Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How Engineers See Drought in California

Civil engineer: The glass is too big.
Flood control engineer: The glass should be 50 percent bigger.
Army Corps levee engineer: The glass should be 50 percent thicker.
Mexicali Valley water engineer: If your glass leaks, don’t fix it.
Delta levee engineer: Why is water rising on the outside of my glass?
Dutch levee engineer: The water should be kept in a pitcher.
Southern California water engineer: Can we get another pitcher?
Northern California water engineer: Who took half my water?
Consulting engineer: How much water would you like?
Delta environmental engineer: Don’t drink the water.
Water reuse engineer: Someone else drank from this glass.
Academic engineer: I don’t have a glass or any water, but I’ll tell you what to do with yours.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Infrastructure - Affordable, Resilient, Sustainable, Integrated

New report from the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure.

Cutting Greenhouse Emissions from Power Plants, with a Water-Repellent Coating | MIT Technology Review

Cutting Greenhouse Emissions from Power Plants, with a Water-Repellent Coating | MIT Technology Review

The Dallas Festival of Ideas

FINAL Ideas Logo+Logos

New In My Book Bag

What I am currently reading:
  • Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman.
  • Storm Surge: Hurrican Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future by Adam Sobel
  • The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security by Ann Hagedorn
  • Doctors Without Borders: Humanitarian Quests, Impossible Dreams of Medecins Sans Frontieres by Renee C. Fox
  • @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex by Shane Harris
  • Stalin by Stephen Kotkin
  • National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear by David Rothkopf
  • Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger L.Martin
  • Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by Daniel P. Bolger
  • The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong by Judith Rodin
  • Industrial Megaprojects: Concepts, Strategies, and Practices for Success by Edward W. Merrow
  • Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts

Trimble Connect and Asset Management

Very good example in the context of wastewater manhole asset management from the Orange County Sanitation District.  Link to the case study.  From the website:

OCSD is responsible for wastewater services for 2.5 million people in Orange County, California. In an effort to streamline the inspection of over 8,000 manholes, OCSD required an accurate, reliable and easy-to-deploy technology solution to automate the manhole inspection process, eliminate paper-based data collection and move to a centralized Geographic Information System (GIS)-based electronic repository for all manhole asset and maintenance records on the sewer network.
Like many water and wastewater utilities around the world, OCSD had made a large investment in building an Esri ArcGIS® based GIS to map pipes and assets that are installed throughout its service area. Maintenance is an ongoing task and requires that data about the location of assets and the work performed on these facilities is accurately collected in the field. Trimble Connect helps with this challenge. As an authorized Esri business partner solution, Trimble Connect integrates Esri ArcGIS technology and allows utilities to view and update maps, assign work, manage workflows and collect field data and mapping updates using a variety of mobile devices. When used with a rugged Trimble Juno® T41 or Trimble GeoExplorer® 7 series handheld, workers can more accurately locate and map assets in the field (with up to decimeter accuracy using a Trimble GeoExplorer), helping significantly improve the quality of their critical infrastructure and asset management data. Trimble Connect can also be used with smartphones using iOS and Android.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

When Russians Behave Badly

If history is correct, when Russian tanks roll across other peoples' borders, the price of oil falls.

Climate Change Adaptation

Link to Matthew Kahn's working paper on Climate Change Adaptation: Lessons From Urban Economics.

One of the Better Books on Strategy

From A.G. Lafley (former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble) and Roger L. Martin (Dean, Rotman School of Management at Toronto) - Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works. Reduces the complexity of strategic thinking and planning to the following:
  1. What is your winning aspiration?  The purpose of your enterprise, its motivating aspiration.
  2. Where will you play?  A playing field where you can achieve that aspiration.
  3. How will you win?  The way you will will on the chosen playing field.
  4. What capabilities must be in place?  The set and configuration of capabilities required to win in the chosen way.
  5. What management systems are required?  The systems and measures that enable the capabilities and support the choices.
The book also points our the major themes that lead to ineffective strategic thinking:
  • They define strategy as a vision - - vision offers no guide to productive actions and is not an explicit road map.  This is a huge problem that I have seen during my career.
  • They define strategy a a plan - - a detailed plan does not imply sustainable competitive advantage.  Plans make people more comfort - - especially in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.  Being comfortable and thinking in terms of strategic competitive advantage are two different things.
  • They deny the long-term (or even medium-term) strategy is possible - - Yes, things are uncertain and complex, but always thinking in a reactive mode is very dangerous mode.  Value can come from long-term strategic clarity.
  • They define strategy as the optimization of the status quo - - Being all about optimization and greater efficiency is not strategic thinking.  While you are thinking optimization and efficiency - the other person is thinking revolution and transformation.  Your clients and customers are demanding cheaper, faster, and better.  Strategic thinking requires thinking and actions beyond just managing takeoffs.
  • They define strategy as following best practices - - Following the path of everyone else just leads to sameness.  Following the other sheep is not robust strategic thinking.
Product Details

The Delaware Aquaduct

Story on critical water resources management in New York from the New York Times.  The Times does a good job integrating the worlds of print with the worlds of screens in their video series.

60 Minutes to Cover Our Declining Infrastructure Tonight

HBO's VICE - You Don't Know Sh*t

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Graph of the Week

The Great Things I Learned From Engineering News-Record This Week

From the November 17/24 issue:
  • People no longer look at housing as a good investment.  This will change how we think about development.
  • Highway work is expected to be relatively flat.
  • Multi-family starts in 2014 - $61.9 billion.
  • Public works continues to be a drag on overall construction growth.
  • By adding IT to anything in the infrastructure matrix - branding it "Smart" becomes almost mandatory.
  • Concern regarding that the level of disasters is changing faster than how designers are reacting to them.
  • Information mobility can increase information complexity.
  • Failure almost never starts in the field.
  • Project management is the science of planning combined with the art of reacting to surprise.
  • Huge project problem - - poor project data shaping.  Bad execution stems from bad planning - - shortchanging a project's scope, purpose and policy development that underpin design decision often dooms projects before work begins.
  • Building is only the last third of the project cycle.  Most of the time on a project is spent doing nothing physical.
  • Excel is "grossly overutilized" for project management and schedules - it doesn't have the intelligence built into it that other construction project software would have.
  • Industrial IT spending in the US is in the 6% to 8% range of their revenues.  Construction is still stuck in the 1% to 2% range.  Construction still doesn't spend very much on technology.

App Stats

Two-thirds of smartphone users download zero apps per month - the top 7% of most active users account for nearly 50% of all downloads.  Most of these are top-25 apps.  A winner take all market that produces huge inequalities.

Statistics courtesy of the developer of the Bacon Now App.

Snowmelt Forecasting

Word of the Week - Digitale Schleimspur

From Germany - meaning digital slime.  The stuff that trails behind the world of internet shoppers and users of social media in terms of preferences, habits, and obsessions.  Digitale schleimspur is the key ingredient in the evolution of anticipatory computing and predictive intelligence.

Syria Civil Defense (SCD)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Orbital Insight Inc.

Counting cars in the parking lot at Target on Black Friday - Orbital Insight is using satellite imagery to predict everything from sales to bushels per acre.

Integrating Storage In California's Changing Water System

New report from the University of California at Davis.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Save The Rain - Going Green

Graph of the Week


A Declining Middle Class Means Declining Public Infrastructure Investment

Interesting paper - - The ASCE report card is complete garbage if the answer to this question is a yes - - "Do elites oppose investment in public infrastructure?"  Nothing is worse for civil engineering than a declining middle class.

Abstract to the paper:

"Many theories of democratization suggest that extending the right to vote will lead to increased government expenditure (e.g. Meltzer and Richard, 1981; Lizzeri and Persico, 2004; Acemoglu and Robinson, 2000). However, these models frequently assume that government can engage in transfer expenditure, which is often not true for local governments. This paper presents a model in which government expenditure is limited to the provision of public goods. The model predicts that the poor and the rich desire lower public goods expenditure than the middle class: the rich because of the relatively high tax burden, and the poor because of a high marginal utility of consumption. Consequently extensions of the franchise to the poor can be associated with declines in government expenditure on public goods. This prediction is tested using a new dataset of local government financial accounts in England between 1867 and 1900, which captures government expenditure on key infrastructure projects that are not included in many studies of national democratic reform. The empirical analysis, by exploiting plausibly exogenous variation in the extent of the franchise, shows strong support for the theoretical prediction: expenditure increased following relatively small extensions of the franchise, but fell following extensions of the franchise beyond around 50% of the adult male population."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What If Civil Engineering Became More Liberal?

What if the mindset of the civil engineer switched from a fear of bad things happening to a more "liberal" focus on the opportunity for huge successes?  How would that change our current thinking regarding urban planning, sustainability, resiliency, and infrastructure asset management?

Link tot he overcoming bias blog and the notion of conservative vs. liberal occupations and professions:

"My last post got me thinking about the liberal vs. conservative slant of different jobs. Here are two sources of data.

Consider some jobs that lean conservative: soldier, police, doctor, religious worker, insurance broker. These seem to be jobs where there are rare big bad things that can go wrong, and you want workers who can help keep them from happening. That explanation can also makes some sense of these other conservative jobs: grader & sorter, electrical contractor, car dealer, trucker, coal miner, construction worker, gas service station worker, non-professor scientist. Conservatives are more focused on fear of bad things, and protecting against them.

Now consider some jobs that lean liberal: professor, journalist, artist, musician, author. Here you might see these jobs as having rare but big upsides. Maybe the focus is on small chances that a worker will cause a rare huge success. This is plausibly the opposite of a conservative focus on rare big losses.

But consider these other liberal jobs: psychiatrist, lawyer, teacher. Here the focus may just be on people who talk well. And that can also make sense of many of the previous list of liberal jobs. It might also makes sense of another big liberal job: civil servant.

I’m not suggesting these are the only factors that influence which jobs are liberal vs. conservative, but they do seem worth exploring."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Understanding the Risks of Large/Complex Water Projects

From The Bay Delta Conveyance Facility: Affordability and Financing Considerations report.

"Finally, there are a number of important risks that could pose significant obstacles to a successful financing of the proposed conveyance facility. Construction cost overruns and delays, which are not uncommon for large infrastructure projects of this type, could result in substantially higher debt service costs for the SWP and CVP contractors, which they may or may not be able to pass on to their water users. Regulatory uncertainty, whereby the efforts to restore the fragile Delta ecosystem are not as successful as planned, could lead to reductions in exports from the Delta such that the water deliveries are insufficient to generate the revenues necessary for the water contractors to meet their debt service obligations. If the BDCP’s anticipated state and federal funding for habitat conservation is not ultimately forthcoming, the ability to operate the tunnels could be jeopardized. Climate change also presents a financing risk, both by causing unforeseen changes to precipitation patterns such that deliveries from the Delta fall below the levels preliminarily anticipated based on current modeling of the impact of climate change and through greater than anticipated sea level rise leading to increased salinity in the west Delta, again reducing water deliveries to the extent that water contractors will be unable to raise the revenues needed to pay their debt service."

The Era of Large Water Diversions

Drought, climate change, and greater water demands will probably produce a new focus on large and costly water diversion from Point X to Point Y.  How this plays out will be interesting to watch - - from the New York Times.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Drilling Water Wells on 60 Minutes Tonight

Drought and groundwater depletion are the themes on 60 Minutes tonight - link to the preview.

The Decline of White Engineers (and White Customers/Clients)

Global Fishing Watch

Why Engineers Without Borders Will Never Be Doctors Without Borders

The current issue of Bloomberg Businessweek has an insightful article regarding the history of Doctors Without Borders - How to Manage a Plague by Brad Wieners and Makiko Kitamura.  On a budget of $1.2 billion per year, Doctors Without Borders (also known as Medecins San Frontieres - MSF) runs a volunteer collective of 30,000 physicians, nurses, logisticians, and locally recruited staff that functions as an independent ambulance corps and a kind of MASH unit for those in need.

Engineers do great things under our "without borders" umbrella - but we lack the scale, scope, and relevance of doctors and their support staffs.  Doctors have the ability and desire to go after the Ebola problem and medical care in conflict zones.  Engineers Without Borders builds wells in safe spots during Spring Break.  This is probably a bit unfair, but Doctors Without Borders seems to have more money, a more compelling mission, better messaging, a different management approach, and self-styled esprit de corps molded from the idealistic left.  Doctors get helping and empathy better than engineers - especially in the context of the bonhomie of backpacking the developing world.  No one has ever used the word bonhomie and engineering in the same sentence.

This gives you a view of their management structure - from the article:

"MSF is able to move so swiftly, in large part, because of its decentralized structure, which is more akin to a guerrila network than a top-down corporation.  They go where things are worst, often to care for civilian casualties and refuges of war.  They also confront "neglected" diseases, from malaria to HIV/AIDS to drug resistant tuberculosis.  They are truly global, privately funded, and astonishingly effective, able to treat diseases others won't touch in places few will go-and where they're not always welcome.  In parts of Guinea, that was certainly the case.  Still, several weeks into the outbreak, it seemed as if MSF might have it in hand."

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the NYT column by David Brooks this week - The Legacy of Fear:

"To put it another way, only 10 percent of the people living in post-communist nations are living in a place that successfully made the transition to capitalism.  Ninety percent are living under failed transitions of one sort or another.  This fact is already yielding screwed up politics in places like Hungary and Russia and will shape the 21st century."


The premier documentary film festival in the U.S. is underway in NYC this week.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

We Are All Driving Less

Graph of the Week

Source: Greece National Statistics, European Commission, Angus Maddison

Teaching Engineers Philosophy

From an article in the Atlantic regarding the Air Force's emphasis on wanting to produce more well-rounded decision makers:

"Solti and others at the Academy see a background in the humanities as a way to understand complex, interdisciplinary relationships between seemingly disparate entities. When military decision-makers consider possible tactics to approach a situation, they have to consider the people and relationships that decision may affect, even if those results aren’t immediately obvious. "It’s not just taking down the electric power, for example, it’s about the effect [that action] creates, Solti said. "Electricity powers computers that feed the financial network that feeds [the] economy—it’s a single integrated system. And to evaluate how people in a country might react to an action like that, historical and cultural reference points can make the difference between a successful operation and a debacle.

For airmen, this holistic understanding is most important in time-sensitive situations when they have to make high-stakes decisions.  So administrators have built these hypothetical decision-making opportunities into the curriculum. "One great example is that we allow our cadets to operate a war room-type scenario where they are conducting a mission, Solti said. "They have to make these real decisions in a safe virtual environment. But you can see some of these ‘aha’ moments when they’re making what turn out to be poor decisions constrained by uncertainty and time. These wrong decisions are the "scar tissue that students develop and that informs their decision-making when the stakes are higher.

Exercises like the war room work best when they are interdisciplinary by design, a microcosm of the real world. "We partner engineers with legal majors and history majors and management majors, Solti said. "They form holistic teams that are able to tackle any problem, so they gain appreciation for their peers and for the power of the curriculum they’re learning.

For non-military schools, Solti noted that events like robotics competitions and debates create similar opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and appreciation. "The more experience [educators] give students that don’t have canned solutions, that have time constraints, that really test their ability and their gray matter, the better their minds’ ability to synthesize what they’ve learned, Solti said.

But educators at the Academy have to consider the real-world applications of their lessons, so they stress that the greater focus on the humanities doesn’t mean a decreased emphasis on STEM. "It’s not a trade off, it’s not a zero-sum game where engineers gain and humanities lose, Solti said. With more cross-disciplinary projects, Solti hopes that Air Force students from all fields can work together toward a common goal. Eventually, when those students are in the field and under pressure, they can remember all the nuances at play and make the right decision."

A Much Cheaper Grid Battery Comes to Market | MIT Technology Review

A Much Cheaper Grid Battery Comes to Market | MIT Technology Review

Augmented Reality is Coming to Construction

Pricing Carbon By ExxonMobil

I found this interesting in the current issue of Bloomberg Businessweek by Mark Hertsgaard - If It's Good Enough For Big Oil . . .

"ExxonMobil's carbon price is invisible to consumers - it's used to help executives test potential long-term investments.  The company projects that governments will impose a price on carbon that reaches $60 a ton in countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development by 2030 and $80 a ton by 2040; executives ask if a new refinery or pipeline will be profitable decades form now with that additional cost."

The Thinking of Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel always has something that makes you think.  From an interview of Thiel in Vox:

"…I have a slightly different cut on the Snowden revelations. I think it shows the NSA more as the Keystone Cops than as Big Brother. What is striking to me is how little James Bond-like stuff was going on and how little they did with all this information. That’s why I think, in some ways, the NSA is more in this anti-technological zone where they don’t know what to do with the data they find. So they just hoover up all the data, all over the world. I think it was news to Obama that he was tapping into [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel’s cell phone.

One way to think about this is that if the NSA bureaucracy actually knew what they were doing, they would probably need way less information. What’s shocking about Snowden is how much information they had and how little they did with it."

Thursday, November 13, 2014


MyShake App

"But a new smartphone app is being developed at the University of California that could revolutionise the way people respond to earthquakes and save lives, the Cal Alumni Association reports
The MyShake app is the work of Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, which focuses on sensors and communication devices for train operators, nuclear power plants, and other crucial sectors.
The technology was unveiled at the World Science Forum in 2013. In particular, the team behind the project notes how it could benefit those in countries that can't afford earthquake detection systems as well as those living in risky areas like California who simply want to be better equipped. 
The app works using something called the accelerometer, says SciDev, which is a sensor that measures the speed of smartphone movement, alongside GPS to identify tremors." 

A Sentence to Ponder

From the Los Angeles Times:

"Overall in the U.S., about 355 billion gallons of groundwater and surface water were used per day in 2010, compared with 410 billion a day in 2005."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leadership is About Striking the Correct Balance

From the online Atlantic:

"If George W. Bush's foreign policy was a testament to the perils of overreaction, Barack Obama's foreign policy is becoming, to many experts, a testament to the dangers of underreaction. On the matter of Syria, in particular, fear of renewed U.S. involvement in the problems of dysfunctional Arab countries (a legitimate fear, of course) kept the Obama administration from trying to shape the Syrian opposition, and therefore the outcome of that country's ruinous civil war. The Syrian war is not Obama's fault (people in Washington have a tendency to think that Washington matters more than it does, and they also have a tendency to avoid holding Arab countries accountable for their own disasters), and he has had his victories in Syria—most notably, the removal of most of Bashar al-Assad's chemical-weapons stockpile. But Syria is a catastrophe, and our Syria policy is a hash, and the U.S. is not winning its struggle against ISIS, and is no longer much interested in removing Assad from power."

The Default Engineer

The Default Engineer is still in the driving seat of most organizations.  Although many organizations and society in general have attempted a STEM reset, the Default Engineer still rules.  You can spot the Default Engineer via the following:
  • White, middle-class, heterosexual, and male.  The Default Engineer is part of a tribe that historically has been almost perfectly Caucasian in appearance and values.
  • Are more comfortable with hierarchy and old-fashioned command and control organizational systems.  They see organizations as a linear consumption experience.
  • Are governed by title and status.  The Default Engineer exists in a world of it's not about what is right, it's about who is right.
  • In terms of democratic obligations, ambitions, and citizenship - they are usually passive.  They have no manifesto for action in terms of social justice and opportunity.  The Default Engineer prefers to sing the chorus versus being the lone voice of cantor.  The Default Engineer has transformed the notion of being unideological into an ideology.
  • The Default Engineer has a very small Circle of Empathy.
  • They prefer to stay within discipline silos and are not interdisciplinary in their thinking.  The "solution bureaucracy" of the Default Engineer dislikes the idea of combining, connecting, and constructing ideas across disciplines.
  • They are suspicious of ideas that are not invented here.  They are not concerned regarding a firm understanding of the real ideas and issues driving the world.
  • They are easily detached from the purpose - they also have low sensibilities to context.  The default Engineer will never be accused of being a contextualist.  They are not "many sidedness" in their thinking on issues and solutions.
  • They work hard, have good intentions, and may have no ambition to change the framework they inhibit.
  • Revolution (technological, economic, and/or social) puts at risk the comfortable and predictable.  The Default Engineer is all about incremental thinking and change.
  • They don't understand their potential to change the world. 
  • They are not comfortable in a more engaged, more collaborative, more open, and more farsighted world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On the Front Lines of Climate Change

Success Is All About Density

When Did The Romans Stop Maintaining the Colosseum?

From WaterWorld.  Given the age of wastewater infrastructure, this type of effort was probably needed long ago.  More and more communities are nearing the end for their water and wastewater assets.  You either move head with the 100-year old wastewater treatment plant or it all starts looking like the Roman Colosseum.
DENVER, CO, Nov. 11, 2014 -- CH2M HILL, a global full-service consulting, design, construction, program management, and operations firm, has been awarded a program management advisor contract by the city of San Mateo, Calif., to oversee its Clean Water Program (CWP). The program includes approximately $900 million in total program costs escalated over a 20-year period to upgrade the city's sanitary sewer collection and wastewater treatment system.
CH2M HILL will provide program services, including program planning and administration, program controls, technical planning, engineering support, portal management, and construction support, to implement the combined CWP Master Plan. Currently, San Mateo is finalizing a key component of the Master Plan -- its capital improvement program (CIP), with partners, stakeholders and regulatory agencies.
Like many cities across the U.S., San Mateo's original sewer pipes date back to the early 1900s, and the wastewater treatment plant was largely constructed from 1935 to 1980. The facility's aging assets have reached the end of their useful service life and are in need of rehabilitation or replacement. The city is also under two regulatory programs, driving it to stop sanitary sewer overflows (SSO) and stormwater events from blending, as well as upgrading both its collection and treatment systems.
The city's CWP Master Plan will not only address aging infrastructure and regulatory needs but will help it achieve its sustainability goals by optimizing wastewater treatment, biogas utilization and conveyance infrastructure.

Under-Investing in Public Health


What African-Born Adults Bring to the United States

Source  - - 
"In 2009, 41.7 percent of African-born adults age 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 28.1 percent of native-born adults and 26.8 percent of all foreign-born adults. Of these, 25 percent of Africans reported a bachelor's degree as their highest credential, compared to 17.9 percent of the native born and 15.8 percent of immigrants, and 16.7 percent of Africans reported having a higher degree than a bachelor's, compared to 10.2 percent of the native born and 11.0 percent of immigrants.
Among those who reported not having obtained at least a high school diploma or equivalent credential, the African born more closely resembled the native born than the foreign born overall. In 2009, almost one-third (32.3 percent) of immigrants overall had not obtained this credential, compared to 11.7 percent of the African born and 11.4 percent of the native born. The share of African born who reported their highest educational attainment as a high school diploma or some college (46.6 percent) was higher than that of the foreign born overall (40.5 percent), but lower than that of the native born (60.5).
Levels of educational attainment, however, vary widely among African origin countries. The majority of immigrants from Uganda (66.5 percent), Egypt (61.1 percent), Algeria (61.0 percent), Nigeria (60.0 percent), Zimbabwe (57.5 percent), South Africa (55.3 percent), Cameroon (54.6 percent), and Tanzania (51.2 percent) reported a bachelor's degree or more as their highest educational credential. Yet more than a third of immigrants from Cape Verde (38.4), Somalia (37.5 percent), and Guinea (35.0 percent) lacked a high school diploma."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Demand for Engineering Talent Will Focus on Both Cognitive and Social Skills

From an abstract from MIT - The Increasing Complementarity Between Cognitive and Social Skills.  I can see this becoming the new normal when educating and thinking about what it means to be a world class engineer.

"Data linking 1972 and 1992 adolescent skill endowments to adult outcomes reveal increasing complementarity between cognitive and social skills. In fact, previously noted growth in demand for cognitive skills affected only individuals with strong endowments of both social and cognitive skills. These findings are corroborated using Census and CPS data matched with Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) job task measures; employment in and earnings premiums to occupations requiring high levels of both cognitive and social skill grew substantially compared with occupations that require only one or neither type of skill, and this emerging feature of the labor market has persisted into the new millennium."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Energy Infrastructure and FEMA National Flood Hazard

EIA has a new mapping system that illustrates our energy assets in the context of flood risk - link.  Gets at several key questions that engineers and managers need to be looking at.  What specifically is at risk and what is the level of risk and the consequences of the risk?  What can be done to minimize the risk and what is the cost?  How resilient is the infrastructure - how long will it take a power plant to get back on line after an extreme weather event?  What can be done to speed up this progress?

Resilience and Climate Adaptation is Not Sexy - But Effective

From the New York Times - illustrates the little things that engineers and planners are doing to prepare major urban centers for a future of more intense rainfall events.

"Begun as a pilot program under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — about 250 of the gardens are already in the ground — the initiative is set for a major expansion that will bring thousands of gardens to neighborhoods across the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens in the coming months.

The goal, according to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, is to soften the “impervious urban landscape” of asphalt and concrete and absorb rainfall that might otherwise funnel into the combined sewer system. (During heavy rain, storm water can exceed the capacity of the city treatment plants. Overflows are discharged into local waterways to avoid flooding the plants, which can harm water quality.) Any aesthetic benefits from the gardens are effectively seen as a bonus, though officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration noted that plots would be placed in many neighborhoods with a dearth of trees and above-average rates of asthma among young people.

“They make the neighborhood look like — I don’t want to say a better neighborhood,” began Valencia Allen-Hazel, 21, from East New York, Brooklyn, admiring a garden on Powell Street. “If somebody comes down who doesn’t live here, it makes it look better than it actually is.”"

Saturday, November 8, 2014

3-D Design Software “Evolves” Hundreds of Options | MIT Technology Review

3-D Design Software “Evolves” Hundreds of Options | MIT Technology Review - this issue of how increased design "automation" will ultimately impact design engineers is an important one to watch.  The world of robotics, automation, and AI is rapidly changing huge segments of the globe economy.  For the design engineer designing a new bridge with AutoCad 3-D - how will "evolving" software and capabilities impact them.

Graph of the Week

Wages vs Unemployment

Engineering Innovatrion Starts With Seeing Analogies

A very good article in the Wall Street Journal this morning by John Pallack - See The Analogies, Change The World.  This is a key message for engineering - many of history's most important breakthroughs were made by seeing parallels - how a plane is like a bike.  Key points from the article:

  • The "analogy" is a fundamental way of thinking.
  • The world of innovation is all about parallels and connections - which is also the world of the analogy.
  • Always question conventional analogies.
  • Think in terms of multiple analogies.  This could be why the polymath engineer is better at innovation and creativity.
  • Excel at looking at diverse sources when moving down the analogy path.
  • I think engineers must have the ability to simplify a world of based on complexity - the world of analogies is a key ingredient in this process.  Steve Jobs had the great line - "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Construction of the Greek Rio Antirio Bridge as Educational Tool

Construction management education is made for the era of quality documentaries regarding the construction of world class structures.  The Rio Antirio Bridge is one such example.  The film does a good job on the issues associated with the cohesionless soil and the absence of rock at the site - the strategy behind the pile foundations and the construction of the pile caps/foundations in dry docks and floated/flooded into the correct locations.

Life In a Medium-Sized Consulting Firm

From the Being Brunel website and his comments on the differences in Trenta, Grande, and Short engineering consulting firms.
"Medium companies are typically single discipline, and do not afford specialists. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing- in fact, it’s fantastic for those who want are broader view of specific ‘sectors’ (read: bridges, rail, geoetechnics, etc.) but can be a bit limiting to those who are unsure, or who want to explore the all the niches in this wonderful world of engineering.
For graduates, I think that medium sized companies offers the fastest route to responsibility. Like the rest of the industry, everyone will be overworked- and the size of the company means that the majority of projects will be small and intricate- ideal for off-loading to younger engineers. This means that the chance to deliver your own project within your first year is a real possibility- ideal for those racing towards chartership.
Medium companies do have a bit of an awkward pubescent phase however; when they pass the magical 150 mark (science fact). This is where I think medium companies can suffer- as they become big enough to have big company problems, but are too small to have the cash-flow to cope with them. Normally this exhibits itself in increased work-pressures and a decline in the social aspects- something that shouldn’t be underestimated. Many will sell-up at this point, and you’ll end up working for a big company in any case."

The World's Fastest Elevator

Interesting that the average "horizontal" speed of commuters traveling from suburbs to central business districts might be slower than the "vertical" speed at their office buildings.  Link to the story. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Innovative Water Technologies' Sunspring

Boston Kicks Off Design Competition To Prepare for Rising Tides | ENR

Boston Kicks Off Design Competition To Prepare for Rising Tides | ENR

North America WaterWatch

Link to North American flow data.

Water Wars in Brazil

Hard to find a place with a more severe drought than California - - link to the story regarding Brazil.

Civil Engineering and the Movie Intersellar

Before we hop on the space ship and head for other worlds - - we need to first go down the resiliency path.  This is from the ASCE website regarding a university position - - you can see the research direction for a changing world.

"By the time of appointment, successful candidates must have earned a Ph.D. (or equivalent) degree, with a record of pertinent high-quality research. All relevant areas of study will be considered, but we are particularly interested in individuals focused on one or more of the following areas: (1) sensing and nondestructive assessment of infrastructure components and systems; (2) innovative and eco-efficient materials; (3) sustainable and multi-hazards designs and re-use of existing infrastructure assets; (4) decision making, predictive science, and risk management toward interdependencies of infrastructure networks, impact of climate change, and multi-scale simulations; and (5) understanding of social sciences toward response and recovery to enhance resiliency against extreme events."

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Engineering and the Sounds of America

Sharing and the Future of the Car

From a report by McKinsey:
"Technology and connectivity pose the question of whether it’s necessary to own an automobile. Car sharing is a prominent example: the consumer pays to use vehicles only as needed and foregoes the responsibilities—and benefits—of individual ownership. Car-sharing services, which allow people to make a reservation at the tap of a personal mobile device, are expected to grow significantly in the next two years, with dramatic increases in the number of users and in revenues.12 These developments also defy the very notion of a car as a personal, autonomous machine. Already, “millennials” (the 18–34 demographic) appear to place less importance on car ownership than previous generations do. They are more open to sharing cars and to the rapidly growing number of “mobility services,” such as Uber and Lyft.
Yet increased car sharing does not necessarily translate into fewer car sales. Our analysis suggests that as it becomes more common, both car usage and wear and tear will rise in turn. The average distance driven per person probably will not decrease; in fact, it may creep up. We would expect a broad car-ownership regime to include a variety of vehicle types, at both ends of the spectrum: not only more utilitarian, almost “vandal-proof” fleet cars for shared rides but also higher-performance “fun” cars for those who still enjoy being behind the wheel for a Sunday drive. Often, the same drivers will be in both segments—just as, for example, a consumer may purchase fast food for some meals but still enjoy a Michelin-starred restaurant for special occasions. In an era of megacities and congested urban areas, personal-mobility services will help transportation become more flexible."

A Whole New Engineer


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Europe Is Moving Toward the Asset Management Job Title

Unlike the United States, the U.K. and Europe seem to have fully embraced the idea of the asset management job title.  A list of speakers at a recent U.K. transportation conference on asset management:

Join 200 senior road, rail and asset management professionals from across the supply chain to hear detailed case studies on asset management including funding, infrastructure, delivering successful asset management strategies and BIM and asset management.

Speakers include:
  • James Bailey, Commissioner for Highways and the Built County, Staffordshire County Council
  • Will Britain, Principle Engineer Highways Asset Manager, Blackpool Council
  • Andrew Ellis, Programme Manager - Asset Management Programme, Heathrow
  • David Farquhar, Deputy Director of Highways,Northamptonshire County Council
  • Shane Fitzpatrick, Senior Head of Service – Operations, Merseytravel
  • Mike Gallop, Director Route Asset Management - Western Route, Network Rail
  • Richard Moore, Head of Asset Management,London Underground
  • Chris Sexton, Technical Director, Crossrail
  • Dana Skelly, Director of Asset Management,Transport for London
  • Innes Thomson, Flood & Coastal Risk Manager,Environment Agency
  • Andrew Warrington, Service Director Highways,Nottinghamshire County Council
  • David Whitton, Head of Highways, Capital Development and Waste Management, Devon County Council
  • Mike Winter, Head of Dorset Highways Management, Dorset County Council

freeform 3d

Check out their 4d modeling and visualization examples.  From their website:

freeform 3d was founded in 2007 with the intent of supplying expert services in 3D & 4D modelling.

We offer three types of service, 4D modelling, surface modelling and technical visualisations.  

We work with consultants, contractors and other project stakeholders, delivering leading edge models, advice and attendances.

No Stagnation in Sports Technology

Driving Less in Arizona

Democracy in the Age of Ignorance

People don't know who runs Congress

Stratfor Global Intelligence

The world seems to me to be entering a period of extended chaos and complexity.  Engineers and engineering organization need to keep an increasing eye on hot-spot mapping - a world of rising fascism in Europe poses a greater threat to world peace than the Islamic State of the Middle East, investment/manufacturing capital are flowing, and falling oil prices may topple Vladimir Putin.

Check out Austin-based Stratfor Global Intelligence - a firm that can help with the minefield of geopolitical complexity and uncertainty.


Companies can do a much better job requiring employees to read assigned books that they think will help people learn things they need to learn or develop a new skill.  Many engineers are not great readers in the context of breadth - - no how Jane Austin can make you a better person for most.

Books@Work - a Cleveland-based non-profit helps companies with the process.  They operate in five states but not in Texas - finds professors from nearby universities to lead workplace seminars. Workers read a book each month and meet as a group each week with the professor.  For a five-month seminar with 15 to 20 participants, Books@Work charges $10 to $15 per session per employee.

Property Values and Drought

From the Dallas Morning News today by Ray Leszcynski, Losing Their Lifestyle - a story on the Texas drought and Lake Ray Hubbard:

"Along what used to be the western shores of Lake Ray Hubbard, drought has cost residents of Garland and Rowlett far more than the ability to water lawns twice a week.

There's less than a two-month supply on the market, the Dallas Morning News reported last month.  Realtors say higher-end properties in Rowlett, many of which are on the lake, can take longer to sell."

Saturday, November 1, 2014