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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Eradicate Terrorism With This One Weird Trick!



I just saved $1000 J Well, not quite 1000. The estimate was $1130 & change to replace a throttle position sensor, clean out the throttle body, and replace the rear brake pads and rotors on the Jeep of the noteworthy wife of Bruck (JONWOB). The TPS and throttle cleaning would have set me back a little over $600, and the rest was for the rear brakes. We bought the TPS online for about $50 (OEM part), and the brake pads and rotors retailed for $92. I did the replacements over the weekend. So 1130 – 50 – 92 = 988 (I did not use a calculator for this, thank you very much). I guess I should also deduct the $140 diagnostic fee, which we did pay, but which would have been deducted had we voluntarily subjected ourselves to complete financial buggering at the hands of the mendacious local Chrysler dealer’s service department. So $848 would be the actual savings, which I still find pretty satisfying.

Engineering is a calling. There’s a certain way of thinking, a prism through which we interpret the world around us that is unique to engineers. You either have it or you don’t. I don’t know if you’re born with it or if it’s learned in early childhood, but by jr. high or high school, if you’re honestly wondering whether or not you’re an engineer, you ain’t one.

If this isn’t clicking for you, an informative documentaryvideo on YouTube should help you understand.

Engineering school doesn’t teach you to be an engineer. It provides rigorous classes and laboratories to refine and develop existing ones, and weeds out the misguided non-engineers in the process. And of course it provides the educational credentials necessary for the engineer to find honest employment.

My readers with whom I’m personally acquainted (which is pretty much all of you) know that I’m an engineer. My specialization is Electrical Engineering (“double E”), and most of my professional experience is in electrical and automotive applications. At this point in my career, I’m no longer “in” engineering, as I now do personnel and financial/contract management in an R&D organization. But I’m still an engineer all the way down to the marrow, as I have been since at least my early teens, which harkens back to the disco era.

So you can see why I find it sadly laughable that certified, highly-trained mechanics would want to charge me over $600 to replace an external sensor (they wanted $110 for the same part) and clean the throttle body at $130 (which it didn’t need – it was squeaky clean but I guarandamntee they wouldn’t have told me that). The rest of the figure was labor, which wasn’t separately costed out, but had to be at least a few hours of the expert Chrysler mechanics’ time. I timed myself for this part of the repair. With no experience in Chrysler engines (although they’re all basically the same, don’t tell my old Ford friends), the repair took me exactly 58 minutes. And that includes running up and down the basement stairs a few times for tools.

I share this little story to exemplify the engineering mindset, and also to brag about saving money, which is another key feature of said mindset.

There are some problems with engineering as a career. It tends to be good for younger people, but for engineers that stay in the field, careers level off at about age 40 plus or minus, and stay flat or even shrink in terms of compensation and opportunities. As the late Ann Landers (I’m pretty sure she’s been dead a while) used to say, nobody can take advantage of you without your permission. To be honest, we do own some culpability in this regard, mainly in the form of skills obsolescence, but we also get marginalized by the large companies for which most of us work. A principal form of this marginalization is the use of the term “engineer.” People who are not engineers often call themselves such, or are thusly nominated due to their job titles, which are invented by HR departments, which virtually never contain anything close to an engineer. The problem is that we engineers then get equated with salespeople, designers, repairmen, and assorted techies, and thereby experience a certain dilution of our professional status.

But we engineers know who the real engineers are. I can’t give you chapter and verse as to how, but I can tell within five minutes of meeting one. This is a genuine example of takes-one-to-know-one.

Last week the Kenyan read a primetime speech expounding to the waiting world on why we are getting back into the War on Terror. In it he clearly explained that we are going to destroy the “Islamic State” terrorists in Iraq and Syria by hunting them down and snuffing them out, but not by using any combat troops. Of course we will be deploying ground troops, but they will act in an advisory capacity to the brave and reliable local warriors. This may sound familiar to those of you who remember our early forays into Viet Nam in the Kennedy era (yours truly was still a set of unaffiliated gametes at that juncture).

One particularly curious aspect of the president’s speech (which, to be fair, was probably the first time he’d seen it, so I’m sure it was just as big of a surprise to him) was his assertion that the Islamic State terrorists are not actually Muslims. Questions flooded into my mind:

  •          Why, then, would they call themselves “Islamic?”
  •          Are other, “true” Muslims also denying IS’s Muslimhood?
  •          If they’re not Muslims, what are they then?
  •          Why does it matter whether they are Muslim or not?
  •          How does the Kenyan know one way or another?

It reminded me of a rather one-sided conversation I once had with an outspoken Hindu co-worker about Christian denominations, in which he delineated those he considers to be true worshipers of God. Turns out it’s Roman Catholics; put a mark in the Pope’s win column. While I take a broader view of Christendom, I found it rather unusual that a polytheist would even hold an opinion on such matters.

Christianity is another example, although somewhat less distinct, of takes-one-to-know-one. Actually a cleaner statement would be takes-one-to-know-who-isn’t-one. You may have observed that it’s only Christians who make the case that abortion clinic bombers are acting outside of the faith, and likewise the whackos from Kansas who protest at military funerals. Non-Christians in the secular media and pop culture are all too happy to lump us all together with the killers and lunatics.

Hence my double-take at Hussein’s observation that IS terrorists are not actually Muslims.

The rotor and brake pad replacement was a little more involved. The calipers and pads came off easily enough, but the rotors were really stuck on, which is not altogether unusual after 100,000 miles. On the passenger side I had to apply penetrating oil and let it sit overnight, after which the rotor reluctantly released its grip. On the driver side I had to resort to a clever innovation I learned on the almighty internet: forcing it off with spacers and bolts threaded through the caliper housing. At this writing, the JONWOB is back on the road and I’m $848 less poor.

Another key component of the engineering mindset is something that occupies a zone about halfway between confidence and arrogance: we believe that we can do anything. And for the most part we’re right. Nothing magic of course, but the basic idea is, if something can be done, fixed, or figured out, the engineer is your best person for providing the solution.

So of course I’m wondering, with the hundreds or thousands of “non-combat” advisors that the Golfer-in-Chief is sending to the Middle East, is there a single engineer in the bunch? Now the US Army has whole brigades of fine soldiers who are called engineers based on their MOS (specialization), and I’m sure some of them will be going to the land of kibbie and falafel. But that’s apples and oranges. I’m talking about rambling wrecks from Georgia Tech, or beaver ring-wearing MIT grads, or gearheads like myself who bleed maize and blue. If there are any of those, will they get a chance to help fix things? Has the First Vacationer ever even met an actual engineer? I’m not saying we could turn back millennia of history. I’m just saying it couldn’t hurt to give us a shot at it.

Meanwhile I’ve got to figure out what to do with the $848 that’s burning a hole in my pocket.

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