The Availability of a Scientific Calculator

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Just a couple days ago, a neighbor kid stopped by and explained that he had a final in some advanced high school science class and his scientific calculator went missing. Would we have one he could borrow?

I do realize that most people may ask their own kids if they had one, if they were using it, if it was OK for a neighbor to borrow their calculator. But, I am an engineer. I was able to quickly find one of two or three scientific calculators of my own I have around the house – actually, one was in my backpack I carry around everywhere – and lend it to him.

As an engineer, I think it only natural that people would have a calculator of their own. It helps with balancing checkbooks and stuff like that. But if a person wanted to figure out the angle of roof, or the surface area of an irregular object like an alien spaceship, or might just want to know the cube root of a number like 845, then a scientific calculator would be very helpful. I don’t see how anyone makes it through life without a scientific calculator. The least you can do with it is lend it to a neighbor kid.

btw – The cube root of 845 is 9.454, rounded to the nearest thousandth.

You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– when your wife was nearing the time to give birth, you already had mapped out, timed the signals on and tested the time for at least three routes to the hospital, and written a decision matrix for the best route for the time of day the labor begins.


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For many engineers, the number 145 is a good number. Most non-engineers (NE’s) may think this is because 145 is a low estimate of the engineer’s IQ – all right, maybe not MOST, but there are surely one or two gullible NE’s.

145 could represent the number of people the engineer found out was going to be at his upcoming presentation, causing him to throw up in anticipation.

145 may represent the number of times the single engineer practiced the “speech” to ask out a girl, until he realized that there was no way he would get through it without writing it down.

145 might represent the number of times the engineer with kids has told them “No” to the frivolous request of wanting to buy a new car, or even a new used one. The ’97 minivan is running great.

But 145 actually is – and here is the exciting part so please stand near my NE friend Tom when he reads this in case he faints – a good estimate for the density of concrete. 145 pounds per cubic foot is what concrete typically is in terms of (English system) density. Sure, if it is reinforced or made denser with additives, it may get up to or over 150 pcf. There are ways to bring it down below 140 pcf. But 145 is a good, sound number to use in any calculation.

In case any of you NE’s out there are on a game show and they show you a cube of concrete one foot in dimension on each side, you will now know the answer of how much it weighs, so that you can move on to the next round. You’re welcome.

How Long Are We Staying at the Party?

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Many family members of engineers will understand that the engineer typically has a different view of how long the couple or family should stay at a party. Most family members think that if the invitation states 6 – 11, then the family should maybe roll out of there at 10:30 or 10:45, or, if they are having a fun time, stay til 11:00, or even later.

The engineer, however, has an equation that differs from the rest of the family’s internal departure clocks.

Tp = 0.5 hrs/(N*R*S)


Tp = the time in hours to stay at the party

N = the number of people at the party

R = the percent of relatives at the party

S = the percent of strangers at the party

You may notice that the base time is a half hour. Then, the more people, the higher the percent of relatives and strangers, the shorter the time. It has been known that some engineers who are dragged to a party of, say, a wife’s coworkers, have been ready to leave within 1.8 seconds of arriving. It is in situations like this that the engineer wishes that the time travel in all those sci-fi movies and shows was at his disposal. Darn the one-dimensional, linear dimension of time!

A Poem: The Engineer’s Spending Habits

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As an engineer of many years, I will have to say,

Never, ever suggest this thing -That an engineer should pay.

Pay for what? For what, you wonder, will an engineer balk at spending?

Well, the list is long – very, very long. It’s pretty much everything.

So, if you’d like him to buy the family a car, or a new TV to view,

Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t hold your breath. Or you will surely turn blue.

He won’t buy frivolous things like new clothes, so please don’t even ask,

He won’t buy pools, or hot tubs, or couches. Fiscal constraint he won’t mask.

Some may call him cheap. But to be kind, frugal is the word.

For the engineer won’t spend money on any items like this that he’s heard.

So, don’t ask an engineer to buy anything, it just would be a mess.

Unless it’s a cool, electronic gadget, then maybe he’ll say yes.

Building a Porch

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A  neighbor of mine from my home town is now an engineer, and he tells of his exploits in constructing a front porch. We will call him “Greg” (since that is his name). Greg said that he was frustrated that one of the blocks didn’t fit correctly. Unfortunately, it was that last block in the layer on the perimeter of the porch. And, of course, the only logical engineering solution was, as Greg did, rip out the entire layer and start over again. Perhaps this gives a clue to why many engineers get slowed down on home projects. It has to be right. It just has to be.

The sad truth is that it never turns out perfect, and engineers know it. Greg said that for months after finishing his porch, he would walk toward his front door and shudder as he thought about all the mistakes in it – all the millimeters out of skew it was, all the fractions of a degree to which it wasn’t square. I know, that seems a little too emotional for an engineer, but if the engineer is going to have an emotional involvement, it only makes sense to encounter one, not from something unquantifiable like a wife, but from something that the engineer is truly attached to, such as a porch he just designed and built. Greg did say that after many months of non-engineers, such as his wife, telling him that the porch was wonderful and how it looked good and how great it was, he was finally able to be “OK” with the results. Did he feel better about it? That’s going too far. But at least he notices the flaws to lesser extent. Maybe the non-engineers in our lives do serve a function.

You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– you carry around any of the following in your pocket: 3 pens or pencils; a calculator; a small screwdriver set; a notebook with “cool” engineering sketches in it.

A Potential Engineer’s View of Laundry

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Engineers are engineers from a very early age. One non-engineer wife of an engineer put it this way. “He was an engineer long before he got the degree.”  Very few engineers weren’t “engineers” when they were pre-teens. And some who don’t end up being engineers may show engineering tendencies and worry his or her parents.

A number of years ago, my daughter gave me quite a scare. I was commenting, possibly complaining, about all the laundry that builds up so quickly in our home. My 9-year-old daughter stopped me and did a very engineering analysis of the situation by running the numbers. She explained that with five people, each wearing a shirt, pants, underwear, and socks for each day of the week (with the possible exception of her older brother), that would mean:

5 x (1+1+1+2) x 7 = 175 articles of clothes per week

I stopped her before she went through the explanation of towels, sheets and kitchen articles that should be estimated and added to this total, not to mention days when more than one shirt or one pair of socks are worn. I definitely stopped her before she got to translating this number to volume.

Is engineering in her future? At this point, it doesn’t look like it, but she gave me a huge cause for concern for a while.

Call in the Engineer

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For the most part, the entertainment industry is against engineers. We will cover this in other posts.

But how are engineers themselves portrayed? For the most part, engineers are admired, as they should be. Sure, there is the bad example at the beginning of MI3, where spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is at his engagement party and is explaining his cover job as a transportation engineer, then after he walks away, the guy in the group he was talking to pretends to fall asleep. A jab at engineers for sure. (Side note: When Ethan leaves the group, after the guy feigns sleep, the women all agree that they would marry him, even with his “boring” job. Of course, it is Tom Cruise.)

However, in movies when a person has the name engineer attached to his character, like on a team – good or bad – the audience knows one thing. This person gets things done. Yes, the engineer is the person they give the difficult, technical job to. If there is a bomb that needs diffused, an underground wall that needs breached, a computer security system that needs overriden, or an alien spaceship that needs destroyed, what do they do? Call in the engineer. The engineer will get it done.

First Date

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I recently talked to a wife of an engineer, an NE (non-engineer), who freely told me about the first date she had with her the man who eventually became her husband. They went to a picnic for her work. It was at a park on the other side of town. Without directions, and knowing generally where it was, they found their way there in a roundabout way. I say roundabout way because they went through many roundabouts on the way there.

When they arrived, she told colleagues about how they seemed lost and went through a number of roundabouts. But, “Ryan” (as we will call him), a transportation engineer, enhanced the conversation even more with an explanation of the design features of the roundabouts and statistics about how roundabouts reduce severe crashes by 80 or 90 percent – a lot of good engineering stuff. I think he did it to impress her. Well, from the way she still talks of it, she was impressed, although maybe not the way he intended.

Ryan was standing there as she told this story and I still get the idea that he is thinking, “Oh, yeah, I impressed her with those statistics.”

She continued to date him, and eventually got married. So maybe it did work.

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