Thursday, November 29, 2012


My former roommate has a cute little daughter named Dawna, and a couple weeks ago we made some books together. We each wrote the text for a little book, and then we traded and illustrated each other's stories. Her pictures smoked mine. Anyway, I told her I would post our books, so here they are!

First, the two brilliant authors/illustrators:

Her words:

My words:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I love my seriously, I really love my job.


I've gone back and forth about whether I should write this blog post or not.  I know these are difficult economic times and that people are lucky to have any job at all, especially one that allows them to support a family.  I'd like to add a disclaimer that it's not my intent to come off as being conceited.  I just want to use this blog as a forum to express how supremely blessed I feel to have this job.

My Job

When people ask what I do, I usually tell them that I have the coolest job in the world.  Most people give me a smile that seems to say, "uh huh, sure you do."  To which I respond, "no really, I do."  I work for a company that is basically building an Iron Man suit for people who are paralyzed to help them stand up and walk.  

I work for Ekso Bionics.  Even if I don't have the undisputedly coolest job in the world, I can probably say this is about as close to my dream job as I can imagine.  The company started as a research project at UC Berkeley.  Their first product was the HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) a robotic exoskeleton that allows soldiers to carry more weight safely.  This is a big deal.  If I remember the statistic correctly, more than half of all injuries to infantry soldiers are some sort of lower back injuries that are probably a result of the weight they carry.

The product I've been most closely involved with lately is Ekso.  This is a robotic exoskeleton (think Iron Man suit) that lets people who are paralyzed put it on, stand up, and walk around.  As a mechanical engineer, I get to help with the design of pretty much every component that isn't a circuit board.  I don't want to overstate my importance.  There are many people who work on it.  I'm one of six different mechanical engineers and we also have electrical engineers, software engineers and manufacturing engineers.  It's still really cool to see a design I've come up with appear on a device as awesome as this.

I feel so lucky to have a job where I not only get to do amazing things (see above), but that really is making a difference in the world.  I remember one night I was working late with another engineer (my manager) on a difficult problem.  We were both tired and a little frustrated.  Then my manager pointed to our test area.  There, a person was getting their chance to use Ekso for the first time.  We got to watch as a person who had not stood for more than 10 years was able to get up, walk a few steps, and give his wife a hug.  Needless to say, the frustration was gone and everything was put into perspective.

When people would ask why I decided to do engineering, I would often mention that not only do I like figuring out how things work and how to solve problems, but that I also wanted to make a difference in the world.  As cheesy as it sounds, I wanted to tackle the big problems that are facing the world.  With this company, I feel like I get to do that.

Now don't get me wrong.  There are plenty of long, frustrating problems.  There are certain aspects of the job that I wish I didn't have to deal with.  The job isn't perfect, but it's close enough for now.

Here are some videos of our device in action:

Here is a video showing some upgrades we made to the device.  I was in charge of designing the little control pad that attaches to the crutches or walker and allows the user to control their steps.

And for those of you who are interested, Nova Science Now will have an episode that includes a piece about our company.  It airs Wednesday night on PBS.

Friday, November 9, 2012

the compound to-do list item

Sometimes there is SO MUCH TO DO. I've discovered one of my less favorite things is the Compound To-Do List Item. This is that thing that's on your to-do list, but once you start working on it you realize there are actually like four things that you have to do in preparation to do that thing, before you can do it and get it checked off. (This is the worst when it's something dinky like "Email So-and-So.")

Or, you know that going in, so it makes you just avoid that one altogether. So then it looks dumb that you have everything checked off except "Email So-and-So." Like, you didn't have time to send an email?

Or, that thing means "actually, do twelve things," like how "clean the kitchen" might be better written as "cut up vegetables so there is more room in the fridge; organize the shelves in the fridge where the vegetables used to be; wipe down the stove; clean the counters; do the dishes (empty the dishwasher, refill the dishwasher, soak the dishes there weren't room for in the sink earlier); sweep the kitchen; clean off the kitchen table; go through that one box; etc."

Yeah, that's all.

Oh, except to say that Jon did the laundry and cleaned most of the kitchen tonight (see: list). That was awesome.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Abe and Ariel (or Who Says Halloween is Just for Kids?)

We just finished up the Halloween festivities for this year.  First up was the ward trunk or treat the Saturday before Halloween.  We don't have kids, but we still participated.  For those of you who don't know what a Trunk or Treat is, basically a group of people (in this case our church congregation), get together in a parking lot somewhere.  Rather than having kids go from house to house Trick or Treating, they go from car to car Trunk or Treating.  People decorate their cars, dress up and hand out candy.  We were going to decorate Brooke's car as a pumpkin (since it's orange), but the wind kept blowing the stem off the top.

I went as a boring engineer (i.e. myself), but Brooke decided to go as a mermaid:

We gave out awesome treats if I do say so myself (butterfingers, airheads, baby ruths and crunch bars).

She did the awesome makeup job herself.

Later, on Halloween itself, I decided to put the beard I'd been lazily growing to good use.  We brought back my costume from a couple years ago... Abe Lincoln.  I went to work dressed as Abe, and I was probably the second best costume there (Sam dressed as Edward Scissor-hands probably beat me out for the #1 costume).

We were going to have some friends over on Halloween night to watch a movie, but none of them could make it, so instead Abe took his wife out to dinner and then we watched a movie together.

Basically, we had a pretty awesome Halloween.