Engineering a Song: A Lighter Way to Start the Weekend

March 25, 2005

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No politics. No religion. No NASCAR. Just a lighter topic to ease into Spring after enduring the frozen tundra that, this year, had been the East Coast.

Were someone to ask me what engineering organization first comes to mind, it would be the IEEE. While the SAE would be right up there, IEEE seems to be around every corner. Which is more respected? That would have to be a question for research professionals. They're apples and oranges, I suppose; two different organizations; two different (yet in some cases related) audiences and memberships. SAE's certainly been around longer (1905 compared to 1965 for IEEE), but maybe they need better PR and search engine optimization. IEEE shows up—somewhere—in nearly every engineering-related search. IEEE seems more active, though perhaps it's just more obvious with its broader mandate. Maybe it's just, well, cooler.

I've been kind of fried after the last several blog items. Yeah, I like to push buttons. That's part of what they're paying me to do. It seems some buttons have been pushed, and that's heartening. The best a writer (and I use the term loosely) can hope for is not so much even to be noticed as to help prompt a dialogue, even if that dialogue occasionally involves tempers and accusations. The occasional team cheer is nice, of course, but even the negative is a good thing since negativity—or, perhaps more accurately, the will to debate—indicates both passion and humanity. So, it all comes back to sacred elements.

Enough of that. Back to IEEE. I don't think there's a more prolific engineering organization on the face of the planet. So much wisdom there, so little time to learn more from it. The folks over at IEEE, though, don't just crank out publications for dweebs like me who want to burn the midnight oil and learn things. Case in point: the IEEE Virtual Museum. Every virtual museum I've ever visited has been unbearably, exceedingly painful, as though they're designed by 10 year-olds for 10 year-olds. (No, I don't have anything against 10 year-olds.) Not so with this one.

Try the first exhibit: Small Beginnings, from Tubes to Transistors. Anything that talks about ENIAC, vacuum tubes, and germanium transistors is just good, clean fun. Even the atmosphere in the 'museum' portion of the site is like a museum. Great photos; some old, some new. Substance. It's very well researched and presented in such a way that my blood pressure drops 10 points—as it does a real museum. Songs in the Key of E is their latest exhibit. Combining engineering with electricity to create music is fascinating. (With one exception: While I'm old enough to remember George Harrison's Electronic Sound album, I'd really rather not.) It's warming to see just one of countless forms of engineering that is so very human.

Take a break. Take a click through a museum, a virtual one that you might enjoy. Thanks, IEEE, for sometimes not taking things too seriously.

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