Okay, I’m going to go a bit off topic here, but I think it is important and it is tangential to engineering in terms of quality mass production (which I won’t get into) and the mis-calculation of risk.

In short, vaccines work.  They have for a couple hundred years.  They have prevented the deaths of millions of people and continue to do so.  There is overwhelming scientific proof of their effectiveness.

And yet there is a growing sector of the population who are against vaccinations and distrust the authorities who develop, offer, and administer them.  They have no scientific basis for their position.  And while I have to assume that a good percentage of those people are merely misinformed, the rest appear to be anti-educational, delusional, close-minded, stubborn, attention-seeking troublemakers who don’t mind risking the health of themselves and others for no good reason but their own deluded ideas.

As far as risk, it is true that not all vaccines are 100% effective, and that there have been complications with vaccines in the past (no, not autism).  But the benefits so greatly outweigh the risks that anyone who doesn’t vaccinate their children (at least) is, in my opinion, a dangerous fool.  This was elegantly presented by Penn and Teller on their show, BullShit:

This visual of comparative risks may not be precise, but it is memorable.  And it is something that needs to be said to at least that ignorant sector of the anti-vacc movement.  And if they need data, there is plenty of it.  If they need numbers for the risks, easy enough.  And if they need encouragement from people they trust, here is something to start with from Benjamin Franklin, written sometime between 1771 and 1788 – over 220 years ago when the risks of such procedures [inoculation of small pox by skin irritation] were much, much greater than they are now [only dead viruses used now].  And yet he came to understand the relative risks [2% vs 14 to 20% mortality]:

In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way.  I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation.

This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.

For more information, see your doctor or go to reputable and truthful sites such as the CDC.

All around us

I think about it a lot, but probably most people don’t.  It is all around us, it permeates our existence, it frustrates us, injures us, and kills us.  It is an invisible something that is almost absolutely inescapable, relentless, and uncaring.  It’s in the back of every engineer’s mind and always part of his equations, but it is so ubiquitous that it is rarely noticed or given its fair due.

Myself, and a few others—a small percentage of all the engineers out there—think about it all the time.


Not that we delve into the cause of it—Higg’s boson, dark energy, dark matter, or what have you—but rather the everyday impact of gravity, weight, and mass on engineering projects.  And what constantly amazes me is why it is always an afterthought for many engineers in many fields.  Every building, car, boat, plane, satellite, rocket, kite, chair, train, bus, elevator, and etcetera must be designed for weight or mass limitations, and managing the weight or mass properties properly helps ensure a successful design while managing it poorly, or not at all, often leads to complete failure.  The most common examples are with aircraft which are so sensitive to weight and centers of gravity, though there are many others in other areas:

  • The hovercraft that was too heavy to lift off the ground.
  • The plane that crashed because of too much aft weight.
  • The balcony that collapses from overcrowding.
  • The ferry that capsizes when passengers crowd to one side.
  • The building that collapses while under construction from insufficient temporary braces for the weight.
  • The airliner that can’t take the design load because it was built too heavy.
  • The car that can’t meet its mileage goal because it is too heavy.

The list goes on and on, with weight management, or lack of same, at the center of the problem.  Yet if I introduce myself as a weights engineer I usually get a, “what’s that?”.  You’re probably saying that right now.  And yet, just like gravity, a weights engineer touches every part of an engineering project, from start to finish.  Hers may be the ultimate  systems engineering discipline, and certainly the least known.  And, in many cases, it can be one of the most important.  Both to life and limb, and to cost.

And we still don’t get no respect.  I can live with that, but when there is no recognition at all is when I get frustrated.  With most of the Western world obsessed with their personal weight, how many times do they ask about the weight of the car they are buying, or if their overloaded suitcase will affect the plane they are boarding, or if the snow load on that building is anything to be concerned with, or if that ladder can support them?  Does anybody ever think that if they unloaded their trunk they would get better gas mileage?   Or does the engineer ever think that optimizing their design for weight would save money and increase safety?  Rarely, I think.

What’s my point?  Well, I guess just this:  Weight is worth thinking about.  Or maybe it is better said that not thinking about weight can be dangerous and costly.

What do you think?  Drop a comment below.  And if you’re interested in this topic, visit for more information.

Team Training

Three days of team training and I still haven’t seen anything new. So do they inflict this BS on us just to check off that box? or do they just not know that they are just rehashing old concepts?

I don’t know, but it can be insufferable for the engineer to sit in such a class and deal with the “softer” side of his job. How to deal with this? I’m not sure, but he’s what I do:

Be a skeptic, even a cynic sometimes, but as Wil Wheaton says, don’t be a dick about it. Be that voice of reason in the muck of corporate fadness, but always also provide alternatives, solutions, and constructive criticism. This way you can participate in a way that gets your message across but doesn’t mark you as a malcontent or a dick.

At least that is the theory. I’ll let you know if it works this time.