Pythagorean – Applied

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x2 + y2 = z2  et. al.

Engineers use the Pythagorean Theorem and the associated trigonometric functions, particularly cosine and sine, to a very great extent. You may think, “Hey, the Pythagorean Theorem is for mathematicians. Why are you claiming it for engineers?”

First, engineers use this equation to break down vectors into component vectors in an x-y coordinate plane. This is extremely powerful since vectors can represent forces or distance or velocity or a myriad of other phenomenon. I know. Wild, isn’t it? Engineers use Pythagorean’s old equation for great uses.

And here we see the second reason why this should be principally an engineering concept. I have a brother. He just had a birthday yesterday. But, that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that he is a math professor and as a mathematician the one thing he hates is to do anything “applied” with his math. He likes to keep it “theoretical. What? No real world solutions? – No. No solving a practical dilemma? – No. No serving the general public and supplying clean water, electricity, motors, highways, etc.? – No. My brother sees math as an end to itself. He hardly even deals with numbers anymore.

So, here the engineer is found to be far more noble and distinguished than the math professor. Sit and think about math, or use equations such as the Pythagorean Theorem to solve problems and help humankind? I think the answer is quite clear.

Thank you.


A Poem for Parents

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For all the parents whose child carries a calculator around, takes apart appliances, puts appliances back together, or always want to visit Radio Shack, this limerick is for you:

“This algorithm should prove it!” he stated,

Their son’s penchant for numbers inflated,

They could not change this course,

The parents lost to the force,

To an engineer’s life he was slated.

Stats – We Can Do That

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Some engineers are athletic, or at least can play a sport or two. But, in general, the average athletic ability of the average engineer is somewhat less than that of the average person. However, that does not mean that our involvement in sports has to be less.

I met a wife of an engineer who explained that her husband keeps very good stats of their children as they compete in sports. She may not have actually said, “very good stats”.  I put a more positive spin on that part of her story.

As an engineer, he overdoes it with the numbers. In baseball or softball, he will keep all the stats that are typically kept for a major league baseball player, even though his child is only playing T-ball. And giving his 6-year old a folder with hitting average, rbi’s, on-base percentage, fielding percentage, and around 14 other statistics all laid out in a spreadsheet with graphs showing improvement (or worsening) over the weeks of the season could be seen as overdoing it.

It may be the case that his interest in numbers and calculations could possibly cause him to go a little overboard with the statistics. To look on the positive side, the good news is that he is very involved in his child’s life.

The difficult question is: what is the engineer to do when his child starts dance lessons?

You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– you politely ask your wife to quit gushing about the “gorgeous waterfall” you are visiting on your vacation so that you can complete estimations in your head on the volume and rate of water flow and to run some preliminary calculations on how much electricity could be harnessed from this resource.


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It may not be true of all engineers, but for many of them the number 2.5 is an important number to remember. Actually, it may be more important for the family members to know this number.

When a project needs to be done around the home, like building a porch, or a subfloor for the basement, the average person will take a certain amount of time called X. Multiply that value of X by 2.5 and one arrives at the amount of time it will take the average engineer to get this project done. This is certainly not because the engineer is slow. Rather, the engineer is methodical, taking in consideration all options, running the numbers on cost and service life, calculating and recalculating the number of components – from boards to bricks to bolts – and quantifying all this in a spreadsheet, which includes at least three quotes on price for each component.

At work, the engineer is at the mercy of the timetable of the client. But at home, the engineer is the client, and, well, he is somewhat lenient with the contractor, who also happens to be himself.

A great deal of marital friction could be eased if, when dealing with a home project, the engineer’s wife understands this 2.5 factor. This is particularly critical since the engineer will typically state at the beginning of the project that the time it will take him will be X, the amount of time it takes for the project to get done by the average person.

Calculations Yet To Do


I recycle. My favorite thing to recycle is aluminum cans. This is because I get money for them.

When I am at work, at times I will drink a soft drink from an aluminum can. Sure, I can throw it in their recycling container, but then I wouldn’t get the money for it. Instead, I keep the cans and take them home once in a while. However, this has bothered me  because I also know that adding the cans to my commute home adds weight to my vehicle and, therefore, decreases the mileage, the number of miles per gallon of gasoline.  By how much? I haven’t done the calculation yet. But if the cost of transport is higher per can than the amount of money I will get for that can, it doesn’t make sense to take the can home, and I might as well recycle it at the office and, grrrrr, have someone else get the money for it.

This is a calculation I have yet to do….

(Am I the only one to think about things like this?)

In the interim, I have derived a simple solution to the dilemma. The solution is to only bring the cans home on days that I am a passenger in my car pool and my car is not being burdened by aluminum. Then the additional cost due the extra mileage is not encountered at all (by me).

Engineers ARE Left-brained

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A few years ago I worked in an office where one of the people that worked there had some creative side to her, singing or playing an instrument or something. Since I also have a part of me that some consider to be somewhat creative – although I am an engineer and very much of an engineer and think like an engineer – my coworker and I would talk at times about our creative interests. This led to what I will only call – the email.

She sent me an email about something dealing with work, and then at the end of it, she made mention that it was good to have another right-brained person in the office to discuss things that were not so much of a technical nature. What? Me? Right-brained?

I went home that Friday, told my wife about this insult my coworker leveled on me, and spent the weekend sullen and vexed. I went in on Monday and composed an email back stating that she was obviously misreading my mental state. Speaking of which, I wrote it my emai that I had to talk about this “right-brained” comment at length with my wife, and, possibly embellishing a little, discussed the depths of depression and intensity of professional counseling I endured over the weekend due to this comment.

Just as I was about to hit Send, the left side of my brain caught the problem, analyzing it thoroughly and keeping me from actually sending the email. Why? Because if I did send an email that complained and whined about a little comment and the counseling is caused, then that would only prove her point that I was right-brained.

I deleted the email. For what it is worth, I felt better doing that.

Engineers are left-brained. They think logically, and with reason and pragmatism. And that is needed when insulted by careless coworkers.

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