Engineers – by Karen

11 Nov

In Tabitha’s second last sentence she so neatly parodied the post I’d aimed to write that I don’t feel I can do it:

We so often take them for granted, and yet our society depends on them.

Ah, indeed, it would have been that trite.

When I was an evangelical Christian, I used to hang around with many an earnest engineer or engineering student. That must not be where I heard this engineer joke:

A bunch of engineers are sitting around at a party, discussing the nature of the God, and who designed women.

The mechanical engineer states that God must also be a mechanical engineer because “if you look at all the pulleys and levers that drive the body, how the tendons and muscles and bones all work together, well, it’s just amazing.”

The chemical engineer says that no, God has to be a chemical engineer because “if you look at all the chemical processes that drive the body, how the hormones and the brain and the glands and everything else all interact, well, it’s just astounding.”

The electrical engineer says that no, God has to be an electrical engineer because “if you look at the circuitry of the body, how the thousands upon millions of nerve cells transmit signals from one part to another, well, it boggles the mind.”

The civil engineer speaks up last of all and says, no, God is definitely a civil engineer, because “only a civil engineer would run a sewer through a playground. “

I’m rather interested in our disinterestedness in engineering. One of the most fascinating things I watched recently was a documentary about the construction of the Turning Torso tower in Malmo Sweden. The efforts of the narrator to make the topic and its protagonists interesting were truly heroic. In my youth I think I conceived of engineering as a kind of inevitability one can fall into if one doesn’t strive against one’s earthy nature. Truly less aspiration-worthy than owning cafes in Hanoi, my younger self would have thought. I do wonder why.

There’s an interesting scene in the movie Margin Call (which by the way, strikes me as the most realistic depiction of a major investment bank ever put on screen), in which the disillusioned banker bemoans the purposelessness of his lucrative career. He used to be an engineer. He then rants at length about the number of cars that crossed over the bridge he built, how much time they saved. It’s supposed to illustrate how great mathematical minds, in the past, did useful things – they were engineers. But it’s also a boring scene. We don’t care much about the numbers of cars and calculations of time saved.

When I do force myself to think about it, engineering could be an endlessly stimulating occupation, full of creative problem solving. And now that I’m older and have watched an entire movie about the construction of a tower in a Swedish industrial zone, I think that the world of engineers must be intrinsically interesting, if only the artsy types of the world could overcome their collective disdain and make movies about them, preferably starring Kevin Spacey and Stanley Tucci. Oh what the hell, why not Keanu too?

I am off to Australia tonight, so next week’s post will smell like gum leaves.

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2 Responses to “Engineers – by Karen”

  1. Beth November 11, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    Everything you say is true. Engineering is very interesting I’m sure. But I remember the disdain the engineering students had for those doing arts degrees when I was at uni, so the feeling of disinterest (stereotypically speaking) is mutual.

    I’m happy to leave all that visual-spacial-electronic-mechanical creative problem solving to them while I have a play with the stuff that floats my boat. So, I came home on the train tonight through tunnels that it took skilled engineers to design, but rather than thinking about that I was enjoying my podcast.

    It is so interesting finding out more about something that you’ve previously taken for granted which has an amazing history though. THAT is something that floats my boat. The history of a musical instrument like the Fairlight for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairlight_CMI An early digital sampling synthesizer invented in Sydney and used by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel.

    I look forward to speaking to you in real time and space next week Karen! Happy travels!

  2. Tabitha November 13, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    That’s quite a racy joke for an evangelical Christian. I’m impressed.

    I really enjoyed this post, and not just because it mentioned me. Like Beth, I think everything you say is true. I can better your Turning Torso show, though: I watched an entire National Geographic program about the construction of the KL stormwater management tunnel. It was captivatingly dull.

    I’m jealous that you’re in Australia right now, but I’ll be there in almost exactly a month! Hurrah!

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