Tag Archives: turbo-encabulator

Episode 44 — Ambiguity

ambiguityIn this episode, we consider how engineers deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, and risk.

  • Carmen would be willing to take a 50/50 shot at $1001 tomorrow over a certain $500 today. Most people are risk-averse when dealing with gains, and would take the sure money.
  • According to the article “The Five Neglects: Risks Gone Amiss,” (Berger, Brown, Kousky, and Zeckhauser, 2009) rational decision-making is a difficult process. It requires accurate estimations of probability, correct valuation of potential benefits, proper use of statistics, consideration of all available alternatives, and evaluation of external effects.
  • If you are interested in being a guest on The Engineering Commons podcast, please drop us a note; the email address is admin -=at=- theengineeringcommons.com.
  • Despite Jeff’s offhand mention of seven seconds, there is no “safe” minimum on the unlicensed use of copyrighted music.
  • Adam was a bit confused when he first encountered the term “CatEx,” which is short for “Categorical Exclusion.”
  • It is noted by Carmen that ambiguity in problem definition is sometimes a good thing, as it allows him flexibility in investigating possible solutions.
  • In a discussion of confusing terminology, we stumble into the long and glorious history of the Turbo-Encabulator. Several videos about the turbo-encabulator have been produced over the years, including a “Rockwell” version mentioned by Carmen.
  • Techno babble is sometimes used in TV shows to make dialogue sound impressive.
  • Jeff mentions that he had not come across the term “bodge” wire until he heard it from Chris Gammell.
  • Brian mentions the faster-than-light neutrino anomoly as an example of data not squaring with well-established models.
  • The notions of digital power outlets and multimedia FAX machines come from Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook, written by Scott Adams.
  • In a prior epsiode on critical thinking, we talked about respecting the reasonableness and goodwill of those with whom we disagree.
  • Brian mentions that engineering problem-solving is never as clean and neat as the analyses seen in TV crime dramas.
  • The role of sustaining engineers is described by Carmen.
  • A 1993 article titled “Choice over Uncertainty and Ambiguity in Technical Problem Solving” (pdf) considers how engineers might change their problem-solving approach based on the relative levels of risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity.
  • In the previous episode titled “Value,” guest James Travelyan talked about engineers not feeling like they were being productive unless they were carrying out computations, or making design decisions.
  • A discussion ensues about reality shows involving engineering skills, such as The Big Brain Theory and Junkyard Wars.
  • Awkward pauses have become a regular feature on Craig Ferguson’s late night show.
  • As an added bonus for show note readers, consider the following mind-bending explanation of a missile guidance system: The Missile Knows Where It Is.

Thanks to Yogesh Mhatre for the photo titled “Ambiguity.” Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson