Tag Archives: movies

Episode 86 — Idiot Box

idiotboxBrian, Carmen, and Jeff discuss movies and TV shows they find inspiring or entertaining (or maybe just awful) from an engineer’s perspective in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast!

  • Carmen recently “unplugged” his cable service, and will soon be using a Tablo device to record over-the-air TV programs.
  • The Martian is a soon-to-be-released movie (October 2015) that features a mechanical engineer as its protagonist. Carmen highly recommends the original sci-fi novel, and is hoping the movie lives up to his lofty expectations.
  • Even xkcd has expectations for “The Martian.”
  • Brian is a fan of Real Genius, a 1985 movie starring Val Kilmer. The movie is set on a fictional college campus that is eerily reminiscent of Caltech, and depicts the operation of one honkin’ big (5 megawatt) laser!
  • As a kid, Jeff was fascinated by the scientific advances predicted on The 21st Century, a news show hosted by Walter Cronkite. Just look at what we thought the year 2000 would look like back in 1967!
  • Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist known for making predictions about future technology.
  • Modern Marvels is a television series that investigates technology and its use in today’s society.
  • Brian enjoyed the “cartoonish” 1995 movie Hackers, in which high school students hack computer systems by playing a video game.
  • Sneakers was a 1992 movie that also entertained Brian, as he found the dialogue about electronics, computers, and cryptography to be realistic.
  • Jeff was disappointed by the Dilbert animated television series, as he found the writing and voices incongruent with the Dilbert comic he enjoyed reading in the daily newspaper. Nonetheless, Jeff still likes the clip about Dilbert having an engineering “knack.”
  • Manufacturing processes are highlighted in the TV series How It’s Made. For example, a recent episode discussed pencil fabrication.
  • An HBO series about a startup company attempting to create a better data compression algorithm, Silicon Valley, has garnered Brian’s attention. An article about the show’s creator recently appeared in Wired Magazine.
  • Jeff remembers enjoying the old television series BattleBots, which after a 13 year hiatus is being resurrected in 2015 with new episodes.
  • Futurama is an animated sci-fi show that shares the trials and tribulations of one Philip J. Fry, who wakes up in the 31st century after being cryogenically frozen for a thousand years. The plot line of a Season 6 episode relies on a new math theorem.
  • Brian recommends a documentary about the promise of nuclear power, titled Pandora’s Promise.
  • Particle Fever is a 2013 documentary about experiments carried out at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Carmen recommends a set of three documentaries (each produced by Gary Hustwit): Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized.
  • An AMC television series about the 1980’s personal computer business premiered last year, titled Halt and Catch Fire. Brian enjoys the show’s ability to interweave drama with hard-core engineering.
  • Apollo 13 is a popular film that has been called “the world’s greatest engineering movie.”
  • The Pentagon Wars is a 1998 HBO movie that depicts the making of the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The movie’s lessons about feature creep might be instructive to all engineers, says Brian.
  • Carmen enjoyed learning about the inner workings of a popular children’s toy in the documentary Inside Lego.
  • Swordfish is 2001 crime drama that Brian found “awful,” at least from a technical point of view.
  • Takedown is a 2009 movie about the U.S. government’s search for hacker Kevin Mitnick.

Thanks to Ángela Burón for use of the image titled “Incultura general.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

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