Thursday, October 14, 2010

Commmon Sense

"Common Sense Is Not So Common" - so said Voltaire.

I read this in the Quotes section of the October 2010 edition of the Reader's Digest (Indian Edition) when I was reminded of the days when I was working as an Assistant Engineer under a very senior Executive Engineer who was a qualified Mechanical Engineer and had spent all the days of his service practicing mechanical engineering till his promotion as an Executive Engineer at which point he was posted to a Civil Engineering Division. Fortunately for him he had as subordinates, all experienced Assistant Executive Engineers who took care of the day to day problems arising in the construction of the head works of two reservoirs and he was left practically solely with the maintenance of the machinery in the control of the Division.

He always used to boast that Mechanical Engineering was an exact science and that if you made a mistake in the setting an engine's tappets by a thousandth of an inch, the engine would not function effectively, which of course is true and he would degrade Civil Engineers, especially to me, who am a Civil Engineer and was in charge of the maintenance of heavy earth moving machinery and other earth dam construction equipment.

The trouble started when the excavation of the canals leading from the reservoirs started and he was burdened with Civil Engineers who had no experience in such matters, having spent all the years of their services in the construction of buildings with no experience in the excavation of canals and the design and construction of cross masonry works.

My Executive Engineer, being a very intelligent man, studied the textbooks of his son, who was doing his Civil Engineering Degree and came up with the solutions that the field work required.

It was then that he found out about the nuances of Civil Engineering and one day when he and I were doing an inspection of the canal excavation and appurtenant works going on (I had then been transferred to a Civil Engineering Section and was in charge of the excavation of a 7.50 km. long canal), he made this comment,

"Oliver, do you remember me saying that Mechanical Engineering is an exact science?"
"Yes", I replied.
"Well", he said, "Mechanical Engineering may be an exact science, but Civil Engineering requires a lot of common sense, and many people do not have any common sense."

I do not know if he had read Voltaire's quote.