The Thoughts of Torkus

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The top 10 thoughts of Torkus, Medieval Engineer:

10. A pulley system could lift the stones for the castle more efficiently than making the peasants stand on each others’ shoulders.

9. Clean water systems could really help with all this pestilence.

8. These times would benefit from an engineering handbook with equations for all my thoughts.

7. Why won’t the fair maidens be impressed with how I can use my abacus?

6. Task for tomorrow: create wastewater treatment facility so people will quit urinating in the streets.

5. I wish electricity was invented so that I could design an build a electrical grid. These Dark Ages are DARK.

4. There has got to be an equation that calculates the ideal ratio between a castle wall and the castle area. What use that would be, I don’t know.

3. I know how to impress the fair maidens. I can develop an algorithm that will determine their weight from measurements of their head, bust, waist, hips and calfs. They will consider me wonderful.

2. Pestilence could be reduced with the help of engineering – if only allowed to help. Then the fair maidens would be mine.

1. At least the mud from the pathetic condition of the roads fills in the potholes.

Clean Water

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A month or two ago, we focused on Tork, prehistoric engineer. This week, we will look in on descendant, Torkus, who lived around the turn of the first millennium. We call him Torkus, Medieval Engineer.

In the time of Torkus, even though people did not understand germ theory and the various ways diseases could be transmitted, they did have a sense that clearer water was better for people than rancid water. Torkus, the most respected engineer of his day (because he was the only one around) understood that water needed to be somehow “cleaned”. He called this act “water treatment” and devised various methods to filter the water using different membranes, layers of materials, etc. Torkus didn’t get into chemical treatment, but the water he produced was generally clean and free of most harmful diseases. But providing this service to society proved more difficult.

Torkus went to the warlords who controlled the region at the time and tried to convince them of the benefit of water treatment. They considered him a crazed lunatic, then flogged him, hit him with sticks, and smashed his abacus. That last bit of torture was the cruelest to Torkus. But, he enjoyed a relatively healthy life after that, while most of the ruling warlords died of battle wounds and pestilence.

Clean water – a service provided by engineers. Torkus was ahead of his time.

You Might Be a Medieval Engineer If…

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– you have tried to impress a fair maiden by explaining how she can make life better for herself by making her cart easier to pull, by reducing the friction between the wooden axle and wheels, only to see her make her life easier by talking some big, stupid guy into pulling the cart for her.


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A month or two ago, we focused on Tork, prehistoric engineer. This week, we will look in on descendant, Torkus, who lived around the turn of the first millennium. We call him Torkus, Medieval Engineer.

Torkus was likely the ancestor of computer engineers of today. We surmise this because, even though he worked on all things engineering (as far as it went back then), Torkus mad a lot of money by correcting a little problem he called – Y1K.

The year was around 990 AD when Torkus realized that the turn of the millennium was going to present a lot of problems to society. Torkus thought to himself, in an engineering, analytical way, “This is not like, say, 1000 years from now when it will turn from 1999 to 2000 AD. That should be an easy transition. What we have in front of us is the addition of an ENTIRE NEW DIGIT! We are not even sure about the ramifications. Calendar makers will have to pound out another digit in their metal calendars, adding time to their work. In fact, in ten years, every time the year 1000 AD will be written, there will be a 33% increase in labor. What kind of cost will that infuse into our fragile medieval economy? Chaos will ensue unless something is done about it.”

And Torkus had the answer. By adding a digit to the inscribing tools, and essentially reducing the effort needed by 33%, Torkus provided this to all the small little kingdoms and territorial leaders of the day and held off utter turmoil from engulfing the human population.

Y1K came and went without incident, and Torkus was hailed as a hero.

Then their was pestilence and plague.

Torkus – Medieval Engineer

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A month or two ago, we focused on Tork, prehistoric engineer. This week, we will look in on descendant, Torkus, who lived around the turn of the first millennium.

Before the plague devastated Europe, there were still a lot of diseases, generally called by the catch-all phrase of pestilence. Torkus, being an engineer and therefore wanting to served society, decided to take on this problem. He derived a formula for the probability that someone would get sick with pestilence.

p = d * s * t


p = the probability of getting sick with pestilence

d = the distance from a sick person

s = severity of that person’s sickness

t = time of being in the sick person’s presence

Torkus theorized that there was some mechanism, an invisible wave, or a force of some sort that made all this make sense, and since these seem to be understandable (at least to a 1000 AD engineer), then an algorithm or equation would be a simple way to explain this and serve society by improving our quality of life.

Torkus was wrong. Pestilence was caused by germs, sometimes from eating bad food, sometimes from drinking tainted water, sometimes by being bitten by rats.  Life in 1000 AD was not always that fun.

But, here is what is important to remember. Even though Torkus was wrong, and many of his friends and family still died from pestilence, he was thinking like an engineer. Was it his fault the doctors and biologists were behind in their understanding of their fields. No. Torkus was still doing what engineers have done for over a thousand years since – understanding the world through equations and serving society by solving, or at least trying to solve, the problems we all face.

I’m just glad the pestilence thing is understood better now.

MacGyver Was an Engineer


As mentioned in other posts, engineers are not portrayed all that well by the entertainment industry. They are typically seen as nerd-ish eggheads, boring, bland, and definitely not flashy. Is that us? The notable exception outside of sci-fi to this portrayal (sort of) is MacGyver. To be fair, I don’t think they ever actually stated that MacGyver was an engineer, but he approached situations as an engineer would and solved many of the world’s problems like an engineer.

For those too young to know of him, MacGyver was a technology-oriented guy that could use items like a gum wrapper, a paper clip, and duct tape, and either fix a car that was beyond repair to the most talented mechanic, or defuse an atomic bomb. Yes, he was that good. He solved problems with whatever he had. He had to be resourceful and always thinking. Deep down, he was an engineer.

I will admit that there is one thing MacGyver did that engineers typically do not. Attract women. He ended up being way too cool and a little too non-engineering-ish by having a softer, relational side of him. But, that being overlooked, he was a great example of how the engineer sees himself. The problem-solver, with technical skills and insight into how to get things done. And maybe a little cool.

Can engineers have a great role model like that without the entertainment industry ruining it? No. The entertainment spoils that, too, by spoofing him on SNL and in a B-movie.

I don’t care. I still consider myself a MacGyver.

The Engineer – Identified

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In understanding some of the most basic characteristics of the engineer, I offer this story:

My wife dropped our son off at a friend’s house one day. We had never met the parents, and after sending our son to the back yard where the friends were gathering, my wife returned and informed me that she still had not met the parents. They were there. The mother was inside getting things ready for a birthday party, and the dad was out front, standing off to the side, under a tree, and making no attempt to meet or greet the parents of the arriving kids. My wife said she kind of waved and tried to say, “Hi,” but the dad just stood there, saying nothing and doing nothing in this forced social setting. I then explained what was going on, for I recognized the signs. The dad of that family was undoubtedly an engineer.

He could not have been a lawyer, unlikely a doctor, definitely not a rodeo clown. His social skills were simply not developed. While not all engineers are like this, most definitely have an aversion to meeting new people, especially ones that may want to talk.

And although my wife was skeptical at my detective skills, when I picked up my son a few hours later, I confirmed that the dad was indeed an engineer.

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