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Slideshow: Engineering the Silver Screen

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Rob Spiegel
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The engineer as star
Rob Spiegel   11/14/2013 7:08:03 AM
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Great slideshow, Chuck. My favorite in this collection is October Sky. Although, I still haven't seen the Elvis movie. Who knows, that could change my view.

Elizabeth M
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Re: The engineer as star
Elizabeth M   11/14/2013 7:52:46 AM
I knew you would do a great job with this, Chuck! Well done...but...Elvis as an engineer???? You're right, that is indeed one of the strangest castings ever. He was much better cast just being cute, wooing the ladies and hanging out on the beach playing guitar. :)

GTOlover
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Re: The engineer as star
GTOlover   11/14/2013 9:31:44 AM
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Elvis could not act, he just sang all his lines and the ladies swooned!

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: The engineer as star
Jennifer Campbell   11/14/2013 9:55:51 AM
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Many great movies here. My favorite in the bunch was "Flash of Genius." The story really pulled me in, especially as Greg Kinnear's character slowly had a mental breakdown during his fight with Detroit automakers.

richnass
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Re: The engineer as star
richnass   11/14/2013 3:26:53 PM
Chuck, you got the wrong guy from Apollo 13. The real hero was TK Mattingly, who devised the scheme to get the astronauts back to earth. I had the honor of meeting him a few years back (and no, he never did get the measles).

richnass
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Re: The engineer as star
richnass   11/14/2013 3:28:03 PM
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This is a great topic. We could talk about it forever. I believe Major Healy (surely you're familiar with I Dream of Jeannie) was an engineer.

Charles Murray
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Re: The engineer as star
Charles Murray   11/14/2013 9:36:03 PM
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How could I forget Major Healy? Didn't the same actor also play a flight engineer on The Bob Newhart Show?

GTOlover
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Re: The engineer as star
GTOlover   11/15/2013 9:34:46 AM
As long as we are listing missing engineers, what about Howard Wolowitz? The aerospace engineer who would ruin a mars rover just to impress a girl! Although, that is not silver screen but television.

wbswenberg
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Re: The engineer as star
wbswenberg   11/15/2013 12:23:27 PM
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Charles I wish you would have included the real person's photo.  Thanks for giving me two movies to watch.  I wish more movies to be like "October Sky"  Speaking of Oct "Red October" is another favorite.  This reminds me of my friend and past co-worker Kim.  He was into radio controlled model planes.  He said one of his models cost more than his car — $15K.  He built a square tunnel A/P and put in a piston powered fan.  There is a real A/P that is similar.  He lamented that it barely flew.  I'm an EE and don't know much about aerodynamics, even with 20 yrs. in aerospace, but I noticed there was no intake constriction nor nozzle.  We talked about an internal profile to speed up the flow.  He went to the NASA site and applied scaling factors to determine an internal profile he could do in 2D.  I believe he only did the sides and not the top or bottom.  He reported the A/P flew much better.  

So speed ahead ten years through 3 years out of work and I'm in B Flight Test and talking about turbofans.  Some have a solid axle — shaft that the fan, compressor and burner blades are attached too.  Please forgive me I'm sure I'm not using the correct terminology. One manufacture uses 3 separate coaxial shafts: one for the fan, one for the compressor, one for the burner.  How does that work?  Air as a working fluid.  The same way the A/P flies.  I had an epiphany. Note you can see the fan blades are serpentine for the different air flows.

richnass
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Re: The engineer as star
richnass   11/15/2013 3:14:02 PM
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wbswenberg: that's a great story. Thanks for sharing.

GTOlover: that's my favorite show, and Wolowitz gets no respect. As a fellow engineer, that kills me. Sidenote: I got to meet Mayim Bialik (aka Amy Farrah Fowler) earlier this year. It was a real treat.

Charles Murray
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Re: The engineer as star
Charles Murray   11/15/2013 5:54:18 PM
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I thought about including the real photos, wbswenberg, particularly of NASA's Gene Kranz. The similarities between Kranz and actor Ed Harris (after makeup) were pretty amazing.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: The engineer as star
Rob Spiegel   11/14/2013 6:52:37 PM
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That had to be one of your great meets, Rich. I take it you asked him whether he got the measles. Do you remember what else you asked him?

etmax
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Re: The engineer as star
etmax   12/1/2013 11:16:28 PM
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:-) one of the world's worst actors (Elvis) but a great singer.

Elizabeth M
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Re: The engineer as star
Elizabeth M   12/3/2013 7:26:08 AM
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And Elvis also was a great dancer, etmax, don't forget!! :)

Charles Murray
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Re: The engineer as star
Charles Murray   12/3/2013 6:38:15 PM
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I agree on both counts, but I still have trouble believing Elvis as a chemical engineer.

Elizabeth M
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Re: The engineer as star
Elizabeth M   12/4/2013 7:25:41 AM
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Yes, Chuck, I don't think you're the only person who feels that way, as I think I mentioned before! But maybe we are underestimating poor Elvis. :)

etmax
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Re: The engineer as star
etmax   12/3/2013 7:02:58 PM
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Sorry absolutely, even if he did get some of his moves from Forrest Gump :-)

notarboca
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Re: The engineer as star
notarboca   11/14/2013 6:39:05 PM
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I thought The Aviator was a well done movie.

Charles Murray
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Re: The engineer as star
Charles Murray   11/15/2013 10:00:12 AM
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I felt the same way about The Aviator, notarboca. I was surprised that they focused so much on his efforts in aircraft engineering. I had assumed Hollywood would gloss over that aspect of his life, but they didn't.

far911
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Re: The engineer as star
far911   11/16/2013 5:41:39 AM
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 Flight of the Phoenix. is an other movie were an engineer work on to build an aircraft with a single engine, is an effort to inspire people, to create.

jcsretired
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Real engineer in Hollywood
jcsretired   11/15/2013 12:12:53 PM

Would Fred McMurray's invention of Flubber count as chemical engineering?

Seriously, I'm sure there were dozens or hundreds of engineers working behind the silver screen to develop film, cameras, lighting and sound equipment, editing equipment, and so on.


And let us not forget Hedy Lamarr, a silver screen actress who also in real life co-invented spread spectrum communication!

Charles Murray
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Re: Real engineer in Hollywood
Charles Murray   11/15/2013 5:49:23 PM
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Fred MacMurray's portrayal of Professor Brainard would seem to count, although our judging committee (me) is not sure whether the good professor was a chemist or an engineer. As for Hedy Lamarr, whose real-life engineering contribution was an amazing one, we included her in "18 People You Didn't Know Were Engineers" back in April. See link below.

http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1395&doc_id=262423

BrainiacV
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China Syndrome
BrainiacV   11/15/2013 12:54:23 PM
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I think I was the only one in the theater who understood what was happening in the almost meltdown scene.

I thought Jack Lemmon deserved an Academy Award for his performance during that scene.

He managed to convey exactly the emotions I would have been feeling in that situation.

The rest of the audience was just confused as to what was happening.

wbswenberg
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Re: China Syndrome
wbswenberg   11/15/2013 5:27:59 PM
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Gee, I'll have to ask an ex-co-worker and squid if he saw the movie.  He might be younger than the movie.  I believe he was on a fast attack rather that a boomer.  

Gee they should run it again in light of the Japan incident.  Wonder what that movie will be like. Whether or not godzilla will be a star.  Gee I'm cracking my self up.

Another one of my ex-co-workers, Rusty, is in the open scene hauling the trailer to a new job up here in Seattle with the B company.

Charles Murray
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Re: China Syndrome
Charles Murray   11/15/2013 5:50:55 PM
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I still think Lemmon's performance was amazing. Any engineer who has ever tried to boil a complex engineering subject down to a couple of sentences knows the feeling.

wbswenberg
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Re: China Syndrome
wbswenberg   11/15/2013 6:23:19 PM
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Because even talking to an engineer they may not have the background.  Certainly when I've had to explaining to managers which may or may not have any engineering you have to be somewhat cautious too much detail and you can bore them or loose them in the details.  

I remember a story from the cruise missile ALCM.  We all had to stand up and reply we were good to go or the reason not.  I just wrote launch and jettison test procedures for B-52 and AGM-96.  However one engineer had problems.  In his explanation he started with F=MA.  Ended up proving to himself and every one that had not gone asleep that the missile was safe to release.  I just verified what someone else figured out.  In general terms the airplane has to be in safe level flight.  We don't want the missile coming back to hit the A/P.  Since I'm an EE it was pretty interesting to see the calculations.  Now did I bore you?  

You should have see the one that did a barrel roll when launched.  The range safety officer just about had a cow.  The case pilot took so long to find the terminate swith that the navigation system unscrewed its self from the one full extra torque value.  Petty embarsing for some softeware guy.

 

flhawk
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Brainstorm
flhawk   11/16/2013 11:53:38 PM
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Brainstorm (Natalie Wood) was one of the few movies that actually showed the process of engineering a product. Successive designs appear (a subplot) through the course of the film. It also deal with unexpected features and their problems. Another featured female engineer. Loved the film.

Charles Murray
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Re: Brainstorm
Charles Murray   11/18/2013 9:57:06 PM
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Showing the engineering process is a rarity for Holywood, flhawk. I thought Flash of Genius also did a good job of showing the actual engineering of a product.

flhawk
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Re: Brainstorm
flhawk   11/18/2013 10:27:56 PM
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Though a rarity, there were a few more than I remembered. I might include the fairly recent first section of Atlas Shrugged. The first Dagney Taggert fit my imagination pretty well - not so much the in the second.

And for out of the box, maybe the classic Forbidden Planet.

This has been a good little journey - thanks all.

Charles Murray
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Re: Brainstorm
Charles Murray   11/19/2013 5:44:54 PM
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Thanks for the suggestions, flhawk. The first on my list to see is Brainstorm, which has also been suggested to me in previous discussions about science and engineering movies.  

BrainiacV
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Re: Brainstorm
BrainiacV   2/18/2014 4:33:43 PM
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Design iterations were what I loved about the first Iron Man movie.  That, and that things didn't always work first time :-)

They even bothered to have a scene where they were testing the leg mechanism in the cave.

How many movies bother to show testing and failures? They usually make it seem like everything works first time, every time.

Charles Murray
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Re: Brainstorm
Charles Murray   2/21/2014 3:47:08 PM
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You're right, BrainiacV, testing isn't a suject that gets shown in the movies. No Highway in the Sky with James Stewart includes testing as kind of a sub-text, but even in that movie, you don't see much actual test.

bobjengr
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SILVER SCREEN
bobjengr   11/30/2013 8:39:46 AM
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Great slide show Charles.  I don't know if I should be embarrassed or not but I have seen all of those movies and then some.  My three favorites--Apollo 13, Highway In the Sky and October Sky.   You are correct in that Ed Harris really "looked the part" in Apollo 13.  I suppose the interest for me was living through the Apollo 13 problems and desperately hoping the crew returned home safely.  I actually bought and carried a portable radio to hear the latest.  You will notice that each of these movies indicate what a remarkably valuable profession we are participants in. 

a.saji
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Re: SILVER SCREEN
a.saji   11/30/2013 11:25:42 AM
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@bob: Most of the scientific movies are made of real lives. Also these movies do give new and innovative ideas for the viewers. It's a good thing indeed.                                  

Charles Murray
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Re: SILVER SCREEN
Charles Murray   12/3/2013 6:40:28 PM
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Yes, bobjengr, the three movies you chose do show what a valuable profession we're in. I like Apollo 13 for that exact reason. And I like October Sky because it didn't give in to the cliche of showing the young science student as a social clod.

esb
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engineers in movies
esb   1/23/2014 10:49:49 AM
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Did you forget Atlas Shrugged?

esb
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engineers in movies
esb   1/23/2014 10:50:00 AM
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Did you forget Atlas Shrugged?

William K.
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Re: engineers in movies
William K.   1/23/2014 2:32:27 PM
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I read the book, but never saw the movie. I guess that the one character was an engineer but that seemed just incidental to the plot.

The problem with accurately depicting engineers in movies is that either they would be boring or come across as know-it-alls, neither of which would be accurate. And in other instances they are depicted as being horribly unfeeling in the name of efficiency. At least that has been my recollection.

Charles Murray
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Re: engineers in movies
Charles Murray   1/23/2014 8:06:46 PM
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Yes, engineers have been inaccurately depicted in movies on a regular basis, William K. Surprisingly, the movie industry is aware of this problem. A few years ago, the American Film Institute hosted classes in script writing for scientists and engineers. I don't know if any of the scripts from those classes ever made it to the sliver screen, though.

William K.
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Re: engineers in movies
William K.   1/23/2014 9:52:05 PM
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THAT is an interesting concept, Charles. But I suspect that writing screenplays and scripts is a lot harder than writing screens and functions for control programs. For starters, nobody would ever want to spend an hour starting a process or a machine. But the two do have some simularities.

But I think that I will keep my writing on the technical side. I can do that fairly well, I don't know how I would do with scripts and screen plays.

rkinner
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Re: engineers in movies
rkinner   2/18/2014 9:25:15 AM
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 I can't forget Dr. Holly Goodhead who was in Moonraker as a CIA agent, astronaut and scientist.  Maybe not a full engineer but an example of the whole line of Bond films (and some Bond girls) who were very accomplished technically prior to their meeting James.

Its a bad line but do remenber "Q" at the end of the film as they establish video of the two of them in a weightless environment saying "I believe he's attempting re-entry".  Engineers do have libdos, too.

Charles Murray
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Re: engineers in movies
Charles Murray   2/21/2014 3:44:47 PM
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I'm with you on that, William K. I've never written a movie script, but I'd bet money that I wouldn't be good at it.

William K.
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Re: engineers in movies
William K.   2/22/2014 4:14:33 PM
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Actually, I have been wondering how close a screenplay is to the very detailed functional specification of a human interface controls program. That is, the specification that describes each screen, what the choices are, and what the program does, for each step of operation. That may be a liitle like the description of what each scene should look like, and what happens as each line is said. Or possibly not.

Charles Murray
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Re: engineers in movies
Charles Murray   2/27/2014 8:02:05 PM
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Believe it or not, many movie scripts are available online, William K. In my limited experience in looking at them, I've been surprised how little detail is actually called out in the initial script.

sfev1
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Re: engineers in movies
sfev1   7/16/2014 4:16:00 PM
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okay, two movies that "scarred me" and motivated me to be the aviation engineer I am. 

 

"Fate is the Hunter" and "Flight of the Phoenix", plus the whole Apollo Program.

 

I was so impressed, two degree's and 30 years still at it.

William K.
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Testing is only interesting to engineers.
William K.   2/22/2014 4:20:07 PM
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The movies seldom show engineers doing tsting because the assumption is that everything works the first time. That is probably why a lot of people think that engineering is not such a big deal. And of course one does get "a bit spoiled" when things do work right the first time. But I did have a boss who explained to me that it was expected that every design would work right the first time, that was why I was there. It was certainly flattering but also it did add to the pressure quite a bit, knowing what the expectations were.

Charles Murray
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Re: Testing is only interesting to engineers.
Charles Murray   2/27/2014 8:03:43 PM
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Your former boss's goal of having everything work right the first time is a worthy idea, William_K. That said, I'd be skeptical about buying any products from him.

William K.
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Re: Testing is only interesting to engineers.
William K.   2/27/2014 8:52:08 PM
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Charles, we did have an excellent track record of our machines being just what the customer needed, so  you could be very at ease purchasing one of our test systems. Of course, when you sell equipment to the auto companies and the army they do come to the progress meetings and they do help to avoid errors in the specification. One big portion of getting it right was always the sales letter, which mine always described exactly what the equipment would do for the customer. The big advantage of designing custom equipment is having somebody tell you just exactly what it is that they need to achieve, and how fast and accurate the machine needs to be. So having clearly defined performance targets makes designing a system much simpler. NOT EASIER, but simpler. And on occasions I would have to tell them that what they asked for would not work, and then suggest an alternative that we could certify would deliver what they needed. I did make us a few friends that way, since it saved them from wasting both money and time. When you can make your customers engineers look good to their bosses you have made a friend indeed. A great way to get more business.

William K.
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Re: Testing is only interesting to engineers.
William K.   2/27/2014 8:58:38 PM
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Charles, that things work right the first time were not the bosses goals, they were his demands. It was really flattering to find that they believed that it could happen, and the good news is that we usually did get things right the first time. But on occasions it was only right the first time the boss saw it. 

a.saji
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Re: Testing is only interesting to engineers.
a.saji   2/28/2014 2:44:37 AM
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@Charles: I think itís a risk since then you will not figure out the mistakes. When you get the feeling that everything works perfectly at the very 1st sitting then the risk is really high 

kwcclark
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A twofer.
kwcclark   6/23/2014 4:24:39 PM
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Here's a twofer for you.

Nevil Shute, author of No Highway in the Sky was also an Aeronautical Engineer.

 

 

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