Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Building the e-Highway

Thinking Like It's 1985

Knowing Your Drought Number

From the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.  The west and the southwest might have new numbers for us to keep track of - - our "drought number": 
"Some local agencies are implementing a drought number model. In Santa Monica, the City Council passed a first-reading in August of an ordinance that would apply an indoor water allocation of 68 gallons per-person-per-capita for every single-family home with four people, said Gilbert Borboa, water resources manager for the city of Santa Monica.
“A customer uses beyond that allocation, then it is possible some penalties might apply,” he said. Today, residents are using about 88 gallons per person per day in Santa Monica, he said.
The City Council will vote on the water-allocation plan next month. Santa Monica will work on allocations for bigger households, apartments and condominiums and for commercial establishments such as hotels, he said. Indoor use is “essential” for health and safety, while the ordinance labels outdoor use as “non-essential.”"

The Need for Greater Infrastructure Investment

A report from the NAM.

Design Thinking and Public Space

American Standard's Flush for Good

Monday, September 29, 2014

Virginian Reactor Will Test an Output-Boosting Fuel Design | MIT Technology Review

Virginian Reactor Will Test an Output-Boosting Fuel Design | MIT Technology Review

Reinventing City Hall

Google's Hiring Dos and Don'ts

From the excellent How Google Works:

  • Hire people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you are.
  • Don't hire people you can't learn from or be challenged by.
  • Hire people who will add value to the product/service and our culture.
  • Don't hire people who won't contribute well to both.
  • Hire people will get things done.
  • Don't hire people who just think about problems.
  • Hire people who are enthusiastic, self-motivated, and passionate.
  • Don't hire people who just want a job.
  • Hire people who inspire and work well with others.
  • Don't hire people who prefer to work alone.
  • Hire people who will grow with your team and with the company.
  • Don't hire people with narrow skill sets or interests.
  • Hire people who are well rounded, with unique interests and talents.
  • Don't hire people who only live to work.
  • Hire people who are ethical and who communicate openly.
  • Don't hire people who are political or manipulative.
  • Hire only when you've found a great candidate.
  • Don't settle for anything less.

How Long Will a LA House be 40X a Detroit House?

Interesting piece in the Guardian gets at the issues embedded in the question.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

How Smart Creative are Your Engineers?

Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Roseberg have a new book out - How Google Works.  They seem to have an answer for what an engineer should look like in a faster, cheaper, and better world.  Exactly what is a smart creative engineer?

  • A smart creative had deep technical knowledge in how to use the tools of his/her trade.  They have plenty of hands-on experience.  He or she is an expert in doing.  He or she doesn't just design concepts, he or she builds prototypes.
  • He or she is analytically smart.  They are comfortable with data and can use it to make decisions.  He or she also understands its fallacies and is wary of endless analysis.  Let data decide, he or she believes, but don't let it take over.
  • He or she is business smart.  They see a direct line from technical expertise to product excellence to business success, and understands the value of all three.
  • He or she is competitive smart.  His or her stock-in-trade starts with innovation, but is also includes a lot of work.  He or she is driven to be great, and that doesn't happen 9-to-5.
  • They are user smart.  No matter the industry, he or she understands his or her product from the user or consumer's perspective better than almost anyone.  We call them a "power user," not just casual but almost obsessive in his or her interest.  He or she is the automotive designer who spends their weekends fixing up that '69 GTO, the architect who can't stop redesigning his or her house.  He or she is their own focus group, alpha tester, and guinea pig.
  • A smart creative is a firehouse of new ideas that are genuinely new.  His or her perspective is different from yours or ours.  It's even occasionally different from his or her perspective, for a smart creative can play the perspective chameleon when he or she needs to.
  • He or she is a curious creative.  He or she is always questioning, never satisfied with the status quo, seeing problems to solve everywhere and thinking that he or she is just the person to solve them.  He or she can be overbearing.
  • They are risky creative.  He or she is not afraid to fail, because he or she believes that in failure there is usually something valuable they can salvage.  Either that, or he or she is just so damn confident he or she knows that even in the event that he or she does fall, he or she can pick themselves up and get it right that next time around.
  • He or she is self-directed creative.  They don't wait to be told what to do and sometimes ignores direction if he or she doesn't agree with it.  He or she takes action based on their own initiative, which is considerable.
  • He or she is open creative.  They freely collaborate, and judges ideas and analyses on their merits and not their provenance.
  • He or she is thorough creative.  He or she is always on and can recite the details, not because he or she studies and memorizes, but because he or she knows them.  They are his or her details.
  • He or she is communicative creative.  They are funny and express themselves with flair and even charisma, either one-to-one or one-to-many.
  • The key fundamentals - business savvy, technical knowledge, creative energy, and a hands-on approach to getting things done.  You have to have the ability to work hard and willing to question the status quo and attack things differently.

So,what makes you really special?

From an interview with CEO Penny Hercher.  She is the CEO of FristRain, a business analytics firm.
She was ask about hiring in the Corner Office column of the New York Times today.

"I look for I.Q., integrity and energy, because you can't teach those.  You've got to have the I.Q., and you often read integrity in the meeting.  And then you've got to have the energy for the job.

I'll ask questions about their career, but then I'll say: "So, what makes you really special?  If you are writing 500 words about yourself, what would you say?"  You also learn an enormous amount by the questions they ask, and the first two or three questions are what they really care about.  "Tell me about your culture," and "How do you grow your employees?" are great questions."

Win In a Complex World

From General David Perkins, the commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command:

“We should expect the unknown, so we can arrive and adopt and innovate."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

One of GM's Best Engineers - Kevin Wong

Described in the current issue of Time (The Mechanic by Rana Fordoohar) as "one of the best engineers" at GM.  He is tasked with doing a root-to-branch evaluation of GM's system structure. GM, like may large organizations, understands that it needs a greater systems focus.  How organizations manage organizational complexity and avoid catastrophic failures (ranging from digital security to greater resiliency) requires more systems thinking by engineers and management.

The LinkedIn page for Mr. Wong.

The Valukas report (the study on the GM ignition switch recall) would make for an excellent engineering, product development, management, and ethics case study.

Graph of the Week


The Effectiveness of Online Learning

A positive report by MIT.

Moving Into Resilient Design and Construction.Services

From a position advertisement on the ASCE website.  Concerns regarding organizational resiliency will increase this century.  Look for resiliency tools developed by academic R&D efforts to slowly (and maybe not so slowly) move into the marketplace.

"The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, invites applications for a Professor position in the broad area of Resilient Systems. Candidates at all ranks will be considered (Assistant Professors, Associate Professors or Full Professors). The candidates should be engaged in research that helps to fulfill the strategic vision of the Department: http://www.ce.berkeley.edu/about/overview

Infrastructure systems and projects face a multitude of hazards that must be assessed, communicated, and managed appropriately. We are interested in candidates who develop high-performance computer simulation and advanced visualization tools to conduct risk assessments at the citywide scale, considering multiple hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, and fires. We are also interested in candidates who develop and deploy sensor networks for rapid condition assessment of critical structures, in order to operate optimally and to ensure system safety. Candidates who study risk management, engineering economics, and infrastructure project finance are also encouraged to apply."

Your City's Chief Resilience Officer (CRO)

The job description for the position as outlined on the 100 Resilience Cities website.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Water Treatment Energy Optimization - Garver provides energy optimization solutions and funding assistance - Water Engineering

Water Treatment Energy Optimization - Garver provides energy optimization solutions and funding assistance - Water Engineering

Fixing the Leaks

The news from California:
"Governor Jerry Brown signed into law legislation by State Senator Lois Wolk, D-Solano, to strengthen requirements that urban water districts report to the state their water losses through leaks in their water systems.
"The water coming out of taps in California's urban communities moves through thousands of miles of pipes. Many of these water systems are in need of repair. In fact, it's been estimated that up to ten percent of water supplied statewide is lost to leaks," said Wolk. "We need to know how much water is lost in transit through these urban water systems in order to take cost-effective steps to reduce water loss and better manage our state's water resources."
Wolk's Senate Bill 1420 makes several changes recommended last year by an independent state panel tasked with improving methods of reporting on water conservation efforts in urban areas in order to save water. SB 1420 updates state law to require urban water suppliers to file their water management plans with the Department of Water Resources (DWR) electronically, streamlining the filing process.
These plans help the state ensure water suppliers are planning to meet their community's current and future water needs, said Wolk. SB 1420 also requires that water suppliers report and account for water loss in their distribution systems."

The Shifting Mind of the Consulting Engineer

From Value Redesigned: New Models For Professional Practice by Kyle Davy and Susan Harris:

From . . . .
To . . . .
Tactical thinking
Strategic thinking
Focus on parts or entities in isolation
Systems awareness
Organizational focus
Human system focus
Whole-ecosystem awareness
Technical services focus
Whole-value-network awareness
Task and product focus
Relationship awareness
Autonomy in project work
Whole-project system awareness
Individual control of preferred solutions
Group process awareness and orientation to emergence
Either-or thinking
A nondualistic, inclusive view
Assumed authority
Self-aware professional contribution

EmTech: A Hybrid Solution for Cheap Desalination | MIT Technology Review

EmTech: A Hybrid Solution for Cheap Desalination | MIT Technology Review

See comments about Texas - - The Era of Texas Brackish Water Development is fast approaching!!


No STEM in the House

Benchmarking Water and Sewer Rates

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Protecting the Water Treatment Plant - Pure Tech Systems

The Changing Nature of Interchanges

From Arup.  This notion of understanding what is being "interchanged" in an interchange is important.

"This is what interchange design involves today. It can no longer be a single-discipline undertaking, but a trans-disciplinary design effort involving a vast range of skills and underpinned by a robust and sustainable business case.

This will require a new way of thinking about transport. In the future, interchange design will hinge on in-depth thinking about what happens within a series of buildings that make up the interchange. And buildings themselves will need to become increasingly adaptable to accommodate changing patterns of use. 

Maybe this means using new technologies and materials that can be easily reconfigured. It certainly means that countries like the UK, which have ageing infrastructure, face a big challenge. It’s a challenge that requires a radical design response."

Engineering and the New Climate Economy

Report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.  From the introduction:
"One of the most critical and urgent challenges facing countries today is achieving economic prosperity and development while also combating climate change. 
The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, and its flagship project The New Climate Economy, have been set up to help governments, businesses and society make better-informed decisions on these crucial issues.
The Global Commission is chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón and comprises former heads of government and finance ministers, and leaders in the fields of economics and business. The Commission's work is being conducted by a global partnership of leading research institutes. Reporting in September 2014, the project will make recommendations on actions and policies that can achieve high quality economic growth at the same time as addressing dangerous climate change. 
The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate was commissioned by seven countries - Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom - as an independent initiative to report to the international community."

Metering is Essential for Effective Water Management

Fact sheet from the Pacific Institute.

Moving to Detroit

Alaska as the new Florida?  Late numbers of people could be on the move by the end of this century - link.

Arizona 2014 Water and Sewer Rates

Report published by the Environmental Finance Center.

Thinking About Water in Texas

From the Texas Tribune:
""The proposed Marvin Nichols reservoir will never be built. The environmental, financial and social costs of pursuing this grandiose project are simply too huge to ever make it viable," Ken Kramer, the water resources chairman for the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, said at a water development board meeting in May. 
Kramer said the Sierra Club dropped its opposition to Bois d'Arc last fall, when the North Texas water district agreed to pursue more aggressive water conservation and to commit to minimum streamflows in the Bois d'Arc creek after building the lake. But he said he expected it would be one of the last reservoirs to be built in the state. 
Some planners disagree, pointing out that almost 30 reservoirs are mentioned in the state water plan to shore up Texas' water needs in the next 50 years. 
But in a speech at the North Texas Water Summit this year, Gov. Rick Perry's legislative director, Ken Armbrister, cast doubt that most of those lakes would get built. He noted that one of the last completed reservoirs in Texas, O.H. Ivie, took more than 30 years to build. It is now only 17 percent full."

Graph of the Week


Planning for Flood Recovery and Long-Term Resilience

Report from the EPA on smart growth approaches for disaster-resilient communities.

Coming Out Next Month

Water Supply Cost Savings Act Introduced in Congress to Help Address Small Communities' Water Infrastructure Funding Crisis - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Water Supply Cost Savings Act Introduced in Congress to Help Address Small Communities' Water Infrastructure Funding Crisis - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Monday, September 22, 2014

New To My Bookshelf

New to my reading list:
  • Eisenhower: A Life by Paul Johnson
  • Zero to One: Notes on Startups: Or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
  • Rain Making: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field by Ford Harding
  • This Changes Every Thing: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
  • Predator: The Origins of the Drone Revolution by Richard Whittle
  • Foreign Correspondent: A Memoir by H.D.S. Greenway
  • What Stays In Vegas: The World of Personal Data-Lifeblood of Big Business - and the End of Privacy as We Know It by Adam Tanner
  • Analytic Methods In Sports by Thomas Severini
  • One Million Steps:  A Marine Platoon At War by Bing West
  • Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre
  • World Order by Henry Kissinger

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Engineering and The Watermelon Problem

Engineering faces a future of ideological challenges to green and sustainable technologies and practices.  Most engineers and engineering professional societies have heartily embraced some shade of green - we have eagerly nibbled around the edges of the green, sustainable, and climate change debate.  We enjoy the little nibble and yet don't have the stomach for the big bite.  Engineering organizations such as ASCE seem more comfortable drifting toward a climate meltdown than to imagining ourselves deliberately changing the economy and our economic values. We understand the need to view projects through the lens of the Triple Bottom Line - the social, economic, and environmental impacts of any project we design and construct.  But we have yet to figure out the political context of greening in terms of a full-throated debate regarding the limits and opportunities of capitalism.

What underpins and undermines any attempt to fundamentally change the design and construction process is the "Watermelon Problem" - - a political view that green technology is green on the outside, red (socialist) on the inside.  Many citizens and political forces view anything green or sustainable or renewable as a catalyst for forms of social and economic justice and change.  Any broad discussion regarding re-shaping our economic systems and processes in a more sustainable manner is DOA.

In terms of green technology and climate change, we as engineers seem to have a fetish for nibbling and centrism.  But we seem to have crossed the line between nibbling and the need to dramatically reinvent the systems and processes in our economy.  Consider the following from Robert Stavins (professor and the director of the environmental economics program at the Harvard Kennedy School and a lead author of three reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in an article in the New York Times  (Climate Realities) yesterday:

"The world is now on track to more than double current greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by the end of the century.  This would push up average global temperatures by three to eight degrees Celsius and could mean the disappearance of glaciers, droughts in the mid-to-low latitudes, decreased crop production, increased sea levels and flooding vanishing islands and coastal wetlands, great storm frequency and intensity, the risk of species extinction and a significant spread of infectious disease."

The world of wonky engineering green thinking and development seems very comfortable with the idea of clean coal, incrementalism, minor lifestyle changes, carbon trading, and reducing the issue to the narrow frame of energy security.  We look at the huge Home Depot parking lot that is vacant most of the time (drive by a Target or Home Depot on a Sunday night) in terms of bioswales - - we never think or debate the social, economic, and environmental impacts of exponential economic growth in the privatization of public spheres.  We still have a difficult time with the development process - - planing for jobs and power versus banning for environmental preservation.  The Home Depot parking lot and LBJ in Dallas during rush hour perfectly illustrate the challenges of the Watermelon Problem that engineering will face this century.  Will the greenness of the watermelon and the power of technology and markets that it represents be enough to fix our enormous green, sustainability, and climate challenges?  Or will solutions, many viewed as "red", need a more fundamental rethinking of economic values and a revival of vigorous market interventions?

This century will be about how we think about and slice the watermelon,

Data Drone Valley

What happens when the tech giants of Silicon Valley meet the wine makers of California?   Think farming smarter - - using drones and other tech systems to help farmers and vine makers increase yields and cut costs.  California thinks the economic impact of drones will be $2.3 billion during the first three years of operation - Texas thinks $1.1 billion through 2017.

More on the story here.

Engineering Better Body Language

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Passive Sensing Lets Smartphones Find Parking Spots | MIT Technology Review

Passive Sensing Lets Smartphones Find Parking Spots | MIT Technology Review

Engineering and The Tragedy of Ebola

From the David Brooks NYT column yesterday - Goodbye, Organziation Man.  Read the entire column.
"The Ebola crisis is another example that shows that this is misguided. The big, stolid agencies — the health ministries, the infrastructure builders, the procurement agencies — are the bulwarks of the civil and global order. Public and nonprofit management, the stuff that gets derided as “overhead,” really matters. It’s as important to attract talent to health ministries as it is to spend money on specific medicines.
As recent books by Francis Fukuyama and Philip Howard have detailed, this is an era of general institutional decay. New, mobile institutions languish on the drawing board, while old ones are not reformed and tended. Executives at public agencies are robbed of discretionary power. Their hands are bound by court judgments and regulations.
When the boring tasks of governance are not performed, infrastructures don’t get built. Then, when epidemics strike, people die."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

People's Climate March - NYC 9/21

Graph of the Week



A paragraph to ponder from the Wall Street Journal by Mark Peters and Ryan Dezember - Public-Private Deals Clash: Montana City Attempts to Regain Control of Water System From Investor Group:

""There is a re-municipalization trend," said Keith Hays, vice president of Boston-based advisory firm Bluefield Research LLC.  Still, be noted, overall there are more towns and cities selling utilities than those trying to purchase them, with private-sector buyers spending more than $2.9 billion on water systems since 2004."

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Robert Moses of Dallas

"One of the more vexing problems with this scenario, as residents throughout the region are learning, is that they have too little franchise in this conversation. In The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s  magisterial examination of the life and career of New York planner Robert Moses, Caro painstakingly illustrates how Moses, the preeminent urban highway builder of his era, consolidated a bureaucratic empire with vast financial resources that remained virtually unaccountable to voters for decades. Dallas has its own Robert Moses, if on a somewhat reduced scale. Michael Morris has served as the Director of Transportation for the North Texas Council of Governments (NTCOG) since, if you can believe it, 1990.
It is through Morris that many of the region’s transportation decisions are made. Because the board that oversees those decisions at NTCOG is comprised of representatives with divergent imperatives from across the region, it is a body particularly susceptible to arguments made from the “neutral” perspective of the traffic engineer. But decisions about where highways should go  (nevermind how to regulate services like Uber and Lyft) are neither neutral nor objective.
Whose priorities are to be favored? The makeup of the NTCOG’s transportation board is dominated by suburban representatives. Should the suburbs be driving transportation planning in downtown Dallas? If that seems backwards and profoundly undemocratic, that’s because it is—another Dallas paradox. Yet even suburban voters are finding that their own prerogatives are secondary to the will of a government body with little accountability. And so residents of Collin were recently outraged to find that they were about to be entirely hemmed in by toll roads. “We probably haven’t done a good enough job of keeping new elected officials informed in regards to this item,” said Morris, in response. When threatened, he has a habit of resorting to the kind of cheap tactics that were a Moses trademark: inaccurately dismissing proponents of the plan to raze 345 as “all white” and “very wealthy”; spuriously claiming that managed toll lanes were proven necessary when emergency service vehicles could not reach a catastrophic airline crash at DFW in 1985—simply untrue.
As any addiction recovery expert will tell you, the first step to health is admitting your problem. For Dallas that means a new development paradigm, one that is not dependent on the continual construction of highways nobody wants to pay for, to facilitate ever longer commutes that are in themselves cost inefficient. The proposal to tear-out I-345 is an example of that kind of thinking, its goal being to spur development downtown: to bring jobs and housing closer to South Dallas. The proposals for the decking of I-30 and the development of Fair Park into a year-round community lynchpin and economic engine are also promising.
Instead of building those highways that are so expensive, Dallas might fix its own streets and signals, which are in such disgraceful condition, to make those streets more amenable to entrepreneurs of all scales. As the urban planner Jeffrey Tumlin recently told a rapt audience of concerned Dallasites at atransportation summit organized by the American Institute of Architects and the Greater Dallas Planning Council, these kind of street repairs actually create more jobs and local economic impact than large highway building projects, in which so much money goes for heavy machinery. And yet, when I asked Dallas City Councilman Lee Kleinman when the city would get its streets repaired, this was his response: “Not in our lifetime.” Perhaps he would change the city’s tag line to “Big Things Don’t Happen Here.”
But that’s not really Dallas. And unfortunately that can’t-do spirit does not seem to apply to the building of the Trinity Toll Road, which stands as the acme of Dallas’s circular, self-defeating logic. At the same time that the city is spending millions to develop the space between the levees into an urban playground, it is moving forward with a plan to drive a massive highway through that space, cutting the city off from the very amenity it is building.   This at a time when cities around the globe are seeking to remove the infrastructural barriers between their centers and their riverfronts. The new exhibition of the work of British design sensation Thomas Heatherwick at the Nasher Sculpture Center features a bridgedesigned specifically to ameliorate a legacy embankment road in London. When informed that Dallas was, in 2014, considering the imposition of just such a barrier, his response was bewildered and appalled shock.
Not surprisingly, the toll road has been losing influential supporters at a considerable rate, a growing roster of individuals and institutions that now recognize that it is the product of a discredited planning philosophy. The for-it-before-they-were-against-it contingent also recognize that the road they had been promised as a part of the voter-approved Balanced Vision Plan—which was intended to be a picturesque urban parkway—in no way resembles the road that is now on the table: a massive tolled highway. There is no balance in this vision. It’s the urban planning equivalent of the Iraq War: a bad idea managed behind closed doors into something far uglier than was sold to the public, and with potentially devastating long-term consequences."