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Becoming An Expert -- Part 2

DrD

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Mechanics Corner
    A Journal of Applied Mechanics and Mathematics by DrD
    © Machinery Dynamics Research, 2016


Becoming An Expert -- Part 2

    

Introduction

    In the previous article on How To Become An Expert, I covered a lot of points in generalities with some short anecdotes from my own experience. In this article and the next, I will describe in considerably more detail a critical period in my own formation, an time of considerable professional embarrassment which was a real spur to learning.
    In the summer of 1974, I took a position as the head of the engineering analysis section with a large diesel engine distributor in Houston, TX. This company purchased diesel engines, mostly from General Motors (GM) and packaged them on a skid with some driven machine such as a generator, a pump, air compressor, or other driven machine, along with the required controls. For me, it was a fascinating place to be as I had always been intrigued by diesel engines. I soon found out how little I actually knew about the whole matter.
    The analysis section consisted of three other engineers (two men from India and a lady from Turkey) and myself. The men were there before I came, and I hired the lady. They were all good workers, but they were best at following directions. They did not ask "Why?" very often. If this is the way it had been done previously and nobody objected, they would repeat that same pattern over and over without wondering why we do it that way. More about that aspect later.
    This was a time of great activity in terms of nuclear power plant construction in the USA, and the company was building a lot of very large engine-generator sets to serve as standby power in nuclear power plants. In a nuke plant, pumps continuously supply cooling water to the core to take away the heat and as a means to move heat to the steam generators. If those pumps fail for any reason, the core can over heat and meltdown, a major catastrophe. The great fear was that the pumps would lose power from their regular supply, in which case the standby generators would need to start up and provide power to the pumps. The proposed cause of loss of power was an earthquake, and that meant that the standby generator set must survive the earthquake and be able to start and run.

BecomingAnExpert--Part2.pdf



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Feeling very motivated to go through your experiences, sir. i am in second year of my B.Tech Mechanical course and I have been waiting for some excellent personalities like you to explain what real engineers are gonna do once they get their degree. Thank you very much sir. 

 

 

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You are certainly welcome, Naresh.

Let me give you a tip: Do not write "gonna" but instead write it correctly as "going to." "Gonna" is poor pronunciation slang, and marks you as a non-professional, not what you want!

DrD

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The world has become less formal on the surface but the incorrect use of the language is still a metric when assessing people’s ability, whether admitted or not. Two lessons have stayed with me for many years.

The first was during my early days in industry. Acronyms and office jargon are common in engineering organizations. The first business letter I wrote, intended to go outside the corporation required a signature two levels above me. The senior engineer whose signature I required came to see me and explained that the use of office jargon should not be used in official documents. Today I see a lot of articles online that use abbreviations in titles and never explain what they mean, a different issue but the same sloppiness. 

Another lesson came while attending the Lockheed Leadership Institute. What sounds so obvious is often over looked. Simply, the spoken word is not the same as the written word. When proof reading my own writing I often find I have made that mistake. The inflections in your voice or body language often fill the gap for incomplete sentences, which if written would otherwise be confusing or misleading. When giving a speech the best way to lose the audience is to write out word-for-word what you want to say and then read it word-for-word. In my opinion this is a big problem with texting and e-mails. We write as if we were speaking real time, but there is a time delay between exchanges which may be short but are longer than in live conversations by phone or in person.

One other lesson I learned from a friend’s embarrassment, was the use of colorful language at the wrong time. In my early days in industry the use of foul language in the office was common. It would be cleaned up if women or guests were present and not continued outside the office. My friend was from Germany and served during World War II; I add that fact to indicate the era in which he grew up. He used colorful language at a dinner party and coworkers called him aside. My friend told me that in Germany you would never use language in the office that you would not use in mixed company.

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JAG,

Thanks for the comments. Very interesting, and certainly informative. I think that these matters are particularly important for the readership of ME Forums. I am amazed at the English slang that gets written here, particularly "gonna" for going to, "u" for you, and similar corruptions. This just will not fly in the professional world!

DrD

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Arash,

I presume from the link that you are attempting to educate me on proper English. Let me tell you something. Engineering is never informal and rarely neutral. What does that leave? It leave formal English as the appropriate way to write about Engineering matters.

DrD

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Dear DrD

I am so much grateful that i found this site. I learned a lot from your first entry and everything you've wrote there were correct and helpful. Knowing the roots is the best way than to memorize the equation.  i can still remember those times that i am studying a day before the major exams that makes me exhausted and when the exam proper came along, i almost forgot everything that i have studied. Since it is summer vacation here in my country, i do some advance study and i will use every single tip that i've encountered here. Thank you so much! 

-brylle

BS Mechanical Engineering Student

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Dear Brylle,

I'm glad that you find the tips helpful.

You mention that it is summer vacation in your country, so I presume you are in the northern hemisphere, but that still leaves a lot of territory. Where are you? How far along are you?

DrD

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Dear Prof. Hartwell,

Thank you for sending a copy of your very interesting paper. I need more time to work through it thoroughly, but from even a cursory glance I can see that you address a problem that has long been of great concern to me. There needs to be much more discussion of this matter.

My own experience as an expert witness is limited, but it was very intense at one time. I was employed by a company that had done business with the US Army, any my employer was suing the Army. The basis of the suit was that the Army had put a design out for construction bids with very loose tolerances. The kicker was that there was also a performance specification to be met by the product. The implication in the original bid package was that the full range of tolerances could be used and the product would be expected to meet the performance specification. This was a highly competitive bidding situation, such that 1/2 cent difference in the unit price would win or lose the bid.

My company won the contract, but they soon learned to their dismay that products that were entirely within the design tolerances could often still fail the performance specification. The Army had simply opened up the tolerances to bring the price down, but they then demanded that the material still meet the performance specification. No one could not about this problem at the bid time. It eventually drove my employer to bankruptcy and they vanished from the American industrial scene after being in business for over 100 years.

My job in the law suit was to do the necessary kinematic and dynamic analysis to show the effects of tolerances, to show analytically that the design was inadequate as it was put out for bid. I was on the witness stand for several days, grilled by attorneys from both sides. I was astounded at the way these men (the attorneys were all men) could twist words, change the meaning of a simple phrase, and skillfully distort the truth. It has made me very distrustful of attorneys ever since. I know that they can easily be lying snakes, can say anything, and have no interest at all in the turth (unless it happens to be to their benefit, but an untruth is offten preferred).

One day, during a break in the trial, I found myself alone in an elevator with the opposing attorney, an Army Colonel; this never should have happened, but it did. I said to him, 'Colonel, the problem with you is that you do not try to understand." His answer has stuck with me 45 years. He said, "That's my job." I thought I would vomit! To be dedicated to winning, rather than truth, is totally repulsive to me. No doubt that is why he was an attorney and I was just an engineer and professor of mechanical engineering.

Thank you for a very thought provoking paper, and I would welcome anything more you have written in this area.

DrD

 

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Dear DrD,  Thank you for that interesting insight,  The competitive ethic of a modern lawyer is utterly opposed to a scientific attitude that makes the truth supreme.  It is also contrary the John Rawls's idea of Justice as Fairness.

Your account reminds me of the time I invented a mass-balanced relay to resist rotational acceleration (in a guided missile).  The drawings were toleranced and I had a batch of a dozen made in the model shop,

They were fine, so I had a pre-production batch made.  They didn't work.  I was mortified,  "Back to the drawing board."

In my investigation, I went back to the modelmaker.  He told me, "Oh, yes." he said, "We had to shave a bit there, to ease them."  As a craftsman, he had used his initiative.  They had taken off less than a 1/4 mm with fine emery cloth (the model maker's companion tool).  As I recall the relay armature was interfering with the bodies,  Thr draughtsman had rounded the dimension of the prototype.

I had the tolerances amended and even the pre-production batch could be recovered - although that required dis-assembly and re-assembly.  In contrast with your case, we were on a cost-plus contract.

It works both ways.  When the Swift aircraft was discontinued (I was with another company), our management gave instructions that everything, including scrap, that could be found in the factory, should be transferred to the Swift project, to be valued by the Client's auditors, 

A number of my papers are listed on my sites at http://geoffrey.beresfordhartwell.com/ and at http://www.arbitrator-engineer-gbh.co.uk/papers.  It's a hobby-horse of mine.

Aye
Geoffrey.

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