Category Archives: Relationships

Women, Protect Your Life: Read The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

giftoffearEvery so often I come across a book (in this case, it was recommended by a friend) that is worth its weight in platinum. The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker is a dazzling presentation of extensively researched facts, many of them contrary to our popular notions, that provide bright insight into our culture’s epidemic of violence. More importantly, De Becker provides practical and essential guidance for those women who may be suffering from domestic abuse, stalking, or even pushy dates, and also for those who may be wondering whether or not they should stay in a problematic relationship. Mr. De Becker also explores the mystery of why some women stay with abusive men, and provides the insight that can motivate such psychologically trapped women to break free.

Although the subject is dark, Mr. De Becker writes in a respectful yet entertaining style, and even manages to adroitly and tastefully inject humor along the way. Using numerous can’t-put-down-the-book true stories to illustrate his points, De Becker captivates while he educates.

Writing a book is tough work, and as a successful businessman for many years, it is unlikely that Mr. De Becker needed the income. It is one of those books that appears to be a labor of love, with the author motivated by a desire to share his deep knowledge and experience in order to improve the safety of women. Towards the end of the book De Becker teaches us all, men and women alike, on how to avoid over-fearfulness while being alert to danger. An impressive balancing act, successfully accomplished.

-Ed Walker

Note: I do not accept compensation, direct or indirect, for any reviews posted in Engineering Thinking


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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 ( (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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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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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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Feedback, Prices, and Sullen Spouses

To ensure that a desired result is achieved, engineers design systems that measure the system output and compare that output to a reference value. If the output does not match the reference — if there is an error — the system adjusts itself to minimize the error. This type of system, one that samples the output and feeds it back to the input for comparison and correction purposes, is called a feedback system.

As an example of a feedback system, consider the system that consists of you and your automobile, zipping along on the interstate with a police cruiser not far behind. To make it in time to a very important interview for a lucrative new job, without getting a ticket, you plan to accurately drive along right at the speed limit. Visual feedback from the speedometer tells you the system output (speed) and whether or not you are traveling above or below the limit. If an error occurs (whoops, going a bit too fast), your brain sends a signal down to your foot to ease off of the accelerator until the speed is reduced to the limit. This feedback loop, from output (as measured by the speedometer) to your brain to your foot to the gas pedal, maintains your car at the desired speed.

Now imagine that the feedback path is broken; e.g. your speedometer suddenly quits working and always reads zero. In this case you rely on a secondary feedback path, the passing landscape, and estimate your speed. Since it’s only a rough approximation, however, you’ll play it safe and drop your speed a few miles per hour to be sure that you are under the limit, although this might make you a bit late.

But what if it’s a dark night with no moon and your headlights fail? You now have no feedback, and are forced to stop, ruining your chance for the new job.

As feedback decreases,
inefficiency increases.

Because of its extreme importance, feedback is used  everywhere. In many cases, as in the example above, sensors provide feedback to human operators, who act on that feedback to achieve the desired results. In many other cases feedback is completely automated, without any human intervention at all.

Feedback is applicable to social organizations as well. Many commercial organizations exist for the purpose of providing goods or services to the population. These companies receive feedback from their output (how much they sell) and then adjust prices accordingly. A “price discount” in this case is analogous to the accelerator in the auto example, and sales is analogous to the speed. If sales are down, a company will step on the accelerator by offering higher discounts in order to increase sales.

Likewise, individuals who work for private companies experience feedback in the form of salaries and promotions based on their work efficiency. Slackers tend not to be paid as well, if they remain employed at all.

At the personal level, a spouse who provides quick feedback about their partner’s perceived inappropriate behavior will reap the rewards of a much more efficient and positive relationship, than one who remains mysteriously and sullenly silent.

Large bureaucratic systems, such as the federal government, are the least efficient organizations for providing services, because (like a sullen spouse) they do not employ effective feedback. In fact (unlike the sullen spouse), bureaucratic systems have no choice — their very nature precludes the existence of meaningful feedback.

In other words, there is no output/price feedback. Consumers cannot chose Federal Government A over Federal Government B because A charges less for services than B; we are all forced to “buy” government services from a single monopolistic federal entity, under penalty of fines or imprisonment if we don’t.

Although governments don’t have output/price feedback, one could argue that they do have feedback from elections (and sometimes in the interim from noisy constituents). However, the time lag between governmental actions and subsequent voter response on election day is so large as to render the normal benefits of feedback almost moot. Indeed, as we’ll show in an upcoming post, a time lag can create system instability, or even the opposite of the desired result.

If one accepts the fact that quick feedback is essential for efficient and accurate results, then an important Engineering Thinking conclusion is this:

 Regardless of the Intentions or Talent or Compassion
or Political Beliefs of the Individuals Involved,
Excellent Results Are Much More Likely to be Achieved by
Individuals or Organizations That Employ Effective Feedback.
Poor Results Can Be Expected from Those That Don’t.

-Ed Walker


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Is Your Significant Other A Sociopath?

The word sociopath has an interesting pedigree. The original (and technically correct) meaning is derived from behavior representative of criminal groups (hence socio); e.g. members of a robbery gang.

Today, however, sociopath in the popular vernacular has come to characterize an individual’s narcissistic, self-centered, amoral behavior. (Counselor Barb informs me that the correct term for this is antisocial personality disorder.)  In any event, this type of person is the subject of this post.

So, is your SO a sociopath? Here are some clues: (bear in mind, we all may exhibit one or more of these characteristics, but rarely, and typically on a bad day):

1. The sociopath is never wrong. Never — ever — wrong.

2. The sociopath, if they appear to be wrong, will:

a. Deny the factual evidence (“That photo is supposedly of me? Nah, anyone can fake a photo.”)

b. Belittle the factual evidence (“So I did it; so what? Everyone does it; who cares?”)

c. Attack the bearer of factual evidence and change the focus to something irrelevant (“Oh, and so you think you’re perfect? You’re lucky I put up with you, after what you did four years ago…)

3. The sociopath does not — at all — understand your (or any other person’s) point of view. They do not know how to look at the world from another perspective because they are not capable of empathy.

4. However, the sociopath knows how to fake empathy and friendliness better than a used car salesman. They can make you pursue them, love them, and want to stay with them despite their almost total self-centeredness and frequent abuse. This is because they are experts at emotional manipulation, easily capable of making you feel as though you are at fault for relationship problems. (Ever wonder why your girlfriend stays with her abusive SO? Now you know.)

5. The sociopath’s skills at false empathy allow them to be very socially adept; they can even be the life of the party. Their mask, however, tends to slip — sometimes revealing extreme rage — when they are criticized or challenged. A sociopath is a prince when you’re  unquestioning and subservient, but Godzilla should you stray from your prescribed role in the relationship.

So, is your SO a sociopath? If so, what do you do? ET says run, as fast as you can. (But you may want to discuss this first with a qualified mental health counselor.)

-Ed Walker



Family Comes First: True or False?

Boldly Go Where Your Mind Has Not Gone Before: Challenge Your Assumptions! (Part 2)

Engineering Thinking requires that we challenge all assumptions, particularly those that seem to be obviously true. As mentioned before, such challenges may propel us toward conclusions that may, at first glance, seem weird, wacky, or nutty. Nonetheless, we must learn to go where the analysis takes us, so here we go:

In the area of personal relationships, an assumption that is rarely challenged is the one that says, loud and clear, “family comes first.”

Family Comes First: True or False?

The assumption behind “family comes first” is that we have a higher obligation to family members than we do to other folks. This would appear to be reasonable for nuclear parent-child families, where parents have a moral obligation to properly raise their children.

But what about more distant family connections, with cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws involved, or cases where the children are grown? Are there any instances where expending the time and effort on family matters may not be morally superior than spending time with others? Here are a few scenarios to ponder:

1. Your only child has grown, who unfortunately has not turned out to be a very pleasant person. You had an evening planned to go out with some rock-solid “non-family” friends you’ve known for twenty years. Your child suddenly drops by with a standard emergency. Should you cancel your outing with your friends?

2. Your family’s gatherings are full of strife, with excessive alcohol, bickering, and tension. Do you feel obligated to attend these family gatherings on every holiday?

3. Like many families, yours has become split by divorce. Do holiday gatherings become an ordeal where some relatives try to use guilt to force you into eliminating or minimizing the time spent with the other side of the family?

If one starts with the premise that true friends — those who appreciate you and consistently treat you with respect — are the definition of true family, you will find clear answers to the questions posed above.

Merry Christmas!

-Ed Walker


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Using Engineering Thinking To Solve Personal Problems

Boldly Go Where Your Mind Has Not Gone Before: Challenge Your Assumptions!

Consider this scenario: You have a close relationship with a fairly rational person, and you have an important personal issue you need to resolve. How to proceed?

In such cases we’ve  learned how different points of view branch from different assumptions (see “Put On Your Emotional Armor“). Therefore, before you even start to discuss the issue with the other party, a way to help improve the odds for agreement is to first review your own position. Dig down to the roots of your beliefs until you reach your baseline assumptions, and then boldly challenge them.


Susan: The issue: Sam never wants to go to the opera, but I always go with him to his ball games. This bugs me.

Susan: My baseline assumption: Fair is fair. If I do something for Sam then he should do something for me.

Challenge: Do you dislike going to the ball games?

Susan: Um, no, they’re kind of fun.

Challenge: Does he insist that you go?

Susan: Um, no.

Challenge: Do you know how much Sam dislikes the opera?

Susan: Um, no. We’ve never discussed it. He just never wants to go. I think he might like it if he went and tried it.

Challenge: Does he object if you go by yourself to the opera?

Susan: Um, no.

Challenge: Are there other activities that you both enjoy doing?

Susan: Yes. We both like hanging out at the beach, and motor biking.

Challenge: Your assumption for fairness seems to be that Sam should do something he doesn’t want to do for you, while you do things for him you like to do. Is your definition of “fair” really fair?

Susan: Well…

ET Observation: Humans spend a lot of time trying to control others, under the guise of “fairness” or “compromise.” Wouldn’t it be better to apply that energy to seeking activities that are mutually agreeable? After all, there is a whole universe of things to do out there, so why become obsessed about those few that one party doesn’t like?

-Ed Walker


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A Summary Of Engineering Thinking Principles

Engineering Thinking is a wonderful tool set for making good decisions. This is not because engineers are better than anyone else, but because engineers work within a scientific/capitalistic framework, or culture, that strongly promotes excellence. Within the framework, if you do good work, you are rewarded; if you don’t, you aren’t. It’s really as simple as that.

You can pick any issue or problem — world events, politics, a purchasing decision, a relationship issue — and ET will help.

So what are the basic principles and corollary traits of Engineering Thinking?


Define the problem and set the goals / Organized & focused

Do the research / Thoroughness and persistence

Challenge assumptions / Avoid emotional blockages and confusion factors

Analyze & test / Apply logical thinking, as supported by empirical evidence

Conclude & correct / Follow-through to apply what has been learned

ET principles can simplify your life and lead to better decisions, while reducing stress:

Life is simplified if you have some rules to follow for important decisions; ET provides those proven time-tested rules. Better decisions are the result of ET’s reliance on objectivity — which includes the avoidance of emotional blockages — to improve the odds of making a good decision. Note that ET does not guarantee the proper decision, but it does optimize the chances of arriving at a good decision, and for human beings that’s as good as it gets.

ET also reduces stress. Although you may not (and should not expect to) win every argument or make the best decision every time, you can sleep better by knowing that by applying the principles of ET you did the best that you could.

Furthermore, after applying ET in a civil manner, if you experience unreasoned hostility or stubbornness (emotional blockages) from the other party, such a response provides you with significant feedback as to whether you should bother to discuss certain issues with that person; i.e. why waste your time? In some cases such a response may suggest whether or not you should even continue to maintain a serious relationship with the other party.

Example: You have a roommate that drops their socks and underwear wherever they happen to be at the time they are changing from their work attire and getting comfortable for the evening, such as in front of the TV. Seeing dirty socks and underwear in the living room annoys you.

ET step 1: Define the problem and goals: Messy roommate, want them to pick up after themselves.

ET Step 2: Research: Get on the Internet and determine if this is a common problem, and if so what are some solutions.

ET Step 3: Challenge Assumptions: Be willing to adjust your views and lower your expectations if you find that your roommate’s behavior is more normal than you think it is.

ET Step 4: Analyze the situation. Assuming that your research has determined that your roommate’s behavior is considered generally unacceptable [note: I have not researched this and don’t really know what the norm is for such unkempt behavior], apply the remedies suggested by your research and monitor the results.

ET Step 5: Based upon the results of your roommate’s response to your trial solutions, if satisfactory, then problem solved. If not, (a) modify the solution and try again, (b) learn to live with an out-of-the-norm roommate, or (c) get a new roommate.

-Ed Walker







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ET EXTRA: Protecting Your Relationship: How To Fight Fair

Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic

CounselorBarb™ (my wife) has recently posted “How to Fight Fair,” a list of helpful and practical (engineering-thinking-like) ground rules for arguments between couples. As Barb says, “Couples will argue, it’s natural, so now it becomes HOW you argue that is important.”

(The list was developed by Barb after consulting similar lists by Lambos, W.A., & Emener, W.G. (In press): Cognitive and Neuroscientific Aspects of Human Love: A Guide for Therapists and Researchers, Hauppauge, NY, Nova Science, Publisher; and Horton, Lee: Crumbling Commitment: Surviving a Marital Crisis.)

-Ed Walker


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