Commenting login:
  • Log-in Edit profile
  • Register Logout
Bernie Ziebart

The Engineering Perspective

The blog is a view of life, science, politics and education from an engineering perspective. As engineers, we are taught to view the world objectively. We can hope, believe and calculate a particular outcome, but natural laws are inflexible and pay no heed to who we are or what we believe. We must approach the objective dispassionately, while compensating for our own distorted perceptions. Balance is also a key element; balancing between the ideal and the pragmatic, balancing cost and functionality, balancing analysis with action, etc.

Scheduling routine critical self-analysis is the foundation to objectivity. If we do not fully understand and compensate for our own failures, tendencies, habits and skewed thought processes, we will not see the world as it is. Without a regular critical self-analysis we will see the world as we are and then fall prey to self-delusion.

Failure is a great teacher. When failure is coupled with perseverance, it produces the fruit of patience and humility. An engineer, fresh out of engineering school is typically set up for failure early and often. The failure breaks the new engineer of any ideas of self-importance, arrogance and book smarts. Only then can the new engineer be formed and molded into a productive element in the industry.



sheep, wolves


All of humanity can be placed into either of 3 categories; sheep, wolves and sheepdogs.

The sheep category makes up the vast majority of people. In my estimation, about 80% of everyone in the US are sheep. Sheep are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. 

Sheep are productive and healthy, with their only thoughts focused on grazing, shelter and play.  They follow who ever is leading them at the time. Of course, they grouse about the poor condition of the pasture or the murkiness of the drinking water from time to time, but in general they plod along barely seeing past the end of their own noses.

Sheep really are not capable of self-defense, because the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm them or their young ones is just too hard, and so they choose the path of denial. The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. 

Their only response to the wolf is denial, and all too often their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain.

A sheep separated from the flock is living on borrowed time. A wolf will find them. And a wolf can easily out run, out jump, out smart, out muscle the sheep. There is just no competition. 

If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you are defined as an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. A wolf lives to kill and destroy the sheep. Even if a wolf isn’t hungry it will kill a sheep, if given the chance.  When the wolf is not actively destroying the sheep, he is still plotting and scheming to do just that. 

The crime in Sheboygan reveals that wolves come in all sorts of colors, sizes and ages.

One of the most successful methods a wolf uses is the sheep’s clothing routine. When the wolf looks like another sheep, it is initially overlooked by the watchful eye of the sheepdog and it gains the trust of other sheep. It does the right things and it says the right things all for the purpose of separating the sheep from the flock and pouncing on it.  

The wolf in sheep’s clothing is also a difficult issue for the sheepdog. The sheepdog discovers the wolf rather quickly, but then has to face the dilemma of how to extract the wolf from the flock with minimal disturbance to the sheep. If the sheepdog, in plain sight, attacks the disguised wolf, the sheep might think that the sheepdog has turned against them. They will fear and loathe the sheepdog. 

If you have the capacity for violence with great love, care and concern for your fellow man, you are a sheepdog. A sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle.  

The sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, redirect them and frighten them. Eternal vigilance is so hard and so much work. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.” Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind the sheepdog.

Sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep said, “Thank God I wasn’t on one of those planes.” The sheepdogs said, “Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference.” 

Seven months after the attack on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd, as you recall, was the man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his cell phone to alert an operator from United Airlines about the hijacking. When he learned of the other three passenger planes that had been used as weapons, Todd dropped his phone and uttered the words, “Let’s roll,” which authorities believe was a signal to the other passengers to confront the terrorist hijackers. In one hour, a transformation occurred among the passengers – athletes, business people and parents. — from sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought the wolves, ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground.

This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior, looking for the wolf behind every rock. Few people exist completely on one end or the other. Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. However, as time has elapsed, most people have drifted back to the sheep-like continuum.

Inspiration and text for the article came from LTC (RET) Dave Grossman, William J Bennett and Edmund Burke.

There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men. – Edmund Burke

This site uses Facebook comments to make it easier for you to contribute. If you see a comment you would like to flag for spam or abuse, click the "x" in the upper right of it. By posting, you agree to our Terms of Use.

Page Tools