Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Speech about Engineering at a Elementary School

I gave a talk about "A Career in Engineering" at Nick's elementary school on January 19, 2012, as a part of the school's career week activities. The opportunity came in December 2011 when Lily forwarded school counselor Ms. Clark's solicitation of volunteering speakers for the college week and career week in January. I quickly replied to the solicitation offering to talk about engineering as a career option. I also told her that I would use power point presentation for my talk.

The preparations

To be a volunteer of any kind at our school district, I first have to go through a routine background check via the online application for a volunteer position. The application took about 5 minutes.  Then preparation of the talk started.

I treated this presentation just like any  professional presentation I make.

I thought for a few days about what to talk about engineering to elementary school students so that they wouldn't be bored about the subject. Collecting pictures, cartoons, graphs from everywhere to make my presentation more lively to the youngsters, writing about speaking points, thinking about punch lines ...... I spent  a full winter holiday day drafting my 24 page power power point presentation.

Then I spent a couple more hours the night of 1/8/2012 going through my presentation a couple more times, correcting typos, changing phrases, adding details. I also rehearsed a few times until I felt that I could deliver the presentation smoothly.

The Talk

The talk was given at a large assembly classroom equipped with standard conference room hardware - computer and projector. It turned out that I would give the talk to half of the fourth grade students, including Nick. I know quite a few students in the audience, , Michael, Jefferey, Eric... since I was their soccer coach for a few years.

As my laptop was starting up, Ms. Clark gave a brief introduction to the students - "Nick's Dad is going to talk to you about engineering today. Please raise your hand if you have questions during the presentation ..."

"Good Morning everyone", I started my presentation. The students replied in unison, "Good Morning".

"I am Allan.I am a mechanical engineer.  Today I am going to talk to you about choosing engineering as a career". Looking at those curious young faces, I was pleased that I came to give the talk, "Looking around, engineers play critical roles in almost everything you see ......."

My talk included 5 parts:

1. What is Engineering?

I used many examples with pictures to show the diverse fields of engineering: The world's tallest structure is the 829.84 m (2,723 ft) tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Civil Engineering); Ford Explorer SUV (Mechanical Engineering); Boeing 787 dream liner (ME, Aerospace Engineering, Material Engineering); computers, cellphones (electrical engineering, computer engineering), Computer Game Super Mario Brawls (software engineering).

The students were really interested -  I  raised a few questions to engage them,  many of them asked questions on their own. With all those examples, I gave them a formal definition of engineering: "Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes"
to transition into next part.

2.How do you prepare for a career in Engineering?

The key point here is to relate what is needed to what they learn now.
a. Scientific Knowledge – Physics , Engineering Mechanics, Electrodynamics , Chemistry, Geology……Scientific knowledge are typically represented via mathematical equations.
b. Mathematics is the fundamental tool for science, engineering and technology
c. Modern Engineering is mostly team work. So communication, both verbal and written, is very important

Acquiring knowledge for a career in engineering is an accumulative process.  Your preparation starts at elementary school  - NOW!  - all the way to college
3. Best Engineering Schools

I gave a list of top universities for engineering and Texas universities for engineering.I also talked about degrees - B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. When I told them I have a Ph.D. in engineering, it led to discussions about difference between Ph.D. and M.D.

4.What is an engineer’s day like?

a. Brain storm meeting for concept development; Study of literature; discussion with co-workers
b. Put concept into drawings; conduct engineering analysis
c. test new designs on computers and/or in the laboratories
d. write project reports, finalize designs and send design to manufacturing.

A typical development engineer's day : Mostly in office, work on computers; have project meeting and other meetings; may work as individual or on a team; development can be from days to years

5.Why choose Engineering? 

It is interesting and fun
It is challenging
It is satisfying
It improves the world
It helps to make a good living


Ms. Clark was very pleased with my talk from the length of the talk, to the format, to selection of materials. From conversation with her, I could tell that my talk was more formal than others,  and she was impressed with my Ph.D. as well - my title changed from Nick's dad to Dr. Allan. She ended her final remarks to students with "Let us thank Dr. Allan again for his wonderful presentation".

Nick gave me a passing grade - "you did pretty well!" when I asked him about how I did for the presentation at dinner table that day.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Casual Fan Watching Football Games

I started watching football  at a Super Bowl party many years ago when I was a graduate student. Not knowing anything about football, I asked the host the rules of the game, what to watch for ......gradually I could appreciate the game and now I watch NFL games regularly on Sundays.

When watching a game, I have to root for one side to enjoy the game.

The teams I have relative strong opinions are among the better teams - I rarely watch below average teams' games. The main factor that influence my opinions on a team is the personalities of the team - primarily that of its stars and head coach.

My favorite teams this year include Green Bay Packers,  NY Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers. The main reason is that I like Quarterbacks on these teams - Packers' quarterback Aaron Rogers, Giants' Eli Manning,  and Steelers' Big Ben - who had off field issues this season though. They are humble, they respect opponents and they let the game speak for itself. Of course their glorious past that I witnessed is also a factor.

I also rooted for Denver Broncos. The reason was the media's unfair treatment of Broncos' quarterback Tim Tebow because he is a a very religious person. I rooted for his installment as starting quarterback on his team, I wished him success. When Broncos played my favorite Steelers during playoff wildcard game, I actually rooted for Broncos because I wished Tim Tebow well. What a game it was!

The teams I don't like this year include New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints.The reasons are their arrogance, or condescending demeanor, or pompous behaviors on the field and in the press room.I was pleased to see San Francisco 49ers beat Saints in the Wildcard game. I don't think I will watch AFC championship game between Patriots and Ravens. I wish NFC champions will be Super Bowl champions.

Despite the brutal physical nature of the football games, I enjoy the games for the the tactics and strategies coaches scheme, the athleticism players display, and the dramas that come with the games.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Great Sand Dunes National Park

On the way to Wolf Creek for our annual ski trip, we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is about 60 miles east of Wolf Creek, in southern Colorado. The centerpiece of the park is the Great Sand Dunes, which rises 750feet  above the floor of San Luis Valley.  It is the tallest Sand Dunes in North America.

As we were approaching the Park, I noticed some brownish hills miles away near the snow covered rocky mountains. I pointed it out to Lily that those must be the great sanddunes, and she was underwhelmed - "that's it?" The Great Sand Dunes are dwarfed by the Alpine Peaks of  Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

We stopped at the park entrance to take a family picture at the sign, with Alpine snow Peaks in the distance and clear blue sky above.It was a cold but beautiful day at the park. We then proceeded to the visitor center to learn a little bit about the natural history of the Sand Dunes. In a nutshell, the sand dunes are formed due to three factors - sand from San Luis Valley floor, wind (blowing to the mountains and blowing back from the mountains during storms) and water (from Medano Creek and Sand Creek). Essentially the valley provides the sand, the opposing winds deposit sand at the location of Great Sand Dunes making the dunes to grow vertically, and the creeks bring additional sands to the area.

When we reached the foot of the sand dunes, the great sand dunes blocked our view of the mountains behind it, we focused our attention totally on the sand dunes. We were in awe - the smooth, aerodynamic curvatures, the beautiful sand patterns changing as we looked around.

We started to climb the sand dunes by walking along the ridges. A short distance into the sand dunes, we encountered Harvey and his family, who were resting at a small sand dune. Nick somehow was very active that day - he decided to climb the great sand dune. He and Harvey led the way, the rest of us followed. I was the last of the group in the ascend - stopping frequently to take pictures, and enjoy the vista. Despite the fact that Nick and Harvey were only a hundred yard or ahead of me, they were in and out of views frequently due to the constant curvature changes of sand dunes. About 30 minutes, Nick and Harvey reached a local peak of the sand dunes, Lily called them to stop because we did not plan to climb the summit - it should not be hard, we did not have sunscreen on, more importantly we did not have water with us. All of us were on the return trip, except me, I continued to the local peak before turning back.

Winter is apparently not the best season to visit the park - the Medano Creek is dried up, it is very cold there in the valley. We plan to visit the park again in a summer - to camp at the foothill for two days, to climb the summit of great sand dunes, to explore the sand dune wilderness

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wolf Creek and Alberta Peak

Wolf Creek Ski Area is located in Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado. The base area elevation is 10,600ft, and Alberta peak is the summit of mountain range in the area, with an elevation of 11,907 ft. Wolf Creek boasts to have "The Most Snow in Colorado" with annual snow fall of 485"! We went to Wolf Creek for our 2011 ski vacation at the end of the year.

The Ski Trip

After 7 consecutive year skiing at Taos, NM, we decided to make a change. After much deliberation, we eventually decided to go to Wolf Creek. The distance to the ski area from our home is about 800miles, and it take about 14 hour drive. Instead of trying to complete the drive in a day, we took it easy, we took two day time to reach there - stop midway around Amarillo area - on the way to the ski area, we stopped at Dalhart, TX; on the way home we stopped at Amarillo, TX. This made the driving not so demanding any more, in fact somewhat relaxing - we got up on the days of travel at usual time, we arrived at the destinations during day time.

Because of this travel arrangement, we had time to take side trips. On the way to ski area, we took half day to visit Great Sand Dune National Park, which is only about 60 miles from our hotel at Wolf Creek. On the way home, we visited Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Due to the fact that we encountered winter storms in every odd years, Lily paid extra attention to weather forecast before the trip. Because of her diligence, we avoided the two snow storms in the week of 12/19/2011 by delaying our trip for one day; of course it also meant a lot more hassle for her to change hotel reservations . The ski area received about ~ 15" snow fall before we arrived, and stayed sunny through out our stay there - perfect for us to enjoy the ski vacation.


Mountain Peaks at Wolf Creek are about as tall as those at Taos, NM. But the base at Wolf Creek is ~ 10,600ft, and that at Taos is  ~ 9,207 ft, so the relative altitude change at Wolf Creek is about half of that at Taos. The ski trails at Wolf Creek are thus shorter, less steep, but wider than those at Taos. All of us found that it was very comfortable skiing on those trails  - no problems at all at intermediate level trails - the blue trails, which emboldened us to try more difficult,advanced level trails - the black trails. Justin can ski at  black trails, without much difficulty - the rest of the family however had some troubles there.

The first day, Nick was pleased to find two friends from school by chance to ski with. His friends are very familiar with the ski area since they had been there quite a few times before, and they have similar skiing skill as well. Hopping on and off lift chairs with friends, skiing on hidden trails in the woods, racing down the wide trails, he had a fantastic time! Justin spent the day on his own, exploring various trails, and testing his skills on moguls and black trails. This left Lily and I by ourselves, skiing at own pace.

The second day, I had to rest due to fever the previous night. While I read a book on kindle " The letters of a homesteader women, Eillinore Pruit Stewart",  Nick skied with his mom most of the time since his friends left already, and Justin continued his solo skiing - checking on the east side of the ski area at Alberta lift.

I was back in action on the third day. I ordered the kids to ski with us on the first run because Lily wanted to have a family picture on top of the mountain. Right after we had a family picture with snow covered rocky mountains as background, the boys sped away, leaving Lily and I by ourselves again. When Lily took breaks, I skied with Justin a couple of times, once we went to Alberta lift area - had a nice run, once he took me onto black trails and moguls. While he was racing downhills on those trails, I snailed and sweated on the slops.

Climbing Alberta Peak

Lily and I were by ourselves after lunch. One run from the top of treasure lift, I suggested to Lily that we climb the Alberta Peak. With a moment of hesitation, she said "Why not!".

Of course we did not climb the Peak from the base. The climb started at the top of the treasure lift - which has a elevation of 11,775'. A trail on the mountain ridge links the lift stop to Alberta Peak, and it is about a mile long to the Peak.

Warning signs at the trail head reminded us that we were in avalanche area! We left our skis and poles there and started our hike to the Alberta Peak around 1:30pm. The trail was relatively wide, the snow was frozen, the wind at the 11,000' mountain ridge was strong. We moved forward in our heavy ski boots without too much difficult because a good portion of the trial was actually a shallow downward slop.

Half way to the peak, we stopped to take a break and looked around. Wow! We saw blue sky, snow peaks, grey rocks under bright sunshine - snow covered rocky mountains in all directions.  The whole ski area was under our feet; it seemed even the far away blue sky was under our feet.

The final ascend was about 150ft, and very steep - we could not see the the summit from where we stood! The frozen snow made it difficult to have a good footing on the steep slop. Lily decided to stop there. I, on the other hand, kept moving forward, and really started climbing the peak on this final stretch.After about 10 ~ 15 minutes climb, I reached  a  relative leveled section on the slop, where the final orange warning flag was blowing; I saw a boat shaped bleacher under a rock - apparently it was for emergency rescue. The summit was only about 20 feet above me now, and the fianl trail was steeper, the previous climbers' footprints revealed very deep snow. Fearing avalanche and tired, I stopped there, turned around, waved to Lily - who was over 100 ft below me, and declared to myself  "mission accomplished!"