As you can see, I’ve called this a saga rather than a memoir. An ongoing saga is how I view my sudden desire to become an engineer instead of a writer. It’s a current force of drama in my life because, although three of my children will be grown up or practically grown up by the time I finish, I still have many family responsibilities at this moment. In short, life is very different now from the days when I finished my first degree. For a start, I have no desire to join in the educational bubble, thereby putting my family into further debt, so I’ve decided to pay for school myself. Yesterday, when I posted, I didn’t have a job. Today I (probably) do. This is good. This means I can work part time and save money for spring semester and, hopefully, manage to keep my job throughout so I can continue paying for classes.
But why did I choose mechanical engineering? Many people have asked me that, and my usual answer is that it is a very broad engineering discipline, allowing for a range of job opportunities (never mind that I secretly just want to build robots). What if I could design something useful, though? What if I could design medical equipment for disabled people, for example? I like that idea. But, honestly, mechanical engineering runs the gamut of new and inventive designs from bicycles and mechanized body parts to spacecraft. The sky’s not even the limit, really, as long as my creativity knows no bounds. I’m teaching myself to be a more creative person. Is that possible? Yes, I think it is.
In any case, mechanics are fascinating. Rube Goldberg understood very deeply just how fascinating they are, in and of themselves. Although based off rather simple physical properties, they can be incredibly complex for the most basic results. Al-jazari’s elephant clock (pictured above) is a medieval example of simple physical properties, complex parts, with the basic result of telling time. It’s very much an artistic, Goldberg-like invention. To save me from an in-depth explanation of its working parts, here’s the Wiki description:
The timing mechanism is based on a water-filled bucket hidden inside the elephant(underneath the head). In the bucket is a deep bowl floating in the water, but with a small hole in the centre. The bowl takes half an hour to fill through this hole. In the process of sinking, the bowl pulls a string attached to a see-saw mechanism in the tower on top of the elephant. This releases a ball that drops into the mouth of a Serpent, causing the serpent to tip forward, which pulls the sunken bowl out of the water via strings. At the same time, a system of strings causes a figure in the tower to raise either the left or right hand and the mahout (elephant driver at the front) to hit a drum. This indicates a half or full hour. Next the snake tips back. The cycle then repeats, as long as balls remain in the upper reservoir to power the emptying of the bowl.
Engineers, in general, often have a bizarre artistic streak. They seem to be in touch with the universal notion of absurdity. Perhaps, there is an absurdist muse who reaches out and touches their souls. Well, I’ve certainly been touched with that muse my entire life. So has my dad, who, by the way, is a retired engineer. Study my dad’s rhino painting below and try to figure that one out. If you want to see more, go here.