Friday, November 29, 2013

The Critical Path Method

Mobile Apps - Determines where you should be living

Mobile Apps

Walt Disney and Engineering

Slowly engineering and Disney quality animation are converging - -

Project Management Question of the Week

In cases where a formal contract exists between the client and the contractor, which of the following are valid procedures when dealing with changes during the project life cycle:
  • The changes are only issued by an authorized person.
  • The changes are evaluated in terms of cost, time, and performance.
  • The originator is made aware of the implications before the change is put into operation.
  • All of the above.

Tracing the World's Most Complicated Roadways With GPS Data

Tracing the World's Most Complicated Roadways With GPS Data

The Protect

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Becoming a connected utility - Link.


Tool for Black Friday > Link.

The Difference Between Portfolios, Programs, and Projects

From the Project Management Institute - The Standard for Program Management:

Projects have a narrow scope with specific deliverable.
Programs have a wide scope that may have to change to meet the benefit expectations of the organization.
Portfolios have a business scope that changes with the strategic goals of the organization.
The project manager tries to keep change to a minimum.
Program managers have to expect change and even embrace it.
Portfolio managers continually monitor changes in the broad environment.
Success is measured by budget, on time, and products delivered to specification.
Success is measured in terms of Return on Investment (ROI), new capabilities, and benefit delivery.
Success is measured in terms of aggregate performance of portfolio components.
Leadership style focuses on task delivery and directive in order to meet the success criteria.
Leadership style focuses on managing relationships, and conflict resolution.  Program manager’s need to facilitate and manage the political aspects of the stakeholder management.
Leadership style focuses on adding value to portfolio decision-making.
Project managers manage technicians, specialists, etc.
Program managers manage project managers.
Portfolio managers many manage or coordinate management staff.
Project managers are team players who motivate using their knowledge and skills.
Program managers are leaders providing vision and leadership.
Portfolio managers are leaders providing insight and synthesis.
Project managers conduct detailed planning to manage the delivery of products of the project.
Program managers create high-level plans providing guidance to projects where detailed plans are created.
Portfolio managers create and maintain necessary process and communication relative to the aggregate portfolio.
Project managers monitor and controls tasks and the work of producing the projects products.
Program managers monitor projects and ongoing work through governance structures.
Portfolio managers monitor aggregate performance and value indicators.

Americans Are Very Confused About What They Want Out of a Community

Americans Are Very Confused About What They Want Out of a Community

Homeboy Industries

A great Thanksgiving message via Father Greg Boyle -

Turkey Economics

From the New York Times - link.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

German Infrastructure

The U.S. infrastructure disease is spreading.  From the New York Times on November 21, 2013 by Suzanne Daily and Alison Smale - Germany, Austerity's Champion, Faces Some Big Repair Bills:

"From 1991 to 2012, Germany reduced its budget for maintenance by 20 percent, according to Gernot Sieg, a transportation expert and professor at the University of Muenster.  It now spends 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product on maintenance, compared with a European average of 2.5 percent.  About 46 percent of Germany's bridges, 41 percent of its streets and 20 percent of its highways needs repair, Dr. Sieg said."

A Reporter's Drone Coming to Your Project Site

Your next proposed highway project or pipeline route could have a local newscast drone flying over it as part of an investigative report.  From Drones Offer Journalists a Wider View - -

"The machines have proved most valuable in providing film footage or photography of things that are difficult to reach, like wildlife or geographic formations. In the future, however, their capabilities may be expanded to include sensors that can help with environmental coverage, for instance, by providing readings on air quality.
“What drones give you is anywhere, anytime access to the sky,” said Chris Anderson, a former editor of Wired magazine who runs a drone company. “That perspective is something a journalist just wouldn’t have unless he waited for officials, or hired a plane.”
Early this fall the BBC launched an 18-inch, six-rotored unmanned machine into the sky to report on a high-speed train being planned to travel from London to Manchester. The train is controversial because it would cut through and, some argue, despoil some of the most pristine rural land in England.
“The idea was we needed to get above to give our viewers the full scope of the problem,” said Tom Hannen, who operates the program.
Mr. Whyld is exploring long-range drones, which can fly 10 or 20 miles from their handler, and looking into new sensors like heat-seeking cameras."

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Power of the Discovery Channel in Attracting Future Engineers

Having ASCE or ASME work on attracting students to engineering is somewhat of a waste of time - they don't have the correct skill sets for the world of video screens.  Just outsource the efforts to the Discovery Channel

Bridge Construction Animation

Animation changes the way projects can and will be viewed by all the project or program stakeholders.  This includes the public at a community meeting or contractors at a pre-bid meeting.  We need to better recognize the power and influence of video and animation as a key part of project planning, design, and execution.  I would vote for the Engineering Academy Awards for best short-video of a bridge construction animation.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Asset Management in Ohio

From the WaterWorld website.  Utilities need to be looking at the "Big Four" in the context of tools that support asset management programs - (1.) GIS-based platforms, (2.) Risk planning and assessment based on accurate and systematic condition evaluations, (3.) Predictive analytics (the future may belong to a combination of #2 and #3 - for example Pipe XYZ has a 75% probability of  failure in the next five years), and (4.) Decision-support tools and analytics.  Remember that asset management is a process and a methodology.  Information technology is an important component in any asset management program, but people and processes matter more.

"BROOMFIELD, CO, Nov. 19, 2013 -- The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) of Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, will soon receive a comprehensive, intuitive GIS-centric solution for data collection and management, risk- and condition-based maintenance planning, predictive analytics, and decision analysis.

MSD selected Innovyze's InfoMaster Sewer to complete its enterprise smart asset management solution, built around ArcGIS (Esri, Redlands, CA) and Cityworks (Azteca Systems Inc., Sandy, UT). To optimize its capital improvement program and maintain the highest level of customer service, the District initiated the program aimed at getting the most for its investment. The multifaceted geocentric solution uses ArcGIS to collect and manage asset information, Cityworks to schedule and track work orders, and InfoMaster Sewer to plan and phase system improvements and develop funding strategy.

Built atop ArcGIS, InfoMaster Sewer gives utilities critical insight into all enterprise assets, their conditions and work processes, facilitating significantly better planning and control. It lets them use powerful business analytics and smart network modeling capabilities in new ways to drive higher productivity and quality while managing costs and increasing operational flexibility. Armed with these capabilities, utilities can create well-engineered condition- and risk-based capital improvement plans, optimize their infrastructures and keep them operating well into the future. InfoMaster Sewer includes components to run on desktop, web, tablet, and smartphone environments. The software is NASSCO PACP, MACP and LACP V6.0 certified.

The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati is the publicly-operated wastewater utility serving 43 out of 49 Hamilton County, Ohio political subdivisions, as well as parts of the three adjacent counties of Butler, Clermont and Warren. It has a ratepayer base of approximately 230,000 residential and commercial users and operates seven major wastewater treatment plants and more than 120 pump stations. MSD provides sewerage collection and treatment services to an area covering approximately more than 290 square miles, containing over 200,000 separate sewer connections which tie into approximately 3,000 miles of sanitary and combined sewers."

Black & Veatch : Water Utilities Set Their Sights on Energy Savings

Black & Veatch : Water Utilities Set Their Sights on Energy Savings

Modularization of Construction

Engineering and Secular Stagnation

Engineering needs to follow this - - see post.  Looking like Japan for at least the rest of this decade.

"The diagnosis of a secular stagnation comes out as being plausible. In fact economists like Robert Gordon and Tyler Cowen have been arguing that the low hanging fruits from technological innovations having been plucked, we may now be in a period of technological stagnation. This when coupled with the declining population growth lends strong credence to a secular stagnation hypothesis. These are important long-term trends whose effects are certain to be profound.

Given the secular stagnation hypothesis, I am not sure whether the policy goal should be to attain the Great Moderation era "full employment" by seeking to lower the real interest rate. That would require continuing for an indefinite period the regime of quantitative easing and further monetary accommodation, as Krugman suggests, or deepening financial de-regulation, as Summers (may) be alluding to. Both are fraught with serious dangers of resource mis-allocation, incentive distortions, and structural problems (widening inequality and workers dropping out of the labor force).

There appears to be a distinct reluctance to accept the reality of a secular stagnation. Fundamentally, a sustainable pre-crisis trend recovery can happen only through the aggregate demand channel. But the aforementioned long-term structural trends are certain to keep aggregate demand muted. Therefore, instead of asking how to restore growth and employment back to pre-crisis levels, a more relevant exploration would be that of managing the economy given this new reality of a lower potential output. And that surely is not about seeking to lower real interest rates."

Flexibility Is Ultimately the Key to Success

I love this from a book review of Strategy: a History (Lawrence Freedman) in the Financial Times by Janan Ganesh on November 16, 2013:

"A serious strategy shows humility; it has built-in contingencies, never plans too far ahead, goes easy on details that cannot be controlled and does not pretend miracles can be achieved with a weak starting position.  This emphases on looseness raises the problem of paradox: is Freedman's idea of a good strategy really a strategy at all?  It is not more like a disposition or habit of mind, general resourcefulness and opportunism?"

New to my book bag

Engineers that work with cites understand how wrong President Lyndon Johnson was when he said, "Things could be worse.  I could be mayor."  Mayor Bloomberg is probably thinking just the opposite.  Mayors matter in a time when cites are uniquely positioned to save the planet and their cities. 

I added this over the weekend - If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities by Benjamin Barber.  The country is in search of pragmatism instead of politics.  It will be interesting to see if cities truly offer a model for nation-state governance.  Washington can bicker, debate, and pontificate - but the great cites of the world have learned to innovative, embrace diversity, become incubators of problem-solving - and pick up the garbage twice a week.

Mayors that understand "glocality" - mayors that define cites in ways that our national and state leaders never will - mayors that understand their (our) fiscal realities - these types of mayors represent our political future.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel Project

2014 - Year of the Tunnel

From The Economist, The World in 2014 - Great bores of tomorrow:

"In 2014 record lengths of tunnel will be bored - perhaps around 1,000 km (620 miles) in all.  Boring machines will burrow beneath traffic-choked cities in China, India, the Middle East and Latin America, to bring new or expanded subway systems.  Add the massive water, sewerage and other projects under way and the amount of tunnelling in 2014 will be perhaps double that of five years earlier, reckons Lok Home, the boss of Robbins, an American maker of bores."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Optimizing Resources Amid Increasing Scarcity - Answer | MIT Technology Review

Optimizing Resources Amid Increasing Scarcity - Answer | MIT Technology Review

A Paragraph to Ponder

From Ceres, Inaction on Climate Change:The Cost to Taxpayers:

"As the frequency and severity of extreme weather events intensify with the effects of climate change, our federal and state disaster relief and insurance programs will become increasingly unsustainable as losses from such events increase. The net present value of the federal government’s liability for unfunded disaster assistance over the next 75 years could be greater than the net present value of the unfunded liability for the Social Security program."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Understanding P3s in Canada

Link to an overview report.

Integrated Watercyle Management

Interesting paper/presentation by Low et al - Resiliency of Urban Water System.  Link to the presentation.

Great slide - -

The Evolution of How We Build Airports

The Evolution of How We Build Airports

What is Good Design?

From Why design matters by Tristram Carfrae of Arup:

"Consider the three main ingredients of a typical project: quality, time and money. Without the inspiration that comes from design, they remain interdependent. So, for example, you can improve quality, but it will take longer and cost more. You can do things more cheaply but it will take longer and reduce the quality.

Design is what enables you to adjust these factors independently – ideally improving all three. So the genius of great design is that it allows you to improve quality while reducing programme time and cost. You can deliver a building that meets the client’s aspirations but also saves them money and is more sustainable than they thought possible.

The skill of the designer lies in sieving through the different opportunities to do this and using hunch and emotional response to find the most appropriate one. You can test the solution using analysis, but – as I’ve written about before on Thoughts – you can’t solve open-ended problems with mathematics alone. You need both sides of your brain; you need intuition as well as logic."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Direct Pipe Method

A Watershed Asset Management Plan

From San Diego's stormwater management department - link to the plan.  This is the presentation to the San Diego City Council on the need for additional stormwater investment and the funding approach - link to the powerpoint slides.

The bottom line - an asset management plan helps utilities better manage risks and identifying compliance needs.  Our aging infrastructure requires a greater need to communicate the condition of asset networks.  This need for better communication interfaces with one of the many benefits of asset management - a greater understanding of the full life-cycle costs associated with operating and maintaining water, wastewater, and stormwater systems.

Graph of the Week

Interesting graph of U.S. migration patterns.

Building Resilience in Boston

Good report - - Building Resilience in Boston: "Best Practices" for Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience for Existing Buildings.  From the report:
The focus of this study is on strategies for improving the
resilience of existing buildings in Boston. Specifically, this
study compiles a selection of “best practices” to improve
the resilience of buildings to current and emerging hazards
related to climate change. This report focuses on enhancing
the resilience of existing buildings because newly designed
buildings can easily adapt to new building standards, but
adapting existing buildings takes more effort and different

Monday, November 18, 2013

Helping Teams Advance Work Packages | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Helping Teams Advance Work Packages | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

The Philosopher-General

Good profile of Brig. Gen. Herzl Halevi, the incoming chief of the Israeli Staff and Command College in the New York Times this past Saturday (To a Philosopher-General in Israel, Peace Is the Time to Prepare for War).  From the article:

""People use to tell me that business administration is for the practical life and philosophy is for the spirit," General Halevi said.  "Through the years I found it is exactly the opposite - I used philosophy much more practically."

"Philosophers that spoke about how to balance, how to prioritize principles in right way," he added, citing Plato, Socrates and Maimonides.  "This is something that I find very helpful."

Start Thinking About How Your Clients Really Learn and View Information

Engineers and engineering consulting firms need to embrace the new reality of how people (especially future leaders and clients) consume and view information.  Provided below is a brief summary of this changing world in the context of college students (from a national survey for the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication):
  • Slightly more than 1/3 read a newspaper - down from 81.7% in 1994.
  • Three-quarters consumed news online and 2/3 read it on a mobile device.
  • More than half read at least one blog.
  • Nine of 10 checked at least one social-networking site.
  • About 75% used video-sharing sites.
This might be a stretch, but Gen Xers and millennials appear to follow the news (any news) about half as much as your current baby boom client base.  When they do consume information, they are probably twice as likely to consume it on a smartphone or tablet.

The journalism professions seem to have gotten the message (some more slowly than others) that in the age of disruptive technology, you either continually retool or die.  It isn't just about the latest bells and whistles of the digital age.  Content and context still matter - but the quality of the content and context are being measured more on screens and less with paper and ink.  Failure for engineers to retool runs the risk of information disconnect with a changing public and future client base.

Black & Veatch released a national study they completed on the natural gas industry.  This is a short video that introduces the written report.  The marketing of ideas via the printed word is not dead for B&V - it is just different.  It is still about the quality of our ideas, just in the form of video and sound.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Engineering in the World of Collaboration Overload

On Monday start thinking about your typical workweek.  What percentage of your time do you spend on the phone, on e-mail, or in meetings (virtual and face-to-face)?  The spread of social media and collaboration technologies in the workplace, the adoption of matrix-based structures, and the proliferation of initiatives to create a "One Firm" are creating time and work problems for some engineers.  In a world of constant pressure for more interaction, it can be hard for senior engineering managers to keep employees focused on the tasks and activities that are most crucial to value creation.  Asking engineers to both increase collaboration and attend to crucial tasks can lead to overload, burnout, and decreased productivity.

Rob Cross and Peter Gray address this issue in the current issue of the California Management Review (Where Has the Time Gone?  Addressing Collaboration Overload in a Networked Economy).  The article has a list of "Best Practices" for reducing collaboration overload.  These are:

Structural Recommendations
  1. Reallocate routine decisions to less-overloaded people or embed them in policy.
  2. Make information that you are routinely asked for available through other people or on websites.
  3. Shift portions of your role to people on the fringe of the network as a developmental opportunity.
  4. Ask the people around you to focus their inquires to ensure that issues reaching you are targeted to your current expertise and position.
  5. Acquire buffers (such as administrative assistants or calendaring rules) that encourage collaboration to be focused and efficient when they meet with you.
  6. Hold periodic meetings instead of many fragmented interactions to build vision and coordination.
  7. Be clear about what will be decided and who must be present at meetings you run.
Behavioral Recommendations
  1. Avoid sending signals that you need to be in the loop.  Instead, create connections with people who can take on some decisions.
  2. Do not be too responsive or quick to help our with issues that do not require your involvement.
  3. Try not to be responsible for expertise that is less central to your success than it perhaps used to be.  Remove yourself from certain meetings and interactions or use them as a way to develop key talent.
  4. Hold people accountable for lack of execution (in as positive way as possible).
  5. Correct collaboration problems quickly, before they escalate.
  6. Make decisions when you should - even in the face of ambiguity or less than perfect information - so that you are not asking others to devote unnecessary time to studying an issue.
  7. When you make suggestions on employee's work, focus on changes that will yield significant (>25%) improvements.
  8. Co-create solutions with employees so that they take ownership and need fewer interaction with you over time.
  9. Go face-to-face for high-stakes interactions, thereby reducing the need for follow-up meetings.
  10. Switch from e-mail to direct contact early when you see signs of misunderstanding.

MoMo by WellDone

Soil IQ

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Why Organizational Communication Can Be Difficult

Engineering a New Pill Bottle

I would love to see Bill Gates put some of his foundation money behind engineering a new and safer pill delivery system - especially in the context of pain killers.

From the CDC:

"Deaths from drug overdose have been rising steadily over the past two decades and have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States.   Every day in the United States, 105 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs. Nearly 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs."

We Need to Design Parking Garages With a Car-less Future in Mind

We Need to Design Parking Garages With a Car-less Future in Mind

A paragraph to ponder from The Atlantic post:

"Fisher says designing parking structures with an eye toward their afterlife is not only logical but rather simple. His three key elements to an adaptable garage design are flat floors, comfortable floor-to-ceiling heights, and enough loading capacity (in other words, strength) to support another structural use. Those types of changes may cost a tiny bit more up front but will provide enormous savings down the line."

An Unexpected Gift From Hurricane Sandy?

An Unexpected Gift From Hurricane Sandy?

Greed is Good Coming to the Muni Markets

From the Wall Street Journal this week - Hedge Funds are Muscling Into Munis.  Gordon Gekko is eying City Hall.  
""The entire marketplace needs a broader capital base to be successful,'' Hector Negroni, co-founder of hedge fund Fundamental Credit Opportunities, said at a conference sponsored by Bloomberg LP last week. He called the entrance of new investors a "terribly important evolution of the municipal marketplace" and a step toward "more robust pricing, more robust liquidity and greater investor security across the board."
Hedge funds, which invest trillions of dollars on behalf of wealthy individuals, pension plans and college endowments, are barreling into the municipal-debt market at a time when many investors fear increasing defaults. Hedge funds now hold billions of dollars worth of distressed municipal debt, up from virtually no investments five years ago, municipal-bond analysts say.
The default concerns intensified after Detroit's bankruptcy filing in July, the biggest financial failure by a city in U.S. history. Detroit's turmoil drove down prices throughout the municipal-bond market to levels some hedge funds found attractive, because of the potential for whopping returns if the market rebounds.
Hedge funds can be a double-edged sword for municipalities. As eager buyers of new bonds, they are a source of liquidity as individual investors get more skittish. In return, they often want higher interest rates and more financial information from municipal officials than such officials are accustomed to providing. And hedge funds aren't shy about pushing for improved disclosure and financial discipline."

UCLA's Grand Challenges

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I Wanted to Be Successful, and I Could Do That in Houston

I Wanted to Be Successful, and I Could Do That in Houston

A Paragraph to Ponder

From Wonkblog - - What a deadly typhoon in the Philippines can tell us about climate adaptation:

"But climate is just a small part of a much more complex tale. One crucial factor for the rise in destruction: The Philippines population keeps expanding in high-risk coastal areas. As the AP's Seth Borenstein reports, the city of Tacloban, which got hit hardest by Haiyan, has nearly tripled in population over the past four decades. Nearly 40 percent of the country now live in large, storm-prone coastal cities. Even if the typhoons weren't changing at all, many more people are now in harm's way."

Certificate in Water Conflict Management and Transformation

This is interesting - - from Oregon State University.  From their website:
"The Certificate in Water Conflict Management and Transformation is designed to provide decision-makers, graduate students and water professionals with the required specialized resources and skills that go beyond the traditional physical systems approach to water resources management. It will explicitly integrate human, policy and scientific dimensions of water resources within the framework of governance and sustainability. This 18-credit graduate certificate provides in-depth skills-building training to enhance personal and institutional capacity in water governance issues and strategies across distinct and overlapping contexts: Water Governance, Water and Ecosystems, Water and Society, and Water and Economics."

Engineeering for Disinvestment

Interesting study from the University of California-Berkeley Law School - - link.

From 2000 to 2010 the number of vacant housing units has increased by 44% - - in the last 15 years, 130 cities have dissolved, more than half the total ever recorded.  More than 50% of the nation's 20 largest cities in the 1950 have lost at least 1/3 of their population.

Welcome to the new field of engineering municipal infrastructure and public services for disinvestment.

Defend vs. Retreat in the United Kingdom

From the BBC - - Sea surrender plan to ease flood fears on south coast.  From the post:

"Since 2011, the Environment Agency have been working on a plan that they believe curbs that threat.

The project is billed as the country's largest ever coastal flood realignment scheme, but it has required the destruction of the existing sea wall at Medmerry and giving back to the sea some of the land nearest to the coast.

"We have made a hole in the sea wall," the Environment Agency's flood and coastal risk manager, Andrew Gilham, told BBC News on a visit to the site."

Monday, November 11, 2013

A New Solar Material Shows Its Potential | MIT Technology Review

A New Solar Material Shows Its Potential | MIT Technology Review

GoPro on 60 Minutes

60 Minutes had a wonderful profile of GoPro last night.  The little clip of GoPro linked to a drone being utilized on an erosion study for the Scripps Research Institute should get the attention of the engineering community.  If you are not currently exploring the possibilities of video and droning technology - you are getting behind the technology curve.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How Does This End?

The collision course between the California delta system and rising sea levels - -

Les Miserables and Engineering

I had the opportunity to see the student production of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables at Carroll Senior High (Southlake, Texas) last night.  The barricade reminded me of the stories associated with the design of Paris.

The French Revolutions created a period of mass movements, democratic uprisings, and urban insurgencies.  Engineers helped governments rethink security in the age of 1840s urban warfare (just as they are helping to rethink city design in the age of global terrorism and extreme weather events).  Engineering and urban design made the shift from battling kings to mass participation of the populace in national warfare like what Les Miserables depicts.

Central Paris was designed in the 1850s by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann.  Haussmann's Paris was designed to prevent a recurrence of the kind of unrest that had affected Paris for generation after the 1848 revolution.  The next time you are in Paris, examine the work of Haussmann - -
  • He laid out wide straight boulevards that just happened to be exactly one cavalry squadron wide.
  • Spacious squares that dominated the boulevards so that the state could put artillery on each square.
  • He imposed architectural codes that ensured buildings were set back at an angle from street corners.  This created a delightful sense of light and air at street level - - but this also made it far harder for demonstrators to put up barricades.
  • Haussmann resettled unruly populations away from traditional urban strongholds that were hard for troops and police to penetrate.
  • Haussmann placed railway stations and bridges to help troops and police maneuver quickly around the city, to stifle any revolution.
Keep in mind that engineering, Les Miserables and Keynesian Economics all intersected in this redevelopment of Paris.  All of this constructing  of new boulevards, squares, and buildings created jobs for disaffected  workers and thus acted as a safety value for public square.

Friday, November 8, 2013

What Happened to Traffic?

This is great - - on the future of traffic.  From the Transportationist.  From the post:

"Remember traffic? It was only 30 years ago that people were complaining about getting stuck in traffic. But traffic peaked in the early part of the Century, and has fallen ever since. A few observers picked this up early, but many transportation agencies were in denial. At the time, most analysts saw only two possible futures . . . "

Dutch Water Management

Great article on the culture of Dutch water management in Fast CompanyAgainst The Tide.  From the article:

"The Dutch love data. Fluitman got his curves because of it. And a Dutch sense of caution has compelled everyone working in the field of flood control to collect and analyze immense amounts of it to make a watertight case. The government has mapped by air, to astonishing detail with laser and radar, the entirety of the nation's topography. That information has inspired one of the most promising--and exportable--new innovations: 3Di, a cloud-based system that can simulate the effects of a rainstorm or a levee breach, storm surge or a water-main break. "The Netherlands is very conservative. We think we can solve everything with a bit of sand," says Jan-Maarten Verbree, who heads IT at Nelen & Schuurmans, the water-focused consultancy behind 3Di. "But we say that with a bit of IT, you can increase safety even more.""

Oregon South

A paragraph to ponder from Sports Illustrated this week Andy Staples - Friday Night Lights Out:

"The [Baylor] Bears do not hand offensive players a three-ring binder when they arrive on campus.  They may have a few formations and diagrams loaded on an iPad, but there is no real offensive installation period during spring practice or fall camp.  The Bears learn by repeating each play at practice, and no one gets in a game until he knows them perfectly."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Should Engineering Students Train on the New SimCity?

Talking Water in Oklahoma

How Smart Cities Must Plan for Electric Cars | MIT Technology Review

How Smart Cities Must Plan for Electric Cars | MIT Technology Review

Our Health Care Outputs

Our outputs don't look too bad - the inputs (i.e., total medical cost per person) are still terrible.  Consider the following:

"A few years back, Robert Ohsfeldt of Texas A&M and John Schneider of the University of Iowa asked the obvious question: what happens if you remove deaths from fatal injuries from the life expectancy tables? Among the 29 members of the OECD, the U.S. vaults from 19th place to…you guessed it…first. Japan, on the same adjustment, drops from first to ninth."

If you fixed the fatal injury output (i.e., education, safety engineering, gun control, get a better handle on sustance abuse, etc.), you will probably also help with our input problems.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Brief History of How Complete Streets Became Hip

A Brief History of How Complete Streets Became Hip

Obamacare’s Fatal Flaw by Martin Feldstein - Project Syndicate

Obamacare’s Fatal Flaw by Martin Feldstein - Project Syndicate

Moving Out of West Virginia?

Interesting story on Wonkblog - Here’s why Central Appalachia’s coal industry is dying (Link).  From the post:

"While the coal industry directly employs just 21,000 workers in West Virginia, the industry itself added about $5.9 billion to state GDP in 2008 and generated $670 million in taxes — a whopping 15 percent of the state’s budget.

Those funds won’t vanish tomorrow, but they will slowly slip away. A 2010 report by the consulting firm Downstream Strategies noted that coal's decline would lead to sharp decreases in tax revenue for Kentucky and West Virginia. (By contrast, coal production in Northern Appalachia, including parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania, is expected hold steady for years.)

And there will likely be knock-on effects for years to come. As I reported here, many retired miners in Appalachia are getting hurt by the disruptions in the coal industry, as companies file for bankruptcy and try to shed pension and health obligations for retirees. Suzy Khimm's piece details the many ways in which Eastern Kentucky has been ravaged by coal's decline."


Vote Yes for Texas Statewide Proposition 6

From the Dallas Branch ASCE website - -

Vote YES for Proposition 6: Water Plan Funding
On November 5, 2013, Texans will have an opportunity to vote for a constitutional amendment that will have one of the most significant impacts in history for funding our state’s water needs. Proposition 6 provides for the creation of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) to finance priority projects that were identified in the State Water Plan. To accomplish this, the funds will be capitalized by a one-time appropriation of $2 billion from the state’s economic stabilization fund (also known as the “rainy day fund”). The funds will be used to provide low-interest loans, credit enhancement agreements, deferral of interest obligations, and other methods of financial assistance for public water supply entities.
How will the funds be used?
These funds must be used specifically to support projects identified in the State Water Plan which will be administered by the state Water Development Board. The board must attempt to spend 10% of the funds for rural political subdivisions and agricultural water conservation and 20% for water conservation and reuse.    
Is this a fiscally responsible use of the rainy day fund?
The rainy day fund (RDF) is funded by revenues from the oil and gas severance tax – 75% of the amount collected over and above the amount collected in 1987 is deposited to the RDF. Over $2 billion is expected to be deposited to the RDF each year over the next two years due to substantial oil and gas drilling. By the end of 2015, the RDF is expected to have a balance of almost $10 billion even after the $2 billion transfer for the water plan. In addition, because this $2 billion will be used for loans, it is expected that the funds will be loaned, repaid, and re-loaned, providing a replenishing fund to support a majority of the state’s water needs for the next 50 years. 
As civil engineers we understand that investment in our infrastructure has a direct impact on the economic vitality of our state. I encourage you to VOTE YES for Proposition 6 on November 5, but more importantly I encourage you to discuss the significance of this proposition with friends, family and neighbors. The future of water in Texas depends on citizens like us to get the word out and educate voters!

Rachel R. Hayden, P.E.
Hayden Consultants, Inc.
ASCE Texas Section Committee on Public Relations and Professional Image

The Long Decline From WW II

As reported yesterday - - the lowest level since World World II:

Gross capital investment by the public sector has dropped to just 3.6 per cent of US output compared with a postwar average of 5 per cent, according to figures compiled by the Financial Times.

Three schools of thought - (1.) This low it can only go up, or/and (2.) The point in history when it should and needs to go up is also the point in history of an enormous entitlement burden, or/and (3.) Look for the public sector to fill the widening gap.  The politics of #2 and the economics of #3 will govern this outcome.

If your are 75-years old, do you really care about this graph?

Strategy: A History

"Strategies too often fail because more is expected of them than they can deliver."

I just ordered Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freedman.  The current issue of the Economist has a review.  Several interesting comments:

"Strategy, it turns out, is really about trying to work out in a sensible way how to get from one stage to the next.  With each stage a new set of problems has to be negotiated before you move beyond it.  There is no end point: strategy is not simply a grander name for plan, something that moves you forwards in predetermined steps."

"A strategy that starts with objectives and works backwards is one that is likely to fail."

"A lot of strategy these days, especially in fashionable business books, depends on using narrative both to explain a proposed course of action and recruit support for it.  But stories takes out of context and conveniently edited can be an unreliable guide."

". . .  it may be better to look at strategy as a form of script, albeit one which incorporates the possibility of chance events, which attempts to anticipate the interactions of many players over a long time and which is open-ended."

". . . although it is usually better to have some kind of strategy than not, unless you are prepared to adapt it as circumstances change it is unlikely to do much good."

Love this line - -

"The climax that concludes a normal drama is denied the strategies, who is more like the writer of a long-running soap opera, with its myraid twists and turns."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Engineering in the Era of Decentralization

This will be interesting for engineers to watch - - the decentralization of some of our more centralized systems (i.e., water, electricity, etc.).  My opinion is that climate change and resiliency goals of cities and businesses will drive this.  The bulk of the planet's population will be living in coastal, complex, and connected environments.  The decentralization of critical systems will help people adapt in the context of resiliency.  Economies of scale start to matter less and less as the risks of coastal, complex, and connected drive decision making.

Consider the following from Umlaut:

"However, we now see this trend reversing.  With an advent of much more efficient renewable energy sources—mainly solar power, and the ability to store that power—we’re seeing a surge of microgrids. Microgrids are electricity grids built for very small geographic areas—think an army installation, a neighborhood in a remote area, or hell, even a neighborhood in a city with very environmentally concious citizens. Microgrids can often provide enough power for all of these areas’ needs, and sometimes even sell excess power back to the national grid.

Right now, the marginal cost of implementing a microgrid is still a bit higher than simply hooking up to your local utility, but as renewable local energy rates fall, microgrids will become even more prevalent.

In another example, the future of the internet is moving in a decentralized direction.  Both the progress of technology and the desire of people to avoid government (or corporate?) snooping will drive this change. This was recently illustrated in a piece by Clive Thompson in Wired magazine. He highlights a project called Hyperboria, which is “an encrypted network made up of people connecting to one another in a peer-to-peer fashion.” Yes, this is built upon the internet as we know it, but it’s a small private network that only lets in members who have invited other members that they know.
However, as my co-contributor Eli Dourado wrote recently in the New York Times, there will be new internet switch technology developed that will make it much more difficult for the NSA to intercept data. This same technology could make it simpler to create many smaller closed-off internets. I have little doubt that countries not so pleased with America’s spying ability are pursuing this technology feverishly.  And other technologies such as Google’s balloon-based wi-fi would make it much easier to create peer-to-peer networking technologies. Of course, there are many positives and some serious negatives to this approach, but technological progress will make it easier to accomplish.

And there are many other examples of technology, like 3D printing, or the printing of drugs at home, that will decentralize production altogether.

The 20th century was mostly defined as the world becoming more and more connected.  The 21st century will see some of this scaled back, hopefully in socially beneficial ways. Some of this decentralization would do wonders to alleviate the major problems of living in a hyper-connected world—mainly, that this type of system is so complex that it becomes, a la Nassim Taleb, hyper fragile. These complex systems have so many connections and competing forces, many often hidden, that predicting outcomes becomes futile. As an example, the collapse of the national power grid would seriously damage millions of Americans. But if more people relied on hyper-local micro grids, then damage to one of those systems would not cascade to other users.

The challenge will be to determine which things will benefit from tech-driven decentralization, and which will benefit from keeping a global focus."

It All Starts With a Great Video

Engineers take note of the video.  Regardless of you opinion on the ACA, the video illustrates the power of an effective video/visualization in explaining complex subjects.  From transportation to the environment to development - - engineers are fundamentally in the explaining business.  Getting the public and policy makers to understand the costs and benefits of any complex project is a challenge.  Look to a good video or visualization to help in the Age of Screens.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013


The Frackers

This looks good - - coming out next week.  The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters by Gregory Zuckerman.

Engineering a Better Golf Swing

Big data is coming to the swing sports - baseball, tennis, and golf.  From Zepp Labs - - link.

Colorado Races Winter To Reopen Roads

Colorado Races Winter To Reopen Roads

Engineering, Executive Orders, and Climate Change

From Wonkblog yesterday.  Executive Order -- Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change - - link to the actual order.

"To that end, there are a few key aspects of the White House memo:

1) Federal infrastructure spending will have to take climate into account. Agencies are supposed to examine their policies and find ways to help states prepare for the effects of climate change.
So, for example, federal disaster-relief programs that help coastal communities rebuild after a storm or flood will have to take into account the possibility that the next storm or flood could be even worse. Likewise, roads and bridges built with federal money will have to be planned with changing climate conditions — such as future sea-level rise — in mind.

2) Water- and land- management will get revamped. Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior will have to review their land- and water-management policies to take shifting conditions into account.
For example, agencies will have to "evaluate how to better promote natural storm barriers such as dunes and wetlands" and figure out "how to protect the carbon sequestration benefits of forests and lands to help reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change." (The EPA has already released its plans to this effect.)

3) The federal government will try to provide better data on what climate impacts are actually coming. As part of the executive order, federal agencies are supposed to offer better information "that state, local, and private-sector leaders need to make smart decisions."

One example: Back in January, a federal advisory council released a draft 1,000-page National Climate Assessment that looked at how climate change was likely to affect various parts of the United States. The White House explained that the information was aimed at everyone from "farmers deciding which crops to grow, to city planners deciding the diameter of new storm sewers they are replacing, to electric utilities and regulators pondering how to protect the power grid.”

There are also a few other bureaucratic aspects of the memo, like the creation of a new interagency "Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience" and a task force with state and local leaders.
By and large, the federal government has been fairly slow in responding to ongoing climate change. One example: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has usually based its analyses of flooding risks on historical data — which doesn't do much good if sea-levels are rising or storms are expected to become more frequent in parts of the country.

Only recently did FEMA announce that it would update its flood insurance maps from the 1980s and set up a "technical mapping advisory council” to look at how the agency might take global warming into account. It's a slow process, and often disruptive — its quite possible, for instance, that some homeowners could see their flood-insurance premiums rise as a result of the new maps.

But that broader shift in government has been a slow, uneven process. A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found, for instance, that the federal government still spends $6 on disaster relief for every $1 it spends preparing for natural disasters, even though putting a greater focus on the latter could save money in many cases."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mapping 60 Years of White Flight, Brain Drain and American Migration

Mapping 60 Years of White Flight, Brain Drain and American Migration

The Week In Water

Song Lyrics of the Week

Stripes by Brandy Clark:

Woah, woah, woah, woah

[VERSE 1:]
You were lyin' there with nothing on
But a goofy little grin and a platinum blonde
I can't believe you'd do that on our bed
I got a pistol and I got a bullet
And a pissed off finger just'a itchin' to pull it
The only thing keepin' me from losin' my head

Is I hate stripes and orange ain't my color
And if I squeeze that trigger tonight
I'll be wearin' one or the other
There's no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion
The only thing savin' your life
Is that I don't look good in orange and I hate stripes

Woah, woah, woah

[VERSE 2:]
I could fall in love with the prison guard
I could sell cigarettes in the prison yard
Don't think hard time would be that hard on me
I could pick up trash on the side of the road
But I'd die if I saw someone I know
Ain't the chains, it's the clothes that's stoppin' me

I hate stripes and orange ain't my color
And if I squeeze that trigger tonight
I'll be wearin' one or the other
There's no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion
The only thing savin' your life
Is that I don't look good in orange and I hate stripes

Oh, and one shot ain't worth a bad mugshot
God knows I wouldn't be caught holdin' up a number
While the whole town's starin' at the picture
In the paper of me wearin' stripes

There's no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion
The only thing savin' your life
Is that I don't look good in orange and I hate stripes
And orange ain't my color
And if I squeeze that trigger tonight
I'll be wearin' one or the other
There's no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion
The only thing savin' your life
Is that I don't look good in orange and I hate stripes

Woah, woah, woah, woah