back to article 'I feel violated': Engineer who pointed out traffic signals flaw fined for 'unlicensed engineering'

Last year, Mats Järlström was fined $500 for revealing troubling flaws in the mathematical formula used to govern the timing of US traffic lights. Järlström, a Swedish electronics engineer who has lived in America for more than two decades, realized there was a design fault in traffic systems after his wife got a ticket from …

Page:

  1. redpawn Silver badge

    Bureaucracy

    He shouldn't have used math. It makes governments nervous.

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Bureaucracy

      Weapons of math destruction! That's terrrarism!

      Mine's the one with the terrorbyte disk in the pocket.

    2. Graybyrd
      Trollface

      Re: Bureaucracy

      No, it's American culture. Years ago I read a voyaging journal by a young French sailor of considerable renown. (Damn, I wish I could remember more... but anyway) He had encountered bureaucracy around the globe, and got along just fine. Until the Panama Canal, controlled by the Americans. I remember vividly his statement, "When it comes to bureaucratic hostility, pettiness, and obstruction, the Americans are without equal!" (Thats paraphrasing, as close as I can remember.) It stuck with me. I'm a Yank, and I've lived with our native-born bureaucrats.

      Oregon is NOT the exception. In all areas of bureaucratic practice at all levels in the U.S., it is more the rule. We pride ourselves in rigid, unbending enforcement of "the rules."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bureaucracy

        Oregon is NOT the exception. In all areas of bureaucratic practice at all levels in the U.S., it is more the rule. We pride ourselves in rigid, unbending enforcement of "the rules."

        Unless, apparently, it involves an orange billionaire who can break every rule on self enrichment, nepotism and active collusion with a foreign government to rig a vaguely democratic election process.

        Just out of interest, does Oregon have any DIY stores then, or are they reserved for people who can prove they're licensed engineers? Are ballpoints, or is it still strictly a goose feather and parchment environment? Do they check at the State border for contraband such as unlicensed wrenches and hammers with their serial numbers filed off?

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Bureaucracy

          Way back in the mists of time, Engineers were people (usually men) who designed bridges, roads, towers, etc. Then the industrial revolution came and suddenly those who designed cars, airplaines, etc. were getting engineering degrees. The "old line" Engineers just don't believe these upstarts are engineers.

          1. Nolveys Silver badge

            Re: Bureaucracy

            Engineers were people (usually men) who designed bridges, roads, towers, etc. Then the industrial revolution came and suddenly those who designed cars, airplaines, etc.

            Generally those are referred to as "civil engineering" and "savage engineering".

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: Bureaucracy

              What is the diffrrence between a civil engineer and a mechanical engineer?

              A mechanical engineer builds weapons. A civil engineer builds targets.

              1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

                Re: Bureaucracy

                "A mechanical engineer builds weapons. A civil engineer builds targets."

                I'm a civil engineer. Before that, I was an artillery man. I know how to build hard targets.

                ---

                SERGIUS [gravely, without moving] Captain Bluntschli.

                BLUNTSCHLI. Eh ?

                SERGIUS. You have deceived me. You are my rival. I brook no rivals. At six o'clock I shall be in the drilling- ground on the Klissoura road, alone, on horseback, with my sabre. Do you understand ?

                BLUNTSCHLI [staring, but sitting quite at his ease] Oh, thank you : thats a cavalry man's proposal. I'm in the artillery ; and I have the choice of weapons. If I go, I shall take a machine gun. And there shall be no mistake about the cartridges this time.

                (G.B. Shaw - Arms and the Man)

              2. FBiL

                Re: Bureaucracy

                Years ago, when spending some time as a draughtsman (pre CAD days too) I had it explained to me as

                A Mechanical Engineer designs to the nearest thousandth

                A Structural Engineer designs to the nearest 1/16th

                An Architect designs to the nearest field

            2. notowenwilson

              Re: Bureaucracy

              "Generally those are referred to as "civil engineering" and "savage engineering"."

              I prefer the term "parallel engineers". Since most of what they design involves straight, parallel lines.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bureaucracy

        ""When it comes to bureaucratic hostility, pettiness, and obstruction, the Americans are without equal!" "

        When I started work as a young R&D engineer* my boss had spent considerable time in both the Soviet Union and the US, and he warned me before I went to the US about the bureaucracy. He said that he had been astonished to discover that Soviet bureaucracy was a lot easier to negotiate than US bureaucracy. I found this hard to believe. And then I experienced US bureaucracy.

        *I don't live in Oregon so I couldn't be an engineer.

        1. Lars Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Bureaucracy

          "Soviet bureaucracy was a lot easier". Well perhaps, you give them something and in return they give you something. See the problem, what a topic, I think we all know when it starts to smell with or without gifts.

          And I think that as soon as we start this "they are all like that" and "those are all like this" then we are speaking a lot of "this" and "that", generally rubbish.

          1. cream wobbly

            Re: Bureaucracy

            Damned right, sir. US bureaucracy in my experience is a lot simpler to navigate than the French system. US bureaucracy is brutally up front & efficient with obtuse rules; French bureaucracy wonders why you think it shouldn't be so obstructive; and British bureaucracy would like you to come back tomorrow.

            For all its faults, at least the US government is all searchable. This "engineer" rule in Oregon was very much known about beforehand. I've read similar nonsense before. The only reason French and British bureaucracy can be navigated at all is because someone somewhere took pity on you and maybe bent the rules a little. It's because those countries' rules seem to be that the license is the law. Once you have something, it's yours to keep. In the US, the rules *always* apply. An improperly issued privilege can be revoked.

      3. JLV Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Bureaucracy

        Nice.

        I already knew one reason the French and Americans have a tetchy relationship with each other - an innate conviction that they are each the start and end of civilization and God's gift to others on the planet. Whom all others should emulate.

        You can now add they _both_ have head-up-the-rectum bureaucrats aplenty.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bureaucracy

          "They are each the start and end of civilization and God's gift to others". Only an Englishman could claim that, disturbed by competition.

      4. Oh Homer Silver badge
        Big Brother

        'rigid, unbending enforcement of "the rules"'

        It's not so much the rigidness as the rule itself that's so appalling.

        Suggesting a better traffic lights timing algorithm is a criminal offence?

        America is off-the-charts insane.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge
          Holmes

          @Oh Homer -- Re: 'rigid, unbending enforcement of "the rules"'

          "America is off-the-charts insane."

          You just now figured that out? Most of us that live in the States figured that out decades ago. See icon.....

      5. Willybee

        Re: Bureaucracy

        It seems French Culture involves making a Sport of mocking and criticizing anything American.

        At a Technical meeting Breakfast table in Germany, the French Delegate spent nearly half an hour criticizing Americans for their Inferior grasp of Logic. Much of his Tirade involved our failure to universally adopt the Metric System. He didn't know that I understand the French and German that he spoke exclusively in.

        As courtesy, all the German Host Delegates spoke English.

        When he decided to Shut Up and Eat, I gave my Host my card, and told him, "Tell Henri that they may ONLY call me AFTER they Make Their Verbs Regular".

        1. whileI'mhere

          Re: Bureaucracy

          An American? Talking about regular verbs?

          HINT: Dive is a regular verb whose past participle is dived, and dove is a type of bird

      6. motne

        Re: Bureaucracy

        Oregon is very much exceptional in this sort of abuse and misuse of authority.

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bureaucracy

        @Graybyrd - "Oregon is NOT the exception. In all areas of bureaucratic practice at all levels in the U.S., it is more the rule. We pride ourselves in rigid, unbending enforcement of "the rules."

        Not Texas. In Texas, we call Oregon the "Soviet Socialist Republic of Oregon" for a reason. And west coast companies and population are flocking to Texas for a reason.

      8. whileI'mhere

        Re: Bureaucracy

        You're saying a FRENCHMAN said that????? My experience is that French bureaucracy is the most rigid and petty of all.

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Bureaucracy

      "If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't." - Admiral Hyman Rickover

    4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Bureaucracy

      And the US elites can not understand way the us lower life forms despise them. They wil use any means to stifle debate that shows they are incompetent monkeys.

    5. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

      Re: Bureaucracy

      (shamelessly lifting somebody's comment): "In Canada, he'd be considered a crank by some, a prophet by others. That would be his Free Speech. The difference seems to be that he backed up his arguments with Mathematics rather than bluster or bullster. Mathematics is Truth, so Free Speech is OK so long as it isn't true? Say it ain't so, Galileo."

    6. Infernoz Bronze badge
      Holmes

      Re: Bureaucracy

      r-types (Rabbit-like people) often can't perceive risk, and can suffer "triggering" mental pain when the risk becomes damage, K-type (Wolf-like people) can easily perceive risk, so prevent/avoid it, but the r-types blindly assume that everyone else is risk blind, so push redundant regulations instead of the more rational solution of having K-type people identify risky situations. This, gangster-like protectionism and other stupid/corrupt people is why there is so much harmful bureaucracy and harmful safety nets.

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: Bureaucracy

        Why are you constantly banging on about r-types and k-types in your comments?

  2. Joe Werner

    Not regulated?

    Actually you have to have studied engineering and get a degree in order to be allowed to call yourself an engineer. You know, like it should be. And in the civilised world it is.... ;)

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Not regulated?

      Not in UK and Ireland were any delivery person to living room, service technician, dish / aerial fitter etc is called an "engineer" even if they only did a H&S course and orientation course to know which is the pointy end of a drill.

      It's demeaning to real engineers that had to get a bunch of A Levels, do a 3 to 4 year University degree and in some cases nearly a year of work experience before they are called an Engineer.

      1. Random Handle

        Re: Not regulated?

        >in some cases nearly a year of work experience before they are called an Engineer.

        That's because engineer is a generic term - in the UK, Chartered Engineer is probably what you're looking for.

        1. handleoclast Silver badge

          He'd have been OK if he was a train driver

          'Tis true. What we describe as "train drivers" the Merkins call "engineers." So if he'd been a train driver he could call himself an engineer quite legitimately.

          Probably wouldn't pass Oregan's rules, but could still call himself an engineer.

          1. Kimo

            Re: He'd have been OK if he was a train driver

            Because steam engines really needed engineers to operate. On a steam train you could tell who the operator was by the whistle, as one of the first tasks that a new engineer was given was to design a train whistle, which they switched out every time they took over a train.

            1. Kiwi Silver badge

              Re: He'd have been OK if he was a train driver

              On a steam train you could tell who the operator was by the whistle, as one of the first tasks that a new engineer was given was to design a train whistle, which they switched out every time they took over a train.

              [citation needed].

              I can't find this with a quick Google. Further, every loco I've played with has had a whistle that a) would be inconvenient to swap out in a hurry when changing drivers (simply because of location and time taken to reach) and b) would be far to hot to deal with.

              I've spent some time around Steam Incorporated's yard, thought some years back. Have had a life-long interest in steam and this is the first time I've heard of this, though my exposure to steam loco's has been mainly NZ ones (due to our odd railway gauge, we don't see much else here). This could be something that didn't happen here.

              1. Stevie Silver badge

                Re: design a train whistle (4 Kiwi)

                You need to turn your "said while keeping a straight face" detector on.

              2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

                Re: He'd have been OK if he was a train driver

                "[citation needed].

                I can't find this with a quick Google."

                I can offer you this, from the Ballad:

                "You could tell from the engine's moans

                That the hogger at the throttle was Casey Jones".

                It may or may not be relevant. But my grandfather had the turned and polished brass ball and the painted iron roses and leaves that he had to make to complete his apprenticeship.

        2. gerdesj Silver badge

          Re: Not regulated?

          "That's because engineer is a generic term - in the UK, Chartered Engineer is probably what you're looking for."

          Unofficially, the capital E is allowed for a shortened form of Chartered status - "Engineer", "engineer" is for the others.

          In IT, I generally think of people who call themselves engineers as those who have managed to stop themselves from licking the keyboard. Engineers will at least have had the presence of mind to initiate some sort of health and safety or HACCP investigation before they start licking the keyboard or they will go for the screen instead. Anyone licking the mouse is obviously a user and not an engineer.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not regulated?

            I would say anyone licking the mouse is a cat. Just saying.

      2. Smooth Newt Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Not regulated?

        Actually you have to have studied engineering and get a degree in order to be allowed to call yourself an engineer. You know, like it should be. And in the civilised world it is.... ;)

        I don't give a damn about job titles. It is what the person actually does that counts. There are plenty of people who don't have degrees in engineering, or degrees at all, who actually do real engineering. Generally by physically making stuff like boats or buildings or writing software.

        And if having the legally protected title of "engineer" stirs the same feelings of admiration, veneration and respect that it does for "solicitor" and "accountant", then I'll give it a miss.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not regulated?

        That's why there are European designations (EurIng?) and titles for qualified engineers, surely?

        Even in the UK, someone who doesn't have the formal qualifications used to have alternative routes to getting Chartered Engineer status. After a physics degree and thirty years engineering work I came very close to getting formal CEng status a few years back, but my then employers attitude to CPD made me think again.

        I'm sure the Institute of Engineering and Technology is looking after the interests of professional engineers in the UK. Not.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Not regulated?

          "I'm sure the Institute of Engineering and Technology is looking after the interests of professional engineers in the UK. Not."

          It's way, way too late for that, at least in terms of the use of "engineer". In the UK at least, "engineer" became the guy who operated the then static steam engines at the beginnings of the industrial revolution.

        2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Not regulated?

          In the US, the technical term is "Professional Engineer", or PE, for short. To be one, you have to pass a "Registered Professional Engineer" test and have some experience, and be licensed by the state.

          As an EE, there's very little reason to do this, because the test and certification is heavily biased towards Civil and Mechanical engineering (i.e.: those who stamp blueprints). However, at the end of my college career, I was encouraged to take the Engineer In Training (EIT) test. I saw no reason to, as I was going to be designing computers. A few did, and I know of two who went to work in the power industry, where the certificate would have been useful.

          Oregon, in my humble opinion, is full of what makes the grass grow green. It's sad to see the state that was home to Tektronix pulling this kind of stuff. Bureaucrats being bureaucrats, I guess (while seeing an opportunity to supplement their meager budget, while simultaneously smacking down someone who dares expose the state's moneymaking scheme)

      4. streaky Silver badge

        Re: Not regulated?

        It's demeaning to real engineers that had to get a bunch of A Levels, do a 3 to 4 year University degree and in some cases nearly a year of work experience before they are called an Engineer.

        I'm a qualified engineer and I could care less, I know the difference - and if I ever leave software and go back into engineering - employers know the difference; the rest is window dressing. It's certainly not demeaning.

        Most people who care are the sort of people who join trade bodies and shockingly those bodies are pay to play which is totally something to get excited about. If you pay your subs you're an engineer and if you don't you're not by their standards. I've built things and I've forgotten more about engineering that some of those guys will ever learn.

        On topic though: wat.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not regulated?

      So the E in an MCSE is bollocks?

      I always suspected.

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: So the E in an MCSE is bollocks?

        Dug up from Ye Register archives:-

        https://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/11/12/microsoft_mcses_are_bogus_boffins/

        https://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/11/15/i_am_an_engineer_you/

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not regulated?

        The E in MCSE stands for "Experanced". The other letters stand for "Must", "Call", and "Someone".

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not regulated?

          The E in MCSE stands for "Experanced"

          I thought it should for "Eradicated", as in "Microsoft Computing, Security Eradicated". Better update my dictionary then.

        2. keith_w

          Re: Not regulated?

          To quote Jimmy Hendrix "are you experienced?"

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not regulated?

          I always thought is was "Minesweeper Consultant and Solitaire Expert"

        4. Kubla Cant Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Not regulated?

          The E in MCSE stands for "Experanced". The other letters stand for "Must", "Call", and "Someone"

          This sounds like it might be funny if I knew what "Experanced" means.

      3. RobThBay

        Re: Not regulated?

        That's why many years ago when IBM and Novell software & network Engineers ran into the problem they changed the E to mean Expert.

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019