A Football Field

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This number, or measurement, isn’t necessarily important to an engineer, but it shows what engineers have known for some time: our country needs a uniform, commonly accepted standard of measurement. Otherwise…

Last week, a cruise ship was stranded while out on the high seas. (For five days, people had to live like millions of people in less developed countries live every day of their lives. But here is not the place for commentary.) During the way overdone news coverage, a reporter would say, “The ship is two and a half football fields long.”

At the same time, an asteroid nearly missed hitting our planet. The asteroid, as reporters told us was “a half a football field wide.”

Since when did a football field become a standard unit of measure? Sure, it is a well-understood length to many Americans. It is not completely uniform in its cultural understanding since there are some who simply don’t like or follow sports, but for the most part, people can somewhat relate. The issue at hand is that the football field is in yards. Now, if it was in meters, then it would all make sense.

I would suggest this change in the next owners meeting, however, I am not an owner.  But if we could get football to go metric, then it would be more likely that people would understand it when the next pope’s hat is described at being one hundred and twentieth of a football field high.

Running Numbers on the Elevator


For an engineer, running calculations and numbers in your head is an occurrence of frequent timing. It is not our fault. The world is constantly presenting us with situations for number crunching, usually to be more efficient, make sure we are on time, or be content that the building won’t collapse.

Case in point – the elevator. I got on an elevator the other day and saw posted a sign that is visible in various forms on most elevators: Weight Limit 4000 lbs.

Am I safe in here? What if I am in here and a number of heavy people get on at the next floor before I have a chance to exit? So, my mind starts going: If heavy people, let’s say 250 pounds each, get on the elevator:

4000/250 = 16, so it would take 16 people each weighing, or averaging, 250 pounds to max out the elevator capacity. Though unlikely, can they even fit?

I estimated the elevator to be about 6 ft by 7 ft, or 42 square feet. This means each person would need to fit with:

42/16 = 2.625 square feet, or in a square with a side of 1.62 feet. That is 19.44 inches. This would be an extremely tight fit. I think my shoulders are about this width, and I thought about the stagger and organization of the squares. Fitting 16 people of that size in here would be difficult, not to mention the low odds of that many people of that size showing up at the same time. But not impossible.

I convinced myself that not only is the chance of that many big people wanting to enter at the same time very low, but, and here is the real comforting thought, they always throw in a good factor of safety on these things. Without looking this up on the internet, I was at ease riding the elevator. Until that delivery guy wheeled into the elevator a flatbed containing numerous boxes that may well be holding lead plates or gold bars, elements with very high specific gravities.

The calculations begin all over again…

More Engineering Fun

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We have discussed the concrete canoe competitions that engineering students around the United States have competed in for many years now.

If that wasn’t enough to show the fun side of engineers, we take a look north, to Canada, where they recently held the 39th annual concrete toboggan races. Numerous universities show up near Vancouver to take part in this competition. See the report here.

Observation #1: It is good engineers are, in general, smart, because they won’t make it as athletes.

Observation #2: Don’t get too excited about seeing entire toboggans made of concrete. It is only the runners that are made of concrete. But a lot of engineering goes into that (I think).

Observation #3: With a 26-page rules booklet, one can tell the competition has a heavy engineering influence.

The guy interviewed on the video said that there were 23 universities and 470 engineers. How could that not be fun!

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