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By Jack Ganssle

Apocalypse Now?

Published 12/19/2005

In early 1953 the Korean War was still waging hot. President Truman had just announced the detonation of the first US hydrogen bomb. A North Sea flood killed over 2000 people while the USSR broke diplomatic relations with Israel. A US bomber accidentally dropped an atom bomb on South Carolina. which happily failed to detonate. Stalin died, succeeded by the shoe-pounding Kruschev.

In the early 60s, with the cold war running hot, I remember hiding under our desks at school, practicing this bizarre response to a nuclear attack we anticipated could come any moment. A president was killed and the sub Thresher was lost with all hands. Thousands lose their homes, and 300 their lives, in heavy flooding in Germany.

A decade later Vietnam polarized the nation; our president was enmeshed in scandal; the economy was in the dumper; and engineering unemployment peaked as Apollo wound down.

Ten years later inflation was running 20%, mortgages were out of reach for most people, the US bailed out Chrysler, and Iran had taken our embassy staff hostage. The economy was in the dumper.

A decade on and EE unemployment peaked while one superpower collapsed into anarchy. 450 guests at an engagement party in Uttar Pradesh died of food poisoning. The economy was in the dumper.

Today Mother Nature seems to be in a fury, globally wreaking havoc in people's lives. Detroit fears the $10,000 SUVs China is nearly ready to export. We're at war, again, and both personal and government debt is practically unsustainable. Many engineers fear for their jobs. North Korea, still in the news a half century after 1953, still a bizarre corrupt dictatorship, announces they have a stash of nuclear weapons. Worldwide terrorist attacks against civilians now seem the norm. The economy is doing great but may or may not be on the verge of collapse, depending on which papers one reads. Ford and GM are asking for, if not a bailout, some sort of Federal aid.

In <i>A Tale of Two Cities</i> Charles Dickens wrote about the 18th century French Revolution: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

In many of my fifty articles for 2005 I complained about injustice, whined perhaps a bit about the state of the industry, and aired my worries about the very real challenges facing engineers as the world economy changes. Yet it's neither the worst of times nor the best of times. It's just the times. Some suffered; some prospered. While too many engineers lost their jobs most stayed employed and happy in their careers. Disasters, natural and manmade, pummeled some while more donated time and money to help those in need. Examples of egregious greed repeatedly made headlines, yet the vast majority of us remain honest folk quietly raising decent kids.

We do face serious problems. But we're smart people who will indeed cope with these and other as yet unimagined troubles. As engineers we're well-paid compared to the vast majority of others with whom we share this planet, and I'm sure most of us will fare well in 2006.

So I'm signing off for 2005. Have a Merry Christmas, happy holidays, a wonderful New Years. and the best of times in 2006.