Sunday, September 30, 2012

Finding Potential Water Leaks in Tucson

Water line assessment technology in Tucson, Arizona - -

The Engineer as the All-Rounder

The days of specialist careers are fading as employers look for multiple skills as well as in-depth knowledge (see my previous blog on T-Shaped Engineers).  The engineer of the present and future needs to make sure they have a broad range of skills.  A key career skill will be agility - - be prepared to adapt to the changing needs of your industry and to add more strings to your bow as employees demand more. 

The Financial Times covered this important topic in an article on September 25, 2012 by Ian Sanders (Dawn of the devoted all-rounder).  Sanders writes the following about the era of the all-rounder:

"As uncertainty continues to cloud the jobs landscape, the most important skill may be the ability to acquire a new one.  Whereas depth of knowledge of a particular skill was traditionally valued more than the breadth of skills one could call on, a new type of executive is emerging who is adept at mixing multiple disciplines, performing roles beyond a fixed job specification.  Employers and employees alike are starting to recognise the value of a "mash-up", or multiskilled, role.

Not only can plurality deliver greater career fulfilment for the individual, but it can also give a potential job candidate an edge.  "If someone can be good on sales but also good on operations, people management, change management and product development that is particularly attractive in organizations that are smaller," says Mohan Yogendran, London-based director of Rockpools, a global executive search and selection company.

As the job market continues to change, he believes executives who have not woken up to this multiskill world will need to adapt.  "Many people - probably as some point the majority - will be doing jobs that didn't exist a generation ago.  If we think of anyone in digital communications, marketing, outsourcing, IT and most B2B businesses, their roles are a feature of the current climate and don't have direct parallels in the past," he says."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

California Water

This is an interesting report on residential water consumption for new homes in California - - 57% of water consumption is outside the house.  The US national average is 58%.

Two Good Reports From The FIDIC

FIDIC is the Geneva-based International Federation of Consulting Engineers.  They recently released two interesting reports - -

FIDIC State of The World 2012 Report and FIDIC World Conference 2012 - Sustainability.

Ivara Corporation

This is another good example of a firm that has moved into the business space of predictive analysis of real-time, equipment-specific performance data.  Canada-based Ivara Corporation works to maximize uptime and the safe, economical performance of facilities in asset-intensive industries - - mining, power generation, oil and gas. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Working without Travel (and dealing with pilot unions)

Tired of the hasseles of travel - - from bad airport food to the ill pilots to rude flight attendants?  This could be your future.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable."

Michael (Moneyball) Lewis has a profile of President Obama in the current issue of Vanity Fair (Obama's Way).  Lewis writes about the role of leader as the solver of imperfect problems.  Obama had this observation that is true of the CEO, the Prime Minister, the Pope - - the list is a long one on who gets the say on solutions to imperfect problems in an imperfect world - -

But if you happen to be president just now, what you are faced with, mainly is not a public-relations problem but an endless string of decisions.  Putting it the way George W. Bush did sounded silly but he was right: the president is a decider.  Many if not most of his decisions are thrust upon the president, out of the blue, by events beyond his control; oil spills, financial panics, pandemics, earthquakes, fires, coups, invasions, underwear bombers, movie-theater shooters, and on and on and on.  They don't order themselves neatly for his consideration but come in waves, jumbled on top of each other.  "Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable," Obama said at one point.  "Otherwise, someone else would have solved it.  So you wind up dealing with probabilities.  Any given decision you make you'll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that is isn't going work.  You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision.  You can't be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out."  On top of all this, after you have made your decision, you need to feign total certainty about it.  People being led do not want to think probabilistically.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the New Yorker (September 10, 2012 - High Rise) and a profile of famed Danish architect Bjarke Ingels:

"Ambitious New York architects in their thirties or forties, waiting to become famous, comfort themselves with the thought that fame comes later to architects than to people who launch Web sites, design dresses, or make horror movies.  Construction is slow and costly, and you can't do it on your own.  You can't, at twenty, borrow money on a credit card, work through your weekends, and end up with an airport terminal."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Baxter and Manufacturing

The U.S. could in the near future enter into a new era of manufacturing renaissance.  This is good - - but good will also be different.  Companies like Rethinking Robotics have developed a next generation robot called Baxter.  Manufacturing output in states like Ohio and Indiana may see substantial increases.  This output will be a function of Baxter and not Bill or Betty (if Bill or Betty designs robots like Baxter, they will see increases in their standard of living during the era of manufacturing renaissance - - what side of the ledger you are on in the context of robotics and AI is highly critical).

The march goes on as it always has and will - - the substitution of technology for lower skilled labor.  This substitution will also continue its march of the labor ladder.

Climate Change and California

You can read about several of the events and workshops the California Department of Water Resources is planning on conducting regarding climate change risk - - link.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Fashionista Hal

The September 10, 2012 issue of The New Yorker has a profile of Federico Marchetti (in the World of Business column by John Seabrook - - the article is entitled The Geek of Chic).  Marchetti is the founder and CEO of the Yoox, a leader in the world of e-commerce for fashion.

What is interesting is the role of predictive algorithms in the fashion business.  From the article:

During my visit to corporate headquarters, I met the keeper of Yoox’s algorithm, Alberto Grignolo, a husky, balding man with pale eyes and a large smiling face.  He explained that the algorithm, which is made up of some four hundred pages of code, is used by Yoox’x buyers the help them decide how much of a particular item to order and the target price.  “The usual question they ask is ‘Tell me what will sell.’  So we designed a set of rules – if you are generating a lot of profit margin with a particular product, then that is the product you should buy more of, because you will make more money.  But don’t buy much more, or you will have too much left over.”  Of course, bricks-and-mortar buyers make the same decisions, but they tend to be far less data-driven, and guided more by intuition.  That they are wrong a fair amount of the time is the reason so much overstock exists.
“But it’s a weird world, fashion,” Grignolo went on, “because there are swigs in demand fueled by trends, by designers, by magazines telling you what to wear next season.  So you know a certain item is profitable, but to what extent will it be popular next season?  The algorithm knows that last season two per cent of our sales were in pink items, let’s say, so next season do two percent pink again, whereas a buyer may think pink is going to be hot – because the trendsetters will make it hot – so he buys five per cent.

The algorithm also sets prices on the discounted items.  In the course of a year it will set a hundred million prices – far more than a bricks-and mortar store could manage.  For the customers, the algorithm tries to serve as “the perfect clerk,” as one Yoox worker put it to me, by showing you items based on you purchase history and on the purchase history of others who have bought things you’ve bought.  However, these kinds of recommendations can be trickier in clothing choices than in, say, books, because people don’t wear what other people are wearing.  People dress to look different.
As was often the case when I spoke to people at Yoox, Grignolo gave me a glimpse of the future.  In linking to the two planets, fashion and the Internet, Marchetti has unleashed forces that my eventually disrupt everything about the fashion business.  Using the Internet to buy clothes is only the beginning; in the future, buyers might use the kinds of funds of data that Yoox mines to make better-informed purchase decisions, which would reduce end-of-season overstock.  Future trends might be predicted by an algorithm – a sort of fashionista Hal.

Grignolo didn’t think that would happen.  “The algorithm predicts things based on what it has already seen.  You, the buyer, think this designer is going to be hot his season – well, the algorithm can estimate the likelihood that you are completely wrong.  But it will not necessarily be able to predict the next hot designer itself.”

Understanding the Eurozone Crisis in Less than Nine Minutes

What if mom was German and dad was Greek - - the micro view of a macro problem:

Friday, September 21, 2012

The International Water Law Project

This is an excellent resource for the latest on water rights and law issues - - link.

Sustainable Municipal Water Management

This is a good report and strategy document prepared by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (June 2012) - - Sustainable Water Management: Measuring Progress and Reporting Publicly.

Details the Six Principles of Sustainable Municipal Water Management (SMWM) - -
  1. Water Conservation and Efficiency
  2. Shared Water Stewardship
  3. Shorelines and Waterways Restoration
  4. Water Pollution Prevention
  5. Water Protection Planning
  6. Water Preparedness for Climate Change

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the July 9, 2012 edition of the Financial Times - - From Warehouse to Powerhouse by Barney Jopson.  Great overview of the "Amazon Economy."  From bookseller to provider of vital logistics for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

From the article:

At a macro level, hub businesses such as Amazon improve efficiency, which is good news for small players, says Marco Iansiti, a professor at Harvard Business School.  "The bad news is destiny is shared with a bunch of other people," he says.  "If Amazon has a catastrophe,if the website goes down, then a lot of people are affected.  It is a source of systemic risk that we didn't have before.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The 2012 Water Market Review

From Summit Global Management - - The 2012 Water Market Review.  Key trends and developments discussed in the report (would highly recommend reading this):
  • Increasing Regulation
  • Rapidly Growing Commercial Markets
  • Failing Infrastructure
  • Greater Conservation and Efficiency
  • Focus on Recycling and Reuse
  • Increased Interdependence Between Water and Energy
  • Enhanced Monitoring and Measurement
  • Technological Solutions
  • Residential Consumption Concerns
  • Controversy About Privatization
  • Surge of Investment in the Industry
  • Ownership Changes and Industry Consolidation
  • Consolidation in the Public Sector as Well
  • Growing Concerns About the Impact of Global Climate Change
Bottom Line - - "Prepare for the Inevitability of Rising Prices"

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Navy and Gangnam Style

Globalization has flattened the world economically - - but the scale and scope of cultural and entertainment flattening is amazing.

And amusing!

The Utility Branding Network

This is an interesting organization - - The Utility Brand Network.  From their website:

"Some might say that utilities do not need to develop a brand because they are monopolies and have no competition. Utilities may not have direct competition in terms of who will provide the service, but they are competing for investment dollars in their communities and need to be trusted."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Data Visualization Challenge

The Economist and Nielsen are looking for creative ways to present information on global consumer behaviour - - they have a contest where the winner(s) will receive $10,000 in total awards.

Information on the contest is here.

Rethinking Infrastructure Bonds

New ideas on how to invest in our public infrastructure are very important.  I started reading Strategic Capitalism by Richard D'Aveni, a management professor at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of business, and ran across this innovative way to fund rebuilding our infrastructure. 

". . . we must invest in our nation's infrastructure.  Investments the United States made during and after World War II fueled our enormous growth in the second half of the twentieth century.  Much of that infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life and new investments are required.

A creative way to fund these investments would be to allow companies to repatriate overseas earnings, estimated at over $1 trillion, tax-free by putting that money into infrastructure bonds.  Each $1 billion spent on infrastructure spent on infrastructure creates 35,000 jobs.  Then, over time, multinationals would be able to draw that money back."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Blocking Wastewater Overflows

In the New York Times yesterday by Kate Ascher (she writes about infrastructure) - - In the Bowels of the City, Blocking Wastewater Overflows.

Our Food Crisis

This is a comprehensive report on our current food crisis by GMO, a global investment management firm.  The report contained the following on water shortages in the context of the food crisis.

“Water constraints are worse than I thought a year ago. Squabbles or even wars over the division of rivers that flow through different countries seem more likely: Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over the Nile; China and India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and practically all of South East Asia over the flow of Himalayan rivers. Over pumping is also a bigger problem than I represented. About 300 million Chinese and Indians (125 and 175 million, respectively) among many others are fed through the use of declining aquifers. When entirely depleted, these perhaps then half a billion people will be thrown back onto already overstressed surface water. As with some other resource problems, there is an easy enough solution – desalination. And as with other easy solutions, it comes with dreadful drawback – ultra high cost. (Singapore, ahead of the curve as usual, has addressed its critical water problem correctly: by pricing all of its water at the cost of the next marginal liter. Uniquely, their next liter of water is from desalination plants, so they are paying many multiples of the water price that is paid by the rest of the world, drowning as it is in subsidies. Even then, despite their Draconian policy with locally generated water, Singapore still benefits from the hugely underpriced water used to produce the majority of their food, which is imported. And Singapore is not representative of our problems with water in one very important way. They are now just about the richest people around with incomes per capita of more than $50,000 U.S.!) That changes from the old normal climate patterns exacerbate water problems seem to be revealed by the week: unpredictable monsoons (that as this year are sometimes weaker), less snow cover to run off in the spring, and unnervingly common severe droughts that we must hope are at least partly non-recurring.”

American Water Summit 2012

This looks like a good conference - - this is the agenda.  In Chicago, November 14 to 15, 2012.  It looks like organizations and other professionals are beginning to take a hard look into the water future and think about what business models will be necessary for success.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The SmartHat

The hard hat of the future.  Your basic hard hat with a tiny microprocessor and beeper that sounds a warning when dangerous equipment is nearby on a construction site.  This is an important safety innovation.  But the more important and expansive consideration is how the SmartHat is powered.  As you can see from the photograph, the hat works without batteries.  The equipment is powered via radio waves in the air.  The waves come from wireless network transmitters on backhoes and bulldozers, installed to keep track of their locations.  The microprocessor monitors the strength and direction of the radio signal from the construction equipment to determine if the hat's wearer is too close.

We are seeing the convergence of two technologies that will fundamentally change asset and infrastructure management and inspection.  One is the expansive growth of low-cost sensors - - the continuing march of Moore's Law.  The second is that these same sensors will increasingly be of the low-power wireless variety; where they will have the ability to "harvester" power from ambient radio waves and other sources.

As the cost of wireless sensor technology continues to rapidly decline and the labor cost (namely health care) for asset inspection continues to advance - - look for more technology substituting for labor.

A great source of information on the technology is coming out of Georgia Tech - - Real-time Automated Project Information and Decision Systems (RAPIDS).

Good Resource for Program Management

This is an excellent site for information and research associated with program management of large civil/public infrastructure projects - - University of Oxford and the BT Centre for Major Programme Management.

A DIY Satellite for $8,000

Interorbital Systems offers a DIY satellite for $8,000 - - TubeSat kit.  After assembly, you can capture videos, act as a server for sending e-mails from space, and conduct temperature, pressure, and radiation experiments.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

SAWS Water Plan

This is a link to the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) 2012 Water Plan fact sheet.

Market Update on Smart Water Meters

Excellent report from Pike Research on Smart Water Meters - - Global Outlook for Utility AMI and AMR Deployments: Market Analysis, Case Studies, and Forecasts.

From the Pike Research introduction:

"The smart water meter market is poised for steady growth in the coming 5 years, driven by increasing demand for water itself, aging system infrastructure, and a need among utilities to operate their systems much more efficiently. Some systems were built 50 to 100 years ago and badly need upgrading. As new pipes are constructed, utility operators will simultaneously evaluate the merits of upgrading to the latest meter technology as well. Additional forces that will propel smart water meter shipments will include the need to conserve scarce water supplies, especially in desert regions like the Middle East or Southwestern United States, the need to reduce high levels of non-revenue water, and the need to satisfy regulatory requirements. Growth will also come from emerging markets in Asia Pacific and elsewhere as water metering rises along with rising standards of living and the need to manage this valuable resource efficiently.

However, in spite of these growth drivers, the industry faces several other factors that will be impediments to progress. New smart meters cost more than standard water meters, presenting a budgetary challenge to many water utilities. Smart meters also require additional IT expertise to facilitate data collection and data management – not always a welcome change to risk-averse system operators. And many water utilities are concerned about potential pushback from consumers, given the levels of resistance that some electric utilities have faced from customers in their smart meter rollouts.

This Pike Research report provides a comprehensive analysis of the market opportunity for advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), automatic meter reading (AMR), and communication modules for smart water meters. The study includes an assessment of technology issues and market drivers, case studies, and company profiles including SWOT analysis of key industry players. Detailed forecasts for unit shipments and revenue, segmented by technology and world region, are provided through 2017."

Climate Change and Your Car

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Harvest Automation

This is Harvey.  Harvey does manual labor.  Harvey does not need medical insurance, any vacation time, an annual performance review, worker's compensation insurance, or a cake on his birthday.

The S&P Global Water Index

The S&P Global Water Index is up over 15% YTD in total return (price + dividend yield).  Good index to keep an eye on in the era of extreme weather and water scarcity developments.

An Update on the Desalination Market

This is a very good and timely update on trends in the global desalination market.  A couple of notable points from the article:

"Water right now is a strain on this planet more than carbon,” Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris said in an interview this month in London. “We mismanage water terribly. It’s going to be a big issue.”

And - -

“This is potentially a huge growth area,” said Ian Simm, chief executive officer of Impax Asset Management Group Plc (IPX), a London-based investor with about $2.8 billion in funds. “It’s only viable where the price of water is high and the cost of energy is low.”

Finally - -

“Desalination is a technology that makes economic sense for very specific niche situations where there is little or no recurring source of groundwater,” said Philippe Rohner, portfolio manager in Geneva at Pictet Asset Management SA running the $2.8 billion Global Water Fund. “Water re-use or recycling offers more investment opportunities.”

Engineering a New (Different) Political System

This is a great post from the Engineering Ethics Blog - - Can Engineers Fix the Political System?  Read the political comparison between Montgomery Country, Maryland and Switzerland. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Global Sample of Water and Wastewater Innovation

A quick sample of VC sponsored firms in the water and wastewater industry - - more opportunities are probably going to generate more VC interest.

Graph of the Week

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the David Brooks column in the New York Times on Tuesday - - Why Men Fail.  This is an important column for the male dominated professions, like engineering, to read and discuss.

"Forty years ago, men and women adhered to certain ideologies, what it meant to be a man or woman.  Young women today, Rosin argues, are more like clean slates, having abandoned both feminist and prefeminist preconceptions.  Men still adhere to the masculinity rules, which limits their vision and there movement.

If she's right, then men will have to be less like Achilles, imposing their will on the world, and more like Odysseus, the crafty, many-sided sojourner.  They'll have to acknowledge that they are strangers in a strange land."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Predictive Maintenance

IBM had a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal on Monday - - "We Used To Schedule Repairs: Now We Predict Them."

The language in the ad paints a picture of old challenges and new opportunities.  Interesting words - -
  • Ever-shrinking budgets
  • Constant streamlining governments
  • Cleaning up after problems
  • Unnecessary downtime
  • Need for change
  • Help prevent
  • Fixing what will break next.  First.
  • Managing its infrastructure proactively
  • Pinpoint
  • Track the lifecycle
  • Replacing intuition with analytics
  • . . . the simplest and most efficient way to fix a problem is to make sure the problem never happens in the first place
Directly from the ad:

"Today, the businesses and organizations that understand the need for change - along with the leaders bold enough to act on it - are using predictive maintenance models to anticipate not only when a problem will occur, but where and how.  With sensors and analytics that scan for problems thousands of times a second, these models can help predict which part will fail, where a pipe will burst or even what storm will be most likely to blow a branch down on a power line.  Which means that instead of fixing things whether or not they need it, they can predict a problem and help prevent it from becoming an even bigger on."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Walking The Dog

Prediction Of What Other Humans Will Do

This is a great book by Christopher Steiner, Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World.  One of the key points from the book - -

"By knowing what a person says, we can know who they are.  By knowing who somebody is, it becomes easier to predict what exactly they'll do in the future.  At the heart of all of these algorithm-enable revolutions, there exists one persistent goal: prediction - to be more exact, prediction of what other humans will do.  That's how money gets made."

In the yin and yang of infrastructure management, the future will belong to software that can exploit hardware.  Like any city, hardware in the current infrastructure matrix is concrete and steel.  Managing and improving the efficiency of cities in 2030 will be about code and not concrete - - from algorithms, to artificial intelligence, to data-sifting - - engineering in the public sphere increasing belongs to those that can find useful patterns (i.e., from finding water leaks to preventing crimes before they happen) and insights in the data.  Engineering in the public sector could be on the verge of a revolutionary transition.  Software and big data will transform you city block - - the economics and technology are ripe for this to happen.

Rhythm Engineering, a traffic consulting firm in Lenexa, KS seems to get this new era of code. Enhanced public infrastructure - - the power of an algorithm that makes a city smarter, more efficiency, more sustainable, more safe, more livable - - and the technology pipeline seems to be primed.  Rhythm Engineering utilizes a proprietary (i.e., InSync) system that blends real-time street monitoring with adaptive algorithms to do the seemingly impossible - - not only speed up traffic but also make it safer.  Rhythm rigs larger traffic corridors with traffic-counting cameras, grouping cars into ad hoc motorcades that are sent through a series of green lights en masse.  After each block of vehicles passes, adjoining side streets switch to green lights to move cross-traffic.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Road Train For The Road Trip

The European Union is funding research on a project called SARTRE.  SARTRE is the first real-world test of a "road train".  The idea involves a convey of cars autonomously following a human-operated lead vehicle (a tractor-trailer) driven by a professional.

Think driving from Dallas to Denver and you are one of four cars following your "leader" - - by reducing wind resistance and traveling at a steady speed, your convoy could improve fuel economy and reduce tailpipe emissions by 20%.  Your 12-hour car trip could become cheaper, more sustainable, safer, and pleasant - - you might be able to enjoy that new book during the trip.

The convoy key is the ability to communicate with and react to one another - - part camera, part radar/lidar senors, part Wi-Fi - - and all software.

Check out the test video

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Roach as Remote Sensor

Inspecting the sewer line or bridge with a micro-processed insect?  It might be in the future - - link to the story.

Video - -

Dynamic Pricing

Great illustration of the pricing strategies in the Age of Amazon - -

The Past is Not Prologue

The current issue of National Geographic has an excellent article (Weather Gone Wild) by Peter Miller.  It is a must read - - a global tour of what's up with the weather.  From drought to record cold to extreme flooding.  Engineering in the future must start to take into consideration the extreme nature of our changing climate.  The science is clear - - the atmosphere is getting warmer and wetter.  Those two trends, which are clear in data averaged globally and annually, are increasing the chances of heat waves, heavy rains, and perhaps other extreme weather.

Big money is increasingly at stake in a world of extreme weather related natural disasters.  Consider this observation from the article:

The economic significance of this hasn't been lost on the insurance industry.  Insured losses from natural disasters in the U.S. last year totaled nearly $36 billion, 50 percent higher than the average during the previous decade.  "Whether it's the "new normal" or not, the industry sees a pattern of losses that's extraordinary," says Frank Nutter of Reinsurance Association of America.  "The past is not prologue to the type of weather we're to see."

You can debate La Nina or El Nino or volcanoes or sun spots or whatever - - all of these are a factor in recent extreme weather events.  But global warming has aggravated the situation making bad heat waves even worse. 

Watch the NASA animation showing the distribution of summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere.  The data is clear - - we are seeing an increase in the mean temperature but also a greater possibility for extremes in temperatures around the increased mean.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A World of One Trillion

Engineering in a world with both humans + robots totalling in the trillions will get interesting.  From the robotic factory floor ("the workers") to Google's driverless car ("the drivers"), how we define and measure the word "population" will take on an interesting context.

Keep an eye on census data reporting in 2035 - - the global population might just have increased by a factor of 10 from 2010!

A Paragraph to Ponder

In the water versus oil category - - From the New York Times yesterday, For Farms in the West, Oil Wells are Thirsty Rivals by Jack Healy.

Oil and gas companies estimate that they will use about 6.5 billion gallons of water in Colorado this year, and that figure makes up only 0.1 percent of overall water use, according to state data. Their consumption represents more water than is used making snow on the ski slopes or greening the state’s golf courses. But it is paltry compared with the deluge needed for irrigation and agriculture, which accounts for 85.5 percent of Colorado’s water use.
Still, the industry is growing fast. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission estimates that the state’s oil and gas water needs will grow by 16 percent over the next three years.

Private Cities

Interesting development in Honduras this week.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Social Security

This is a great article on fixing Social Security - - the problem is something all engineers understand.  The longer you wait to fix a problem, the more difficult and expensive the fix becomes.

The Mobile Engineer

The Mobile Engineer develops custom mobile technology solutions for engineering and related fields.  From phones to tablets - - engineering is about anytime, anywhere; connecting with anyone in a collaborative environment; having access to "big data"; spatially awareness - - the future will have every single infrastructure professional having a phone or tablet with access to all the information they will need.  Portability and connectivity will make for better engineers outside their office environment.

U.S. Port and Inland Waterways Modernization: Preparing for Post-Panamax Vessels

A link to the recently released U.S. Army Corps of Engineers strategy document is here.  The bottom line - - by 2030, post-Panamax vessels will account for 62% of the capacity of the world's container fleet.  Along the Southeast and Gulf coasts there may be opportunities for economically justified port expansion projects - - in the $3 billion to $5 billion range.

Graphic of the week

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Blippar Augmented Reality

Blippar is a recent addition to the world of augmented reality advertising.  With time, augmented reality has huge potential for engineers.  The power of connecting anything real (from a pump to a circuit board) with interactive engineering and scientific programs and applications is a potential game changer.  I would recommend watching this and remembering that innovation often comes from outside your own field and industry.

A Great Graph

The power of one well thought out and constructed graph - -

Great News for Engineering!!!

From Wonkblog yesterday - -

Roger Altman, co-founder of Evercore Partners. (Win McNamee/Getty)
Roger Altman, a former deputy Treasury secretary and a co-founder of the investment firm Evercore partners, thinks the U.S. economy could be on the verge of an unexpected boom. Here’s why:
1. “The housing sector is improving. … the first signs of renewal have appeared: prices are rising in almost half of the country’s major housing markets. Pent-up demand is huge. Goldman Sachs expects housing starts to hit 1.4m annually by 2015, up from 700,000 this year. After 2015, the total will rise further and boost GDP, as household formation rates and the starts-to-population ratio revert to historical norms.”

2. “The breathtaking increase in oil and gas production. Data from the US Energy Information Administration support this. Natural gas output reached an all-time high this year, with shale gas accounting for half of it. On the oil side, U.S. production fell 48 percent from its 1970 high to only 5m barrels a day in 2008. Driven by shale, it is up almost 20 percent from 2008 to 2012. IHS Cera, a research group, projects that oil production will rise another 3m b/d and reach a new high by 2020. Within five years, the oil gains alone could add more than 1 percentage point to annual GDP growth and up to 3m jobs. The fall in natural gas prices will reduce the average utility bill by almost $1,000 a year.”
3. “The U.S. banking system has recovered faster than anyone could have imagined. Capital and liquidity have been rebuilt to levels unseen in decades. Legacy mortgage problems are fading. Profits are very strong. Lending is growing quickly: total bank credit outstanding now stands at $9.8tn, according to Fed data, a record high. The proportion of bank lending going to business will next year probably reach a record level.”

4. “The U.S. has made a huge leap in industrial competitiveness. Unit production costs are down 11 percent over the past 10 years, while costs have risen in almost every other advanced nation.”
5. “The U.S. may surprise itself and the world by rectifying its deficit and debt problems. If Barack Obama is re-elected, he may allow the George W. Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012. That step could force Congress to the negotiating table and produce a large, balanced deficit-reduction programme that would boost confidence, the stock market and private investment.”
More from Altman here.
Is he right? I have no idea. But you don’t have to be wildly optimistic about the American economy to expect the next four years to be much stronger than the last four. As I’ve argued previously, that makes the outcome of this election unusually important, as the winner – and his policy platform, and his party – stands to reap the gains of being in office when the economy finally recovers, no matter whether he or his policies actually deserve the credit.

Water and Disease

I had aerial spraying in my neighborhood for West Nile virus last week.  It is important for engineers to remind the public that every 15 seconds, water-related diseases kill a child somewhere in the World.  Malaria remains one of the world's deadliest killers.  Some 500 million people are infected every year, nearly twice the population of the United States. 


It will be interesting to see how firms like Solarzyme, with a focus on biofuels, fares in a world of cheap natural gas (if natural gas becomes a transportation fuel).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

North Texas Engineers in The News

Recent news cast associated with the Integrated Pipeline Project design.

More on the project here.

Great Futuristic Thinkers

Interesting article on T. Boone Pickens in the Dallas Morning News business page by Cheryl Hall - - A thinking man's guide to thinking.

From the article - - a quote from Sandi Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth:

"Boone's always been a great gap filler - not A, B, C sequential, analytical thinking.  He sees the void and then bridges old and new ideas to create innovative entrepreneurial approaches to solve complex problems," she says.  "This is what great, futuristic thinkers do."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Stanford Nitrogen Group

It will be interesting to see how much energy and useful by-products we can get out of our existing wastewater treatment systems.  One group working in this field is the Stanford Energy Group.  This is a description of their work from the Department of Energy:

"The Stanford Nitrogen Group developed a new wastewater treatment process for the removal and recovery of energy from waste nitrogen (i.e. ammonia). This process improves the efficiency and lowers the cost of nitrogen treatment. The process is termed the Coupled Aerobic-anoxic Nitrous Decomposition Operation (CANDO) and consists of 2 principal steps: biological conversion of ammonia to N2O gas, and combustion of a fuel (i.e. biogas) with N2O to recover energy. It’s the first wastewater treatment process to recover energy from nitrogen.
Wastewater treatment facilities experience dual financial pressures - rising energy costs and meeting increasingly stringent nitrogen discharge regulation. Wastewater treatment imposes a three percent load on U.S. energy supply and is often the highest energy expenditure of municipalities. Discharging ammonia to water bodies causes dead zones, but many wastewater treatment facilities do not have the current capability to economically meet the increasingly stringent standards. As a result, wastewater treatment facilities have a strong interest in energy efficient and low-cost N-treatment processes. CANDO has the potential to meet these needs.
CANDO has been under research and development at Stanford University since 2009 and is currently functional at lab-scale. CANDO will next be tested at the pilot-scale to evaluate full-scale viability. For the treatment of wastewater, CANDO reduces the cost of treating nitrogen by at least 50 percent, improves energy efficiency by recovering energy from waste nitrogen and enabling increased methane recovery from organic matter, decreases the production of biosolids, mitigates the release of the greenhouse gas N2O, and improves water quality."

The best CEO with an engineering degree

After Bryce Hoffman's American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company, my vote is for Ford CEO Alan Mulally.

From the closing of the book:

"Mulally knew enough to avoid blunders,  He combined in one person an exceptional engineering mind with exceptional financial acumen.  His experience as an aeronautical engineer taught him the importance of shedding weight and streamlining the edges to make planes lighter and faster.  He applied that same approach to the automotive business and made Ford soar.  Mulally also brought a relentless determination to Dearborn that had been lacking at the top of the Glass House.  He had not been nursed on the mythology of the American automobile industry.  Ford's executives, like those at General Motors and Chrysler, could not see beyond their own shared experiences.  The cyclical nature of the business was internalized.  They look it for granted that every success would be followed by failure.  It became a convenient excuse.  They tinkered with the spark plugs and tightened the belts because none of them believed it was possible to tear apart the entire motor and rebuild it.

But that is exactly what Mulally did - and he got all of them to help him do it.  His disciplined approach cut through the company's caustic culture and forced everyone to march in the same direction.  He was tough when he had to be, but Mulally's primary means of motivation was a shared vision - a vision of what Ford had been and could be again.  He taught the other executives how to make decisions based on data instead of boardroom politics.  And once he had, most of the decisions that saved Ford were made by the team as a whole."

This is an excellent lecture that Mulally gave at Stanford:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Imagine H20

This is a very interesting organization - - Imagine H20.  Part prize developer, part accelerator, part advisor, part VC, Imagine H20 is interfacing and facilitating innovation in the water, wastewater, and energy fields.

Look at their website - - lots of things going on with this group that is important in the context of sustainability and efficiency improvements.