Letters 12/8/2011

Dec. 8, 2011
Engineer movies and sprinklers to fight fires

Engineer movies and sprinklers to fight fires
Editor Stephen Mraz asked his blog readers to suggest films that might make up a list of the all-time greatest engineering movies. Here are some of the suggestions. And Leland Teschler’s blog on mandating sprinklers in homes also garnered some reader responses.

Engineering entertainment
There are a bunch of good, thoughtful engineering movies out there. One I thought was action-packed was “Shooter.” The main character is a hit man who uses his math skills to make certain shots. Another good one was “PI” about a math wiz who took on journeys.

Kevin Mullen

“The Right Stuff.”

Dan DaSilva

“Apollo 13”

Rom Henderson

“Flash of Genius”

Alex Ramos

“Armageddon” is chock-full of engineering challenges that are accepted and met by men of heroic, yet human, proportions. It’s hard to beat as one of the best engineering movies ever. It’s got action. It’s got romance. It’s got memorable characters (Rockhound - “Embrace the horror, boys!”). It’s got patriotism that gives me goosebumps. Plus, it’s all about how people with practical skills and can-do attitudes, and isn’t that the definition of an engineer). And they push aside the bureaucrats and bean-counters and save the world.

Jim Million

“Wizard of Menlo Park”

Jim Sawyer

Another for “Apollo 13” and “Real Genius.” And don’t forget “Mosquito Coast” and that TV series “Salvage 1.”

Andy W.

What about “Fat Man and Little Boy?”

Nick Swartz

You’ve got to see “Primer.” It’s a low-budget indie film, but perfectly captures my experience as an engineer.

Kevin Albertsen

“Cheaper by the Dozen.” Frank and Lillian Gilbreth lead the charge for efficient manufacturing as they raise 12 children.

Maricka Roger

“Flight of the Phoenix” is certainly a good pick. It is a great exploration of complex characters as they come together to engineer an escape from a desperate situation. “Apollo 13” likewise should be right up there. It was all about engineering a solution on the fly.

Mike Hollingsworth

“October Sky,” the story about the “Rocket Boys.” It’s set in the time right after the Russian Sputnik was launched into space.

Leonard Kikstr

I’m surprised nobody mentioned “The Dam Busters.” It documents how British engineer Barnes Wallace developed a bouncing bomb used to attack hydroelectric dams critical to Germany’s war production in World War II. Special effects are okay by 1950s standards, but still intriguing and well acted. Definitely an engineer’s war movie.

Ralph Reinhardt

“Terminators,” “Transformers,” “Star Trek,” and “Batman.”

Rob McMillen

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” And the “Flubber” movies.

Andy W.

Another vote for “Primer.”

Dustin J.

“From the Earth to the Moon” TV miniseries. The scene where everyone says they can meet the schedule until someone admits they can’t, then everyone says “I could use a couple more weeks, too,” is priceless. Panning back to see all the baseballs on the roof, thrown by the Grumman chief engineer while they were building the Lunar Lander is also priceless.

David Fox

I’d like to mention “Spitfire”. This story tracks the development of one of the best fighter aircraft of World War II and the man behind it. Produced in 1942, with David Niven and Leslie Howard, it not only addressed the aircraft’s development, but also the effort to get it accepted.

Richard Beemer

How about “Iron Man.” It’s all about engineering. Even when Tony Stark doesn’t have all his computer-aided equipment, he can take it back to the basics and still build the unimaginable. An engineer that’s not to good to get dirty.

Paul Rizzo

Iron Man is an entertaining movie but consider this: Tony Stark cobbles together an iron-man suit in a primitive workshop and this suit works the first time, but the version he puts together in a state-of-the-art lab has a number of glitches??? — Leland Teschler

A sprinkler system in every house?
Fire-safety codes have already gotten completely out of control. We don’t need more regulations.
Homeowners already have the option to install kitchen grease-fire suppression systems while maintaining smoke/fire detectors throughout the house. Add in a CO detector in the room housing the furnace and hot-water heaters, and most homeowners would be well protected. Current regulations are enough and anything beyond that adds cost for minimal benefits.

Common sense and consumer responsibility should be guide in our regulations.

Chris Jennings

It makes more sense to mandate smoke alarms that are hard-wired to the house’s electrical system with batteries as a backup. It’s much less expensive and much-more effective at saving lives.

TJ McDermott

I wonder at the cost of maintaining a sprinkler system and the damage that could be caused by failed pipes. I would bet that the probability of damage due to failed pipes or sprinkler heads would be many times that of a fire.

Smoke detectors provide the life-saving warning at a fraction of the cost, but still are lacking in many homes. We cannot force people to be responsible.

Ken Beatty

An experienced electrical inspector I know disagrees with the mandate for home-sprinkler systems. His experience shows that most damage in house fires is limited to smoke damage. He surmises that an activated sprinkler would drastically increase damage and claims. Currently, damage is often limited, thanks to the increased use of smoke detector and improved response times from fire departments (even the rural, volunteer ones). So, for all we know, the personal-injury statistics could be unaffected by a mandate for sprinklers, especially as the mandate would only apply to new construction.

So maybe there should be a requirement that smoke detectors automatically call the local fire department. I know of one case where an automatic call through an ADT system prevented major damage from a overheated coffee pot in an unoccupied house. I know of another case where a secluded home burned to the ground. The residents escaped but couldn’t get to a phone to call the fire department until it was too late.

Dan Wortman

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

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