24 Hours in Denver

Jeff and Elizabeth were in Washington, DC for the week, but got stuck in made a stop in the wonderful city of Denver on their way back. Jeff asked me:

24 hours in Denver, what should we do?

Here’s my quick and dirty short list of things to do in Denver. I’ve tried order it from north to south, west to east, but this is all mostly from memory.

  • Coors Field, 2001 Blake Street Denver, Colorado, 80205
  • Wynkoop Brewing Company, 1634 18th Street, Denver, (303) 297-2700
  • Commons Park, 15th and Little Raven Street, Denver, CO (kitty corner from REI and across the river)
  • REI Denver Flagship, 1416 Platte Street, Denver, CO, 80202-1120, (303) 756-3100
  • Illegal Pete’s, 16th Street, Denver, CO
  • United States Mint, 320 W Colfax Ave, Denver, Colorado, 80204
  • Civic Center Park, West Colfax and Bannock St1
  • Denver Art Museum, 100 W 14th Ave Pkwy, Denver, CO, 80204-2788, (720) 865-5000
  • Denver Museum of Nature and Science, 2001 Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO, 80205, (303) 370-6000
  • Colorado School of Mines, 1500 Illinois Street, Golden, CO, (303) 273-3000

Anything else worth adding to this list?


  1. From west to east is the Denver City and County building, Civic Center Park, and Colorado State Capital 

The BlackBox Case

Back In The Day™ I went to college with a kid named Lance Atkins. We shared many interests, including eating spaghetti every other Wednesday night. We were also lab partners in Machine Design, “an introduction to the principles of mechanical design [where m]ethods for determining static, fatigue and surface failure are presented.”1 We had fun. And we then we graduated. Lance declared his retirement from engineering and then went off to go fly planes — which I find interesting considering I work for an aerospace company and which Lance blames on Top Gun.

Then Lance had a crazy idea:

From www.blackboxcase.com:

What do you want most? Start a business? That pretty girl on the subway? Ride a wild ostrich? Believe you want it and do it. We promise, the freedom is wonderful.

As Lance noted though, “…There is one caveat to your dreams, though. You have to risk that which you fear most: failure. So we set before you our risk. We have been working so, so hard to perfection. There are jobs that have been quit, money invested, and a few cuts and criticisms along the way.”2

And thus was born BlackBox Case, a better, stronger kind of protection for MacBooks, and “a product of curiosity, experimenting, and the hard work and obsession of some friends.”3

Andrew: First things first, I remember a very distinct comment from you the day after graduation where you declared that you had retired from engineering (having just graduated with a Bachelors in Engineering, Mechanical Specialty). Does this mean you’ve come out of retirement?

Lance: Aha! You may have caught me… I definitely am using my engineering skills. I’ve always been a builder, so I guess Blackbox Case is a natural extension of that. I enjoy that I get to be an artisan, craftsman and businessman, as well as engineer. Variety is the spice of life, you know.

There have been a variety of cases for MacBooks: neoprene sleeves, hard-shell plastic coverings, shoulder backs. Your case seems pretty unique, though maybe not the first to use wood; what was the motivation to create a different kind of case and what sets this case apart from the rest?

My laptops have always had a rough life. I just hated how they would get abused and develop cracks after a year of traveling around in a backpack. So I guess the idea started with a hardshell case that could isolate the laptop from that compression abuse. The next priorities were light weight and aesthetics. I checked into many materials, costs, and even did some finite element analysis to calculate what it would take to protect a computer from everyday life. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by wood, specifically oak, and it’s perfect properties. It’s stiff, light, and hard but not brittle. As a bonus, it’s pretty darn cool looking.

Is this case just for show or does it actually provide protection? What happens if I drop the case with my MacBook inside?

I’ve already talked about the “crush” protection it provides in a bag. We also expect a MacBook to survive a drop much better inside of a Blackbox Case. The case may be harmed, but a bicycle helmet breaks to protect your head, too.

Right now, the only way to get a BlackBox Case is through BlackBoxCase.com. Do you have plans to expand your distribution channels? Might we see the BlackBox in the Apple Store (online or brick and mortar)?

For now, we will sell only online. We may go retail in the future, but for now we are most concerned with turning out really amazing handmade MacBook Pro cases. We have a few tricks up our sleeve too. New products, new materials, you never know…

BlackBox Cases are currently made in Golden, Colorado, which I’m sure has an effect on the price. Will BlackBox Cases always be made in America?

Yep. We wouldn’t have started it here if it won’t stay here. I love the idea of employing local and buying local. I love designing products and the smell of sawdust, so I think we shall keep it that way.

15 Percent, that’s an awesome idea, one which I really like…almost more than the case itself. Tell us a little more about 15 Percent and what you hope to accomplish with it?

I think giving is, for me, a great way to let go of something I hold onto too tightly. It has the opportunity to do some creative good in this world too. We are challenging everyone to give us feedback about where the money should go, because we want this to be a community effort. What do I hope to accomplish? If we are to dream big, I want to give away $100,000. I don’t know where yet, that’s where you readers come in. I’ve done a lot of studying on the side effects of big money donation, so we seek to give to programs that are set up with wisdom and sustainability. Maybe you know someone who needs a hand up?4

Who else is on Team BlackBox? What’s their story?

My main man is Anthony. He was formerly a professional hardwood floor guy. He’s the chief of production. Austin used to work construction and is a web developer. We have also teamed up with some old friends to make this happen. Evan is a graphic designer, Mike is a business guru, and AK is a videographer. I have been really surprised at all the help and counsel we have gotten from other people. They’re coming out of the woodwork! (pun?) We’re having fun and learning a thousand things a day.

Oh, awesome — I love Anthony, he’s a good guy! Lance, thanks so much for sharing about BlackBox Cases, hopefully I can stop by next time I’m in town (some guy I know is getting married). And while I don’t have a MacBook (yet), you can bet I’ll be talking with you when I do get one.


  1. http://engineering.mines.edu/undergraduate-program/mechanical-engineering/courses/detail/?cid=EGGN411 

  2. http://www.blackboxcase.com/blogs/news/2321922-dream-big-or-else 

  3. http://www.blackboxcase.com/blogs/news/2321922-dream-big-or-else 

  4. NB: Link added by Andrew 

How Any Enginerd Can Date a Beautiful Woman

Ignite Seattle 10 is coming up just around the corner on June 14th, so mark your calendars. They had a call for submissions and I thought, “What the heck. But what to present on? It needs to be funny, but also relevant. And not a shill for some product.”

As it turned out, I had already asked this question from the last time I wanted to present at Ignite Boulder. I flipped through the comments and decided that Jeff’s suggestion on How Any Man Can Pick Up Beautiful Women would be good starting point.

I submitted my topic suggestion with the following description:

I am a nerd, and I am an engineer.

How do I know this? Because I was drawing schematics of Star Trek related devices when I was in 5th grade, I ran my own web server from my home when I was in 9th grade, and, most importantly, I just (well, a year ago) graduated from the Colorado School of Mines with a BS in Engineering, Specialty in Electrical Systems, Area of Special Interest in Mechanical Systems.

Now, I work for an aerodefensespace1 corporation, as an engineer.

And I’m dating a beautiful woman; actually, that’s not quite true.

But I have learned a lot about being an enginerd and being able to talk to women. And have them talk to me.

So, just because I haven’t found the “love of my life,” the Deanna Troi to my Will Riker, doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from what I’ve learned.

It’s a shoe-in to win, right? Not quite. Unfortunately, I was not selected for the round of Ignite talks (they had a record number of entries). So you’ll have to wait for now.2


  1. I thought about shortening this to “aerodeface” 

  2. Story of my life…. 

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 

School Closed




Starbucks

Originally uploaded by mattmmatt

For the first time in 15 years1, the Colorado School of Mines has a snow day.

Due to severe weather and treacherous driving conditions, Colorado School of Mines will close today (March 26) at noon.

And it really wasn’t a full day either, just a half day. Still, I somehow feel my college experience is now more complete. Rumors are circulating that tomorrow may also be a snow day, but I have my doubts.


  1. says the lunch lady 

Electrical Engineering Presentation

Last semester, I was asked to do a presentation for WEBELOS Scout Badge Day on electrical engineering (go figure). Anyway, I was asked to do it again this semester because apparently I’m one of three electrical engineers on campus who they figure is up to the challenge1.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the 4 hours to spare this weekend so I had to pass on helping out. However, they still want to use my presentation2. I still had it on my computer, so wrote some notes in the presenters comments and I’m releasing it under a CC license.

The target audience is pretty young, so I skipped over all the words (at least as much as I could) and went straight to pictures and a couple of videos. The notes are far from complete, so you’ll need to have at least some sort of background in electrical engineering to be able to explain everything.

Let me know if you have any questions and enjoy!

I also a collection of electrical-related images that might be of interest as well:

Download
You’ll need to download both video files and either the PPTX (preferred) or PPT file.

The presentation is released under a Creative Commons license:
Creative Commons License
Electrical Engineering by Andrew Ferguson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://andrewferguson.net/some-rights-reserved/.


  1. I actually have no idea if this is true or not. The email was just addressed to me and two other EE’s 

  2. Which I’m told was “really great” 

Campus Benefactors: Simon Guggenheim

My latest article for The Oredigger is up. It’s been several years since I wrote a bona fide article for The Oredigger.

My article this week is about Simon Guggenheim, a campus benefactor. One of the oldest buildings on campus is named after him: Guggenheim Hall.

From media.www.oredigger.net:

After becoming a multimillionaire, Guggenheim moved north to Denver in 1892 and married Olga Hirsh on November 24, 1898, at the iconic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. To celebrate their marriage, the Guggenheims provided a Thanksgiving dinner to 5,000 poor Manhattan children.

I was also able to get some pretty good photos too, which is the real reason I took the article. I tried a couple of new techniques with balancing the light. First, I adjusted the exposure to just barely clip the highlights (pure white pixels). Then I adjusted the blacks to just barely clip the shadows (pure black pixels). This, in theory, maximizes the contrast ratio of the photo; which is important because photos already have quite a bit less contrast than the human eye does, so we best make use of all of it. Next, I tweaked the fill light to bring out the body of the photo. Some of the photos almost ended up looking sort of HDR-ish I think.

Simon Guggenheim - Color
Nikkor @ 18mm || 1/60 || f/11 || ISO200

Simon Guggenheim
Nikkor @ 18mm || 1/500 || f/3.5 || ISO200

Simon Guggenheim - Color
Nikkor @ 38mm || 1/80 || f/4.2 || ISO200

As always, there are some more pictures over on Flickr: Guggenheim Hall set

Also don’t forget to read the article: Campus Benefactors: Simon Guggenheim

Ticket #9540124 is a Winner!

While the Colorado School of Mines isn’t sponsoring the event (as the Obama campaign paid for the use of the facility), Student Activities was able to get a hold of and raffle off 140 tickets to students this morning. On a whim, I put my name in the hat. And I won.

Ticket #9540124 is a winner!

But wait, didn’t you just write a scathing letter to the CSM president despising him for allowing this event to happen? you might ask.

I did. And I stand by that letter. However, when life gives me lemons, I try my damnedest to make lemonade. It’s an old cliché, but usually true. Tomorrow morning, I will be putting on my photography/press hat and taking pictures for the Oredigger, making the best of the circumstances.

It’s also worth nothing that a large part of my decision and ability to do this is the fact that my first class was canceled, which will help to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety of tomorrows hoopla. It’s still going to be crazy though.

An Open Letter to President Scoggins

Bill Scoggins, the President of the Colorado School of Mines, sent out the following email today:

Dear Mines Community:

I am pleased to report that Barack Obama’s campaign staff has rented Lockridge Arena in the Student Recreation Center for a community gathering, free and open to the public, on Tuesday, September 16. Doors will open at 7 a.m., and the program will begin at 9:30 a.m. We were in talks with the campaign for two days, and an agreement was reached Friday evening.

Since many national media representatives will cover the event, this is a tremendous opportunity to showcase our campus, students, faculty and staff–and the exciting work we’re doing here at Mines.

I am proud we were selected as the venue for this event, as it reflects our growing recognition as a leading, world-class research university. Tuesday’s event will increase our visibility even more. I am also proud that we were contacted by Senator McCain’s campaign staff earlier this summer. Although they chose another location for their event at that time, we welcome further inquiries from them about renting a facility at Mines. We should all be proud that our campus is a place where national policies are discussed.

Of course, an event such as this will cause some inconvenience to our Mines community. I feel it’s worth it and think you will agree. We expect 2,000 guests, plus media and VIPs, on Tuesday morning–with everything back to normal by noon. For those morning hours, however, you can expect parking to be a challenge. Please plan to walk, bike, carpool, and get an early start to campus that day. And plan to be patient.

I know many of you will want to attend the program. We have been given a limited number of tickets. This is not a Mines event–the Barack Obama campaign has rented space on our campus to host a public event. Information about the limited tickets provided to Mines will be announced via email later today or early tomorrow morning.

Together we will make this a positive, memorable event.

Thanks for your support,

Bill Scoggins

Initially, I was rather ecstatic to have a major political candidate on our campus. However, after reading Mr. Scoggins email and finally letting the reality of the situation set in, I realized this was bad. This was very bad. I’m going to vent in this open letter, because frankly, I don’t know what else to do.

Dear President Scoggins,

I do not agree with you. I think this event will cause quite a bit more than “some inconvenience to our Mines community.” And I do not feel it is worth it.

And lest you think that the rest of this letter is a rant from some Republican who just doesn’t want to see Mr. Obama on our campus, I can assure that this letter is not that (nor am I a Republican). My political standpoint has nothing to do with my frustration with your decision, nor should it.

I believe you showed an incredible lack of good judgment in bringing the Obama campaign to campus.

While you believe that this is “a tremendous opportunity to showcase our campus, students, faculty and staff – and the exciting work we’re doing here at Mines” and to tout us to the “many national media representatives [that] will cover the event,” I cannot fathom the horribleness that awaits me and my fellow students on Tuesday.

Are you completely blind to the amount of pressure and stress we’re under already? I have 19 credit hours with 10.5 hours of class on Tuesday, I’m going to have a freaking aneurysm.

We do not need the added stress of having to deal with the logistical issues associated with bringing the next potential President of the United States of America to our campus with less then two months until the election in a swing state. Secret Service, national media, local media, VIPs, the 2000+ people that will be flooding our campus. Need I continue?

Let me give you a picture of what I see: CSM is a school of about 3300 undergraduates. Now, for about 5 hours on a Tuesday morning, we’re going to instantaneously increase the number of people on campus by almost 60%. That’s 60% more cars, which we don’t have parking for and cannot handle. That’s 60% more people walking around campus. That’s 60% more commotion while I’m trying to freaking study!

Our school cannot simply absorb that many people and still function as a school!

Please tell me again how this is a good idea?

And then there’s the fact that all of this went down on a late Friday evening and not an official word about it until Sunday morning? Why was there such pisspoor communication? Why was the student body not consulted before hand? Should we expect more disruptions like this in the future?

I fear that making amends will be tough on this one. Yes, the ideal thing to do would be to cancel Tuesday’s event. But we both know that probably won’t happen. I honestly think the next best thing to do is cancel school for at least Tuesday morning and have classes resume around 1pm. While I’m not a fan of this solution, I believe it is the one that will cause the least amount of stress and disruption for all parties involved.

Cordially,

Andrew Ferguson

Obama Coming to Colorado School of Mines

I shit you not, the Barack Obama will be giving a speech at the Colorado School of Mines (yes, my Colorado School of Mines) THIS Tuesday at 9:30am.

From my.barackobama.com:

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16
EVENT WITH BARACK OBAMA
Colorado School of Mines
Lockridge Arena
1651 Elm St.
Golden, CO
Doors Open: 7:00am MDT
Program Begins: 9:30am MDT

This is pretty cool and I’m going to try and attend, but I have to ask: How is our school going to conduct classes with all the security that Obama now has? Also, why hasn’t the school sent out an email about this?

Hat tip to Tim Weilert for posting a note on Facebook pointing this out.