Do Engineers Dream of Electric Sheep?

Engineers often describe the worries that keep them up on night. But we wondered: “What is it that haunts their dreams?”

We asked several engineers to share their recurring nightmares with us. Frustration, confusion, and fear are among the most common themes — frequently centered on work and school — with many engineers sharing similar experiences.

Here are 11 of their most memorable dreams. Most common dream? Not being able to graduate or forgetting to study for a test. Apparently, the stress of taking a class on differential equations does cause long-term harm!

How many do you relate to? Take our poll here.

Do you have a dream to share? Please comment below. And, uhm, sweet dreams!

And a big thanks to Max, David, Cabe, Steve, Rich, Adam, and Glenn for sharing your worst nightmares with us. May you sleep easier in the future!

Forget taking the final, I can't even find the classroom!
One of my engineering-related recurring dreams involves me having gone back to college. For some reason I've decided to take another degree, although I'm not too sure what the main subject of this course is .

The dream starts when I have about two weeks to go before my final exams. I find myself wandering around my alma mater — Sheffield Hallam University in England — and I realize that, for some reason, I haven't gotten around to attending any of the lectures since the course commenced almost a year earlier. Furthermore, I've mislaid my timetable, so I don't have a clue which classes I'm supposed to be taking, or when and where these classes are being held.

I'm not sure where this dream is coming from, because I have no conscious desire to obtain a second BSc, and I had no problems attending all of the classes when I took my original degree. The mind truly is a strange thing.

What do you mean, I don't really have a degree?
The most common nightmare I have is that I am back at university studying for my degree and something happens which prevents me from being able to attend one of the final exams. As a result, completing the degree is in doubt.

In some cases of this dream I have been working for a long time and the university finds out I never completed one last thing and hence have no degree. Where it gets odd is when these dreams occur I am usually working as well on an interesting project, which means I am in danger of not being involved in it.

I have no idea what this means. Maybe it is because I am so passionate about engineering, and not being able to be one would be my greatest fear.

Warning: open water hazard
I wouldn't exactly call them nightmares, but I do have some distressing times in dreams that follow a particular recurring theme. The theme is that I can fly, by extending my arms as though they had invisible wings attached. I can launch myself into the air at a run, by facing into a strong wind, or by leaping off of a precipice. It's generally a pleasant way to travel.

Sometimes, though, when I am flying I find myself in a stiff crosswind or headwind. In those dreams I struggle to make headway or to stay on course, and generally find myself getting further from my destination with each passing moment. Typically I will ultimately decide to land, and then to carry forward on foot.

The worst situations involve being blown out over open water, so that I cannot land and am at the mercy of the winds. There are also situations where I am able to land, but not in a comfortable space. The latest such dream had me set down in an abandoned shopping mall late at night, through a broken skylight. It was spooky as I cautiously sought an exit from the mall. I was still trapped when I woke up.

Mostly these dreams are very pleasant, but even with the distressing ones I have the same reaction waking up. I feel heavy and earthbound, and miss the lost sensation of living flight.

The demonic toilet and other household disasters
My very worst recurring nightmare is about a broken toilet. Maybe that’s from the numerous times I had to extricate toys that my children flushed down our toilet. But my kids are now all grown up, and my little grandbabies will in turn flush toys down their toilets, he-he-he. Welcome to my nightmare, kids!

An occasional recurring nightmare for me is having a leaky roof, with water pouring down the inside walls of my house when it rains. It probably comes from the time I had to do extensive repairs to walls and re-shingle my roof due to a slow leak that existed when I bought the house. We did it ourselves (kids, ex, and me) because the potential roofer was hesitant about a cash deal (no paper trail, no tax). Well, we did screw that government out of the taxes because we did it ourselves.

I think everybody has been in dreams where they are semi-awake enough actually to wonder if they are dreaming. A quick test — attempt to levitate by flapping your hands. If you can levitate, you are dreaming — then just enjoy the rest of the dream.

Who moved my cubicle?
In one recurring dream I'm working at a former job, except everything about it has changed.

The specific office layouts and people have all moved. I'm navigating miles and miles of endless corridors trying to find my own desk, having to stumble through (gasp!) marketing territory in the endless search. (“What's that damned engineer doing here?”)

There are usually a lot of secondary, frustrating elements: computers that refuse to link to the corporate network because my last login was too long in the past, or going to the lab and realizing that someone has “borrowed” all my test equipment — leaving me nothing to work with. Discovering that my prototype boards no longer work, because someone scrounged parts off of them for his own projects, because purchasing was too slow.

As to the last point, it is amazing how visually realistic dreams can be. I can even see the color bands on the resistors.

Terror in the sky
My very worst nightmare is that I am 50, not yet married, and still living at home with my parents (which in all likelihood would be a bigger nightmare for them!).

As for my most frequent recurring nightmare, I call it the business trip from hell. I am a passenger on a big plane with an interior like a cruise ship. There is a shuffleboard court, swimming pool, and a large buffet with those tacky ice sculptures. Dean Martin is performing in the lounge. The weather — as you would expect in a nightmare about flying — is atrocious.

I look out the window and realize that we are cruising at an unnervingly low altitude in a city with skyscrapers everywhere. We are so low, in fact, that I can hear the sound of the plane scraping across tree branches. On one hand I am awestruck that the pilot is able to do what he's doing. On the other hand, I'm terrified because I am confident that he shouldn't be able to do what he's doing.

We ultimately come in for a safe landing, only to exit the plane and find ourselves surrounded by German soldiers with guns!

Warning! Radiation hazard!
When I worked as an analog circuit designer for a microwave company in the 80s, I was part of a team that designed a radiation hazard meter for measuring potentially hazardous RF radiation in the vicinity of workers and service members, such as those on a basestation tower or radar on a Navy ship.

I had designed the analog frontend and power supply for the instrument. After tests, field trials, and a few adjustments, the product was ready for market. Safety and reliability tests were exhaustively performed and passed. We never had an incident in the life of the product that I know of.

But when the first units got shipped, I began to have this recurring nightmare in which microwave technicians would ask me how they could remain safe during high-power microwave antenna tests. I told them that they should use the RAHAM Model 40 system I had helped design, but as a back-up safety precaution they should place a raw chicken in a plate beside then. When the chicken started smelling good, they should get out of the room.

I still have the smell of microwaved chicken in my nose whenever I think of that nightmare.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EETimes.

1 comment on “Do Engineers Dream of Electric Sheep?

  1. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 21, 2014

    Many engineer nightmares are familiar to me. OK, supply chain folks, what are your worst nightmares? What's keeping you up at night?

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