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Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Legend has it that Roman bridge designers assumed a very precise exit criteria to deem their work complete and successful. This turned into a binding and severe performance penalty on failure. The test involved having a band of soldiers march over the bridge, as the designer sat patiently underneath the span.

Legend further had it that this lead to the art of engineering overdesign and the standard practice of employing safety-margins in most products.

In the software industry, developers refer to the practice of going down in flames with your own handiwork as "eating your own dogfood".

Maybe Phila happened on a good strategy for future engineered marvels:
We have forgotten that democracy was intended as a corrective to the disasters visited upon humanity by elites of one kind or another. Maybe the great drag on us all is not the welfare mother but the incompetent engineer, not the fatherless child but the writer of mean or slovenly books. When our great auto industry nearly collapsed, an elite of designers and marketing experts were surely to blame. But the thousands thrown out of work by their errors were seen as the real problem. No doubt many of these workers figure among the new lumpen-proletariat, as the Marxists used to call them--people who just are not bright enough.

Incompetent Engineer. I resemble that remark.

The Army Corps of Engineers certainly should have located each of their regional headquarters next to the most tenuous of levee, downstream of the most critical of dams, and next door to the most toxic of waste dumps.

Every major civil engineering firm in California should sit underneath a freeway overpass.

Every turkey farm owner must, according to law, live 1/2 a block downwind from his processing plant.

Manufacturers of children's vaccines should ... wait, I'll get to that.

And just for kicks, we should have put million dollar bounties on the head of any "terrorist" engineer known to work on WMD's in Iraq or any other "evil axis" country. Knowing some of the arrogant, cowardly pricks that practice engineering, this probably would have worked, avoiding the need for anyone to invade anything. I bet 90% of the scientists and engineers would have pissed in their pants in a rush to leave the country, and the rest would rat each other out.

I call this approach the neo-roman strategy for fixing our global infrastructure problems.

Oh yeah, and if some people go ape over the fact that Robert Kennedy, Jr. wants to limit the spread of wind farms around his backyard of Cape Cod, then I think it only fair that the makers of mercury-based vaccine preservatives get to test it on their own kids first.


Professor Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Watch what you say about engineers; one might be there to hold you to account.

For instance, civil engineering firms.  They get tapped to design a bridge; fine.  But do they get to tell the road commission when it MUST be repaired because of an unusually severe winter?  Do they get to prohibit use of salt on it to protect it from corrosion?  Do they get to weigh every heavy-looking vehicle that comes down the road to make certain that an illegal load does not overstress their work beyond what they were told it should withstand?

And the Army Corps of Engineers.  Sure, go ahead and make them locate their HQ near a levee... but you're going to have to relocate the entire Congress there too, because Congress holds the purse strings.

The auto companies have been deliberately sabotaged by labor.  I know an ex-auto worker (now retired) who bragged about fooling management about the productivity of one of their machines.  The machine was producing much less than its specified throughput, so management sent someone to watch to see why.  Our ex-auto worker kept the machine busy full time, but he kept moving finished parts back to the "in" bin whenever the manager turned away for a second.

He deliberately cost the company more money for machines and processing than it had to spend, so people like him could sit on their butts.  He still brags about this.  And he had a lot of support from the union.

Some of the people thrown out of work richly deserved it, especially the saboteurs at the bottom.

8:50 PM  
Professor Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Human nature is the sticky wicket. Engineering is easy.

The Romans thoughtfully tied one to the other, resulting in bridges with a lifespan measured in centuries, rather than decades.

2:15 AM  
Professor Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Our bridges would have similar lifespans if we weren't de-icing them with corrosive salt and pounding them with heavy trucks.  Even the relics of the ancient world are being shaken to pieces by the traffic going around them.

8:21 AM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

"Fear is a man's best friend" - John Cale

5:46 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

Better yet, have the levee boards and Louisiana politicians move next to the levees. They had the most to do with the state of the levee system.

7:16 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

The auto companies have been deliberately sabotaged by labor.

You've come up with many statements, but this one is by far the best of them all.

Auto companies don't exist without SOMEONE to do the work.

By the base definitions of what a company is, of COURSE "labor" is the casue of any problems. But the pool of laborers is also responsible for the successes of companies also.

10:35 PM  

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