Tag Archives: civil engineering

Episode 40 — Engineering Fiction

TJEcoverGuest Stefan Jaeger joins us to discuss the portrayal of engineers in literature and mass media.

  • If his work life were a procedural crime drama, Brian’s not sure whether he’d be portrayed as a hero or a villain.
  • Brian enjoyed the movies Real Genius and Sneakers for their representations of quasi-engineers.
  • Our guest, Stefan Jaeger, is Managing Director of Member and Corporate Communications for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
  • Stefan has been working recently on a Raise the Bar initiative that seeks to require that engineers of the future obtain a masters’ degree, or an equivalent 30 credits, to be professionally licensed.
  • Our guest has also been working on Vision 2025, an effort to prepare the civil engineering profession for tomorrow’s world.
  • The ASCE has partnered with the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and the American Public Works Association (APWA) to create the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure.
  • ASCE’s Communications and History and Heritage programs are also under Stefan.
  • Carmen had not previously heard of National Engineer’s Week, which takes place every February.
  • The ASCE puts out a report card on America’s infrastructure status every four years.
  • In the 1990’s, Stefan heard a repeated refrain from engineers about the lack of an engineering-based TV series similar to the popular legal drama L.A. Law.
  • Stefan gives a brief outline of the plot for his book, The Jackhammer Elegies.
  • Carmen jokes about the movie Live Free or Die Hard being a documentary.
  • Our guest’s book recently received an S.E.T. award from the Entertainment Industries Council for “accurate and impactful entertainment portraying and promoting the fields of science, engineering, technology and math.”
  • The group discusses professional licensure, as well as the inevitable tension between engineering management and engineering design.
  • Stefan raises the possibility that the stereotype of a steady, grounded engineer doesn’t always mesh well with the glamorous, exciting characters that TV and movie audiences like to watch.
  • Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas, tells the story of a unemployed defense engineer who goes on a violent rampage… not exactly a positive role model!
  • Arlington Road reveals the fictional terrorist activities of structural engineer Oliver Lang… again, not a very positive take on the engineering profession.
  • In the 2005 movie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Brad Pitt plays an assassin whose cover is that of an engineer.
  • Jamie Foxx plays a career-minded attorney in Law Abiding Citizen. One of the attorney’s clients, Philadelphia engineer Clyde Shelton, feels that he has been treated unfairly by the legal system, and goes on a killing spree. Notice a trend here in movies about engineers?
  • A 1996 film, Ridicule, tells the story of a minor aristocrat and engineer who hopes to reduce sickness and death around mosquito-infested swamps by installing a drainage system in 18th century France. Finally, one for the good guys!
  • Henry Petroski, a civil engineer, wrote To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design. We reviewed this book in Episode 18 of The Engineering Commons, which we titled “Failure.”
  • Sam Florman, another civil engineer, wrote The Existential Pleasures of Engineering.
  • Jeff notes how engineers fail to see the value of their non-technical work, as we discussed with James Trevelyan in Episode 19, “Value.”
  • Stefan Jaeger can be reached by email: sjaeger ** at ** thejackhammerelegies ++ dot ++ com, or through a comment form at the bottom of the reviews page on his novel’s website.

Thanks to Stefan Jaeger for allowing us to use the cover of his award-winning book, “The Jackhammer Elegies” as the image for this episode. Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson

Episode 33 — Civil in Sweden

ChalmersWe consider engineering education from a European perspective in this episode of The Engineering Commons.

  • Our guest for this episode is Sebastian Ahlström, a civil engineer who is pursuing a masters degree at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • Sebastian spent the past year working as an intern for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, or “min-dot”, here in the States.
  • An interest in buildings and construction led our guest to pursue a degree in civil engineering.
  • In Sweden, high-school students have to decide whether they are going to pursue a 3-year bachelors degree or a 5-year masters degree. Unlike academic programs in the US, the bachelors degree does not necessarily prepare one for acquiring a masters degree.
  • Sebastian reports having to write a thesis as part of his bachelors degree, as opposed to completing a senior project.
  • Having spent a year working on road construction, our guest has decided he’d rather work on erecting buildings. A valuable insight resulting from hands-on experience!
  • It is common in Sweden for students to wait one to three years after graduating from high school before beginning their college education.
  • Grades in Swedish universities are almost entirely based on the results of final exams, with little weight or emphasis given to homework, quizzes, and mid-terms.
  • Brian mentions the Swedish disporia in Minnesota, which refers to a region where Swedish emigrants have gathered.
  • Sebastian struggled with the units of measure used here in the US, much preferring the metric system used elsewhere in the world.
  • The group briefly discusses the difference between a foot-pound (energy) and a pound-foot (torque). Per Wikipedia: “Both energy and torque can be expressed as a product of a force vector with a displacement vector (hence pounds and feet); energy is the scalar product of the two, and torque is the vector product.”
  • We talk a bit about job opportunities in Sweden and the European Union.
  • Sebastian can be reached at sebastian.p.ahlstrom –at– gmail.com.

Thanks to Michael Coghlan for the photo titled “Chalmers Campus (Gothenburg University).” Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson