Yet I'm guilty-by-association. Just because the means by which I happen to be proficient at a certain CAD package, which is the measure by which I gage myself to be an authority to talk about a certain topic, places me as a zeolot for that package and incapable of being unbiased and objective. I'll stake my license on that not being true, and anyone who knows me personally will be a character reference to vouch for that. Again, even the best chosen words don't necessarily give the entire message.

So you may see me talk about other CAD package here, just to highlight things that I find neat or interesting. But I will not at any time profess to be an expert at anything beyond the tools I use. If that makes me a zealot, or a biased unobjective bigot, so be it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

SE with Synch Tech - Living up to the hype

I had the privilege of attending a half-day seminar, kind of a sneak peak, of Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology. It was offered by the local reseller to a select group of users. Personally, I was greatly appreciative of the opportunity because I know the company-wide roll out of this release is going to require a lot of internal training. Getting a head start with some real interaction, not just tech sheets or youtube videos, will aid me in the task of outlining the training manuals.

So far, the best article I have seen written on the subject is this one by Raymond Kurland of the TechniCom Group.

Before I get too long winded, let me state that it is not all hype. Let me also clarify that no matter what other cad users or vendors say, this has NOT been done before. This is totally new, totally unique, and you will not find anything like it in any other MCAD package if the patents are water tight, ever.

For all others who have tried, let me sum up Synch Tech with a short phrase: It is all the power of a parametric modeler without the inherit problems of a history tree.

Some highlight benefits:
  • You can still work the old way if you choose to.
  • File size of part models will be smaller.
  • Inherit with smaller part files is faster loading of assemblies.
  • No time wasted regenerating a model after a modification.
  • No time wasted trying to find the relationship that allows you to change what you want to change, and only what you want to change.
  • Live Rules - SEST's on-the-fly brains behind it's ease of use really is robust and intelligent, yet still allows user full control over its intelligence including over rides.
  • Persistent Rules - You want to use live rules for quickness and ease-of-use, but need to control design intelligence or intent? You can by applying persistent rules. To create an axiom, it is similar to assembly relationships and/or geometric constraints.
  • Preventing modification - You want to lock down specific geometry to prevent accidental change due to live rules associations or inexperienced users? You can by locking it down with a persistent rule that will FIX or GROUND the geometry.

One downfall that will require clarification upon release -
Sketches get absorbed into the solid. Once you create a solid from the sketch, the sketch disappears. We didn't get into the assembly environment much during the seminar. I didn't expect to since the first release incorporates ST in the part environment mainly, with tools in assembly (no sheet metal until next release due out shortly after SEST v1 is released). The reason I dislike the idea of sketches being absorbed and loosing associativity to the solid model is because I often use layout sketches, some may call them skeletons.

SE has spent the last few releases really tweaking the use of layout sketches in part and assembly, only to throw them away with ST? Doing so also throws away decades of tried and true design methodology because it is often best to start with a concept sketch, then build from there, rather than start by laying details in a solid model. If I begin with a layout sketch, I want to be able to utilize the effort I put into that sketch for the entire design which means it still needs to be associative to all the geometry that is based off of it.

I'm really looking forward to the initial release. More importantly, I'm really looking forward to how far this technology can go once it is in the hands of the masses and they start supplying user feedback. SEST v2 is already in development, so I don't expect to many user requested enhancements to make it there, but v3 is sure to be a whopper.