Trial and Error Engineer


By Jamil Matar
One of James Patterson’s fictional characters is a New York journalist named Nick Daniels. In the novel “Don’t Blink”, Daniels comments to his girlfriend that he can literally feel his ego “grow a tad” whenever someone recognizes him on the street as a result of his writing. I guess this is the same rush politicians must feel when people shout out their names as they walk or drive by.
To the average citizen, however, downtown recognition by a strange person has a totally different overtone as I learnt on Sunday 6 December from a friend. He enlightened me that whenever you hear someone shout out your name in any public place, you better be prepared to part ways with “something small”, because someone needs his/her medication urgently!
When News 7 was doing an interview with the recognizable Big Lindo by the Swing Bridge in Belize City, a passing motorist amusingly shouted above the fray of traffic that “he wha money!” I had to laugh, not only at that segment, but from the entire interview. Especially when Lindo claimed that certified engineers (of which, he claims, there are none in Belize) mostly depend on the established methodology of “trial and error” in designing and erecting structures. Even the space shuttle program, he claimed, was done by “trial and error”. Based on Mr. Big’s bloated ego and skewed logic, if a bridge collapses after being commissioned, that was only a trial, and we shouldn’t fault anyone for the error in using the wrong size or quality of its supporting lattice and anchors.
I can tell you this, Mr. Big, I successfully completed a two-year course in basic engineering at the Belize Technical College in 1980 and the assembly of any metal work (even the common vehicle exhaust silencer) involves a series of intricate calculations to get it right the first time. Nowadays in construction, an Auto-CAD program does most of the calculations for structural integrity, but a trained engineer must still be intimately involved with the design and supervision of any public structure, especially a bridge.
On the subject of structures, I have a short story I want to tell you, but I am not done with the Big Man yet. I remember an article Lindo once penned in the Amandala many years back, where he opened his tirade against the UDP with the words “As Belize’s foremost economist…”. Upon reading those first 4 words, I instantly flipped the page. There was no documentation supporting that statement, and I would have liked to have been shown a piece of “paper”, even with an “F”, to show that at least he attended one semester in this field.
The story I want to tell you is this one. A friend came to tell me that he had started to build a house on a property which he purchased from Mr. Albert Burns in the “Pasadita” area of OWT. He was served with a cease order from the Belize Building Authority, since he must first get his architectural plans approved for soundness by the BBA. He said that for safety reasons he had no qualms with the regulations but he asked if the BBA also checked the block manufacturers for soundness of their blocks since even during unloading, some of his 6-inch blocks would crumble. Good point, I commented. On a role now, my friend also suggested that he thought cyclists should be compelled to wear a florescent vest at night to reduce road traffic accidents. Another good point. That was two-zip regarding sensible comments for this Sunday past, but the day was still young, I thought.
This gentleman above made no claim to being a “certified” engineer but he has common sense. In these little footnotes to history, I have a beef with any person who makes claim to being “foremost” in any field, but I have much more quarrel with an irresponsible PUP City Council who will entrust a supervisory role to an uncertified engineer to repair a critical infrastructure which has to daily withstand hundreds of tons of repetitive compressive stresses from a combination of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. God forbid anything should happen before Mr. Big returns next year!
Allow me to close off this week with an old adage. The same Sunday I speak about above, a staunch PUP supporter dropped by, only to shatter my winning streak of good suggestions, smelling of cheap Tecate beers from the Zone, to tell me that I should advise Aragon to ease up with the projects and public assistance in OW East, since in his competent opinion, no matter what the Minister does for this constituency, Bernard will still beat him handily. I was immediately reminded of Mr. Lindo’s blotched proverb in his viral interview with News 7, which should have said, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. Meaning, only results matter, sir, not appearances. Until next time, dear readers.