Let’s pause for a minute to pay respects to the unsung heroes in our midst. I speak, of course, of our engineers – the men and women who pay attention to those things we don’t even think of until something malfunctions.

Bob Kalish observes life from a placid place on the island of Arrowsic (motto: You’re not in Georgetown yet). You can reach him at [email protected]

Before computers took over, those (mainly) high school boys who walked around with their slide rules hanging like guns from their belts were the dweebs of their time – the future Bill Gates and Steve Jobs staying home from their high school prom to work out the latest algorithm. The kid who showed the school superintendent what happens when he actually TURNS ON the computer using THE POWER SWITCH.

One engineering definition is the application of science and math to solve problems. Engineers figure out how things work and find practical uses for scientific discoveries. For example, the engineer takes a newfangled artificially colored and flavored foodstuff and turns it into a popular (drink? liquid fuel?) and they call it Tang. And it replaces real orange juice on America’s breakfast table. According to the National Society of Engineers, a good engineer is a person who makes a design that works from the materials on hand, with as few original ideas as possible.

If you want to know who is responsible for the difficulty in opening your latest prescription of life-sustaining drugs (press down and turn counterclockwise while reciting the list of basic elements), see the engineer in charge of existential angst.

Mostly what the engineers do is good work, sometimes not. Take, for example, the Edsel model Ford, launched in the ’60s and lauded by the company as the car of the future. It ended up looking like a praying mantis with heartburn.

What I want to know is, whose idea was it to wrap just about everything in hard, tough, durable plastic you need a couple of mortar shells to get into? And what about Band-Aids? They come individually wrapped in thin plastic sleeves that are supposed to separate readily when the tabs are pulled. But you have to find the microscopic string and once you do you must hold it as tight as Donald Trump grips the Bible.


And there are those obnoxious little tags on furniture cushions that scare you with dire warnings about federal laws that might put you in federal prison.

But look around. If you are in the midst of nature – mountains, ocean and other examples of nature’s work – just take a minute to study the Penobscot Bridge in Verona or the Brooklyn Bridge in, guess where.

You know why that bottle of beer you just opened didn’t spritz all over you? Because an engineer figured out just how much pressure was needed to make sure an incident like that didn’t happen.

The Buddha said the truth resides in the factory’s smokestack as well as the forest.

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