Not everything has to mean something. Some things just are. – Charles de Lint, ‘Spiritwalk.’
After five years of hard work in his laboratory, the Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering at the prestigious Ivy League college had finally figured out how to make greener Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) using waste products from the local chicken farm.
When the word got out around the campus, the Director of Journalism Studies despatched one of his students over to visit the Electrical Engineering Department for an ‘exclusive interview’ that was to appear on the University Web site.
As enthusiastic as he was by his mission, the young journalist in training found himself very quickly out of his depth. Since he’d had no formal education in electronics at all, any talk of PCBs, microprocessors or transmission lines all became a blurry mess in the young man’s mind.
As a result, he nodded kindly as the Professor divulged his technology secrets and headed back to his dorm room an hour or two later to pen the piece.
When it was finally complete, he took it to his tutor, who, also not wanting to appear ignorant about ‘things technical’, gave it the thumbs up to appear on the web site.
If only someone had run the piece by the Professor of Engineering, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But there was. Because instead of claiming that the Professor had found a new way to make green PCBs from chicken waste, the befuddled journalist had made it appear that he had found an innovative means to build high speed microprocessors from the stuff instead.
Unfortunately, since the Professor left town for a seminar the following day, he didn’t see the result of the interview until a week later.
And by then it was far too late. Because by then, a writer for a pretty well known New York newspaper, hungry for any technology story he could get his hands on, had picked up the news while ‘Surfing the Internet.’ And he ran it in his Friday Technology News Column. Just as it had appeared on the University Web site – warts and all.
It was all pretty embarrassing for everyone concerned. Because upon his return from the lecture tour, the Professor of Engineering insisted that the originally piece be pulled down off the site and some clarification be sent out to the newspaper in question.
But it didn’t help. In fact, it made things worse.
When the editor of the newspaper saw the horrible error his writer had made, he took things into his own by rewriting the piece himself for the following issue, thereby making an example of his writer.
Sadly, his knowledge of the electronics industry was no greater than that of the journalist who had initially penned the original piece. But, because of his background on a local environmental magazine, he did know one or two things about science. He knew for example, that PCBs were PolyChlorinated Biphenyls – nasty, cancer causing compounds that had been found in chicken waste in the past.