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The fRiDaY File,
for October 23, 1999
People who work in the fields of science and technology are not like other people. This can be frustrating to the nontechnical people who have to deal with them. The secret to coping with technology-oriented people is to understand their motivations.
This article will teach you
everything you need to know. The author learned their customs and mannerisms by
observing them, much the way Jane Goodall learned about the great apes,
but without the hassle of grooming.
Engineering is so trendy these days that everybody wants to be one. The
word "engineer" is greatly overused. If there's somebody in your life
who you think is trying to pass as an engineer, give him this test to
discern the truth.
ENGINEER IDENTIFICATION TEST
You walk into a room and notice that a picture is hanging crooked. You...
The correct answer is "C" but partial credit can be given to anybody who
writes "It depends" in the margin of the test or simply blames the whole
stupid thing on "Marketing."
Engineers have different objectives when it comes to social interaction.
"Normal" people expect to accomplish several unrealistic things from social interaction:
In contrast to "normal" people, engineers have rational objectives for social interactions:
FASCINATION WITH GADGETS
To the engineer, all matter in the universe can be placed into one of two categories: (1) things that need to be fixed, and (2) things that will need to be fixed after you've had a few minutes to play with them. Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems. Normal people don't understand this concept; they believe that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Engineers believe that if it ain't broke, it doesn't have enough features yet.
No engineer looks at a television remote control without wondering what
it would take to turn it into a stun gun. No engineer can take a shower
without wondering if some sort of Teflon coating would make showering
unnecessary. To the engineer, the world is a toy box full of
sub-optimized and feature-poor toys.
FASHION AND APPEARANCE
Clothes are the lowest priority for an engineer, assuming the basic
thresholds for temperature and decency have been satisfied. If no
appendages are freezing or sticking together, and if no genitalia or
mammary glands are swinging around in plain view, then the objective of
clothing has been met. Anything else is a waste.
LOVE OF "STAR TREK"
Engineers love all of the "Star Trek" television shows and movies. It's a small wonder, since the engineers on the starship Enterprise are portrayed as heroes, occasionally even having sex with aliens.
This is much more glamorous than the real life of an engineer, which
consists of hiding from the universe and having sex without the
participation of other life forms.
DATING AND SOCIAL LIFE
Dating is never easy for engineers. A normal person will employ various indirect and duplicitous methods to create a false impression of attractiveness. Engineers are incapable of placing appearance above function.
Fortunately, engineers have an ace in the hole. They are widely recognized as superior marriage material: intelligent, dependable, employed, honest, and handy around the house. While it's true that many normal people would prefer not to date an engineer, most normal people harbor an intense desire to mate with them, thus producing engineer-like children who will have high-paying jobs long before losing their virginity.
Male engineers reach their peak of sexual attractiveness later than normal men, becoming irresistible erotic dynamos in their mid thirties to late forties. Just look at these examples of sexually irresistible men in technical professions:
Female engineers become irresistible at the age of consent and remain
that way until about thirty minutes after their clinical death. Longer
if it's a warm day.
Engineers are always honest in matters of technology and human relationships. That's why it's a good idea to keep engineers away from customers, romantic interests, and other people who can't handle the truth.
Engineers sometimes bend the truth to avoid work. They say things that sound like lies but technically are not because nobody could be expected to believe them. The complete list of engineer lies is listed below.
Engineers are notoriously frugal. This is not because of cheapness or
mean spirit; it is simply because every spending situation is simply a
problem in optimization, that is, "How can I escape this situation while
retaining the greatest amount of cash?"
POWERS OF CONCENTRATION
If there is one trait that best defines an engineer it is the ability to
concentrate on one subject to the complete exclusion of everything else
in the environment. This sometimes causes engineers to be pronounced
dead prematurely. Some funeral homes in high-tech areas have started
checking resumes before processing the bodies. Anybody with a degree in
electrical engineering or experience in computer programming is propped
up in the lounge for a few days just to see if he or she snaps out of it.
Engineers hate risk. They try to eliminate it whenever they can. This is
understandable, given that when an engineer makes one little mistake the
media will treat it like it's a big deal or something.
EXAMPLES OF BAD PRESS FOR ENGINEERS
The risk/reward calculation for engineers looks something like this:
Being practical people, engineers evaluate this balance of risks and rewards and decide that risk is not a good thing. The best way to avoid risk is by advising that any activity is technically impossible for reasons that are far too complicated to explain.
If that approach is not sufficient to halt a project, then the engineer
will fall back to a second line of defense: "It's technically possible
but it will cost too much."
Ego-wise, two things are important to engineers:
The fastest way to get an engineer to solve a problem is to declare that the problem is unsolvable. No engineer can walk away from an unsolvable problem until it's solved. No illness or distraction is sufficient to get the engineer off the case. These types of challenges quickly become personal -- a battle between the engineer and the laws of nature.
Engineers will go without food and hygiene for days to solve a problem. (Other times just because they forgot.) And when they succeed in solving the problem they will experience an ego rush that is better than sex--and I'm including the kind of sex where other people are involved.
Nothing is more threatening to the engineer than the suggestion that somebody has more technical skill. Normal people sometimes use that knowledge as a lever to extract more work from the engineer. When an engineer says that something can't be done (a code phrase that means it's not fun to do), some clever normal people have learned to glance at the engineer with a look of compassion and pity and say something along these lines: "I'll ask Bob to figure it out. He knows how to solve difficult technical problems."
At that point it is a good idea for the normal person to not stand between the engineer and the problem. The engineer will set upon the problem like a starved Chihuahua on a pork chop.
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