Monday, June 29, 2015

Local Debt in Texas

From the City Journal:

"Thanks to its low state debt, Texas enjoys a reputation for budgetary restraint. Yet as Texas comptroller Susan Combs found to her dismay, the state’s towns, cities, counties, and school districts have racked up the second-highest per-capita local debt in the nation, behind only New York’s spendthrift municipalities. The total, nearly $8,000 per resident, is more than seven times higher than Texas’s per-capita state debt. Over the last decade, local debt in the Lone Star State has more than doubled, growing at twice the rate of inflation plus population growth. At the moment, Texas localities owe $63 billion for education funding—155 percent more than they did a decade ago, though student enrollment and inflation during that period grew less than one-third as quickly. The borrowing has also paid for a host of expensive new athletic facilities, such as a $60 million high school football stadium, complete with video scoreboard, in the Dallas suburb of Allen."

California's Promethean Past by Victor Davis Hanson, City Journal Summer 2013

California's Promethean Past by Victor Davis Hanson, City Journal Summer 2013

Mott MacDonald and GSI make the case for building climate resilience - Mott MacDonald

Mott MacDonald and GSI make the case for building climate resilience - Mott MacDonald

Better Engineering via Twitter

From the current issue of MIT Sloan - How Twitter Users Can Generate Better Ideas by Parise, Whelan, and Todd - findings of their research:
  1. Overall, employees who used Twitter had better ideas that those who didn't.
  2. In particular, there was a link between the amount of diversity in employees' Twitter networks and the quality of their ideas.
  3. Twitter users who combined idea scouting and idea connecting were the most innovative.

New to the Book Bag

Almond Fact

From Grist:

"One almond takes almost an entire gallon of water to produce — but so does a tiny slice of cantaloupe, four strawberries, two florets of broccoli, or a fraction of an egg."

Math Problem of the Week

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Robots are Coming to Bricklaying

The World of Interesting Stats

I came across two interesting statistics this week.  The first was at a presentation by the chief economist for Bain on Thursday in .  This is pretty shocking - - longevity in the developed world is increasing 5-years every 20-years. So if you are a new parent today in your 30s, you can probably expect your children to outlive you by 15 years in terms of longevity.

The other is in the current issue of National Geographic.  The have a great article on the food truck industry.  According to the article - the food truck business has grown 80% since 2009, and  it's on the way to becoming a billion-dollar industry by 2020.

Project Updates in the Age of Screens

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Engineering Virtues

We have a tendency to over-teach ethics - long codified lists of what not to do when.  We try and teach ethics as a skill.  Rarely do we teach the idea of virtue in terms of a fundamental moral dimension.

This is my list of engineering virtues we need to focus more on:
  1. Love of Truth - Engineering without the love of truth is a dangerous business.  Getting to the bottom of things in engineering is hard work.  Many times the profession appears that there is no bottom of things.
  2. Honesty - Honestly starts with facing your limits as an engineer.  We need to own up to our mistakes and accept unpleasant truths.
  3. Fair-Mindedness - We need to be fair when evaluating the arguments of others.  We need to be more judge than jury.
  4. Humility - Learn to seek help and guidance.  Own your limitations.
  5. Perseverance - Engineering is like many things in life.  Little is worth knowing or doing that comes easily.  Grit is key to most endeavors in engineering.
  6. Courage - Stand up for what you believe is true.  Take risks to pursue the right path.
  7. Good Listening - You cannot learn from others if all you do is talk.  It takes courage to be a good listener.
  8. Perspective-Taking and Empathy - Good decisions require both a firm understanding of context and a firmer understanding of the problems of others.  Engineering requires shared decision making between you and the customer/client.
  9. Wisdom - Engineering is a practical profession that requires practical wisdom.  Engineering wisdom is about finding the correct balance.  When things are in conflict, it is the master virtue that takes us down the correct path.

Drought - The Movie

Graph of the Week


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dams and Drones

The Era of Extremes

From the New York Times Science section today on the projected impact of climate change:

"The report estimates that the exposure of people to extreme rainfall will more than quadruple and the exposure of people to drought will triple compared to the 1990s. In the same time span, the exposure of the older people to heat waves is expected to go up by a factor of 12, according to Peter Cox, one of the authors, who is a professor of climate-system dynamics at the University of Exeter in Britain."

The view near my house north of Grapevine Lake - - 

Engineering In a World Without Work

Solving the California Drought in Three Parts

A great model for the rest of the planet - from the Resnick Institute.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Largest by State

Apple versus Coke

From the new book by famed author Roberto Saviano - ZeroZeroZero:

"If you had invested 1,000 euros in Apple stock in the beginning of 2012, you would have 1,670 euros in a year.  Not bad.  But if you had invested 1,000 euros in cocaine . . . after a year you would have 187,000 euros."


New FAA drone flight planning App.

screenshot 1

One World Trade Center and the Power of Watching Construction

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Adaptive Planning Opens Door to Smarter Utilities

Adaptive Planning Opens Door to Smarter Utilities

The State of Nevada

0618 Nevada

Infrastructure Investment Decline and Trust

How Much Longer Will This Be True?

From a 1965 NASA report -

"Man is the lowest-cost, 150-pound, non-linear, all-purpose computer system which can be mass-produced by unskilled labor."

The World of Numbers

From a quick reading of the current issue of The Economist, Men'a Journal, and Foreign Affairs:

  • A golf course in America closes roughly every two days.
  • The U.S equine population grew sixfold between 1840 and 1900 - a period of huge growth for the telegraph and railroads.
  • In 2014, the richest 1% held 48% of the world's wealth.
  • The U.S. has less than 5% of the global population but 25% of the world's prisoners.
  • The World Bank estimates Nigeria needs to spend $30 to $50 billion a year on infrastructure.
  • Since 2003, there has been 20 fatal accidents per year for manned aircraft for low-level inspection of pipelines, traffic observation, fire-fighting, and filming.
  • The United States was 75% rural in 1870 and by the mid-20th century, it was 64% urban.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Engineering and Super-bugs

Another of the "wicked" problems that future engineers will struggle with.  From The Telegraph:

"The threat to the human race from deadly new disease strains resistant to drugs is “more certain” than that from climate change, the head of a new review set up by David Cameron into the crisis has insisted.
Up to 10 million people a year could die as a result of superbugs and drug resistant strains of diseases such as malaria within a generation unless urgent action is taken, according to projections calculated by a team led by Jim O’Neill, the City economist.
Yet despite widespread agreement among scientists about the scale of the threat the public is largely unaware, he warned.
The inquiry was set up earlier this year to search urgently for solutions to a problem Mr Cameron said threatened to cast the world "back into the dark ages of medicine".
In an initial assessment Mr O’Neill set out a Doomsday scenario, warning that without concerted global action to find new treatments and dramatically reduce overprescribing 300 million people could die in the next 35 years from currently treatable conditions."

Virginia's Elizabeth River Tunnel

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Would Bridge Make for Better Bridge Engineers?

Gates does it.  Buffet also does it.  Eisenhower did it.  The "it" in this case is the card game of bridge. I found this interesting in the Wall Street Journal by Michael Ledeen - The Ultimate War Game:

"The shrinking population of American bridge players goes hand in hand with other evidence of declining mental discipline, including shortening attention spans and decreases in book readership. You can't be a winning card player unless you can concentrate for several hours, and mastery of the game takes years.  Neither is bridge a solo activity; you need a partner with whom you must reach very detailed agreements about myriad situations.  All this is good for the mind."

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the current issue of Fortune:

"China is investing more than $128 billion in domestic railway construction in 2015, compared with about $100 billion in 2014.  China plans to add another 4,700 miles of passenger track this year alone.  By comparison, the U.S. government invests $1.4 billion annually in Amtrak."

Image result for pictures of bullet trains

The Pope and Climate Change

Friday, June 12, 2015

Term of the Week - Project Quarterback Rating (PQR)

From an abstract in the ASCE Journal of Construction Engineering and Management:

"This paper presents the definition and the mathematical formulation of a unique performance metric called the project quarterback rating (PQR). The PQR gives a specific score for each construction project based on a set of key variables affecting project performance and outcome. The importance of the PQR is found in its ability to quantitatively assess overall performance from the contractor’s perspective, taking into account key performance areas, which include customer satisfaction, schedule, cost, profit, and communication. A practical application comparing the performance of several recently completed projects is also presented in this paper to illustrate the new model. This application shows one of many possibilities for how PQR can be used to solve industry problems and to fill an existing gap in the literature. This research offers a contribution to the construction engineering and management literature and to the architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) industry. It is the creation of a unified project performance metric for a practical comparison of overall performance for any construction project."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My Thoughts on One Water

The era of extreme weather in an increasingly risky world is calling into question our relationship with water.  From needed flood control in dense urban centers to reusing wastewater for drinking, redefining the separation of stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water is critical for a more sustainable and resilient future.  Water is water is an emerging trend that will require leadership focused more on integrative and holistic planning that breaks the barriers and boundaries of water planning silos.  Thinking only in terms of water silos misses the constraints and opportunities embedded in a more complete and systematic understanding of the environmental, economic, and social dynamics of a critical natural resource.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Importance of the Data Visualization Engineer

Engineering is made for the era of telling your story with numbers.  Taking our numbers and stories and combining them with the richness of the new data visualization tools seems an incredible perfect match.

Growing In a Drought - California Version

California's agricultural workforce grew slightly in 2014, largely because growers are shifting to more labor-intensive, permanent crops with higher prices, such as almonds and grapes. However, the drought sharply decreased employment in contract farm labor and other support jobs during the irrigation season. Source: California Employment Development Department

The Best Engineering Movie About Engineering

Arnold Started Just Like This

The first Terminator was probably a functional disaster.  Look for this to progress similar to driverless vehicles - - exponential growth in capabilities.

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the New York Times - Sipping California Dry by Matt Richtel:

"There's a well-drilling boom in the Central Valley, and it's a water grab as intense as any land grab before it.  Drilling contractors are so swamped with requests that there is a wait of four to six months for a new well.  Drilling permits are soaring.  In Tulare County, home to several of Mr. Hundal's almond farms, 660 permits for new irrigation wells were taken out by the end of this April, up from 383 during the same period last year and just 60 five years ago - a figure rising "exponentially," said Tammie Weyker, spokeswoman for Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency."

Finally Reading the Water Bible

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Droughts and Drones

June 2 California Drought Update

0604 West Drought Monitor

Engineering and Change Blindness

Engineers need to be good with details.  Your ability to focus and manage the smallest of details will be critical to not only your success as an engineer, but also your success as a manager.

Watch the video and see if you can spot the trick (i.e., in this case the card trick is not the trick).

The Dezervator

Friday, June 5, 2015

Engineering and Your Individual Brand

"The Internet has also changed the way firms identify and procure design and construction services. Recent SMPS Foundation research showed that some clients now have a “don’t find us, we’ll find you” mentality. They are doing their own research; some sources have indicated that as much as 65% to 75% of the buying decision process has been completed before an owner ever even reaches out to A/E/C firms. They are checking out company websites. They are Googling the names of potential team members and reading their LinkedIn profiles. They are making notes of the A/E/C professionals who are writing the articles and blogs they read, speaking at their society meetings, or being interviewed in industry media. 

Some owners even report creating their personal “dream teams,” reaching out to an architect at one firm, a mechanical engineer at another, and a construction manager at a third. And while “arranged marriages” may not always work and actually contrast with the premise of Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), some owners are increasingly utilizing this approach, much like I might buy a suit at one store, a dress shirt at another, and a tie at third. Maybe one store doesn’t have everything that I want, so I need to shop around. The Web and social media have enabled B2B (business-to-business) buyers to incorporate consumer buying behaviors.

But what does all this mean to A/E/C firms, professionals, and marketers?

It means that reputation is becoming the key differentiator. It means that every professional – no matter what their level in a company – needs to work diligently to build their own personal brand. And then maintain it continually.

And the great thing is that it is not as difficult to build a strong personal reputation as you may think. It takes work. It takes persistence. Like anything else, it often takes a bit of failure along the way. But it is absolutely worth it because developing a dynamic personal brand can help you get a job, advance in your career, and obtain promotions. It can help keep you around when times are tough because you will be indispensable to your company, no matter how large or small it happens to be. And as an added benefit, your strong reputation can also bring in work for your firm. There’s no downside, and in this new norm that increasingly focuses on individual A/E/C team member credentials, it is imperative that you stand out."

Connecting Game of Thrones, Carbon Emissions and Power Politics

Volvo Density Direct

Moving Toward Drought

From a Brookings blog on population growth centered around drought prone areas:

"The largest population gains have often been concentrated in the driest counties overall.  For example, of the 10 counties where population has increased the most since 2000, seven are currently in the midst of a drought. Los Angeles County and Riverside County, whose combined population climbed by almost 1.6 million over this span, are confronting some of the most exceptional drought conditions nationally, followed closely by San Diego County and Maricopa County, near Phoenix. Meanwhile, several rapidly growing, low-lying areas in Texas face the opposite problem of flooding, including Harris County, near Houston, which has added nearly 1.1 million residents since 2000."

Thiel Foundation Backs Startup Building a Smart Contact Lens | MIT Technology Review

Thiel Foundation Backs Startup Building a Smart Contact Lens | MIT Technology Review

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Rats Discussion Climate Change

BIM 360 Plan

The End of the Traffic Light?

AECOM and Per Employee Valuation

AECOM has a per employee valuation of $50,000 ($5 billion valuation divided by 100,000 employees).  From Martin Ford's Rise of The Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future and how "green" the other side of the mountain can be:

"YouTube was founded in 2005 by three people.  Less than two years later, the company was purchased by Google for about $1.65 billion.  At the time of its acquisition, YouTube employed a mere sixty-five people, the majority of them highly skilled engineers.  That works out to a valuation of over $25 million per employee.  In April 2012, Facebook acquired photo-sharing start-up Instagram for $1 billion.  The company employed thirteen people. That's roughly $77 million per worker.  Fast-forward another two years to February 2014 and Facebook once again stepped up to the plate, this time purchasing mobile messaging company WhatsApp for $19 billion.  WhatsApp had a workforce of fifty-five - giving it a valuation of a staggering $345 million per employee."

If you are an AECOM engineer and you stop by a Starbucks in the morning for coffee, keep in mind they have a per employee valuation of approximately $366,000.

New To The Book Pile

What I am currently reading:
  • Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Treat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford.  My current leader for book of the year and the perfect read before the new Terminator movie.
  • Money and Soccer: A Soccernomics Guide by Stephan Szymanski.
  • The White Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Is Catherine Case Pat Mulroy?  This is a really fun book to read.
  • Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds by Carmine Gallo.
  • New Orleans Under Reconstruction: The Crisis of Planning by Carol McMichael Reese, Michael Sorkin, and Anthony Fontenot.
  • Moore's Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley's Quiet Revolutionary by Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones.
  • Modern Methods of Systems Engineering by Joe Jenney.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The State of Engineering in the United Kingdom

Link to the 2015 report.

Engineering and the Ecomodernist Manifesto

From the Breakthrough Institute:

"The Anthropocene, the unofficial name for our human-influenced geological age, has become a popular shorthand for environmental apocalypse. In mid-April, however, a group of eighteen researchers, activists, and philanthropists published a six-thousand-word tract, called “An Ecomodernist Manifesto,” that envisions a different sort of Anthropocene—not only a good one but a great one. Most of the manifesto’s authors are associated with the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank in Oakland, California. Calling themselves ecomodernists and ecopragmatists, they argue that technology, supported and accelerated by government investment, can allow humanity to simultaneously mitigate climate change, protect land, and relieve poverty. They approve of urbanization, intensified agriculture, nuclear power, aquaculture, and desalination; they disapprove of suburbanization, low-yield farming, and forms of renewable energy with large acreage demands. High-efficiency solar cells, advanced nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion, they write, “represent the most plausible pathways toward the joint goals of climate stabilization and radical decoupling of humans from nature.”"