An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

A Time To Measure

Posted by xbanguyen on August 4, 2009

Somehow the idea that we can measure a very small amount of time, a femtosecond for instance, really appeals to me. It does not matter that it is not I who can do the measuring. Paradoxically I also take pleasure in knowing that the electrons will go their own ways regardless whether or not they are used as the tools for such measurements. The idea that tiny particles are now going about their business in the void that is my body is compelling.  For me, time has often been a scarce commodity.  So it’s fitting to begin my first post this way. Rereading what I wrote pre-blog, my haphazard collection of essays and the overwrought poems  stuck in a directory somewhere on this hard-drive makes me think that I need to deal with time first and it won’t be the last time. So how do I deal with time? Why am I blogging now instead of sleeping? It’s past midnight here in my part of the world.

Let’s throw time into the soup made up of one part beauty and two parts faith (no, not that kind, perhaps later).    I’ve found that sometimes beauty shows up at unexpected places.  Take simulation waveforms, for example.  In my  work as an an engineer for  a company that makes medical devices, I often use waveforms to trouble shoot logic problems.  The waveforms are often green — I want to say chartreuse green because I like the word chartreuse, but it would not be accurate.  So they are green against the default black background.  Pages full of waveforms can weave themselves into striking patterns as I zoom in and out in search for clues.   There are always clues.  One has to believe in logic, with passion at times, that the causes that manifest themselves in a particular bug will be found even if it appears confounding.  At the same time one has to proceed with dispassion, methodically, to find the pesky thing.  And simulation waveforms are displayed in units of time, mostly nanoseconds.   How many nanoseconds has it been since Andrew Marvell wrote these lines?

But at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near

Most of the time I forget about the amorous intention of the poet and only hear that relentless chariot  gaining on me.  But what would happen if it catches up with me?  What am I really afraid of?  That there will not be another summer as delightful as this one has been?  While I don’t disagree with Henry James that summer afternoon are the two most beautiful words in the English language, I think that summer morning are possibly better.  Just the potentials alone make it so.  The summer morning sky takes on such impossibly vivid blue that colors the coming day with a sheen of possibility.  Even the early summer morning air feels different, fresh with not only a hint of promises but also seductive with the certainty of promises fulfilled.  Get up really early tomorrow morning, stand in front of  the open window and breathe in deeply.  You’ll know what I mean.

Come to think of it, there is something melancholy about a summer afternoon, the charm of having a cream tea completed with cucumber sandwiches and scones notwithstanding because dusk approaches and with it comes darkness.    But what about the stars?  What about the scent of jasmine? What about the fireflies and other things of beauty that accompany twilight?  Perhaps I am missing the point while seeking an illusion of permanence.

2 Responses to “A Time To Measure”

  1. l. pham said

    this is marvelous. i knew you wrote, but i’d never read much of your work before. i hope you don’t mind that i’ll be linking to your blog (if i can figure out the html!) and oh, i put mine in the website blank.

    and i’m torn on summer morning/summer afternoon. but then again, i don’t understand the appeal of favorites, either, so maybe that’s the point for me. :]


  2. xbanguyen said

    Thanks. You are full of surprises and of course I am not surprised. I like the image of the undulating grass on the way home from your post. I’ll add yours to my blogroll.

    And don’t feel compelled to understand everything. You will.


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