Monday, January 7, 2008

Best Chief Engineer in Star Trek

This takes us into geek slapfight territory, but what the heck. :)

Originally Posted by Random Redshirt:
I am looking for the community's take on who was the best Starfleet Chief Engineer.
Originally Posted by Federation:
I'll pick Geordi LaForge as he had to solve a great many problems and come up with ingenious ways to do so. Would have likely voted Scotty but I'd have to put him second because of when he said how else could he keep his reputation as a miracle worker when Kirk had asked him if he always multiplies his factor times.
When Cheops asked his chief pyramid engineer how long it was going to take, I'll bet you anything the engineer padded his estimate.

Padding estimates is what all experienced engineers do because that's how they account for the unforeseen things that always seem to crop up to slow down any complex project. If it's not a fire in a factory that makes critical parts, it's a labor dispute; if it's not a transportation delay, it's administrative interference, etc., etc. And even if none of those things happens, there'll be a few good old-fashioned mistakes. Basically, there's always something.

Engineers factor the likelihood of all those things into their estimates, then add a little extra for all the other things they forgot. Since any estimate for a complex project is guaranteed to be off one way or the other, it's better to estimate too high than too low... so that's what real engineers do.

Thousands of years of trying to get complex stuff built properly has generated a wealth of practical knowledge. The basic observation here is jokingly known as Cheops' Law: "Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget." One important reason why this is so is known as Finagle's Law: "Anything that can go wrong, will -- at the worst possible moment." (This isn't the same thing as Murphy's Law, by the way, which properly stated is "If there's a wrong way to do something, someone will do it that way." But engineers need to try to account for the Dreaded Mr. Murphy as well.) Also check out Hofstadter's Law -- "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law." -- and the planning fallacy.

Ultimately I think the "miracle-worker" thing was just Scotty trying to joke with Geordi, assuming that as a fellow Chief Engineer Geordi understood the need to provide captains with time estimates on the high side in order to account for the unexpected stuff that always comes up. And despite Geordi's "I never do that" reaction, I think he was mistaken. Otherwise in every case where he says "it'll take five hours" (or whatever) and Picard says "you have one," Geordi would object, saying "No, Captain; I said five hours and I meant five hours." But he never makes such an objection. So I have to think that Geordi was padding his estimates, too.

I'm sticking with Scotty as the ultimate Chief Engineer. There was never any question that it's what he always wanted to be, and that it was the role for which he was best suited by temperament and experience.

Plus he didn't take any lip from Klingons when they insulted his baby. :)