Freemen on the land

Fun piece about a particular band of nutters. Statutory law doesn\’t apply to me because I\’m a freeman on the land, woo, woo.

But in the comments this:

Joe November 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Incidentally, this touches on a particular fascination of mine: WHY THE HELL ARE NUTTERS ALWAYS ENGINEERS? They seem to be vastly over-represented in the ranks of the entire spectrum of lunacy from young-earth creationism to holocaust denial. Bin Laden had an engineering degree.

\"\"Ian Betteridge (@ianbetteridge) November 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Joe, Bin Laden wasn’t the only one: Quite a few of the 9/11 hijackers had engineering degrees, too.

I think it’s something to do with seeing the world in a mechanistic way, devoid of grey area which require interpretation. That’s valuable in engineering, but not so great when you apply this to the law.

It\’s much the same in banking, finance and economics. The nutters often turn out to be engineers, looking at this corner of the world as engineers do.

Social Credit for example. If we just calculate all the profits of the country, (I may have this a little messed up but still) and then pay it as a citizens\’ dividend then she\’ll be right. This is all backed up by explaining the economy as being like a hydraulic system.

Well, yeah, sorta. The hydraulic analogy can be useful at times (and machines have been built to do such modelling, it\’s not a figment of Sir Pterry\’s imagination) but it is an analogy, not a simile nor a real description.

One major conceptual problem being that we\’re actually pretty sure that we cannot calculate the economy in real time, cannot compute the profit that should be the citizens\’ dividend, in anything other than archaeological timescales. At which point the whole idea rather falls over of course.

No, I do not mean to imply that engineers are nutters: but all too many nutters are engineers and I do think it comes from that engineering mindset. This idea that all things are computable, we can work out detailed answers to what and how and why and where. Yet much of economics is trying to point out that we can\’t (and a certain accountant seems to have a touch of the engineer in him here) and it certainly doesn\’t do to stare at fractional reserve banking too hard while thinking like an engineer.

Yes, we know it\’s a confidence trick, it\’s just a very useful one.

42 comments on “Freemen on the land

  1. “This idea that all things are computable, we can work out detailed answers to what and how and why and where.”
    You forgot to mention the Chairman of the IPCC.

  2. As an engineer – rubbish! And at least engineers deal with life as it is rather than economists who mutter things about reasonable men. Since when?
    Maybe Hayek was an engineer?

  3. My name name is Chris and I’m an engineer.

    Tim, you’re right about the numbers thing, it’s what engineers do. It’s all maths, statistics, computing, etc. But all of this doesn’t want us to try and model everything; indeed, it’s my knowledge of modelling that makes me a man-made global warming sceptic. I just know – because it’s what I do – that you can’t predict these things.

    Another ‘fault’ of engineers’ minds is accuracy. Stuff has to be right because if we get it wrong people die.

    A further ‘fault’ is logic. We’re all Mr Spock.

    As for fractional reserve banking, well I understand it and lots of other economic stuff too. Because another ‘fault’ we have is curiosity – what if?

    Am I a nutter? Quite probably. These days I’m certainly ranty, but I thought it was my age!

    Nice to know Bin Laden was an engineer. Made my day!

  4. Scientists yes, but that does seem a strange accusation to make about engineers.
    One thing folk who do real engineering at any level are soon aware of is that all of Murphy’s laws apply. Just because it worked in theory & on the model doesn’t mean that it’s going to fly when it meets the real world.
    Maybe it’s the people who are taught engineering but can’t hack the real thing become nutters.
    Or architects.

  5. Engineers do have a habit of falling for the numbers, while ignoring the reality of what is actually happening.

    The unhealthy like of precise train timetables is also common and some what disturbing too.

  6. As an engineering student, I’m quietly proud to wear the badge of ‘nutter in training’!

    This very thing was highlighted on El Reg some time ago – http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/01/30/engineers_terrorists_wikipedia_oxford_sociology/ – with a link to the paper discussed: http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/users/gambetta/Engineers%20of%20Jihad.pdf

    There does appear to be some heartening news, though:

    This is all the more puzzling for engineers are virtually absent from left-wing violent extremists and only present rather than over-represented among right-wing extremists.

    So there you have it – we’re less likely to be engaged in terrorism of the Richie variety and considering he believes libertarians and liberals to be ‘right-wing extremists’, we’re only marginally more likely to be engaged with right-wing extremist ideas like low taxes and healthcare reform 😛

    My own thoughts are that engineers probably spend a lot of time observing the world around them and thinking about problems, which drives a determination or desire to ‘fix’ things or think about alternatives to the status quo. We like to think about what could be.It certainly fits with why I’m a libertarian and pursuing engineering – I want to improve the lot of myself and my fellow man.

    Two things I haven’t come across in engineers/ engineering students (yet) are OCD and noticeable autism.

    Did I just exploit two awful sterotypes there? 😀

  7. Get off your high horse Tim. The Freeman have at least got off their arses to take on the rotten state of this country. They are standing up to fight back. Who else, of those who believe in freedom , is doing that?.

  8. Tim, that’s the weakness in systems thinking. People aren’t machines. Systems thinking is a useful way of picturing the world, but as a predictor of human behaviour it’s flawed.

    But the reason I understand fractional reserve banking is that I spent a lot of my career designing computer systems to do it….

  9. “Engineers do have a habit of falling for the numbers, while ignoring the reality of what is actually happening.”

    OK, let’s try an experiment:
    Little old lady is selling her car. It’s 6 years old small hatchback & she’s treated it like a pet lamb since she bought it new. Always kept clean, regularly serviced & very low mileage.
    You buy it for your 20 y.o. son. At the same time his mate round the corner picks up an ex-reps car, high mileage, ripped seats & dents all round.
    Who’ll have a serviceable car in 18 months & why?

  10. Confusing Engineers with ‘people who have studied engineering’

    That, and…

    Engineers are not best described as people who see the world in a mechanistic way devoid of grey. That’s bollocks. Engineers usually have to find an optimal solution which requires an understanding of trade-offs and compromises.

    IMO engineers are best described as people who solve physical problems, or as I describe myself when people ask what I do: “I get shit done.” Engineers get shit done, most other professions don’t.

  11. I agree with Tim. Let’s remember a recent attempt of Al Qaeda’s finest – the doctors (not engineers) who thought they could blow up Glasgow airport with a couple of propane cylinders and crude petrol bombs.

    Now if this is all they’ve got, I say “bring it on”.

  12. Let’s remember a recent attempt of Al Qaeda’s finest – the doctors (not engineers) who thought they could blow up Glasgow airport with a couple of propane cylinders and crude petrol bombs.

    I’m starting to see the relationship between this blog post and the next one about NHS providers offering poorer outcomes.

  13. OK, let’s try an experiment:
    Little old lady is selling her car. It’s 6 years old small hatchback & she’s treated it like a pet lamb since she bought it new. Always kept clean, regularly serviced & very low mileage.
    You buy it for your 20 y.o. son. At the same time his mate round the corner picks up an ex-reps car, high mileage, ripped seats & dents all round.
    Who’ll have a serviceable car in 18 months & why?

    On the surface, it sounds like the little old lady’s car is a peach, and the ex-rep’s car is a lemon.

    But the hatchback may have been cheap and nasty, and not used enough to get out of the infant mortality slope of the bathtub curve. The repmobile, on the other hand, may be built for galactic mileages and only midway through its own bathtub curve.

    Ultimately, though, the best you could do is calculate probabilities of failure within the 18 months. Reality could still confound statistical expectations with such a limited sample size.

  14. >The unhealthy like of precise train timetables is also common and some what disturbing too.

    There is a fair amount of software erm, ‘engineering’ effort put in to fluff the actual train location / reasons for delay data into numbers that won’t annoy the public. The raw data is *very* different to the times and announcements you hear at stations.

  15. Tim Newman.
    Acutally, perhaps that’s why the terrorists are always engineers: they’re the only ones with the competence to pull something off.

    A very good point, I hadn’t thought of that before.*

    Re bloke in spain’s riddle, it’s obviously the rep’s car as the question is framed to have a counter-intuitive answer ( non engineer’s approach ). As to why, the clue is in the buyers rather than the sellers, two twenty year olds aren’t going to be driving like old ladies, so the rep’s car which has already proved it can take punishment will be the survivor.

    * Note to Arnald, that’s how you learn stuff here.

  16. Ryan Roberts

    >The unhealthy like of precise train timetables is also common and some what disturbing too.

    I was a bit baffled by that one myself, unless it’s the usual dig at ‘trainspotters’ based on ignorance.

  17. On a more positive note, I was always struck by how many of the London Marathon runners were engineers. Still nutters, though.

    I would have thought people who like machines are less likely to have empathy for people.

  18. Whereas the idiots who want to tell everyone what to do rather than have to make it work are PPEs from Oxford ….

    Go figure.

    Laura Peony for Pope.

  19. As for the “two used cars” conundrum, I would also point out that the old lady’s car cost the driver nothing, whereas it’s (to me) implied that the ex-reps car was bought by the driver, so he might take better care of it.

  20. Tim,

    “That’s bollocks. Engineers usually have to find an optimal solution which requires an understanding of trade-offs and compromises.”

    Find me a team of engineers who can actually do this and i’ll gladly swap you my engineers!

  21. Congratulations all above.
    Picked that one because it’s an all time classic example of where engineering meets peeps.
    The old biddy’s shopping mobile will have been driven with restraint. This actually has some effect on some of the moving parts. For instance the piston rings wear the cylinder bores so eventually a small step develops at the point where the piston stops on its upward stroke. But the rods that connect the piston with the crank shaft stretch & contract due to the accelerative loads. Our little old lady has probably never used the entire rev range of the engine since she’s had it. Our 20 y.o. gives it welly in the traffic lights grand prix, the top ring hits the step as the rod stretches & starts to break up. There are dittos for things like valve stems & suspension parts. Worst thing for an engine is cold starts. Hers has probably done little else.
    That’s just the obvious mechanical stuff but you also have to factor in sheer bloody mindedness.
    She’s got all the service docs history but it’s unlikely that all the service requirements were met. Garages don’t. Car like that, half the things they check won’t need attention so things get skipped. Favourites plugs. Should come out for the full service but odds on they didn’t bother because there’ll be nothing wrong with them. Common fault with one small hatchback, You don’t & they rust in the head & break. £1000 repair.
    Competent engineer tries to out think idiots. Doesn’t put the start button where it can be reached when the operators head is under the guillotine. Designs things so that if they do break you don’t get catastrophic collapse.

    Banking was never an engineer’s solution.

  22. Find me a team of engineers who can actually do this and i’ll gladly swap you my engineers!

    We can all do it, but we’re overruled by the accountants. 😉

  23. If an Engineer cannot handle the concept of time or flow over time or see such effects into the future, then that “engineer” might support Social Credit.

    Social Credit really does seem to be something that would NOT work like a hydraulic system unless it was a system with a leak and some infinite reservoir.

    Engineers do not set out to be loved by strangers. Some artists certainly do, which is why they can support basically wicked policies which on the surface make them seem loveable or loving.

  24. Rub-a-dub
    I would have thought people who like machines are less likely to have empathy for people.

    Why ? Why should liking ‘A’ make you less appreciative of ‘B’ ? Have you considered that part of the reason why many of us like machines is precisely because of their human dimension ? An interest in those who design, make and use them is very much a part of the attraction. I recommend this book which captures this feeling beautifully as well as being an excellent piece of research, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Good_Turn_(book)

  25. “I get shit done.”

    Loud applause to Tim Newman for summing up the function of engineers. Although in my career I’ve certainly come across many who fail at this. I’ve developed a bit of a reputation in my field for “oh, is that part of the project a catastrophe and everyone has thrown their hands in the air? Put him on it”.

    It’s the scientists who want to reduce the world to numbers and understand everything (which is ok, that’s their job). Good engineers quantify what they can, estimate what they can’t, apply some judicious over-designing – numerous judgement calls here, not to mention arguments with the managers and accountants! – and then ship the fucking product. Perfectionists don’t ship/deliver, and they’re bloody useless.

    I think the reason engineers are so over-represented in the nutter/ranter category is that we’re used to doing cross discipline stuff and trying to understand someone else’s turf so we can do our bit. So we get (over?) confident of our ability to read a bit, talk to a few people, and gain a reasonable working knowledge of fields outside our area of expertise, and are more willing to dive in. Plus 15 years of practical problem solving does tend to encourage that “can’t we just fix this” mindset.

    Also, what Chris and Thornavis said.

  26. For instance, if I were trying to implement some hypothetical metals refining process, I would have to find out things like – which parts of this process require precise temp control, and which can we not worry about so much? (So I can cut the cost of design/equipment). How critical is this timing? Is this stuff really corrosive at this stage or can I get away with cheaper grade stainless steel pipes? What does the operator need to know and what options do I give them if something goes wrong? I’ve had to learn this sort of stuff from the ground up in dozens of fields.

    Scientists don’t need people skills, except maybe grantsmanship. Engineers really, really, do. It’s not surprising we feel qualified to at least heckle from the sidelines on virtually any issue 🙂

  27. My head is spinning a bit, engineers who don’t want to buy the best, most expensive controls for everything, even on the bits that don’t need any control at all? Engineers who will build things from the suitable material, rather than make it all from metals only obtained from downed asteroids?

    Can you guys come and work for me, please!

  28. Social Credit really does seem to be something that would NOT work like a hydraulic system unless it was a system with a leak and some infinite reservoir.

    That sounds like a pneumatic system.

  29. *Smirk* you’re talking about the other kind of engineer David Moore. They need guidance, and, well, the occasional bit of bullying. I had one working for me on my last major project – he is brilliant, but the number of times I had to explain to him that “yes, putting spares in there is good practice, but it’s not required by our contract” – well I wouldn’t worry if it was cheap to do and early on, but this involved sending back materials we had already ordered and changing them over. NO!

    But he is a fucking genius designer, and I’m trying to hire him again for my upcoming project. His stuff is always late, always gold-plated, but always works first time, better than on-budget and rebuilt later (another engineering aphorism, we don’t have enough money to do it right the first time, but we have enough to do it again). Came up through the trades too I might add.

    He just needs someone to tell him that the asteroid material is not available in time, can you find a substitute? I can’t do his job, he can’t do mine.

  30. “who thought they could blow up Glasgow airport with a couple of propane cylinders and crude petrol bombs.” … I was in Scotland at a wedding on that day – remarkably incompetent attempt to cause an explosion, I am sure I could have done better. Should not be too difficult to literally lift the roof of an airport teminal.

  31. Can you guys come and work for me, please!

    Ask that question in a couple of years’ time! :p

    I might as well use the opportunity to ask some of you whilst you’re here… If you come in to contact with engineering graduates as part of your work, what do you find most lacking in them? What, realistically, would you like to see them offer that would help you as an employer/ manager? What do you look for in particular?

  32. James, I don’t do a lot of hiring, and I’m an unusual case anyway – I get away with behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated in others simply because I’m good in a crisis (it’s about all I’m good at, if you want a list of faults apply via email). So you want to take anything I say with a grain of salt.

    But I have mentored a few graduates who have gone on to do quite well for themselves, and I would say you want to aim for a mixture of confidence and willingness to learn. Confidence as in you’re willing to take a position and defend it – and take responsibility for it – but, and this is the important bit, if someone does demonstrate that you’re wrong, admit it and move on. The hardest thing for me to learn as a young engineer was to lose that sense of “pride of authorship”. It’s very easy to come out of uni feeling like you can change the world, and a lot of people never learn the fine art of admitting fault.

    Just remember, the electricians, plumbers, supervisors, your co-workers, etc all have heaps of practical experience, and listening to them is always a good idea. You may not agree, but don’t dismiss them. Hell, I’m fascinated by other people’s jobs. Everyone has a story.

    To answer your question specifically, I look for curiosity and intelligence. Specific skills and study areas – well, where I work we’ll be teaching you most of what you need anyway.

    Best of luck 🙂

  33. Best job interview question I fielded:

    “What are you passionate about?”

    I didn’t get the job and I can’t say I blame them. First graduate job application and I wasn’t really that into what they were doing. As they asked it, I remember thinking: “You bastards, that’s actually really hard to fake. You’re going to weed out 90% of candidates with that question.”

    Seems like a blindingly obvious question to ask someone at a job interview but gets asked very infrequently. Often in the opposite direction – “Why do you want this job?” but “What are you passionate about?” seems to be a better way of making sure someone actually wants to do the job you’re offering. Doesn’t quite work so well in low skill jobs but you’d hope that an engineer was passionate about engineering.

  34. Thanks, LTW.

    I’m a mature student, so I think my approach might be a little bit different to how it might have been if I’d gone straight to university after college a few years ago.

    I’m quite content with the idea of knowing when I’m wrong and acknowledging it – I’m only kidding myself otherwise and that used to take me a while to learn sometimes because of my stubbornness.

    Humility’s probably one of the things I’ve started to acquire – but it sounds like I should try to balance that evenly with confidence in what I do. I’m always intrigued by other people’s experiences – everyday tradesmen have far more experience than I’ll ever have of what they do, so why shouldn’t I listen? No one person has a monopoly on knowledge (there’s the economics creeping in).

    With regard to Kevin Monk’s interview question, it’s an easy question when you think about it, but it’s probably anything but under the pressure of an interview! I suppose it weeds out people who can’t communicate their thoughts and ideas clearly?

  35. Ltv,

    I’d agree for the most part, but having inherited a whole team of engineers like that, it’s tested my patience to the limit!

  36. Sounds like you’ll do fine James, that’s a great attitude. I lean very heavily recently on the supervisor and electrician I’ve been working with for 5 years. I see it very much in the context of the old British Army question for officers – “How do you dig a trench?” Correct answer is “I say sergeant, dig me a trench!” The officers are there to decide what to do, not how to do it. He talks to me about what I need done, asks if it’s ok to make a few changes to make their life easier, then he gets on with it and I go back to thinking about any problems that might crop up. There’s a lot of mutual respect in the relationship which helps enormously. He trusts me to give clear direction on “yep, that will work” and I trust him to do it right.

    My answer to Kevin’s interview question would simply be “I love to be able to point at something and say – I helped build that”.

    I sympathise David, I’ve been there, and had something close to a nervous breakdown over it! My special skill is effectively translator between the people in the field and management. Smoothing out the wrinkles, not actually managing people but coordinating their efforts. But being piggy in the middle ain’t always fun. Do you have power to hire and fire? I rarely have. Makes it really hard.

  37. I like the comment “I get shit done”.
    I had always been taught that an engineer is “someone who gets something done for 6d that anyone else could do for a shilling” or “engineers make things work and then scientists spend years finding out why they work”.

  38. I have long thought it a problem of social engineering that it is done be socialists and not engineers; specifically engineers with experience of control engineering, and the mathematics thereof. If you were serious about social engineering you would have a model of the interactions abe applying z-transforms to determine the effects of modifying various inputs and feedbacks over time…

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.