Letters 10/20/2009

Oct. 19, 2009
Readers are still sharing their opinions on the necessity and usefulness of the PE license.

The PE debate continues
Readers are still sharing their opinions on the necessity and usefulness of the PE license. (For more reader comments, visit tiny.cc/1j9Qt.) Perhaps not coincidentally, those most vociferous in their support of licensing also have the letters PE after their names.

PE or not PE: Part II
Burt Siegal (“Hijacking the Engineering Profession,” Aug. 6) probably has better things to do than wasting his time fighting the Illinois Professional Regulation Act and spending his retirement funds on legal fees. So why doesn’t he make the effort to conform to the provisions of the Act which have been in place for many years? He’s certainly had the time to do so.

Such acts are in place to assure the public that licensed practitioners have the proper training and knowledge to perform the work they are hired to do. These licensed practitioners also subscribe to their profession’s Code of Ethics. I have come across many paralegals, medical practitioners, nurses, technicians, and others who are exemplary in the knowledge of their work, but in the end I want the product or service I’m paying for to be performed by the appropriate licensed professional. I’m sure Mr. Siegal doesn’t want a paralegal or law clerk arguing his case before the Illinois court; he likely has hired attorneys who are properly licensed.

Many years ago I came across a large spread in the newspaper highlighting a local firm which was manufacturing and selling mattresses to the public. The name of the firm had the words “Mattress Engineering” embedded within it, and the article went on to explain how the owners were “engineering” their product. Needless to say, regulators took the appropriate steps to enforce the Act against the business owners who were not licensed, much less degreed engineers. This is just one instance of many where the public could have been misled into believing that such a product was designed by duly licensed and competent individuals. While Mr. Siegal’s firm is likely competent in its work and its products are of excellent quality, he is obligated to conform to the law.

The arrogance Mr. Siegal displays in the article is offensive to all engineers who have made the effort to become licensed professionals whether or not they work in industry.

Richard Field, PE

And what are the criteria one must meet to call oneself an engineer? And how many of us end up doing what we went to school and actually trained for?

I entered the field years ago with a newly minted BSME and couldn’t find work. So I took a position as an “instrument engineer.” Some of what I dealt with was familiar and a lot was not. But I had a new family to feed, and a paycheck is, after all, a paycheck.

After 15 years of this, I took a position with an automaker in programming (software). I had a lot to learn in a short time, but I managed to stay there for 30 years. During that time, I decided to take the PE exam. But guess what? I wasn’t eligible. I had not done an internship and there were no PEs available to vouch for me. If the company had any PEs, they were awfully quiet about the fact.

I watched the “engineering” department fill with people from India, Pakistan, Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and a half dozen other places. Not one was a PE.

So at the ripe age of seventy, I now wonder: Am I an engineer? Was I ever one? I like to think so.

But lets not discourage up and coming engineers. Make the field a true profession, not just some new way to peel a bunch of bucks out of them so that they can add a new set of letters after their name.

Art Bea

Its amazing to me that elitism is so rampant throughout our society. It is what drives most politicians and it seems that engineering is also stricken with this disease. Why is it so important to restrict choice in our society? The only criteria that is important to me is performance, not a title, a title that only means power for a small group of self-serving people. Let’s get the laws controlling our behavior thrown out. Punishment should only be for those that directly inflict damage on others, not those who are deemed to have broken some arbitrary rules of conduct. Enough already!!!

I. DeBlasi

I never got a PE since I didn’t see the need. Most of PEs I have known were at least fairly competent, with one glaring exception. That exception proves the rule, I suppose, that no matter how much “certification” a person has, it is no guarantee of the quality of their work. Thus, it seems the real issue is fees, both testing and annual membership, that various PE organizations stand to gain if they make this a law.

Tim Anderson

Trains and greenhouse gases
In your editorial on rail transport (“Taken for a Ride: Pros and Cons of High-Speed Rail”, June 4) you say rail cars create more greenhouse gas than autos. But I recall a radio ad claiming that rail cars move a ton of freight using little fuel. How do you reconcile those two statements?

Arne R. Jorgensen

Greenhouse gas emissions of electric rail in the U.S. stem from the fact that the electricity trains use primarily comes from coal-fired generators. This will be the case for years to come even with the most optimistic assumptions for renewable and other sources of electric power.

Emissions for rail transport also vary depending on the country you examine. Scandinavia, for example, makes heavier use of hydroelectric power, not an option for much of the U.S. Also, for passenger rail, the figure you are interested in is emissions per passenger mile — the amount of emissions generated to move passenger traffic one mile, using real numbers for passengers carried. This figure tends to be high outside of densely populated areas such as NYC or Atlanta simply because outside of such areas, rail passenger traffic tends to be sparse. — Leland Teschler

The long view: Sunny
I believe we will be getting the vast majority of our energy from space-based solar power within the next 100 years. This technology can provide base-load power anywhere on the Earth, is completely scalable, and an infinite source of clean energy. Space-based solar power will be a big and expensive engineering project. We better get started soon.

Rob Mahan

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