Category Archives: Engineering Thinking Solutions

A Simple Solution for Businesses Whose Religious Convictions Will Not Allow Them To Serve Gays

melissassweetcakesNote: This post, like a prior one on race (Yes, Race Can Be Discussed Constructively and Civilly), is intended to provide an example of how Engineering Thinking can be used to discuss contentious issues in a good-natured and civil manner.

Engineering Thinking principles tell us that gays are usually gay because they were born that way. A logical analysis supports this. In decades past, gays who were openly gay were risking loss of jobs, loss of societal respect, and in many cases violence. Therefore, it can be argued, with such penalties in force against being gay, why would someone choose to be gay? In addition, studies of animals have found that a small percentage of the members of numerous species engage in homosexual behavior, including same-sex mating.

These factors lead to the strong hypothesis that being gay is simply a natural phenomenon. (If you disagree please provide your logic-based or empirical arguments, and you will receive a respectful and fair hearing, although I reserve the right to question your comments from a science perspective. Also, anti-gay comments solely based on emotion will not be posted.)

But what about those folks whose cultural/religious beliefs prevent them from arriving at this gay-is-okay conclusion? Should they be forced to change their views (e.g. “Christian bakers face $135K fine for refusing to make cake for gay wedding“)? If this is what you think, then you are subscribing to a view that is as unscientific as it is tyrannical.

Although science indicates that being gay is a natural phenomenon, science also says that people who have deep emotional imprints due to long-held cultural beliefs are not going to rapidly change their views, regardless of rapid changes in the general culture. Forcing folks (by penalty of fines or imprisonment) to immediately adopt the latest “politically correct” beliefs (which are often based on junk science) can be just as damaging to society as the maintenance of beliefs that have been shown by science to be invalid.

Here’s the solution: A business that does not wish to serve gays should simply change the business to a members-only club — a private club. Patrons can be charged a modest annual fee to become a member, and membership can be made contingent upon the values held by the club. For example, Melissa’s Sweet Cakes becomes Melissa’s Christian Sweet Cakes (Private Club).

Private clubs can therefore provide a civil intermediate step that allows those with emotionally-ingrained habits to follow their beliefs, until such time as the results of good science — a long-term process — percolate throughout the general culture.

Ed Walker

Related: I Don’t Want To Hear It



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Green Energy Storage: We Can’t Get There with Batteries (Why Systems Analysis is Essential for Making Good Decisions)

wind farmThe Catch-22 of Energy Storage” by John Morgan is quite an article. It exemplifies proper systems analysis, which requires one to stand back and look at the overall Big Picture — examine all of the important variables — in order to improve the odds of arriving at a proper solution.

In brief, the point of the article is that using batteries for energy storage actually results in negative energy savings, when one properly considers the energy required to build and maintain the batteries.

It is quite amazing that — because of the lack of a proper systems analysis — enormous sums have been spent on what strongly appears to be a Quixotic attempt at achieving “green energy savings” based primarily on wishful thinking about batteries.

This is not a criticism of those who like wind or solar power, because those who do have been taught to favor those approaches by a media which is largely incompetent with regard to scientific matters, and corrupt with regard to political policy. This deadly brew has resulted in a culture which embraces emotionally-laden “feel good” pseudoscience at the expense of hard-nosed but effective solutions, solutions that may actually help the environment, as well as ease the pain of our overburdened taxpayers.

Related post: “Look the the Big Picture

-Ed Walker


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Breaking the “Fiscal Cliff” Gridlock without Compromising the Principles of Either Side

The “fiscal cliff” crisis is here. Wouldn’t it be great if the White House and Congress could solve this crisis together, without having to compromise the principles of either side?

Sound impossible? Not really; engineers achieve such magic all the time. Here’s how.

How to Make Effective Decisions

Engineers are exceptionally successful in providing solutions to problems. As discussed here, this is not because engineers are smarter than everyone else, it’s because they have a review system that drives out bad ideas. Proposed solutions are based on research and careful analysis, not emotion. Also, proposed solutions are mercilessly critiqued by a panel of senior experienced engineers, following which the best solution is selected.

But the process does not end there. Engineers realize that, despite their best efforts, a selected solution might not work as predicted, so they rigorously test it. If it meets expectations, they keep it. If it doesn’t, it’s tossed aside and the next-best proposal is then evaluated. This process of critique, select, and test continues until the desired results are achieved.

Why Compromise Is Bad

Compromise distorts the learning process. If a selected solution were allowed to be a combination of various ideas, this would muddy the waters such that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to determine which ideas had the best, and worst, effects on the results. It is therefore better to select a single clear and uncluttered idea. When the idea is tested, it will quickly become obvious whether or not the idea is a good one.

Avoiding the Fiscal Cliff: Don’t Compromise, Compete

I recommend that the House majority make this offer to the Obama administration:

The Administration will provide the House with a proposal containing the Administration’s wish list for economic measures to solve the fiscal crisis. The House will vote to approve those measures, without watering them down, or compromising them in any way, in return for the following understanding (as defined in the related legislation):

  1. Clear and uncontroversial metrics will be used to measure progress (e.g. unemployment rate and national debt).
  2. If, by the end of one fiscal quarter, the metrics are trending in a favorable direction (e.g. unemployment rate and debt are both less than at the beginning of the quarter), then the measures will be automatically extended for an additional quarter.
  3. If, by the end of one fiscal quarter, any metric is trending in an unfavorable direction (e.g. unemployment rate or debt are higher than at the beginning of the quarter) then the measures will be automatically terminated and replaced with alternate measures as defined by the House in the initial legislation. The alternate measures will be evaluated by the same metrics.
  4. The process will continue on a quarterly basis, with measures that are trending positive automatically renewed.
  5. If neither set of measures proves to be effective, then new proposals will be provided by the Administration and the House, and the process will start anew.

The advantages of the above approach are many, including:

  1. Breaks gridlock without compromising either side’s principles.
  2. Proposed measures get an unfettered, full, and fair trial.
  3. Evaluation of measures is simple (things get better or they don’t), yielding conclusions that are clear and unarguable.
  4. Requires positive results, or the other side gets a turn at bat.
  5. Short but reasonable quarterly evaluation periods promote rapid progress.
  6. Competition between clearly defined and unobstructed ideas will engage and inform the American people.

Adopting a competitive results-oriented approach to solving the fiscal cliff crisis will require Congress and the Administration to break with their ingrained habits. Indeed, some politicians may prefer to grasp their buggy whips tightly as they continue to flog the old tired horse of ineffective bickering and counterproductive compromise. That would be unfortunate, because the American people deserve better.

Isn’t it time for our government to adopt the highly successful methods used routinely by engineering firms?

-Ed Walker

p.s. If you care to send the link ( of this post to your congressional representative, you can find their name by zip code here:



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A Practical Alternative to Government Regulations

An Engineering Thinking Solution For Protecting The Public

Let’s challenge the assumption that we need the government to protect us, by regulating commerce at all levels.

Why Regulations Are Not Effective (proof by counterexamples):

a. The Food & Drug Administration is supposed to protect us from tainted foods and harmful drugs. It does neither, by its own admission (“FDA Science and Mission at Risk“).

b. The Security and Exchange Commission is supposed to protect us from financial crooks. It doesn’t (remember Bernie Madoff?).

c. Restaurant inspections are supposed to protect us from food poisoning. They don’t (you’ve seen the newspaper reports of folks getting ill at restaurants, all of which are regularly inspected).

Here’s the basic underlying reason why regulations are ineffective: Although the government is never shy about dipping into the pockets of the taxpayer, there will never be enough money to pay for enough inspectors to inspect businesses often enough to eliminate the problems that the inspectors are supposed to find and stop. Why? Because there is no financial incentive built into this open-ended regulatory system. Regulators are not able to make a profit at regulating, unless they are corrupt and take bribes. Unfortunately, such corruption is not uncommon.

A second reason is that the public says, “Yeah, but we have to at least try to stop the problems or they would get completely out of hand. So even though regulations are not completely effective, we’re still better off having the regulations.” This reasoning, however, will not stand up to analysis.

One, it assumes that other factors, such as loss of business and potential lawsuits, are not significant. To the contrary, these free market incentives are very powerful motives for keeping businesses honest, even in the absence of regulations. In fact, for the great majority of honest and competent businesses, government regulations amount to a useless added burden that drives up costs. And these costs are ultimately paid by you, the consumer.

Second, it assumes that there is no better alternative. To answer this, Engineering Thinking offers the following plan:

The ET Plan For Eliminating Costly Regulations

Replace them with the following single requirement:

Each business shall be required to prominently post an easily readable  certificate at the entry to their place of business (or on their web portal, or on their products, etc.)

-A red certificate if they have no liability insurance

-A green certificate if they have liability insurance (as certified by the applicable government accounting agency, with the insurance carrier and amount of coverage noted on the certificate).

Failure to post a certificate, or posting a false green certificate, will be punishable by a minimum jail term and fine.

That’s it. You buy products or services from a “red certificate” business, you’re largely on your own. Its prices might be lower because they carry no insurance, but your risk will be higher if you have a problem. If so, you will still be able to sue, but you will have had fair notice that the business will likely not have enough assets to cover any damages.

The red certificate also allows small start-up entrepreneurs such as taxi drivers or hair stylists to get a foot in the door with clients who are willing to accept lower prices at increased risk. Presently, licensing and regulations often amount to a corrupt system where established wealthier businesses, through contributions to public officials who pass restrictive licensing/regulation laws, effectively block competition by making it too expensive for potential competitors to start a business. This limits consumer choice and drives up costs.

On the other hand, you may prefer to buy products or services from a “green” business. The prices might be somewhat higher, but you will have financial recourse if something goes wrong. Plus, you will be assured of obtaining safer products or services. Why? Because insurance companies do not like to pay for losses. An insurance company will not provide liability insurance to an unqualified person, so if someone claims to be, for example, a medical doctor, they will need to convince the insurance company that they are qualified to practice medicine. Plus, the insurance companies will provide their own ongoing inspections and monitoring to ensure that their clients maintain safety standards.

The new role of the government? To certify/monitor the financial health of insurance companies, to decertify/prosecute those companies that exhibit unethical behavior regarding claims, and to prosecute businesses who operate without an appropriate certificate. All of the licensing and regulatory nonsense simply drops away, because it is no longer relevant. Insurance companies will now provide the regulatory function in a cost-effective fashion.

The advantages of the above red/green plan are numerous: Lowers the cost to the consumer; eliminates the governmental regulatory bureaucracy and related inept  micromanagement; increases consumer choice; offers entrepreneurs a chance to get a business started; eliminates corrupt artificial barriers to competition; and last but not least, enhances consumer safety.

-Ed Walker


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