Letters - 03/20/2008

March 20, 2008
It’s always a pleasure reading your editorials, even (or rather, especially) when they address controversial issues.

I appreciate that you do not shrink from saying what should be said, even when it’s politically incorrect to do so.

Case in point: Your editorial on the auto industry (“Don’t hold your breath,” Oct. 25). There have been instances of colossal stupidity at the top of U.S. car companies. Former Ford leader Jac Nasser, for example, managed in one idiotic moment of venting to antagonize a large part of his company’s professional work force when he said the company’s problems could be traced to all the “old white men” they had. Ford’s Board should have fired him on the spot. Instead they let him run unchecked for several more years before they got up the gumption to pull the plug on him. Was the responsibility for the hole he got Ford in entirely his, entirely the Board’s, or shared?

However, none of this rivals the UAW’s incredible insistence on inflexible work rules and an adversarial “us versus them” attitude toward employers. This type of thinking totally ignores the fact you can’t get any more golden eggs once you’ve killed the goose. The UAW treated the Big Three like a milk cow, but one they never thought needed any hay. Meanwhile, back in Japan, and now Korea, India, and China, most folks can see that their employers’ best interests usually coincide with their own, and have been acting accordingly.

In any case, thank you for letting me vent, and keep saying what you see to be the truth. Perhaps you can make just one person question whether ideology and political correctness are proper foundations for engineering decisions.

Robert Chafin

In reading of your plight with compact fluorescent lamps (“Are CFLs really a bright idea” Jan. 24), I wondered how far north you live. I would bet that if you had taken the failed CFL bulb into your nice warm house and out of the cold garage, it would have worked fine for many more hours if allowed to warm up. The 4-ft fluorescent tubes in my (unheated) garage, which work fine all summer, don’t come on when it is 11°F out. But they work again when spring arrives. Making that little bit of mercury vaporize at 11°F is a serious challenge.

I do agree with your objection to light-bulb legislation. Making incandescent effectively illegal will just lay the groundwork for a black market with ridiculous prices for them. Who benefits from that? Also, my house is filled with little frosted incandescent bulbs trying to look like flames. How am I going to replace those?

Jon Kriegel

I tried taking the CFL bulb indoors to resuscitate it, but it was still dead as a door nail. And it wasn’t really that cold in the garage. Average temperatures there were are in the 30°F range when the bulb expired, with spurts into the 40s. I still suspect it was the short on/off cycles rather than the temperature that did the damage. — Leland Teschler

I have to agree with you about CFLs (compact florescent lights). I have used them at work and at home, and their lifetime is not as long as that of an incandescent lamp. I used to put one in a desk lamp, but I ended up replacing it about every two months. I thought it was the lamp, and so purchased a new one. I got the same results. So I went back to incandescents. At work, we have had to change a number of CFLs that were not switched off and on, but were always left on. They only lasted about four months. Incandescent lamps would last over a year.

I think testing for MTBF (mean time before failure) is not looking at the proper parameters.

Chuck Simpson

I would like to tell Leland that his editorial (“Finally, the truth about engineering jobs,” Dec. 8) hit the nail on the head. His remarks have been way over due. At the age of 60 and retiring soon, I can speak from experience. Corporate America does not have the best interest of engineers or scientists in any of their schemes or plans. It is all about greed. And they have a lot of people, such as lobbyists, backing them up.

One of the disappointments I have is with organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). It seems to me they only take the side of lobbyists and multinational corporations, not the American workforce. Given the amount of off-shoring taking place, why would a college student consider engineering? It is easy to see that corporations are not considering employees. Why else would nations such as Vietnam now be considered prime locations.

Randy Juras

It is impossible for someone to get a mechanical-engineering education (in 4 or 5 years) that will let them go into a company and be fully prepared to do the tasks required. The mechanical engineering field is just too diverse. Our schools are trying to produce graduates who can work effectively in industry but schools cannot offer all the specialized instruction that it would take to do that. It is just unrealistic to expect a college grad to have the skills for all the unique mechanical- engineering tasks carried out in America.

The job of designing, for example, takes skills that can be improved and refined by education. But the “feel” and “vision” required for a good designer are attributes that are second nature to some people and nonexistent in others. Some people just aren’t cut out for the job of designing things.

I have seen experienced engineers refuse to mentor newly hired graduates. I do not understand this attitude. It is difficult for me to remember how ignorant I was when I began working in the engineering field. Early in my career I had several mentors who guided me and improved my education. I have been a mentor to many younger engineers and have found great joy in their successes.

Passing a professional engineer examination demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the fundamentals of specific engineering tasks. It does not prove or guarantee a persons value as an engineer.

Glen C. Danner

I am writing to clarify some information regarding the tensile strength of carbon nanotube tethers published in an article (“Building a tug-of-war machine,” Jan. 10).

The article, quoted me stating that Dr. Alan Windle at the University of Cambridge had announced production of 20-GPa nanotube yarns. We now know Dr. Windle has not announced yarns exhibiting these strengths. Furthermore, which was not clear when the article was written, the ultrahigh tensile-strength numbers that have been reported for nanotube tethers lately refer to strength over the material’s gage length (which tends to be millimeter-length segments of fiber) as opposed to the strength of a larger tether.

Nonetheless, we appreciate the publicity and are delighted your publication has taken interest in the space elevator cause (as fantastic as it may be). As an ambassador to these new technologies I felt it necessary to clarify any information which may misrepresent the current state of the art. — Stephen Steiner, Team DeltaX, teamdeltax.com

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