Letter 6/24/10

June 22, 2010
As any control engineer will explain, a system that relies only on positive feedback will be unstable

Control theory trumps political correctness
As any control engineer will explain, a system that relies only on positive feedback will be unstable. When an editorial applied the same principle to politically correct rewards for school children, our readers agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, no one disagreed, yet.

Too much positive feedback
I cannot begin to tell you how much I agree with your editorial (“Positive reinforcement run amok,” April 22).

You could not be more correct when you say that too many accolades lead to mediocrity. And this attitude to reward everyone for everything doesn’t only affect children but our society as a whole.

The recipients of these “false” accolades begin to expect them even when not deserved. Then, when they don’t get a reward, their efforts greatly decrease and pick up just marginally when the next “reward event” rolls around.

Our society has become lackadaisical because of attitudes like this. People who only perform marginally begin to expect to be rewarded even though not deserved. This activity depletes the real rewards that should go to outstanding performers. Hence we have social programs that hurt everyone.

I earned one of these bogus rewards. I deserved and earned a certain level of membership in a company club honoring production. During December, the last month of the annual program, management began handing out bonus points to people who did not deserve them. This was an attempt to boost the number of winners at the base level. The extra bonus points pushed me into the second level of membership and I got invited to a company banquet. I did not think anything about it until I read your commentary and now I have mixed feelings about it because, yes — I deserved basic membership but did I really earn advanced membership???

David Engman

It’s ironic that Leland Teschler’s editorial about positive reinforcement appeared in the same issue with the salary survey. Let me connect the dots. Variations among engineering salaries are minimal, regardless of which variable you consider. We all get “rewarded” about the same — $70 to 100K, a range that is even smaller after taxes. An engineer whose innovation adds millions to a company’s bottom line probably might get a 3% increase rather than 1%. The idea of compensation being related to performance is management fiction in most companies. The reality is that compensation is fundamentally a matter of supply and demand, as evidenced by low or no wage increases even in companies having excellent profits in these days of high unemployment. Of course, outsourcing and the H1B visa program have contributed to the overly large supply of technical talent and both keep compensation artificially low for engineers. But as Leland observed, since we all get gold stars, at least our self-esteem as engineers must be good.

Mark Miller

Great editorial. I still have a daughter in school and I see this type of thing backfiring all the time. I really think it begins to set them up for bad experiences as adults. Because in the real world, nobody’s looking for reasons to praise you. (Unless to soften you up before telling you there will be no raises this year.) They only seem to care enough to talk to you when you’ve done something wrong.

Terry Persun

Lee, your “everybody gets a trophy” editorial is right on. Kids know what’s happening, and they’re not buying it. I remember my 4-year-old girl bringing home a trophy from school and asking “Daddy, why did they give me a trophy, I didn’t win anything?” And my 12-yr-old son probably has over 50 trophies, most discarded, except for the two he keeps over his bed. They date from when the teams he was on won championships.

They don’t give you a trophy (or a raise) at work for a “nice effort,’” or last place.

Howard Lind

Building better wind turbines
The article on wind turbines (“Hydraulic wind turbines?”, April 22) was great. But the concepts presented lead one to wonder why designers don’t replace complex, expensive hydraulic motors, pumps and lines with a multiribbed carbon-fiber belt. Such technology is within design parameters, available, and very efficient.

The article also states, “Hydraulics offer power density unmatched by any other technology...” I think this is basically a faulty conclusion, and will lead to faulty constructions.

Albert A. Crookston

I believe that the main advantage for hydraulics in wind turbines is that most of the equipment is on the ground. The main disadvantage is the inefficiency of the hydraulics.

Here is a possible mechanical solution. Only main drive machinery is in nacelle. Put two low-speed double-bevel gear cases with a fixed horizontal crankshaft with four throws at 90° up in the nacelle. At ground level, mount a duplicate shaft with four throws connected to the drive gear case/generator. Between the two cranks (in the tower) place four pretensioned steel cables with ball-bearing rod ends at each end.

I believe that this would be an efficient method of transferring the power to the ground.

Ken Stewart

Last of the PEs versus non-PEs
In a recent letter to the editor (April 22), Mr. Bernell Shoff, PE, challenged non-PEs claiming to be just as intelligent as PE holders to basically pony up and “take a day and go for the exam and get licensed.” So as soon as Mr. Shoff, PE, can tell me how to get around the good old boy network which excludes capable engineers from qualifying to take the exam, I’ll go “take a day,” school a test, and proudly display a PE behind my name.

I’d love to take the PE exam. I’d destroy it just like I did the EIT exam 12 years ago as a senior in an accredited BSME program. Unfortunately, I’m not permitted to take the test because I’m required to work under a PE for at least five years before I’m allowed to take the exam. My first employer had no PEs working for them. My second employer had two PEs, in a different department, in a different facility; so my experience working there did not qualify me to take the PE exam. My current employer does have two PEs working for them, and I intend to take the PE exam once I’ve been here for 5 years.

It’s easy to see the value of a professional certification based on skill and capability. It’s reasonable to require some work history before the professional certification of engineers. However, it’s ridiculous to base qualifications for a professional certification on a “must be invited by a member” Rotary Club-style restriction.

Russ D. Bafford II

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