By Ms Audra Calloway (AMC)April 2, 2012
Many Picatinny Arsenal employees are innovative during their leisure activities, creating everything from designer cakes to colorful oil paintings.
Naomi Zirkind has followed suit, recently publishing a book related to her Jewish faith. She is a lead general engineer for the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).
"Strength and Dignity: Torah Wisdom for Women on their Multitude of Vital Roles" is a collection of talks by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, on the various roles of Jewish women as illuminated by the Torah, arranged according to weekly Torah portions, Zirkind explained.
"The main thread that runs through the whole book is that women are the foundation of the home," she added. "They set the tone for everything that goes on in the home and guide the family through their warmth and influence on the family members. The book also talks about women's influence outside the world and using those same qualities of influence on the outside world.
"When I first started this project, I did not intend to write a book. I was just creating an educational tool for my daughters to help them appreciate (Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson's) teachings and use them as a guide in their lives as they grow up.
"I wrote the texts and then I thought that I should really write an introduction for each text that ties it to the biblical section it's associated with. Then I thought I should translate the sections (from Hebrew to English) to make it more user-friendly. So step by step it kept moving in the direction of a book. At some point I thought that it was a valuable collection and I wanted to share it, not only with my daughters but with a broader audience."
Zirkind began assembling the collections in 2001 and self-published the book in 2010.
"It's not like a novel where you read it straight to the end. It's not a sequential piece of work. It's more modular," she explained. "It's like a reference book in a way--an assembly of writings. (Those of the Jewish religion) read the five books of Moses on a yearly cycle, one portion each week. So there's one chapter in the book for each of the weekly portions."
Zirkind earned her bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Her graduate and doctorate theses pertained to military projects, so one of her MIT mentors suggested that she apply for a job at Picatinny Arsenal. She has been here for more than six years.
In her current job as an engineer with ARDEC's Weapons and Software Engineering Center, Zirkind designs algorithms.
She's trying to develop an improved algorithm that will allow robots to enter a large building and construct a map as the robot is in motion.
"With its sensors it can sense that a room is 'how many feet by how many feet.' It can then go into the hallway and do the same thing.
"As it moves throughout the building, it constructs a map of where it's been. After it's been through the entire area, it has a map of the entire space.
"There's been a lot of research in this area, but the challenging part is mapping large areas because the approximations used in mapping small spaces become invalid when mapping large spaces," she said.
When she first arrived at Picatinny, she worked in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Directorate, where she and her teammates developed tools and accessories, such as a tool carrier and accessories to improve the radio communication for the currently fielded robots to help them accomplish EOD missions more effectively.
While she crunches numbers for a living, she has also used her writing skills to publish several technical articles about her findings at Picatinny.
"For my new job I hope to write some articles, but first I have to do more research so that I'll have something to write about," she joked.
THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING
From Zirkind's perspective, the greatest challenge of the writing process was dedicating the time to write.
"I tried to set aside a particular time each week to work on it so that I had a schedule.
"Even so, sometimes I would be tired, but I would tell myself I had to do it."
To complete a large project such as writing a book, Zirkind said it is important to have a clear view of the desired result.
"Have the goal clearly in mind when you go through the various stages, because there might be obstacles and setbacks, and at those times you really need to keep persisting to reach your goal," she said.
"At the same time it is important to be flexible, and be ready to update the goal as new information becomes available.
"That flexibility helped me, for example, to decide to self-publish when I saw that publishers weren't accepting my work.
"(Publishers) either said 'No,' didn't answer or else gave me impossible terms, so ultimately I decided to do self-publishing. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have spent so much time looking for a publisher.
"I spent about three years trying to find a publisher and a translator for the texts. Ultimately I ended up translating them myself."
FROM COMPUTER FILES TO BOOK
When the book was finally published, Zirkind said she enjoyed seeing the goal she had envisioned finally achieved.
"It was nice to see it all packaged up in an actual book with a nice cover, rather than as a few computer files or as a printout of a hundred pages.
"I did have a concern, though. I had proofread it a few times, and each time I thought of some small thing that could be improved.
"I hesitated to release it to the public when it still wasn't completely perfect. To address this concern, I kept in mind what I've heard many times from military officers: 'Give us the 80 percent solution now, rather than the 100 percent solution after the war is over.'
"Even if the book is not 100 percent perfect, there are many people who could greatly benefit from it at its current stage."