Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Digital Watches

Every once in a while, when pop culture and cubicle culture intersect, a creation emerges that withstands the test of time like a liberal arts major in calculus—today's stuff: the digital watch.

With synthesizer music all the rage and nifty 4-bit effects plastering cable TV in the novelty decade that was the 80s, the rise of the digital watch was inevitable. Four modes, ten-millisecond accuracy, and an initially-hefty price tag—what’s not to like?

As the fad ticked its way out for pop culture, technology stepped up with even greater badge of geekiness, but the technically-challenged wouldn’t bite; they had traded their neon tees and synthesizers for flannel and old Fenders.

Always practical and oblivious to the change, engineers kept sporting this functional fashion 'till this very day. But now’s no time to trade in the quartz and LCD for the mechanical engineers’ version; if hipsters could bring back thick-rimmed Apollo-13-style glasses, the digital watch might be next.

Just hope they don’t kill the PDA in the process.

Photo by midnightcomm

Monday, December 15, 2008


This post has been a long time coming, but assorted events in (how many engineers does it take to determine the model number of an espresso machine?) and out (the Bay Area—'nuf said) of the office made it finally seem like an appropriate time for the post.

Rock stars have marijuana, athletes have steroids, and engineers have caffeine, only this is a performance-enhancing drug with a killer delivery system: coffee.

The on-demand world requires on-demand engineers driven by the demands of managers; even with typical hours of 10 'til whenever, the scheduling requirements of Corporate America just aren't satisfied by engineers' "when it's done" attitude. Stepping in to offer some encouragement that management is too busy to dispense is the break room coffee maker. This marvel of engineering is the lifeline of the office, providing waking hours to a workforce that would otherwise be somewhere between inattentive and dormant.

Engineering lightweights, claiming to not like the taste or breaking their dependency often opt for coffee's weaker—and barely imbibable—cousin, tea, while blasphemers drink the office enemy, decaf. Then there are the addicts: the espresso drinkers. With brewing rituals rivaled only by serious drug users, this group of engineers clearly has a problem, but who can argue with results?

Coffee: the fuel of Silicon Valley, RTP, and the server room of every company.

Image by: emdot

Monday, December 8, 2008


Never watch an action movie with engineers.  They love to explain why an explosion wouldn't really be that big or that computers just can't do magical image processing—always during the action sequence—and ask about key plot elements they missed during said explanations.  But sci-fi is different.  For some reason, in this one genre, engineers are willing to overlook the sounds in space and technobabble in their quest for entertainment.

It's never about the plot or the writing.  Debates over the superiority of favorite franchisees are never over the that, they're over the pseudo-technical filler in each.  It doesn't matter than Star Wars was rethemed children's story with religious overtones intended to sell merchandise, or that Star Trek was a "wagon train to the stars" used to discuss current political issues in analogous circumstances, that just fills up the space between robots, energy shields, and cool guns.  When engineers watch science fiction, they don't just suspend their disbelief and imagine, they imagine they're looking at something they helped create.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


What loves to sleep, works at night, and eats the same thing every day?  It's not just our friends the engineers, it's their pet cats.

Their popularity among the pocket protector crowd isn't just because engineers identify with them; what engineers love about cats is how practical of a pet they are, requiring only food, water, and a relatively clean litterbox, and no "love," "time," "walks," or "affection."  Throw in their vocal feedback system, and they're easier to care for than a houseplant.

But combine cats with another love of engineers, the internet, and it's a thing of beauty.  After seeing an engineer's guide to cats (below) on YouTube and a caption—in characteristically poor English—accompanying a picture of a cat on icanhascheesburger, one can only hope that the architects of the internet knew they were laying the foundation for a medium designed to facilitate the exchange of feline-based comedy.