Movies Are Not Kind to Engineers

1 Comment

While some movies may make the engineer look good, most do not. Here is one movie the engineer should avoid, although a few years old now – MI3, Mission Impossible 3.

There is a scene near the beginning of the movie in which Tom Cruse’s character is at an engagement party and two women and a guy are talking to him about his cover. He, of course, needed a cover job since he was a spy. His cover job was being a traffic engineer working for the Virginia DOT. He was explaining to them about traffic studies – stating things that were wrong – and then he left. The two women said that they would marry him (he was Tom Cruse), but the guy’s reaction was what most people were thinking. He pretended he was falling asleep.

That is what the engineer gets from Hollywood. Thinking engineers are boring, that that fascinating work they do is of little interest to the rest of the world.

As I said, there are a few good scenes from movies that are complimentary to the engineer, although I can’t think of any right now.

I Should Have Known Then…

Leave a comment

I ended up becoming an engineer later in life. By later, I mean around 30, after getting a different degree and working at a couple different careers before going back to school for engineering. My mother used to say that she suggested engineering as a career for me when I was in high school. I don’t remember that.

What I do remember is that one time, I was on the bus going to a basketball game – I played throughout high school, it was a small school.  I took along a slide rule and the directions and was learning how the slide rule worked. I am not so old that slide rules were the norm in high school, and in fact very few people even then knew what they were for, let alone how to use them. So, I was teaching myself how to use the slide rule and that night, I did great on the court. I played extremely well. It was like my engineering self was alive, making shots off the backboard at the proper angle and calculating my way easily to a double digit point game.

I should have known then that I should go into engineering. The slide rule was pointing the way.

You Might Be an Engineer If…

Leave a comment

– you use a Factor of Safety of 3 for nearly everything in life.


Leave a comment

Yet another number that represents, for the engineer, how a non-metric system of measures simply does not make sense is 144. It should be stated that although, technically, this number is not directly tied to the pitiful English system to which the United States nonsensically adheres, the fact that we have a number like 144 as a unit for ordering a number of an item, points out the need for a base ten system of weights, measures, and numbering.

144 is a number that is a “gross” of something. It is a dozen dozen. So, if 12 is not a bizarre enough number to use as a unit, we somehow have decided to make it more complicated by multiplying it by itself, by squaring it – 12 x 12, or 144. We end up squaring the illogical number, but instead of that making it make sense, it only makes it more convoluted.

There are times that the approach of the engineer may get complicated and caught up in calculating and recalculating, and adding in factors of safety, and remeasuring, and on and on. But when it comes to weights and measures, and counting – world, listen to the engineer. Let’s not have any more numbers like 144 as part of our system.

Communicating Like an Engineer

Leave a comment

This post is mostly for the non-engineer wife of the engineer:

When communicating with an engineer, it is good to communicate how they communicate. The other option is to wait for the engineer to learn your language of words and sensitive sharing, but I will tell you this – light from the most distant galaxy that is just leaving now, may well arrive to our planet before that happens.

So, it is good for you to learn a little of how to communicate. For example, engineers like charts, tables, equations, and graphs. If that is how everything is communicated, that would be well them.

To explain this with a real-life situation, let me direct you to our home, and our dog. He needs fed and taken outside at least twice a day, in the morning and in the evening.  My wife and I will do these duties while the other person is sleeping or still at work or not in the house for some other reason. Therefore, it is good that we communicate if we take care of the dog. My wife, a non-engineer, will sometimes write a note, using way too many words or phrases that can be misunderstood.

As an engineer, I improved upon this communication. I sketched out this table with markers on a white board


Fed Outside

Then, in the morning, when I took care of the dog, I wrote in the date, and put a check mark under “Fed” and “Outside”.

Not meaning to brag, but this is a far more efficient, straightforward, sensible way to communicate, and it is less open to misunderstanding.

Communicating the engineer way – use tables.

Weird Al Contributes to the Conversation

Leave a comment

As an engineer, I swear that when Weird Al came out with his song, White and Nerdy, he was thinking of engineers. Yes, not all the images are purely about engineers. And yes, there are many engineers who are not white. But for the most part, the song by Weird Al, a parody of Ridin’ by Chamillionaire, might as well be a theme song for engineers. I prefer to consider myself more of a Geek, but Nerdy is just around the corner from that.

I encourage you to find a video of White and Nerdy on the internet, watch it, and try to tell me that engineers are not portrayed there. Makes me laugh every time.

Can You Give Us a Statement?

Leave a comment

The fate of the engineer is that there are few times that society, usually through the press, ask you to comment on things. This is all well and good, considering engineers do not like to make public comments, unless one is an engineer in sales, then you can’t stop him from talking. But, for the most part, engineers are quite content in the background, doing what they do best, serving our society by providing clean water, transportation, electricity, vehicles, etc.

The only time that engineers are typically engaged in public conversation is when something goes wrong. If a bridge falls down, levees fail, a pipeline leaks, there is a blackout, or there is any overwhelming natural disaster that people think engineers should have planned for and built countermeasures for, then, and only then is the engineer “asked” for an opinion. This is usually in the form of accusation, but we, as engineers, are used to that. We are here to serve. Engineers prefer to never be asked questions. Let us do the job. If a disaster has occurred, then engineers will analyze it, and suggest those making the monetary decisions how to make a re-occurrence highly unlikely. Along with that, let engineers provide the service they do.

It is not only disasters that this interest by the public causes people to comment on engineering things. I put it this way. Since I am in highway engineering, I have noticed that when I mention what I do to people, their response usually is something like: “Hey, what is wrong with that light on Main and 2nd Street?” or “Why is that sign and the lines on the road all messed up when you drive out of town on Locust Road?” and a lot of similar questions. I have yet to hear what an engineer would like to hear. Something that goes like this: “You are an engineer for our roads? Thank you. Oh, thank you, wonderful engineer, for providing such an advanced highway system for our society so that my family can travel all over this fine city, state and nation. Thank you, kind, serving engineer, for designing and building a transportation network that most countries can only dream of, for our society to use. You, engineer, should be admired and lauded.”

An engineer can have dreams, too.

You Might Be an Engineer If…

Leave a comment

– you not only time how late the members of your family are for leaving the house (which you can easily do since you are sitting in the car for a while), but you maintain a spreadsheet to keep track of their lateness.

0 (Zero)

Leave a comment

Ah, yes, the ubiquitous number 0 (Zero). This is wonderful number for engineers. We will even explain why without having to resort to zero’s intricate value in its use in base ten, and how zero has been such a great help in weights and measurements – a great help if one uses the metric system, otherwise you are on your own.

Zero is used in so many applications of engineering. Engineers set numerous equations to zero to solve for them. Most notably, if an object or point is in equilibrium, then all the forces acting on it will add up to, you guessed it, Zero. This will be the case for all three directions in a space into which the forces are broken down (x, y, and z). So Zero is essential for analyzing any static object or system. If one wants to make sure air pressure is maintained in a building, then the amount pumped and the amount taken out must be equal, or, put it another way, the sum of the in and out amounts must equal Zero. To maintain a temperature in room or building, the heat added plus the heat lost (which will be negative) adds up to Zero.

The other numbers may make fun of Zero, for being a nothing, a loser, a, well, a Zero. But to an engineer, it is wonderful number and one to be respected.

A Baseball Story for an Engineer

Leave a comment

( has some wrap-up thoughts on baseball, now that the World Series just finished the season.)

The best baseball story I have heard recently that most any engineer will appreciate is Moneyball. I have not seen the movie, but I went through the book a few years ago and I am still impressed by the logic and sheer emotionless decision-making that was introduced by the Oakland team. These are qualities that engineers admire.

One may say that these were really math nerds or statisticians, and to some extent that is correct. But considering the level of application of mathematic principles to solve a real-world problem, I would say that these people acted much more like engineers than mathematicians.

Whether a math guru or an engineer, it is good to point out that Brad Pitt is not typical of the way these numbers geeks look, but I’m not complaining. It’s good press.

Older Entries