Y1K

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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

Where,

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

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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.

You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– you have ever run a benefit-cost algorithm on which calculator to buy using the calculators that are for sale.

10

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To continue with the basics, an engineer can’t get any more basic than 10. Base ten is what we use in scientific notation and in the metric system. It is no wonder that people typically say, “On a scale from one to ten, what did you think of…”

10 is the basic of basic, other than, maybe, 1, but let’s not get into an argument about that now.

Just being the root of the metric system, 10 gets my vote as being one of the all time great numbers, possibly the greatest. We have discussed the power of 10 before, and covered the number 1000, but the these have their roots, literally and figuratively, in the number 10. In fact, if you bring up the number 10 to an engineer, he will have an affinity for the conversation, even if he doesn’t know why. That number is so powerful and ingrained in the engineer’s wiring.

For non-engineers, try it next time you, say, see a bunch of cute bunnies. There are 8 or 9 of them. But tell the engineer there are 10 of them, and he may well listen to you go on about how cute they are. Otherwise, if he thinks there are 8 or 9, the whole aesthetics thing just won’t sink in.

The Basics

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When a sports team starts to lose, the coach typically makes a statement that the team is going back to the basics, that they will emphasize the fundamentals.

Engineers are way ahead of them, because engineers are all about the basics. As a service provided by engineeringdaze.com, we want to provide for all the non-engineers out there some of the basics, so that you can talk to the engineer in your life. First up, the basic, most fundamental equation for electricity:

V = IR

where,

V = Voltage

I = Amperage

R = Resistance

What simplicity. Three variables, one equation. No fractions (unless one want to solve for I or R), and no exponents. And it is as solid a foundation as they come. I actually had an electrical engineering professor say that if we had no idea how to solve a problem on a test, at least put down this equation, and he would give you partial credit.

V = IR is also useful. On a recent trip, my family and I were driving along a very long, relatively straight interstate and were paralleled by some high voltage lines. My daughter who just got through 8th grade started explaining how the electricity in our homes had to go through transformers to step down the voltage and (as my friend Tom would hear the next part) “Blah, blah, blah”. I would prefer it to say, “Yada, yada, yada.”

She, who wants to enter some strange, artsy profession like choreography, could actually relate to an engineer by almost referencing this basic equation.

So, you see, V = IR is a wonderful equation to use when communicating with engineers.

On Vacation

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Engineeringdaze is on vacation this week. Feel free to go over to the Engineering Days on the right side of the page, and view posts on the different topics, arranged by days of the week. There may be some you missed!

We will be back Monday, July 9, with more attempts at understanding the engineer.

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