Our copy chief, Keith Hammond, circulated this in internal Maker Media email. It’s from a piece on Washington Post columnist Joel Achenbach’s blog, from back in June.

Advice to graduates: Become an engineer. Design the future. Become someone who knows how to squeeze energy out of seawater or turn sunlight into electricity for pennies on the kilowatt.

Or how to make an American car that people want to buy.

Reading Michael Leahy’s article this morning on GM auto workers — including one who is a natural tinkerer and auto-didact ready to adapt to the next new thing to come along — I thought of a quote from Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon” [cited in a Craig Nelson’s book “Rocket Men”]:

“The Yankees, the first mechanics in the world, are engineers — just as the Italians are musicians and the Germans metaphysicians — by right of birth.”

Lots of stereotypes there. But it wouldn’t hurt to believe in ourselves — in our engineering acumen. This has always been a society of tinkerers. But maybe somewhere along the line we took all the engineers for granted. That’s a subtext in Nelson’s book: That we’ve failed to appreciate the marvels of modern engineering.

If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we …

We need more Manhattan Projects. Want a punch list for the country? A one came out last fall from the National Academy of Engineering:

1. Make solar energy economical
2. Provide energy from fusion
3. Develop carbon sequestration methods
4. Manage the nitrogen cycle
5. Provide access to clean water
6. Restore and improve urban infrastructure
7. Advance health informatics
8. Engineer better medicines
9. Reverse-engineer the brain
10. Prevent nuclear terror
11. Secure cyberspace
12. Enhance virtual reality
13. Advance personalized learning
14. Engineer the tools of scientific discovery.

Dang it, I’m going to go build something.

[Does staking tomatoes count as engineering??]

A Nation of Engineers


Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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