Volume 3 No.3, Fall 1999

ISSN# 1523-9926

Letter to the Editors

Symbols in Technology

Ed Widener
Purdue University

The late Sayyed Kazem, our MET colleague from Afghanistan, pushed for consistent usage of unique symbols. Being globally educated, he viewed "clear communication" as the key to problem-solving. As a teacher, he liked "specificity" :

  1. The "point temperature" as read from a thermometer is "degree-C" (or F).  
  2. Temperature difference (length) is C-degrees.
  3. Rather than "percent", he specified "weight percent" (w/o), "volume percent" (v/o), and "atom percent" (a/o).  

Such care can be significant. Of course, he was concerned at the proliferation of "seraphs & fonts" in computer-software: Perhaps "///" might mean 3 (the decimal system), or 111 (decimal), or even "7" (binary) and worse (quinary). Since Engineering Technology is essentially "Numerical Problem-Solving", he used the simple stroke (/) for a one, and the simple oval (0) for a zero. Then his letter "Oh" was a circle, the letter "Eye" had 3-seraphs, & the small "el" was a wavy stroke. I find it hard to type what I mean! One of my busy pals (Jones) spells his email-address as "J-zero-N-E-S"; this eliminates junk-mail from the uninitiated or unobservant sender. Mixing the upper & lower "Cases" of an alphabet was discouraged:  

  1. How  do we distinguish between mm (millimetre), Mm (Megametre) & MM (MegaMega)?
  2. Chemical symbols are Capitalized; any second letter is lower-case; thus K is potassium, but k is kilo.
  3. And how do we recognize Kelvin (he used "degree Kelvin") if standard S.I. has no "degree-mark"?
  4. We see Malaysians using K for "Carbon", because C would be "Charbon" (like Cili-pepper).  
  Furthermore, he shunned abbreviations & contractions: 
  1. Pa is Pascal, but PA is Public Address;
  2. pH is acidity, but Ph. is phase;
  3. Si is Silicon, but SI means metric units.
  4. Met. is Metallurgy, but MET is Mechanical Engineering Technology? I rest my case (no pun intended).  
Overall, Sayyed preached a careful selection of six "Unique Alphabets":
  1. Roman-print (A-Z), both upper & lower cases;
  2. Cursive-script (Palmer or Zener-Blosser Method), both cases; and
  3. Greek-letters (alpha-omega), both cases.
  In our Materials & Thermo lectures, we neglected "Cursive-Greek". However, needing "distinctive symbols" to avoid confusing Volume-Velocity-Viscosity, perhaps our profession will extend to Hebrew or Arabic Alphabets. After all, we got our Numbers from the Arabs!  Have you ever tried to develop a "Key" for these six alphabets? It is indeed a challenge to make each symbol unique. Moreover, to make them easily formed, thus readily remembered & consistently used. My diffident colleagues merely say, "Don't you have enough to do?" Nevertheless, if interested please give it your best try; then RSVP to elwidener@tech.purdue.edu  .....10/4.  


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