About Me

My photo
I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.

Monday, February 27, 2012

One Wonders if Anything is Ever Done On Purpose

In the realm of doing things that oughtn't be done, a big part of culpability lies with intent. For instance, without intent, it's manslaughter; with intent it's murder. Without intent, it's an accident that we hope to learn from; with intent, it's a transgression...a punishable offense.

It always amazes me that folks think that just about anything that is done is done with intent. I have seen, for instance, a kid in my back yard kick a soccer ball that is re-routed mid-air by another kid "playing goalie", and the ball continues on its new trajectory to bounce off of the roof of the house, then off of a post of the handrail of our deck, and ultimately hit another kid. Naturally, the hit kid gets really pissed off, and attacks the kicker of the ball with great anger and vehemently asserts that the kicker hit him on purpose.

Now I KNOW that the kid who kicked that ball couldn't have intentionally hit a hippo from two feet away, let alone execute a masterwork of skill and geometry that would challenge the abilitiesof the offspring of Minnesota Fats & Pele. But to the kid who got hit, it was done on purpose.

I see this played out over and over. There are countless times when a device that's being tested gets taken and used for one reason or another, only to invalidate the data being taken for the test. And it is almost invariably asserted that the reason the device was taken and used was for the express reason of invalidating the test.

Why can't we seem to default to an explanation of accident? Of oversight? Error? And the hypocrisy is that the folks who think that other people do things on purpose are the same ones that will tell you that they themselves make errors, and experience accidents. For them, it's an accident, for the other guy, it was done on purpose.

"Why did that idiot cut me off?" Or "Oh, my, I didn't even see that person there."
"That jerk gave me 11 donuts instead of 12...what a thief!!" Or, "Oops. I miscounted."
When I provide incorrect information, I'm lying; when they provide incorrect information, they're mistaken.

It actually saddens me that we can't just give the benefit of the doubt, and assume that it's an accident, that it wasn't a purposeful transgression.

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
~Hanlon's Razor


  1. First of all I will plead guilty to stupidity and accidents but I must also say there must be one heck of a LOT of stupidity in the world then because there sure a lot of "accidents". Nice to know I'm not alone.

  2. I seem to be caught in a bit of a cleft stick here. I seem to have the choice of stupidity or culpability. And I am not too proud to admit to making the odd stupid error. When I mean to do something, I hope it is clear.

  3. Next up on AOCS: liability and one's refusal to be responsible for one's own actions. "I gave that woman 11 donuts, but it's her fault; she should have counted then and confirmed that she had the correct amount."