T or F


T or F. Definitely T.

This is not in reference to true or false, but to the difference between how people operate according to various personality profiles. We discussed them at work this week, so it is on my mind – and I am thinking about them.

T is for Thinking. F is for Feeling. This is likely the strongest of the personality traits that are “measured” by these tests. A strong second is probably the introvert/extrovert scale. There are a few engineers which are actually outgoing. They are the ones in engineering sales jobs.

But, for T or F, engineers are almost all Thinking. Remember the mantra we have discussed elsewhere. Engineers don’t feel. Engineers think. When a person thinks about going into engineering but is feeling-oriented, either a) he goes absolutely crazy and ends up living in the wild with polar bears, or b) he becomes an architect.

The application is, again, never ask an engineer how he “feels” about something. It simply is not the thing to do.

No AC, No Problem

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I met an engineer whose wife told me he was frugal. She said cheap; I interpret.  Her example is that when they were first married, he drove a very old Volvo. Why spend the money on a new car? Unfortunately, the air conditioning didn’t work anymore. It could have been anything from needing a recharge to needing replaced, but that didn’t matter. What mattered is that it cost money and time to even have someone look at the AC, a system that is not an essential characteristic of a vehicle.  The car will get you where you need to be – the function of the vehicle – without the air conditioning in working order.

The problem was multiplied by the fact that he had to park the car outside both at home and at work – in the sun, in the summer, in a southern state. This did not faze him, for he engineered a wonderful solution. To keep it in the shade and therefore, cool enough to drive, he cut out a piece of plywood approximately in the shape of the car as seen from a bird’s eye view, and lashed it to the car while parked. I am certain that he figured out a way to fold up the plywood with hinges in order to fit it in the car so that he could transport it from home to work and back again. This went well beyond those simple cardboard fold-ups for the windshield. This covered the entire car.  To that, I say with Spock, “Fascinating.”

You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– you have heard someone describe, in detail, how various metals gain different properties depending on which elements are added to the production process, and your first thought was, “Cool”, and not “What a nerd”.



Technically, the 620’s, are all good numbers for engineers. Why? Is it because 620 represents some perfect constant that is representative of some natural phenomenon that engineers can use for the good of society? Could it be because the numbers in the 620’s are all used to calculate forces, or movement that can be of benefit to our way of life, since that is what engineers do?

No. The 620’s are where engineers, and you in particular, can find library books about engineering as arranged by our friend, the Dewey Decimal system. This is a great number to remember. Next time you are in your local library, go to any of the books from 620 to 630, and start perusing. Books on civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering will abound. Fascinating books about wastewater treatment facilities, engines that run on alternate fuels, and the joys of electric currents are there to be explored.

620, and more broadly, the 620’s are a nice number for engineers.

Viewing Fireworks – Made Better by Engineering

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Of course, engineers can enjoy fireworks as well as anyone. It is fireworks season and since my town had its fireworks last night, I will update you on how an engineer can loosen up, relax, and have fun with the fireworks, making them more enjoyable for everyone.

Fireworks are set off and work through a series of flames, projectile motions, and explosions. All of these are of interest to the engineer. But it is likely that most engineers will not be part of the development of the fireworks, nor the setting off of the fireworks, but instead, he will sit there with friends or family and watch them. That does not mean the engineer has to sit idle. He can develop a rating system that will score each individual firework, until, of course, the finale. Then they go too quickly.

But during the show, the engineer can fill out a spreadsheet, scoring each firework on the following:

height; width; unique shapes; number of colors; number of embedded fireworks; volume of the “Ooh”‘s and “Aah”‘s invoked; uniqueness factor

Each of these can be scored – say, on a scale of 1-10 for all but number of colors and embedded fireworks – for each firework and an equation can be written into the spreadsheet to derive at a final score for the fireworks.

The spreadsheet will look like a normal spreadsheet, with the engineer filling in the left seven columns, and the equation, with weighting factors, calculating the right-most column – the overall score. The equation can go something like this:

FS = .1xh + .2xw + .1xs + .35xc + .4xe + .15xa + .15xu

With FS being the Fireworks Score, I am sure you can discern what the variables are for since they follow the factors listed above. The engineer can then make this even more fun, or possibly simply more intriguing, by tweaking the values of the weights, shown by the constants, associated with each factor. And, of course, have everyone join in.

Fireworks – yet another experience that the engineer can make more fun with the appropriate approach.

The Sport for Engineers

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Last week, I should have informed you about the biggest sporting event of the summer. No, not the Olympics. No, not the NBA finals or the Stanley Cup series.

The most spectacular sporting event of the summer took place last week on the campus of University of Nevada, Reno. It was (are you sitting down?) – the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Concrete Canoe Competition. You may think, “Hmmm, concrete is not usually the stuff of canoes. Wouldn’t it sink?” You may be right. But given their ingenuity, making the material lighter, improving on the design of the canoe, and, of course, using brute force in canoeing, engineers from numerous universities built and raced canoes made out of concrete! It was particularly special this year, being the 25th annual competition. You can read all about it at this link:

Concrete Canoe Competition

You will see that points were awarded in various stressful parts of the competition to add up to determine the overall winner, but individual teams got plaques in area like, “Best Design Paper”, “Women’s Slalom/Endurance Race”, and, likely the most scary of all for the engineers, “Best Oral Presentation”. But some scholarship money is on the line, so know that the engineers gave it all for the glory of being crowned Concrete Canoe Champion. (Unfortunately, the trophy, which weighs in excess of 700 pounds is never taken home by the winning team.)

California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo won the competition this year. Congratulations!

Don’t tell me engineers don’t know how to have fun.

Vacation Destination

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This may be a part 2, as I think I have discussed earlier how an engineer may view vacation spots differently than others. Sure, an engineer will appreciate a mountain, or ocean. An engineer may even enjoy a “fun” time at an amusement park as long as he doesn’t start doing calculations on the factor of safety that the various rides must have.

A few members of my family will visit the ocean side of California for vacation. The coastal highway, they say, is beautiful. The hills and wharf of San Francisco are fascinating, and there is the glamor of Hollywood as an intriguing cultural experience. Though we won’t go inland, parks like Yosemite beckon with their “grandeur”.

I asked in our planning sessions, “What engineering masterpiece turned 75 years old this month?” I had to supply the answer. The Golden Gate Bridge. Now, why, I ask, would anyone want to hike up a mountain or along the beach, when that person could just as easily see, and then actually walk right across one of the great engineering feats of the last century.

I discussed this with the family. Walk across a bridge? The first reaction may have been restrained interest, or possibly boredom. I have a hard time distinguishing between the two. But after a detailed and careful explanation of the brilliance of the work, and the fact that we could hike it in the same year it turns 75, they were either very excited to walk the Golden Gate Bridge, or they needed to use the restroom. I also have a difficult time telling the difference between those two.

The Golden Gate Bridge wins out.

You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– you have ever sat in a movie theater and yelled at the screen because of some logical inconsistency in the strength of a wooden or steel beam the hero was using as support for his or her person or car. (It also counts if you strongly wanted to yell but didn’t because that would be too much like public speaking, which you hate even more than the inconsistencies in the movie.)

The Power of 10

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This number is not so much of a number as it is a notation, or a concept. It is understood as “the power of 10”, frequently called scientific notation. The engineer will consider this a wonderful number/notation/concept. It makes discussing and writing very, very large and very, very small numbers in a much easier manner.

So, say, you are in a discussion with a friend about the speed of light. You could say, “Well, the speed of light is known to be 299,792,458 meters per second, in a vacuum, of course.” But, that might lose people with that seemingly huge number, not to mention the time it takes to say that number. So, instead, round it off a bit, and say, “Well, the speed of light is known to be approximately 3.00 x 108 meters per second, in a vacuum, of course.”

And, instead of saying, “Obviously, the wavelength of light emitted by a carbon dioxide laser is 0.0000106 meters,” you might want to say, “Obviously, the wavelength of light emitted by a carbon dioxide laser is 1.06 x 10-5 meters.” Actually, when dealing with this, you probably would use the term, 10.6 micrometers, but, you get the idea.

Use the exponents of 10 and fit in with the crowd.

Thinking Like an Engineer

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There are times that I realize that I not only am an engineer, but I think like one. Case in point: a while ago I lost a few items, all on the same weekend. These were not any of the biggies like a wedding ring or one of our children, but they were things that were inconvenient not to have, used frequently, and cost something to replace. What the items were is not important, so much as the way my mind tried to work the problem. Which should I spend the most effort looking for? Which is of most “value” to me?

While many people think somewhat like this, the engineer will develop a table, or spreadsheet to calculate which item is of the highest value and which he should look for first. I know I did.

The table looked something like the following:


Frequency of Use

Cost to Replace

Likelihood of Finding with Same Effort

Ordinal “Value”




All of the first three columns after the Item column were given a rank of 1 to 10 for each of the items. Then the final column was simply the addition of the three previous values. I could have made it the average, so that the scale was still a 1 to 10 scale. Instead, I played it crazy and the Ordinal “Value” ended up being a 1 to 30 scale. (I can be quite crazy at times.) I also considered but did not pursue the weighting of one factor over another, either by making the scale larger or smaller for a factor (column) or by creating an equation for the Ordinal “Value” that weighted the other three scored values.

Again, these weren’t highly important or expensive items. I think the one that ended with the greatest Ordinal “Value” was my cell phone car charger, being used frequently but not daily, some cost to replace, but more likely to find since it was probably in one of the cars, or not. At any rate, I spent my time looking first for the car charger.

I may have been able to find all three items in the time it took me to derive their Value, but that is not the point, and if you went there before you read this sentence, well, you are likely not an engineer.

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