FTSE 100
Dow Jones

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Saving the planet with a 100% tolerance

Engineers. I can't help admire what they do but of all the intelligent people in the world those with the lowest social skills tend to be engineers. And the lowest members of that particular gene pool are invariably mechanical engineers. You probably remember them from your university days. The mechanical engineers were the ones who spent their vacations stripping down and rebuilding a car, a job that you could have told them would soon be replaced by robots. They wore college scarves and sweatshirts, grew beards and you just knew that they were destined to spend a career in one of the less exciting metal-bashing industries.

But they were usually competent at what they did which is why it was interesting to see that they had published a report setting out a range of potential geo-engineering options to cool the planet, the foremost being:

  1. Artificial trees - machines that can remove CO2 from the atmosphere like trees for sequestration
  2. Algae-coated buildings - letting the slime grow on buildings and using it as a biofuel.
  3. Reflective buildings - increasing the albedo and reflectivity of the built environment.
Nothing particularly innovative, but the slimy buildings does have an element of impracticality and the sort of aesthetics-free behaviour that you would expect from engineers.

So I decided to download the 1.8Mb PDF to find out what they were upto, only to discover that even in my relatively powerful computer the obese code that is the latest version of Adobe Reader keels over and grinds to a halt when confronted with the engineer's relatively modestly sized report. Even a little tweaking to switch off all the images leaves the text of the file dripping onto the screen before it seizes up completely. I don't think my copy of Adobe Reader is any different to anybody else's, so heaven knows what happened to IMechE's Total Quality Manegement or ISO 9001 doodads.

Sorry guys, I might have been interested, but if you can't learn to present your case in a form that can be read by your audience, don't be surprised if we dismiss you as a bunch of socially autistic geeks.


Demetrius said...

An engineer arrived at The Pearly Gates and asked for admission. St. Peter said sorry but everyone was going to hell for the time being. The engineer, annoyed, asked why. St. Peter told him they had installed new automatic gates designed by an engineer and they didn't work.

Engineering Girl said...

You didn't try to open the pdf file in your browser did you?

Internet Explorer no doubt.

If so, your own fault, your browser and your internet connection.

I downloaded it first and it opened just fine.

Alex said...


Well, no actually. I don't use IE, I use Google Chrome, and if you think about it I must have downloaded it, because how would I (a) know the file size and (b) disable the images, if I had loaded it in the browser?

Actually, after I couldn't get it to work in Adobe Reader, I shut down every other program on the desktop and it still ran slowly, so I rebooted with all other applications disabled and it still did not work.

And TBH my internet connection is irrelevant, so I deduce that you must be a mechanical engineer.

Anonymous said...

Why the disparagement of engineers? Everything in your world is produced by engineers, including those robots.

The most important and difficult aspect of an engineer's training is the design of feedback systems, how to ensure they are stable, and how dangerous is intuition in dealing with feedback.

I think the financial world could do with such lessons

Enjoy the tofu

Alex said...

"Why the disparagement of engineers?"

I don't know really. It must traumatic psychological scars from personal interaction.

I quite like many types of engineers: I have no problems with electronic, electrical, structural, aeronautical, thermodynamic or many types of civil engineers.

Chemical engineers, of course are the worst, as are engineers who can't produce a decent PDF.