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Author Archives: engineeringthinking

Feedback is Critical for Great Relationships (How Not to Lose Your Partner)

sleepA review of the stats for prior ET posts indicates that some of the most popular are those that apply engineering thinking principles to relationship issues (e.g., see “Protecting Your Relationship: How To Fight Fair“;
Protect Yourself: Four Ways To Tell If Someone Is Trying To Emotionally Manipulate You“; “Feedback, Delay, and Sullen Spouses“).

In this post we’ll briefly discuss why the principle of “feedback”(1) is critical to successful relationships.

Feedback is a universal concept, applicable to every goal we have, whether the goal is bringing a fork to the mouth, maintaining the desired speed of a car, finding the best price for a purchase, and many, many others, including maintaining a great relationship.

With regard to your important relationships, do you simply assume everything is okay? If you don’t employ feedback — if you don’t measure the consequences of your actions (by frequently observing and asking how your partner feels, and by absorbing your partner’s suggestions and complaints) — then how can you be so sure? Without the use of feedback a big surprise may be awaiting, on that day when your smug assumptions explode, along with your relationship.

For a vivid example of the necessity of feedback in relationships, please see “Men: Read This Before You Lose Your Woman Forever,” by Dr. Barbara LoFrisco (counselorbarb.com). (2)

Note 1. Feedback is a measurement of the outcome of an action. This allows one to determine whether or not the action is achieving its desired objective. If one does not measure the output (zero feedback), one is “flying blind” and results will typically be bad, very bad.

Note 2. Dr. LoFrisco, among her many other qualifications, is a relationship expert, and (based on my latest feedback sampling) is also my happy spouse.

-Ed Walker

 

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GOVERNMENT FOOLISHNESS: Incandescent Bulbs Banned? No Problem, Just Buy A Rugged Version

incandescent_light_bulbHere’s an option to bypass our busybody government’s anti-freedom and anti-science ban of incandescent light bulbs: buy a “rough service” version. “Rough service” lamps are the same as standard incandescents, but are more rugged and not affected by the ban. One source for such bulbs is Newcandescent.

Also see:

Unintended Consequences: Nanny Engineering,” 2nd Qtr 2011 DACI Newsletter

GOVERNMENT FOOLISHNESS: Incandescent Bulbs Banned? No Problem, Just Buy A Heat Ball,” 1st Qtr 2012 DACI Newsletter

-Ed Walker

 

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Castor Oil Instead Of Ritalin? Might Be Worth A Try

angrychildBad behavior has been strongly linked to bad diet:

“‘When we look at fish consumption across countries, those countries that have the highest fish consumption have 30 fold lower homicide rates,’ said Hibbeln.”

(from “Hearing: violence epidemic linked to bad diet” by Mark Davis, 7 Nov 2013, wtnh.com)

There are likely other reasons, such as genetic factors and a culture that condones senseless violence in television, movies, and video games, but the strong linkage reported above implies that some behavioral problems might be mitigated by dietary corrections. (Note: Always check with your doctor before starting/stopping/switching any prescription drug.)

Here’s another good summary of ways to tune up your diet:

13 Nutrition Lies That Made The World Sick And Fat
by Kris Gunnars, 16 Oct 2013 Business Insider

-Ed Walker

 

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Why Obamacare Is Like A Government Smartphone

Engineering Thinking principle: comparative analysis

cellphonesWhen you make a decision to purchase an auto or a cell phone or a home, you have lots of choices, because you have a lot of companies competing for your business. You can compare features and prices — do a comparative analysis — and arrive at a rational decision of which is best for you. Of course, what is best for you may not be best for others, so having many options helps to ensure that most people can select a choice that best satisfies their particular needs and preferences. Comparative analysis leads to constructive competition.

However, when the federal government decides to set up a program such as Social Security, Medicare, or Obamacare, we have only one choice. This leaves us at a competitive disadvantage, since we will not be able to do a real-world comparative analysis of any other choice. This lack of competition not only restricts our freedom to choose, it allows to remain in place inefficient and even counterproductive programs, funded by the taxpayer whether the taxpayer likes it or not.

This is a major reason why the federal government’s activities should be restricted to essential national services, such as the military and foreign affairs. When the government gets involved in social services, the historical record indicates that the government’s approach, although it may seem compassionate and somewhat effective, is actually very inferior compared to free market alternatives, primarily because government is inherently inefficient (see “It’s Just A Systems Thing“).

In addition, the proponents of big government social programs never admit that their programs are deficient, no matter how poorly they perform; they always find something or someone to blame. (The Soviet Union routinely blamed “bad weather” for its abysmal economic performance during its almost 70 years of existence.) If Obamacare survives, this is why those who predict it will self-destruct are likely wrong: no matter how ridiculously bad it may be, the proponents of big government will find some excuse to keep the Frankensteinian monster alive. Without a competing program in place to prove the proponents wrong, the blame game will go on and on, just as occurred in the Soviet Union.

govtsmartphoneGovernment no-choice social programs are the equivalent of having a government smartphone plan, where your “choice” is limited to a single smartphone, designed and built by the government, available with only certain features, and at a fixed non-negotiable price. And you have to buy one whether you want it or not, or you will be fined or imprisoned.

For these reasons it is best to leave social services to the states, or even better to private charities, churches, and civic organizations (see “What Would Happen If The Government Didn’t Take Care Of Us?“). When alternatives exist, eventually those programs that perform better become known for their success, allowing them to flourish, while those that perform poorly by comparison become known for their failure, allowing them to die out, and be replaced by the more successful programs. More importantly, alternatives provide each individual citizen with the freedom and comparative knowledge to choose whatever is best for them.

-Ed Walker

 

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Yes, Race Can Be Discussed Constructively and Civilly

colors1Note: I sometimes issue posts that are deliberately a bit provocative, hoping to stimulate thinking or to spark a debate. “Mr. President: I Am Not a Racist and Neither Is Anyone I Know” was one of those posts. For my small blog, the post had wide distribution (several hundred at last count), and I’m happy to say that, except for one flippant comment, all responses have been constructive. One notable response, sent by Mr. Keith Fong, was an exemplary example of civil debate. I am responding to Mr. Fong’s comments in this post, to help demonstrate how engineering thinking principles can be productively applied to controversial topics.

Dear Mr. Fong:

Thank you for your constructive and even-tempered comments in response to my post.

You said:

You argue that you, personally, have never met a racist. Really? How have you been searching for them? What is the analytical approach that you’ve taken? Perhaps you don’t see racism and haven’t seen racism simply because you’re not looking for it. “The Invisible Gorilla” is a fine book on the science of not seeing what you’re not looking for.

You are questioning my veracity or my self-knowledge, which is a fair question; I address those issues further down the page. Regarding improper observation, self-delusions, faulty memories, etc., I agree that learning about our limitations is essential for proper science. A listing of books on “bad science” that I think are worthwhile can be found here: DACI Resources.

Regarding some references on racial research, I suggest Race and Culture by Thomas Sowell, who makes a convincing case that culture is really the important factor.

You said:

Perhaps there is an issue of definition here. What is racism to you? Do you have to burn a cross in the yard of someone of another race to be a racist? If a waiter in a restaurant doesn’t offer the same level of service to a person of a particular race as to people of other races because the waiter “knows” people of that race aren’t good tippers, is that racism?

Good question. How about this for a definition:

“A racist (or sexist, or other “ist”) is someone who, when they interact with an individual and notice a certain group characteristic, will reflexively have a strong overriding emotional reaction. They are not really seeing the person, they are seeing an image in their head that has nothing to do with the person. Their subsequent interactions are guided by this mental fantasy, and not by objective evaluation of the individual.”

There is however a subtle but important difference when one is asked about a hypothetical person; someone that you are not interacting with, face-to-face. In such cases mental profiling occurs: one will review what is known about the person’s group’s characteristics, and assess the odds of interfacing productively with a random member of that group. This is not evil, it is simply a natural matter of playing the odds, based on a knowledge of the characteristics that are typical for the group. As a recent example of this point, please see “10 Black child geniuses you should know” by Amir Shaw, 28 June 2013, Bayview.

Excerpts:

“If you only watched the evening news or depended on pop culture to paint a picture of young Blacks, you would probably think that the majority of Black youngsters were only ambitious about sports and music – or caught up in crime and debauchery.

However, the face of Black success isn’t limited to the fields that are occupied by Jay-Z, Beyonce and LeBron James. There are a multitude of young Blacks who are achieving at a high level in science, math, classical music, chess and other knowledge-based areas and preparing to change society.”

You said:

If you are going to make a sincere evaluation of whether racism still exists, you would have to use more than your limited experience. You would also have to establish and challenge your assumptions (the first of which is that your personal experience is meaningful and significant to whether or not racism exists).

Where would you search for evidence of racism? I think the criminal justice system is a fine place to start. There is plenty of data available that is broken out by race: The rates of drug use, the rates of incarceration for drug crimes, the rates of murder and the rates of death sentences.

Another place to look would be voting rights. Why are the laws to access to voting becoming more restrictive? Who are the people most affected? The justifications I’ve seen are to prevent fraud, but where is the evidence of fraud?

Interesting points. However, I did not claim to make an evaluation of whether or not racism still exists; in fact, I said the opposite (“Yes, there are some racists out there, around the fringes; we’ve all read about them.”). I suppose you may be taking issue with my characterization of racism being a much smaller issue than portrayed by the general media, and your points would be a way to help quantify the extent of racism. But the primary thrust of my post was about the logical fallacy of implying someone to be a racist because of their group membership.

However I can see that a lack of clarity on my part may have caused you a bit of confusion. I should have defined the related engineering thinking principle — fallacy of composition — where it is illogical to conclude that what is true of some parts of a population is true of all parts of the population.

You said:

Do you know that you are not racist? Have you evaluated yourself? Have you ever taken an “Implicit Association Test?” I have and, I have to say, I learned some things that contradicted my self image that I’m an exemplar of unbiased thought and action.

I agree that it’s always possible to learn more about oneself. However, based on the definition of “racist” provided above, I can state that I do not reflexively have strong overriding emotional reactions when meeting other people, based on their group characteristics. Furthermore, it is not scientifically appropriate for me to be expected to prove that I am not a racist, because I have made a testable and verifiable assertion. To invalidate my assertion would require knowledge of me as an individual. None of those I mentioned in the earlier post know me as an individual, therefore it is scientifically invalid for any of them to suggest that I am a racist. (For them to assume that I am without knowing me, because they may know some racists in my group, is a fallacy of composition.)

You said:

To roll this up, yours is an opinion post. You make an assertion without evidence and proceed to take personal offense. That is *not* engineering thinking. Where’s the data? Where’s the dispassionate analysis? Where’s the assumption that you’re wrong and you’ve shown that the data indicates you’re right?

Your comments about not providing supporting evidence are quite correct. From a practical standpoint, providing a thorough evidence- and/or analysis-based paper on any controversial topic would require much more time than available to me, so I have to shorthand my arguments with references and/or brief analysis. This is consistent with what I state in my Home page (par. 5), “…the purpose of this blog is not to convince you of a particular view. The purpose is to present some important principles and show how to use them to arrive at useful — even vital — conclusions. You are encouraged to question everything I say, and to do your own research and fact-checking to see if you agree or disagree. Such independent verification is itself an essential component of engineering thinking.”

You seem to be implying that I made a claim that there are no racists. But my key assertion was the one in the title: I am not a racist, and neither is anyone I know. This is a happy fact that you can disbelieve if you think I am a liar or deluded, but if you knew me personally I think you would believe the assertion’s sincerity and accuracy. Because I am not a racist I take offense at those who imply that I am, simply because I am a member of a group. For example, in responding to the President’s comments on the tragic Trayvon Martin case, Senator John McCain said, “Events like this highlight and emphasize that we have a long way to go.” We? Who is “we”? As for myself and for the folks that I know, we don’t have a long way to go; we’re already there, and have been for a long time. Perhaps the senator’s comment would have been more accurate if he had said, “There are still a few in this country, a small percentage of the populace, that have a long way to go.”

burglarSometimes it helps to illustrate a point by removing emotionally-laden words and replacing them with ones that are non-controversial. For example: There are burglars. However I am not a burglar, and I don’t know anyone who is. Therefore I would be offended if someone were to suggest that I was one, or that I had latent burgling tendencies unknown to myself, and that I should take sensitivity training to detect such innate tendencies. Ridiculous? Yes, but it’s equivalent to suggesting that someone is a racist simply because of group affiliation.

In my view, the ill-willed racist society that is strangely and illogically portrayed by much of the media appears to be a sad and troubling hallucination of their own invention, easily discounted by observation. Although some racists and other “ists” of all types surely exist (as do burglars), in the main it is a bright and tolerant America that I see and experience.  Just take a look at gatherings in offices and restaurants and malls and sporting events and parks and parties, and you will find folks of all races, ethnicities, religions, etc., mixing together productively and harmoniously. If you know of some place where this is not the case, perhaps we can invite President Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Candy Crowley, Chris Mathews, and Senator McCain to visit those poor souls and provide some counseling.

Again, Mr. Fong, thank you for your comments. Since I’ve always thought it unfair for editors to have the last word, if you like, I will publish any follow-up comments you may provide without editorial intervention.

-Ed Walker

 

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Mr. President: I Am Not A Racist, and Neither Is Anyone I Know

multicolorsDear President Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Candy Crowley, Chris Mathews, Senator McCain, and all the rest who feel that America is full of racists: You’re wrong.

For decades I have worked beside folks of all colors, religions, ethnicities, genders, left-right handedness, and other irrelevant characteristics, and have not yet met a racist. The folks I know are concerned only with whether or not a person has good character; whether or not they are trustworthy. Secondly, as an employer or co-worker, the only other consideration is whether or not they are competent at what they do.

That’s it. That’s all. Yes, there are some racists out there, around the fringes; we’ve all read about them. But they are largely irrelevant today. Eliminating racism is yesterday’s battle, fought and almost completely won.

So — and I suspect I am speaking for millions of my fellow citizens — I am absolutely outraged that you think that the color of my skin is enough to label me a racist. I am not, and neither is anyone I know.

If you know a racist, then point them out — name names — and let the law take care of them. If you’re not willing to be specific, then keep quiet. Enough with generic group guilt accusations, based on nothing. You are practicing Bad Science; drawing conclusions from emotional predilections rather than objective review and analysis.

All of you who engage in this racial victimization nonsense, from the President on down, owe me — and millions like me — an apology.

-Ed Walker

 

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ET Extra: Does Soda Cause Cancer? Apparently It Does

sugarcancer“As far as cancer is concerned, hormones produced by the body in response to sugar consumption also feed cancer cells. This means that every time you down a soda or eat a piece of cake, your body produces certain chemicals that tell cancer cells to not only start taking up sugar, but also to grow in size and spread.”
-from “New MRI research reveals cancer cells thrive on processed sugar” in The Watchers, 17 July 2013

Is diet soda any better? Apparently not. Please see “ET Extra: Does Diet Soda Cause Cancer?

-Ed Walker

 

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Can You Spot A Con Man?

journeysFrom my Journeys to the Edge of Reality site:

A review of The Man In The Rockefeller Suit, The Astonishing Rise And Spectacular Fall Of A Serial Imposter, by Mark Seal.

For more Engineering Thinking guidance on coping with scammers and frauds, please see “Relationships: ET Guidance on Improving Your Interactions with Others

 

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Just For Fun: 3D On Your PC, and Robot Boogie Time

For some visually-impressive examples of engineering technology, take a look at:

WWI
No 3D Glasses Required (scroll down to see the amazing historical stereo pictures from WWI) in “Horror of the First World War Revealed…” by James Daniel, 6 July 2013, Daily Mail Online

and

robotboogie

“Robot Boogie Time” (from the DACI Newsletter)

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Just For Fun

 

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Global Warming: Consensus Is Not Science

Proponents of the idea of human-induced global warming often claim that there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists that such warming is a fact. For example, consider this recent article:

Consensus Confirmed: 97 Percent of Climate Papers Agree on Manmade Global Warming
by Brendan DeMelle, 22 June 2013 Huff Post Green

burningearth“A new survey conducted by a team of volunteers at Skeptical Science has definitively confirmed the scientific consensus in climate science literature — 97 percent of peer-reviewed papers agree that global warming is happening and human activities are responsible.

“It does not get any clearer than this. It should finally put to rest the claims of climate deniers that there is a scientific debate about global warming. Of course, this bunch isn’t known for being reasonable or susceptible to facts. But maybe the mainstream media outlets that have given deniers a megaphone will finally stop…”

The problem with grandiose statements such as the one above is that consensus is simply a collection of opinions, it is not scientific proof. In fact, when “consensus” is presented as “proof” then you can be sure that the presenters do not actually have verifiable proof. Instead they are merely practicing junk science.

And what about the opinions of those scientists who hold a minority view? Should their opinions be ignored because they have less votes than the majority? No, of course not. The role of true science is to determine which group is correct.

Science converges on the truth by requiring that scientists provide verifiable
evidence of a hypothesis, not by counting scientists’ votes for or against the hypothesis

Still not convinced? I agree that it may seem intuitive that scientists’ beliefs, as confirmed by a consensus of their peers, should be used to guide us when proof is not available. But this is just gambling; there have been numerous times throughout scientific history when the consensus of scientists has been completely wrong. For example, at one time the near-unanimous consensus of doctors was that it was perfectly fine to perform their work without first washing their hands: see “Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2).” (For other reasons to be cautious about allowing intuition to be our guide, see “Why Not Go With The Gut?“)

Bottom line: Those who promote “consensus” as being equivalent to a scientific proof do not understand how science works, and should be ignored.

-Ed Walker

 

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