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MAY

01

2011

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Why Engineers Wear Khaki Pants


, President of TOGGLED

I own a lot of khaki pants.  The reasons for this are very sound, mostly having to do with the fact that is almost impossible to get in serious fashion trouble while wearing them.  You can add a nice top and you instantly become rather nattily dressed while wearing the same pants that will get you through a factory, in and out of multiple vehicles, and underneath a piece of laboratory equipment that needs sorting out.  The only time I have ever been scolded for wearing khaki pants and a blue shirt is when four of us showed up at a meeting all dressed the same way.   Khaki pants are eminently practical, efficient, functional, and reusable – just like engineers.  For some reason, though, there seems to be a paucity of engineers on the fashion runways.

“Green Technology” has become a fashionable mantra that most engineers sniff at in the same way we look at a fancy pair of wool pants – nice, but not obviously useful.  In fact, many of us have probably had similar conversations where we say something like, “what’s the big deal with green stuff?  I have spent an entire career trying to make the most efficient use of materials, resources, and energy possible while doing everything in my power to reduce downstream waste and toxicity.  It’s called good engineering.”  At the end of those conversations, though, I often get clear feedback that says while we are wasting out time doing engineering, there are people out there actually doing green things.   Arrrggggggghhhhh….

We need to figure out ways to get our message out to the green fashionistas that we get “green”, that we have been getting “green” as the principal functions of engineering since time immemorial, and that we are working as hard as we can to reduce the eco footprint of materials and processes.  We have our simulation programs and optimization software and thermal cameras (way cool to play with and much cheaper than ever…check out our favorite office toy at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/accessories/B003V4BE20/183-7791787-4183543 ) all of which we use to quantify, optimize, and continuously improve every aspect of human life that we can.  It’s what we do…

…and maybe we need to start becoming more creative about describing what we do in green terms.   So how can we take stress plots and mass optimization curves, and make them as compelling as pictures of melting icebergs?  Just as we sometimes need to leave the khakis in the closet and wear something more refined, maybe we need to get better at translating our numbers into their emotive effects on human society.   If we don’t, then we will continue to get irritated at bad decisions made by fashionable politicos who don’t understand that the first two laws of thermodynamics are here for the foreseeable future.

Now, about quantifying human happiness as an entropy measure….and optimizing it against energy use…hmmm….

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