The Engineer’s Fallacy

Avatar

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

139 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    You’ve essentially described egocentrism which, when used in the context of developmental psychology, can be summed up as the belief “that those who have a different perception than their own are either considered false or nonexistent.” Theoretically, children should move out of this stage somewhere in the early elementary grades (with ongoing refinement and progression/regression as they move through other phases… but still…). It seems that this theory may be in err…Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko
    Ignored
    says:

    Congratulations on having achieved nested footnotes!Report

  3. Avatar Doctor Jay
    Ignored
    says:

    It kind of terrifies me that there are engineers/programmers still out there who think like the one in footnote 2. And yet I know they must.

    One suggestion though. Look for the possibility that that person is pressured and overworked, and looking for a way to move things off his plate.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Doctor Jay
      Ignored
      says:

      That must have been some time ago. Nowadays it would be harder to write a command-line program that communicates with a GUI than to write a pure GUI one. There are so many frameworks to do the latter, though the most common thing for viewing pages would be to write a web front-end that user can access with the browser.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Wait until you have an overly influential engineer asking you to redesign an interface to fit his personal, eclectic preferences.

        It’d be easier for him, and more confusing for the other thousand users. But he’s the one that’s got my phone number and input into my budget…decisions, decisions…Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        It’d be easier for him, and more confusing for the other thousand users.

        Many years ago, when the Bell System administered much of its gear using teletypes and command lines, Bell Labs’ research spent a bunch of effort trying to figure out how to do a single “best” interface for the techs. Their conclusion was that it wasn’t possible because users rated different aspects of the interface more highly depending on their experience. Newbies wanted something like English text because that’s easier to remember when you’re starting out. The old hands wanted everything reduced to the minimum number of keystrokes, no matter how cryptic, so they could do things quickly.

        “Quickly” is a relative term when you’re interacting with the system over a 10 character-per-second link on a Model 33, where the pressure required to depress a key is probably measured in pounds.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        That’s what a lot of Windows management tools do nowadays – they’re basically GUIs for constructing powershell commands. In a lot of the tools, you can see the command that’s being built in the bottom of the window, in case you want to copy it out and build use it as part of a pipeline.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Doctor Jay
      Ignored
      says:

      Doctor Jay,
      That comes from the mindset that “if i’m coding something, you’re going to be using it all day”. I love hotkeys for that very reason. But, you put the icons in as well, dammit. because people need to learn, and because not every piece of software is “i use this all day”Report

  4. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    I should recant and go back to PC, I am told over and over again, so that I can upgrade to more RAM and better gaming cards, be able to go in back doors and reprogram stuff, have access to tons more third-party programs, and save buckets of money.

    I can’t picture anyone technical advising you to use Windows. When you say “go back to PC”, do you mean they were telling you to get a Linux box?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mike Schilling
      Ignored
      says:

      I’d kind of had the same thought. Techie Windows users tend to be half-apologetic about it.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        Will,
        not the ones I know. Linux doesn’t play nearly as well with self-modifying code…. yet.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        Self-modifying code? You have my attention……

        (Hehe. I did my Master’s degree, happily paid for by my company, entirely as an excuse to spend time playing with evolutionary programming and genetic algorithms. Fun times….)Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        morat20,
        Ugg, the last time I was using genetic algorithms was pngwolf. Those SUCK.

        The fun part about self-modifying code is writing the self-modifying compiler, of course… (Do you know someone who codes better while drunk?)

        My friend got some new features added to C++ to better make self-modifying code. (“the kitchen sink” language is not an exaggeration).

        Working with self-modifying code gets you all sorts of weird conversations:
        “Um, why did you buy a Queen pillow and a King pillow?” (which incidentally don’t fit on the bed).
        “Oh, I let the computer order pillows. Its first iteration was a cardboard box.”
        “I see…”
        “It’s third iteration involved substantial mistranslation of a 1600’s treatise on monarchical rule…”Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        I had some nifty ideas involving handling local minima problems. Only one panned out as a useful idea at all, and not even with local minima. (It had the effect of depressing variability in the results — median and mean were much more closely aligned, which in this case was a positive thing since prior you had a really wide variation of results on a test set.)

        Was fun to code. Then it was more fun to optimize.Report

    • Avatar Michael M. in reply to Mike Schilling
      Ignored
      says:

      It’s extremely common for people who use Macs to think: “PC = Windows.” It’s only slightly less common for people who use PCs to think the same thing.Report

    • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Mike Schilling
      Ignored
      says:

      My boyfriend has the misfortune of having a good friend who’s a 4chan autodictat techie type.

      When he got a new computer, his friend convinced him it would be better for the friend to build one from scratch than buy one. It crashed a lot. When it got so fubared that it wiped out the (presumably illegal) windows install, the friend convinced him to instal linux in its place. Now it crashes even more often, and can’t do half the things he’d want a computer for.

      In the meantime, I have an off the shelf laptop (albeit a PC laptop) and the only time I have any problems with it is when I try to do graphics intensive things that could hypothetically be fixed with a dedicated graphics card, but I frankly don’t care enough to bother getting one.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        Alan,
        yeah, well, there are idiots on all sides of the spectrum. My dad bought me a Cyrix processor once — it literally couldn’t do all the ops, so it would crash frequently.

        Who does illegal windows installs? Far more likely your friend is downloading pornography… And he should get his “techie” friend to show him how to do that safely.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        Things I’ve learned in the last decade:

        1) Windows is actually a mature OS now. By and large, when it crashes it’s someone else’s fault.
        2) Every other version of Windows still sucks (Vista sucks, 8 sucks, 7 is surprisingly nice…).
        3) Windows is the ‘big target’ for exploits, viruses, and attacks. It suffers thusly.
        4) The origins of the .doc format are shrouded in insanity, and I believe one of the best examples of a professional, business-level version of “I’m the only one that knows how it works, you can’t fire me”.
        5) The Xbox One should have gotten more people fired.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        I’ve actually found Windows 7 to be far less stable than XP. I’d forgotten what a BSOD looked like, until I started upgrading to Windows 7, and it’s been bugging me on various computers since.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        I’d forgotten what a BSOD looked like

        Was it red?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m kind of surprised that they didn’t change it up just to put the whole BSOD thing behind them. Like “My Computer” or clippy.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        In a way, it’s sort of comforting that the picture of failure remains constant. You may not know exactly what’s up, but you know for sure you’re fished.

        When my mac’s internal hard drive crapped out recently I was disappointed not to get the old-school “bomb” or “sad/sick mac face” icons. Just a flashing question mark on a folder. Lame.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        I’ve actually found Windows 7 to be far less stable than XP. I’d forgotten what a BSOD looked like, until I started upgrading to Windows 7, and it’s been bugging me on various computers since.
        I’ve been running it at work and at home since it came out, and haven’t seen a BSOD once. Not in like two years of use.

        And my uptimes before reboot are, minimum, two or three times longer than I could go with XP. Odds are, if you’re seeing it regularly, you’ve got some sort of fun driver or software issue in the background.

        Now Windows 8 I hate with the power of a thousand burning suns, to the point where being forced to do technical support on my kid’s laptop reduces me to cursing JUST from the interface….Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        {shrug} I can come up with a reason on any given of the computers I’ve had trouble with. Maybe Lenovo or ATI didn’t update the driver properly for Win7 on this model. Maybe there’s bad RAM on that one. But the sheer number of computers (two desktops, three laptops) I’ve had difficulty with is had to ignore. At the very least, the fault handling isn’t as good.

        When it’s working, I absolutely love it. And I agree about needing to reboot less frequently (though I attribute that to memory as much as anything else). It’s not needing to reboot that gives me fits. It’s the spontaneous reboots.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        Will,
        I can assure you I’ve been running my Windows 7 PC harder than you have (@home), and I’ve yet to see any problems… My husband reliably crashes firefox for having too many windows open (400+ will cause a reliable crash) — I think he’s submitting bug reports. Very, very little instability — maybe one or two unexplained reboots, period.
        (He’s running a ramdisk, the amount of howling from a spontaneous reboot would be heard through the entire house).Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        When my mac’s internal hard drive crapped out recently I was disappointed not to get the old-school “bomb” or “sad/sick mac face” icons. Just a flashing question mark on a folder. Lame.

        After six years of rock-solid performance, my old Mac Mini started giving me the current version of the bomb. It’s a gray screen, with a “You need to restart your computer” message in four languages. And a one-sentence instruction on how to do that — presumably on the theory that some users haven’t restarted for so long that they don’t remember how. The screen is invoked when an unrecoverable kernel panic occurs. Details about the panic are logged. Reinstalling the operating system over the network is straightforward, doesn’t overwrite any personal files or third-party software that’s been installed, and appears to have fixed the problem. I bought a new Mini anyway, since the 2G limit on Ram in the old one had been pinching, but the old one is chugging away on the other side of the office, with an uptime of… let me ssh over… 63 days.

        I originally bought the Mini because I wanted a desktop machine with tiny footprint and no built-in keyboard or screen. I could assemble something almost as small with the same (or better) hardware, but the price point for that would be close to the Mini — it’s the one system Apple sells where there’s not really an Apple “premium”. And I wanted access to something recognizably UNIX underneath (I’m sorry, I’m old and I like doing some things in an xterm or equivalent). And at the time, I needed access to Word (OpenOffice does a pretty good job if importing and exporting Word formats, but isn’t perfect).

        I’ll probably go back to Linux for my main machine next time — Apple seems to be going out of its way to put development-related things in (what are for an old-school UNIX guy) mysterious places.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Alan Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        As a desktop operating system, Windows 7 is loads more stable than XP… not just at its comparative point in the lifecycle, but absolutely. If you don’t have a lot of goofy hardware but fairly stock stuff, it just works across more hardware platforms.

        As a mobile operating system, Windows 7 is less stable than XP was at this point in relative lifecycles… but I suspect that is because in the intervening years the number of things that laptop manufacturers try to do at the driver level has exploded. In addition, a number of hardware manufacturers have taken the Apple philosophy of “oh, they’ll just buy a new one pretty soon” as a default attitude as to why they don’t need to produce real upgrade paths for older machines. They’re relying much more heavily on Microsoft to be able to Do The Right Thing with their old driver architecture instead of rebuilding it natively.

        That’s my $0.02 based upon a rather large swath of platforms.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mike Schilling
      Ignored
      says:

      For the last year or so I’ve been using Windows 8 at home and Ubuntu at work. Aside from Ubuntu’s impressive array of command-line tools, which most people would never use, I have found Windows (yes, even 8) to be preferable in every way, especially stability. Googling “windows ubuntu stability” suggests that this is the consensus, or at least a majority opinion, among people who regularly use both.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        @brandon-berg

        The advantages of Linux to me are:

        1. More flexible system requirements.
        2. Easier install
        3. Cost
        4. Configurability

        The main reasons I still mostly use Windows:

        1. I can do more
        2. It comes with most laptops.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman “More flexible system requirements” could go either way. Linux may run better on older hardware, but Windows has better driver support. I asked a clerk at the local (huge) electronics store which of their WiFi adapters would work with Linux, and his answer was “None of them.” I’ve definitely had more problems installing Ubuntu than Windows. I can’t argue with cost, and I haven’t really thought about configurability.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        @brandon-berg For peripherals and off-beat hardware, yes. My media remote, for example, doesn’t work on Linux.

        For basic hardware, like video, audio, networking, Linux driver support is considerably better than Windows and has been for some time. WiFi in particular used to be a big problem, but hasn’t been in some time. In my calculus, basic driver support switched columns from Windows to Linux several years back.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m using Lubuntu on hardware so old that no current Microsoft OS supports it, and overall it runs pretty well. Drivers have been a mixed bag. The install didn’t find a driver for the wireless card, but I was able to find one online, (There’s a technique whose name escapes me for wrapping Windows drivers to make them Linux drivers, and that adds support for lots of old devices.) On the other hand, I could not find a driver for my old Canon Inkjet printer on either the current MacOS or Linux, so I junked it.

        And personally, I couldn’t do without the shell and all of its associated tools, which answers the Windows vs. Mac question for me immediately. (Cygwin is not the same thing.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        I was prepared for a real fight with my printer, because that has been a sore spot. I spent a couple of hours tracking down the appropriate drivers and girding for the battle… only to have it work instantly.

        That was a Samsung laser printer. My more complicated Canon – with the scanner – may end up being where the real battle is. It is definitely something on my checklist of Things That Have To Work before I make the permanent switch (if I do).Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        I recently discovered that my Samsung laser printer works better on my Linux laptop than it does on my Mac. The laptop runs the open-source SpliX driver, the Mac runs Samsung’s own driver. One of my projects for this afternoon is to install SpliX on the Mac and see if that won’t fix the problems I’ve had.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m actually going to push back a bit here, because I’m fairly confident I do not do this. At least, I make a concerted effort not to.

    To use an example I’ve used elsewhere, let’s talk folding laundry. Specifically, shirts. I fold my shirts in a particular way. I fold them this way because it suits my goal of neat, organized, accessible drawers. Zazzy folds her shirts very differently. Her goal is a speedy and efficient folding process. As far as I see it, we are both “right” insofar as we’ve identified a method that allows us to arrive at our goal. So I do not tell her she is wrong, even though she seems wrong to me.

    I discussed this way back in my “Mr. Right” post. Most situations do not have objectively correct answers. Apple or PC? It depends… what are you trying to do? What sort of user are you? Cardio or weightlifting? It depends… what are your fitness goals? Even capitalism or communism? Well, it depends… what are your values, those of the people you are entering into the system with, and what are you trying to attain?

    Please tell me I’m not alone in tending to think this way!Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      On a large scale, you’ve describe the difference between ideology and policy (ideally). Ideology is about what you want to achieve. Policy is about finding the most effective means of achieving it.

      And yet there’s a continuous stream of technocrats saying “we should take ideology out of the picture and just do what works”.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        @katherinemw

        One of the issues with ideology is the presumption that all must abide to the same one. Sure, Zazzy and I could debate what our goals should be for folding laundry, but if her system works for her and mine works for me, so be it. Obviously, we run into problems if we begin folding each other’s laundry. I guess that is how wars start…Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        Suddenly I am so very glad Khrushchev & Kennedy never folded each others laundry.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        @katherinemw
        Because there are a bunch of bread and butter issues which everyone who is neither a sociopath nor a philosopher agrees on to at least some large degree and all disagreements are merely about how to get there. But all sorts of people seem ideologically committed to having their own set of facts, even when the vast majority of people with PhDs in that field disagree with them. Because people seem to care more about looking like they care than actually solving the problem. Before we get too caught up in assessing value differences, the fact of the matter is that most people in any reasonably industrialised society want a bunch of liberties, wealth, opportunities etc. For those people who don’t happen to want those things, they can always choose to discard them or not use them if they do end up with those goods. We only get to serious distributional conflicts when we are near the pareto frontier, which we are not. There are ways of increasing the prospects of the worst off which does not require reductions in aggregate utility.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        @katherinemw @murali

        That’s the thing about ideology, it’s fine, necessary even, while it stays on the Ought side of the Is-Ought gap. It’s when it bleeds onto the Is side that things get messy.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy

        we run into problems if we begin folding each other’s laundry.

        Your wife doesn’t fold your laundry?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        @scarletnumbers I’m a grown man with opposable thumbs and a functioning brain. Why would I need someone to fold my laundry?Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy

        Because you have a wife. Didn’t your father have this talk with you?Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m not sure that “ideology” is really the word you’re looking for, since people often have ideological commitments to specific means of achieving goals. For example, I think there’s a pretty broad consensus that government should adopt policies that promote economic prosperity, but good luck on getting the left and right to agree on how to do that.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        @scarletnumbers

        Personally, I find that masculine adulthood has made me a competent person who can handle his own needs, so, like Kazzy, I don’t need a surrogate mommy to fold my undies for me.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        @brandon-berg I think the ideological consensus you refer to only works if you look at it in the really abstract and ignore various tradeoffs. In terms of abstraction, there is the question of “economic prosperity for whom?” Since at least some contingent of the left views inequality as bad, they would prefer to have less economic prosperity if all of the prosperity is going to go to the 1%. Conservatives way want economic prosperity in the abstract, but they would nonetheless support abortion restrictions come-what-may, economically. Libertarians want prosperity, but along certain terms, and many do not want the benefits felt by those who didn’t work for it.

        Partisans on all sides will tend to argue that prosperity is not at all mutually conducive with what they want, and that there are no tradeoffs. But when push comes to shoves, it’s not just a matter of knowing how to bring about economic prosperity, but of (a) which sacrifices they’re willing to make for it and (b) what the term means.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      The problem is not that people arrive at different conclusions when presented with the same set of initial facts. That is simply the result of people weighing things differently in their own calculation of maximal utility.

      The problem is when someone decides that their notion of maximal utility is morally superior and that everyone else is not just expressing different preferences but is actually damaging society through their incorrect actions.

      (note that “you like Windows? lol you idiot) is not an example of the latter.)Report

  6. Avatar Burt Likko
    Ignored
    says:

    To the gravamen of the OP: avoiding this fallacy is, in my mind, what Ordinary Times is all about. I come here deliberately to expose myself to people who think differently than I do, because there’s every chance that they might be more right, or at least less wrong, about a particular thing than I am.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco in reply to Burt Likko
      Ignored
      says:

      Brings me in mind of a line of Aaron Sorkin’s (from SportsNight, back before he preceded Jeremy Clarkson and followed Mel Brooks down the path of self-Flanderization):
      “If you aren’t smart, surround yourself with smart people. If you are smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”Report

  7. Avatar Will Truman
    Ignored
    says:

    Just today I was talking about Applytes and their whole “I can’t do this” or “my thing doesn’t have this” combined with “and so it doesn’t matter” or “and it’s better this way” (until it does have it, then it’s important and useful).

    I see a lot of this in Applytes, though in my heart I know I am guilty as well as a partisan on the other side.Report

  8. Avatar Chris
    Ignored
    says:

    Story telling is basically how we understand the world, period. More than that, it is how we cope with it. There’s actual research showing the healing power of telling a story:

    http://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2005/writing.htmlReport

  9. Avatar Patrick
    Ignored
    says:

    One of these days I should post them all.

    Yes you should.

    A client insisting on a series of icons the client’s employees could click on to get to particular pages, rather than the programmer’s insistence that the client send out a memo with a list of various long-string codes to their employees, so that the employees could then enter these codes into a DOS window that would do the same thing — because he objectively knew that clicking on icons was unnecessary if you had the codes to enter.

    That guy is an idiot.

    But. There’s a Flip Side to the Engineer’s Fallacy. Let’s call it The User Fallacy.

    There is Form, and there is Function. Typically people find a Function behind a Form, a really awesome Function that they didn’t know they could have and now can’t possibly imagine that they could live without… and they confuse the Form with the Function.

    Then they demand that they get the Form, because it is the only way they know to get the Function. They will do this in spite of Forms that provide the same (or better) Function to a wide body of users that includes them, but not only them.

    So you wind up with the exact inverted example to this one that you gave right here. Here’s just one instance:

    A user insisting on storing a list of student information in an Excel spreadsheet on their desktop and then emailing that back and forth between five other people (a process rife with errors and versioning problems, not to mention leaving a hundred billion slightly different copies of the same spreadsheet in everyone’s inbox), rather than the IT guy’s insistence that the user could update a wiki page, online, through their web browser, with perhaps five minutes of not-very-in-depth training in the wiki interface, so that all six people involved could both update and store a unified document that wouldn’t have those error and versioning problems — because the user objectively knew that “nobody would do it that way.”Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Patrick
      Ignored
      says:

      And also because of security and privacy issues – when you’re dealing with private information on other people, putting it on a web page may not be the best way to do things. We’ve just seen how easily the cloud can be hacked.

      I am not a computer person, so all of that may be completely wrong, but I don’t trust anything along the lines of cloud computing, and recent events have only strengthened that opinion. I’ve used Dropbox for academic documents, but anything with information that’s confidential in any way? Nope.Report

      • Avatar Michael M. in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        Sending the same information through email is no more secure — actually, it is probably less secure because now you have multiple iterations of the data accessible through multiple email accounts, each of which is prone to being hacked. I’m not sure what you perceive as the difference (from a security standpoint) between “email” and “the cloud.” Email is in the cloud.Report

      • Avatar patrick in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        What he said.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        Not that you’re wrong, Katherine, FERPA-covered data (or HIPAA, or any financial data) doesn’t belong on the web unencrypted.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        If everyone is on the same network, you can have the wiki page accessible only internally. \

        Done right, it could offer a number of security advantages – a version history that’s easy to navigate, so you can see who made a particular change, on what date; a canonical location for the information that you can back up reliably; less likelihood that copies of the data will be lying around forgotten on someone’s laptop or phone when it gets stolen, etc.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        Oh, and – the ability to revoke someone’s access to the information once they’re no longer in a role where they need it. You can’t un-send an email to them.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to KatherineMW
        Ignored
        says:

        Oh, and – the ability to revoke someone’s access to the information once they’re no longer in a role where they need it.

        Ah, a reminder of nightmares about explaining to state legislators why our public-assistance intake software was so expensive. Me, on the microphone in a committee meeting, answering a question from an antagonistic state senator: “Senator, consider the matter of controlling access to the data. The system includes certain medical information, so must be compliant with the federal HIPAA laws and regulations. It also contains financial data that falls under a different set of rules. That means that we need a subsystem that tracks just which parts of the database every one of the 9,000 county and state employees with access to the system can see. For every new hire, a detailed access profile has to be constructed. For every employee who leaves, their access has to be removed. Every time an employee changes job within their county welfare office, their access may have to be modified. In addition, the subsystem has to support certain audit hooks so that our compliance to the rules can be monitored. There are at least three different federal departments that conduct audits on access control, and each of them has their own requirements. From time to time, the federal government changes the rules, often for no reason anyone working for the State of Colorado understands.”

        When I got back to my office, there was voice mail waiting from someone high up in the state’s Dept of Human Services, saying, “That was very nice, Mike. Better you being stuck in that hot seat than me; they don’t usually scream at their own staff.” It was an insane job — highly educational about how state government functions, but insane.Report

    • Avatar morat20 in reply to Patrick
      Ignored
      says:

      Once upon awhile, my job was to create a logging system (website front end, DB back end, lots of complex under the hood stuff to keep right with FIOA and to ensure no data loss) so that engineers could STOP recording their daily issues on notebook paper or internal word files and then at the end of every shift type it up into a standard format and hand-carry it over to managers or other departments, and could instead….do it all in one place, and create reports at the push of a button.

      They really, really hated the idea. Their managers had to force the issue. Six months after implementation, a five minute outage would get calls from people who suddenly couldn’t do their job without it. (My favorite — one of the biggest old guards aghast at the notion that he might have to write up the report by hand, like some sort of barbarian. You know, the way he had for 15 years prior…)

      Couldn’t live without it in the end, but getting them to use it at first was a nightmare. I think what really helped was we had about two dozen people eager for the project who were deeply involved in our development process. We’d iterate a design, they’d play with it for a week, then give feedback. Helped tons, having not just the clients (the managers) but the end-users in the development loop.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to morat20
        Ignored
        says:

        morat,
        in my experience, you have to invite some of the irascible old farts into the design phase, because they’re also your userbase, and their usage patterns are going to be different than the early-adopters.

        I ran into something at work the other week, where it was clearly designed to be “user-friendly” for about 10% of the userbase (it was FAR easier to enter “number of steps” than to enter other forms of exercise. It was going to be that way no matter what design choices they did, but… their design choices significantly favored the “number of steps” approach).Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to morat20
        Ignored
        says:

        We did. At least half the push-back was people incensed their managers could glance at their department/job/area and see what their status was without going through them first.

        In the end, we kept pointing out they were ALL subject to FOIA and nothing they did on this part of the job was at ALL private (assuming anyone bothered to ask), that their managers could snap up their logbooks/internal word documents/whatever anytime they wanted, and all this did was ensure there were fewer interruptions from managers just wanting a routine status check.

        Which was all true. Which was why even the old fogies loved the system after they got past the ‘always done it this way’ setup, and they loved the system not because I’m an awesome coder (I am, thank you) but because we had tons of good feedback from users. They’d have HATED our first iterations.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to morat20
        Ignored
        says:

        In the end, we kept pointing out they were ALL subject to FOIA and nothing they did on this part of the job was at ALL private (assuming anyone bothered to ask), that their managers could snap up their logbooks/internal word documents/whatever anytime they wanted…

        Interesting. My only experience with an FOIA-type law was at the state level, as a member of the legislative staff. The state law specifically put notes and working papers off limits. Any subject I was taking in front of budget committee (for whom I worked) had to have at least a one-page write-up, and those all went into the open records files, but it wasn’t available to the public until and unless I had actually presented it.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to morat20
        Ignored
        says:

        morat,
        at least you don’t have to do Sox compliance stuff. It’s “voluntary” which means someone in upper management decided to put us through paperwork hell.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to morat20
        Ignored
        says:

        Interesting. My only experience with an FOIA-type law was at the state level, as a member of the legislative staff. The state law specifically put notes and working papers off limits. Any subject I was taking in front of budget committee (for whom I worked) had to have at least a one-page write-up, and those all went into the open records files, but it wasn’t available to the public until and unless I had actually presented it.

        I’m simplifying. The end-reports (generated daily) were subject to FIOA. Practically everything subject to export-control restrictions and the provisions of (I think the Space Act? I can’t recall. Rocket data, basically).

        I don’t know if the working notes were subject to FIOA (this is all Federal level FIOA) but I know for darn sure they were required to keep them for archival purposes, and for the fun “Let’s look back and see where it went wrong” purposes.

        In practice, we had a rolling system that took snap-shots at specific intervals AND in response to specific actions, which satisfied everyone that nothing was getting lost and complying with the law.Report

  10. Avatar Mo
    Ignored
    says:

    Isn’t this a form of the Pundit’s Fallacy (I.e. This is popular with me, therefore it is popular with the general public)?Report

  11. Avatar zic
    Ignored
    says:

    Then there’s the cook’s fallacy: I’m cooking dinner for my family, I like what I’m making, so everyone will like it.

    This disabuses one of the notion, and rapidly. So I wonder if the person doing most of the family meal prep is less prone to the engineer’s fallacy?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to zic
      Ignored
      says:

      I’m about 70/30 when I cook for myself.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic
      Ignored
      says:

      @zic

      That’s why I take the, “If you don’t like it, the stove has five other burners” approach.

      Who am I kidding? I cook what she wants and still get yelled at…Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to zic
      Ignored
      says:

      Hah,
      Funny because I’m just the opposite. “What to cook that they like so the evening will be pleasurable” 🙂Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Damon
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m like that, too; I save the brussel sprouts and cauliflower for nights I’m home alone; because I love them despite their rejection by another family member who shall remain nameless.

        Both of my children cook, as well; and the experience of cooking has softened their willingness to reject. One had a couple of years cooking for roommates in CA, the other now cooks for roommates in MA. I’m not sure if it’s because of the curiosity of a cook (I might learn something new from this dish,) or the appreciation of the work and just how difficult it can be to please everyone at the dinner table or just plain growing-up; but the non-cook in the family isn’t quite so easy to please.Report

  12. Avatar Angela
    Ignored
    says:

    Aristotle defined man as being a rational animal.
    Heinlein improved it as man is a rationalizing animal.

    One of the things discussions of privilege help me grasp / appreciate is some of my big blind spots.

    And I agree with Burt above; conversations and exposures to different ideas is one of the reasons I read here. (although almost never comment).Report

  13. Avatar KatherineMW
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m getting annoyed with Macs due to to exclusive-compatibility issues and expense – my first Mac lasted maybe 6 years, which for twice or three times the price of a PC isn’t that great – so I’ve been thinking about switching to a PC for my next laptop, but if they’re that bad, then maybe not.

    What really annoys me is going into computer repair stores and being told “we don’t do Macs”. It’s a computer. That’s like a car repair place saying, “Oh, no, we only fix GM cars, we don’t do Hondas.Report

    • Avatar scott the mediocre in reply to KatherineMW
      Ignored
      says:

      @katherinemw

      There are indeed plenty of auto repair places which do only work on one manufacturer (at least in the US, in larger conurbations. If memory serves, which is probably doesn’t, you live in greater Toronto – does the phenomenon not occur there too? If so, I am surprised. I confess that the one time I was there I was paying no attention to the automobile repair infrastructure). Often far more cost-efficient than the generalists, especially for more idiosyncratic and uncommon manufacturers.

      I think you underestimate how different Apple products are “under the hood” (i.e. from generic Wintels boxen from the usual suspects like Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc.) not to mention that Apple generally designs their products to as difficult to repair as possible. n.b. I don’t think that misfeature in Apple products is a deliberate revenue-enhancer for Apple; more a byproduct of Apple’s form before function design philosophy.

      I’m reasonably consumer-computer literate, though not in the upper crust by OT standards (e.g. I used to assemble my own desktops and servers; use Linux, but I run Xubuntu like a noob rather than for example Arch [glyph of shame]), but I will not touch an Apple product if I can help it, and I absolutely refuse to be a freebie helpdesk for Apple (except, as WillT and I have discussed before, during the brief interval when Apple had the only viable smartphone product, and even then I limited myself to iOS).

      If for some reason I were to run a computer repair business, I would have to make the business decision whether it was worthwhile to maintain OSX skills as well as Windows; for a small operation in a competitive segment it might not be worthwhile. Are there no specialized Apple repair places near you?
      Report

    • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to KatherineMW
      Ignored
      says:

      The problem with a lot of “work PCs” is that they’re produced as disposable tools to make them easier to replace en masse. For the most part that’s fine, but it does make them somewhat more exasperating than they need to be. There’s a handful of ODMs that’ll make higher quality laptops for any given price which are worth the extra price over say a generic HP or Dell, but with them you usually won’t see a price benefit over an Apple PC, though you’ll likely get better serviceability (because these things are designed to be repaired and upgraded), durability, and overall service.Report

      • Avatar scott the mediocre in reply to NobAkimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        @nobakimoto
        Which laptop ODMs are you thinking of? Lenovo (Thinkpad line) used to be, but as WillT and I have lamented, no longer. All the high end laptop ODMs I know of target the gaming market (e.g. Sager); with a certain amount of work you can create a solid laptop/mobile workstation with them that isn’t gaming-optimized, but it’s not easy (at any rate, it was very much not easy the last time I tried).Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to NobAkimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        Yeah, I’m thinking mostly about Clevo. I’ve now had one for the better part of a year, and it’s fantastic in everything from build quality to customization and maintenance. It’s a very solid mobile workstation, and the battery life is fine as a laptop.Report

      • Avatar scott the mediocre in reply to NobAkimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        @nob-akimoto
        I guess I’m too demanding 🙂

        With Clevo’s direct line – at least, what shows on the english language website-, you have to go to a gaming build to get a high res display (e.g. 1920×1080), and if you do that you get a gaming keyboard and a gaming GPU (for product differentiation, nVidia’s “professional”, i.e. CAD-oriented, 3D drivers only work with the Quadro GPUs, not on the GeForce line even though the GPU core is basically the same).

        Sager uses Clevo motherboards with more build options, as do/did some of the older Thinkpads, my beloved w530 among them. I did look at some of the other builders that use Clevo motherboards (agreed, the gold standard), but they just didn’t seem that well thought out.
        Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to NobAkimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        There’s a number of P157SM based configurations that come with Quadro CPUs. I know Mythlogic will configure them that way, and I think that’s more of a question of how much you’re willing to pay. The K5100 based laptops for example cost some ridiculous sum of money. My main problem with most of the Clevo lines atm is that they don’t do 4HD or better displays. Admittedly for the general price range for gaming laptops I don’t think it’s necessary yet (mostly because the laptop GPUs won’t run that), but it’d still be nice to have the option.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NobAkimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        nob, scott,
        nothing’s quite so fun as trying to make Windows 7 understand that you just gave it 64 GB of memory…Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to NobAkimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        The Thinkpad isn’t as monolithic a line as it used to be.

        I have a W530, it’s a workhorse. I got it because the track pad has two usable reliable mechanical buttons, unlike most of the other Thinkpads and virtually every other mass-produced laptop right now, all of which are trying to copy Apple’s “single-button dual-touch-zone” model, which makes me want to puke blood out of my eyes.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to NobAkimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        (I will admit, though, that the speakers on this thing are excruciatingly bad.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NobAkimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        @patrick Guess what Lenovo did for the W540?

        I’ve historically gotten – and loved – the T-series, which followed the same design. Alas, the 540 was a betrayal.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to NobAkimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        There’s a comment around here where I mention confusing Form with Function…Report

  14. Avatar Saul Degraw
    Ignored
    says:

    I agree. I like the Heinlein line Angela gave about man being a rationalizing animal.

    Maybe it was always human nature but the internet seems to reward stridency and militancy over expressing doubt. Boldly wrong is better than doubting and right. Burt aside, I think the internet largely consists in aiding and enhancing the Big Sort and more sites are about Lock Step than anything else. The trolls are usually pretty obvious and the respectful disagreement that can happen between us here does not really exist. Most people on the Internet seem “shocked shocked” that there are people who disagree with them.Report

  15. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
    Ignored
    says:

    In the “things we can trust as objective facts” column we have basic math

    Speaking of Heinlein…

    If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion.Report

  16. Avatar Alan Scott
    Ignored
    says:

    In the “things we can trust as objective facts” column we have basic math… aaand that’s really just about it.

    Of course, my math teacher brain objects to even this. Math is just a set of semi-arbitrary rules we agree to follow. After all, those same folks that insist you buy a PC instead of a mac may very well do arithmetic in base 16 instead of base 10.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Alan Scott
      Ignored
      says:

      @alan-scott

      You’re a math teacher? Maupy I ask what you think about making sure students get right the right answer vs. making sure they get there the right way?Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley , I’m only a math teacher in training. But ask again in a year.

        As for the right answer vs. right way thing: The bulk of my training has been with 7th and 8th graders. They really struggle with certain topics, and I very much believe their struggles stem from a lack of conceptual understanding.

        They spent the first six years of their education learning the process, but not the concepts, and when it comes time to expand the concepts to things like negative numbers or systems of equations, they’re totally lost. Sometimes “getting the answer the right way” just means memorizing an algorithm, and that’s not helpful. But sometimes “getting the answer the right way” means using a method that develops conceptual understanding, and that’s vital. Is there a specific “right way” you’re thinking of? I might have a more detailed answer if given more specifics.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Aren’t there cognitive development issues involved as well?

        I’m trying to recall conversations I wasn’t paying attention to (I don’t teach, I’m just married to one and she has a lot of teacher friends) about brain development and how that (or how it SHOULD) dictate when certain things are taught and how. There’s always kids ahead or the behind the curve, of course. It’s not like you turn twelve and your brain is “Abstract reasoning, switch to 9!” or anything.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Yeah, there are certain pretty clear developmental patterns with math, particularly in the first few years and then again in adolescence.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @alan-scott

        and when it comes time to expand the concepts to things like negative numbers or systems of equations, they’re totally lost.

        Take this with as many grains of salt as you need to, but when I was in middle school, my 8th grade algebra teacher had a way of explaining things that worked for me very well (whether it worked for others, I don’t know). He said, just forget about the idea of subtraction and division. Instead, think of everything as addition and multiplication. What you used to think of as subtraction is just adding negative numbers, and what you used to think of as division is multiplying by the reciprocal. For some reason, that made things easier for me. I actually wrote my equations/problems as, for example, “5 + (-2) = 3,” and for some reason looking at it that was was easier to grasp than “5 – 2 = 3.”

        He also did a really good job of driving home the distributive property. I don’t remember exactly how he did it, but I had been at best hazy on it, and after leaving the class I had a solid working knowledge of it.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Alan,

        I’m not quite sure. My daughter isn’t even sure what method he’s asking for, so she doesn’t know how to give him what he wants (I’ve insisted she explain to him that she doesn’t grasp what he’s looking for, but she’s been sick the last couple days, so we don’t know yet).

        I just find it frustrating, because while she’s not a math whiz, she has pretty solid mathematical understanding. But for several years now she’s had trouble with math teachers telling her she’s doing it wrong, even while she’s getting correct answers. I understand the part about learning concepts that will help later, but it seems–casually–to me that this isn’t the case here, because she’s yet to hit a point where she really can’t figure out the problems.

        And it’s doubly frustrating because of my own history. I always–always–test well in quantitative ability. While the quant part of my GRE was my lowest score, I was still in the 86th percentile (give or take a percentile–it was 20 years ago). Again, not a math whiz, but with solid abilities. But in 7th and 9th grades I had an algebra teacher who personally targeted me for reasons unknown, and instilled such a fear of math in me that even today I have a hard time looking at a simple algebra problem without getting a sick feeling in my stomach. In 8th and 9th grades I was getting serious tension headaches before my math class. In college, years later, I had an excellent teacher and aced algebra, and found basic stats a breeze but I still felt a sick tension every single day of that term.

        It’s been so incredibly limiting, both professionally and as a parent not able to help my kid with her math. And I feel like I’m seeing that cycle repeated with my daughter, and it just kills me.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        making sure students get right the right answer vs. making sure they get there the right way?

        I’d say “mu”. Ordinarily, it’s sufficient to make sure they get there *a* right way, that is, that they’re using a technique that actually works, not being lucky with an incorrect one or guessing. But when you’re teaching a specific technique, it makes sense to insist that they use that technique, at least for that assignment.

        Here’s an example:

        What’s the remainder when dividing F(x) = (3x^3 + 2x^2 + x) by (x-1)?

        If the current lesson is in synthetic division, it’s entirely reasonable to insist that the students get the answer (6) by calculating F(1), rather than by performing the division.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        I remember trying to help my sister-in-law with her high school math long ago & having similar trouble with not understanding what the teacher was trying to teach. I showed her how to get the right answer, and she lost points for not getting it the right way, even though the way I showed her was perfectly legit.

        I appreciate teachers trying to get kids to learn multiple ways to approach a problem, but I have a problem when kids lose points for not groking one way , especially if they show proficiency with an equally valid way.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley , yeah, I’ve heard lots of stories from peers about having math teachers like yours. One of my major motivations in choosing to be a math teacher is so that fewer students will have teachers like that.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Godspeed, Alan.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Alan Scott
      Ignored
      says:

      Math is just a set of semi-arbitrary rules we agree to follow.

      Yeah? After some basic notational decisions — base-10, symbols for the digits and operators — what’s arbitrary? Positional notation with a zero isn’t arbitrary; it makes so many things easier. 2+2=4? Nope. 5*(2+3)=(5*2)+(5*3)? Nope. The long multiplication tableau? No, hundreds of years of experience support the claim that, once mastered, it is the general-purpose manual technique that minimizes time and errors. Negative numbers? Rationals? Reals? Imaginaries? Geometry, algebra, calculus, graph theory?

      Math is a way of looking at the world whose strength is that it isn’t arbitrary. Now, if you want to say that “math instruction” as practiced in too many schools is arbitrary, I wouldn’t be so inclined to argue.Report

  17. Avatar Stillwater
    Ignored
    says:

    Excellent post Tod. I especially like this

    he asks that we stop using analogies in contentious discussions and instead focus on the logical facts of an issue. What he fails to grasp, I believe, is that even that is a kind of story he tells himself

    That’s right on the money. BIG cash.Report

  18. NobAkimoto NobAkimoto
    Ignored
    says:

    As I keep trying to tell you people, the world is Bayesian, and all data is Bayesian.Report

  19. Avatar James K
    Ignored
    says:

    This is an important failure mode to be aware of Tod, it’s an error that economics tries to train you against making. One of the reasons why economics assumes that peoples’ actions are good representations of their preferences is precisely because otherwise it’s very tempting to assume that you understand someone’s preferences better than they do.Report

  20. Avatar Damon
    Ignored
    says:

    One quibble:

    “Now that I blog and spend time on line, I see the Engineer’s Fallacy everywhere. People on political sites quote the Constitution as if there is one single and logical way to interpret every word of it.”

    There SHOULD be only one intrepertation: original intent of the written word given the context of the times. Because if everyone “understands” it differently, there really isn’t a “founding document” is there? That’s always been my pet peeve. I don’t care what it says. We can change it if we like. But what you have now is folks “intreperting” what it says and means to conform to their own political/philosophical/economc biases.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Damon
      Ignored
      says:

      “There SHOULD be only one interpretation: original intent of the written word given the context of the times.”

      Even absent deliberate artistry, when one has a document written by committee, the same words can mean different things to the separate contributors.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Damon
      Ignored
      says:

      It’s endless amusing (that’s highly sarcastic,) that ‘original intent’ is so often used by the folks who are opposed to any sort of limitation on guns.

      Even the notion of what ‘original intent’ was (despite the actual history) is subject to one’s biases. Your version will not be the same as my version, and that won’t match her version which won’t match his version.

      This is as fractal an exercise in how to govern as I can imagine.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        Even the notion of what ‘original intent’ was (despite the actual history) is subject to one’s biases. Your version will not be the same as my version, and that won’t match her version which won’t match his version.

        Original intent, even “original public meaning,” which is the contemporary iteration of “original intent,” is not ascertainable with precision even were we to assume a judiciary absolutely free from bias and with unlimited research resources available with which to undergo such a search. All we have are the words themselves, and the knowledge that the words were the result of a political process that included compromise and the use of ambiguous language so as to enable a coalition of “yes” votes to pass those words into law.

        Nor is the Constitution some sort of Holy Writ, handed down by YHWH Himself upon graven tablets. The Constitution is law — nothing less, but also nothing more. Law is made up of words; understanding the ideas behind those words is important and useful and interpretation of those ideas will necessarily differ from individual to individual and thus over time, but should we find, after substantial good faith deliberation, that we cannot agree upon what those ideas and concepts are when applied to a particular set of facts, we nevertheless have no choice but to agree that these words, and not different words, are the law.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        @burt-likko

        The only thing I see, for certain, is that there was a structure for the law to grown/change/expand as society changed; that ‘original intent’ was something flexible enough to last a while.

        Perhaps I’m wrong, and that’s a modern view?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        zic,
        Hamilton was prone to storming off during the Constitutional Convention, so he really didn’t do nearly as much as he could have. Morris and other folks were quite busy making stupid agreements — that everyone conceeded were “not ideal”. This whole business of venerating the constitution is just silly nonsense.

        It was a decent compromise. That’s all.

        And the founders spent ooodles of time thinking about a system that doesn’t resemble our current one in the slightest (mainly because they thought the legislature would be the driving force, not the executive), so why should we pay much attention to their thoughts on our current government?

        And 1962 was a watershed year. One Person, One Vote. Yet another example of an “activist supreme court”Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        Some of the original Framers subscribed to that very view (e.g., Madison, who contemplated political struggles between the institutions in response to future developments); others likely did not (e.g., Adams, who insisted on the Supremacy Clause and sought formalization of explicit executive power); some anti-Federalists criticized the Constitution for being thus malleable (e.g., Warren, who complained that the language was vague enough to deny Americans the understanding of what they were agreeing to).

        If we cannot ascertain a consensus about “original intent” itself, how can we ever hope to ascertain “original intent” of the Constitution’s more substantive provisions?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Damon
      Ignored
      says:

      Brandon,

      When a document is written vaguely, sometimes for the purpose of letting people read it in whatever way makes them happy enough to sign on, no sizable set of historians and legal scholars can really agree on the precise concepts the authorial collective had in mind, and we’re applying it to circumstances they could not have imagined (is pointing a heat gun at a house a search?), the idea of original intent is not intellectually supportable. Original purpose, sure, we can get a decent grasp on that, probably, but even that leaves a lot of uncertainty in the application.

      The more I study and think about the constitutional convention, the more persuaded I am that the actual intent of the Constitution was “let’s cobble together something that we’re able to approximately agree on that will keep the union together thatdoesn’t demand my state give up too much.” Much of the vision behind original intent theory, it seems to me, is a romantic view that the Framers set aside their differences to focus on the collective good of the nation. In reality they did no such thing–they wanted to keep the union together for their own state’s interests, but not so much that they were willing to make much sacrifice of their state’s interests.

      The prospect of proportional representation had the small states threatening to make alliances, without the big states, with other countries. The southern states were willing to walk if they didn’t get the 3/5 compromise, and S. Carolina voted against that because they were standing firm on slaves being counted fully. New York’s two delegates not called Hamilton left early and started fomenting opposition long before the convention finished its work. North Carolina refused to ratify until after Congress forwarded a bill of rights to the state, and Rhode Island–which had refused to attend the convention–ratified by a 2 vote margin, but not until a year after the new government was meeting.

      That’s the original intent–overcome opposition to keep the damn union together. Everything else is fluff. The Federalist Papers are great political theory, but they have a partisan motivation, have a political purpose, and are vastly over-rated as a true guide to what the convention “meant.”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Is it possible to write a Constitutional Amendment, even in theory, that is so well-worded that you could get 2 out of 3 people to agree that if we wanted to do something other than (what Constitutional Amendment says), we’d have to amend the Constitution rather than argue “you just don’t understand what the words mean”?Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @jaybird
        I’d say for an amendment that touched on anything complicated like rights, the relationship between governmental institutions, etc. that’d be quite difficult. For something that touched on simpler things, then yes, straightforward amendments are possible. There are provisions in the constitution that amount to black letter law: “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years,” “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State”, etc.

        What’s funny to me is the idea that everyone isn’t constantly engaged in an argument over meanings, including the original public meaning proponents. What does unreasonable search and seizure mean when applied to cell phones? When applied to policing tools that can detect the amount of heat coming from a household? How exactly does looking to the 18th century meaning help find the definitive answers?

        (I admit, original public meaning can be an important element, but then so are the other tools in constitutional interpretation: looking to the history and tradition of the US, looking to the aims and purposes of the constitution, looking to the pragmatic consequences, and even when appropriate, looking to the experiences of other nations when struggling with certain questions)Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        The 3rd Amendment is pretty specific. No one got away with saying “It’s not really quartering unless they have their own room.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Mike,

        There’s a case out of New York where a family claimed quartering because the police kicked them out of their house so they (the police) could set up surveillance on the neighboring house.

        Before that case I might have agreed with you that the 3rd is very clear, but now I’m less sure.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Until recently I’d have said that police and the military are quite different things. Not anymore, though.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley Huh? My comments in this thread are about about operating systems and the definition of “ideology.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        My apologies, @brandon-berg. I was responding to Damon. For some reason, the common last syllable of your first names keeps confusing me about to whom I’m writing. Could I persuade one of you to change your name? Brandino would work. Or Damian. Help a poor fellow out, please? 😉Report

  21. Avatar Kim
    Ignored
    says:

    Tod,
    if your work wasn’t running NT, I feel your pain.

    I know someone who, during an interview, pointed at the interviewer’s PC, and muttered a (minor) gypsy curse. Blue Screen of Death. He wasn’t contacted to get the job after that… but who the hell wants to work at a company that’s running Windows ME?Report

  22. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
    Ignored
    says:

    I always thought the Engineers Fallacy was, “If it ain’t broke, it don’t have enough features yet.”Report

  23. Avatar ScarletNumbers
    Ignored
    says:

    So your dad confused “too” and “two”?Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *