Category Archives: Personal Experiences

ET EXTRA: Provocative Novels For Engineering Thinkers

As can be seen in the sidebar on this blog, I have written some novels, the latest being Double Visions (containing the new short novel Purgatory and my prior novel Nexus).

The novels can be described as psychological mysteries with a touch of the twilight zone, and — the reason for mention here — they contain insights on human behavior from the ET perspective as discussed from time to time in this blog.

As an Engineering Thinking blog reader, it’s likely that you’re looking for more than predictable and superficial plots (fights, car chases, mindless special effects, stalker-of-the-day “thrillers,” etc.). If so, for some thought-provoking and entertaining fiction (according to some reviewers), please visit Journeys to the Edge of Reality.

Double Visions is initially available at CreateSpace and Amazon.

-Ed Walker


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Update: An Engineer Writes A Novel

NEXUS receives “highly recommended” rating from Cindy Taylor, Allbooks Review. Read the full review here.


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ET EXTRA: An Engineer Writes A Novel…

…And What You Can Expect If You Write One, Too.

A psychological drama/mystery with a touch of the Twilight Zone

As a student I veered briefly into the literary realm, but finally settled on engineering as a profession. My writing skills, such as they were, have been subsequently used to create The Design Analysis Handbook, author/edit the Design/Analysis Newsletter, and more recently, write posts for this Engineering Thinking blog. No, I have not won any literary awards, although a good  number of Handbooks have been sold, and the newsletter did get mentioned once in a congressional hearing.

But this was not enough. Several years ago I realized that I wanted to write a novel of the type that I read many years ago, but which is hard to find today: edgy, suspenseful, Twilight Zone-ish, but more grown-up; i.e., no car chases, no brawls, but with realistic relationships and adult dialog. I also yearned — as an engineer — for plots that were believable, logically structured, consistent, and that portrayed real people with imperfections.

I particularly cherished the novels whose content was absent the plethora of f-bombs that contaminate much modern literature. Call me quaint, but in my view one of the major purposes of art is to elevate, not degrade. Only in modern times has vulgar language, along with the “guys-chatting-in-adjacent-urinals” scene, become obligatory parts of novels and screenplays. If that’s elevating, then I’ve been living in the basement.

As if to satisfy my craving, one night after dinner, out of the blue, an idea for a novel struck. It had a very offbeat plot that I thought would be quite intriguing, and I was somewhat obsessed with it. Appropriately, in fact, a major part of the plot line is about obsession. So I went to work. However, even though I had previously written a non-fiction book, I soon realized that a novel was completely different. Therefore I decided to educate myself by having my original rough manuscript reviewed by a professional book editor.

Despite the tactfulness of the editor, it was a mortifying and humbling experience, and confirmed my lack of skills. In other words, it was well worth it. In fact, after reworking the novel, I obtained the services of yet a second book editor, and again received expert guidance, and again received a literary kick in the pants. And again, it was well worth it. After my third pass, after more polishing and review (by those who shall remain blameless and nameless, at least for now), I decided it was time to try to publish.

Unfortunately, I discovered that approximately 99% of the population had the same idea.

It seems that if you possess a crayon and a brown paper bag, this makes you a novelist. Publishers and agents are continually bombarded with the unsolicited manuscripts of first-time novelists, most of which contain grammar and spelling errors, shallow characters, trite prose, and all-too-predictable story lines. And these submissions are by those authors that have some talent; most of the rest do not rise to the level of tripe. Only a very small percentage of submissions are considered acceptable.

Nonetheless, publishers and agents by and large are polite, and — on the rare occasions when they discern a flicker of talent — they may send back a word or two of encouragement along with the rejection notice.

More importantly, I also learned that agents as a rule do not handle first-time novelists; they recommend that you go directly to a publisher. If you can find one who will publish your book, come back and see them and they will be happy to represent you. But there’s a catch: publishers as a rule will not look at your manuscript unless you first have an agent. Hmmm…

I don’t blame the publishers or the agents. The available supply of manuscripts is so huge that it is simply overwhelming, forcing them to use draconian screening methods to whittle down submissions to a manageable size. They admit that they can miss out on some promising new talent, but the logistics of the business leave them no alternative but to quickly screen and reject the great majority of the incoming deluge. They will also acknowledge that the selection procedure does not guarantee that the authors they do publish will become successful, and as a final irony, they will also sheepishly admit that many best-sellers click with the public for no fathomable literary reason.

So what’s a budding novelist to do?

Self-publishing, through the traditional “vanity” press (publishers who will print your books for a fee, regardless of whether you can string two coherent sentences together), is one option. Typically this is a dead end for a new author, although there have been some very rare exceptions.

The advent of ebooks (e.g. Amazon Kindle), however, which bypass traditional paper-based publishing, offers a second alternative. The process is simple: upload your ebook manuscript and related info (description, cover art), and you’re published. A very few first-time authors have taken the ebook route and sold quite a few copies, and even caught the attention of the mainstream publishers. So ebooks offer a teeny but finite possibility of reaching the reading public.

Therefore, after a few years of writing, learning, polishing, re-writing, learning, polishing, re-writing, and finalizing, I published Nexus as an ebook. I truly do not expect to make any money on the endeavor, but I do believe that those who have a yearning for an offbeat and somewhat retro-style novel will find Nexus worthwhile.

I also believe that if you have a novel inside you, and are prepared to invest in the effort required to bring it to the page, you will likely find the effort to be very fulfilling, even if it’s read by only a handful of family and friends. There is simply something quite indescribably satisfying about being able to convey the ideas, images, and feelings that are important to you, and to share them with others. And if you can actually sell your vision and make a living at it … well, that’s really one for the Twilight Zone.

-Ed Walker


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I’m Right! (Or Am I?)

If you have strong opinions and want to test them scientifically, drill down to their roots and check them against the following list of unscientific justifications:

Unscientific Justifications

  1. That’s the way I was raised
  2. I work in a union and all my friends feel the same way
  3. I work in a corporate office and all my friends feel the same way
  4. Oprah feels the same way
  5. I read it in a best-selling book
  6. I saw a “based on a true story” movie
  7. Because that’s the way things should be

If your opinions are based on unscientific justifications, that doesn’t mean you are wrong. It does mean that you will probably have a very hard time defending your opinions when discussing them with others. And if those others also use fallacy-laden arguments, everyone will experience a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing (my apologies to William Shakespeare).

“But Ed,” you protest, “I don’t use unscientific justifications; I’m on guard against those. I base my opinions on facts, not emotion.”

Sounds good, but do you, really? Take a look at the following list of possibly unscientific justifications:

Possibly Unscientific Justifications

  1. It happened to me once
  2. I read it in a magazine
  3. I learned it in a seminar
  4. I read it in a textbook
  5. I watched a documentary
  6. It was reported in the newspaper
  7. My doctor told me
  8. A scientist said so on TV
  9. I read it on a “fact check” Internet site
  10. Some reviews on an Internet site said it was great

Because the principle of objectivity is so vital in the decision-making process, we’ll review the above list in more detail. Let’s start with “It happened to me once.”

Learning from An Experience

A personal experience can be a wonderful teacher. However, as real and powerful as an experience is, it is a sample of one. It’s only one experiment, if you will.

“What are you taking about, Ed?” you exclaim loudly. “If it happened to me — if I experienced it myself, saw it with my own eyes — then it’s got to be true!”

Not necessarily. Human perceptions are imperfect, and unless we’re careful we tend to jam our experiences into preconceived boxes that fit our expectations. Our memories are likewise imperfect, and tend to adapt to what we want to remember, rather than retain the reality of what really happened.

Nonetheless, for simple phenomena, one experiment is sometimes sufficient to reach an important conclusion. If you put your hand on a hot stove and get burned, a valid conclusion is — don’t do that again!

The Single-Event Fallacy (Am I Psychic?)

For complex phenomena, however, deriving a firm conclusion from a sole personal experience is an example of the single-event fallacy. For example, what if you dreamed that you were going to have a fight with your spouse in the morning, and sure enough, you did. Can you conclude that you’re psychic? Not really, because in this instance there are many variables involved. Dreams, for example, often mirror common events such as arguments with spouses, and there are billions of us dreaming such dreams every night. According to the laws of probability it’s quite likely that some folks will, on rare occasion, have a dream that coincidentally matches upcoming reality.

True psychic ability would be indicated by predictive dreams or visions that cannot be explained by coincidence; e.g. dreams of improbable events with very specific details (“On Tuesday I dreamed that on Thursday afternoon I would be in an auto accident involving a red sedan driven by a stocky man wearing a gray turtleneck sweater, and it happened!”) If you have such dreams, the next step would be to demonstrate your psychic predictive power to an objective independent observer; i.e. be tested. If you pass you will not only make history, you will make a lot of money — a one-million dollar prize is available to anyone who can prove, under scientific conditions, that they are psychic, or have any other paranormal ability (see JREF). (This prize has been offered for many, many years and there have been no successful applicants.)

Conclusion: When multiple variables are involved, engineering thinking requires the use of numerous samples (experiences) to fashion a reasonable hypothesis for the cause of an event.

Single Experiences Of Complex Events

Do Not Lead To Reliable Conclusions

We’ll continue our review of possibly unscientific justifications in the following posts.

Next Post:

Books, Magazines, and Seminars: Who Do You Trust?

p.s. If you are curious to learn more about the engineering mind, please check out the DACI Newsletter; you may find the Sightings and News Bullet sections interesting.

-Ed Walker


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