Browsed by
Tag: engineer

Oregon Man Fined $500 for Challenging Timing on Red-Light Cameras – Article by Melissa Quinn

Oregon Man Fined $500 for Challenging Timing on Red-Light Cameras – Article by Melissa Quinn

The New Renaissance HatMelissa Quinn

Mats Jarlstrom’s trouble all began with a red-light camera.

In April 2013, Jarlstrom’s wife, Laurie, received a ticket after driving her Volkswagen through an intersection in Beaverton, Oregon, that was equipped with a traffic camera.

His wife paid the fine, but the timing of the traffic lights at the intersection piqued Jarlstrom’s interest, so he decided to look into a formula created in 1959 to calculate the length of yellow lights.

Jarlstrom says he realized the original formula failed to take into account the extra time it takes for a car to slow before making a right-hand turn safely.

“Currently, people are getting tickets for running red lights because they’re slowing down when they’re making turns,” he tells The Daily Signal. “It’s a safety issue because any time we run a red light, we’re in the intersection for the wrong reason, and there is cross traffic, and especially pedestrians are in danger.”

Jarlstrom, an electronics engineer from Sweden, revised the formula to take the deceleration into account, and decided to take his findings public.

But doing so, he quickly learned, came with a risk, and a costly one at that.

Jarlstrom shared his findings with local media, policymakers, the sheriff, and Alexei Maradudin, who helped craft the original mathematical formula in 1959. He also emailed his theory to the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying, in hopes it would take a look at his research.

The Oregon panel said it didn’t have any jurisdiction over traffic lights. But it did have jurisdiction over the state’s engineering laws. And it decided to open an investigation into Jarlstrom because of “his use of the title ‘electronics engineer’ and the statement ‘I’m an engineer,’” according to an order from the board.

After investigating Jarlstrom for two years, the board fined him $500.

The reason?

Jarlstrom, according to the board, practiced engineering without a license each time he “critiqued” the traffic-light system and identified himself as an engineer in correspondence with the panel.

“You don’t need to be an engineer to understand this,” Jarlstrom says in an interview with The Daily Signal, adding:

I read something that was already public and understood it, and I wanted to share that information with the public talking about it. I felt completely shocked when I contacted them that they weren’t interested in listening to the problems that I presented to the board. They accused me of being illegal by saying I was a Swedish electronics engineer.

Jarlstrom paid the $500 fine, and the board closed its investigation. But now, the public-interest law firm Institute for Justice is fighting alongside the Oregon man in federal court to challenge the state’s engineering laws.

“The issues are classic First Amendment issues,” Sam Gedge, an Institute for Justice lawyer who is representing Jarlstrom, tells The Daily Signal. “The government can’t punish people for expressing their concerns. The government can’t take words and redefine them and then punish people for using them in a way the government doesn’t like.”


Jarlstrom does have education and experience in engineering.

He has a degree in electronics engineering from Sweden, which is the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in engineering in the United States.

Jarlstrom, 56, also worked for Luxor Electronics before immigrating to the United States in 1992.

But in Oregon, anyone who engages in “creative work requiring engineering education, training, and experience” under the state Professional Engineer Registration Act is required to be licensed as a professional engineer.

Nearly every state requires professional engineers to have a license. However, those licenses typically are reserved for engineers who build skyscrapers or design electrical plans for buildings.

The Institute for Justice is challenging the vague definition of what constitutes a professional engineer in Oregon, which in effect allows the board to regulate the exchange of ideas and of the word “engineer,” Gedge says:

What makes Oregon so unusual is they’ve taken the licensing regime for professional engineers and are applying it to people like Mats, who are talking about issues that concern them. That’s unusual.

There are two issues for Jarlstrom, Gedge says: He used the word “engineer” to describe himself, and he talked about technical topics.

“There have been a number of instances about the board going after people simply because they used the word engineer to describe themselves,” the lawyer says. “There are also examples of the board going after people who have never used the word engineer to describe themselves, but are nonetheless going out in public and speaking about technical topics.”

“That word isn’t off-limits to people,” he says. “The laws can’t be used to stop people from sending an email to his sheriff for safety.”

Other Incidents

Indeed, Jarlstrom’s experiences with Oregon’s Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying aren’t exclusive to him.

Last year, the board opened an investigation into Allen Alley, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, who stated in campaign ads: “I’m an engineer and a problem solver.”

Alley received a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and worked as an engineer for Ford and Boeing. But he isn’t a licensed professional engineer in Oregon.

The board’s investigation into Alley is ongoing.

In another instance, the panel investigated a woman profiled in Portland Monthly’s “Oregon Woman 2015” edition.

Included in the magazine was an article about Marcela Alcantar and a headline about “the incredible story of the engineer behind Portland’s newest bridge.”

The board opened a “law enforcement case” against Alcantar based on the line, since she wasn’t a registered professional engineer.

Ultimately, the case was closed after the board’s staff spoke with the journalist who wrote the article. The board determined “engineer” was a designation given not by Alcantar, but by the article’s editors.

“The definition of the practice of engineering is so broad according to the board, and the board has shown itself to be so aggressive,” Gedge says. “Expressing your concerns on technical topics certainly leaves you at the risk of being investigated.”


Although Jarlstrom ultimately paid the fine, he says he believes the board’s decision violated his freedom of expression.

And while he does have engineering experience, Jarlstrom contends the skills he used to craft his revised formula relied on 6th- and 7th-grade math:

It’s interesting that just because students here in Beaverton or elsewhere are using math and looking at some traffic-flow issues in school, they would be considered practicing engineering according to the board. We can’t have laws having that kind of power or overreach.

Jarlstrom says he considers himself a whistleblower and is surprised something like this could happen in the United States. But he vows to continue working to “improve our civil rights and freedom of speech so individuals like myself can share ideas, whether they’re good or bad.”

“We still need to be able to express them,” he says. “If we can’t, there won’t be any ideas to choose from.”

Melissa Quinn previously worked for The Daily Signal as a senior news reporter.

This article was originally published by The Daily Signal. It is reprinted here with permission.

Proxima Centauri B – Painting by Wendy Stolyarov

Proxima Centauri B – Painting by Wendy Stolyarov

wendy_stolyarov_proxima_centauri_bProxima Centauri B – by Wendy Stolyarov

Note: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of fractal art.

Inspired by the recently-discovered habitable exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri, this painting depicts a risk-taking space colonist/engineer overseeing the construction of a Hyperloop (with the aid of sentient drones!) in a bright, and hopefully near, future.

Inspiration:An Epochal Discovery: A Habitable Planet Orbits a Nearby Star” – Rebecca Boyle, The Atlantic, August 24, 2016

See the index of Wendy Stolyarov’s art works. 

Visit Wendy Stolyarov’s website and view her art portfolio.

Wendy D. Stolyarov is an accomplished writer, thinker, artist, and graphic designer, who brings her immense talent and capacity for innovation to The Rational Argumentator and the wider movement for the advancement of Reason, Rights, and Progress. Mrs. Stolyarov uses computer technology masterfully to produce precise, realistic, life-affirming art. She has also contributed multiple essays to TRA and designed many of the magazine’s newer logos, including its banner and the New Renaissance top hat. Mrs. Stolyarov is married to G. Stolyarov II, the Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator. She is the illustrator for Death is Wrong, the children’s book on indefinite life extension written by Mr. Stolyarov in 2013. 

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II

Many on the political left today equate advocacy of free-market capitalism with an “anything goes” support for the economic status quo. Many on the political right give credence to this perception by, indeed, seeking to defend the status quo just because it happens to be so. Yet this is neither an obligatory nor an advisable approach for characterizing a genuinely well-considered free-market outlook.

Suppose that you are a free-market advocate and also an engineer, well-versed in the principles and methods for constructing durable, safe structures. Suppose you also identify severe deficiencies in a bridge proposed to be constructed by a completely private enterprise. Mr. Stolyarov explores the implications of this dilemma and the appropriate responses in a free society.


– “Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II

Many on the political left today equate advocacy of free-market capitalism with an “anything goes” support for the economic status quo. Many on the political right give credence to this perception by, indeed, seeking to defend the status quo just because it happens to be so. Yet this is neither an obligatory nor an advisable approach for characterizing a genuinely well-considered free-market outlook.

Suppose that you are a free-market advocate and also an engineer, well-versed in the principles and methods for constructing durable, safe structures. You hold that individuals and businesses should have the freedom to be able to build structures which would improve human well-being, in exchange for the opportunity to earn a profit (or not, if they wish to build structures for a charitable purpose). Now suppose that you are tasked with evaluating the integrity of a particular structure constructed by a private business – perhaps a bridge. This particular bridge happens to be fully privately funded – no subsidies, no exclusive rights, no barriers to competitors’ entry. The business undertaking the construction intends for the bridge to be used as part of a major new toll road that is intended to carry massive amounts of traffic.

Unfortunately, upon deploying your technical skillset and studying the bridge design carefully, you find that the bridge, while it is represented as being able to withstand one thousand cars at a time, would in fact collapse under the weight of only five hundred cars. You also find that, in your basic repertoire of engineering techniques, you have knowledge of construction techniques and superior materials which would rectify these design flaws and enable the bridge to be as safe and as durable as originally represented. The trouble is that the business owners want to hear none of it. They are attached to their original design partly out of cost considerations, but mostly because they simply cannot understand your findings or appreciate their significance, no matter how many different ways you have attempted to communicate them. The business owners have almost no engineering knowledge themselves and are generally contemptuous of overtly mathematical, “nerdy” types (like you). They are skilled salespeople who have capital from a previous venture and are eager to make additional money on a high-profile project such as this bridge. Suppose that you know that you have all of the technical knowledge of your discipline firmly on your side, but it is the owners’ money on the line, so, unconvinced by your arguments, they build the bridge according to their original specifications. They still advertise it as highly durable, but in a sufficiently nebulous way that the advertisements do not truly make any specific promises or technical claims. (This business is short on technically knowledgeable professionals, but spares no expense in hiring attorneys to litigation-proof its marketing materials.) The driving public’s impression from the marketing campaign is expected to be, “It is an incredibly sturdy, state-of-the-art, daring new bridge that you will enjoy driving on in safety and style.” The business owners contend that there is no problem. After all, were this a truly free market, the public could choose to pay to use their bridge or to find some alternative in getting from point A to point B. And competitors could build their own bridges, too, if they could buy the land, purchase the tools and materials, and hire the labor to do it.

Of course, on most days, this bridge would not collapse, since it is rare for five hundred cars to be on it simultaneously. The owners could well be reaping profits from their bridge for years and convince the lay public to drive on it with no visible ill consequences during that time. The bridge is, however, vulnerable to high winds, earthquakes, freezing damage, and gradual deterioration over time (exacerbated by substandard construction). As time passes, the risks of collapse increase. No bridge is invulnerable, but this particular bridge is about 30 years farther along the path to decay than other bridges that you know could easily have been built in its place, had the owners only listened to you. As a free-market advocate, you have some sympathies with the owners’ view that the construction of the bridge should not be forcibly prevented, as they are using their own property for their own chosen purposes, and they are not forcing anyone to use it. However, as an engineer who knows better when it comes to quality of bridge design and construction, what do you do?

This dilemma illustrates a question at the core of how free-market advocates approach the world in which they find themselves – a world, of course, which is far from free in an economic sense, but where many people still use their own property for their own purposes. There are some who will assert that the very fact of private, voluntary use of property renders such use inherently above criticism, provided it is a manifestation of free choice. (We can overlook, for the sake of this argument, the fact that, in the real world, many incentives and constraints upon human action are routinely distorted by the effects of political influences in favor of one group or set of outcomes and/or in opposition to others.) In this argument’s more typical instantiation in today’s world, some would assert that any outcome of “private enterprise” in today’s world must be acceptable for free-market advocates, since it was (ostensibly) somebody’s use of private property for a private purpose. For example, mass corporate layoffs (virtually unheard of until the 1970s), raising the price of a life-saving, long-generic drug by 5,556 percent (as pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli did with Daraprim in 2015), listening to or creating brutal “gangsta rap” (virtually unheard of until the 1990s), teaching of creationism in private schools (common throughout history, but increasingly untenable in the face of over 150 years of mounting evidence), and many other behaviors of questionable rationality and/or taste are defended as being the decisions of private entities – so what could be wrong about them?

The problem with reflexively defending any and every behavior, just because a private entity undertakes it, even in the absence of market distortions, is that it misses an essential point. The market is nothing more than the sum of the choices and actions of its participants. A market outcome is not a Panglossian “best of all possible worlds” scenario. Even in the absence of compulsion or restraint, some people will be mistaken, irrational, overconfident, immoral, confused, or all of the above. Ex ante, they may expect that the transactions and behaviors they engage in will benefit them – much like a tribal shaman might believe that his rain dance would bring forth water for the tribe’s crops – but, ex post, they may well find themselves regretting their behavior, or even if not, they may have still become materially, intellectually, or emotionally worse off from it compared to the alternatives. In addition to choice, there is also truth – which comes in the form of scientific, mathematical, historical, and philosophical principles and facts. Truth is an outcome of combining induction from the empirical facts of reality with deduction from the application of logical reasoning to known facts and incontrovertible first principles. It is entirely possible for a person – including a wealthy, powerful, influential person whose decisions affect thousands or millions of others – to completely miss what the truth is, or even to be ignorant of the correct methods of arriving at the truth. In other words, if the external reality is objective and governed by comprehensible natural laws – and if morality is also objective in the sense that some outcomes are incontrovertibly more beneficial to human well-being than others – then it must be the case that somebody who is thinking in a rational, well-informed manner can truly “know better” than a particular decision-maker who is not.

Does that mean that the market could be replaced by some “superior” system of decision-making? Ultimately, no. We have no guarantee that any substitution of decision-making for that of private actors could lead to a necessarily preferable result from those decision makers’ free choices. If Person A is irrational and mistaken, we have no guarantee that leaving Person B in charge of A’s life would not lead to even more irrational and mistaken choices, compounded by the knowledge problem that B will necessarily have in relation to A’s situation. The possibility that B could be not simply misguided but nefarious, and seek to sacrifice A’s genuine interests in favor of B’s own, is a further argument against this kind of command-and-control approach. More devastating, however, would be an outcome in which a different person, C, really is doing his best to act in a truthful, rational, and just manner, but the controller B does not see it. Or perhaps B does see it and thinks it is all well and good, but B needs to set uniform standards that would keep the lowest common denominator in check, and C’s scrupulous, innovative, and principled way of living could never be generalized to a society-wide system of controls.

But getting back to you, the engineer: How to address the dilemma that you are in? Has the “market” not “decided” that the bridge of substandard technical quality is just fine? Not so fast. We must never forget that we are the market, and that the market does not only consist of the first decisions and inclinations of some small group of wealthy, powerful, or connected individuals. Quite the contrary: We are what a truly free market consists of. A truly free market consists not only of our affirmative choices, but also of our negations and criticisms of certain other choices. It consists of our knowledge, including those situations where we truly “know better” than certain others. You, the free-market engineer, could not force the bridge owners to change their design. However, you could fully publicize its flaws in a fully free society, one characterized by robust protections of free speech and lack of a climate of frivolous litigation with regard to libel laws. If today such professional criticism is difficult, it is because many larger, politically connected enterprises will hire legions of attorneys to squelch sufficiently specific assertions in meritless litigation that is too costly for ordinary people to counter. But a truly free society would lack this obstacle and would include a legal system that is designed with speed, simplicity, affordability, and protections for peaceful natural persons in mind. A corporation would not be able to sue you for publicizing detailed criticisms of its products; the judge would be empowered to simply throw out such a lawsuit at first glance. A truly free market of goods and ideas is not an indiscriminate stew of anyone’s and everyone’s plans. Any such plans also would get tested, scrutinized, refined, and ultimately accepted or rejected by the other market participants. To the extent that one owns property that could sustain the perpetuation of a plan, one might counter even strongly held prevailing opinions – but only temporarily and only if one has other means of replenishing that property if the plan causes it to be depleted.

Moreover, in a truly free market, barriers to entry exist only on the basis of the constraints of the physical world, not on politics and special behind-the-scenes influence. Thus, competitors can always arise with a superior business model. Perhaps if you, the engineer, criticize the existing bridge sufficiently, another business enterprise will learn of its defects, purchase another piece of land, and construct a parallel, sturdier bridge that takes your suggestions into account. The misguided owners of the first bridge might eventually find themselves out of business because travelers will discover that safer, more convenient routes are available. And if the bridge ever does fail, a free-market system of civil liability will penalize those businesses who, through negligence, failed to take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their customers. If the bridge ever becomes an imminent danger to travelers, it would be proper for public warnings to be issued and for the law-enforcement entity (be it a minarchist government or a private dispute-resolution agency) to order that traffic to the bridge be discontinued until the immediate danger is averted (perhaps through structural improvements at that time). A free market does not permit the reckless endangerment of unwitting, non-consenting others.

But always, in a hypothetical free-market society or in our own, a free-market-oriented engineer – or any professional, really – should have no compunction about expressing the truth about the soundness and validity of any party’s decisions or proposals, be they private or governmental. Just as a private party may well propose building a substandard bridge, so might a government today actually develop a decent bridge, especially if the incentives of a given political system are conducive to that particular outcome. The free-market engineer should not hesitate to praise the technical design of a good bridge, no matter what its source – because truth is true, and a bridge that could support two thousand cars at a time would, indeed, support those cars no matter who constructed it (provided the methods and materials used are identical in each case). A free-market perspective is a political and economic position which is compatible with completely rigorous, objective views of matters of science, technology, mathematics, history, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, psychology, and any other conceivable discipline. Free-market advocates should respect people’s right to make choices, even when those choices are mistaken, but can maintain their own right to criticize those mistakes using as high a set of standards as they consider justified. If your values include striving for truth and justice, then those values are a part of the market as well, and you can improve market outcomes by working to instantiate those values in reality.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.