Friday, April 28, 2017

Oregon State Board Fines Engineer for Using Math, Engineering

Mats Järlström is an engineer. He has a degree in electrical engineering from a Swedish university, and was an airplane camera mechanic in the Swedish Air Force, before holding several other technical, engineering-y jobs, until he emigrated to the U.S. in 1992.

But the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (OSBEELS) has fined him $500 for "practicing engineering without a license," because he does not have an official Oregon engineering license. So he's suing them for violating his First Amendment rights.

The flap started when Järlström's wife was ticketed by a red light camera in Beaverton in 2013, and Järlström decided to take action.

Using highly technical and complex procedures typically only learned in top-notch engineering schools — like numbers and time and stopwatches and stuff — Järlström measured the length of yellow lights, and found that the time was too short.

Basically, the state was ripping people off by making the yellow lights too short. Järlström believed the cameras were using an out-of-date formula, failing to allow more time for a car turning the corner as compared to a car driving straight through.

So he presented his case to everyone he could. He spoke to local media, he spoke to the national media, he went on "60 Minutes," and he was even invited to speak to the Institution of Transportation Engineers. He also emailed his findings to OSBEELS — which is an anagram for BE LOSES — who got mad because he wasn't in their little club.

Järlström was fined $500 by OSBEELS —which is also an anagram for SEE SLOB — after explaining how the stoplights were putting the public safety at risk. They took two years to investigate Järlström, whose only crimes seem to be calling himself an electronics engineer and writing "I am an engineer" in his email.

I know engineers like to be thorough, but two years? Are you seriously that bad at your jobs?

They said that there were Very Important And Serious state laws in place that makes it illegal to practice engineering without a license. And if he continued to tell people about how the state is ripping drivers off, they could fine him thousands of dollars.

In their letter, they said, "By providing the public with his traffic engineering calculations, Järlström engaged in the practice of engineering."

I sort of see their point. I would be wary of going to a doctor who was not licensed. I expect my lawyer to have passed his or her bar exam. And in Indiana, you need 1,500 hours of training before you can get your cosmetologist's or barber's license.

In Oregon, to become a really-and-for-true professional engineer, you have to pass two engineering exams and have four years or more engineering work under a professional engineer. So while it takes more effort to become an Oregon engineer than an Indiana barber, at least Indiana doesn't lose its ever-loving mind when a barber from another country says "Hey, I'm a barber."

And lose their mind they did, because OSBEELS — also an anagram for EEL BOSS — said that Järlström simply saying "I am an engineer" and doing math was enough to violate their Very Important And Serious laws.

But Mat Järlström is not one to take things lying down! He is getting some help from the conservative public interest law firm, Institute for Justice, and is suing OSBEELS — also BEE LOSS — for violating his First Amendment rights.

"The First Amendment guarantees to every American their right to debate anything and everything. And nobody needs a government permission slip to talk,'' said attorney Samuel Gedge — an anagram of EGAD LEGUMES — of the Institute for Justice — an anagram for UNJUST TIT FEROCITIES.

"You don't need to be an engineer to talk about traffic lights," Gedge — also EAGLE SMUDGE — added during their press conference.

This isn't the first time OSBEELS — also S.O.B. EELS — has overstepped their bounds. They lodged a $1,000 fine for "illegal, unlicensed practice of engineering" against an activist who told the La Pine city council that a new power plant would be too loud for nearby homes.

They also investigated a Portland City Councilman who has a bachelor's degree in environmental and civil engineering from Cornell, and a master's degree from the MIT School of Civil Engineering. His sin? He described his professional background as an environmental engineer in a Voter's Pamphlet.

I hope Järlström prevails, otherwise he may have to create a GoFundMe drive to cover the fine. That shouldn't be too hard though, since his last name is an anagram for Mr. Slot Jar.

Photo credit: Kevin Payravi (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Inside a United Airlines Customer Service Meeting

Helen McCarthy: I'd like to start by welcoming our CEO, Mr. Oscar Munoz, to our weekly customer service response meeting. Mr. Munoz, it's truly an honor to have you here.

Oscar Munoz: Thank you, Helen. Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, was a big proponent of Management By Wandering Around. And with all the bad press I — I mean, the airline — has been getting, I wanted to get a better sense of some of the problems we've been facing. So I thought I would wander down here, among the average people, and see how you deal with complaints. I can't imagine we have very many, so this won't take long, will it?

Helen: Actually, sir, we spend every Thursday dealing with hundreds of complaints. Lately, we've also been taking half of every Monday to manage weekend complaints. We discuss each one and then figure out a response for the little bastar— I mean, the customers.

Munoz: Heh, nice catch. Well, let's see if I can help you speed things along. Who's first?

Kayla Thompson: We've got a female passenger traveling with her 12-year-old daughter who was seated next to a man who kept groping her.* Apparently he was already intoxicated when he boarded, tried to grope one of the flight attendants, and then we kept serving him alcohol.

Munoz: How bad did it get?

Thompson: The woman told the crew, but they couldn't move her, so she made an official complaint—

Munoz (waggles his fingers): Oooh, an official complaint.

(Everyone laughs.)
Thompson: —good one, sir. We're going to send her four $100 gift vouchers, but not admit to anything. We don't need the FAA breathing down our necks again.

Munoz: Sounds good. Who's next?

Barry Smoot: A newlywed couple wanted to sit together on the way to their honeymoon, and even purchased their tickets together, but they were upset that the system charged them an additional $80 for it. They complained to the gate attendant who kicked the complaint up to us.

Munoz: Have they taken their return flight yet?

Smoot: No, not yet.

Munoz: Cancel their tickets, and rebook them on separate flights. Put her in the last row in the middle seat, and put him in a business class aisle seat.

Smoot: How does that punish them?

Munoz: He'll gloat about it when they land, and she'll blame him. They'll be divorced in three years.

Thompson: Speaking of couples, we've got a young couple flying to their destination wedding in Costa Rica, tried to move seats during a layover.* The plane was half full, so they jumped up to economy plus. Flight staff asked them to return to their seat, which they did. Twenty minutes later, a U.S. Marshall boarded the flight and kicked them off.

Munoz: Did they get another flight?

Thompson: We put them on a flight the next morning.

Munoz: Did you charge them a ticket change fee?

Thompson: No, sir.

Munoz: Oooh, too bad. Missed opportunities, people. Remember, we need to always look for tiny ways to gouge the customer. Small nicks and cuts, not shovel-sized stabbings. Your victims shouldn't know they're dying until you've drained them dry.

Thompson: We've had some media people asking about this one. What should we say?

Munoz: What do you recommend? Anyone?

Thompson: Say they were drunk and became verbally abusive?

Munoz: Let's call that the nuclear option. Stick a pin in it and we'll circle back.

McCarthy: Say we found contraband items in their bags?

Munoz: No, because that means they snuck it past TSA, and they give me enough trouble as it is. Plus, people might think we were snooping in their luggage.

McCarthy: Don't we?

Munoz: Well, some of the baggage handlers have been known to help themselves, but we say it's not our responsibility.

Smoot: Ooh, I know! Say they tried to repeatedly change seats, and that they failed to comply with crew instructions!

Munoz: Nice one, Smoot! You'll go far in this airline!

(The others congratulate Barry on his insights.)

Munoz: Well, folks, I have to to go my next meeting. But this has certainly been an eye opener. I didn't realize we had so many complaints. I only know about the ones in the press, so thank you for the education.

Smoot: Mr. Munoz? Before you go, what was the final result of that doctor we dragged off the plane?

Munoz: Oh, man, you guys will love this! His two front teeth were knocked out, right? Well, the Chicago PD inventoried one of the teeth and have it in their evidence lockup. We sent his luggage on to Louisville even though we pulled him off. And two days ago, I promised we weren't going to fire anyone over the whole incident.*

(Everyone laughs and applauds.)

McCarthy: Mr. Munoz, it has been a real pleasure to watch you work.

* Actual incidents from the last two weeks.

Note: This is satire, and not a true transcript of any meeting at United Airlines. However, the incidents marked with a *
actually happened since Dr. Dao was dragged off an airplane in Chicago.

Photo credit: Luis Argerich (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, April 14, 2017

You're Knot Tying Your Shoes Right

I learned to tie my shoes when I was five, the same way everyone else learns it. I was shown how to tie the first knot — over, under, pull it tight — and then to bring it home with the two bunny ears to make it secure — Make a bow, pull it through to do it right.

Except generations upon generations of Americans have been fed bad information. Our parents lied to us, and we have lied to our kids.

And we would have gone on lying, each parent unwittingly passing on the oral lessons of over, under, pull it tight if science hadn't "well, actually-ed" our shoe tying traditions.

Leave it to science to ruin everything for us. Science is that nerdy kid at prom explaining to everyone that kissing is the number one way for germs to spread, which is why he and his good friend, Dungeons & Dragons, are going stag that night.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley recently determined that the traditional shoelace knot is ineffective and does not stay tied for very long. They ruined everyone's childhood in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

According to USA Today, the researchers discovered that our regular knot often leads to what the authors call "catastrophic knot failure," which sounds like shoe explosions.

I don't actually know if it leads to shoe explosions, because I didn't read the study, but it sounds serious.

After finding the cure for cancer and solving world hunger, the scientists set about determining which shoelace knot was the best one.
They hooked up a treadmill with a type of pendulum for a foot, tied the shoe with the normal knot, and found that it frequently failed because of the foot's repeated impact against the ground and the constant whipping around of the "bunny ears." In some cases, once the lace loosened, it would completely untie in two strides. The researchers said the standard knot failed every time it was tested.

They called this the "weak knot," and bullied it after home room so they could feel tough. They also tested a "strong knot," which only came apart half as much as the weak one.

To make a strong knot, says USA Today, "cross the left lace over the right and pull it through the resulting loop. Form both the right and the left lace ends into loops and wrap the bottom of the right loop around the bottom of the left.

In other words, the right bunny ear goes under and then around the left bunny ear.

I question the validity of their findings, however, because the team did not measure double knots. Double knots don't come untied for anything. They're the leather jacket and motorcycle boots-wearing knots that don't take crap from anyone.

One person not surprised by the weak knot's performance was knot theorist Colin Adams of Williams College, who was not involved with the study.

He told interviewers, "Yes, knot theory is really a thing. Yes, that's really my job. No, not like a sandwich artist. Yes, yes, that's very clever. 'Knot involved' in the knot study, I get it."

Adams also agreed the weak knot is a version of the "granny knot," but that the strong knot, which is a version of the "square knot," is the superior knot.

I'm more than a little annoyed at this news because science has been such a buzzkill over the years when it comes to ruining the things for people. Think of something you like, and scientists have released a study that shows it will kill you.

Movie popcorn can kill you, coffee causes cancer, eggs have cholesterol, Chinese food is bad for you, don't eat red meat, oh wait coffee's fine, we were wrong about the egg thing too.

It's more than a little frustrating, because science can be that annoying know-it-all friend who truly doesn't enjoy themselves unless they can pop whatever balloon of happiness you happen to be enjoying at the moment.

On the other hand, it's more important than ever to embrace science these days, and to properly understand it. When people believe dinosaurs roamed the Earth 6,000 years ago, that the climate is magically warming all by itself, or that the Earth is flat — looking at you, Shaquille O'Neal! — it's important that science be allowed to constantly study truly important theories.

It will be science that provides the answers for important issues of our day, like minimizing the California drought, combating the rising sea levels, or finally proving that toe shoes are the worst shoes in the history of mankind.

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Kendall Jenner and Pepsi: Live, For Now

Pepsi just gave us the Best Reason Ever to drink Coca-Cola. They recently launched a short film that managed to unite the entire Internet into a single "NO!" If you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to bear witness to history's worst commercial.

It's the one where someone said "Hey, I've got a great idea" and then tried to co-opt protests from the last few years, including Black Lives Matter and the Women's March on Washington.

A bunch of other people all said, "That is a great idea!" Then even more people who get paid lots of money to make smart decisions said, "Let 'er rip!"

Here's how the story goes.

Various artists — an Asian cellist, a female Muslim photographer, African-American dancers — are practicing their art because #ArtIsResistance, while Skip Marley's song, "Lions," plays.

Cut to scenes of a large, diverse crowd of protestors carrying signs and raising their fists in the air. They're all young, skinny, and pretty though, so it's not that diverse. Nobody asked the grizzled gray brigade to join.

The signs are painted in Pepsi blue, and the messages are very plain and non-offensive, like the office party planning committee would create if Marge from HR were in charge.

They're artful signs of peace symbols, messages of peace that mostly just say "Peace," and a couple that say "Be a part of the conversation" and "Join the conversation" in English, Spanish, and possibly Portuguese. And did I spot a banner in Korean?

One conversation I'd like to have is why these people are walking in slow motion the entire time.

They don't look like real protestors though, because they're happy. I know they're having a good time, but I assumed they would be upset about this conversation people aren't a part of.

On the same street, Kendall Jenner is momentarily distracted from her fancy model photo shoot, and she watches the passing crowd. She's in a blonde wig, a thick coating of arterial-spray blood red lipstick on her lips, looking bewildered and intrigued. But mostly bewildered.

Cut to the cellist practicing in a brick room painted Pepsi blue — subtlety is lost on Pepsi — who stops to see what all the hubbub is outside.

Now cut to the female Muslim photographer in a Pepsi blue hijab poring over photography proof sheets because real photographers don't use computers with giant monitors. We also learn #ArtIsFrustrating because she smacks the table and scatters proof sheets onto the floor before she's also distracted by the protest. She grabs her camera and follows them because #ArtIsSpontaneous.

The cellist has joined the protest, cello case on his back blazing Pepsi blue. He walks past Kendall Jenner's fancy model photo shoot. Their eyes meet for a brief second. Come on, he gestures with his head.

That's all she needs; he is a cellist, after all, and #ArtIsAbandonedResponsibilities. She whips off her blonde wig — images of casting off the Aryan ideal, anyone? — and tosses her luxurious brown hair, which is not a horrible mess despite being under a wig for the last six hours. She wipes off the arterial-spray lipstick because red is bad and magically changes into a denim patchwork outfit that your mom sewed herself in 1972, and begins marching with the protestors.

The crowd continues their happy protest march until they encounter a line of somber looking cops, all white, and they ain't gonna take no lip from no hippies. They stare across no man's land at each other, unsure of what to do. Will this erupt into violence? Will there be tear gas canisters and mass beatings?

But wait! Kendall grabs a can of Pepsi from a icy tub sitting on the street, like we're at a protest tailgate, and crosses the empty space between protestors and police.

"Is that a gun?" the cops wonder. "Do we have to take this skinny white chick down?"

But no, Kendall is all smiles and privilege as she walks up to one cop who looks like, but isn't actually, Jake Gyllenhaal and hands him the can.

Not-Jake-Gyllenhaal looks at the can. "Pepsi?" he wonders. The female Muslim photographer crouches down and takes pictures of one girl's bravery.

Not-Jake drinks the Pepsi and the crowd cheers as The Great White Hope, Kendall Jenner, high fives everyone. "She did it! She saved us all! Our protest has changed the world!"

Not-Jake looks at the cop next to him. "These hippies ain't so bad after all. Let's only beat a few of 'em down" as the message "Live For Now" closes our little morality play.

After a single day's outrage, Pepsi was appropriately embarrassed over their tone deaf commercialization of serious social issues, and they pulled the ad. They also apologized to Kendall Jenner for "putting (her) in this position."

Setting aside the spineless apology to a rich girl for making her even richer, I'm glad Pepsi realized they were as out of touch as a high school theater teacher asking whether you young people still liked the Led Zeppelins. And that they finally got to see what a real protest looks like.

Except I never did figure out what conversation we were supposed to join.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.