Tuesday, July 12, 2011

RANdom capiTALIzation SyNDrome

If you're not an engineer, it's possible you've never experienced this. And its possible that if you're not an engineer who is in the aerospace industry or ever worked for or with the government you've never experienced this. But for those of us who are aerospace engineers, whose lives revolve around government organizations like NASA, we tend to have this syndrome quite badly.

You see the government is a world made of abbreviations and acronyms. I have received entire emails written in acronyms and abbreviations. It's really insane. There are possibly good reasons for this, like its basically writing in code so if anyone intercepts your email they can't understand it. But sometimes its just crazy.

But if you work in the aerospace industry or for the government, no matter how crazy you think it is, at some point you will find yourself uttering a sentence that sounds like this "Hey, I'm going to the VAB to work on the MLE with my LDE. Don't forget tomorrow I have RDO and my LT has PT, so we'll be MIA."

Utter nonsense.

Then if you continue working in the aerospace industry or the government, something nefarious will start to happen to your brain. You will start thinking that things that aren't acronyms actually are. You'll forget which words require capitalization and which don't. And to be on the safe side, you'll start capitalizing everything.

For myself personally, I see this most often with the word "CubeSat." A CubeSat, for those who don't know, is a little 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm satellite. Basically "CubeSat" is an abbreviation of "Cubical Satellite"; hence, only the C and S need to be capitalized to show the beginning of each word. Yet for some reason, I want to call it a CubeSAT. As if SAT is an acronym for something. Of course, it is in other worlds. The SAT is a huge test. But that doesn't apply here.

The other day I was writing down some instructions when I paused. Is the word MOSFET all capitalized or not? I want to say it is, but I don't know. And Cornell's Violet mission. Is it Violet or is it VIOLET?

I realized at that point, I had full blown Random Capitalization Syndrome, or RCS.

There is no cure for RCS. Even if you leave the aerospace industry--or the government--you will find you do this for years after. You will have relapses when the news reports NASA's latest findings. There is no escape, no cure, no hope.

And the worst thing is, you can never even get your acronyms and abbreviations straight. All the different branches of the government use the same acronyms to mean different things. What some people call a 9/80 schedule, others call RDO. While VAB might stand for the "Vehicle Assembly Building" in can also stand for "Virginia Associations of Broadcasters." And one satellite might just be a word, like Violet. But another satellite will be an acronym, like MESSENGER. (Heck, if you want to see a perfect case of RCS, MESSENGER is it: MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER). Methinks, someone was trying a little too hard to find an acronym).

The truth is that you can never be sure in this business what something stands for or if it should be capitalized. So every year RCS gets worse and worse. Essentially, we're doomed.