All That Is Needed

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An engineer I know told me that he is concerned about his daughter. She is showing signs of becoming an engineer when she grows up. This one line of reasoning made it clear that she is a good candidate for engineering school.

She came home from school one day recently and asked,”Why do we need English? Math and science is all we really need.”

Out of the mouths of children can come such wisdom – and cause her parents not a little amount of concern.

Why English indeed?

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.

Stats for the Diamond

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( has some wrap-up thoughts on baseball, now that the World Series just finished the season. Today’s post is technically about softball, if being specific.) has covered this in less detail before, in a Wednesday post. To be more specific, I will tell you about a conversation I had with a Non-Engineer (NE) wife of a an engineer.

I usually ask NE wives whether their husband is an engineer. Most all of them understand exactly what is meant by the question. Of course, he is an engineer because that is his occupation, but, more importantly, he is an engineer because that is who he is. The example this one particular wife gave me was her engineer-husbands keeping of stats for their daughter’s softball games. Lots of stats.

He kept her batting average, obviously, but also many of the stats that MLB announcers like to discuss – batting average vs. left and right-handed pitchers, batting average with people on base, and in scoring position, batting average for games starting at different times in the evening, and also all the various fielding stats. What made it all the more engineering-ish is that he kept it all on a spreadsheet and updated it for each game of the season. Actually, what made it even more of an engineer’s pursuit is that the kid was only 8. But, you know, the color chart covering his daughter’s batting percentage under differing cloud cover percents and temperatures was impressive.


You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– you have taught, or at least tried to teach, your child all the factors that goes into the cost of running a car, including replacement rates and cost over time of at least 17 main components, only to get back a statement like, “Yeah, whatever, I still think the only cost is the gas.” (That child will not become an engineer.)

The Height of a Child

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To measure the height of a child as he or she grows, the engineer will make sure it is accurate. That is his job.

This may involve some whining from the child and a few smart comments from his wife, but to get a measure in which one can be confident takes a little work. This means don’t rely on those doctor office contraptions. I have never trusted them. The nurse has the kid stand up on them, may tell them to stand up straight, may not, and then flops this metal arm on their head that may or may not be horizontal. Engineers do not appreciate flippant approaches to measurement.

The way to do this correctly is to get a straightedge that is also a level, the kind with the bubble in the glass cylinder. Have the kid stand straight as they can against a wall and place the level on their head, making sure it is, well, level. But how straight the kid stands and where the level hits on their uneven heads, along with possibly a few other variables, will not assure this to be an accurate measurement. So, here is the key. Take the measurement numerous times. I will not tell you how many, but it is more than two. Have the kid step away from the wall, then back against it, and place the level on his or her head and make a mark – and do this many, many times. You will then see that the field of measurement, particularly when a variable like a child is involved, is not an exact science. But at least with a number of measurements, you will see that their may be a few outliers, but many of the marks will be bunched together very closely and the average of those can be taken as the best measurement of the child’s height.

By the eighth time or so, the child may complain about stepping away and standing up again. Remind them that is only done once a year, or if you really like tracking height progression, once every month, and also remind them of the confidence he or she can have in “knowing” how tall you are (in English and metric units), rather than a sloppy, “Yeah, I’m about 4 feet 8 inches that friends who rely on that doctor office measurement can only say.

I think I’ve proved my point here.

Golden Gate Bridge, and Beyond


A month or so ago, I mentioned that I not only visited the Golden Gate Bridge, I also heard from an engineer I met that his favorite toy as a kid was a model of that bridge.

Another story from this engineer was that when he was a child, he and his brother would talk their dad into visiting really cool sites on vacations. But, remember, this kid’s favorite toy was a model of a bridge. So, on their vacations, they planned around stops to power plants, dams, landmark bridges, and maybe even a really neat wastewater treatment facility.

Some kids would love to plan their vacations so they could visit zoos, circuses, amusement parks, or some other temporarily fun-filled adventure. But a future engineer understands that a good vacation is one where the fun lasts for a lifetime, or at least a career.

If you have a child with engineering leanings, I will share this fact with you. Factory tours and visits to water treatment facilities are fascinating.

Toy for the Future Engineer

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I was discussing a recent vacation I took to San Francisco and how I visited the Golden Gate Bridge. As an engineer, I had to visit it. (More in later posts.)

After telling this to a number of engineers, one came up to me afterwards and had something to tell me. When he was a child, his favorite toy was —- wait for it —- a model of the Golden Gate Bridge! Did I mention that he is an engineer?

Let me tell you, he was engineer back then, whether age 10, age 14, or whatever, even without the engineering degree or the PE license. Any kid who’s favorite toy was a model of a bridge…

If you are a parent, and notice that your child has some “engineering” leanings, you know what toy to look for. That child will thank you for it later.

Giving the kids a bath:


An engineer’s approach to raising children, especially in the realm of teaching them how the world works, will set an engineer apart from all other types of people. Here is an example, and I don’t mind saying, from my life. OK, I am proud of this one. When my son was two years old, I decided that when we opened the drain at the end of a bath, there would be none of this, “Bye-bye, water.” Wouldn’t he wonder where it’s going? Shouldn’t he know that engineers clean up that water before it returns to our environment? Won’t all these types of questions confuse him? So, I taught my son as any good engineer father would. When I asked him where the water was going, he would state emphatically, “To the wastewater treatment facility.”

Of course, I conjectured later that the images viewed in our minds were likely quite different. I had settling tanks, clarifiers, and anaerobic digesters in mind. I am fairly certain he just thought of the “wais wotter treemnt fasility” as  big blob of something under the house. That may or may not have contributed to the nightmares he had as a child. But he learned about engineers, and that is what was important.

A Potential Engineer’s View of Laundry

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Engineers are engineers from a very early age. One non-engineer wife of an engineer put it this way. “He was an engineer long before he got the degree.”  Very few engineers weren’t “engineers” when they were pre-teens. And some who don’t end up being engineers may show engineering tendencies and worry his or her parents.

A number of years ago, my daughter gave me quite a scare. I was commenting, possibly complaining, about all the laundry that builds up so quickly in our home. My 9-year-old daughter stopped me and did a very engineering analysis of the situation by running the numbers. She explained that with five people, each wearing a shirt, pants, underwear, and socks for each day of the week (with the possible exception of her older brother), that would mean:

5 x (1+1+1+2) x 7 = 175 articles of clothes per week

I stopped her before she went through the explanation of towels, sheets and kitchen articles that should be estimated and added to this total, not to mention days when more than one shirt or one pair of socks are worn. I definitely stopped her before she got to translating this number to volume.

Is engineering in her future? At this point, it doesn’t look like it, but she gave me a huge cause for concern for a while.