Sunday, March 27, 2016

Weekly Blog #25- Final Product Development

This week, one of our assignments was to complete a Product Progress Assessment. As I read the questions (such as "Have you kept up with your calendar? What are some successes/failures you've had? How has your mentor helped you so far?"), I began to realize how close the deadline is. I have not followed my calendar in terms of order, so it was pretty difficult to assess my current progress in my final product. However, I do really need to dedicate at least 30 minutes every day to my product if I want to catch up to my calendar and challenge myself in terms of programming and applying my knowledge. I'm starting to face the reality that self-learning C++ is difficult when there isn't a grade at stake or a daily assignment. However, I'm also viewing this self-learning process as part of my final product- though I may not produce a tangible, functioning IC chip, I need to make sure that I at least learn how it works and how to program basic functions.

One positive aspect of my lack of order is that I actually completed one of my last steps, which is to research the applications of an IC chip. I had hoped to master the basics and then look into its usages, but I got a little too curious and just researched a few days ago. I think this might even be better because I'll have more time to think about how I can make my product more useful and how I can expand my ideas in the long run. Overall though, I do need to catch up on my calendar so that my mentor and I have more to work with and can prepare for any change of plans.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Weekly Blog #24- FPN Plans

Time is really flying by, because this week in ISM, we started thinking about our own plans for Final Presentation Night. That means two things: I need to finish the organizing part and I need to really get going on my final product. Although I've started the basics of C++ and how IC chips work, I haven't gotten my hands on a physical, programmable IC chip yet. This will probably be something my mentor and I discuss at our next visit.

But back to FPN, we covered a lot of details about how to prepare in advance and be prudent about our use of time. We have to consider the room, the decor, our mentors, and our volunteers during quick transitions. Another important thing to consider is the invitation and how to draw in the most people to attend my presentation. The invitation has to look professional yet eye-catching, but the real problem is getting a large audience when everyone in ISM is asking a lot of the same people. But I would say the biggest challenge as a whole is talking for most of the 2-3 hours at FPN. The first half of FPN is greeting and talking next to my board in the cafeteria and then right after is the 30-minute long speech. I am a bit intimidated, but I've been to FPN as a volunteer twice and it has always run smoothly in the end. It's important to remember to see this not as a burden in terms of preparation, but as a chance to express creativity and showcase my hard work and what I've gained throughout the year.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Raytheon Tour!

The Friday before break, I finally got to tour the Raytheon plant in McKinney! My mentor and I had discussed this since my first interview with him, but with forms and different priorities (as it wasn't terribly urgent), we pushed it back a few weeks. This time, I toured almost the entire facility, walking in heels for an hour and a half (not very proactive on my part, I'll admit). I could tell the place had pretty tight security, with the gates, a couple of guards, and no photography. There weren't a lot of signs outside, so it took some navigating to find the main entrance. After I went in, I greeted my mentor and proceeded to tour the plant.

Some of the areas I found most interesting were the reliability analysis section, the simulation area, the clean room, and the RF testing area, among others. Some of those areas require thorough prevention of contamination, such as the full-body cover up in the clean room, while others are intended for workers' protection, like wearing a lab coat and grounding tape to prevent electric shocks. The simulation area has many chambers for high pressure, turbulence, vibration, and temperature to test the durability of products in a high altitude situation. Nearby is the reliability analysis section, which focuses more on small-scale components such as soldering strength, materials used in chips, and inefficiency. I didn't actually get to go in the RF testing rooms, but based on the pictures, they looked a lot like sound-proof rooms with the walls and floors lined with pointed foam triangles. These triangles help absorb RF waves and prevent reflections that could interfere with the signal being tested. On the other hand, if the triangles were not made of foam, but instead metal, you would actually need a surface with as few pointed areas as possible to prevent reflection (this was shown in one of the bomber's wings, which was smooth and slightly curved to prevent radar detection).

Now, if you're wondering where the software engineers come into play, many are located in the cubicle sections with small conference rooms nearby. Most of the "interesting"-looking sections are actually where technicians and hands-on employees work, whereas the software writers and managers tend to be in the cubicle area. Half the time, I was confused as to where I was because of the many wings, labs, and cubicle areas (there were probably a few hundred cubicles total). But the most eye-opening realization I had was the fact that all these sub-sections (reliability, error analysis, etc.) were somehow interwoven to produce amazing defense software and devices. There were so many individual tasks for each sector that it was difficult for me to envision how this company could run with numerous projects simultaneously running. Overall, it was truly interesting to see the physical operation of such a large plant- something you can't envision unless you see the scale and specificity in person.