Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tech talk

As someone who's been entrenched in the science and engineering fields for over a decade, it's inevitable that I should hear and use technical metaphors on almost a daily basis. Although I try not to use such metaphors excessively, I admit that I'm fond of using the terms "activation energy" and "inertia" in non-scientific contexts, usually as an excuse not to get out of bed or off the couch to do something. And among my colleagues in the electronic design automation industry, hearing someone complain that he or she doesn't have sufficient bandwidth for a particular task is an everyday occurrence.

Sometimes these metaphors are taken a little too far. I once had a math instructor who stated in his first class, "Let me give you my coordinates," before writing his contact information on the board. Perhaps that would have been appropriate if he'd been referring only to his geographical location, but applying it to his phone number and email address seemed a stretch to me. And my director at work, while volunteering me as a resource for someone in another group during an especially busy time, qualified his offer by pointing out that we're in the last-minute crunch for an upcoming release, so please bear with us "if she doesn't have many cycles to work with you in the next 2-3 weeks." I am not a clocked chip, and I do not operate in cycles!

Then, of course, there are times when a technical metaphor is the only way to convey what one truly means. When my two-year-old starts acting in a manner that particularly emphasizes her father's side of the family, I often turn to my husband and declare, "That's your kid!" This evening, as she was being especially loud and loquacious, I added, "...every decibel of her!"

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