Saturday, August 31, 2013

Are Driverless Cars Really Just Around the Corner? | MIT Technology Review

Are Driverless Cars Really Just Around the Corner? | MIT Technology Review

These States Are Going to Become Green Energy Powerhouses

These States Are Going to Become Green Energy Powerhouses

Key points - -

"Wyoming and New Mexico are both primed to become major exporters of wind power, according to the study's authors. With "large amounts of untapped, developable, prime-quality wind potential" the two states have waiting markets in California, Arizona, and Utah. By 2025, New Mexico could be producing twice the amount of renewable energy as its required to, meaning it could start selling it to other states."

Cities as Systems

Good material at the FutureStructure website.

All Things Tunnelling

Link to a short Wall Street Journal video on the current state of tunnelling.

Other interesting links to information:

Is Natural Disaster Insurance a Public Good?

Interesting from Urban and Environmental Economics:

"Read this reasonable piece about FEMA and natural disasters but ponder a simple question; why do areas affected by natural disasters receive any transfers at all from other regions? National defense is a public good but how is natural disaster insurance a public good? You can convince me that the state that is impacted can provide disaster relief to the affected community but why are federal funds used for this cause? When I buy dinner, I use my own funds to pay for the dinner. Why don't I ask other tax payers to buy me dinner? Yes, it is true that dinner is a nightly anticipated event but why don't states at greater risk for disasters keep their own "rainy day" fund? If they don't keep such a fund, why should other states "bail them out"? If no private insurance company will provide market insurance for those taking risks, why should the government implicitly provide that insurance through ex-post payoffs? What risks do we subsidize and what risk taking do we tax?"

Turn Down The Heat

New report from the World Bank - Turn down the heat: Climate extremes, regional impacts, and the case for resilience.


This report focuses on the risks of climate change to development in Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and South Asia. Building on the 2012 report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, this new scientific analysis examines the likely impacts of present day, 2°C and 4°C warming on agricultural production, water resources, and coastal vulnerability for affected populations. It finds many significant climate and development impacts are already being felt in some regions, and in some cases multiple threats of increasing extreme heat waves, sea level rise, more severe storms, droughts and floods are expected to have further severe negative implications for the poorest. Climate related extreme events could push households below the poverty trap threshold. High temperature extremes appear likely to affect yields of rice, wheat, maize and other important crops, adversely affecting food security. Promoting economic growth and the eradication of poverty and inequality will thus be an increasingly challenging task under future climate change. Immediate steps are needed to help countries adapt to the risks already locked in at current levels of 0.8°C warming, but with ambitious global action to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many of the worst projected climate impacts could still be avoided by holding warming below 2°C.

Engineering, Transportation, and Civil Rights

Transportation and Opportunity - Department of Transportation

Friday, August 30, 2013

Marketing 101 for Engineers

From the great Stu Walesh - - Link.
  • “Marketing is not a department, it’s your business.” (Harry Beckwith, consultant)
  • “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” (anonymous)
  • “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” (Peter Drucker, consultant and author)
  • “I’m not upset that you lied to me; I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher)
  • “I will remove from my vocabulary… quit, cannot, unable, impossible, out of the question, improbable, failure, unworkable, hopeless, and retreat…I will persist until I succeed.” (Og Mandino, author of The Greatest Salesman in the World)

Architects Are Part of the Prison Industrial Complex, Too

Architects Are Part of the Prison Industrial Complex, Too

Maybe switch out Engineers for Architects.

The Amazon Model: The Rise of Urban Start-Ups in Smaller Tech Hubs

The Amazon Model: The Rise of Urban Start-Ups in Smaller Tech Hubs

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Warming of the Oceans and the Implications for the (Re)insurance Industry

Link to a good report by the Geneva Association.

Project Management Question of the Week

In a project to install last generation automatic elevators, the main deliverable and the test results were sent to the client to get his formal approval.  However, 25 days have passed and the client is nowhere to be found.  The project manager has tried to communicate with the client many times, but he is not returning phone calls.  What is the best thing to do?
  • Stop the project until the client formally approves the deliverables.
  • Request general management's assistance.
  • Ask the client why is he not returing the calls.
  • Document the facts in the issues log.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fracking Versus The Machines

You can frack every shale formation in the United States, but cheaper natural gas will never lead to higher levels of manufacturing employment (as compared to historic levels) in places like Ohio.  The force of the machine is greater than the force of the frack.  How many jobs did Ford eliminate with this machine and similar?  Fracking will not change the downward trend of the red arrow in the graphic.

Monday, August 26, 2013

FEMA Flood Zone Picture of the Day

When you need another 11 feet - -

Texas Water Day 2013 - Banyan Water


Security in a Can

Arcadis Up 26% in 2012

If you are an investor, start thinking Dutch (see previous blog posting - Invest in Dutch Engineering Firms).   Investor insight in the age of climate change and rising sea levels will be important.  Insight deals with ongoing learning; becoming inquisitive allows you to keep an open mind.   The Arcadis story is not hard to understand.  The Dutch have a long history of keeping back rising tides and are already exporting knowledge through Arcadis - the company now has contracts in New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco.  All of this translated into Arcadis revenue being up 26% in 2012.

Personality affects insight.  Many engineers (and these are mainly civil engineers) are not the insight types.  People who think in black and white won't understand that opportunity often lives in the gray.  Their world is sunlight or darkness, they don't like the shadows.  "What if?" isn't part of their vocabulary. 

The basic corporatist value system can also impact the importance  and application of insight.  The shadows are to be avoided - the view of the changing landscape becomes one of only risk management and cost control.   The value and importance (and economic gain - true wealth exists in the shadows) of ambiguity, uncertainty, exploration, and strategic vision becomes totally lost.

Start to look at several sectors in the context of climate change (Citigroup and Deutsche Bank have published recent reports detailing to their clients how and where they can benefit from climate change).  Engineers should focus on three areas - (1.) the transport of people will be impacted by rising sea levels, (2.) moving water from surplus locations to deficit locations will become the norm, and (3.) coming up with innovative ways to keep back sea levels could get you a Nobel Prize.

The next insightful frontier in coastal communities facing rising sea levels could be poultry.  Our diets may have to change, especially in coastal areas in the developing world.  Ducks float and swim; chickens drown and sink.  China and Vietnam have approximately 138 million people living in areas where the elevation is below five meters.  That could be a lot of duck.  The famous investor from Omaha is probably looking at duck futures as I type this.

Think Dutch and ducks.  Remember that insight deals with seeing and making connections.  Change, coincidences, curiosities and inconsistencies become opportunities to examine what is in a different light.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The BIQ House

A Great View of Strategic Asset Management


Social networking comes to the world of wastewater reuse - -

The March of Utility Labor Productivity Improvements

From a recent press release at Engineering News-Record:

"Aug. 23--A Dallas, Texas, private-equity firm, Panda Power Funds, is acquiring Moxie Energy's planned Liberty Generating Station in Bradford County, Pa., billed as the first power plant developed to use natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation. The 829-megawatt plant will produce enough power to supply 1 million homes.

Panda will immediately start construction on the 33-acre site in Asylum Township and expects operations to begin by early 2016.

The plant will contain twin combined-cycle Siemens gas turbines, manufactured in North Carolina. The generators will be cooled with air rather than water, eliminating the plant's potential impact on the Susquehanna River.

Panda did not disclose a purchase price. It said the plant will contribute an estimated $1.2 billion to the area's economy during construction and the first decade of operation.

About 500 jobs will be created to construct the plant, which will employ 27 people to operate."

How many people would be employed at the water and wastewater treatment facilities to serve the same one million homes?

The Best Name For An Engineer

The winner goes to - - Tadge Juechter, the chief engineer for Corvette (B.S. in Mechanical Engineering with a M.B.A. from Stanford). 

Link to Q&A with Mr. Juechter. 

The Rumble Seat (written by Dan Neil in the Saturday WSJ is a must for engineers) has a profile of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stringray Z51 - - Corvette, the Next Generation, Is a Superstar.

By the numbers - - 460 hp at 6,000 rpm/465 lb-ft torque at 4,600 rpm in 6.2 liters with a four golf bag capacity.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Splitting the Bill with an Engineer

Very funny - Link.

HDR Demonstrates Wastewater

This is a good presentation - -

Asset Management is a Process and Not a Thing

This is a good example of what improved utility asset management should focus on.  From the CH2M Hill Website:

DENVER, August 23, 2013 – CH2M HILL (, a global full-service consulting, design, construction and operations firm, has been awarded a contract by the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department to provide optimization consulting services to streamline the City’s water and wastewater operations. The optimization program will provide a blend of operations, management and engineering capabilities to increase operational efficiencies, reduce costs, and generate additional revenue.

Under the contract, CH2M HILL will conduct a comprehensive operational optimization study to review and evaluate San Diego’s water and wastewater facilities and operations to determine if improvements can be made in the areas of energy utilization, water production and distribution, chemical usage, data utilization, wastewater sludge processing and disposal, operator staffing, and warehouse practices and procedures. The study findings will be used to produce implementable recommendations.

San Diego’s water infrastructure system is one of the largest and most complex in the United States. Located in a semi-arid desert region with little rainfall, San Diego imports 90 percent of its water to meet the needs of 1.3 million people. The City maintains and operates more than 3,300 miles of water lines, 49 water pump stations, 130-plus pressure zones, and more than 260 million gallons of potable water storage capacity in a variety of standpipes, elevated tanks, and concrete and steel reservoirs.

“Optimizing utilities for more efficient operations requires management, engineering, finance, and operations and maintenance expertise,” said Scott Haskins, CH2M HILL Director, Management and Strategic Consulting. “Leveraging experience gained from previous utility optimization programs, we look forward to delivering a fully integrated plan to help San Diego optimize its water and wastewater utilities and bring greater value to its customers.”

The Greening of Stormwater Management Starts in a Parking Lot

The is a great link to information and graphics relating to the inconsistent administration of parking lot requirements in the United States (the author has additional information coming on educational facility parking - which will be interesting).  See my previous discussion on parking lots - Empty Spaces.   Local space requirements make little sense (Triple Bottom Line sense - economic, social, and environmental) and are wildly inconsistent. 

It is very expensive and unsustainable to manage stormwater when 25% of a given community by area is made up of parking lots (empty parking lots). 

Friday, August 23, 2013

The New HP Prime Graphing Calculator

The new Ferrari of calculators - - interesting how the iPhone design has even touched the world of calculators.

Link to a video - -

CURRENT DROUGHT CONDITIONS in Texas and the United States (Updated Weekly)

CURRENT DROUGHT CONDITIONS in Texas and the United States (Updated Weekly)

Explore the London Underground With This Awesome 3-D Simulation

Explore the London Underground With This Awesome 3-D Simulation

The Water Leak Detection Van

Link to the technology.

What Civil Engineers Should be Studying - Part 3

Civil engineers can utilize a greater degree of understanding cognitive psychology.  Cognitive engineering and understanding the decision making process impact many aspects of civil engineering - - from site planning at an assisted living facility, to construction human performance modeling, to safety, to surface transportation - - our complex world and systems will continue to drive this need.

From Clemson University:

Course Description: The purpose of this course is to introduce you to human cognition: our ways of coming to know about the world and about one another. This course will concentrate on the classic topics in adult cognition: memory, attention, categorization, problem solving, reasoning, and decision making. Special attention will be paid to the relationship between logic and the psychology of reasoning, and to the relationship between linguistics and the psychology of language. The coverage of perception and of cognitive development will be limited. Most of the empirical literature of cognitive psychology has been shaped by conceptions of human knowledge as structures in the mind that correspond to structures in the environment; problems with those conceptions and alternatives to them will also be discussed.

Civil engineers also need a much better understanding of systems engineering.  Not systems engineering as it relates to a complex product like an aircraft, but systems engineering relating to our interconnected infrastructure systems, economic systems, political systems, environmental systems, etc.

From the M.I.T. Systems Engineering department:

ESD.103J Science, Technology, and Public Policy

Graduate (Fall) H-Level Grad Credit
(Same subject as 17.310J, STS.482J)
Prereq: Permission of instructor
Units: 4-0-8
Credit cannot also be received for 17.309, ESD.082, STS.082
Lecture: MW1.30-3 (E25-111) Recitation: TBA +final
Analysis of issues at the intersection of science, technology, public policy, and business. Cases drawn from antitrust and intellectual property rights; health and environmental policy; defense procurement and strategy; strategic trade and industrial policy; and R&D funding. Structured around theories of political economy, modified to take account of integration of uncertain technical information into public and private decision-making. Meets with 17.309 when offered concurrently.
K. Oye
No textbook information available

ESD.110J Global Environmental Science and Politics

Not offered academic year 2014-2015Graduate (Fall)
(Same subject as 12.846J)
Prereq: None
Units: 3-0-6
Credit cannot also be received for 12.346
Lecture: T1.30-4.30 (E51-385)
Practical introduction to the international environmental political arena, particularly designed for science and engineering students whose work is potentially relevant to global environmental issues. Covers basic issues in international politics, such as negotiations, North-South conflict, implementation and compliance, and trade. Emphasizes the roles and responsibilities of experts providing scientific assessment reports and in technical advisory bodies. Term projects focus on organizing and presenting scientific information in ways relevant for ongoing global policymaking.
N. Selin
No textbook information available

ESD.120J Sustainability Science and Engineering

Not offered academic year 2013-2014Graduate (Fall) H-Level Grad Credit
(Same subject as 12.845J)
Prereq: None. Coreq: ESD.83 or permission of instructor
Units: 3-0-6
Introduces and develops core ideas and concepts in the field of sustainability science and engineering from an engineering systems perspective. Takes an interdisciplinary approach to discuss case studies of sustainability systems research. Exposes students to techniques for sustainability research across engineering, natural and social science disciplines. Term projects focus on applying techniques.
N. Selin

ESD.123J Industrial Ecology

Not offered academic year 2013-2014Graduate (Spring) H-Level Grad Credit
(Same subject as 1.814J, 3.560J)
Prereq: ESD.10 or 3.56
Units: 3-0-6
Quantitative techniques for life-cycle analysis of the impacts of materials extraction, processing use, and recycling; and economic analysis of materials processing, products, and markets. Student teams undertake a major case study of automobile manufacturing using the latest methods of analysis and computer-based models of materials process.
R. Kirchain, J. Clark, F. Field

ESD.124 Energy Systems and Climate Change Mitigation

Graduate (Fall) H-Level Grad Credit
Prereq: permission of instructor
Units: 3-0-9
Lecture: MW11-12.30 (32-124)
Explores the contributions of energy systems to global greenhouse gas emissions and the potential levers for reducing emissions. Lectures and projects focus on decomposing contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, with emphasis on technology related variables such as per unit cost and carbon intensity of energy. Reviews other performance attributes of energy technologies. Student projects explore pathways for realizing emissions reduction scenarios.
J. Trancik
No required or recommended textbooks

ESD.125 Mapping and Evaluating New Energy Technologies

Graduate (Spring) H-Level Grad Credit
Prereq: Permission of instructor
Units: 3-0-9
Project-based seminar covers recent developments in energy conversion and storage technologies. Merits of alternative technologies are debated based on their environmental performance and cost, and their potential improvement and scalability. Project teams develop quantitative models and interactive visualization tools to inform the future development of these technologies. Models may probe how the impact of a technology depends on assumptions about future advancements in materials or device design. Other projects may develop models for rational design choices (the selection of a particular material or processing technique) based on economic and environmental performance and physical constraints.
J. Trancik

ESD.128J Global Climate Change: Economics, Science, and Policy

Graduate (Spring)
(Same subject as 12.848J, 15.023J)
(Subject meets with 12.348J, 15.026J)
Prereq: Calculus II (GIR); 5.60; 14.01 or 15.010; or permission of instructor
Units: 3-0-6
Introduces scientific, economic, and ecological issues underlying the threat of global climate change, and the institutions engaged in negotiating an international response. Develops an integrated approach to analysis of climate change processes, and assessment of proposed policy measures, drawing on research and model development within the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Graduate students are expected to explore the topic in greater depth through reading and individual research.
R. G. Prinn

The Engineer as Really Good Public Speaker

A sophomore mechanical engineering student at GA Tech - -

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How Cleveland Can Help Solve America's Student-Loan Crisis

How Cleveland Can Help Solve America's Student-Loan Crisis

Your 401(k) and the Prison Commissary

A paragraph to ponder from the New York Times - - Orange is the New Green:

"As I listened to wardens explain their incentives, I kept feeling that there was something oddly familiar. Prison commissaries are simply one extreme example of an economic arrangement that I think of as the third-party decider. There are lots of businesses in which the person selecting a product or service is not the person who will actually use it. And these are often the more frustrating parts of our economy. Employees may be the end-users of 401(k) plans and health-insurance policies, but corporate human-resource managers are often the ones who decide which company — Fidelity, Vanguard, Charles Schwab — is able to offer those plans to employees. Years ago, I came across the materials that a few 401(k) companies used to market their services, and I was surprised by how much more space was devoted to how the providers could make life easier for the H.R. people who had to file all the paperwork than to the details that 401(k) end-users would actually care about, like the expenses that the funds charge."


The Two-Minute Opportunity Checklist for Entrepreneurs

From the excellent Worthless, Impossible and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value by Daniel Isenberg - -
  1. Does your business idea soothe someone's pain, discomfort, frustration, or dissatisfaction?
  2. Are there lots of those people out there?
  3. Do these people (or companies or governments) have money to pay for it?
  4. Will they be able to decide quickly to buy your product or service?
  5. Does your idea exploit something outstanding or unique about you?
  6. Do you have important assets that no one else has (money, access to customers, technology, leadership skills, execution, location, salesmanship, etc.)?
  7. Can you think of at least two people who might join you?
  8. Do their skills complement yours?
  9. Do they have the same values that you do?
  10. Do the majority of people whose opinion you highly respect think your idea is a good one?
  11. Does at least one person (and not more that three people) whose opinion you highly respect think your idea is a bad one?
  12. Is there something about the idea or its implementation that compels you to really devote yourself to it?
  13. Can you find a potential customer who will take your calls, give you feedback, try out a pilot?
  14. Can you sneak by the big competitors without them noticing you for a while?
  15. Can you start up without huge gobs of money?
  16. Can you keep your fixed costs low during launch?
  17. Does your idea lend itself to small, incremental steps that can inexpensively generate valuable information as well as at least a little cash?
  18. Can you think of something that Isenberg has forgotten?  (And it is . . . )

Why Engineering Matters

Jevons on the Farm

This is an interesting application of the the Jevons Principal (the consumption of efficiency gains) - Does Efficient Irrigation Technology Lead to Reduced Groundwater Extraction? Empirical Evidence - January 2, 2013.  Detailed discussion is at the California WaterBlog..  Paper abstract:

"Encouraging the use of more efficient irrigation technology is often viewed as an effective,

politically feasible method to reduce the consumptive use of water for agricultural production.

Despite its widespread recommendation, it is not clear that increasing irrigation efficiency will

lead to water conservation in practice. In this article, we evaluate the effect on groundwater

extraction of a widespread conversion from traditional center pivot irrigation systems to higher

efficiency dropped-nozzle center pivot systems that has occurred in western Kansas. State and

national cost-share programs subsidized the conversion. On average, the intended reduction in

water use did not occur; the shift to more efficient irrigation technology has increased groundwater

extraction, in part due to shifting crop patterns."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Global Construction to Jump 70 Percent by 2025

Global Construction to Jump 70 Percent by 2025

The Case for Letting Nonprofits Run Public Transit

The Case for Letting Nonprofits Run Public Transit

What Civil Engineers Should be Studying - Part 2

If you plan on working around a coastal community or state, you might want to add a little ocean engineering from the Texas A&M Ocean Engineering Program:

OCEN 672. Coastal Engineering. (3-0). Credit 3. Effects of waves on coastal structures; design of seawall breakwaters, jetties, harbors, ship channels and pipelines; intentional and accidental discharge of pollutants; diffusion and spreading; oil spill containment and collection. Prerequisite: OCEN 671.

OCEN 674. Ports & Harbors. (3-0). Credit 3. Basic port planning including site selection, environmental factors, and economic considerations; design of wharves, quays, jetties, breakwaters and navigational channels and fenders; harbor sedimentation and maintenance dredging; design of fishing, small craft and recreation boat harbors. Prerequisite: Approval of instructor.

OCEN 682. Coastal Sediment Processes. (3-0). Credit 3. Sediment properties and size distribution, fluvial sediment transport equations, movement of material by the sea, review of pertinent wave theories, littoral drift, inlet stability, coastal protection structures, similarity in sediment transport, movable bed models, sediment tracing, Aeolian sand transport, case studies. Prerequisite: Approval of instructor.

OCEN 683. Estuary Hydrodynamics. (3-0). Credit 3. Development of applicable equations for tidal dynamics applied to real estuaries. Technology for determination of mean velocities, circulation patterns, water depths, turbulent dispersion patterns, etc. for solution of environmental problems in estuaries. Physical and mathematical models. Prerequisites: Basic fluid mechanics; approval of instructor.

CVEN 686. Offshore and Coastal Structures. (3-0). Credit 3. Fundamental design and analysis techniques; offshore platforms for shallow and deep water, pile driving analysis of large offshore piles by the wave equation; solutions to problems submitted by industry to the class during the semester. Prerequisite: Approval of instructor.

CVEN 687. Foundation Engineering. (3-0). Credit 3. Settlement and bearing capacity analysis of foundations; computer programs used to analyze axially loaded piles, laterally loaded piles, and sheet-pile walls.

OCEAN 688. Marine Dredging. (3-0). Credit 3. Dredge pump selection; pump and system characteristics; cavitation; types of dredges; continental shelf and deep-ocean dredging; head loss in horizontal and vertical pipes for two- and three-phase flow; design of disposal methods for dredged material; environmental effects of dredging. Prerequisite: Approval of instructor.

HOT Lanes Are Even More Popular When They're Expensive

HOT Lanes Are Even More Popular When They're Expensive

Monday, August 19, 2013

Inbound Marketing

Link to an introduction to the new world of inbound marketing.

Quote of the week

From Robert J. Gordon, a professor of economics at Northwestern in the Sunday New York Times, Is Big Data an Economic Big Dud? - -

"Gasoline made from oil made possible a transportation revolution as cars replaced horses and as commercial air transportation replaced railroads.  If anybody thinks that personal data are comparable to real oil and real vehicles, they don't appreciate the realities of the last century."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What Drought Looks Like

Pictures of the drought in Texas - Link.

Urban Water Demand in California to 2100: Incorporating Climate Change

Good report from the Pacific Institute - Link.  From the introduction to the report:
"Global climate change poses risks to California’s water resources, though most recent research

has focused on supply-side changes including reduced snowpack, earlier snowmelt, and more

extreme floods and droughts. Yet along with these shifts in the quantity, timing, and reliability of

freshwater supplies, climate change will also have important impacts on water demand. Fifteen

years ago, an American Water Works Association committee on climate change found that

climate change “could also alter water demand, supply, and quality” (AWWA 1997). In 2007,

the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies commissioned a study on the impacts of climate

change on water agency operations. The authors concluded that the impacts are likely to be

significant, and will increase the cost of operations for most utilities. When it comes to climate

impacts in the next 20-50 years, “utility planners will have to grapple with many of them

prospectively rather than as phenomena that are already observable” (Cromwell et al. 2007)."

FEMA 2012 Community Resilience Innovation Challenge

Link and press release issued in May for the 30 recipients of FEMA directed seed money related to the resilience challenge:
"WASHINGTON—Today, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is pleased to announce the selection of 30 recipients to receive funding under the FEMA 2012 Community Resilience Innovation Challenge program. The program focuses on building local community resilience to man-made and natural disasters, with an emphasis on innovation, collaboration with community stakeholders, sustainability, repeatability and measurable benefits to the community.
FEMA knows that preparedness is a process that requires continued focus year-round. This year’s award recipients are recognized for programs designed to continue to move community preparedness forward, and assist local areas in building and revitalizing community-based partnerships to advance the nation’s resilience to disasters.
“The best resiliency ideas originate from our states and tribal nations.” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “The goal of this effort is to further empower communities to collaborate and develop innovative approaches to effectively respond to disasters.”
The program is being funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and administered by the Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Foundation who acted as a third-party intermediary to encourage local communities to engage in creative activities that enhance disaster resilience. Funding levels ranged to a maximum award level of $35,000, and applications were open to most local, state, and tribal agencies and governments; business entities; associations; organizations and groups.
“We live in a time of unpredictable shocks and chronic stresses, from climate change to natural or manmade disasters, and helping local communities become more resilient to these disruptions is more important than ever. Yet we’ve also seen that potential solutions to meet the needs of a community are often best surfaced by those who live with the stresses, and perhaps see them from a different perspective,” said Dr. Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation. “The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to helping people prepare for, withstand, and emerge stronger from disruptions, and is proud to support this program and the innovative efforts of local residents to build resilience in communities across the United States.”
Over 1,900 applications were received across the country. FEMA is grateful to all applicants for their dedication and commitment to building community resilience. FEMA recognizes that a government-centric approach to disaster management is insufficient to meet the challenges posed by a catastrophic incident. To meet our nation’s preparedness goals, the whole community must be actively involved in all phases of the preparedness, response, and recovery cycle. These awards are designed to invest in and enhance the whole community effort.
As we applaud the award winners, we also encourage all applicants to remain vigilant in their commitment to their programs and supporting community resilience."

Project Management Question of the Week

Generally, when thinking about scheduling:
  • There are many scheduling techniques and tools for scheduling
  • There are "pure" techniques (PERT, CPM, Gantt, Milestone, etc.)
  • There are many permutations of "pure" techniques
  • Fundamentally two schools of thought - (1.) those that show inter-relatedness of activities, adn (2.) those that don't
  • All of the above 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What Civil Engineers Should be Studying

This is my initial list of several classes that probably define many of the future opportunities in civil engineering.  These are classes offered by Columbia University.  I plan on periodically adding to the list when I come across interesting and important classes.

CIEN E4260x Urban ecology studio 4 pts. Lect: 3. Lab: 3. Prerequisites: Graduate standing and the instructor's permission. Conjoint studio run with the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) that explores solutions to problems of urban density. Engineering and GSAPP students will engage in a joint project that address habitability and sustainability issues in an urban environment, and also provides community service. Emphasis will be on the integration of science, engineering and design within a social context. Interdisciplinary approaches and communication will be stressed.

CIEN E6131y Quantitative infrastructure risk management 3 pts. Lect: 3. Prerequisites: IEOR E4003, CIEN E4133 or the equivalent. Core concepts of risk analysis, risk mitigation, and quantitative risk management applied to civil infrastructure systems. State of art of simulation applied to infrastructure risk management during construction and operation. Public Private Partnership (PPP) risk management: identification, quantification, mitigation of risks in transportation and energy PPP systems. Risk management during construction using the envelop method.

CIEN E6132y Advanced systems and technologies for global project collaboration 3 pts. Lect: 3.Not offered in 2013-2014. Prerequisites: CIEN E4129 or the equivalent. Systems and technologies that support collaborative work in global projects. Information technologies for design, visualization, project management, and collaboration in globally distributed networks of design, fabrication, and construction organizations, including Web-based, parametric computer-aided modeling, project organizational simulation, and other emerging applications. Global team project with students at collaborating universities abroad.

CIEN E6133y Advanced construction and infrastructure risk management using real options Not offered in 2013-2014. Prerequisites: CIEN E6131 Advanced concepts of risk analysis and management applied to civil engineering systems. Identifying and valuing flexibility in construction and operation. Tools to perform risk analysis in flexible civil infrastructure systems. Valuation methods for real options. Risk flexibility analyis; integrating real options analysis with quantitative risk analysis. Applications to case studies on construction management, life-cycle cost analysis for infrastructure assets, public-private partnerships projects, real estate developments, and renewable energy infrastructure projects.

CIEN E4139x The Theory and Practice of virtual design and construction 3 pts. Lect: 3. Prerequisites: CIEN E4129 or Instructor's Permission. Virtual Design and Construction describes a methodology that encompasses the authoring, analysis and management of multidisciplinary as well as multi-dimensional, data-based models, commonly referred to as Building Information Models (BIM). Very broadly, a BIM is a 3D representation of the physical and functional aspects of a building, in essence a virtual geometric database. Although other industries such as manufacturing or gaming have long since adopted the use of 3D models, the building industry has only recently begun to recognize the value of this innovation and its implications. This course will review the history and development of Building Information Modeling, its uses in Design and Construction, and introduce the importance of planning in BIM Implementation. This course focuses on the role of visual design and construction concepts and methodologies including integrated project delivery forms in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry from project design, cost estimating, project scheduling, coordination, fabrication, installation, and financing. The global building industry is experiencing a unique period of disruptive change fomented by a challenging economic environment and enabled by the use of new concepts and processes for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. Virtual design and construction is a revolutionary leap forward in technology that is characterized by its information-centric approach to 3-dimensional modeling. However, the benefits of virtual design and construction are ultimately limited by the quality of the underlying processes and workflows upon which its overlaid, which is where Lean for process improvement delivers its value. Enhancing the whole are new forms of contractual agreements, such as integrated project delivery, that enmesh designers, construction managers, and trade contractors in a more collaborative atmosphere. In this course students will be introduced to the historical convergence of building information modeling, integrated project delivery forms; the applications and limitations of their use; and the implications for the future of the industry and its practitioners.

CIEN E4137y Managing Civil Infrastructure Systems 3 pts. Lect: 3. Examination of the fundamentals of infrastructure planning & management with a focus upon the application of rational methods that support infrastructure decision-making. Institutional environment & issues. Decision-making under certainty and uncertainty. Capital budgeting & financing. Group decision processes. Elements of decision and finance theory. This course takes the perspective that infrastructure managers are primarily decisionmakers. For instance, infrastructure managers routinely: (a) choose between various technologies, (b) allocate resources, (c) program capital investments and (d) make repair or replace decisions, just to name a few. Over roughly the last quarter century, the fields of decision and management science have developed a variety of useful tools that promulgate rational decision processes. These approaches provide a means for structuring and resolving decision problems systematically. Thus, we will spend the majority of our time covering these methods and techniques and discussing how they might improve infrastructure planning & management. We will also discuss: (a) the unique institutional environment of infrastructure management, (b) the role infrastructure plays in contemporary socioeconomic systems and (c) pertinent special topics such as financing, performance assessment and management systems. Students enrolling in the course should be comfortable with the fundamentals of probability and engineering economics.

CIEN E4135y Strategic management global design and construction 3 pts. Lect: 3.Not offered in 2013-2014. Core concepts of strategic planning, management and analysis within the construction industry. Industry analysis, strategic planning models and industry trends. Strategies for information technology, emerging markets and globalization. Case studies to demonstrate key concepts in real-world environments.

CIEN E4133x or y Capital facility planning and financing 3 pts. Lect: 3. Prerequisites: CIEN E4129 or equivalent. Planning and financing of capital facilities with a strong emphasis upon civil infrastructure systems. Project feasibility and evaluation. Design of project delivery systems to encourage best value, innovation and private sector participation. Fundamentals of engineering economy and project finance. Elements of life cycle cost estimation and decision analysis. Environmental, institutional, social and political factors. Case studies from transportation, water supply and wastewater treatment.

Autodesk InfraWorks 360 Pro

Friday, August 16, 2013

These Cities Are the Safest Refuges From Natural Disasters

These Cities Are the Safest Refuges From Natural Disasters

Locus Technologies

The intersection of Big Data and environmental data requirements will produce firms like Locus Technologies.

The Buoyant Foundation Project

Link to their website.  The basics:

"It basically works like a floating dock. A steel frame that holds the flotation blocks is attached to the underside of the house. There are four 'vertical guidance' poles not far from the corners of the house. The tops of the poles are attached to the steel frame. The poles telescope out of the ground, allowing the house to move up and down. Utility lines have either self-sealing 'breakaway' connections or long, coiled 'umbilical' lines. When flooding occurs, the flotation blocks lift the house, with the steel frame transferring the forces between the house and the blocks. The vertical guidance poles keep the house from going anywhere except straight up and down on top of the water."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Engineering a Bridge Slide

Link to an overview of the Milton-Madison bridge replacement project.

Opération Transparence : La grande enquête sur le service public de l'eau en France

Opération Transparence : La grande enquête sur le service public de l'eau en France

The English translation - -

Since March 2011 information about the price of tap water throughout France is gathered through a crowdsourcing experiment. In just 4 months, over 5,000 people fed up with corporate control of the water market took the time to look for their water utility bill, scan it and upload it on Prix de l’Eau (‘price of water’) project. The result is an unprecedented investigation that brought together geeks, NGO and traditional media to improve transparency around water projects. The French water utility market consists in over 10,000 customers (cities buying water to distribute to their taxpayers) and just a handful of utility companies. The balance of power on this oligopoly is distorted in favor of the corporations, which sometimes charge different prices to neighboring towns! - See more at:

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Financial Times in the Luke Johnson column - Damm cynics and embrace the positive:

"Life is a learning project and it is important to constantly acquire fresh knowledge.  New hobbies, second careers, wide travels - all these open one'e eyes to the limitless possibilties of the world.  What is more, those who exercise their brains with intellectural pursuits are likely to live longer, more fulfilled lives."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Black & Veatch : Risk Management for Global Water Issues

Black & Veatch : Risk Management for Global Water Issues

From the post -

"Traditional water supplies are no longer adequate, especially in countries dependent on regular rainfall. Water infrastructures need to stretch existing water supplies, and planners need to think of creative ways to reuse wastewater and avoid wastage.

New water sources demand closer evaluation. These sources include groundwater, stormwater runoff, desalination and interregional transfers. Unique treatment and transportation challenges with alternative sources dictate that ongoing innovation is necessary to develop advanced technologies to address them. This is an aspect a country with no natural aquifers – Singapore – has already had a head start on, in order to reduce dependence on imported water. With its own brand of treated, high-grade reclaimed water and two desalination plants, Singapore is a living proof point of how diversifying its water portfolio has greatly aided in its goal to achieve water self-sufficiency in another 50 years.

Leading global water providers are developing innovative approaches to build up resilience to climate change. However challenging it is, with good integrated water management principles and an openness to water diversification, we are in a better position to protect and preserve our future."

Engineering and Forward-Looking Tools

From the current issue of Engineering News-Record - Making Risk Reduction Pay by a former Corps Chief's perspective, Retired Maj. Gen. Merdith W.B. "Bo" Temple:

"Historically, engineers have relied on data from past events to inform design.  We now have scientific tools for a forward-looking approach that rigorously assesses anticipated sea-level, increased storm intensity and geomorphic changes.  These tools were applied extensively in planning the designs for New Orleans.  For communities grappling with risks from climate change, innovative science, engineering, construction and financing, such as public-private partnerships, can facilitate infrastructure projects that make business sense today and far into the future."

The Global Built Asset Wealth Index 2013

"The Global Built Asset Wealth Index demonstrates thedistribution of the world’s wealth in terms of the physical assets which contribute to a nation’s productivity. The index illustrates the accumulation of buildings, infrastructureand machinery and equipment to unveil the economic divergence between 30 countries that represent 82 per cent of global GDP. It also highlights how these disparities are predicted to evolve in future."

Link to the report. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Buildings Specialists Grappling With Rebuilding In a Post-Sandy World Call For a Resiliency Czar | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Buildings Specialists Grappling With Rebuilding In a Post-Sandy World Call For a Resiliency Czar | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

The Good News and Bad News of Declining Water Demand

The Good News and Bad News of Declining Water Demand

Assessing Water System Revenue Risk: Considerations for Market Analysts — Ceres

Assessing Water System Revenue Risk: Considerations for Market Analysts — Ceres

"These modern industries, they don't employ people."

From an interview with the always brilliant polymath Vaclav Smil:
"That book will cause me so much trouble it will be unbelievable.
The reason is that people think there is a renaissance in US manufacturing — but of course, there isn’t. In the past 12 years, America lost 7 million manufacturing jobs, and it got 400,000 back. Would you call that a renaissance? Definitely not. A renaissance is a glorious flowering beyond the previous state. The US will never regain those millions of manufacturing jobs. Never. Never.
People think that because fracking gas is cheap, everybody will come and locate in the US. Well, if you go to the US and make a petrochemical factory, that’s fine, but how many people does a petrochemical factory employ? Have you seen a big refinery? There are like 20 people sitting at the controls and controlling the whole refinery. These modern industries, they don’t employ people."

An Engineer Reviews Elysium

I walked out of the movie theater last night thinking that Elysium should give the engineering communities much to think about.  The Earth in 150-years looks like what we have all been discussing for years - adding another three billion people this century is  nine United States or two Chinas.  We are adding another million people to the planet every four days.  Elysium has the look and feel of a collective population that has forgotten where resources, like food, fuel, and water, were going to come from for an additional three billion. 

The Earth in 2154 looks bad.  Crowded, hot, and ugly.  Not one leg of the Triple Bottom Line in the context of sustainability has worked (The Elysium "platform" circling the Earth surely has like triple gold LEED certification).  One of my concerns is that Earth in 2154 looks bad because parts of Earth in 2013 looks even worse - the Earth scenes in Elysium were filmed in Mexico.  With a current population of seven billion, we already have a billion people going hungry.  Do the hungry math as we match toward 10 billion.  At some point, are the one-percenters really going to make the jump to the big gated community in the sky and the other 99% have to kind of figure it all out on their own?

Technology rules the movie.  Most of it is believable; some not.  Most of the technology will probably be available long before the end of this century.  From genetic advances in medicine to robotic security forces - - we are a people that just expects a much higher tech future.  Consider the following rundown of the technology in the movie:
  • Robotic Police and Security - Technology and economics tackle this one.  The age of the local policeman retiring at 50-years old on 75% pay and free medical insurance intersects with huge leaps in robotics and artificial intelligence.  A robotic future is also a "full math" future - with the ability to add to, subtract from, divide by, and multiply a vast number of social, economic, political, and economic forces.  Disruptive with a capital "D."
  • Robotic Disaster Response Crawlers - Rapidly already in place.  A future of increasingly climate change disasters will only enhance this movement.
  • Drones - A given in the next years.  Will be able to track criminals as they run down streets and jump over fences.
  • Weapon Systems - All the personal weapons systems in the movie will be available.  Way too much money and R&D efforts in weapons development not to have a science fiction/reality future..
  • DIY Network Hacker Movements - Didn't we invent this in the 2000s?
  • DIY Surgery - Maybe.  Online courses and YouTube are still probably not enough for open heart surgery.  This will not prevent people (note to future VC investors - show me the business plan and your tattoos - the guys and gals  with the tats can start businesses) like seen in the movie from inserting a variety of electronics in your body.
  • The Curing Tanning Booth - Jump into something like a tanning booth and your cancer goes away.  This is the one that we all really want (and just reinforces the 10 billion problem) - but seems to be unlikely by 2154.  A great issue to think about - and probably the most unsustainable piece of technology in the movie. 
  • Space Travel - We just need to get on with it.  We have been talking about this for 100-years.
  • Brain Dumps - USB porting to everything in your head. Seems like we might have this ready by 2153.  This one has a high creepiness factor.
  • National Identification System - Embedded in your skin.  Politics will drive this.  If we get into a lot of forced migration due to climate change or similar, look for this gaining traction.   
  • DNA Tracking - For identification purposes.  Similar political context as above.
  • Electro-Mechanical Skeleton Enhancements - Construction and manufacturing may be the leaders in this movement.  Productivity needs combined with more electrical/mechanical hybrid research and experts moves this along quickly.
The bottom line to me - in 2013, you walk out of the  movie theater thinking, "Looks like all this stuff will come true by 2154."  We seem to have developed a deep and lasting cultural commitment to technology advancements.  We don't see limits, we only see opportunities in terms of technology and innovation.  If you had gone back in time to 1800 and shown people the movie Apollo 13, you would have ended my with no takers on a space future (and probably hung in the local town square).  But our last 100-years, from the horse to Apple computer, has been the most remarkable 100-years of innovation, creativity, and engineering in human history.  We have come to expect the remarkable.  We have come to expect the remarkable from our engineers.

The Elysium space platforms is my primary concern.  We're not going into space in large numbers anytime soon.  Many space experts see this differently - from the Huffington Post:

"Actually building an Elysium-like space station would require some major advances in humanity's ability to live in space for an extended period of time and it might not be able to happen in 150 years, Uhran said.

"If you threw everything you had at it, could you reach a space station of the scale of Elysium in 150 years?" Uhran told "That's a pretty tall order."

Scientists would need to develop a new kind of propulsion that could haul enough material into orbit to create a huge Elysium-like station. At the moment, chemical propulsion won't cut it. Nuclear propulsion could be a viable possibility eventually, but the idea isn't ready for prime time yet.

"In order to lift that much mass into orbit or even to go retrieve it from asteroids or mine it on the moon, you probably couldn't do it with chemical propulsion," Uhran said. "That's a lot of mass in that Elysium space station.""

The social/economic issues from the movie are also worth thinking about.  Mismanagement of the environment, overcrowding, income inequality, etc. - all themes of the movie.  I get the Spanish on Earth part - but French in space is another issue.  Why 2013 clothes in 2154?  Is Jody Foster's hairdo what we have to look forward to?  Will we look, act, talk, and dress differently in 2154?

Finally, from the current issue of the New Yorker.  The guys with the tattoos may not have the right answers, but at least they are thinking about the questions.  You never get to see the one-percenters of Elysium with the passion and interest of Max - this was too bad.  The people of Elysium should have been allowed a brief Q&A session with the engineering community.

"One thing the pod will not cure, however, is boredom, which must be the most common affliction among Elysians. Disease-free immortality is theirs, but who wants to spend eternity strolling a weedless lawn and picking out sashimi for lunch? From where I was sitting, heaven looked like hell, or, at best, like a long weekend in Bel Air, and the strangest aspect of Blomkamp’s film is his almost complete indifference to the place that bears its title. How come we never meet an Elysian family? Why not introduce an unwashed teen-ager who wants to lurk in his room and listen to old Anthrax LPs, or a wife so refulgent with good fortune, like Catherine Deneuve in “Belle de Jour,” that she can’t wait to nip back to the planet and get nasty with that guy from the tattoo parlor? The truth is that, as with Blomkamp’s previous movie, “District 9,” what stokes the drama is not satirical nicety but political wrath. The mighty should be pulled down from their seats, and that’s that. The only one of them who is allowed to be a major character is Delacourt (Jodie Foster), the Secretary of Defense, with a helmet of white-blond hair and the voice of a strangulated Brit. Foster is not the first actress you would choose to play a bringer of darkness, stripped of all moral intelligence, and you keep waiting for her to see the light, but it never comes to pass."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Most Famous Models for How Cities Grow Are Wrong

The Most Famous Models for How Cities Grow Are Wrong

Asset Management Journal - Built Environment Project and Asset Management

This is an interesting journal that I recently ran across - Built Environment Project and Asset Management. 

Sample abstract from "Bathtub Curves and Pipe Prioritization Based on Failure Rate" - -

Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to analyze conditional failure rates, and prioritize water pipelines for replacement based on their expected failure rate where pipes are grouped based on age and pipe type. Thus, predictions can be made on the expected number of breaks in future years. Design/methodology/approach - The time to failure of a pipe can be characterized by the stochastic properties of the population as a whole, from which the likelihood of component failure is derived. When the corresponding failure rate is plotted against time, a bathtub-shaped curve results. The bathtub curve assists in determining maintenance schedules depending on the age of the pipe. Failure rates help determine whether the rates are more than an acceptable best practice threshold to signal replacement. Findings - Ductile iron pipes had the highest failure rates, followed by asbestos cement pipes; PVC and concrete cylinder pipes had the lowest failure rates, but because concrete cylinder pipes are very time-consuming to repair and very expensive to install, only PVC pipes are recommended on the basis of this study. Cast iron pipes fit the bathtub shape; ductile iron and asbestos concrete were somewhat bathtub shaped, though the early phase period was not apparent; the bathtub curve for concrete cylinder was fully inverted; while PVC pipes showed zero probability of failure during the middle period. The shapes of bathtub curves drawn on conditional failure rates were similar to those for the failure rates. The bathtub curves indicate that the general failure performance of pipe materials is somewhat contrary to general principles in manufacturing. Practical implications - Analysis of failure serves a practical purpose for water utilities to allocate funds for pipe maintenance and prepare a schedule for pipe replacement, so as to provide the best quality services and safe drinking water to users of the utility. Social implications - The proper prioritization of water supply pipes for repair and replacement is of great social importance to the public at large, which expends considerable funds to maintain their drinking water supply. Originality/value - The study of bathtub curves has not been seen before in the analysis of water supply pipes. A unique discovery is that the traditional shape of the bathtub curve is not always applicable for water supply pipes.

Project Management Question of the Week

In a $23 million real-estate development project with a schedule of 18 months, the project plan has already been developed and approved by the stakeholders.  Later, the client requests to add a change to the project without delaying the estimated due data.  The client is willing to pay more for this change.  What is the first thing the project manager should do?
  • Start a new project for the change the client is requesting.
  • Estimate contingency plans so the project is not delayed.
  • Start the integrated change control process.
  • Modify the scope per the client's request and send an invoice for the additional costs.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Shaun Donovan Wants to Reinvent the Way We Do Disaster Recovery

Shaun Donovan Wants to Reinvent the Way We Do Disaster Recovery

DC Stormwater Trading Credit Program

It is my understanding that the District of Columbia stormwater trading system is the first in the U.S. - - link.

Additional - - link.

"After seven years of deliberation, the D.C. Department of Environment revised its stormwater management regulations and related technical guidebook last Friday. The revised regulations implement a first-of-its-kind stormwater-trading-credit program.

The Department conducted the regulatory revisions in order to meet federal requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to the Clean Water Act.

Stormwater programs attempt to prevent the health and environmental harm caused when trash, oil, pet waste and similar pollutants wash off concrete, asphalt and other impervious surfaces into our local waterways. Forty three percent of D.C.’s land area is impervious."

The Best Sites for New Ideas Regarding our Cities

This is my recommendation (and the broader an engineer reads, especially material written by non-engineers, the better off in the long run you will be).  The complex problems that our key urban centers face will need multidisciplinary solutions.  These solutions will not be found between the covers of the monthly ASCE Magazine.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"What's So Different About Australian Asset Management?"

The Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) does a fantastic job of writing and talking about their asset management program - - this paper is a good example.

From the referenced paper by Elizabeth Kelly, P.E., Director, Corporate Asset Management (SPU) - - the Australian and New Zealand processes and methods relating to asset management that influenced SPU:
  • Clearly establish customer and environmental service levels (those measures important to customers) and performance indicators (internal measures created to track performance in meeting service levels).
  • Assess and quantify risk and consider the likelihood and consequences of failure when making resource allocation decisions.
  • Consider life cycle costs and benefits of projects and programs when making initial investment commitments.
  • Assess projects and initiatives based on a triple bottom line approach (wherein we consider financial, social, and environmental costs and benefits).
  • Consider the importance of asset data and data systems, and recognize the value of asset attribute and condition information as well as real time system information.
  • Distinguish between specifiers and service providers within the utility.
  • Begin development of short term planning documents wherein information about various asset categories is complied and capital renewal plans are developed along with maintenance strategies (these documents are called Strategic Asset Management Plans).
  • Create a more explicit capital resource decision making body (the Asset Management Committee) where decisions are made based on asset management concepts and in a transparent manner.
  • Track, assess, and focus improvement initiatives on efficiency and effectiveness of operations and maintenance activities (SPU uses Asset Maintenance Agreements to do this), and
  • Assess our performance relative to others through benchmarking (SPU has participated in Qualserve benchmarking in the past and will continue to do so, but now adds WSAA benchmarking for specific comparison with Australian asset management practices).