10.00 and 39.99

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These numbers are displayed in a popular photo on the internet these days. They are shown on a gas pump with 10.00 being the gallons of gas bought and 39.99 being the cost, presumably, then, with the cost per gallon of $3.99 and that pesky 9/10 cents.

The title of the photo is something like, “Tough OCD Decision.” But, for the engineer, this decision is simply based on one thing. What are you going to do with the data? If the engineer wishes to calculate gas mileage, keep it at 10.00 gallons. If the engineer is keeping track of costs and budgets, bump it up to $40.00.

Of course, for the engineer, it really doesn’t matter, because once any of these numbers is entered into a spreadsheet that calculates mpg or tracks spending, whether it is a round number or not matters not.

So, to sum up. Engineers enjoy a round number like the rest of the world, though not needing them like some who are insistent upon them, because, engineers have calculators and computers and spreadsheets and algorithms and apps and programs and…. well, you get the idea.

30 or something like it

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30 is an important number for this engineer and every other engineer licensed in this state. It is the number of hours of continuing education each of us must take every two years, or, as they like to say, every biennium (which is two years), in order to retain one’s license.

Every licensed engineer knows this number for their state. Without it we could not don the title P.E., which comes with all kinds of rights and privileges granted thereof.

As numbers go, it is somewhat important, if only to make sure we are able to sign plans and attest that, yes, we’re pretty sure this thing won’t fall down.



Another number that screams “Go Metric!” is 26.2. Yes, this is the distance in miles of a marathon. Stickers with only this number on them seem to have proliferated on the backs of cars lately. I am guessing that the drivers of these cars have either driven a marathon course, or watched a marathon on TV.

What is interesting about the 26.2 is that is is rounded off number. The exact number is 26 miles, 385 yards. This is 26.21875 miles, which technically should be on those stickers. But, while one may think that this odd number is because it is a conversion from metric, it is not. The metric distance is 42.195 kilometers.

So, why is the distance of a marathon not an even number in either measurement system? It has to do with some strange story in history which I will not relate here. But I will say that this demonstrates clearly the need for a sensible standard measurement system. No, not the English system. The metric system.

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.


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While engineers generally (meaning constantly) shun movies or shows with too much emotion, they are not unreasonable about it. An engineer may decide that he can respect a story that is about the deep emotional things of life if it contains at least some calculations. Case in point, Rent.

The engineer will likely not get or desire to get the deep emotional angst, or hope that the show has to offer. But he can appreciate that they have calculated the number of minutes in one year, AND they made an entire song out of it!

Calculations are good for movies or theater and the engineer.


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This week, we take a look at the engineer and entertainment. Today’s post is about the number 0.0010342%. This represents the percent of movies in which an engineer plays a major role. Notice that this is a percent and it means that in a little more than one out of 10,000 movies, an engineer is given significant billing. Not top billing, of course. That percent is much, much lower. But, there you have it. Engineers provide Hollywood with electricity, clean water, wastewater disposal, engines, sound expertise, computer wizardry, and the list goes on. What does Hollywood give to the engineer in return? A few lines in every 10,000 movies. And most of the movies with engineers are science fiction, so the engineer is usually “out there” socially.

I guess it could be worse. At least not too many engineers are the bad guys.



12 represents a fascinating number for engineers, particularly ones whose efforts provide electricity to our homes.

The average price of one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity is 12 cents. Think about that. One can turn on a 100-watt light bulb and leave it on all day, for 10 hours, and it costs 12 cents. And with CFLs and LEDs, this cost will go way down. The engineer’s wife could dry her hair with a a 1000-watt hair dryer for an hour – if her hair is really wet – and it would cost 12 cents.

I realize that there are many factors that go into the cost of electricity and I certainly do not want to get involved in debates over subsidies, energy sources, environmental impacts, etc. (at least not now). What I wish to do is marvel at a system of creating and distributing electricity that engineers designed and built that contribute greatly to the ability for us to buy one kWh of electricity for 12 cents.

I am sure I don’t have to repeat it here, but engineers are amazing.

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