Author Topic: EEs and end of the world  (Read 13762 times)

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Offline KTPTopic starter

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EEs and end of the world
« on: June 10, 2010, 12:41:04 am »
Taking a break from studying for my circuits II final.

Hey so I was watching an old episode of Survivors (the british show from the 70s, not the Mark Burnett one) and started thinking about all of the times hollywood has gotten it right or wrong in relation to how electrical engineers would cope with a global "end of the world" type scenario (in Survivors it was a lab modified flu from which only about 1 in 10000 survived).  This reminded me of another show recently called The Colony (which actually had an engineer...he built a spark gap transmitter to signal for help) where an unexplained event had also caused a crash of civilization.  Survivors was totally fake hollywood, The Colony made some attempt to simulate real conditons, although things were greatly contrived (they "found" a warehouse full of solar panels and an inverter...etc.).

Assuming you survived the initial whatever (disease, meteor strike, etc.) and also survived the second wave which would probably end 50% of those who lived through the first (looting, other diseases, the unlucky 6 who happened to be on the ISS, etc.), do you think being an EE would be a greater advantage than some other profession?

In all of these shows, the one thing that everyone seems to grasp as a sign that times are getting better is the restoration of some form of power.  Really?  Seems so easy for us engineers...

Does anyone know of a book or movie or show that actually makes sense from an engineering prospective?

 
 

Offline NiHaoMike

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2010, 02:39:25 am »
The engineers will definitely have an advantage in such a situation.

Most likely, the next big crisis would be over energy. (The BP oil spill is just the beginning.) It won't be anywhere as catastrophic as Katrina was, but it would be full of chaos as the average American would not be prepared for it. I, as an environmentalist, would have a nice time on the news explaining how to save energy.
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Offline EEVblog

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2010, 03:02:04 am »
Assuming you survived the initial whatever (disease, meteor strike, etc.) and also survived the second wave which would probably end 50% of those who lived through the first (looting, other diseases, the unlucky 6 who happened to be on the ISS, etc.), do you think being an EE would be a greater advantage than some other profession?

Almost certainly. Engineers by their very nature are practical problem solvers and know how to sense and avoid problems, so that's gotta be pretty useful in the Mad Max/Snake Plisken future, surely?

Actually, that reminds me of a "team building" company thing I went to 15 years ago or so. The scenario was we were going to be stranded on an island or whatever, and we had to pitch our case for why we should be included in the limited slots available based on our skills etc. The group then debated those skills and how they would best apply. The practical engineers came out tops IRRC. Managers and directors ranked pretty low in the new world order, they didn't seem to help the cause!

Dave.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2010, 03:06:41 am by EEVblog »
 

Offline DJPhil

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2010, 03:40:56 am »
I fell in love with 60s and 70s scifi books (cheap at the bookstore) and they had a bit of a civilization collapse golden age for a while. I can give you the names of a few books and stories. Most of them rate fairly well in my mind for accuracy, but you'd have to judge for yourself how realistic they'd be. These authors represent what was once called 'hard scifi', which largely attempts to depart from the blatantly impossible and adhere to the vast majority of science as it was known at the time. I don't often find fiction in any form as dedicated to scientific rigor. That said, the raw engineering of post apocalyptic survival and quality of life improvement isn't often treated directly, but is woven into the context and background of a story. The following recommendations are likely to be best suited to someone who already likes science fiction, but is looking for more technical accuracy than your average Star Wars or Star Trek can provide.

The Postman - David Brin
Don't go by the movie, a lot gets lost translating it from the book. A post-apocalypse story following a down and out impostor who assumes the identity of a postal delivery worker. Not the strongest work in scientific accuracy, but there are subtle considerations made to circumstance and human interaction.

Earth - David Brin
Not so much a disaster book, but far and away my favorite work of fiction. It's a fifty year prediction written in 1988 about a man made disaster, but I think the genius of this work is in it's treatment of human relations. Absolutely brilliant and immersive storytelling. This book touches on almost every aspect of the future imaginable, from street gangs and their music, to household technology, transportation in an energy crisis, global warming, species preservation, the growing elderly population, and theoretical physics.

Lucifer's Hammer - Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
This one is an in-depth treatment of a comet impact and it's early aftermath. The memory of this book made me shake my head in disappointment as Hollywood went through it's 'Armageddon' and 'Deep Impact' phase. Hollywood turned this into a bit of a cliche, but it's the original and worth reading.

Inconstant Moon - Larry Niven
This is a short story from the age when it was an art form. I won't say much or I'll spoil it. It can be found in Larry Niven's compilation 'N-Space' and read within the bookstore, as it is less than thirty pages in small paperback form.

Tales of Known Space - Larry Niven
There are dozens of stories ranging from a few pages to novels written by Larry Niven that roughly adhere to a set of characters and a time line. These are collectively known as 'Known Space' stories, and are spread throughout his work. All told this strays quite far from post-apocalyptic engineering, but it's excellent scifi if you want to delve deeper.

The Foundation Series - Isaac Asimov
This series started as one of the earlier scifi works, so this one's a bit further out there. The series starts as a galaxy wide government in collapse refuses to acknowledge it's coming decline, and a scientist named Hari Seldon socially engineers his own exile to the outer reaches of the galaxy with the funding and planning to see the coming dark age through and reduce it's devastation. The interweaving of technology, politics, economics, and human nature are stunning, but to enjoy it you must forgive a certain quantity of the relatively unbelievable, such as telepathy and microminiature fusion batteries.

Emergence - David R. Palmer
Probably my favorite true post-apocalyptic scifi novel. This is one of those great books that just never got the recognition it deserved. This book follows an uncommonly smart 12 year old girl in her journey to reunite with humanity after world war three. It's quite an adventure, and may appeal to those who's tastes don't usually include science fiction.

There's a lot more good stuff out there, and more recommendations available, but I've already wandered a long way off topic.
I hope someone finds these useful, I do have a passion for good sci-fi. :)
 

Offline KTPTopic starter

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2010, 04:49:38 am »
Yes, I have read most of the books you listed, including the entire foundation series (long).

I don't remember any of them really treating the nitty gritty of engineering, but maybe because it would be boring to the general masses.

There was some bits of stuff in The Stand about rewinding blown generators at the hydroelectric plant (they all blew because when the survivors restarted them everything in town was still on...air conditioners, motors, lights, etc. and the initial surge was too much).  I doubt Mr. King researched this very much though as his focus was more on good vs evil.

There is too much *stuff* around nowadays for it to be a really interesting thought experiment.  Why would someone need to build a transmitter when they could just loot a radio shack and get a CB....well actually, I bet it is hard nowadays to actually find a CB...damn cell phones...

Maybe a more interesting scenario would be taking a modern day well educated electrical engineer and plopping them down 600 years ago.  What could they accomplish, assuming they had some assistance from the local blacksmiths and artisans.  Could they build a transmitter/receiver out of scratch built vacuum tubes?  A lead acid battery?  An electric motor?  (Actually, some form of internal combustion engine built 600 years ago would probably be the most jaw dropping).  I doubt anyone could build an IC much less a transistor in their lifetime if all they had was 15th century tech., but it is interesting to think about
 

Offline charliex

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2010, 04:52:16 am »
John cohn was that engineer guy, he's a really knowledgable cool dude, i was doing a project using RGB addressable strips and had been talking to him when i realised he was that guy from the colony.

total unix beard guy
 

Offline marianoapp

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2010, 05:25:45 am »
Maybe a more interesting scenario would be taking a modern day well educated electrical engineer and plopping them down 600 years ago.  What could they accomplish, assuming they had some assistance from the local blacksmiths and artisans.

i would probably modify an iron foundry to produce steel, and then sell the magic iron to buy a castle and a couple of wives

seriously, it would be really interesting to be in a situation like that and see what you can manage to do
i personally love to build stuff from scratch.. i still remember the acid battery i built when i was a kid, and it was really from scratch, i even made the sulfuric acid [at a very low concentration but it worked anyway]
 

Offline Simon

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #7 on: June 10, 2010, 11:58:16 am »
I know I'd survive better than most, but them most are plain stupid anyway because they drink down our superficial sociaty and the nothing it has to offer like there is no tomorrow. Nobody has hobbies any more nobody is practical but a few who like to be and a few more who are paid to be, but then some of the engineers i work with act like their past it anyhow  ;D
 

Offline saturation

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #8 on: June 10, 2010, 12:16:37 pm »
To survive you need the elements that you find in survival courses:

water
food
shelter
---> fire [ forgot to add!]

protection
medical care


If a single person doesn't have all such skills and you band for mutual support, then you are a tribe with next phase of civilization:

leader
police function
laws

NB: if you have reproduction, you'll have the very basics of survival down pat, because it potentially can kill the female and children cannot support themselves for many years.  

Electronics is one of the last things you need, you'll need a mechanical engineer type person.  Luckily most engineers are cross trained to know a little of everyone's specialty, and like all, are practical hands-on people.  The more abstract you are, like managers or data analysts, the less likely you have the basic skills, or the aptitude to learn, basic skills quickly.

All the 'reality' shows are contrived, in the real world, failure to act properly leads to harm or death, and without the true risk of bodily harm it isn't real.

Finally a key skill lost to modern folks is the capacity to kill with your hands; kill for food, butcher, and kill to protect.  If you watch Bear Grylls on his show, he knows how to kill and its one of the few shows to show it explicitly.


« Last Edit: June 10, 2010, 05:13:22 pm by saturation »
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Offline Ferroto

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2010, 12:35:31 pm »
Well I'd recommend reading the Art of War by Sun-Tzu. I would build some of the most barbaric weapons you could imagine, like a flyback transformer discharging 10000 volts into the door knob of what ever hut I'm living in would be a good example.

I would also start or join a village, and when it becomes self sustainable, I'd start expanding my territory. Hey somebody has to rebuild society.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2010, 12:41:05 pm by Ferroto »
 

Offline wd5gnr

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2010, 01:42:57 pm »
One of my favorite lighter sci-fi books is Harry Harrison's Deathworld trilogy. The 2nd book (which was originally serialized as "The Ethical Engineer") almost fits what you are talking about. Harrison's hero is a gambler who lives in a Universe where Earth colonized the stars and then had a collapse. Now they are spreading out again, but all these colonies have been isolated for several centuries (maybe more, I'm doing this from memory) and so they all dealt with the collapse in different ways.

Jason (the hero) gets stranded on this planet where the engineers have formed clans and they survive by keeping their secret from the other clans. So one clan knows how to do chemical engineering and one knows how to make motors. The mechanical clan go to great lengths to protect their motors from reverse engineering and they trade them for fuel. So each major specialty has its own clan and a fragile peace is maintained.

The passages where he works out the mixture for gunpowder (Star Trek's Arena made it much too easy) and when he takes apart failed engines to fix them are particularly good.

As a radio ham, I especially enjoyed his solution for how to get off the planet. That's all I will say about the story.

But I too have often thought if it all went down the tubes how much infrastructure could I personally rebuild? Yes, yes, I know its not the first order of business. But eventually you'd want some creature comforts. It also matters if you are wandering Earth with a lot of stuff to scavenge or if you are back in time or on another world and have to work with raw materials. With some skilled help I could make tubes, wires, and crude semiconductor devices. Although I am VERY familiar with how to make better semiconductors and ICs, I don't think I could recreate the raw materials (did you see the video of the home made IC? Poor quality and started with a silicon wafer, so that's cheating).

Another related thing that interested me. Fluidic logic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluidics) was well withing the construction capability of the ancient Egyptians. So what if instead of building pyramids they'd build a large computer using the Nile as motive power? What would they have done with it?

The Greeks were another set. They had Hero's engine and understood magnetism to some degree. They could have built electric generators. Imagine the Greeks with arc lamps and telegraphs! Possible but they didn't make the connections.

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Offline djsb

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #11 on: June 10, 2010, 04:10:23 pm »
If you watch Bear Grylls on his show, he knows how to kill and its one of the few shows to show it explicitly.

In between his stays in a local hotel

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/tv_and_radio/article2116195.ece

David.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2010, 04:14:35 pm by djsb »
David
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University Electronics Technician, London PIC,CCS C,Arduino,Kicad, Altium Designer,LPKF S103,S62 Operator, Electronics instructor. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Credited Kicad French to English translator.
 

Offline Time

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #12 on: June 10, 2010, 04:37:34 pm »
bear grylls << les stroud
-Time
 

Offline charliex

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #13 on: June 10, 2010, 04:45:30 pm »
less stroud gave up filming the series coz it was too hard ;)
 

Offline dmlandrum

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #14 on: June 10, 2010, 04:55:18 pm »
He still goes on survival trips. What was too hard was surviving AND filming himself at the same time.
Darren Landrum
 

Offline charliex

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #15 on: June 10, 2010, 05:04:55 pm »
right and so exactly hows that make him << than bear, who's smart enough to stay in a hotel and keep the show going ;) i'd call that surviving, not giving up.
 

Offline saturation

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #16 on: June 10, 2010, 05:20:15 pm »
Bear mostly demo's survival skills, because its hard to believe he's really 'alone' with a cameraman following him, compared to Stroud.  However, in his show they are quite explicit in how he dispatches animals, so no question Bear knows how to kill.

Stroud's show has always been more realistic but even he had a failsafe if he couldn't cut it anymore.  So without real risk, it truly isn't reality, its just a 'reality show': within the constraints of Hollywood and OSHA or the HSE in the UK.





bear grylls << les stroud
If you watch Bear Grylls on his show, he knows how to kill and its one of the few shows to show it explicitly.

In between his stays in a local hotel

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/tv_and_radio/article2116195.ece

David.
Best Wishes,

 Saturation
 

Offline Time

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #17 on: June 10, 2010, 05:26:20 pm »
Either way, I doubt either of them know a thing about electronics engineering.
-Time
 

Offline KTPTopic starter

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #18 on: June 10, 2010, 05:33:54 pm »
Ok I agree knowing about guns, camping, foraging, etc. would be the initial best skills.  At some point though people are going to form small clusters, probably in some sort of feudal system.  At that point they will want to exploit as many of the leftover gadgets as possible, but they will need people with electronic knowledge to do so.  Cell phones will be useless, as will Sat phones.  The primary means of keeping in touch with your barony? would probably be VHF radios as those are still really common in almost every boat.  There would be no regulation that says you must use them only on the water anymore.  Maybe the small FRS radios for short range communication.  They will need EEs to provide power, design antenna base stations, rig electric fences...hmmm a good auto mechanic would probably be just as valuable though...until the easy supply of gasoline runs out (years? or months?).

It is a very complicated scenario...perhaps that is why so many writers just play around the edges.
 

Offline charliex

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #19 on: June 10, 2010, 05:34:23 pm »
Ranulph fiennes is the proper one. I wonder if he knows about EE
 

Offline Simon

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #20 on: June 10, 2010, 05:37:12 pm »


All the 'reality' shows are contrived, in the real world, failure to act properly leads to harm or death, and without the true risk of bodily harm it isn't real.





reminds me of a reality/celebrity show in Italy where there had to live like romans, when it came to chopping fire wood they had to discontinue the second half due to the stupidity of the celebrities and their high level of skill in getting any peice of wood to become a missile instead of being cut, really the stuff they tried to cut wood was so stupid it was unbelievable
 

Offline KTPTopic starter

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #21 on: June 10, 2010, 05:42:08 pm »
There was a fairly good show on BBC called "Rough Science" which put a team of various engineers in a remote situation with a few odds and ends and had them solve tasks by building stuff.

I was only able to get episodes 3 and 4 on netflix, BBC will not provide the rest outside of UK  :-\
 

Offline charliex

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #22 on: June 10, 2010, 05:49:08 pm »
I think having a team of engineers would die out pretty quickly, they'd argue about titles, spec's and other minutia and gradually die from starvation.

As for reality TV shows, i have a special place in my heart for the hatred of them, they film a bunch of them in the building I live/work in, including a bunch of other shows, E shoots in the next couple of rooms, madmen is next door, so they're always in the hallways filming or generally getting in the way, jamming up the elevators with food and filming equipment, plus the starbucks is always full of slave interns getting 300 drinks each one individually crafted with about 20 different modifiers.

Then there are all the people in the shows, its not unusual to find drunken wannabe debutants passed out in the elevator. Still its entertaining for people that visit
 

Offline KTPTopic starter

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #23 on: June 10, 2010, 05:54:17 pm »
Ok it was not a team of all engineers on Rough Science.  I think they had a botonist, a chemist, a physisist, a EE, a outdoorsman type, and a geologist.

The EE built a metal detector to find gold in NZ on one episode, but it was a bit pitiful...it could detect a car maybe, if you were standing right next to it.
 

Offline wd5gnr

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #24 on: June 10, 2010, 06:47:52 pm »
In the US (and probably elsewhere) they have the show "Survivor" -- I only watched some of the first series and maybe one or two other episodes. But when I do see it, it amuses me. At least the first group had the excuse of not knowing what to expect. But every subsequent first episode that I've seen goes like this:

Announcer: Let's see how our survivors are making out with out fire!

Annoyed woman #1: Give me those sticks! You can't make fire like that.
Annoyed man #1: Isn't there a box of matches somewhere?
Annoyed woman #2: Matches? They said we could win those on day 4.

Everyone is cold and they have to eat raw food.

Now I'm no genius, but I think if I got a phone call that said, "Congratulations, Al, you've been picked to be on Survivor: Coney Island (or whatever)" I would not say, "Hey! That's great. I guess I'll learn how to make a fire after I get there. Let's party!" By the time I got there I'd be able to make fire in the dark, in the rain, using my shoelaces. What's really funny is they often have someone in their party who has glasses (duh) and I was really surprised on the first season that the "Navy Seal" didn't have enough E&E training to make a freaking fire.

Of course, they also wander a jungle full of food complaining that they are hungry. The one time some guy got nervy enough to kill a warthog it was an international incident.
 

Offline DJPhil

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #25 on: June 10, 2010, 07:31:25 pm »
Survivor: Coney Island

Now there's a thought.  :o
 

Offline A-sic Enginerd

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #26 on: June 10, 2010, 10:27:04 pm »
I think it's more than just the profession that matters. It's about the individual. I work with engineers that openly admit their idea of camping and "roughing it" is going on vacation to a place that doesn't have room service.

On the flip side I have a friend that is a general contractor, that raises buffalo on the side, and if there were anyone on the planet that could survive, my money would be on him.

Its about what you bring to the table with your life experiences and total knowledge as well as your mental disposition.

I would admit there is one distinct advantage that engineers, ANY engineer (not just EE), brings with them: critical thinking and problem solving.

Illustration of this is my own experiences. I've had a former job (before I was an engineer) where I dealt with a lot of different things, combined with wrenching on cars with my Dad since I was old enough to pick up a wrench. Working on an electronics circuit is no different than: plumbing water system, toxic gas system, high pressure gas system, vacuum system, etc. The specifics don't matter. It's the ability to look at a problem, analyze it, and derive a solution.

I've done and seen some pretty interesting and creative "redneck engineering" that was all about how to get a job done with what you had at hand. And how it was put together had nothing to do with having a degree in engineering.
The more you learn, the more you realize just how little you really know.

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Offline KTPTopic starter

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #27 on: June 10, 2010, 11:28:13 pm »
I've done and seen some pretty interesting and creative "redneck engineering" that was all about how to get a job done with what you had at hand. And how it was put together had nothing to do with having a degree in engineering.


I used to watch that show!  It was called Junkyard Wars.
 

Offline A-sic Enginerd

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #28 on: June 11, 2010, 12:03:13 am »
I've done and seen some pretty interesting and creative "redneck engineering" that was all about how to get a job done with what you had at hand. And how it was put together had nothing to do with having a degree in engineering.


I used to watch that show!  It was called Junkyard Wars.

That show was totally kick ass. My brother and I came incredibly close to putting a team together and submitting an application video. Still watch reruns that come on occasionally.
The more you learn, the more you realize just how little you really know.

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Offline KTPTopic starter

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #29 on: June 11, 2010, 12:21:06 am »
One of the best episodes of Junkyard Wars was when a team of Brits built an actually flyable airplane from junk parts in two days then the crazy blokes actually flew the thing hundreds of feet into the air doing loops and such.  I was totally impressed.
 

Offline DJPhil

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #30 on: June 11, 2010, 04:05:06 am »
One of the best episodes of Junkyard Wars was when a team of Brits built an actually flyable airplane from junk parts in two days then the crazy blokes actually flew the thing hundreds of feet into the air doing loops and such.  I was totally impressed.

Now that'd be a sight. I always seem to catch the dud episodes where both teams fail to make something simple.

Still, I'd rather watch Junkyard Wars reruns than some of the stuff on the Science Channel lately. It feels a bit dumbed down of late. Shows with names like 'Really Big Things' and such make me nostalgic for Nova. On the other hand, I'm often hypnotized by 'How It's Made', which I find easy to watch for hours. The Canadians make some really good television and radio programs that seem to go unnoticed.

Edit: I apologize, I just realized I've gone off-topic again. I promise to stay on track for the remainder of the thread.  :-[
« Last Edit: June 11, 2010, 04:07:04 am by DJPhil »
 

Offline merser

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #31 on: June 11, 2010, 05:10:27 am »
Hmm I've been thinking about this one a lot lately. While I don't believe in anything like 2012 I do think the world is in for some serious trouble post peak oil. Wars over resources have and will occur and increasing natural disasters like earthquakes and deathly storms will cause financial hardship. And greed in the financial sector will continue to bring about ever more serious recessions.
Engineers are needed now and always to minimize the effects of mother nature or our depleting resources and I just hope they can build us the alternative transportation and power stations in time that will see us through after peak everything.
 

Offline A-sic Enginerd

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #32 on: June 11, 2010, 06:34:07 am »
Hmm I've been thinking about this one a lot lately. While I don't believe in anything like 2012 I do think the world is in for some serious trouble post peak oil. Wars over resources have and will occur and increasing natural disasters like earthquakes and deathly storms will cause financial hardship. And greed in the financial sector will continue to bring about ever more serious recessions.
Engineers are needed now and always to minimize the effects of mother nature or our depleting resources and I just hope they can build us the alternative transportation and power stations in time that will see us through after peak everything.

Sad part is the engineers already have solutions. Politics is what kills the vast majority of them before they get off the ground. And who do you suppose has the politicians ears? ;)
The more you learn, the more you realize just how little you really know.

- college buddy and long time friend KernerD (aka: Dr. Pinhead)
 

Offline charliex

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Re: EEs and end of the world
« Reply #33 on: June 11, 2010, 05:02:37 pm »
prototype this was pretty good, pity they'll make no more
 


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