The Language of Engineering

Unlike most of industry, the end-product of the engineering profession is mostly paper. The work which we do culminates when we turn over the documentation necessary to build a new device. We in the engineering community must communicate well.

The result of such a high standard is that we learn to communicate effectively with technical people. True enough, engineers can often be found speaking to one another on topics which the rest of the educated world passes by. But everyday things can also be expressed in engineering terms which can be most profoundly understood by engineers and technicians alone. Thus, when engineers look into their word hordes they carry the burden of having things to say which no one can really understand.

For example, electrical engineers think about the operating regions of transistors. I suppose that if I said that a romantic relationship was no longer operating in the active region but in saturation, no one would know what I was talking about. Some people would have a good guess, but only a few would have the profound understanding that a person who designs with transistors does. Building an amplifier makes all the difference.

How about positive feedback? To most people, this means verbal support and assent. But an engineer might use the term positive feedback to describe something that is unstable or has gotten out of control. A political debate can become a positive feedback situation. When a person proofreads another's writing and the latter says, "give me some feedback," this approaches somewhat closely the engineering concept of negative feedback, but perhaps only engineers think much of how such an iterative process results in equilibrium at the final, optimal value. Of course our use of the word feedback is more likely to cause confusion in the minds of others than our avoiding it.

When my living space gets too unruly, I go into cleaning mode until everything gets neated up to a high degree--neater than what I tolerate most of the time. Then, as a matter of course, everything slowly goes toward disorder according to the second law of thermodynamics. I do nothing until it gets bad again and the cycle repeats. I think to myself that my cleaning and organizing occur on a Schmitt-triggered basis. Yeah, lots of people work that way, but they wouldn't understand. Nevermind. I'll just say that I think of myself as a neat person.

Once I tried to build a power supply circuit with a commercially available chip. The age old struggle for electrical engineers has been to design a switching power supply without electrical noise. So it is that Jim Williams, in Linear Technology Corporation's Application Note 70 on the successful LT®1533, brings to our minds, out of context, the words of Shakespeare:

Silence is the perfectest herald of joy...

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