Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Local Governments Hinder Our Response to Natural Disasters

How Local Governments Hinder Our Response to Natural Disasters

Ch2M Hill Flood Alert Smartphone App

Link to information on the App.

Made More Resilient

Making things, people, and organizations more resilient is becoming more important for engineering.  From the New York Times - Sandy's Unfinished Business:

"The federal flood insurance program, for instance, has been re-evaluated and revised. The government is mapping out new flood-prone areas and reducing subsidies for second homes or other properties in areas that have been flooded repeatedly. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has argued that flood insurance for homeowners of modest means should not skyrocket to the point where it becomes unaffordable, but, in the long run, it makes sense to demand that insured properties be made more resilient."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Climate change and markets moving people

The markets will move people (at least people) faster and more efficiently than governments and public policy.  From The Wall Street Journal - - Sandy's Legacy: Higher Home Prices.  From the article:

"Her sister now wants out of the Ortley Beach duplex, which sustained major water damage during Sandy. They didn't have flood insurance. To rebuild, Ms. Lafortune, 58, says she would have to buy her sister's half, demolish the place, and rebuild to code—at a cost of $500,000 or more. She says she is likely to sell."


"Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, says Mr. Christie believes the federal government should give rebuilding aid to second-home owners. Without help, many of them are likely to be priced out, unable to pay for rebuilding or insurance, he says.
"There is a concern from immediately after the storm that all our shore neighborhoods won't be able to return to themselves as far as character and being populated by all income levels," he says. "The Jersey Shore was never just a place for large second homes owned by the well-to-do."

If homeowners don't elevate their houses out of harm's way—in many cases by five feet or more—they are likely to face flood-insurance premiums that could double or more under a new federal law that attempts to make homeowners pay the actual cost of living near the water. New FEMA flood maps are set to put more people into higher insurance categories if their homes aren't elevated.

Increased regulatory and insurance costs will likely raise the cost of owning in the area, says Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia. "It could put ownership further out of reach for lower and middle income people," he says. "It's quite possible the mix of people who own homes on the shore changes.""

Monday, October 28, 2013

UK Infrastructure: The challenges for investors and policymakers

Excellent White Paper by Liewellyn Consulting published this year.  Link to the paper.

From the paper:

One increasingly talked-about way to achieve a higher level of infrastructure investment has been

to encourage greater private sector financing. This is consistent with the objective of institutional

investors, such as pension and insurance funds, to increase the diversification of their portfolios,

and enhance their long-term asset-liability management. There is a lead role for Government here

in setting the necessary framework.

In short, there are huge infrastructure demands, and increasingly interested and cash-rich

institutional funds. A key challenge therefore is to bring the two together. This paper considers

some of the problems involved, and the options available to overcome them.

Pension funds can and should invest more in infrastructure

This is an important idea that needs serious consideration.  As outlined in the current issue of the Economist - If you build it, they will fund.  The article points out the obvious on the importance of getting pensions and public infrastructure matched up:

"It might seem like a marriage made in heaven.  Infrastructure projects take a long time to build but then deliver cash flows over an extended period.  Pension funds have liabilities that stretch over several decades.  Why not get the latter to finance the former?"

Consider the following paragraph also:

"At the moment, public finances are very light.  Although governments would like to see more infrastructure get built (thanks, not least to Keynesian stimulus that might result), they would rather not bear the whole burden.  The difficult bit about infrastructure projects, apart from the original decision to commission them, is the cost of construction.  That is where governments would like pension funds, and the rest of the private sector, to open up their wallets."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Replacing the Wells Street Bridge

We need to rethink our content for technical and professional conferences and meetings.  What about adding a contest or review of short films and graphical visualizations on our projects?  Our work plays very well in a world of screens.  Let's take advantage of this!!!

The Asset Management Division of Cambridge, Ontario

Building smart cities means utilizing and maintaining their strategic assets and infrastructure to make places better to live.  Cambridge, Ontario is doing several interesting things in the context of asset management.  From their website:

"In 2005 the City of Cambridge Council supported the development of an Asset Management Division, within the Transportation and Public Works Department. This allowed for the division to systematically collect infrastructure data and to embark upon a long-term approach to maintain, operate, rehabilitate, and replace City infrastructure (assets) to ensure they will provide the vital support of health and prosperity to the citizens and business community of today and our children of tomorrow."

Asset management in the context of sustainability and resiliency understands that more accurate information on where and how resources are being consumed can help cities and their citizens make more informed use of them and lower consumption.  From their website:

"Cambridge has adopted The National Guide to Infrastructure Sustainability which provides a strategic approach to implementing asset management. This approach leads to targeted maintenance, renewal, and replacement programs based on condition, service levels, and risk using life-cycle principles and detailed information about all assets.

Technology is an integral and essential part of Asset Management and as such, the City of Cambridge has made significant investments and acquired state of the art technology. Examples include harsh environment robotic video cameras, GPS, Geographic Information Systems by ESRI, Work Management Systems by IBM, and integrated databases by Oracle.

Technology is used to collect, organize, store and analyze the massive volume of data about the infrastructure network.

This enables the City to better access the short and long term cost of operating, maintaining, and renewing infrastructure to ensure that costs, revenue, reserves, and resources are managed effectively to avoid a degradation in service levels and/or abrupt future rate increases."

Better information aids organizations with the goal of making better decisions.  From their website:

"Asset Management uses information about the infrastructure that indicates the condition, cost, risk, level of service, history, and projected remaining serviceable life to systematically identify which parts of the systems have the greatest need for renewal or replacement. This enables staff to look for opportunities to maximize the City's best bang for the buck.

This degree of planning enables well thought out investments for today and will ensure that future generations will inherit infrastructure that has been well maintained, and operates efficiently and effectively."

Link to a presentation by IBM on Cambridge gives a good overview on connection between asset management and the ideas behind smart cities.  This is a video on the same subject:


From the iFoundry website:

"The Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (iFoundry) is a cross-disciplinary curriculum incubator in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign dedicated to the transformation of engineering education in ways appropriate to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. iFoundry adopts the view that educational transformation requires organizational, conceptual, and aspirational change, that effective reform requires (1) deep reflection about and attention to the complex system in which engineering education is embedded, (2) multiple change modes to promote collective learning and doing among the complex system’s elements and constituents, and (3) the honoring and support of student aspirations, choices, and engagement in the educational process."

Aqueous Solutions

Aqueous Solutions is non-profit water, sanitation, and hygiene development organization - - link..  From their website:

"Aqueous Solutions is consortium of research scientists, field engineers, and ecological designers working to promote livelihood security, environmental and economic sustainability, and local self-reliance through ecological design and appropriate technologies in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

We conduct field and laboratory research on decentralized, small-scale water treatment and ecological sanitation systems. We provide technical consulting and project management services for sustainable WASH infrastructure development in collaboration with rural/remote, indigenous, and politically and economically marginalized communities in SE Asia. And we provide experiential education opportunities for science, engineering, and ecological design students through our intern program."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What Went Wrong?

Tips for Building Good Schedules

From the current issue of ENR Engineering News-Record (Why the Best Schedulers Don't Rely on Software):
  • Keep work breakdown structure (WBS) simple.
  • Provide clear description for all activities.
  • Do no use negative lags.
  • Model parallel work using start-to-start (SS) and finish-to-finish (FF) relationships.
  • Don't update a schedule based on percent complete.
  • Make milestone easy to find, e.g., at top of each section.
  • Don't embed milestones into a schedule (hard to find).
  • If the milestone is good, that section is good.
Several good points - - knowing a software package versus knowing how to schedule, a lack of training in the art and science of schedule develop, etc.  I love the comment about just because you know Microsoft Word doesn't make you a writer.  You can replace Word with Project and writer with scheduler and get the point.

The article recommended the book - CPM in Construction Management.

Health Care and 5 Million Lines of Code

Good blog on the state of our infamous national health care website.  Huge learning lesson in this for engineers and project/product/program managers.


Water modeling for the Era of Climate Change from the EU - - link.  From the webstie:

"WATER CHANGE (Medium and long term water resources modelling as a tool for planning and global change adaptation. Application to the Llobregat Basin) is a three year partnership project that started in January 2009. WATER CHANGE is supported financially by the EU LIFE+- Environmental Policy & Governance programme.

WATER CHANGE aims to tackle global change, including climate change caused by greenhouse gases emissions, changes in land use and water demand, focusing on the impacts that these changes may have on water resources, regarding to both water quantity and quality. The final objective is to propose adaptation measures to face the impacts derived from these future changes.

Within this project, a methodology and a generic tool will be developed, which will be tested and validated through their application to the Llobregat river basin, in Catalonia, northeast of Spain.

Another important challenge will be to improve cooperation between different entities, to optimise efforts and to share knowledge between research and development groups, in order to guarantee the applicability of the established methodology and the modelling system that will be developed to integrate data and models.

The established methodology, the available tool and the results that will be obtained from this project represent a valuable support for policy makers regarding the strategies to implement new policies in order to face global change impacts on water resources."

Friday, October 25, 2013

Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than Puny Humans | MIT Technology Review

Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than Puny Humans | MIT Technology Review

What the Future of Driverless Cars Will Actually Look Like

What the Future of Driverless Cars Will Actually Look Like

New York's Looming Food Disaster

New York's Looming Food Disaster

Customer Centricity: Predicting Changes in the Customer Experience | MIT Technology Review

Customer Centricity: Predicting Changes in the Customer Experience | MIT Technology Review

The 5th North American Strategic Infrastructure Leadership Forum

Interesting conference in Washington, D.C. on October 29-31 next week - - link.   This was unique to see in the program - - the world of film festivals is coming to civil engineering!!!
9:00a - 12:00p

The Infrastructure Short Film Festival

The Inaugural Infrastructure Short Film Expo aims to initiate a visual policy and

business dialogue about infrastructure in the Nation’s Capitol. We recognize the power of film to

explore issues from across the infrastructure world. These exceptional films demonstrate the how

infrastructure moves a nation and region forward, bringing communities together and increasing

competitiveness. Finalists for each category will be introduced and shown on the big screen,

followed by a panel of infrastructure executives, experts and directors. For more details, visit:


Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the current issue of ENR - - Industry CEOs Share Strategies for Plying Tougher Global Markets:

"Western governments are all broke. It's pretty tough and will stay that way," said Jacobs Chairman Noel Watson. "It's the new norm for this decade and we need to plan for what we see today."

Design Thinking Boot Camp

Unique class at the Stanford - - link to a informative summary document.

The Market for Smart Water Meters

From WaterWorld:

LONDON, UK, Oct. 22, 2013 -- The global market for wireless communication modules is expected to approximately double in value over the coming years with an increase in smart meter deployments, jumping from $532 million in 2012 to $1.3 billion in 2020, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12 percent, according to a new report from research and consulting firm GlobalData.

The company's latest report states that North America, currently the dominant player in the global wireless communication modules market for smart meters, will be a key driver behind the leap, with its own market revenue expected to climb steadily from $379 million in 2012 to $433.7 million in 2020.

Europe will also continue to account for a considerable share of the global market, thanks to a significant number of pilot-scale projects getting underway across the region. The uptake of wireless communication modules in the UK, Denmark and Ireland in particular looks promising, according to GlobalData, and these countries are predicted to occupy an even larger share of Europe's wireless smart meter communication market by the end of 2020.

Cellular and Radio Frequency (RF) communication modules are the two key technologies used in smart meters for two-way data transmission. RF modules account for an 85 percent share of the North American market, thanks to their low cost, high bandwidth and efficient performance in industrial areas.

Ginni Hima Bindu, GlobalData's Analyst covering Smart Grid, said, "The preference for wireless communication modules over wired technology is also owed to their incredibly secured network, and as a result, we expect to see an increased take-up of wireless technology for smart meter deployments across North America, the UK and Japan, which will continue to drive the market over the forecast period."

Black & Veatch on Smart Grids, Smart Analytics, and Systems Thinking for Infrastructure

This Black & Veatch publication has several very insightful articles - - link.

How 9 Major Papers Deal With Climate Change-Denying Letters

How 9 Major Papers Deal With Climate Change-Denying Letters

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Graph of the Week

Efficiency Improvements for the Water Department

Your Water Footprint and Decision Making

Look for greater regulation and international standards on water footprinting, such as the standard developed by the International Organization for Standardization coming in mid-2014, driving new measurement tools and methodologies.  These new standards and tools combined with real-time water monitoring and big data will change the water decision making landscape.

See the following article for a summary of this new world and opportunity.

A Power Plant on Every Street | MIT Technology Review

A Power Plant on Every Street | MIT Technology Review

A Texas Wildcatter as Design Thinker

The current Issue of Texas Monthly (the cover is great - The Great Texas Oil Boom: Ever is Happening Right Now.  You Want In?) is a must read.  The issue has a series of articles on the oil boom in Texas.  One is on George Mitchell, the father of hydraulic fracturing - - under Mitchell's leadership that geologists and engineers developed the process for using fracking to unlock previously unreachable reservoirs of oil and natural gas.

From the article:

"In early 1981 the company drilled the C.W. Slay No. 1, which produced moderate results.  Mitchell wasn't satisfied.  He knew the Barnett held lots of gas, and he was determined to find a drilling technique that could release it.  The company had used hydraulic fracturing in 1979, doubling the production of a conventional gas well in Limestone Country, and Mitchel decided to try it again.

At that time, geologists knew that shale was a source for oil and natural gas, but the prevailing theory was that such deposits could be extracted only through natural fractures.  Most of those occurred close to the surface.  Mitchell decided to try fracturing the rock artificially at greater depths.  The early attempts at fracking were all made in vertical wells, and while Mitchell found that production increased significantly, he still thought he could do better.

"The fracking technique was born almost entirely out of necessity," said Robert Gray, an energy investor and longtime tennis buddy of Mitchell's.  "He took grade-C resources and figured out how to make money with them."  During the next seventeen years, the company's wells would become a fracking test bed, and exercise in trial and error.

Mitchell is a great example of idea that business people don't need to understand engineers and designers better - - they need to become designers.  Success today aries not from emulating others (and Mitchell could have retired rich just doing this), but by evolving unique models, products, and experiences - - in short, creative solutions.  Fracking illustrates the importance of looking at a problem or a creation from different angles and understanding the energy and excitement that you can generate.

Rotman on Design is a great book.  Get you copy today.  One of the chapters (Deconstructing the Design Thinker by Sohrab Vossoughi) examines the qualities of design thinkers.  George Mitchell would probably agree with the highlights of the article.

How a design thinker sees the world and thinks - -
  1. Design thinkers are internally-motivated by challenge and curiosity - Mitchell had a desire to effect change and the pleasure of figuring something.  The twin challenges of complexity and difficulty are key motivators.
  2. Design thinkers alternate between intuition and analysis - Intense focus (combined with intense periods of defocus - - Bill Gates is a great example), reality testing, listening, learning, messing around, not stressing, etc.  Mitchell was the master of the learning-messing around-learning-messing around cycle of design thinking.
  3. Design thinkers are inherently multidisciplinary - An innate desire for new knowledge and abilities - - even it there's no immediate application for them.  Mitchell didn't have tunnel vision and understood that new drilling techniques were a combination of geology, chemistry, engineering, and construction.
  4. Design thinkers are optimistic and tenacious - The key qualities of design thinkers tend to be optimism, tenacity, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.  The three things important to design thinkers - - learn, learn, learn.  Mitchell has this sheer force of will that doesn't let you give up.  Just look at the timeline of Mitchell's development of fracking - - this didn't happen overnight.
  5. Design thinkers prefer prototypes to theories - The language of Mitchell's work is insightful.  Trial and error, testing, experimentation everyday - - this ultimately worked out for Mitchell because he drilled and drilled and drilled - - while learning something new every time.

The Timing of Unprecedented Climates

From Nature - - The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability.


"Ecological and societal disruptions by modern climate change are critically determined by the time frame over which climates shift beyond historical analogues. Here we present a new index of the year when the projected mean climate of a given location moves to a state continuously outside the bounds of historical variability under alternative greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Using 1860 to 2005 as the historical period, this index has a global mean of 2069 (±18years s.d.) for near-surface air temperature under an emissions stabilization scenario and 2047 (±14years s.d.) under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. Unprecedented climates will occur earliest in the tropics and among low-income countries, highlighting the vulnerability of global biodiversity and the limited governmental capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change. Our findings shed light on the urgency of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions if climates potentially harmful to biodiversity and society are to be prevented."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Sensing City

Great overview of how Arup sees the development and execution of a Smart City - - link.

Southern Water Wars

Community Based Asset Management

The Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University - - link.  From their website:

"Members of the ABCD staff and faculty have engaged in extensive capacity building activities in communities in the United States and around the world. This work often takes the form of working directly with community groups to develop asset-oriented strategies and facilitate local asset-mapping and mobilizing activities. At other times it takes the form of introducing larger agencies and institutions to the concepts and ideas associated with ABCD, and providing the encouragement and support for these entities to transform the ways they work with communities. From thousands of examples, the following help to illustrate the kinds of capacity building activities in which ABCD staff and faculty are involved."

Interesting idea of asset-mapping, where the assets are people.

When Will Vuzix Smart Glasses Come to Civil Engineering and Construction?

Project Management Question of the Week

You are the project manager for the refurnishing or a rural school.  To achieve a successful project, it will be important to have fluid communication with the Client, the school's Principal.  Why is it so important having good communication between stakeholders?
  • The Principal will fill out a satisfaction survey about the project manager's work performance.
  • The Principal does not understand the modern project management terminology, which is why she has to be educated.
  • Although the scope of the project is detailed in the contract, communication between stakeholders will facilitate the understanding of the objectives.
  • Communication noises between the receiver and the transmitter will be avoided.

A Human Centered Engineer

From Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley:

"Being human centered is at the core of our innovation process.  Deep empathy for people makes our observations powerful sources of inspiration.  We aim to understand why people do what they currently do, with the goal of understanding what they might do in the future.  Our first-person experiences help us form personal connections with the people for whom we're innovating.  We've washed other people's clothes by hand in their sinks, stayed as guests in housing projects, stood beside surgeons in operating rooms, and calmed agitated passengers in airport security lines - all to build empathy.  An empathic approach fuels our process by ensuring we never forget we're designing for real people.  As a result, we uncover insights and opportunities for truly creative solutions.  We've collaborated with thousands of clients to leverage the power of empathy, creating everything from easy-to-use lifesaving heart defibrillators to debit cards that help customers save for retirement."

The book has a key point that educators and engineers need to understand - - the goal of engineering is to "seek the sweet spot of feasibility, viability, and desirability" while taking into account the real needs and desires of your customers.  We need to get much better at teaching engineers this process and mindset.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Age of Designing for the 500-Year Return Period

From WaterWorld and the Dutch-Are-Doing-Very-Well Update (keep in mind, wastewater facilities are the most vulnerable and potentially most damaged in the Age of Extreme Weather Events):

"The Nassau County (New Jersey) Department of Public Works has selected a Joint Venture of consultancy ARCADIS and environmental engineers Hazen and Sawyer, P.C. to stabilize, design and rebuild wastewater collection and treatment systems which were damaged during Superstorm Sandy in October, 2012.

Expected gross revenues for ARCADIS related to this contract amount to approximately €30 million. For the next three years, ARCADIS and its JV partner will provide consulting, preliminary design, pre-construction, construction and post-construction services to mitigate the effects of future storms across five wastewater treatment plants and over 30 pump stations within the Nassau Wastewater system.

This includes extreme weather hardening designed to endure a storm event with a 500-year return period.

Superstorm Sandy was one of the worst storms to hit the region, tearing through New Jersey and New York, with damage being as widespread as North Carolina.

Estimates at the time suggested the total bill of the damage and subsequent clean-up operation could reach $20bn in total."

Design Book 2013 - 50 Design Questions Answered | Arup

Design Book 2013 - 50 Design Questions Answered | Arup

Innovation and Cheerleading

An introduction to Google Glass via the Georgia Tech cheerleading crew:

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Are we really that close to direct reuse of wastewater?

This is an interesting blog post and story.  In the context of direct reuse of wastewater, engineering and science is far ahead of what society is willing to accept (don't we all urinate in our drinking water?).  From the blog:

"After a 21-year-old man admitted urinating in a Mt. Tabor reservoir last Wednesday, the city cut off its key water supply and dumped 7.8 million gallons of drinking water. The question, again, is the logic of such a move. Even if one does not accept that, as industry experts often spouted, “the solution to pollution is dilution,” this is such a tiny amount of impurities as to be untraceable. This would be no more than 12 ounces within 8 million gallons of water."

Why Rebuilding After Disasters Is Largely a Legal Challenge

Why Rebuilding After Disasters Is Largely a Legal Challenge

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Smart Blocks

The Auto Industry in North America


Information on the LakeSim computational project - - big-data comes to the 600-acre Chicago Lakeside Development, a minacity sited on a former U.S. Steel complex on Lake Michigan, 10 miles south of downtown.

From their website (Link):

"Planning for Chicago Lakeside will necessitate augmenting traditional tools with data and scientific computation, allowing developers to model the complex interplay between energy, waste and water infrastructures. To address this need, a collaboration between the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, the Computation Institute, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and McCaffery Interests will develop a prototype computational framework for Chicago Lakeside Development, called LakeSim.

"Urban designers, architects, and developers have ample experience and tools optimized for single buildings or developments in the 20 to 30 acre range. But these do not scale to the 600 acres of a site such as Chicago Lakeside," said Charlie Catlett, director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data and co-investigator on the LakeSim project. "The need to deliver sustainable and financially viable urban plans requires a science-based approach, bringing the power of computational models to city design."

LakeSim will connect existing urban design tools with scientific computer models to create detailed simulations relevant to large-scale development. Instead of planning separately for different pieces of the infrastructure, the framework will allow developers to simulate how various designs influence the environment, transportation, and business spheres in Chicago Lakeside under a range of possible scenarios, over hundreds of acres and decades of time.

"As it stands right now, urban development is often looked at as individual components that make up a whole," said Leah Guzowski, energy policy scientist at Argonne and LakeSim co-investigator. "But when you get to a site the size of Lakeside, the interdependencies of the various components are less understood, and the consequences of decision-making are much more significant. We are focused on developing more efficient and effective ways of making decisions informed by science."

LakeSim will also allow planners and developers to explore a wider range of designs more quickly, without the lengthy periods of re-analysis currently required for each aspect of the development when a new strategy is proposed. An urban planner would make changes to their plan - for example, changing a residential block to commercial - triggering the execution of computational models that rapidly predict the effects of those adjustments across multiple complex systems, such as energy supply or storm water management."

New Study: Teens Losing Interest in STEM Careers

New Study: Teens Losing Interest in STEM Careers

A Paragraph to Ponder

From a book review of Average is Over by Tyler Cowen- - link.

"Perhaps most disheartening is the frightening plausibility of the predictions. Cowen notes that the contemporary labor market woes of young workers are “a harbinger of the new world of work to come,” because “lacking the right training means being shut out of opportunities like never before.” The accelerated hollowing-out of the American economy in the wake of the recession bodes poorly for the revival of the middle class. About 60 percent of the jobs lost during the downturn were mid-wage occupations, and 73 percent of the jobs that have been added during the recovery have been low-wage jobs. Political debates are highly polarized, and the political power of the winners in today’s society far outstrips those of the less-fortunate in ways that continue to suggest a vicious circle. For those committed to a more sanguine future, a great deal of work lies ahead."

Best Presentation of City Wide Information

City of Los Angeles is at the top of the list - - link.  This is a great model for other cities.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Smart City Market: Opportunities for the U.K.

Link to the report.

An Engineer Reviews Gravity (and our Electric Grid)

Gravity is excellent - the story of space exploration, engineering, and the desire to survive.  The movie has the best special effects/computer animation of any space movie I have seen.

What was interesting about the movie was the theater lost power for about 20-minutes with two-minutes to go (if you have seen the movie, you know the part).  North Texas was having storms and maybe this was a source of the power outage. 

During a movie about resiliency in space, it was interesting that the unresiliency of our grids (from energy, to telecommunications, to water) hits home.  Extreme weather events in the context of our energy assets have people and organizations looking at microgrids, or distributed generation.  The grids allow regions, cities or portions of a city to operate independently of the larger power grid.  Our energy future could be some combination of microgrid, smart grid technologies, backup generators, solar, wind power, and storage that will handle bad weather and emergencies in a more resilient manner.

We need an electric grid as resilient as Dr. Ryan Stone so I can watch a movie about resiliency without power interruption.

What's In My Book Bag

My fall reading -
  • The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World by Michael Wheeler
  • Race to the Top of the World: Richard Byrd and the First Flight to the North Pole by Sheldon Bart
  • Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla by David Kilcullen
  • The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life by Uri Gneezy and John List
  • David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Drinking Water: A History by James Salzman
  • Thirst: For Water and Power in the Ancient World by Steven Mithen
  • In the Balance: Law and Politics on the Roberts Court by Mark Tushnet
  • Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing by Vaclav Smil
  • The Bet by Paul Sabin
  • Hezbollah by Matthew Levit

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Black & Veatch : 24 Years Later A Look at Water Privatisation in England and Wales

Black & Veatch : 24 Years Later A Look at Water Privatisation in England and Wales

Map of the Week

Leadership Engineers

University of Texas at El Paso is starting an engineering-program which combines a traditional curriculum with training in leadership, strategy, and creativity.  Engineers need to shake up the way engineers are educated.  Many organizations and people are starting to think differently.  UTEP is a great example.

From the UTEP press release on the program:

"The Leadership Engineering Program includes a broad-based curriculum of engineering design, project management and innovation, along with an emphasis on business, communication, ethics and social science. It is expected to launch by the fall of 2012 and represents a new paradigm for engineering education. “The U.S. is at a tipping point regarding its global competitiveness in technological innovation, and to a very large extent, humanity is critically dependent on technological innovation for its own sustainability of lifestyle and, even, survival, in the current century,” said Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. “What some people are calling renaissance engineers, we call them leadership engineers. The overarching goal is graduation of a new pedigree of qualified engineers with the professional skills, business acumen and strategic foresight, in addition to engineering prowess, to meet the needs of industry in the 21st century.” The new program will educate engineers through a “liberal-technical” approach, featuring a new curriculum designed to capture the interest and imagination of talented, young leaders looking to turn their ideas into a reality."


From Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired - - a compendium of technology tips and product reviews.  A great source of cultural tidbits from the Web.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the October 14, 2013 Bloomberg BusinessWeek - Rung Out Fast: Fracking produces oil gushers - but the wells lack staying power:

"Chesapeake Energy's Serenity 1-3H well near Oklahoma City came in as a gusher in 2009, pumping more than 1,200 barrels of oil a day and kicking off a rush to drill that extended into Kansas.  Now the well produces less than 100 barrels a day, state records show.  Serenity's swift decline sheds light on a dirty secret of the oil boom: it may not last.  Shale wells start strong and fade fast, and producers are drilling at a breakneck pace to hold output steady.  In the fields, this incessant need to drill is know as the Red Queen, after the character in Through the Looking Glass who tells Alice, "It takes all the running you do, to keep in the same place."

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Recession Didn't Convince Americans to Move to More Productive Cities

The Recession Didn't Convince Americans to Move to More Productive Cities

The World's Cycling City

Water News from Austin, Texas

Three headlines from the October 10, 2013 Austin American-Statesman tell the story of water in Texas:
  • Perry pushes Prop, 6 to pay for water projects - our no-tax Governor is actively promoting the "transfer" of $2 billion for much needed water projects. 
  • A&M, Israel working on a deal - The nexus of water and energy is producing the development of a unique pact that focuses on petroleum (producing petroleum engineers for Israel) and water (water innovation from Israel for Texas).
  • Brazos River Authority restricting water usage - Retail customer cities must cut use by 10%.  Georgetown, Texas is to the point it is not allowing lawn watering during the day.  Lake Georgetown is down almost 20 feet.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Climate Change and the 500 million

Water scarcity or rising sea levels - the bet is that scarcity will be the much bigger short-term issue facing communities, organizations, and engineers.  Link to the report and a summary:

""The increase in that we found will impact on the livelihoods of a huge number of people, with the global poor being the most vulnerable," says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, one of the co-authors and director of PIK. This might get buffered to some extent through adaptation measures such as expanding of irrigated cropland. However, such an expansion would further increase the pressure on Earth's and water resources. "Now this is not a question of ducks and daisies, but of our unique natural heritage, the very basis of life. Therefore, greenhouse-gas emissions have to be reduced substantially, and soon.""

Wipes versus Sewers

Story on the battle of personal wipes and the wastewater collection system - - link.

The Future of Hotter

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Disasters and Cost-Benefit Analysis

From the Atlantic Cities - - the math of disaster preparation, planning, and mitigation seems so obvious. 

"And that, according to Caswell Holloway, deputy mayor for operations for the city of New York, is a lesson that needs to be recalled by the people who are charged with preparing cities both for the ongoing effects of climate change and for one-time disasters of the future – storms, droughts, floods, heat waves, terror attacks.

“Start with Secretary Witt’s observation that every dollar spent on mitigation is five dollars saved,” he said. “Mayors and local leaders need to really absorb what that means. What that means is you have to find resources right now to invest in analysis and prevention.” Politics, said Holloway, can’t get in the way of the duty municipal leaders have to protect their citizens.

Former FEMA secretary Witt agreed. “As much money as we spend on disasters in this country,” he said, “Our future in disaster preparedness is mitigation and prevention. It’s got to happen.”"

Monday, October 7, 2013

CityLab 2013

"The Atlantic, The Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies will host the upcoming summit "CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges," taking place October 6-8, 2013, in New York City. The event will bring together 300 global city leaders—more than 30 mayors, plus urban theorists, city planners, scholars, architects, and artists—for a series of conversations about urban ideas that are shaping the world's metro centers.

The summit will feature conversations on economic development; the environment and sustainability; cultural investment; big data; and the intersection of public safety, privacy, and technology; as well as smaller breakout sessions exploring topics like redevelopment, urban infrastructure, transportation, urban expansion, and the creation of the next tech city.

Please select the player below to watch all main stage programming and select breakout session (see below for an agenda of live sessions). And join the conversation on Twitter by using #CityLab and following @Atlantic_LIVE,@AspenInstitute, and @BloombergDotOrg."

Link to the conference - - here.

Houston: The Surprising Contender in America’s Urban Revival

Houston: The Surprising Contender in America’s Urban Revival

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Skinny on Roundabouts

A global survey on roundabouts (from The Economist, Circling the Globe, October 5th, 2013) - -
  • 8,000 in Australia
  • 30,000 in France
  • 3,000 in the United States (one in every state)
  • Amman, Jordon has so many that they are numbered
  • Roundabouts cut deaths by 90%  and crashes by a third in the U.S.
  • Motorists in Baghdad circle their roundabouts in both directions
  • In parts of Italy, the drivers expect cars already in the roundabout to yield
  • In Belgium, cyclists are 41% more likely to die at a roundabout than at a crossroads
Example of a Dutch Roundabout that integrates vehicular and bike traffic.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ratio of the Week

The water-to-beer ratio.  From the Texas Living Waters Project:

"Water is a key ingredient in the production of beer, of course. But it might surprise you to know that as of 2008, it took 4.1 barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer brewed by MillerCoors. This is referred to as the water-to-beer ratio. In 2008, MillerCoors set a goal of reducing that water-to-beer ratio by 2015 so that it only would take 3.5 barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer. That wasn’t an idle target; the brewer has already met that mark. They did it through a variety of measures, including not only water use reductions at their eight breweries in the United States (including one in the Fort Worth area) but also by altering water irrigation practices on the farms of their barley growers in Idaho and elsewhere. For example, through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and barley growers in the Silver Creek area of Idaho, on one farm alone, MillerCoors and TNC helped to reduce water use by 20% from historic levels (419,000 gallons of water saved each year on this one farm)."

Greywater in Black and White

Good presentation on the mechanics of greywater harvesting - link.

The Last Planner

From the Lean Construction Institute:

"The Last Planner® (sometimes referred to as the Last Planner® System) is a production planning system designed to produce predictable work flow and rapid learning in programming, design, construction and commissioning of projects. Last Planner® was developed by Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell. LCI licenses the use of these processes and related IP to various organizations, including most recently the Associated General Contractors of America.

The Last Planner® workshops and seminars are designed to introduce participants to the five elements of the Last Planner®:
  • Master Scheduling (setting milestones and strategy; identification of long lead items);
  • Phase "Pull" planning (specify handoffs; identify operational conflicts);
  • Make Work Ready Planning (look ahead planning to ensure that work is made ready for installation; re-planning as necessary);
  • Weekly Work Planning (commitments to perform work in a certain manner and a certain sequence); and
  • Learning (measuring percent of plan complete (PPC), deep dive into reasons for failure, developing and implementing lessons learned).
In recent years, use of Last Planner® on projects and within both design and construction firms has increased geometrically. As a consequence, demand for coaching and teaching consultants has also substantially increased. We are committed to being a resource to those who wish to undertake this robust planning system.

We retain a registered trademark on the term and copyright on the materials to prevent people who misunderstand or misrepresent the system from using it in trade without our consent. Because we want those who design and construct with the help of the Last Planner® System to have the best possible start, we do require that those who use the term in trade are approved by us. That is, those offering to teach, coach or apply Last Planner® as part of a commercial offer need our approval. We also expect them to make financial and other contributions to the Institute in recognition of the financial and other benefits they are getting from the work we have put into developing Last Planner®."

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Most Important Part of Communication

"Perhaps the most important part of communication is listening.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to communicate with anyone if you do not know or care about what he or she has to say.  At the highest levels of listening, one attempts to understand not only the facts the speaker is trying to communicate but also the feeling they are trying to communicate.  This is referred to as empathetic listening, and it is the highest and most desirable level of of listening.  It means "listening with the intent to understand" where a speaker is coming from emotionally as well as intellectually.  To ensure understanding, it is necessary to clarify confusing communication and to seek out additional detail where there is none.  A technique to help with this is to paraphase or summarize what you understand from a conversation and then check with the speaker to verify your understanding."

From Basis Traits of Effective Management by Christopher Lidh in the ASCE Journal of Leadership and Management in Engineering, October 2013.

Project Management Question of the Week

Use the table to answer the following:

End of Year

What will be the project net present value if the discount rate is 12% annually?
  • $43.88
  • $90.00
  • $190.00
  • $270.45
Really easy - - sum the inflows/outflows, you know the PV has to less than the summation.  Only one.

Bsed on the information from the above question, what is the project's internal rate of return?
  • 5.7%
  • 10.8%
  • 12.0%
  • 30.3%
Same methodology as from above.  Yon end up with a positive summation at 12%.  You know it has to be greater than 12%,  Only one.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Study of the Week - The 2013 Drive-Thru Performance Study

Link to the report and summary:

"This, according to 2013 Drive-Thru Performance Study conducted for QSR Magazine, a fast-food industry trade publication. The study, to be released today, also says that industry giant McDonald's posted its slowest-ever drive-thru time in the 15-year history of the drive-thru study — requiring an average 189.5 seconds for the typical drive-thru customer to go from order to pickup. That's roughly nine seconds longer than the industry average, reports the study conducted this summer by Insula Research."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

IUCN - WISE-UP to Climate: New project on water and climate adaptation

IUCN - WISE-UP to Climate: New project on water and climate adaptation

How the Insurance Industry Is Dealing With Climate Change | Surprising Science

How the Insurance Industry Is Dealing With Climate Change | Surprising Science

From the article:

"On the whole, it seems likely that insurance premiums for houses and buildings in flood-prone coastal regions will go up to account for the shifts Muir-Wood is seeing. On the other hand, because of the complex impacts of climate change, we might see risks—and premiums—go down in other areas. There’s evidence, for example, that snowmelt-driven springtime floods in Britain will become less frequent in the future.

For his own part, Muir-Wood puts his money where his mouth is. “I personally wouldn’t invest in beachfront property anymore,” he says, noting the steady increase in sea level we’re expecting to see worldwide in the coming century, on top of more extreme storms. “And if you’re thinking about it, I’d calculate quite carefully how far back you’d have to be in the event of a hurricane.”"

The Global Weather Forecast