Friday, October 31, 2008

Sci-Fi Costumes

Happy Halloween!

Engineers are mixed about Halloween. On one hand, it's an excuse for girls to wear less than usual, but on the other, it's a day when engineers have to put effort—even more than with a suit—into what they wear.

Enter Sci-Fi costumes.
They range from simple to intricate, all dependant on the engineer's dedication. If it's costume-required event, don't expect much effort; a quick trip to the costume shop (or the closet in the case of engineers whose grasp on reality is practically fuzzy logic) and the obligation's met. If the costume's optional (this basically means a convention), engineers geek-out and make some amazing creations, ensembles so good they look like they belong in a a Sci-Fi show normal people haven't seen.

Which brings us to common costumes. The staple costumes are from Star Trek and Star Wars. Favorite choices are Star Trek crewmembers, Star Wars Storm Troopers, Darth Vader (a bold choice), and random Jedi (not to be confused with Buddy Christ). Thankfully, these common costumes are some of the most recognizible to the treating public, but there are many more series that only viewers of the SciFi channel know.

If you encounter a vaguely sci-fi character you don't recognize, stay calm. Don't guess and don't comment; just smile and nod.

Storm Trooper photo by oli
Star Trek Engineer photo by Simon Zirkunow

Friday, October 24, 2008


No one better epitomizes the engineer than one man: Woz.  With a list of geek cred longer than his waistline, it's no wonder that engineers love the guy (and the ones that don't are just jealous).  He lives the engineer's dream, learning much on his own, starting at the bottom of a large tech company where his talent got somehow noticed, turned this talent into his own company, and went on to pursue random interests, from music festivals to dating D-list celebrites to Segway Polo.

And he lives the engineer heartbreak: three failed marriages, a former business partner, and an airplane crash, all with the sad backstory of designing computers in hopes of "finding ways to be cool"--engineering himself into the Mac Guy.

Engineers may be short on heroes, but this larger-than-life yet down-to-earth character more than makes up for it.

Photo by RobotSkirts

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Simpsons

Between pop culture and geek culture lies a favorite sitcom of the last two decades: The Simpsons.  The mainstream appeal is obvious--hyperbolic characters in equally hyperbolic situations wrapped up in 22-minute packages--but between the doughnuts and fart jokes, the show is loaded with intellectual gems that slip past the average American like calculus by a redneck.

Gems like a "disproof" of Fermat's Last Theorem, where show writers wrote a computer program just to create near-disproofs that only work on handheld calculators, Homer's first day in a nuclear physics class, and even an entire episode devoted to girls and math, Girls Just Want to Have Sums, all make nerds feel right at home.

But mostly, engineers like The Simpsons because they see themselves and people they know in the characters.  Homer in their lazy coworker, Apu in the guy they're losing their jobs to, and themselves as a combination Lisa, Comic Book Guy, and (mostly) Professor Frink, all work to make engineers feel represented in a medium that has a long history of paying more attention to doctors, lawyers, politicians, forensic investigators, writers, entertainers, and, as of late, "real" people than to the camera-shy engineer.

Have a favorite nerdy reference you'd like to share?  Leave a comment!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Outline format

Engineers hate writing.  Programmers like to say that the code, itself, should be all anyone needs to figure out how it works, but managers don't buy this.  They insist that engineers document what they're doing, usually under the guise of ISO 9000.

For the times when engineers have to write, they write in ways that reflect how they think and how they do their jobs--step-by-step and in hierarchical trees. These are things engineers see every day, and they understand them.  

Enter "outlines."  The biggest selling point of outlines is enforced organization. With outlines, it's clear how two topics relate to each other and how relevant the topic is. Not only that, it's easy to search an outline and learn how that point fits in the big picture or every detail about that point.

They're fast, accurate, get the job done, and don't requite complete sentences; this is what engineering is all about.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Air shows

In honor of Fleet Week in San Francisco (because what other part of the country has that many engineers?), I give you air shows.

Engineers are used to working in the background--the leeter the engineer, the less visible.  They can't explain what they do to normal people, show off videos of their work, or even describe what they do on a business card.  Air shows, however, let engineers feel like roadies for a band that everyone--moms, grandparents (especially the grandpa that served in WWII), kiddies--loves.  Where else can engineers who create plastics, optimize aerodynamics, program C, or design microcontrollers point their pale arms toward the sky and say "I helped build that!"

So at Stuff Engineers Like, we join former engineer and nerd anti hero Paul Boutin in saying "Yeeeeeeeeeah baby YES WE CAN!!"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Friday Night Codefest

Google claims that Mark Twain advised "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow," which brings us to today's stuff that engineers like: the Friday night codefest.

The Codefest is a time-honored semi-semesterly tradition where lack of sleep, delivered food, and a deadline combine to create what is generously labeled "the project." Architectures, flow charts, and APIs be damned, this is about results and partial credit.

Half of procrastination is borne out of necessity; managers, professors, and TAs never quite know what they want, always changing their minds at the last minute, but the other half is just the modus operandi of engineers who knew they'd have
  1. [almost] nothing better to do and
  2. an upcoming deadline
not to mention, it doubles as an excuse for not going out with socially-active acquaintances.