BITS and PIECES # 59

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June 21, 2015 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 59

Hello again from Luquillo,

Overdue writing tasks combined with a touch of early summer ennui (and some recurring physical discomforts) have conspired to slow my BITS and PIECES entries somewhat – I apologetically submit the following essay, a ‘re-polished’ narrative from my 2011 book ‘Snapshots From The Road’ in hopes that you will enjoy reading (or re-reading) it…

Please note that despite the five year span that has passed since this was written, the cracks in the façade of our condo alluded to in the narrative have still not been repaired – ah, the joys of our mañana suffused island culture…

I’ve got a few (at least three) new stories in the oven – I’ll do my best to get them ready for you to read soon…

Meanwhile, I hope you accept (and enjoy) this one…

A ONCE AND FUTURE ENGINEER

One early morning, a few years back, as I was at my desk tapping away at my laptop keyboard, there came a knock at the door. I opened it to admit two young engineers from a local firm – they had stopped by to investigate cracks in the façade of our beachfront condominium home that had caused our bedroom closet to leak during the last big rainstorm. They got down to business quickly – while one young man entered notes into a hand-held computer, the other took photographs. When they had finished the investigation to their satisfaction, the more voluble of the two was kind enough to ask me if I was retired – since I was a white-haired, legally blind man in my late seventies at the time, I found his question to be extremely polite. “Yes”, I replied, adding, hesitantly “I used to be an engineer”. Before I could elaborate further, my polite new acquaintance exclaimed “you’ll always be an engineer, you’re just not practicing at the moment!”…

We shook hands and as they left, they affectionately patted Ricky, my Labrador retriever guide-dog on the head, smilingly wished us both a nice day, and I returned to my writing. As I absently tapped the keys, I began to think about what the young man had said – although I haven’t practiced in my field for some years now, the engineering mind-set has always been there to tap into whenever I needed it. I find it especially useful when doing research for the tropical rainforest natural history books I spend many of my morning hours busily formulating…

I can recall countless times during my professional career, when associates trained in ‘pure’ science such as physics or mathematics would demean engineers as mere ‘mechanics’ or worse as ‘uncultured boors’. When confronted with this educational bias, I would remind the confronter that the word engineer is derived from the Latin words ingeniare (to contrive, devise) and ingenium (cleverness), from which were derived such modern English words as ingenious and ingenuity. Engineers, I would pontificate haughtily, spend their professional careers devising ingenious solutions for the hypotheses and theorems contrived (but seldom solved in practical terms) by ivory tower pure science ‘experts’…

An engineer, I would continue, is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics, and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical, societal and commercial problems. Engineers design materials, structures, and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety, and cost. The work of engineers forms the link between scientific discoveries and their subsequent applications to human needs and quality of life…

Whew! At this point, my confronter had either fallen asleep from sheer boredom or run off screaming…

Over the years I learned to ignore such taunts, in part because I soon realized that like most prejudices, they were based on ignorance…

Engineers develop an early appreciation for the classics – it’s quite natural for us to progress from the theorems of Archimedes to the logic of Plato and Aristotle – we have even been known to absorb the poems of Homer, if only to try and grasp the design intricacies of Ulysses’ ships. Is it a quantum leap for an engineer to wander from a consideration of the scientific musings of Newton’s Laws of Motion to the mathematical purity of Beethoven’s music?
Most engineers see themselves as the glue that is necessary to bind scientific hypotheses together – a haughty, but thoroughly pragmatic viewpoint…

As a blind person, I rely heavily on a combination of empirical reasoning and organizational skills that I learned and later practiced as an engineer. When I lost my eyesight to end-stage Glaucoma over a decade ago, I was soon able to devise ‘ingenious’ solutions to what I perceived as a basic engineering problem. I quickly compensated for a single sensory loss, not by lowering my expectations, but instead by refining the use of my remaining senses to take-up the slack, so to speak – a process known as de-rating, familiar to most engineers…

When considering a simple household project, I work hand-in-hand with my wife Pamela, a retired teacher and school administrator, and an expert hand- knitter. We form a two-person design group – I am put in charge of empirically engineering the task at hand, which she then reviews, pointing out the realities of local logistics or the (all too frequent) impracticalities of my design ideas – then we set to work as a team employing each partner’s best skills to complete the task…

Because of this attention to detail and organization, the results of our teamwork are often gratifying…

So, I reflected as I sat at my keyboard, perhaps I had misrepresented myself to my new engineer friend – I continue to ‘practice’ my engineering skills, and will conceivably continue to do so in one way or another until I draw my final breath…

© 2015 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 59

  1. Don Smith says:

    You writing any more Old Buddy?

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