16 March 2007

Iron Ring Ceremony

This weekend, my wife and I are traveling back to our alma mater to attend her youngest sister's Iron Ring ceremony. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the Iron Ring is a symbol of pride and humility for Canadian engineers. It originated in 1925, soon after the completion of the famous Quebec Bridge (which I had the pleasure of visiting in August), which, in addition to having the longest cantilevered bridge span in the world, also experienced two collapses during construction which killed 86 workers in total. The Iron Ring is meant to remind those entering the profession that when they screw up, people die.

Ok, that's a little melodramatic, but it still symbolizes that our first duty is not to the client but to the safety of those who would be affected by our works.

The Iron Ring itself is no longer iron; it's stainless steel, and it's worn on the pinky. It's given out in a special, secret, hokey, and cultish ceremony that usually only attended by other engineers. And if I tell you what goes on in it, I'll have to kill you. It's kinda like the Stonecutters.

What's frightening about this weekend is that, in about two months, my sister-in-law and her classmates are actually graduating from engineering. They are so young. And stupid. Hell, I wouldn't trust them to design a cardboard box. Good thing that they can't work alone as professional engineers until they get 4 years work experience as an engineers-in-training.

It seems like just yesterday, but was it really only 2 years ago that I was TAing her class in 2nd year mechanics? I have to give some background on this. I was in the 2nd year of my masters in civil engineering. It didn't look like I was going to get a TA job that term, but at the last minute I was assigned to the dregs: 2nd year mechanics and materials for mechanical engineers. I don't even know why the civil dept teaches that class - for us, it's probably the worst class to TA: the class is too big, the material is too basic, and they aren't even in our department. Still, I needed the extra money so I kept quiet about the conflict of interest (ie. TAing my fiancee's sister) and took the assignment. So I guess if they're stupid, it's partially my fault. Anyway, don't worry about the conflict of interest; I played hardball with her when she came whining to me for 20 minutes about the 1/2 mark I took off (she's smart - I didn't have to take marks off very often). All of her classmates hate me though. You see, I was really strict with them and took off tonnes of marks for neatness and organization. Now all her classmates make fun of her because she's related to me, the mean, unlikeable TA.

I'm looking forward to going back and terrorizing them, but I've got some trepidation. It really doesn't seem like 2 years have passed. I feel like an old fart.

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At March 17, 2007 1:44 p.m., Anonymous Sarge said...

I have no such a thing as mathematic skill, but engineering has always really fascinated me.

I have visited the Hagia Sophia, the Sulimania, St Peter's, St. Paul's, the Pantheon, seen aquaducts and Roman roads. I've been in Trier, stood in the town gate where Constantine the Great stood once upon a time. Will people as far away in history to me as I was to Agrippa and Appius see anything we have built, still useable after all that time? Damn, I would have LOVED to have seen Sinan the Builder's bridge over the Drava.

An aunt (now deceased) was one of the first female aeronautical engineers in the US. Yet she hated to fly! We see things everyday, aircraft especially, which can take us so far out of the envelope of what our bodies are for that it just boggles my mind.

The town I live in has two features of engineering that were at one time the wonders of the 19th century world. We have a railroad bed which was designed to be a natural brake on a downslope as well as a more gentle incline to climb over the mountains from water level. Before that, during the canal boat transportation boom, there was a system designed which at the foot of the mountain a canal boat would be hoisted out of the water, seperated into three sections, put on flat cars and drawn by a donkey engine up the mountain on one side and lowered the same way down the other. Charles Dickens experienced this and I think it was the only thing that impressed him favorably on his trip in the US. The Roblings made the rope and cables for this, and used the knowledge in their construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.


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