“I hate to tell you this but; you have set back the progress of women 100 years” this is a quote from “peterbartek” on Jeri Ellsworth’s video in which she shows Trimet (Portland buses) how to save $4590 with their new bus audible turn warning system.

When people ask me (or my partner, a female engineer) why we don’t see as many women posting their projects, or participating as much online in the engineering community, we usually give specific examples instead of speculating “why?” Here’s a good example that really got us upset (TriMet’s talking buses, YouTube, sexism, online imposters: It’s complicated By Joseph Rose, The Oregonian).

Jeri created a video showing an alternative way to make a noise-making device and strategy for TriMet’s new audible warning system for pedestrians. Jeri has also has made a low cost body scanner, transistors, how-to videos, many engineering projects and she’s one of the best engineers I know!. Jeri lives in Portland, OR and the bus system there is trying out a warning system, like any good engineer, Jeri thought about other ways to do it, and shared it.

After posting her video “peterbartek” posted the comment “I hate to tell you this but; you have set back the progress of women 100 years”… It seems odd to have such harsh words for a video like this, but Joseph Rose of The Oregonian found some clues:

[Click the user’s name] and it led web surfers to the YouTube channel of Peter Bartek, director of technology for ProTran1. ProTran1 manufactures the audible pedestrian warning devices currently being tested on 10 TriMet buses. But when Hard Drive called Bartek on his cell phone to ask him about the online exchange with Ellsworth, he said he didn’t post the comment or the ones that followed in an ensuing exchange. “I’ve been getting e-mails,” he said, “but I have no clue about what’s going on. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not me.” When told that the comments were linked to his YouTube channel, Bartek reiterated, “I didn’t make those comments.” Minutes after the phone conversation, Bartek’s channel was “no longer available.” Gone. So, was his account hacked? Bartek said he didn’t know.

But wait, there’s more.

Of course, “peterbartek” tried to balance his initial comment by mentioning that the warning system was developed for TriMet “by a woman after careful research and development.”

… To that, “peterbartek” responded: “Perhaps you should do your homework on mitigating devices? and see the results from the studies on risk analysis. Look at the different vehicles offering different types of mitigating devices. They offer these devices to help save lives and bring down insurance awards. Perhaps you would have a different opinion with the right facts. I have no opinion regarding your personal life ‘kitchen and man.’ I don’t know you well enough. tx.

For an imposter, the person behind the posts is pretty knowledgeable about the product being discussed.

I asked Jeri how she felt about all this, here is her response:

I feel very strongly about this behavior in engineering, because I’ve lived with it since my racing days. Guys would question my ability to build cars until I beat them on the track. Then it often turned to childish behavior like Mr. Bartek’s. Computer stores, almost the same thing. This type of behavior has occurred much less in the engineering field, but it still happens. I don’t know if society has come a long way in 20 years or if engineers are brighter than the knuckleheads at the track. I suspect the latter.

The commenters quickly condemned @peterbartek’s comments and twitter saw some action too (above).

“Someone hacked my account” is a fairly common excuse, believe it or not, my partner (female engineer) has experienced this first-hand, dozens of times — after getting similar comments, the commenter usually does not realize their words were linked to their account on YouTube. Also, a notable, public example of “hacked accounts” happened to another well known female in the tech world, Kathy Sierra…

A contributor using the moniker “Rev Ed” was responsible for two of the most controversial posts on meankids.org, including one with a doctored image of Maryam Scoble (wife of tech blogger Robert Scoble) and a second post with a doctored image of Sierra. It is the second image that Sierra found particularly threatening; she posted a copy of this to her own blog but the image has since been removed. (It showed Sierra’s face covered by lacy red women’s underwear…)

The nickname “Rev Ed” belonged to meankids.org contributor Alan Herrell, a Phoenix, Arizona-based computer and networking consultant, or someone posing as him. In an email published after the Sierra affair broke, Herrell claimed his computer had been hacked and his identity stolen —

I emailed and called Peter & ProTran1 for comment. Peter said he was “in a bad area and cannot talk” and then hung up, he has not responded to my emails for comment or voicemails. However, another representative from ProTran1 confirmed that Peter is claiming his personal YouTube account was “hacked” and these comments were made by “the hackers.” I also asked if Peter filed a police report and reported these “hackers” to YouTube who hacked his personal account, then made these specific comments, and then deleted the account with his personal videos after Peter was asked about the comments from “PeterBartek” – Peter did not respond to this either.

Lastly, I called and emailed Trimet’s PR office, they were very helpful – Protran1 is an independent contractor so they cannot comment on this, but they have all the information and will look in to it.

If any new information comes in I’ll update this post.


  • http://www.scanman.com.au/ ground penetrating radar

    I also asked if Peter filed a police report and reported these “hackers” to YouTube who hacked his personal account, then made these specific comments, and then deleted the account with his personal videos after Peter was asked about the comments from “PeterBartek” – Peter did not respond to this either.

  • http://twitter.com/ganatronic Ryan GTG

    I’m confused. What is the logic behind Peter’s (“Peter’s”) initial statement that Jeri’s contribution has set women back 100 years? Is Jeri’s device programmed to ignore all beings who possess XX chromosomes that are crossing the road? If so, yeah I could see that as a setback.

    • http://twitter.com/lensassaman Len Sassaman

      The implication in “Peter’s” statement, I believe, is that since the overpriced warning system Jeri criticizes was designed by a female engineer, Jeri’s criticism profoundly damages the reputation of female engineers. It’s absurd, but he seems to think that individual incompetence by a single member of a given gender discredits all members of that gender.

      • johngineer

        And no doubt the reason the system (any system) is overpriced has little to do with the engineer. While the engineer may have a comfortable salary (which they deserve), the majority of the “cost” of the system no doubt goes to “the firm” and the management.

        If the cost of every project consisted solely of materials and engineering time, things would cost a lot less.

        • http://twitter.com/restifo Christian Restifo

          Indeed they would….if it was just materials and engineering time. But what about purchasing, expediting, freight, estimating, sales, inspection/testing, accounting, rent, utilities, IT, insurance, and the like? Unless the engineer is writing the POs, issuing the checks, reconciling the accounts, arranging shipment, performing all field inspections and tests, and the like, there’s more than just materials and engineering time. And what about profit? No one does things for free. And what about R&D?

          While this particular company may indeed be ripping off the local government, many engineering firms out there are not providing “overpriced” equipment. The free market sees to that. The gross margin on a particular job may appear high (since it’s just materials/supplies/equipment and engineering hours), but once you factor in non-management overhead, pricing is not as high as some may think.

          • johngineer

            Sorry, Christian. I should have made it more clear I was referring to this specific situation, not to engineering firms in general.

  • http://twitter.com/mukelarvin Luke Marvin

    That guy’s excuse is weak.

    On a more positive note my school, Red River College in Winnipeg, is making more of an effort to get girls interested in engineering. One of my teachers has asked me to help him run an electronics workshop for some Jr. High students this weekend. The workshop is for both genders but one of the main goals is to present engineering as a viable option for female students.

    As a man I was wondering if anyone had any tips for getting grade 7 girls interested in the field?

    L.M.

    • Anonymous

      hi luke (that’s great news) – i’ve been researching this a bit and it seems one of the things to think about is – when young girls see other women who are engineers it’s more supportive for them to imagine they can be an engineer soon. i’d say try to get some female scientists, engineers, designers, etc so they can imagine themselves having that role in the future. my partner (ladyada) gets lots of emails about this and tons of parents say their daughter wants to be an engineer “like limor”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/adrian.lodge Adrian Lodge

      I’ve been trying to think of a good reason for ages now. For the same reason many women study Bio Medical Science but few study Physics, probably.

      If it helps, as a 3rd year student studying Engineering, a higher proportion of women engineers turn up to the society compared to men?

    • Anonymous

      “..get girls interested in engineering. ”
      You can’t get anyone interested in engineering. What you can do is teach them some principles, a quick project, then a hand on project where they solve or fix something. Preferable something of interest.

      If they have the mind set to be interested, they will be; you can’t ‘get’ them interested.I’m not being a pendant here, I see people take that aptitude(with good intentions) and end up turning people away. The best thing is teach people how to approach problems in a systematic and critical way. That has the benefit of presenting engineering while teaching them a valuable tool no matter what they do.

      Have them build a device that allows them to speak into a microphone and them post it to their facebook account~

      • Anonymous

        “You can’t get anyone interested in engineering. ” – 100% not true.

  • johngineer

    “johngineer: @peterbartek: dude, you’re such a butt! you’ve set the progress of misogynistic idiots back 100 years”

    oh, sorry peter. my account was hacked. i totally didn’t say that. these “hackers”, man — they’re EVERYWHERE!

  • http://esm.logic.net/ Ed Marshall

    A point in a very similar vein to the one you’re making made an appearance over on HackerNews yesterday:

    “My fellow geeks, we need to talk.”
    http://thingist.com/t/item/4372/
    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2322696

    Some people in highly technical fields seem to have a knack for condescending and misogynistic remarks. Sadly, it’s the most vocal idiots like “peterbartek” who get the attention.

    • Anonymous

      hey ed! i saw both of these articles, you’re exactly right – thanks for posting these – i hope everyone reads them, they’re great. there is even mention of the arduino haters!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3MWBKXQNGDRUXVA6ZO7D6JBMPM Engineer Zero

    Maybe Jeri could design a breathalyzer lock for Twitter accounts.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_B7K7FOFJ24TFO5ZFNOTJEO4MVA Antonio

    You are forgetting the main issue – who cares you can do the same thing for $10 – this is the government after all… they require being sold a bill of goods. We need to keep the high price of government going if we are to take a stand against rich people. We need to tax more, so more of their money can go to projects like this. This is all justified. You are thinking too much like a capitalist with your “I can do it better at a lower cost” attitude. Stop it.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5CUWU7MUWYZAMYMN6Z33NJ2WEY Sal Salzman

      This isn’t a “government” problem as much as it is an intelligence problem. Many companies do not have the braintrust or the time to investigate what anyone with a simple technology degree can do with their eyes’ closed. So they spend megabucks on crap products, that NEVER work or do a fraction of what they’ve been advertised. Vapor-ware, for better description…

      (Had a meeting with a very earnest and bright applications engineer yesterday who had this problem that he’d never had properly answered about one of his devices. The answer was so damned easy, I started laughing as he described it and gave him an answer within seconds. We have such astonishingly poor physics-literacy in this nation that even “bright” professionals are in the dark.)

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Q6CMNEMHD4Q4QUFMLMRJDEIWBA Alan

      Please spare us the false, irrelevant wingnut tirade. Every large organization – public and private – is prone to stupid purchasing decisions, for a long list of reasons that psychologists and operations researchers have been documenting for decades. You’ve never heard of a big company getting ripped off, locked in, or otherwise pwned by a software or hardware vendor? Come on.

      The real problem here is that the vendor who’d bilked this particular organization got called out for it, apparently reacted with a moronically sexist remark, then tried to disown said remark when the ‘net brought the hammer down on him for it. That he even thought he could get away with such behavior in the first place speaks volumes about how far we have to go.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JN5I3OUDYPAZFBR34MSM7XYKZ4 Capt.tagon

    Check out all the email links on ProTran1’s contact page. It’s kind of weird that most of them have a certain email address or two in common. This looks like padding to make the company look bigger than it really is, or one of the most extreme cases of micromanagement I’ve ever seen. Velno Technologies all over again. Probably.

  • Anonymous

    Grr, this kind of sexist behavior makes me so angry! I take my two little girls with me every time I go to the hardware store and let them help as much as they want when I’m tinkering in the workshop or fixing something around the house. Maybe they won’t be an engineer like their old man, but I do hope the experience gives them confidence and helps them think for themselves and solve their own problems. The world needs more independent women like Jeri, not less.

  • http://twitter.com/haineux haineux

    Jeri, my Dad was a mechanical engineer, MIT-trained, who was also a die-hard cheapskate. I learned some basic mech-e stuff from him, but more importantly, the philosophy of designing things that are as simple as possible, but also as reliable as possible. (“Sure the switches in the lunar lander are more expensive,” he once told me. “They make them by buying a bin full of regular switches and testing them, throwing away the ones that might fail in space.”)

    I am reminded of a situation that he got in, a few decades ago. The local government concocted a cunning plan to pay for garbage pickup: sell special trash bags. Naturally, the bags were very special, and manufacturing cost was about a hundred times as much as typical bags. So my Dad got involved, offering to undercut the price, and this led to some dismissive insults and eventually a scandal in the local papers. A few years ago, he called me to tell me that he’d found out how they make the bags with the cinching closures built in.

    I’m sure he would have given you a cheer.

    • Anonymous

      wonderful story! thank you for sharing this!

  • Anonymous

    Torrone, do you just like to stir it up?

    “I have no opinion regarding your personal life ‘kitchen and man.'”

    *is* just inexcusable, taken out of context. In fact the ‘kitchen and man’ stuff is not a shot out
    of nowhere, but refers to a comment made by Jerry; But you didn’t include that!

    Regardless of what else was said, that particular sentence wasn’t sexist.

    • Anonymous

      @chris2048 – “peter” said this following before jeri said anything at all, “I hate to tell you this but; you have set back the progress of women 100 years”

      you can read all the comments before and after in the article above and on youtube.

      • Anonymous

        Fact that I am aware of, which is why I said: “Regardless of what else was said, that particular sentence wasn’t sexist.”

        Are you saying that since one sexist comment was made, it’s Ok that another was presented out of context such that it also seemed sexist?

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JN5I3OUDYPAZFBR34MSM7XYKZ4 Capt.tagon

          Don’t try to apologize too much for a highly paid business executive who ganked himself in public. Unless you work for the business he represents and are trying to do damage control. Which you might want to start looking into if you do.

          • Anonymous

            Apologize? I haven’t commented on peterbartek’s comments, just the misleading way one of them was presented, so please, no conspiracy theories.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JN5I3OUDYPAZFBR34MSM7XYKZ4 Capt.tagon

            You’re pretty humorous. ;^)

        • Anonymous

          @chris2048 – “peter” said “I hate to tell you this but; you have set back the progress of women 100 years” before jeri said anything at all, you should address that first.

          • Anonymous

            What has that got to do with presenting later comments out-of-context?
            I needn’t address anything unrelated to the point I’m making.

  • http://multi-bot.blogspot.com/ Honus

    What a tool- definitely pegged my B.S. meter. Jeri builds a system that is more effective and costs less and instead of taking her criticism and addressing the issue Bartek retaliated by being a prick.

    Good engineering is gender blind. The word needs more brilliant engineers like Jeri to help solve our problems.

  • http://twitter.com/dbrunker Dave Brunker

    One of the things I love about Make is it’s purity from political arguments. While a 24/7, war of mockery and hatred happens all across the Internet, even on blogs that have nothing to do with politics, I always know I come to Make there will be neutrality. I can just relax and enjoy the articles and dream of building stuff and know there will be peace here. I live in Portland and Trimet is part of my city and while I’d love to make comments on the situation, I won’t. Not because I don’t have strong feelings about it, but just because I want to preserve that one place that’s peaceful.

    I will say I enjoyed the video and really liked the uh… I’ll just call it animations even if they weren’t.

    • http://twitter.com/maradydd Meredith L Patterson

      “I’ll just call it animations even if they weren’t”

      I think the word you’re looking for is “puppetry”.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5CUWU7MUWYZAMYMN6Z33NJ2WEY Sal Salzman

    It isn’t so much male engineers (I is one…) as much as stepping on the toes of a businessman who has sold a sickeningly overpriced product, and is trying to defend his fraud.

    There is a great sex-ratio disparity in this industry, and that might indeed play a role in this case. But as time goes by, that will drastically shrink, and things might get better. But ignorance and anger should be totally unacceptable in any industry, towards any minority. This guy should be ashamed, and his business should suffer greatly for this.

    I’ve received tons of acid comments in the past in my company from poor engineers who didn’t like it when someone suggested their ideas weren’t the best, during design review meetings. Unfortunately, many people can’t appreciate that their brilliant ideas are not necessarily the best way to achieve the product’s goals, and instead of accepting positive criticism and adopting better ideas in their designs, they become defensive and lash out.

    • Anonymous

      It’s not fraud. They charged what they could get.
      If you feel someone charges too much, then compete. Or tell trimet where they can buy a cheaper system.

      I don’t think the disparity will change soon, I suspect society needs to stop separating ‘boy things’ and ‘girl things’. Something that is very hard to do. When that happens, then the disparity will fade.
      I hope I see that in my lifetime.

  • http://twitter.com/infil00p Joe Bowser

    Having read the full comment on YouTube, I’m wondering who Dr. Carolyn Jacobs is, and why they appear to be posting as @peterbartek. Does anyone know?

  • Anonymous

    Stunning that anyone would even bother to bring gender into the discussion. Jeri is legendary, hard to see how anything she could do would set back the progress of women as she’s a role model to both women and men. I hope she gets a contract for bus noise makers, if such things are even needed.

  • http://twitter.com/dbrunker Dave Brunker

    (I hope this is a reply, I did click the reply button).

    First, puppetry? Sounds OK to me! Second, just to clarify, I’m not criticizing the original article, merely explaining why I didn’t harshly attack or defend Trimet. Third, I never realized Jeri Ellsworth lives in the Portland metropolitan area. I’ll go pick up a Harbor Freight atomic/biological/chemical suit, in case I need to drive by her house some time. *wink*

  • Anonymous

    While you system is of itself sound, you did not deal with any of the issues of putting a new system into an existing complex system. You also haven’t taken in the cost of installation.
    In some vehicles the magnet would not be a viable solution.

    If you can build a better system better, do so and sell it.

    That said, you are correct, it’s a stupid idea and is unlikely to help prevent any accident.
    I have a friend who was in a left hand lane on his bicycle and was hit by an oncoming trimet bus. This in no way would have prevent that.

    As some who has had his /. account ‘hacked’ and a couple of years latter his gmail account, are you seriously suggesting I should have gone to the police? Please.

    It is plausible his account was access by someone else. I’m not saying it was, only that is is plausible.
    Of course he isn’t responding. he told you it was hacked, but you seem to keep pestering him.

    If he is lying, then there is no use calling you back; and if he is telling the truth, you seem to be a crazy person hounding him.

    Maybe because I am old I don’t understand why someone gives two hoots about someone flippant comment.

    • Anonymous

      @Geek0id – a person from the company he worked for said that peter was still claiming that 1) his personal account got hacked and his personal videos were deleted and 2) he didn’t make those comments, but when he talked to another reporter he was aware of them and then the account suddenly went away.

      yes, if someone hacked my youtube account, pretended to be me and deleted all my personal videos i would at least get the IP address from youtube via whatever formalities i needed to including contacting the police.

      do you have a daughter, wife/gf or sister Geek0id? do you ever wonder why there are less women publishing their projects online? this is a good example, re-read jeri’s comments on this.

  • Anonymous

    A couple of points:
    1) TriMet is a municipal corporation of the State of Oregon. Not City of Portland. I don’t think there ever has been a tri-met bus with the cities slogan on it.

    2) The statement ‘Knock her out of her shoes’ is NOT an indicator of bus speed, only and indicator that she wore loose shoes.

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