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We all have this problem. We want to finish a job, we have to do something, but we just cannot get around. We might get distracted very easily, or just look for an excuse not to do our work. But why do we procrastinate? Let’s take a look!

The Reward

A lot of times procrastination is rewarding. You know the situation, a tough decision has to be made, and you are the one who has to make it. But you don’t know what to do. You wait and you wait, claiming you need more time or some other lame excuse, until it is too late to make a decision, the decision has been made for you, or the situation has totally changed, allowing an easier decision to be made.

Resentment

Sometimes procrastination is the only possible way of showing resentment or disagreement. One might be forced to comply with a boss, or have to do some “stupid” homework for a professor. Open “rebellion” or disagreement might not be possible (or you just don’t have the balls…). So we resort to procrastination! Everybody has experienced this type of procrastination, like when preparing for an exams that seemed not to be of value.

Fear of Failure

We are our own worst critic. Usually, we expect way more of ourselves than we do of others and than others do of us. Sometimes we don’t want to disappoint others around us. Whatever it is, we are scared of failing. This fear leads to procrastination, sometimes in the hope that the situation will disappear by itself, and sometimes it is so crippling that it leads to the cancellation of the whole job/project.

Fear of Success

Ironically enough, people fear success as much as they fear failure. Success means that people will be expecting this kind of performance more often and will judge you by this success. It means higher and higher expectations. Many people are scared of that, so they sabotage their success by procrastinating. Other times success puts you into a new environment (like a promotion), and now you are the underdog, the newcomer, you have to prove yourself once more.

The Mountain

The first moments of tackling what seems to be a big project or a huge task are very scary. The job looks like a mountain, impossible to pass. Sometimes just thinking about the amount of work that has to be done makes people dizzy! So again we procrastinate, because we don’t know what to do and we feel overwhelmed. We don’t realize that as long as we keep starting, as long as we keep taking small baby steps, things will eventually come to a finish, and once monumental tasks will seem like baby games.

More Info

I have experienced all the aforementioned reasons for procrastination. But on my quest to lead a more productive and stress-free life I wasn’t alone. The market is basically overflooding with self-help literature of self-proclaimed experts (who most of the time are not experts at all), so it is very hard to find books that actually have some essence. Fortunately, not all this self-help stuff is voodoo-boggus! Neil Fiore, Ph.D. has identified many hidden reasons why people procrastinate and gives valuable tips on how to avoid procrastination and overpower the urge, in his book The Now Habit. Contrary to most ot the literature out there, he does not give stupid and superficial tips (“Make a list and prioritize”…duh, I know that, if it worked I’d be doing it, right?), he goes to the root of the problem. Check it out, it’s well worth a read!

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When you are new to programming and want to start learning, it is very hard to find a good introductory book. Most books are either too simple, just teaching a few routines, and not the underlying way of how to think as a programmer. Others are way too complicated and abstract, bombarding the reader with hard-to-grasp concepts. Common Lisp: A Gentle Introduction to Symbolic Programming by David S. Touretzky is a nice little exception to that rule. Mr. Touretzky is a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University and a champion of free speech, and it is reflected in his book: even though it was published in the 90s it is available for free and legally on the internet.

Lisp is an old programming language, that has some unique characteristics and will be very different at first look. It has a unique style, that will make you fall in love with it. You can read more about Lisp

Common Lisp begins with a gentle introduction into programming in general and Lisp in particular. The difference between functions and data, number types and some basic programming concepts are explained. He then moves on to explain lists, the basic building blocks of Lisp. The relationship between lists and  elements of lists is explained in a very clear and concise manner. Some basic list operations are introduced. After explaining the eval notation, a special type of notation to describe Lisp functions, Touretzky then moves on to explain conditionals, like the if- and when- functions. Before you know it, you can do some pretty crazy things with Lisp, and this is just the beginning! Chapter 5 is all about variables, their scopes and their effects.

All in all, there are 14 chapters, totaling more than 500 pages. Every chapter is divided into an introductory section, which explains new functions and gives examples, exercises which really enforce what has just been learnt, and an advanced topics section. Solutions for the exercises are not given, which some might see as a drawback, but I think it is really well thought out like that! Because when you are working on real world problems you don’t have the solutions at the end of the book. You have to find your own ways to make things work, and this book does a great job in forcing you to think hard!

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Computers are taking over the world. What was once a nice to have has become crucial. The good aerospace engineer should know at least a little bit of programming in order to be able to write programs for automation, for control and to understand how computers work and interact, so he can design his airplanes in a way that makes it more suitable for computerized or remote control.

Programming

The Python Tutorial – Python is a nice little programming language and one of the best languages to get started in programming. The great thing about Python is the fact that it is easy and powerful. It is an object-oriented programming language, but fairly high level, which means the programmer doesn’t have to worry about every tidbid in order to get working code. Great for beginners! The Python Tutorial is a pretty good introduction to programming with Python for the beginner.

Google’s Python Class – Google has a lean and mean introduction to Python. It is more of a weekend Python crash course. The cool thing about this class is the fact that there is text, exercises and video lectures! One should have a little experience with another programming language though.

Rapid GUI Programming with Python and Qt (Summerfield) – After learning the basics of Python programming, it’s time to get serious. Nobody wants to program command-line programs all their life, most people want a nice and crisp user interface every now and then. There are several ways to do that, one of them is with PyQt. Qt is a cross-platform toolkit for user interface design, and a very powerful one. Summerfield does a great job of teaching how to use PyQt.

Beginning C (Horton) – C is a good language to use if time-critical execution is important. An experienced programmer can write highly efficient code with C. It is also very low level and therefore used  to program microcontrollers and has all kinds of applications in engineering. Plus it is a nice basis for C++. In his book Horton takes you from beginner to intermediate user, and that in a very easy going and comfortable way.

Common Lisp: A Gentle Introduction to Symbolic Programming (Touretzky) – I love Lisp, it’s so different than any other programming language! It is what you can call an old language and has been around for a long time. The structure is very different from other programming languages and will be confusing at first. But once you get used to it, you will love it! Touretzky’s book is an eye opener. Programming concepts are introduced and explained in a clear and concise manner. It really is the total beginners guide to learning Lisp and programming and as an added bonus is freely and legally available on the internet.

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The last post was about general engineering books. They are important, but aerospace engineers need specialized knowledge about fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and airplanes (duh). Let’s check out some of the cooler books for aerospace engineering students.

Aerospace Engineering

Introduction to Flight (Anderson) – This is THE introduction to aerospace engineering. Anderson covers all necessary basics to understand airplanes and flight. He starts by explaining basic fluid dynamics and thermodynamics. But he doesn’t stick with just the basics. Chapters about flight mechanics, performance and stability, propulsion and aircraft structures make up the bulk of the book. Another chapter about Astronautics completes the coherent presentation. If you are unsure which book to get, get this one! Actually, you should get this book as soon as you have decided on studying aerospace engineering, as it is the most essential introduction to the field!

Modern Combat Aircraft Design (Huenecke) – Modern Combat Aircraft Design is almost as well suited as an introduction as Introduction to Flight. Whereas Anderson’s book takes a more scientific approach, Huenecke’s book is more about the practical aspects of aircraft design in general and combat aircraft design in particular. You might have asked yourself “Why does the F-16/-15/-14… look the way it does?” Well, after reading this book you will understand. You will be able to look at any airplane and identify it’s unique characteristics and the reason why it looks the way it looks. I knew a little bit about airplanes, engineering and flight (just a little bit) and I read this book before I read Introduction to Flight. It was an eye opener for me and helped me understand the different aspects of an airplane a lot better.

Aerodynamics (Anderson) – This is another one of Anderson’s many masterpieces. Rather advanced topics of aerodynamics are discussed. Anderson lays out the scientific basics of aerospace engineering. It is another must read if one wants a good grounding in Aerodynamics, and who wouldn’t want that? At first, basic concepts of fluid dynamics are explained. Then Anderson proceeds with incompressible flow. He explains the basics of potential theory and modern methods of aerodynamic analysis. The book finishes with explaining the basic concepts of compressible flow, as they appear in flight faster than Mach 0.3 . Again, this is a must read for any aerospace major, as it is a very gently introduction into the rather complicated field of aerodynamics!

Aircraft Design: A Conceptual Approach (Raymer) – This book is the bible of aircraft design. Raymer takes a practical approach and explains how every little part of an airplane is designed in the conceptual design phase. The first part of Aircraft Design is about getting the plane on the paper and the conceptual workflow. The second part is about analyzing designs. Suited for both the student and the practicing engineer, Aircraft Design does a very well job introducing basic and more advanced topics of aircraft design.

Theory of Wing Sections (Abbott, von Doenhoff) – Wings generate the necessary force to lift an airplane off the ground. They do this by changing the flow field around an airplane. They key parameter for creating a flow suitable for flight is the profile, or section, of the airplane. For this reason the NACA (National Advisory Comittee on Aeronautics, later to become NASA) conducted a lot of research into this particular area. The results of that research are compiled in this book. Theory of Wing Sections has the necessary data for the design of wings in a thorough and handy form.

Stay tuned for the next part in The Aerospace Engineer’s Library, where we will discover a few books for the digital world of the aerospace engineer!

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As a first year aerospace (or mechanical) engineering student it is really hard to find out which books are really worth the money and which are not. Being almost done with my bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, I have gone through a lot of books, some rather disappointing, others eye opening. I found out that it is hard to find god reviews and recommendations for books that could help one along the journey. Textbooks unfortunately are shamelessly overprized, reviews usually go to both extremes (ranging from “Oh my God this is the bible!!!” to “Worst book ever printed in human history”, I read it all). Most students have had bad experiences with textbooks early on, since scientists sometimes tend to boast and cherish a complex and hard to understand style of writing. Money beeing scarce, students oftentimes don’t want to take the risk. So here is my very special selection of books that will help anybody who is, or wants to, study aerospace (or mechanical) engineering. Beware, as some of the books I recommend will be in German.

In this first instalment of The Aerospace Engineer’s Library we will discuss books for mechanical engineering (of which aerospace engineering is a sub-field) in general.

General Mechanical Engineering

Technische Mechanik (Heinz Ulbrich) – Every mechanical engineer (and related) needs a thorough grounding in engineering mechanics. Paradoxically, this is one of the courses that students are most afraid of! The reason for this paradox is fairly easy; most mechanics professors (especially in Germany) suck at teaching and are proud if more than 40% of the students fail their class. How crazy is that! Heinz Ulbrich did a pretty good job with his book. There are no explanations, as this is left to other books, but instead worked problems. There are plenty of solved problems for all important fields of mechanics (statics, dynamics and mechanics of materials). This book is a real gem, because the solutions are very thorough. One can basically reach a working knowledge of engineering mechanics by knowing the basics and working through this little book.

Control Systems Engineering (Norman S. Nise) – Wow, this one is a real beauty. Partly in color, very complete. In this book one can find everything that is needed as an undergraduate mechanical engineer and more (I’d even theorize that it’s all you need to have as a graduate and doctoral student, depending on where you want to go)! The writing style is great, concepts and theories are very well explained and the text is enhanced with many diagrams, pictures, real world examples and sample problems. Problems can be found at the end of each chapter and solutions at the end of the book.

Maschinenelemente (Roloff/Matek) – Knowledge is nice to have. But if that knowledge cannot be transformed into practical value, it is worthless. This book helps to transform the theoretical knowledge one has learned in college into real-world problem solving. See, the theory you learn in college will not help you at all in dealing with the real world problems of a mechanical engineer. You need to know how things are done in the real world, and this book will show you. The Roloff/Matek, as it is affectionately called, is a textbook that shows how classic mechanical engineering tasks are solved. Almost everything you need to know is in here, from the design of specific mashines to the preliminary calculations. Emphasis is on how things are done, not so much the theory.

CATIA V5, Grundkurs für Maschinenbauer (Ronald List) – Back in the day mechanical engineers had to do everything by hand. There was no cool computer program that could help them. Now things have changed (though it is still not certain if the computerization of engineering has made the task easier or harder). CATIA is one of these programs, helping to shape an engineers ideas in a 3D instead of a 2D environment (pen&paper). Unfortunately somebody has done a very bad job writing a documentation and tutorial for CATIA. This book fills the niche. It is a coherent collection of more or less step by step tutorials that give you hands on practice. This makes it fantastic for learning the basics of CATIA. Of course there will be much more to learn but this book will teach you more than your college classes!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where we will discover a few books specifically for aerospace engineering.

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