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The Concept of Engineering Solutions

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2001 RDFollendoreIII

All Rights Reserved


Years ago and without much notice, I once was asked by a colleague to teach a class on security engineering to a large number of graduate students at a major University.  I was told I could pick anything to talk about as long as it was appropriate and "real-world."  By the time that I left to go to teach the class I had still not decided what I would say.  I was worried that I would step up to the class and nothing useful would come from my mind to theirs.  I would not have anything to say and would look completely stupid.  

Fortunately for me the traffic was terrible that day because of a wreck on the interstate.  While this made me about ten minutes late, it also gave me more time to think.  By the time I drove onto the campus I had considered the whole of what I had witnessed within security.  It was from an external perspective realized that a great deal of that which is done within security is perspective.     

There are two approaches to engineering solutions.  One may start with a problem, or one may start with an ideal.  

By its definition, a problem is part and parcel of a system.  A problem is part of something larger that did not work the way that it was expected.  When a problem is solved, the larger or more complicated thing is supposed to work or work better.  Since there is investment in the larger, finding the solution to the problem is usually expected to be more economical.  To make things work or work better is the ultimate ideal of a solution within the problem solving approach to engineering.

By starting with the ideal, problems are invisible because they do not yet exist.  This is significant because there is great fear associated with things that are invisible because, within the human psyche, invisibility is deeply ingrained with the concept of invincibility.  Because of this, in practice, the ideal is also often found to be misleading.  That which seems easy may be found to be hard, and that which is supposed to work may not.  But this is the problematic discussion of an ideal and is therefore refutable because it seemingly leads directly back to the problematic approach.   But ideal is not one physical thing to engineer, and so it can not exist as a single problematic approach.  In this sense, the ideal is not a singular concept of a problem.  It is a concept of a solution.  The failure of thinking of a solution as a problem is a problem whose solutions may be found within the fundamental concepts of rational and logical thinking.

Logic is a closed concept and therefore logic is founded upon the finite as it builds upon logic, and through logic.  In this way logic is also interpreted by logic.  Rationality is open because it is interpreted by perspective.  Logic may or may not be considered rational, just as something that is considered rational may or may not be logical.  Rationality is an inherent part of perspective, and perspective is an inherent part of logic.  What may seem logical from one perspective may not seem so from another.  What may seem rational from one perspective may not seem so from another.

It is logical to solve engineering problems but it is more rational to engineer more ideal solutions that eliminate problems.  If your perspective is that of being within the system being considered, then the engineering solution is probably going to be one of fixing what is within your perspective, and therefore fixing the problem within the system.  If on the other hand your perspective is broader than that of a particular system, then the engineering solution represents a creative expression of the ideal.

 When I walked into the classroom that evening the students were waiting for me.  

I asked one question.  "Should you attempt to fix something before it is broken or wait until something is broken before you attempt to fix it?"  

The students were taken back.  Some acted as though they did not understand.  They were immediately drawn into the heart of real-world issues surrounding security engineering.  It turned out to be a wonderful evening and students were still talking hours after the class was over.  





Copyright (c) 2001-2007 RDFollendoreIII All Rights Reserved