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.

The Creative, Green, Fun Side of Engineers

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Some may think that engineers are often not incredibly creative, except for finding some bizarre, convoluted way to “solve” a problem. Some may wonder if engineers are really that interested in saving the environment. Some may think engineers are not all that fun. Well, if you are any one of those, it’s time to rethink your view of the engineer.

To combat all these views of engineers, we turn to Bellingham, WA, where the Public Works Department has written a new specification for the use of recycled material in non-structural concrete, thus the green nature of engineers. The creative side comes out since they are using a new material that is being recycled. The fun aspect of engineers is what that material is. The material now allowed to be recycled as part of the aggregate in non-structural concrete in Bellingham is: toilets.

But beyond mere theory, according to a recent edition of the publication Equipment World, a sister publication to Better Roads and Aggregates Manager (I kid you not), Bellingham recently included 400 used toilet seats in one of their sidewalk and path projects. Most will enjoy the name for this new type of concrete: Poticrete.  The project manager stated, “We did it because it was the right thing – and it was fun.” I’ve said this before – engineers know how to have fun!

He also said, and here I will confess that I am not sure if this comment was meant to come out this way, but he said, “We are not only using toilets, but looking into capturing a bigger waste stream.”

This may well change some of the non-engineers view of the engineer as they consider Poticrete. The engineer is green. The engineer can be creative. But most of all, the engineer is FUN!

For those that think I have possibly made all this up, please visit: The Story on Poticrete (The photo of the toilet seat that is bragging about Poticrete is worth the price of admission there.)

An Update on the Scientific Calculator

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A couple weeks ago I shared talked about a neighbor kid stopping by to borrow a scientific calculator for a science final exam. I didn’t have to get one of my kids’ calculators, but, of course, had one on hand to lend him.

So, he brings it back and, unfortunately, I wasn’t here. He left it with my wife or one of my kids. I have it now. But, what I don’t have is information. How did he do on his science final? Did the calculator help? What equations did he use? What functions did he use? Did he use the calculator later to determine the gas mileage of the family car, or figure out the area of their irregular yard, or to help him derive an equation that will determine how much pizza to order with his friends if a number of them go out to eat together and want to order different sized pizzas and he determined the square inches for different combinations of pizza sizes and compared them to the number of people times the average number of square inches of pizza each person would eat? Did he run the calculations of the height-to-weight ratio of all his family members? Did he calculate the angle of trajectory to throw a baseball to optimize the opportunity of hitting the window of the neighbor nobody likes?

If it weren’t for the fact that most engineers don’t like to, want to, or are the least willing to talk that much, they would be asking all those, too. Most engineers would probably just say, “Hey, the calculator do OK?” which sums up all the above questions.

A lent calculator can be a wonderful conversation starter.

You Might Be an Engineer If…


– you have written an equation to explain your wife’s or girlfriend’s emotions.

(As a side note: This is not a good idea.)



8 is not a number near and dear to the engineer, but it is a number that helps define the engineer. From data derived by the Center for Extrapolated Data, 8 is the average number of times a year that an engineer will actually tell his wife, “I love you.”

Most non-engineers (NE) reading this will consider this to be way too low for a good, working relationship, and, I guess from all those relationship books – written by NE’s – sure, that is probably true. A wife typically needs many more words of encouragement and endorsement of love. But in the engineer’s mind, he told her when they got married, and he would tell her if anything changed, so the 8 a year are above what is needed. However, in at least a meager attempt to accommodate this non-logical necessity of using these words of emotion, he acquiesces and uses these words on wildly emotional days like their anniversary, her birthday, Valentine’s Day, and around the holidays at the end of the year. Notice that that is only four times. So the other four are far and away extra ones. Think about it.

As the engineer’s mantra goes, “Engineers don’t feel. Engineers think.”

But, he can learn to adapt. Sort of.

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