Monday, May 18, 2009

Engineering FUNdamentals -- the Programmer and the Engineer

Folks have said a lot of things about engineers, such as, "The adult human body has 206 bones... except for engineers who have 205. They're missing a funny bone." But I don't believe it. Just the other day I overheard a biomedical engineer relating this story...

A programmer and an engineer are sitting next to each other on a long flight from Los Angeles to New York. The programmer leans over to the engineer and says, "I hate these long flights. Boring, ya' know? How about we play a game to pass the time?" The engineer just wants to nap, so he politely declines and rolls over to the window to catch a few winks.

The programmer, one of those persistent types who interprets "no" to mean "go ahead, ask me again," says, "Look, it's easy, it's fun, it'll pass the time."

The engineer grunts and burrows deeper into the seat. The programmer taps him on the shoulder. "I ask you a question, and if you don't know the answer, you pay me $5. Then you ask me a question, and if I don't know the answer, I pay you $5."

Getting a bit ticked off, the engineer glares at the programmer and declines -- more forefully than before -- then turns over again to sleep.

The programmer, now somewhat agitated, says, "OK, if you don't know the answer, you pay me $5, and if I don't know the answer, I'll pay you $50!"

This catches the engineer's attention, and since there seemed no other way to shut up the programmer, he agrees to play the game. The programmer asks the first question: "What's the distance from the Earth to the moon?"

The engineer doesn't say a word, but simply reaches into his wallet, pulls out a five-dollar bill, and hands it to the programmer. Now, it's the engineer's turn. He asks the programmer, "What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down on four?"

A dark, puzzled look takes over the programmer's face. Frantic, he fires up his laptop computer and searches all of the reference texts on his hard drive. Nothing. He checks the Library of Congress webpage. Nothing. He sends instant messages to his programmer friends. Nothing. Frustrated, he emails his old professors -- all to no avail. After about an hour, he nudges the engineer and hands him $50. Without saying a word, the engineer pockets the $50, turns away and tries to get back to sleep.

The programmer, more than a little miffed, shakes the engineer again and says, "Well, what's the answer?" Without a word, the engineer reaches into his wallet, hands the programmer $5, then turns away and goes to sleep.

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