Sunday, March 29

Rocket Science

At any moment in time, someone, somewhere is explaining a detail-ridden procedure of some sort to a group of people. Receiving nothing but blank stares, that person, in desperation, blurts out "This isn't rocket science!".

The punch line of this is that the person doesn't realize he's explaining the procedure to a bunch of rocket scientists.

It's a Utah joke. Supposedly this happened at Morton Thiokol, the Utah folks who make the SRB's for the Space Shuttle.

OK, so everything doesn't need to be rocket science. But interestingly enough, I was inclined to blurt out the rocket science bit last week while watching one of my classmates attach a part to another assembly with screws.1 The assembly was of such mass that it could be picked up and rotated on a table top so as to make assembly easier. In other words, to allow gravity to be your friend rather than your enemy.

Consider this: two screws need to be attached to a part. The part can be rotated in six different axes; think of this as a cube. The screws need to find purchase in threaded holes. In only one axis are the screw holes visible.

The room is bright - there are fluorescent lights above. It is also daytime. The person doing the assembly is not blind. And we have not worked on this machine long enough to say that we can work on them with our eyes closed. With me so far?

I'm watching all of this with another classmate - I start vibrating in anguish and use every nerve I have left to keep from grabbing the whole mess away from him and doing it myself. And even at one point glance up to see the other classmate glancing back and smiling; she, too, appears to be vibrating in anguish.

In thirty-plus years in this business I've learned that gravity is your friend, and it's OK to use your friend however you see fit. So if you can manipulate this friend to your advantage, then do so.

The answer would have been to rotate the intended assembly vertically so that not only would the threaded screw holes be visible from above, but that the screws themselves would be inserted from above. And if the screws should become dislodged from one's grip, they'd be right there to grab.

Putting the screws in from the side - any side - where you cannot see the holes, doesn't do anyone any good.

Eventually, after much tribulation and trial, the classmate finally did get the screws in. And it wasn't until later in the class when a conversation got around to discussing two-dimensional bar codes that this same classmate asked "Why not three-dimensional?", that I realized the problem.

Obviously, there was a disconnect in the third dimension.

Rocket science indeed.

1 During the entire three days of class, I did not mention my blog even once. Sure, I had my bob's bs journal out in which to take notes, but nowhere is the website address listed. So when I speak of my classmates, I feel rather secure in the knowledge that none of my classmates will ever read my blog. Or know that this post is written about them.

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