Practical Example of Technology Advances of the Last Ten Years

Ten years ago, I walked into high school with a brand new Toshiba Satellite 2210 CDT. It wasn’t state-of-the-art, but it was pretty decent for its time. It had a 500 MHz Intel Celeron processor, 64 MB of RAM, and a 6 GB hard drive (which took up about 62.9 cm3, or 0.1 GB/cm3). The laptop had a 12.1″ 800×600 display and outside measured dimensions of 31.5 cm x 26.2 cm x 4.8 cm for a volume of 3960 cm3. It cost around $2000 at retail.

Today, I walk around with my Motorola Droid. It has a 550 MHz ARM Cortex A8 processor, 256 MB of RAM, and a 16 GB solid state memory chip (only 0.165 cm3, or 96.97 GB/cm3; which is almost 1000 times more dense than the hard drive in my laptop!) The display is 3.7″ 854 x 480 resolution. The phone measures 6.00cm x 11.58cm x 1.370 cm for a volume of 95.2 cm3, and cost around $600 at retail1. And it fits in my pocket, and can make phone calls to anyone in the world, and can check email, and can watch videos, and determine my location anywhere in the world down to 4m or so, and I can speak to it and it will do things!

That’s amazing.

  1. assuming you just brought the phone outright with no contract requirements 

The Apartment

As I suspected, we were approved without issue and will be moving in on Monday! As in two days! Both rooms are about the same size. Room A is slight smaller, has less closet space, but has two windows. Room B is slightly bigger, has more closet space, but only one window. Jeff and I flipped for rooms, and I got room A, leaving Room B to Jeff.

As I was leaving, I took a quick glance at the mailboxes to find where our would be. I recognized one of the names: “Jalbert/Skilling.” As it turns out, one of my friends from high school, Celeste, lives in the apartment right above us. How amazing? Unfortunately, they’ll be moving out at the end of the month, so our co-tenancy will be short lived.

Anyway, I’ll probably start moving in Monday after work. Jeff will start moving in Tuesday morning. I’m sure we’ll have some sort of housewarming party in the near future.

To The Graduating Class of 2009

Prologue: The following is the graduation speech I wrote and auditioned. I didn’t end up being the graduation speaker, as you’ll know if you attend my graduation tomorrow. As Staples noted, “Their loss, dude. Their loss.” I couldn’t agree more. However, I put a lot of time and effort into this and still think it’s worth sharing. What’s presented below is the speech as I auditioned it, but with a couple dozen comments about my writing process, thoughts, and insides jokes. Special thanks to Corinne Johnson, Audrey Nelson, and especially Jeff Staples for reviewing this and giving me feedback.

The idea for giving the graduation speech started almost a year ago, as I was listening to the 2008 graduation speaker. I distinctly remember two things: the guy gave a pretty crappy speech and I could do significantly better, at least in my estimation.

I started working on ideas over the summer. Writing down themes, quotes, and phrases that came to mind. Eventually, I had a working copy. And finally I had this.

This was probably one of my best kept secrets during senior year: Codename Shakespeare. Initially, only one other person knew about it. However, as the date for tryouts grew closer, I had no choice to but let a few more people in on my little secret, although I still managed to keep the circle small. Before now, no more than a dozen people knew about the speech and even fewer had seen or heard it.

I think what’s most striking about this speech is how it contrasts with my high school graduation speech, especially in terms of target audience, content, and style.

Anyway, thanks for hanging out with me here on Andrew Ferguson dot NET the last five years. It’s been really fun. I look forward to the next 5 years and hope you’ll stick around.

President Scoggins, distinguished trustees, faculty, and alumni, proud parents, grandparents, friends, and, of course, members of the Class of 20091: after years of toiling, we’re finally finished. We’ve persevered — and some might even suggest suffered — through the four, five, or even six or more years of university. Along the way, we have been tempered2- by our professors, by our course work, by our friends, and by our school.

It is this process of tempering that I wish to speak to you about.

The act of tempering is generally defined as performing some action “A”, to some object “B”, to bring it to some new state “C”.

This could be, as Oxford defines it, as simple as “mingling one ingredient together with another, in proper proportions.” Such as might happen when students, and professors, from around Colorado, the United States, and the four corners of the World come together at an institution such as Mines.

This mingling process started even before school did, when we moved into the dorms3 our freshman year. Floor events organized by our RA’s forced us to engage with others, rather than staying inside to play video games by ourselves. This process was furthered by the small class sizes, smaller study groups, and even smaller lab groups. These intimate learning opportunities would lay the foundation for everything to come. At Mines, I wasn’t simply being taught, I was being educated4. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Another definition of tempering reads: “to bring into a suitable or desirable frame of mind.” One of the first classes everyone at Mines is required to take is Physics One. When I took physics, four years ago, the class was taught by a pony-tailed hipster named Professor Kelso — who, at the beginning of class, would often ask obscure science fiction questions in exchange for a candy bar5. Between the early morning lectures, late afternoon labs, and all night LON-CAPA homework sessions with fellow students, something interesting started to happen.

My world view — my frame of mind — began to change. I would look around and instead of seeing actors in a play6, I starting seeing forces and relationships: A father applying a 147 Newton force at a 428 degree angle as he pushes his son — who masses roughly 319 kilograms — on a swing that’s suspended two meters below a bar.

Perhaps a more applicable example: the ice that forms on those cold winter mornings in Colorado: What’s the coefficient of static friction on that ice? How fast can I run to my 8am class before I overcome that static friction and starting sliding? Once I do start sliding, how far will I go before I fall on my face? The answers is, predictably, not that fast and not that far; somewhere between two and three meters per a second for a distance of 8610 centimeters .

Of course, being a school with a mining background, it would not be fair to overlook the metallurgical implications of tempering.

The most common definition of tempering occurs when one brings “steel to a suitable degree of hardness and elasticity or resiliency by heating it to the required temperature and immersing it, while hot, in some liquid, usually cold water;”

This past semester, a friend of mine, Islin Moy, wrote a short note entitled, “Engineering Should Come With a Warning Label.”11 It reads, in part12, “In your senior year, second semester, you will experience stress levels not felt since failing your first test, over a prolonged period of time, at the same intensity. This is due to senior design and the random decision of professors to double your workload13. Senioritis and the general decline of your attitude towards school doesn’t help either. The question is, do you really want to graduate? If the answer is YES, then forge ahead, sipping your energy drinks during the day14 and taking your sleeping pills to fall asleep at night, only to wake up 4 hours later. There is no such answer as NO. You got this far.”

The last four years have been about tempering; about becoming hardened and resilient. This was accomplished by subjecting us to homework assignments that took all night long, near impossible projects , and test, after test, after test. We will inevitably grumble about these things, just as the hot steel screeches when submersed in the cold water15. However, one cannot deny that, at the end of the day, we are better for it; having been brought up that “suitable degree of hardness and resiliency.”

It is to this hardness and resiliency that Islin referred to when she wrote, “There is no such answer as NO. You got this far.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean it was easy getting here. As Jenny Holzer, an American conceptual artists, once quipped, “Some days you wake up and immediately start to worry. Nothing in particular is wrong. It’s just the suspicion that forces are aligning quietly and there will be trouble.”

There was definitely trouble. I can’t tell you the number of times I broke down in tears. I think only one of those times I cried over a girl16 — and she was from Boulder17 — but the other times I broke down for any number of reasons ranging from homework that was too hard or not well explained, to a chemistry lab that wasn’t going the way it was supposed to18, or just the general stress from being away from my home in Seattle.

As a freshman, I often bounced between elation, such as when I finally understood that one equation, to depression, over scoring low marks on any number of exams, to agony, after realizing I still had four more years left.

Four years later, and I’m still excited when I finally get some concept in class, and I still feel a bit queasy after getting some exams back. However, my overall emotions remain in-check and tempered, “reduce[d] to [a] suitable or desirable middle degree or condition free from excess in either direction.”

I expect that it is this desirable emotional middle ground that we will call upon many times during our careers. When the pressures of deadlines at work see everyone around us crumbling, we will stand strong. When the ethics of a project come into question, we will be brave. When the task at hand is so monumental, it will make going to the moon19 look like driving around the block, we will be triumphant. Through it all, and more, we will persevere20: because we are tempered.

So, where does that leave us? The end result of this tempering processes is a better and stronger product than the original. As such, we leave Mines as learned engineers, knowing more than we did coming in, confident that we have many21 of the tools we need to succeed in our endeavors. As Dr. Spock, the pediatrician, not the Vulcan22, once said, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”

To the Graduating Class of 2009: We did it.

Now, go forth and make wonderful things, do good for the human race, live long and prosper23.

  1. This is basically the same introduction that David McCullough used in his 2008 address to Boston College, “The Love of Learning“. I’d also suggest you listen to “Why Telling Stories is Important to Engineers” by Robert Krulwich of Radio Lab. 

  2. I came up with four different topics: tempering, communication, luck versus design, and adventure. This was the theme I ended up going with 

  3. Apparently, “dorms” isn’t politically correct. The correct term is “Residence Halls.” Whatever. 

  4. This bit is a combination of Mark Twain’s quote, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education,” and Winston Churhill’s quote, “Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” 

  5. If memory serves correctly, I did win once…it was a Star Trek question. 

  6. A nod to Shakespeare’s As You Like It: All the world’s a stage, // And all the men and women merely players; // They have their exits and their entrances; // And one man in his time plays many parts… 

  7. My soccer number 

  8. The answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything 

  9. The day of the month I was born 

  10. The year I was born 

  11. Observant blog readers will remember that I covered this note a couple months ago 

  12. With Islin’s permission, I tweaked her note to fit the speech better 

  13. A section was eliminated here 

  14. This part about energy drinks was added 

  15. This is one of my favorite passages 

  16. This is true, believe it or not 

  17. She was actually from out of state and went to school in Denver, but Boulder sounded better…and was funnier 

  18. Spring of Sophomore year 

  19. A nod to to Kennedy’s Moon speech: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” 

  20. I really wanted to make this “hupomeno.” However, it would have required too much explanation. 

  21. Deliberate choice to include this word, since I strongly believe that we don’t have all the tools…nor should we. 

  22. A Star Trek reference, the first of speech…but not the last 

  23. …the other Star Trek reference 

Alumni Profile: Andrew Ferguson ’04

Over winter break, I had a chance to talk with Michael Fiorito, a faculty member at Seattle Academy (where I went to high school). He asked me to write a “synopsis of [my] scholastic and internship experiences for the alum newsletter.” The profile I wrote was just published in the Summer 2008 edition of After SAAS. The following is the original article I sent to Michael and is slightly different then the version published in After SAAS.

I graduated in June of 2004 and spent the summer having fun (as opposed to working). I started at the Colorado School of Mines in the Fall of 2004 and I’ll be graduating in May of 2009 with a Bachelors of Science in Engineering with a Specialty in Electrical Systems and an Area of Special Interest in Mechanical Systems.

I interned in the IT department at Nordstrom in Downtown Seattle the summer after my freshman year. It was a great experience and a great primer for working in the “real world.” Contrary to popular belief I was not a secretary and did not have to fetch coffee and make copies for the higher ups. My time at Nordstrom was spent helping with the 4th release of the Point-of-Sale system and included everything from helping run tests after the builds were updated (called smoke testing) to creating a database to help coordinate the nationwide training process to creating materials for the training processes.

I went back to school and studied some more. I was also the Chief Engineer for Mines Internet Radio, a new club on campus that was formed to broadcast music and sports games to students, parents, faculty, alumni, et al. We received funding from the school and I spent a large majority of my free time setting up computers, a server, remote broadcast system, website, and all the other things that fell under the per view of the Chief Engineering (which, as it turned out, was a lot). I also applied to, and interviewed with, the CIA; although I did not get in (they rarely accept students who are not juniors or seniors). However, an internship at Boeing ended up finding me. So the summer after my sophomore year, I worked at Boeing at Kent Space Center in Kent, Washington for the Integrated Defense Systems division (side note: the Lunar Rover was built in the building next to where I worked). I was tasked with writing code for a pending upgrade to the United States Air Force AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) fleet. In a word, the experience was: phenomenal. I had a fantastic mentor, an excellent boss, working at a fantastic job, doing something exciting.

I went back to school again, studied even harder and decided to come back to work for Boeing again (at the end of the previous summer, they had invited to me to come back again and placed me on Educational Leave of Absence). So I came back to the same group (USAF AWACS upgrade). But software programming wasn’t my thing. I had made this known at the end of last summer and on my last day, I asked what my other options were. I sat in on a meeting with the Mission Computing Hardware group and so I made my home there for this summer. My job this was a lot more interactive. I designed, updated, marked up Interface Control Documents (large drawings and documents that show where cables connect to, what type cable it is and what type of connector is needed). I also was tasked with selecting some of the hardware for the AWACS. Again, I had a great time and learned even more.

I’m now a non-graduating senior (4th year) with the end in sight. I left Mines Internet Radio at the end of last year to pursue other endeavors and I’m currently involved with a team on campus that is working on building a rover for a NASA contest to scoop up 150kg of lunar regolith (moon dirt) in under 30 minutes. I’ll be taking a three week field session this summer (a requirement to graduate from Mines) and then heading back to Boeing where I’ll work with the same group, but a different project which is to be determined.

Other things of note:

  • The summer after my freshman year, I spent a weekend (and then some) participating in a 72 hour film competition. I started out as an assistant and ended up editing the film when the other editor left. We won the Audience Award for our entry “No Witnesses”.
  • I’ve entered several photos over several semesters in our schools art shows.
  • I maintain a blog,, where I write several times a week.

SAAS Problem of the Week Quiz Decoder

Script that figures out the answers to SAAS POTW Quiz’s. As a note, this is only the processing end. In order for the script to work, you will need to build a front end.

error_reporting  (E_ERROR | E_WARNING | E_PARSE);
$httpfile = $_POST['httpfile'];
$userfile = $_POST['userfile'];
if($httpfile != NULL){
$textarea = file_get_contents($httpfile);
$textarea = file_get_contents($_FILES['userfile']['tmp_name']);
    echo "1. ";
    $t = 2;
    $length = strlen($textarea);
    for($i = 0; $i < $length; $i++){
        if(($textarea[$i-1].$textarea[$i]) == "l["){
            while($textarea[$i+1].$textarea[$i+2] != ",#"){
                echo $textarea[$i];
            if($t > 10){
            echo "$t. ";

Note: This was code that I originally had in a ‘Code’ page, but I’m moving it to a post now. This code is probably really old (years and years old). I enjoy laughing at myself and so should you.

The Hunt for Toda Mafalda

Back in my high school days, I took a couple years of Spanish. One time in class, I read this hilarious comic.

Every once-in-a-while, I’ll remember the comic and think about finding it.

Well, about a month ago, I had another one of those hankerings and spent about a week looking on the Internet for it. I looked all over, but could not find it. So I emailed my Spanish teacher, Stephanie:


I remember a comic that we read in your class (it might have been from one of the books) and I’m trying to find it. There’s a kid…

…[I described the story line here, but am redacting it to preserve the hilarity]…

I’ve searched for it high and low and can’t find it and was wondering if you a) know what the heck I’m talking about, and b) know where I might be able to find it?

-Andrew Ferguson

Stephanie was able to give me the lead I needed:

The comic strip you’re talking about is Argentinean and it’s called “Mafalda” I used to copy some strips onto the backs of tests.

Thus, the hunt began. I first did another check on the Internet to make sure that I still could not locate it with the additional information. While I found some Mafalda strips, I could not locate the one I was looking for.

So I turned to our library. Our school library is part of the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, a network of libraries throughout in Colorado and Wyoming. In short, I can jump on the Prospector search engine and search through everyones books and then have it sent to my library for free! It’s really quite spiffy.

So I did that. “10 años con Mafalda” and “Mafalda and Friends“, the latter which is in English interestingly enough.

After parsing (heh, “parsing” only a programmer would use that word) through those two books, I had not found my comic. So I hit up Prospector again. This time, I ordered “Mafalda 5“, and just to be on the safe side: “Toda Mafalda” (I like saying it in the movie announcers voice).

Well, needless to say, my search is over. There, lying at the top of page 61 in Toda Mafalda was what I have been searching for. It easily been four years, probably closer to five since I’ve seen this comic. And while I didn’t remember it word for word, I was pretty close. Enjoy one of my all time favorite comics:


Click to embiggen, side-scrollage might be needed if you use Internet Explorer.

Guest Authoring at GottaBeMobile

Update: It’s up! Check it out: GottaBeAStudent and The Myth of Battery Life. Also a special thanks to Mom and Dad for A) proof reading it, and B) providing me with a title.

Starting later today, I’ll be doing a series of articles on that deals with tablet issues from a student perspective. We’ll, at least from my perspective (if you know me, you know that I can bring a unique perspective to anything).

GottaBeMobile is the site for Tablet PC information, so it’s a pretty big honor to write for them.

I also need to take a moment to point out the incredible irony that finds me, an engineer, writing in a situation like this. One of the reasons I went to Mines was to get away from all the writing that high school and humanities classes had. Yet, I find my self blogging several times a week on my personal site and writing articles for two outside sites.

In any event, it’s going to be more of an article based series, rather than the short and informative posting I do like to do at However, I think many will find them just as helpful.

I’ll post again when I put up the first article later today.

I’d also like to thank Rob for giving me (and STPC) a chance to expand my (our) audience and Tracy for letting me get away with it 😉 . Rob was also very helpful and kind in helping me make the decision to contribute to GBM, including helping me with a list of topics.

Prom Date Engaged

My former SAAS Senior Prom date, Lia DiBiase, is now engaged. I only mention this because she was my prom date and I get a chuckle1 out of it for some reason. You may not return to your regularly schedule program.

1A good kind of chuckle. The one perhaps made whilst reminiscing about times past and thinking how fun it was back In The Day™.

(Photo by Lia DiBiase)

Where Are They Now: Sammy Barrett

Once in a blue moon, I’ll come across someone from the past. This blue moon belongs to Sammy Barrett (with a hat tip to Jeff Hanway for the find).

Sammy went to Seattle Academy and was part of our class for the sophomore year only. After that, she completely dropped off the radar.

I got a text (with accompanying photo) and later an email from Jeff wondering if I remembered her:

Do you remember Sammy Barrett… I’m pretty sure she was at SAAS for like a year, our sophmore year? She was like friends with Mariel I think. Anyway I was at my local Firehouse coffee shop getting my coffee this morning and saw a poster for her new CD and a show of hers in Tacoma.

I have to admit that the music is pretty catchy and I may end up buying the CD (unless I can get it on iTunes).

She has several upcoming performances in Seattle and Tacoma. Anybody down for going?

Sammy Barret on…
Official Site: