Fear the Engineer

We’re talkin’ about PRACTICE.

This article was updated December 7, 2017. The results of Mr. Jarlstrom’s lawsuit against the Oregon Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying found its penalizing of his First Amendment rights to be unlawful. 

What do a Swedish-American engineering whiz and a former professional basketball player have in common? Nothing, until now. NBA Hall of Famer and career dissenter Allen Iverson would have taken issue with this one. So would any devoted engineer, making this likely the first time ever that a controversial, retired point guard and an entire scholarly discipline form a united opposition to something.

Iverson famously went on postgame tirade questioning a reporter who questioned his practice habits in 2005. Mats Jarlstrom is challenging higher authorities for their penalizing his “practices”, stemming from a 2013 traffic violation. He’s been charged $500 for engaging in the “practice of engineering” after calculating a way to extend yellow lights.

Jarlstrom fought the initial $260 penalty—which was charged to his wife for allegedly running a red light by 12 one-thousandths of a second—with mathematics and research, those enemies of bureaucratic motives everywhere. He appealed to the city council and police chief of Beaverton, Ore., his hometown, by offering a solution to make yellow lights last fractionally longer to avoid borderline violations. His analysis found that the light’s timing formula did not include time necessary for a right turn while slowing down. As he told the New York Times’ Patricia Cohen in an interview last week, they laughed in his face upon hearing this proposal.

Explaining that he was amassing simple mathematics, applying them to vehicular motion, and then bringing that research to the authorities who’d penalized his wife in the first place, Jarlstrom said they sent him the fine in response. Basis of the penalty revolves around the fact that he is not a licensed engineer (Mr. Jarlstrom does not have a state-issued engineering license). As Patricia Cohen wrote:

“He is a self-employed consultant who tests audio products and repairs, upgrades and calibrates test instruments. But he did earn a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering in Sweden, where he was born. He has also spent a couple of years researching traffic light timing intervals, which included consulting with one of authors of the original 1959 mathematical formula used as a basis for programming traffic light signals.”

So we have a case of a self-practicing, self-employed, do-it-yourselfer—with credentials—just not from this country. His background in research relates specifically to the penalty he’s protesting. When presenting this to the court, he was turned away and fined again in response. You can understand Jarlstrom’s frustration.

He is now accusing the board members of restricting his first amendment rights and freedom of speech.

On December 7, a Portland city court found Mr. Jarlstrom correct in claiming that the Oregon Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying was unlawful in penalizing him for practicing engineering without a license and stating he was an engineer. His lawsuit was successful, and the fine was revoked. Cheers to the engineer(s).


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