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Feature

Brie Van Dam:
Deep in Alaska, she endures and even relishes harsh conditions to research global warming

Feature

Virginia Smart Road:
In the countryside near Virginia Tech, a cutting-edge highway serves as a testing ground for vehicle technology.

Feature

Doug Neidich:
First, he makes his mark developing high-speed electronic connectors, then he becomes a sustainable developer. Oh, and he also started a company to commercialize thin-film solar photovoltaics. He's busy.

Engineering Humor

How 'Bout Some Levity in the Technical World


Things Every Engineer Should Know
If something is worth doing once, it's worth building a tool to do it.

Your problem is another person's solution; your solution will be their problem.

The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them -- Albert Einstein

One test is worth a thousand opinions.

If you think good engineering is costly and time consuming, try bad engineering.

Abraham Lincoln reportedly said that given eight hours to chop down a tree, he'd spend six sharpening his ax.

A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

A good scientist has original ideas. A good engineer makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible.

Right Answer
This legend, the truth of which is not necessarily related to its value, concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen: "Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer."

One student replied: "You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building." This highly original answer so incensed the examiner that the student was failed immediately. He appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case. The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct but didn’t display any noticeable knowledge of physics.

To resolve the problem it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer that showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic principles of physics. For five minutes, the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, and the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers but couldn't make up his mind which to one use.

On being advised to hurry up, the student replied as follows: "First, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer. Or, if the sun is shining, you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper's shadow, and thereafter it’s a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper. But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T = 2 pi square root(l/g). Or, if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up.”

"If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building. But since we’re constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor's door and say to him, 'If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper'."

The student was Niels Bohr, the only Dane to win the Nobel prize for Physics.

Entropy
Have you heard that entropy isn't what it used to be?

Send Him Up
Richard, an engineer’s engineer, passes away before his time, and his paperwork gets messed up. He ends up in hell by mistake instead of heaven. He contemplated this critical mistake for a while, but being an engineer, shrugs and decides to start making improvements where he is. The first thing he does is install central A/C. Then he builds an enormous theatre complete with surround-sound. Finally, he establishes a communications infrastructure and everyone is walking around hell talking on their cell phones. About that time, God notices that Richard is not present in heaven and sets a search in motion. An angel comes back and reports that Richard is indeed in hell. God gets on the phone with the Evil One.

“Hey, you got Richard the Engineer down there?”
‘Sure do.’
“Well send him up.”
‘No way.’
“What do you mean, no way, send him now.”
‘No way, this guy has been here for all of three weeks, and we have central A/C, surround sound, and everyone is walking around down here talking on their cell phones.’
“You send him up right now, or I’m going to file suit against you.”
‘Ha-ha - Oh really. Where are you going to find a lawyer?'

Sexual Encounter Between a Capacitor and an Inductor
One evening, with his charge at full capacity, Micro Farad decided to get a cute coil to discharge him. He went to the Magnet Bar to pick up a chip called Millie Amp. He caught her out back trying self induction; fortunately, she had not damaged her solenoid. The two took off on his megacycle and rode across the Wheatstone Bridge into a magnetic field, next to a flowing current , to watch the sine waves.

Micro Farad was very much stimulated by Millie's characteristic curve. Being attractive himself, he soon had her field fully excited. He set her on the ground potential, raised his frequency, lowered her resistance, and pulled out his high voltage probe. When he inserted it in parallel, he short-circuited her shunt. Fully excited, Millie cried out, "ohm, ohm, give me mho". As he increased his tube to maximum output, her coil vibrated from the current flow. It did not take long for her shunt to reach maximum heat. Now with the excessive current shortening her shunt, Micro's capacity rapidly discharged – every electron was drained off. But that was not the end of it. Indeed, they fluxed all night, tried various connections and hookings until his bar magnet weakened, and he could no longer generate enough voltage to sustain his collapsing field. With his battery fully discharged, Micro was unable to excite his tickler, so they went home. A few weeks later, they were merged forever and oscillated happily ever after.

Limerick
Einstein's favorite limerick:
There was an old lady called Wright
who could travel much faster than light.
She departed one day
in a relative way
and returned on the previous night.


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Progressive Engineer
Editor: Tom Gibson
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