Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The hard way

Engineers have an unusual ability to turn the most mundane, trivial task into what they hope will be the next wonder of the world, and justify it, using any and every conceivable technical benefit as a mandate to choose the more complicated approach.

What turns otherwise-practical engineers into Rube Goldberg cartoons with sledgehammers? It's a combination of making an otherwise-unbearable task bearable by putting fun jobs in between—a bit like chocolate chips in pancakes—and a dream of a world where every line is straight, measurement metric, and angle is right. Think of it as a release of pent-up creativity from people trained to improve things every chance they get.

Engineers dream of a world where things automagically work. Sure, a drip-free faucet would be nice, but motion-sensing spigots are the future (just look at airports)! Why stop there? If one shower head is good, two must be better, but why upgrade an obsolete shower? Maybe a second head in a new shower makes more sense, and so it continues.

And what's the result of their once-noble endeavour; which steps do they complete? Just the fun parts—the parts that were never even part of the original task.

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