Engineer’s View of Christmas Tree

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This was all the rage a while ago with those engineer types. Here is a link to something someone somewhere came up with a few years ago. In other words, it is not my own creation, but I don’t know whose it is. However, I would sign off on it, as an engineer.

To get you in the holiday spirit, go to this site and view the spec plan sheet…

Christmas Tree – the Engineer’s View

Santa? Let’s Do the Calculations…

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Yes. There is a Santa Claus if your name is Virginia. But I strongly suspect that Virginia did not grow up to be an engineer.

When children get to that awkward age of arguing about whether Santa is real, one can spot the future engineer. One child may say that she saw presents in her parents’ closet. Another might question whether reindeer could possibly fly. And yet another point out that there are millions of kids in the world and how is it possible that St. Nick could make it everywhere in one night.

The future engineer will pick up on this argument but then state, as he will many times in the future, “Let’s do the calculations.” He will then go on to show, upon pulling out paper, pencil, and calculator, that the concept of Santa as presented by the adult population is dubious at best.

“Think of it this way. Take just our state, with a population of around 5 million people. We will be conservative in all our calculations. Say, 20% of them, or 1 million are children of Santa-visiting age. Some of these may live in the same household. We will allow 3 per household, again, fairly conservative. That means that 333,333 households in our state alone need visited. Our state is all in one time zone, but even assuming that our state is the only land mass with population in our time zone, that would mean that Santa would have one hour to visit all these children-possessing homes after the last time zone and before the next one. Santa would have 60 minutes, or 3600 seconds to do this. He would have only 0.0108 seconds to visit each home. Inversely, he would have to visit 92.5925 homes per second. Even in a bad mood and placing 90% of the kids in homes on the naughty list, Santa would still need to visit 9.25925 homes per second. I just don’t see that happening without major contortions of the space-time continuum. And we are only actually talking about a fraction of the children in the time zone, let alone the entire world, not to mention the stamina one would need…”

Before he goes on to present and weight calculations, he’s likely sitting there by himself. But he will get used to that.

Merry Christmas, future engineers.

You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– You have done more than cursory calculations of the necessary lift capacity of each of Santa’s reindeer.


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Since the new year will soon be upon us, this number is a good one for the engineer. It is the estimation (because it is difficult to measure absolutely precisely), the number of days in a year. Sure, we can be more precise, but for calendar calculations, down to the 10,000th of a day is precise enough for roughing out engineering calculations that will involve longer time frames, such as the cost per year of operating a waste-water treatment facility.

Note that the fraction is why we have leap year every four years. It is almost 1/4 of a day, so adding the day every four years keeps us close to the same start and end of the year, rather than having the seasons shift months if we didn’t have leap years. Of course, we haven’t even begun to discuss the slowing of the earth’s rotation over time. Maybe we will save that for a later post.

Engineers like precision. Instead of a year being 365 days, or even 365 1/4 days, think about a more precise 365.2422 days.

Approaching Holiday

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With the impending holiday of Christmas approaching, the engineer could help optimize for time efficiency and benefit-cost of the present for a person, taken here as a significant other.

For time efficiency,

Te = TC/S  + J


Te = Time efficiency in gift-buying

TC = Time until Christmas in days

S = Time spent in a store, buying a gift

J = Joy Content of gift for recipient

The Joy Content is derived by a 0 to 10 survey given to the one receiving the gift. Note that the smaller TC, in other words the shorter time to Christmas, the smaller S needs to be, meaning the time spent in the store needs shorter. The goal is to maximize the Te, spending less time in a store, and bring greater Joy to the recipient.

This is the way to approach Christmas shopping.

Sad News

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Today, an engineer was in the news. The sad news is that this is because he passed away. His name is Norman Joseph Woodland and he was a successful mechanical engineer. One could say that he was successful because of his age of 91 or his marriage of over 60 years. But, instead, we turn to how the world views success, particularly of an engineer. Did he make life better for our society?

The answer to this in Woodland’s case is —- YES!

Woodland invented the bar code. It is estimated that over 5 billion times each day a bar code is scanned. The increase in speed, accuracy, efficiency, ease, – you get the idea – that this invention has made our lives, not to mention our trips to the grocery store, is immeasurable. He was an engineer to be admired, as are most engineers.

Here is a link to the NYTimes story.

Strike Out

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When a person swings at three pitches and misses all of them, he strikes out. So it is with me and my children as engineers.

I had a conversation, a rather short one, with my youngest child recently. She is a freshman in high school. We were discussing possible career choices and I said something about engineering. After all, her stronger topics on standardized tests are in math and science. But, she said, and quite quickly, I might add, “No.” The insult to my engineering nature did not stop there. She went on to say she wanted to do something in…… I hesitate to say this….. in the arts!

She wants to be an artist of some sort. She might have well said she wanted to be an architect!

So, here I am. My first two children are already on paths that are taking them far away from engineering. And now, strike three.

I struck out.

You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– over 80% of the items on your Christmas list are at least partially described in megabytes, gigabytes, or terabytes.


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As engineer, I have been trained in many things that some consider not so engineer-ish, but actually are. Economics is one of these. Needless to say, engineers care very much about economics. Frugality is our middle name, or at least one of them. Today’s number comes from economics, and engineers learned of it in a course called something like “Engineering Economics.”

72 is a great number to use for quick calculations, and since engineers are always tending to run numbers in their heads, then 72 is a good number for the engineer. The rule of 72 simply states that for percents of compounding interest, divide the interest rate into 72 and you will roughly get the number of years it takes to double the number (e.g. money invested). So, at 8% interest, $100 would turn into $200 in 72/8 = 9 years.

This is just an estimation and if one uses an interest rate that is very low or very high, then the accuracy of the estimation is, in engineering language, “not as good”. But for quick calculations, 72 works fine. Some may say there is a rule of 70 or 69, and they may yield better results at certain interest rate ranges, but these are estimations, people. Just use 72. It has a lot of numbers that divide into it evenly, and gives fairly close results, for estimations.

72 is a number that has power for the engineer because it 1) is good for running numbers in your head, 2) deals with money, 3) is divisible by a number of numbers, and 4) is just plain useful.

Now, I just have to find an investment that pays 8%, with no risk.

Engineers Explained Using Stick Figures

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Engineers et al Stick Figures

This about says it all. Artist looking up in the sky. Salesperson looking you right in the eye and and saying, “Trust me.” (Don’t.)

The Outgoing Engineer is looking at your shoes. The typical Engineer is looking at his own shoes.  He also likely has his hands in his pockets, but that is hard to show with stick figures. (As are pocket protectors.)

Note: The engineers aren’t frowning. They just aren’t necessarily smiling.