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Engineering Odds and Ends

Bridge“Galloping Girdy, The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster”

A reminder to us all to conduct a thorough engineering analysis for all our projects. Click here for full story and video clip.

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Heartless Project Manager
A project manager, a civil engineer, and a mechanical engineer are in Ft. Lauderdale for a two-week period helping out on a project.

About midweek they decide to walk up and down the beach during their lunch hour. Halfway up the beach, they stumbled upon a lamp. As they rub the lamp a genie appears and says “Normally I would grant you 3 wishes, but since there are 3 of you, I will grant you each one wish.”

The civil engineer went first. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living in a huge house in St. Thomas with no money worries” The genie granted him his wish and sent him on off to St. Thomas.

The mechanical engineer went next. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living on a huge yacht cruising the Mediterranean with no money worries.” The genie granted him his wish and sent him off to the Mediterranean.

Last, but not least, it was the project manager’s turn. “And what would your wish be?” asked the genie.

“I want them both back after lunch” replied the project manager.

Close Enough
A mathematician, a physicist and an engineer were each given the following problem to solve.

A school dance floor included a straight line down the middle dividing the floor in two equal halves. Boys were lined up against one wall and girls against the opposite wall, each facing the centre line. They were instructed to advance in stages towards the centre line every ten seconds, where the distance from the person to the centre line at each stage is equal to one-half the distance at the past stage.

i.e.: If the starting distance from the wall to centre line was D, the progressive series of distances at t = 0, 10 seconds, 20 seconds…10n seconds to the centre line is (D, D/2, D/4, D/8, …..D/2n)

The question is, when will they meet at the middle?

The mathematician said that they would never meet.

The physicist said they would meet when time equals infinity.

The engineer said that in one minute they would be close enough for all practical purposes.

A Mathematician, a Biologist and a Physicist are sitting in a street cafe watching people going in and coming out of the house on the other side of the street. First they see two people going into the house. Time passes. After a while they notice three persons coming out of the house.

The Physicist: “The measurement wasn’t accurate”.

The Biologists conclusion: “They have reproduced”.

The Mathematician: “If now exactly 1 person enters the house then it will be empty again”.

Three engineering students were gathered together discussing the possible designers of the human body.

One said, “It was a mechanical engineer. Just look at all the joints.”

Another said, “No, it was an electrical engineer. The nervous system has many thousands of electrical connections.”

The last said, “Actually it was a civil engineer. Who else would run a toxic waste pipeline through a recreational area?”

During the French Revolution a priest, a lawyer and an engineer are about to be guillotined.

The priest puts his head on the block, they pull the rope and nothing happens — he declares that he’s been saved by divine intervention — so he’s let go.

The lawyer is put on the block, and again the rope doesn’t release the blade, he claims he can’t be executed twice for the same crime and he is set free too.

They grab the engineer and shove his head into the guillotine, he looks up at the release mechanism and says, “Wait a minute, I see your problem….”

An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician are shown a pasture with a herd of sheep, and told to put them inside the smallest possible amount of fence.

The engineer is first. He herds the sheep into a circle and then puts the fence around them, declaring, “A circle will use the least fence for a given area, so this is the best solution.”

The physicist is next. She creates a circular fence of infinite radius around the sheep, and then draws the fence tight around the herd, declaring, “This will give the smallest circular fence around the herd.”

The mathematician is last. After giving the problem a little thought, he puts a small fence around himself and then declares, “I define myself to be on the outside!”

Comparing Cars With Computers
At a recent computer expo, Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”

In response to Bill’s comments, General Motors issued a press release stating:
If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

  1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.
  2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.
  3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.
  4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.
  5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive–but it would run on only five percent of the roads.
  6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single “This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation” warning light.
  7. The air bag system would ask “Are you sure?” before deploying.
  8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.
  9. Every time a new car was introduced, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
  10. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off.

Where Do Engineering Standards Come From?
The U.S. Standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and the U.S. railroads were built by English expatriates. Why did the English people build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing. Okay! Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing the wagons would break on some of the old, long distance roads, because that’s the spacing of the old wheel ruts.

So who built these old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts? The initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons, were first made by Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made for or by Imperial Rome they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

Thus, we have the answer to the original questions. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman army war chariot. Specs and bureaucracies live forever. So, the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s rear-end came up with it, you may be exactly right. Because the Imperial Roman chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of two war horses.