I can't prove this, TunaFish#5, but I suspect a lot of people (like my lawyer friend) don't know the difference between an engineer and a mechanic. Part of it comes from the common abuse of the word "engineer" -- as in "sanitary engineer" or "building engineer." The lines get blurred.
Today I read in Automation World Magazine a quote from the CEO of Rockwell Automation, Mr. Keith Nosbusch, saying the same thing that I have been asserting for several years, but in a slightly different context: "Real customer value is created when raw data is converted to information then into knowledge and ultimately into wisdom".
My assertion has been that raw data is of marginal value until it can be assembled into knowledge, which becomes valuable when it leads to insight and understanding.
The quote came from an article that was discussing "big data" and the potential to gain some benefit from it. My feeling is that in the string of articles in this December 2013 issue there was a great deal of "sunshine" created but not a whole lot of information presented. I am sure that a few recall the comments about "sunshine", so I won't elaborate on that.
But the important reality is that we understand that the data by itself is not a big benefit.
Before desktop computers, we worked with paper drawings. One day while looking at a crane design, my mentor said "Turn the drawing upside down. Now, what do you see?" Many times, leaps (sometimes small) in engineering are created because somebody forgot to tell them "It can't be done!"
I have a bruise on my chest from where my jaw hit it when I read your lawyer anecdote. I shouldn't, but I do.
On a related note, I was in the hardware store a couple weeks ago chatting with an employee at the bolt boxes. He related his recent experience about a young man who came in looking for a replacement bolt. The HW guy asked him what size he needed. The customer said, "They come in different sizes?!"
Having more technology in life does not lead to more people having more technological aptitude or awareness of technology -- in fact at this point in the various industrial/technical revolutions, I think technology actually masks itself, making people less aware of the nature of their tools. This is why I shudder at the arguments that computers in classrooms inherently add value -- especially in association with MSTE education.
As it turns out, the main reason that computers at value in classrooms nowadays is because they provide the only medium ("multimedia") that so many modern American children are used to interfacing.
There's a lot of ignorance surrounding the engineering profession, bobjengr. When I was working as an engineer, a lawyer once asked me, "So what do you do, fix refrigerators?" That in itself wasn't so bad, but when I explained to him that someone has to design products like cars and airplanes, he really seemed baffled. He had never thought about the need to design a product. He told me he had always thought that design was something that was confined to architecture.
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