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All I Really Need to Know About Engineering, I Learned From Star Trek

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Elizabeth M
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Star Trek as inspiration
Elizabeth M   11/6/2013 6:37:23 AM
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It's no surprise that Star Trek is an inspiration for generations of engineers. These are quite insightful bits of wisdom to glean from that classic show, and make a lot of sense for the state of engineering even today.

NadineJ
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Re: Star Trek as inspiration
NadineJ   11/6/2013 7:55:17 PM
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Very nice article.  I'm not surprised that there are so many Trekkies here. 

One common denominator amoung all Star Treks, from the original Desilu productions to today's movies, is that it holds up a mirror on modern American society.  Sometimes the stereotypes are too intense (and offensive) but a peak beyond the obvious reveals something interesting. 

Charles Murray
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Re: Star Trek as inspiration
Charles Murray   11/6/2013 8:51:42 PM
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I agree, Nadine. The number of Trekkies here is not surprising. There are many Trekkies in the world of technology...and beyond. The great Seymour Cray (one of the 20th century's greatest engineers) was a dedicated Star Trek watcher. So was Isaac Asimov and, yes, Frank Sinatra. Stephen Hawking is said to be a huge Star Trek fan. So are Al Gore and Colin Powell. Leonard Nimoy reportedly said that Barack Obama once greeted him with a Vulcan salute.

GTOlover
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Re: Star Trek as inspiration
GTOlover   11/7/2013 7:58:57 AM
Charles, so Vulcan was destroyed because of a video:-)

Elizabeth M
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Re: Star Trek as inspiration
Elizabeth M   11/7/2013 4:41:36 AM
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Yes, NadineJ, I often found that about Star Trek as well. I was never a hard-core Trekkie but the episodes and movies I did see always struck me as not just scifi but also socially conscious. There is a reason there are so many devoted fans.

Battar
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English
Battar   11/6/2013 9:18:13 AM
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What I learned from StarTrek is that wherever you venture in the galaxy, sentient life forms speak English.

What I learned from real life is that this does not hold true on Earth, not even in English speaking countries, and certainly not in the offices of patent attorneys,

Does anyone remember the song, "Star-trekking across the unoverse, only going forward, 'cos we can't find reverse"

Dave Palmer
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Re: English
Dave Palmer   11/6/2013 9:33:22 AM
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@Battar: Well, if you watch the Spanish-dubbed version (Viaje a las Estrellas), you will find that everyone in the universe speaks Spanish.

Amclaussen
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Re: English
Amclaussen   11/6/2013 1:59:39 PM
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Well, I ACTUALLY LEARNED a lot of English by watching the series back in the last part of the 80's (it was The Next Generation). I never took any more English lessons other than those in basic education schools in my infancy, but for me, the absolutely delicious, clear and elegant language used by Captain Picard and his officers, was a delight and allowed me to fully understand the English language dialogues for the first time in a TV series (most other programming had a much more difficult to understand slang and "slum" quality diction).

Plus that series proved to be a top notch Sci-Fi writing, with true philosophical contents and too many visionary advancements to mention. Jules Verne would enjoy it a lot!

While the original series (Kirk et al) was the classic, TNG is the most polished of the lot.

Too sad it ended so soon. I bougth almost the complete collection and I'm keeping it to see it again when I have the time and calm to be fully absorbed again.

BrainiacV
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Re: English
BrainiacV   11/7/2013 9:46:07 AM
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The dodge they used was that they had universal translators, operating under the assumption that there are universal concepts.  A technical version of the Babel fish.

GTOlover
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Re: English
GTOlover   11/7/2013 1:21:31 PM
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And yet Brainiac, Uhura was a linguistics expert. Why?

BrainiacV
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Re: English
BrainiacV   11/7/2013 3:31:41 PM
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Why, in case of equipment failure...

GTOlover
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Never be the red shirt (unless you are Scotty)!
GTOlover   11/6/2013 3:43:44 PM
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Very good article, but you forgot to mention that a good engineer should avoid being the red shirt. They always got killed. So make sure that your engineering career is robust and your usefulness is more than taking a phasor shot for the  main characters.

NadineJ
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Re: Never be the red shirt (unless you are Scotty)!
NadineJ   11/6/2013 8:01:24 PM
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@GTO-it wasn't just the red-shirts that were sacrificed in the earlier series.  Anyone in the landing party that didn't have a familiar face was most likely to die on some strange planet.  That included medical personnel-blue-shirts.  I never noticed before that security, gold-shirts, rarely beamed down.

Your career advice is spot on!

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Here's 2 more categories
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   11/6/2013 4:22:08 PM
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Great insights, Dave –  "Read & Understood"  -- and  I agree with every word.  Two other categorical points I might add, each with numerous examples you'll recall:

·  first, the philosophical and cultural anthropology lessons which were subliminally taught from the venue of other planets (half white/half black are two-of-a kind !! )   -and-

·  second; of each of the many technologies showcased; from the warp-drive and communicators, to ear-buds and "On-screen" – each was actually based on an existing scientific theory.  Some of which have come into reality, and others of which are still unrealized; but each of which was more than just a crazy, wild thought from Mr. Roddenberry.  All had foundation.

Battar
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Re: Here's 2 more categories
Battar   11/7/2013 1:44:59 AM
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Jim, 

       The "beam me up, Scotty" machine has no scientific basis. In fact, it has been proved that teh amount of energy required to power such a machine (or the energy equivalent of Kirks' mass when beamed) would be prohibitive.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: Here's 2 more categories
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   11/7/2013 11:31:38 AM
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Battar – agreed – you'll notice I did not specifically mention the 'Transporter' – ( altho' I DO concede that I did say "all" the technologies).  So, your correction is accepted. 

My point, however, covers literally dozens of lesser-noticed things, like the Bluetooth headset sticking out of Lt. Uhuru's ear on every episode. Or, the automatic presence-sensing sliding doors.  Or, the hand-held scanner units.  Oh, and here's a good one; Scotty taking a small rectangular handheld prism, and inserting it into the main computer console, from which spews gigabytes of reference data --  the pre-cursor to today's USB thumb-drive.  All of these things were mere fantasy visions in 1966, and are commonplace in 2013.

GTOlover
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Re: Here's 2 more categories
GTOlover   11/7/2013 1:18:52 PM
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And yet Jim, no seat belts! I understand that the inertial dampeners were supposed to keep the crew from feeling the jolts, but why in the heck did these seem to always fail.

Spock, sit down and put the seat belt on! Wait, no one on the bridge had one. Even Kirk could not keep his hindend in his chair.

At least the JJ reboot had the insight to add these cool seat belts that automatically rolled over them and secured the person to the chair.

bob from maine
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Re: Here's 2 more categories
bob from maine   11/7/2013 2:28:39 PM
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Aye, but the list of those 'scientifically proven impossible' things that ultimately because possible seems to grow daily. We must not accept as 'fact' those things that seem extremely unlikely today. If we can't dream it, we surely will never do it. Excellent article!

RogueMoon
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future holds the promise of better materials
RogueMoon   11/7/2013 9:06:04 AM
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Dave,

A running gag in one of my old assignments was to deplore the lack of "transparent aluminum" whenever we had a materials problem.  This fantastic 23rd century material was referenced in the movie, Star Trek IV and at least brought a grin to the face of our metallurgists whenever it was brought up (even by our chief engineer, one time :O).  

Sadly, in our timeline, the guy at the plant in the Bay Area must have been out of the office when Scotty and Bones popped by?  We've been waiting for this product to show up since the late 20th century when it was (sort of) invented.  Scotty even got an old Mac to do the work for him (once he quit talking into the mouse).  

We can't always expect a time-travelling starship chief engineer to show up with a game-changing new material, but I think we can all agree the future holds the promise of better materials.  As engineers and designers, we're wise to keep our eyes open to new materials.  I learned this from Star Trek.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: future holds the promise of better materials
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   11/7/2013 11:42:10 AM
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We all had a good laugh when Scotty 'spoke' into the mouse ---  but then also laughed when he simply typed the algorithm for transparent aluminum into the keyboard of a Macintosh and yielded a dynamically rotating molecular 3D image after about 15 seconds of input.  Loved it! 

"Episode IV, The Voyage Home" still ranks as one of favorite all-time movies.  "Well, Double-dumb-ass on you !! "

BrainiacV
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Re: future holds the promise of better materials
BrainiacV   11/7/2013 5:41:02 PM
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I was asked to do a department video by a former employer. They had asked for it to be based on "The Trouble With Tribbles" (obviously unaware of the derogatory adapted quotes that leapt to everyone mind who had actually seen the episode) so we talked them into "A Taste of Armeggedon" with a splash of "The Voyage Home" (aka "Star Trek: Save the Whales"), we had an old DPS-7 that had to be replaced. They also wanted us to show everyone in the department and keep the video under 5 minutes. Other departments made videos, but ours was the only one to come in under 5 minutes.  The next year they asked me to edit all the department videos.  This had been my first one, the link is to my 12th anniversary version I recut on my home computer instead of the tape to tape version of the original, which allowed me to add overlays.

http://www.rostenbach.com/bistff/bistff.htm

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Trouble with Tribbles, is they Taste of Armageddon
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   11/8/2013 9:47:51 AM
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Of course; now I really want to watch your video!  And while the link successfully loaded a BIS page, the video stated, "Invalid Source" and does not execute.  Maybe we're on opposite sides of a firewall.

BrainiacV
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Re: Trouble with Tribbles, is they Taste of Armageddon
BrainiacV   11/8/2013 9:50:43 AM
The direct link to the file itself is:

http://www.rostenbach.com/bistff/bis_tff.mp4

 

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: Trouble with Tribbles, is they Taste of Armageddon
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   11/8/2013 12:23:38 PM
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That was great!  Superlative, even, considering it was made 20 years ago.  Excellent work!

BrainiacV
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Re: Trouble with Tribbles, is they Taste of Armageddon
BrainiacV   11/8/2013 2:41:20 PM
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Thank you.  There is a whole saga to go with the creation of it, but not for public consumption. You can reach me through the root page if you are curious.

dfortune
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Under-promise and over-deliver
dfortune   11/7/2013 9:08:27 AM
I recall that it wasn't that Scotty said something was impossible and then did it, rather than he told Kirk it would take much longer than what Kirk then told him he had time do to it - and then did it.

This was exemplified in the movie "Generations" where Scotty told Jordy (maybe not the exact verbiage) "My God man, you didn't tell him what time it would really take, did you?"

GTOlover
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Re: Under-promise and over-deliver
GTOlover   11/7/2013 1:27:30 PM
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"Cap'n, you cannot defy the laws of physics." And yet they seemed to have 'warp' travel, gravimetric plating, photon torpedoes, and replicators (though I think we saw some 3D printed food some where in Design News).

And as mentioned before, transparent aluminum seemingly developed with a few keystrokes into a Mac computer. Then we have the crew assembling large panels of this stuff in the cargo hold of a Kligon Bird of Prey. The scale-up was of record proportions!!!

BrainiacV
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Re: Under-promise and over-deliver
BrainiacV   11/7/2013 3:34:47 PM
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Actually Scotty traded the formula for transparent aluminum for the plexiglas they had in stock to use in the whale tank.

GTOlover
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Re: Under-promise and over-deliver
GTOlover   11/7/2013 3:43:13 PM
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That is right. Forgot about that. Guess I need to watch these again. It has been a while and this article has me thinking it is time for a Star Trek marathon! Get up Saturday morning and watch all the Star Trek movies. The first one is horrible, but it just wouldn't seem fair to skip this one.

BrainiacV
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Re: Under-promise and over-deliver
BrainiacV   11/7/2013 3:37:05 PM
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Scotty also advised that you be conservative when you write specifications.

JimiEngr
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Inspired
JimiEngr   11/7/2013 9:51:52 AM
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I remember watching reruns of Star Trek in the Engineering Lounge while in college and hearing the naysayers ridicule the technology depicted as they walked by. They were descendants of the Flat Earth Society; If God Meant us to Fly, He'd have given us wings religion; and the Can't Travel Faster than the Speed of Sound club. I know Star Trek inspired me and many, many other engineers. As for the engineer naysayers they moved on to management positions with the bean counters where they can do the most harm.

When I got my flip-phone, I thought the person that designed it was definitely a Trekie.

bobjengr
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ALL I REALLY NEEDED TO KNOW
bobjengr   11/30/2013 11:37:26 AM
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Dave--very interesting.   Star Trek was "THE" program for future engineers when I was growing up and going through school.  We knew that with the proper educational background, work ethic and resourcefulness, any problem could be solved.   As you mentioned, all of this was created with individuals of varying ethnic backgrounds.  This is one thing Gene Roddenberry demanded from the scripts--diversity.  I also enjoyed the fact that he used individuals with differing skill sets in contributing to solutions. They all worked together.  (Wonder if any members of Congress ever watched the program.) 

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