An Open Letter

The below is a copy of a letter I sent to the IStructE this evening in response to a letter published in the Verulam pages in the February Issue. I reproduce it here lest it not make the cut - I expect there will be quite a few letters in response to this one.


It’s difficult to know exactly what to write in response to the letter by Cliff Billington in the February 2019 issue of The Structural Engineer, owing to my conflicting desires. I would on the one hand like my words on the matter to be printed, but not to the exclusion of any writers who have things to say on the matter, crucially those who are not men.

I should like to examine a few key passages of Mr Billington’s which I have issues with:

“A recent Viewpoint article stated that ‘One of the biggest problems in our profession is a lack of gender balance’. Since when?”

Not being an expert on the detailed history of our profession, the most specific answer I can give to this question is “since the very beginning”. The idea that any profession could possibly be somehow improved by doing nothing to reduce the exclusion of half the population is utter madness.

Then we arrive at a passage which I expect will inflame many, many people:

“Maybe young women simply do not want to be engineers - standing in mud and being cold, and wet, on site, in foul weather - and would rather embark on a different career?”

Maybe we should begin by not presuming to know the inner workings of the minds of an entire group of people? Maybe that presumption is incredibly offensive, and is fuelled by hurtful, inaccurate, lazy stereotypes of the worst kind?

Maybe we should consider the systemic barriers in all our workplaces that inhibit the career progression of women? Maybe we should start by examining our long-held prejudices, which have been left unchecked to spread like a disease over generations and are now finally being exposed across many fields, from science and academia, to the media.

With few exceptions, the smartest people I have worked with as a colleague, or worked with as part of a design team, or studied with in my university days are women. We must do everything we can to promote gender equality for the sake of all, and not be distracted by spurious arguments about failings in the “whizz-kid[s] with finite element analysis or advanced computer packages”. Such problems may be real, but they are a fixable thin end of a relatively new wedge, as opposed to a glaring, fundamental error the entire construction industry has been making en masse for decades.

I would have liked my first letter to Verulam to have been more positive, but I could not let such outdated views go unchallenged.

Martyn Pysanczyn

Bonus Content - Paper Aeroplanes!

When I was about 10 or so, my grandma once gave me a copy of a magazine; I'm fairly sure it was a Reader's Digest. Within those pages were the instructions to make a paper aeroplane - I vaguely recall it was some sort of competition winner or record holder. I committed the design to memory, and ever since it's been my go-to design for airborne paper hijinks.

I spent a futile 15 minutes this weekend trying to find some record of it online with the idea of first showing it to some family who were staying this weekend, then secondly of putting it up on Twitter. However, my Google-Fu let me down, so I decided I'd draw up a set of instructions of my own and post them here instead.

If anyone who sees this can find any proper attribution for the design, I'll happily update to include it, but for now, here we go...

Aeroplane - 01.png
Aeroplane - 02.png
  1. Fold down one of the top corners to its opposite side, make the crease sharp, then unfold.
  2. Repeat for the other corner.
  3. Fold horizontally back over, make a nice sharp crease, then unfold again.
  4. Bring the points all labelled 3 together, which should collapse all the pink area into the shape of the blue triangle.
  5. Fold up the loose flaps into the shape shown.
  6. Fold in the the corners again to create a kite shape.
  7. Step 7 I now realise (much too late to change it) is inexplicably a copy of step 6. You may safely ignore it and move onto step 8.
  8. Fold down the point as shown.
  9. This is the tricky bit. Unfold the pink parts - the top ones only - then tuck them into the pockets you find in the tip you folded over on step 8. You might need to bend them a little to get the in, but once you've got them slid in and flattened down then the whole thing will hold itself together solidly.
  10. Flip the paper over so you're now looking at the top of the plane - all the work you've done so far was on the underside - then make the folds as shown; these will be winglets. To get these folds exactly right it helps to use a ruler*.
  11. Fold the edges of the winglets back on themselves and then give them a gentle tug so they don't lie too flat to the body of the plane.
  12. Hold it by finger and thumb on the little pocket on the underside, and give a throw! It works best if you give it more of a deliberate straight push (a bit like a dart) than a throw.

Note: Don't bend it or fold it in half - the whole thing is a wing.

If you want, you can post photos your attempts to follow my hastily compiled instructions to twitter and mention me on @martynpie or you can be a crazy person and email me at martyn@martynpie.com

*I know, I know, rulers again. Sorry.