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Oscar Has A Hairy Old Ass

Oscar Has A Hairy Old Ass

All you need to know for the Engineering License Examination.

I graduated college with a BS in Geography. As “they” are wont to say, “That and a buck will get you a cup of coffee.”

Sure enough, it didn’t get me a job, so I went to work as an automobile mechanic. After four years of twisting wrenches, and being sick and tired of never having clean hands, or feeling really clean all over, I decided to look for other gainful employment. Perusing the Help Wanted ads (in those days there was no internet; you found work by purchasing a newspaper, and reading and following up on advertisements) I spotted an advertisement from a firm looking for a drafter.

Having taken a few map drawing classes in college, I decided to apply and was hired. The firm was a surveying and civil engineering firm, and the first thing they did was send me out into the field as a rodman on a surveying crew. The office manager said, “I don’t want you sitting at a drafting table, not knowing what you are drawing.”

About a month into the job, it became evident to me that the people who really got treated with respect were those who had licenses; the landscape architect, the surveyor, and the civil engineer.

I hated surveying. It seemed to me there were several things that invariably made life as a surveyor miserable. If we weren’t stomping through the swamp dinosaur jungles, fighting cat briars all the way, and trying to hack through them with a dull brush hook, we were running from the hornet’s nest we accidently caught with the hook. Alternatively, we were standing out in the middle of a piece of totally bare earth, trying to scream over the sound of a gazillion horsepower earth moving machines.

I also hated all the hoopla about getting property lines super accurate. Let’s face it, I thought, property lines are not real; they are someone’s construct arbitrarily placed on the real world. Furthermore, no two surveyors can agree as to the actual location of any of these lines. To make matters even less real, the lines have no dimension; they are infinitely thin. So obtaining a license in surveying was definitely out of the question.

I had started, and dropped out of Botany in college. Plant taxonomy held no interest for me at all. I saw that as merely an exercise in memorization. That ruled out becoming a Landscape Architect. The only license that made sense for me to pursue was engineering.

In order to obtain a Professional Engineer’s License, one needs to sit for and pass the Examination in Principles and Practices of Engineering . At that time, there were two paths to be allowed to sit for the exam: one could attend an accredited college engineering program, earning a four-year degree, take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination, then work as an Engineer-In-Training for four years; or, one could work for twelve years in positions of increasing responsibility in the practice of engineering. Having absolutely no interest in or inclination to return to college (which I saw as another unreal situation, but that’s a subject for another story), I decided to “pay my dues” working for twelve years. I also decided that I would take a few courses and seminars on design along the line, by way of convincing employers that I was serious about pursuing licensure.

So, in the period from 1979 to 1996, I worked for seven different engineering firms, and two different government entities. Each time I moved from one job to another, I went for a little higher salary, and a little more responsibility. Incidentally, though not by design (no pun intended) I also worked in a different facet of civil engineering at each firm.

The final eight years, I was working for my local county government as an engineering reviewer. In that position, I was responsible for reviewing subdivision and site plan road and storm drain designs to see that they conformed to county, state and federal regulations, and were in keeping with sound engineering practices. Also, purely by accident, during the time I was working for Carroll County government, the Department of Public Works wrote and issued a new Manual for Design of Roads and Storm Drains. I was assigned the tasks of writing the chapter on design of road super elevation, and the chapter dealing with conveyance of runoff in open channels.

Always mindful that I was working toward the goal of sitting for and passing the examination, at the same time I was working for the county, I was teaching myself some of the mathematics and mechanics I had not studied while in college. The only college math I had taken was Algebra, and that back in 1967; so I dug out my old Algebra textbook and worked my way through it, starting on page one, doing all the problems presented at the end of each chapter. I purchased a textbook on trigonometry, and one on spherical and analytical geometry, and did the same with those. Similarly, I worked my way through a textbook on Statics.

In 1996, I submitted my documentation to the Maryland Board for Professional Engineers, and applied for permission to sit for the examination. One may ask why I didn’t do so earlier, but I had talked with a few other people who had tried to sit as soon as they had completed twelve years, only to be told the first several years were “pre-engineering”, and they should re-apply after a few years had passed. I did not want that embarrassment, so I wisely as it turned out, bided my time.

In due course, I received notice that I had been accepted to sit for the examination, and began studying in earnest. I had still not gotten through Calculus, and decided that was the first order of business, before worrying about specific engineering studies. I used to stay in my office after work to do my studying, because there were too many interruptions and distractions trying to study at home.

One evening, at about five thirty, I was diligently reading, and working problems out of the Calculus text, when Keith Kirshnick stuck his head into my door, asking, What are you doing here so late?”

Keith was the Director of Public Works, and a licensed professional engineer.

“I’m studying for the exam,” I replied.

“Oh? What are you studying?”

“Well, I’m banging my head against the wall, trying to teach myself Calculus.”


“I never had it in college, and I figure I need it for the Engineering exam.”

“Nah. You won’t need it. All you need is to be able to solve the engineering problems the same way you have been for the past ten years. In fact, the only trig you need is Oscar Has A Hairy Old Ass.”

“Oscar what?” I asked, incredulously.

“Has A Hairy Old Ass. Opposite over Hypotenuse; Adjacent over Hypotenuse; Opposite over Adjacent. Sine, Cosine, Tangent in a right triangle. Let’s go get a beer.”

So I closed the Calculus textbook, put it on the shelf, and haven’t opened it since.

And Keith was right; the only math I needed to know other than Algebra, in particular the quadratic equation was Oscar Has A Hairy Old Ass.

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