“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.