Monday, August 11, 2008

Technical Language

Engineering involves a lot of technical language, much of which is actually less complex than it sounds.

Take This cartoon involving two groups of people trying to out-engineer the other, one is trying to find the other without being detected, and the second is trying to foil this.

The ultimate gag is a "Connector Ejector" that causes a part to fall out of the opposing machine, sabotaging it. So the good guys find out where the evil guys are...but the evil guys know that they're coming.

Now the ultimate setup (each part involves the entire name of the previous part, for hilarious reasons,) is the "Quantum vector collector inspector detector deflector projector protector connector ejector." Certainly a complex sounding compound idea, but each of these can be broken down conceptually so that even a 4th grade student could understand it.

Quantum

From the Latin "Quantus," meaning "How much," it has come to mean "Immensely small, on the atomic scale." So this device involves really tiny particles.

Vector

A mathematical idea involving a number that is not only a quantity, but also a direction. Very commonly used in physics, where things like velocity and acceleration are affected not only by how much, but in what way. Changing directions affects things at least as much as speeding up or slowing down.

In this case, only the "direction" part matters. So far it is "using small particles to find a direction."

Collector

To "Collect" is to "Gather up." This is the villain's first counter measure, gathering up the quantum vectors so that the heroes cannot read them.

Inspector

To "inspect" is to "examine." This part of the device checks for the gathering of quantum vectors, and presumably has some way of retrieving them if they are being collected.

Detector

Like the inspector, the detector can tell if something happens...in this case, the villains can detect the snooping around of the heroes.

Calling a device a "detector" implies it to be more of a passive sensing than an "inspector." An "inspector" would actively search for the condition, while a "detector" would more passively watch for it.

If you can see the picture, it shows a smoke detector, a device that can sense if smoke is present in the room. Most smoke detectors I know aren't very good at it, being set off by cooking smoke, or even steam from a shower.

Deflector

To "Deflect" is to "bounce off." So this device would "bounce off" anything that the detector used to detect, foiling it. The heroes would then be free to find the villains without fear of detection.

Projector

Meaning "A device that throws forward." Most Americans are familiar with light projectors that project a still image on a flat surface, and film projectors, that does the same with a continuous film strip to produce a moving one.

This one "throws forward" something to harm the deflector, foiling the heroes' security system once again.

Protector

To protect something is to keep it safe from harm, so this device would somehow absorb or make harmless whatever it is that the projector throws forward.

Connector

Complex machines are not generated by magic. They are constructed from simpler machines, often factory made. These simpler machines must be connected together in the right configuration to do a complex job.

In fact, a modern computer could not be made by any one person anymore. You need a team of 20 to design even the central parts. The parts only work because the simpler parts (which one person knows how to make) can be connected together by experts until a complex design emerges.

So the villain's final stab at victory is to mess with his opponent's machine directly.

(Yes, the connection points ARE the weakest point in modern manufacturing. This will continue to be the case unless some kind of magical teleportation gets invented.)

Ejector

To "eject" is to "throw out." So an ejector throws something out of a machine. In this case, it removes one part from the hero's machine. Namely, the "Protector" part, and anything attaching it to the rest of the machine.

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So for this strip, team evil was just SLIGHTLY smarter than team good, and team good accidentally tipped their hand. But team good won in the end. And you got to learn a whole bunch of fancy words that might even help you invent something*.

* Inventions may be slightly or totally insane and/or non-practical.