Sunday, March 29, 2015

Design the Designing

From Medium (which I would highly recommend following) - - one of the best articles I have read on the art and science of collaborative design teams:

Language defines the territory of projects. It is therefore important to constantly check that people share the same understanding of a word, phrase or name. Ideally at the outset of the project you should define the language, almost to the point of giving each person on the team a list: when we say this, this is what ‘this’ means.

Because design work is naturally collaborative there needs to be some type of announcement that declares, “Here I am. I am going to contribute.” As someone who leads/listens to a team, I often use the way in which somebody says “Good morning” as a barometer of their mood. It tells me how they are feeling without me having to ask.

Design, through a humanist’s lens, sees optimism as a choice and creativity as an optimistic act. Therefore, constant optimism is a key ingredient to iteration. It fuels the persistence and tenacity necessary for sustaining the creative process, especially during challenging times. For example, the difficulty of innovating within a large corporation reflects a work environment where people often say, “No” or “I don’t understand” because change in corporate culture is often uncomfortable and slow. As a result, negativity must be confronted and countered — not just in a brainstorming session or during a proposal — but on a daily basis.

If we cannot laugh at and laugh with, then we cannot function.

Lunchtime marks a natural pause in the day and becomes a great opportunity for conversation and ultimately creativity. Eating at your desk or in one’s cubicle seems so awful to me and far too solitary for a culture tied so closely to collaboration. Instead, find a table so that members of the team can eat together as a group — doing so will bring a team together. Therefore, a studio should prioritize eating together. You are bound to learn something about your colleagues or yourself.

As designers we are often asking people to take a leap of faith and to picture a world that doesn’t quite exist. We are, at our essence, doing nothing more than creating fiction and telling good stories — an essential part of human communication. Wouldn’t it then make sense to, at the very least, invite fiction into the studio or at the most encourage it to flourish?

Conversations in the open allow others to tune in, tune out or overhear what is going on. Sometimes people, not initially part of the conversation, will spontaneously jump in, taking the conversation in a new and more interesting direction.

I don’t believe you should bind line management with creative leadership. If you do, a team will quickly become subservient and will design only what they are instructed to design.

"It's Difficult to Build Businesses Around Something that Isn't Valued"

And solving California’s drought – and helping to better manage global water resources in an increasingly water-constrained world – isn’t necessarily a problem that needs to be solved by new technology. Other regions around the world like Israel are already successfully using (and exporting) available water conservation and cleaning technologies.
As David Sedlak, co-director of Berkeley Water Center, told the tech news site Re/code last year: “Solving the problem of water supply over the next 10 or 20 years is going to rely on technologies that are here and mature now.”
There’s no reason to wait to deploy future disruptive water innovations, when there’s current water tech that just needs financing and maybe the right business model to deploy now.
Israel reuses about 80% of its municipal wastewater, mostly for irrigation, and plants are using activated sludge (circulated micro organisms), membrane filtration and stabilization ponds, among other methods. Israel is also aggressively using conventional reverse osmosis desalination tech to clean seawater and is now a world leader for desalination.
From a startup perspective, one area that is ripe for new ideas and entrepreneurs is helping bring the world’s water infrastructure into the digital age and making it much more efficient, similar to what is now happening with the power grid. At a conference in San Francisco last week, startups like Lagoon, Valor Water Analytics, and Fathom, showed off algorithm and data-driven water products for companies and water utilities.
The majority of California’s (as well as the world’s) water use goes to agriculture – not to water used by cities, industries or the water-intensive energy industry. And agriculture is actually one area where Silicon Valley is starting to pay a lot more attention recently. Investors call this sector “precision agriculture” and it’s focused on using the latest computing technologies – from robotics, to big data tools, to drones to sensors – to help farmers deliver crops with less energy, water and fertilizer.
The large tech industries in the area can also just help by starting to make the same types of aggressive pledges to water conservation and reuse that they’ve started to do with issues like clean power. Google, Apple and Facebook have all made aggressive pledges to adopt large amounts of clean energy to power their data centers, despite the early nature and sometimes higher cost of these goals. Google has experimented with using recycled wastewater to cool a data center in Georgia, and seawater for a data center in Finland.

A Paragraph to Ponder

From CNBC:
"Antarctica may have experienced its warmest day ever recorded on Tuesday, with the temperature reading of 63.5°F, reports The Weather Underground.
Tuesday's record high temperature follows another high reading of 63.3°F set just the day before. Until this week's heat wave, the highest-known recorded temperature on the continent was 62.6°F back in 1976."

Engineers Must Take the Leadership in Preparation

From the New York Times editorial page today - Preparing for Tomorrow's Storms:

"In the coming years, climate change is likely to render every part of the country more vulnerable to environmental disasters.  In some states, planning for these disasters is hampered by politicians who deny the every existence of changes in the climate.  In Florida, another state threatened by sea level rise and extreme storms, officials say they were told not even to use the term "climate change."

Even where there's recognition of a gigantic problem - as with California's aging levees - the cost of infrastructure improvements coupled with bureaucratic inertia means it's always simpler to put off measures that might avert future calamities.  And so it's easier to take the gamble that the catastrophe won't happen, the storm won't roll in, the flood won't come, even though ever more scientific evidence says it will."

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Engineers can learn much from designers - - especially the designers that populate a firm like IDEO. Creativity is the Holy Grail of a wide spectrum of the global economy.  No one gets the process of creativity and idea generation better than the folks at IDEO.  When they offer to play the role of teacher - engineers need to play student and enjoy the experience and lessons.

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The Master of Mentoring

History of a Bonding Rating

Population Growth as a Function of the Average January Temp

Details at The Atlantic.

The Bayonne Bridge - Civil Engineering in the Era of Screens

In the Era of Screens (and "Screens" is rapidly converging into one screen - the smart phone screen), you increasingly need two videos.  Number one is the project simulation video to sell and educate. Number two is the project milestone video to update and inform.

From the Bayonne Bridge project between the waters of the Kill Van Kull.

The update video - - keep in mind in the Era of Screens, various project stakeholders can operate in video update and milestone mode.

Game-Like Technology and the Changing World of Civil Engineering

How Will Live Video Streaming Impact Your Business?

Smart Young People Move Toward Jobs and Density

From The Atlantic on rich cities getting richer via their ability to attract young and professional talent.

Graph of the Week

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Other 99%

Corporate concerns regarding the California drought from GreenBiz
"California’s drought is more than a California problem.  
That point was underscored Thursday, when General Mills, Gap, Symantec, Coca-Cola, Driscoll's and other cross-sector companies dependent on California supply chains joined forces with the sustainable business group Ceres to press state lawmakers — and residents — toward more urgent and innovative responses to water scarcity.
“We rely on thousands of California farmers to provide us with high quality products,” said General Mills Senior Manager of Global Sustainability Ellen Silva on a conference call announcing the Ceres-organized campaign to gmobilize private-public partnerships to address California’s record setting water shortage.
“We’ve committed to water conservation in our operations, but it goes beyond our walls. Ninety-nine percent of the water used (to make General Mills products) is outside of our operations,” Silva said. So the company needs to work with the farmers in its supply chain but also the water districts and state government, she said, to manage water resources and hedge against future scarcity."

White Paper of the Day

The Path to Water Innovation.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Robots, productivity, and jobs | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal

Robots, productivity, and jobs | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal

Graph of the Week


Mapping Christ in 3D

Quakes and Infrastructure in North Texas

From the Dallas Morning News news today - Quakes could be teaming up to jolt infrastructure:
"“We do not expect problems with our infrastructure during small-magnitude earthquake clusters, but our expectations are based on limited experience and subject to change,” said Ian Buckle, an engineering professor at the University of Nevada Reno who studies earthquake effects.
And the North Texas swarm is happening in an area that’s much more built up than parts of Nevada, Oklahoma, Kansas and New York where similar small-scale, repeated earthquakes have been measured in recent years. So lots more pipes, roads and buildings could be affected.
There’s also a joker in the deck: It’s at least possible that small, rapid earthquakes could induce the “resonance effect.” The same odd property that lets singers break a glass with their voices could amplify the power of even minor quakes."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bikes and Social Justice

Interesting report - Building Equity: Race, Ethnicity, Class and Protected Bike Lanes - An Idea Book for Fairer Cities.

Designing the Design Manual

This is an important idea demonstrated by the development of the complete streets design manual for the City of Boston - the process to design the design manual matters a lot.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Keep An Eye on Auto AR

A demo will be coming out at the end of this year from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology.  The system is a 3-D augmented reality platform - drive up to a construction site, put on a GPS-equipped virtual-reality headset, and explore the three-dimensional architectural rendering that appears superimposed on the landscape - link to additional information.

CAT + Uptake

When Will Deloitte Buy AECOM?

Will the convergence of the professional services industry have a path through one of the big accounting firms?  Interesting article in the current issue of The Economist.

A Good Primer on the CA Drought

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Engineers and Cloud Problems

Karl Popper, the famous English science professor, is well known for the idea that problems can be defined into clock problems and cloud problems.  By their training and general outlook, engineers are the masters of solving the clock problem.  The clock problem has clear, predictable resolutions - the clock is orderly and can be understood by taking it apart.  Look at any engineering textbook - clock problems are neat and predictable moving parts and often textbook answers.  You can solve them by studying the example problem,  Clock problems teach engineering analysis - break the problem down into different parts.

The vast majority of problems that engineers face are clock problems.  But this century is shaping up a little differently.  We face a host of difficult cloud problems.  A cloud problem, on the other hand, has less predictable solutions - like a cloud which is amorphous cannot be taken apart or neatly cataloged.  Cloud problems tend to be questions without a single, clear answer.  Cloud problems are indivisible emergent systems.

Engineers are masters of deductive thinking - we look at problems like our infrastructure decay and climate change risk and see clock problems.  This century will belong to those engineers that have the skill sets to properly identify cloud problems in complex situations, grasp the gist and clarify to the public and key stakeholders what is actually happening.  Engineers will need the ability to go from analysis to synthesize - - engineers skilled at absorbing a stream of disparate data (i.e., such as climate change or drought management) and see trends, patterns or generalizations.

Start looking up at the clouds - new talents for a new world.

The Men of Ferguson, Missouri

Fascinating article in Forbes regarding the missing men of Ferguson.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Term of the Week - People Science

From the New York Times - Managers Turn to Computer Games, Aiming for More Efficient Employees:

“I think we’re going to see more and more systems in this field of quantified work, or people science, that are going to make the most valuable resource that we have — which is our team — more effective,” Mr. Doerr said in an interview in his firm’s San Francisco satellite office.

Engineering and the Rise of Goal Science

The CA Energy-Water Nexus

From The Water Footprint of California's Energy System, 1990-2012:

Abstract: California’s energy and water systems are interconnected and have evolved in recent decades in response to changing conditions and policy goals. For this analysis, we use a water footprint methodology to examine water requirements of energy products consumed in California between 1990 and 2012. We combine energy production, trade, and consumption data with estimates of the blue and green water footprints of energy products. We find that while California’s total annual energy consumption increased by just 2.6% during the analysis period, the amount of water required to produce that energy grew by 260%. Nearly all of the increase in California’s energy-related water footprint was associated with water use in locations outside of California, where energy products that the state consumes were, and continue to be, produced. We discuss these trends and the implications for California’s future energy system as it relates to climate change and expected water management challenges inside and outside the state. Our analysis shows that while California’s energy policies have supported climate mitigation efforts, they have increased vulnerability to climate impacts, especially greater hydrologic uncertainty. More integrated analysis and planning are needed to ensure that climate adaptation and mitigation strategies do not work at cross purposes.

Graph of the Week

pew chart global optimism

Rhizomatica - DIY Mobile Networks in Rural Mexico

The Problems of Europe

From the Economist last week in a book review of the excellent Is the American Century Over by Joseph Nye:

"Europe is hardly a plausible challenger.  Though its economy and population are larger than America's, the old continent is stagnating.  In 1900 a quarter of the world's people were European; by 2060 that figure could be just 6%, and a third of them will be over 65."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Talking Asset Management

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Economist:

Unlike most other big cities in America, Houston has no zoning code, so it is quick to respond to demand for housing and office space. Last year authorities in the Houston metropolitan area, with a population of 6.2m, issued permits to build 64,000 homes. The entire state of California, with a population of 39m, issued just 83,000.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Drones for Good

Drones will be featured at Austin's South by Southwest this month - link to the program and speakers.

Land-Value Capture

From an article on a new funding model for public transit in Quebec:
"Fanie St-Pierre, a spokesperson for the Agence métropolitaine de transport, said the agency is in the process of studying funding models, including land-value capture, in order to raise money for an extension to the métro’s Blue Line.
The idea behind land-value capture is that a transit line adds value to the homes and developments that are close by. Developing a transit line, therefore, brings more wealth to those who had already bought their homes in the area. Land-value capture allows the agency developing the transit infrastructure to get a share of some of the value it has created.
Last October, the National Bank of Canada published a study that showed land-value capture could recoup up to 35 per cent of the cost of the West Island train line, and the light-rail line over the Champlain Bridge.
That study was based on a 2011 AMT study that showed that land values in Montreal were 13 per cent higher within 500 metres of a métro station, and 10 per cent higher within a kilometre.
David Levinson, who teaches in the department of civil, environmental, and geo-engineering at the University of Minnesota, said there are several ways to capture the value of transit developments without taxing citizens heavily.
One idea is to reverse the way property is taxed so that the land portion is taxed more heavily than the development portion.
“You should tax the land more. That way, you encourage development as a way to pay for transit, instead of having all these lots of land lying fallow,” he said."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why don't the very wealthy invest more in infrastructure?

The Marginal Revolution is currently taking topic requests.  I found this one interesting from a reader:

John Oliver had a great bit on infrastructure

What should be done about raising revenue to fund these repairs? Also, why don’t the very wealthy invest more in infrastructure? Why do we not see the Bloomberg Bridge replacing Tappan Zee Bridge? To me it seems this would be a great way for the wealthy such as Bloomberg to be immortalized in a manner that is both highly visible and will improve the lives of many people who have to deal with such bridges.

No Golden Age for U.S. Manufacturing

From the Economist last week - Not Quite What it Seems: Talk of a renaissance in American manufacturing is overblown:

"Data on jobs also suggest that manufacturing is not entering another golden age.  That is less surprising, since with better technology manufacturing is becoming ever less labour-intensive.  Nonetheless, the post-recession rise in manufacturing employment is one of the weakest in memory.  According to the Economic Policy Institute think tank, if employment had followed the trend of the average recovery in the years since 1945, then an extra 1.2 million manufacturing jobs would have been created by the third quarter of 2014.  In fact, 800,000 or so appeared.  Manufacturing job growth, though it has seen a few brisk years, has barely kept up with that of the workforce as a whole."

Gassed Up In Mexico

From the excellent The Accidental Super Power by Peter Zeiham:

"But one of the great open secrets of the American energy complex is that it is already legal to export natural gas, so long as it is by pipe and so long as it goes to Mexico.  As of the beginning of the shale boom, there were already nine natural gas pipelines crossing the border, supplying Mexico with nearly one-quarter of its natural gas needs, about 1 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d).  Since the shale boom, however, work has begun on three major corridors as well as expansions throughout the export system in order to marry the ultra-cheap American natural gas to the Mexican power network and labor market.  Exports doubled to 2 Bcf/d between 2010 and 2013, but the real growth will come in 2016. As that point several new trunk lines will begin operation, allowing the export of U.S. energy to heretofore unreached Mexican regions up to and including the Mexico City core.  Mexican imports form the United States are expected to hit ten times their 2010 levels."

Engineering in a World of Gerontocracies

One of the better news documentaries currently on television is HBO's Vice.  They consistently do the best at covering the "wicked" problems - the wildly difficult or impossible problems that don't have clear solutions or pathways.

This week covered (again) climate change in terms of rising levels.  Watch the entire episode.  One of my takeaways was the demographics of the attendees at the various "denier" conferences and conventions. On average, the attendee groups are male, pale, and stale in their thinking and appearance. This is just one example of a huge problem that engineers and technologist face this century.  From investing in our crumbling infrastructure to the hard economic choices of climate change - a world governed by gerontocracies is all about placating the voting elderly with the levels of income support and health care they have been promised.  Placating involves two paths: (1.) not investing in those systems that have future benefits in terms of social, environment, and economic goods, or (2.) taxing an ever-shrinking pool of workers (and therefor enervating the economy).  Both paths have rather ugly outcomes - both involve paying for the past and dis-investing in the future.

In the World of Gerontocracies - - male, pale, and stale is the new ruling class.  This is not good news for engineering.

New to My Book Bag

Working on the following books:
  • The Fall Line: How American Ski Racers Conquered a Sport on the Edge by Nathaniel Vinton
  • H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  • The Accidental Super Power: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder by Peter Zeihan
  • Data Smart: Using Data Science to Transform Information into Insight by John Foreman
  • BIM and Construction Management: Proven Tools, Methods, and Workflows by Brad Hardin
  • Data Science for Business: What You Need to Know About Data Mining and Data-Analytic Thinking by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett
  • Energy Revolution: The Physics and the Promise of Efficient Technology by Mara Prentiss
  • The Process Improvement Handbook: A Blueprint for Managing Change and Increasing Organizational Performance by Tristan Boutros and Tim Purdie

Saturday, March 7, 2015

NYC Drone Film Festival

Captivology: Gaining the Attention of Your Clients

For better or worse, we live in a professional world where attention is a significant driver between success and failure.  Then and now, attention has always mattered.  What is different today is that attention has become scarcer.  Your clients just can't keep up with a world burdened by an exponential growth in information - we have the same 1,440 minutes as our caveman and cavewoman ancestors - but our day is just filled with far more information and distractions.

I recently completed Ben Parr's Captivology: The Science of Capturing People's Attention.  He breaks the heart of Captivology down into seven captivation triggers that we need to pay attention to. These are as follows:

  1. Automaticity Trigger - Using specific sensory cues like colors, symbols, and sounds to capture attention based on automatic reaction to certain stimuli.
  2. Framing Trigger - Adapting to or changing somebody's view of the world so they pay attention to you.
  3. Disruption Trigger - Violating people's expectations to change what they pay attention to.
  4. Reward Trigger - Leveraging people's motivations for intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
  5. Reputation Trigger - Using the reputations of experts, authorities, and the crowd to instill trust and captivate audiences.
  6. Mystery Trigger - Creating mystery, uncertainty, and suspense to keep an audience intrigued until the very end.
  7. Acknowledgment Trigger - Fostering a deeper connection, because people tend to pay attention to those who provide them with validation and understanding. 

IDEO on Creative Listening Skills

Available on iTunes.

Creative Listening with IDEO

Understanding Your True Water Footprint

Friday, March 6, 2015

How Could an Engineering Resume Look Different

Is This the Dutch Engineering Century?

From a press release announcing Indonesian and Dutch efforts to combat the impacts of climate change.  Many other countries will turn to the Netherlands for aid and support.

"The 5 million euro initiative is the leading international case of the “Building with Nature Innovation Programme”. This public-private partnership aims to stimulate sustainable coastal engineering approaches that make use of the natural protection provided by ecosystems like mangroves and salt marsh habitats. It represents the transition of traditional infrastructure designs that typically fight against nature, towards solutions that work with and alongside nature .The latter are often more cost-effective, while bringing more prosperity to the local economy such as through enhanced fisheries and carbon storage.

Thirty million people suffer from coastal flooding and erosion hazards, affecting 3,000 villages in Northern Java. The problems largely result from the removal of mangrove belts for aquaculture development, unsustainable coastal infrastructures, and groundwater extraction. In some places more than 3 kilometers of land has already been taken by the sea and entire villages have been engulfed. Many people experience a major loss in income, reaching up to 60-80% in some villages. The agri- and aquaculture sectors, key economic engines in Indonesia, also suffer multi-billion losses."

Connect the Drops

Connect the Drops Declaration

The Resiliency App

The pathway for being strong in a world where things go wrong is looking like it runs directly toward your smartphone - check out the story.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

UK Auto Insurance Premiums versus Engineering Discipline

Graph of the Week

10 Policy Statements Regarding Water Resources Management in North Texas

Even after two weeks of rain and snow in North Texas, we should still all be concerned about the future of water resources in this part of Texas.  Provided below is my list of policy statements that could provide a platform for managing water resources in North Texas:
  1. Water is still the most misunderstood of the commodities.  It is grossly undervalued and inappropriately priced.  A better understanding of water economics is needed by the citizenry of North Texas.
  2. Managing water resources in North Texas is hugely complex.  It is a delicate balancing of economic, social, and environment needs and constraints.  Striking the correct balance takes the energy and commitment of numerous stakeholders.  Effective engagement among these stakeholders is critical to water resources planning in North Texas.
  3. It is not drinking water or wastewater or stormwater - it is One Water.  The ability to think in terms of systems and engage in integrative planning will be critical for North Texas. Determining how and when we are able to take advantage of collective water resources planning versus thinking in terms of water resource silos will be critical to North Texas as it marches toward a doubling of the population by 2050.
  4. Not all utilities are created equal.  Verizon is in the business of serving customers.  Water utilities in North Texas have customers, but unlike many other utilities, they have an obligation to serve all the citizens of North Texas. Serving a customer is far different than serving a citizen.  Fairness and transparency is and should be the cornerstone of water resources planning in North Texas.  
  5. Smart technology and advanced business practices will come to dominate water resources management in North Texas this century.  Smart water meters, advanced data science, and predictive analytics will provide citizens and water resource managers with better and more insightful information in real-time.  This will aid greatly in meeting aggressive conservation goals for the region.
  6. Meeting conservation goals will require further social and behavioral changes.  Technology will play an important role in meeting conservation goals, but more importantly will be a better understanding of behavioral economics and the role of markets in balancing water supply and demand issues.
  7. Climate change concerns and risks will place a premium on resiliency thinking and planning in North Texas.  Understanding the risks and consequences to our water resource systems will require a combined focus on both sustainability and resiliency planning and actions.  Resiliency is about being strong in a world where things go wrong.  A greater focus needs to be placed on managing the unexpected in terms of North Texas water resources planning.
  8. Striking a sustainable balance between green and grey infrastructure will be an important economic, social, and environmental consideration.  Green water solutions and opportunities need to be effectively integrated into local building and development practices.  The future of North Texas water resources planning is not about green solutions or just grey solutions - it is about developing the optimal combination of both green and grey solutions.
  9. A future marked by greater energy independence and lower energy costs combined with the Era of Desalination has important technological ramifications for North Texas water resources planning.  Advanced technology combined with the traditional reservoir and pipeline development projects and opportunities will be important tools in the water resources planning toolbox for North Texas.  We cannot conserve nor design our way out of this issue - what will be needed is a large toolbox with many appropriate engineering, economic, and public policy tools. 
  10. A greater focus on North Texas water resources issues needs to be placed at the K-12 education level.  Water infrastructure is the invisible asset that is consistently taken for granted.  The citizens of North Texas clearly see the visible problems and demands of our transportation systems.  The water resources infrastructure of North Texas lacks collective visibility.  Without better visibility and understanding, water resources planning for this century faces an uncertain and troubling future in North Texas.