Sunday, May 31, 2015

The UN Talks Water Crisis

Mis-Counting of the Aqua Cola

The May 25 issue of The New Yorker covered the water crisis from two very different perspectives. One is the Hollywood view of a water constrained world; the other is the view from Las Vegas.

Anthony Lane has a review of Mad Max: Fury Road - - which I saw opening weekend and would highly recommend.  Per the review:

"The movie is set in the near future.  There are no cities or civilizations left.  The landscape is dying of thirst; water - known as Aqua Cola - is severely rationed; and other resources, notably gasoline, are hoarded and tussled over like scraps of food."

In the same issue, the tussling is in the West - - with Las Vegas replacing the Mad Max world of Australia (Note - actually was filmed in Namibia).  But Immortan Joe and the War Rig have been replaced as central characters with calculator wielding hydrologists.  From the article (Where The River Runs Dry: The Colorado and America's Water Crisis by David Owen):

"The compact {Colorado River} granted 7,5 million acre-feet per year to each basin.  (An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover an acre to a depth of a foot - roughly three hundred and twenty-five thousand gallons.  I have to think Imperator Furiosa knows this.)  The total was based on estimates by hydrologists that the average annual flow of the Colorado was at least seventeen million acre-feet a year.  Subsequent studies, including tree-ring analyses, have proved that the hydrologist were wrong.  It's now known that the years on which the original estimates were based, in the early twentieth century, had been the wettest since the sixteen-hundreds, and that 1922, the year of the agreement, was one of the very wettest.  Since then, there have been years where the total flow was less than a third of what the negotiators assumed, and scientists have identified ancient dry periods that lasted for many decades.

At the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association, in December, two representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimated that the system has as an average "structural deficit" of 1.2 million acre-feet a year."

The overwhelming reality of the Colorado River system can be reduced to one word - unsustainable. We are not to the Max point of view that "Hope is a mistake," but clearly the western water crisis is a true wicked problem.

Lane ends the review with, "Enjoy the movie, but for God's sake don't drive home."  If you live in Las Vegas or Phoenix, you might want to skip showering the next day after watching the movie.

Sign Up for Purdue's Six Sigma Training

The engineering and construction industry is increasing moving toward a lean/six sigma mindset.  This is coming from the natural evolution that construction is and will increasingly adopt many of the ideas and techniques of manufacturing.  If you want to be more like Toyota, you are going to need civil engineers comfortable and skilled in the techniques of the Toyota production system.  This includes lean and six sigma techniques.

From the current issue of ENR:

""We are implementing lean techniques throughout the company," says Pat Di Filippo, executive vice president of Turner Construction. He says the firm is analyzing numerous methods for eliminating waste. For example, Turner is using modular subassemblies so that everything above the ceiling is manufactured in outside shops, shipped to the site and installed as the component is needed.

Careful scheduling of material and supply deliveries is another lean technique. "We track schedules carefully on tablets and bring the assemblies in only when it is ready to install. That way, nothing touches the floor," Di Filippo says.

SpawGlass is another proponent of lean construction, according to Joel Stone, CEO. "We have driven lean into all aspects of our business, and we are beginning to see the product of our investment." Stone estimates that, through the use of lean on one of its projects, SpawGlass was able to achieve a work-in-place volume per day of half a million dollars.

Prefabrication increasingly is becoming a critical tool in lean construction practice. Measuring project performance in the field using various scanning technologies, as well as lean processes and prefabrication, contribute to "enhancing our understanding of field production and continuing to wring waste out of the process of construction," says Brad Dimeo, CEO, Dimeo Construction Co." 

Link to the Purdue site on their training opportunities.

Engineering and Africa

I recently had the opportunity to travel around southern Africa this month.  During my two week stay it was easy to see the promise, potential, and pitfalls of Africa.  High unemployment, education challenges, political stagnation, and a lack of economic diversity are visible challenges.  These are major challenges, but the sheer vastness of the continent also exposes one to the huge opportunities and potential.

Increased educational opportunities in STEM related fields and agricultural management/innovation appear first on my opportunity list.  If you are a major university, and have an A&M (i.e., Texas A&M) at the end of your name, I would add Africa as a potential location for a satellite campus and/or target for collaborative local university programs.

From producing mining engineers to agricultural economists, Africa needs to have a system that educates its best and brightest in Africa.  Increased educational opportunities solve most problems in the world - in Africa they appear as a path to solve all their problems.  From the eyes of an engineer, it is hard not to view Africa as one huge potential engineering project.  From infrastructure to energy development to a rising middle class, the future of Africa is all about engineering and the need to develop a locally produced engineering pipeline.

The Chinese appear to have this figured out and are pouring resources into investment and development opportunities.  We are lagging, but it is still not too late.

A few statistics on Africa from the current issue of New African magazine that I picked up at the Jo-Burg airport:

  • Africa is home to 60% of the worlds uncultivated arable land
  • 23% of Africa's land if forest land, while:
  • 75% of global platinum deposits
  • 50% of diamond and precious stones
  • 50% of chromium
  • 20% of gold and uranium
  • By 2030 some 40 African countries will be oil and gas producers
  • Proven oil reserves in Africa now stand at 120 billion barrels - valued at $7.3 billion.
  • Proven gas reserves stand at 510 tcf - valued at $3 trillion
  • Proven recoverable shale gas reserves - 1,042 tcf - are valued at $6 billion
  • Value of Pan-African fish trade amounted to - $22 billion
  • In 2013, consumer spending in Africa stood at $680 billion; it is projected to increase to $1 trillion by 2020 and $2.2 trillion in 2030 (Note - the driver of economic opportunity this century is the mobile/smart phone.  Everyone in Africa appears to have a phone to their ear!!)
  • The continent's infrastructure funding gap is estimated at $92 to $100 billion per year
  • FDI to Africa rose from $51.7 billion in 2012 to $56.6 billion in 2013

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Graph of the Week

ebola deaths by outbreak mar 2015

Oracle Talks Asset Management

Link to the video discussion.

Raining in Texas Since Blue Bell Closed - God is Crying

Drone Video of Dallas Floods - May 29, 2015 from Charlie Kaye on Vimeo.

Infrastructure Funding and the Story ASCE Doesn't Consider or Want To

From report cards to public support apps to 60-Minutes profiles on our declining infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers does an excellent job of painting the "what" picture regarding our infrastructure woes.  Unfortunately the ASCE goals and efforts struggle with the who, why, when, and the how parts of the story.  They can discuss what is wrong with the current infrastructure matrix, but rapidly depart from a more comprehensive analysis of root causes and innovative ideas.

The current issue of the Wall Street Journal has an excellent article by Stephen Eide - - Public-Pension Potholes in Wine Country Paradise.  You will never find this infrastructure dilemma on the ASCE website - "Why keep working past the age of 50 or 60 when one can bring in close to as income in retirement - especially since Sonoma extends its health-care coverage to retirees?"  From the article:

"On Tuesday voters will be asked to raise county sales taxes by a quarter-cent to fix their roads. California has the highest gas taxes in the nation, a portion of whose revenues is specifically dedicated to local transportation.  Yet Sonoma estimates that it needs to spend nearly $1 billion  over the next two decades to keep its roads in shape.  The county routinely ranks at or near the bottom in surveys of state and regional pavement conditions.  In 2010, the country director of transportation and public works ward that, without more investment in pavement, soon local roads would soon "feel and look like a loos cobble road."

All this cannot be caulked up to a weak tax base or punishing winters.  But retirement-benefit costs for its public employees are skyrocketing.  Between 2005 and 2014, Sonoma's annual required pension contribution more than doubled, to $52 million, while tax revenues increased 25%, to $247 million.  Thanks to state balanced-budget requirements, something had to give.  In Sonoma it was basic infrastructure."

It doesn't take a genius why ASCE it loathed to discussion or even acknowledge this complex issue. Link to the full report by Eide.

Science Fiction Looks at the Water Apocalypse

Product Details

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the New York Times today by Isabel Kershner - Aided by Sea, Israel Defeats Old Foe: Drought:

"Israel has, in the meantime, become the world leader in recycling and reusing wastewater for agriculture.  It treats 86 percent of its domestic wastewater and recycles it for agricultural use - about 55 percent of the total water water used for agriculture.  Spain is second to Israel, recycling 17 percent of its effluent, while the United States recycles just 1 percent, according to Water Authority data."

Death of the Middle-Age Male Engineer

From Italian novelist Tammaso Pellizzari:

"For the first time, elderly people's knowledge, the thing that made them the most revered and listened-to social group, is now mostly considered stuff to be stored in the attic, and then throw away when moving out.  What an old man knows, the way he learnt, is an obstacle to future knowledge."

The cults of youth, tech and gender equality hit the middle-age male engineer with a triple whammy.  

Infrastructure Resilience Also Requires a Bounce Back Community

I found this highly interesting in the current issue of Time - Bounce Back / Scientist Now Know Why Some People Rebound So Well From Setbacks. They Also Know How The Rest of Us Can Be More Like Them by Mandy Oaklander.  This is the century in which engineering will need to place a much greater focus on infrastructure resilience.  Understanding infrastructure resilience and system risk will be important in the era of continuing extreme weather events and the exponential growth in urban development.  We will also have the continuing challenges associated with our deferred or limited funding in the context of our national infrastructure crisis.

In many respects, resilient infrastructure must have a platform based on resilient individuals and communities.  The two are tightly linked - - you cannot have one without the other.  Both have a common goal - - what is the best way to manage individual and collective stress.

The article listed 10 tips for developing a stronger resilient personality.  These are:

  1. Develop a gore set of beliefs that nothing can shake.
  2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.
  3. Try to maintain a positive outlook.
  4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.
  5. Don't run from things that scare you: face them.
  6. Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.
  7. Learn new things as often as you can.
  8. Find an exercise regimen you'll stick to.
  9. Don't beat yourself up or dwell on the past.
  10. Recognize what makes you uniquely strong - and own it.

CH2M Hill Valued at $2 Billion

From a short note in The Times on May 29 that I saw on my trip back from London:

"The American civil engineering company formerly known as CH2M Hill has struck a deal with Apollo Global Management to invest $300 million in a transaction that will solve its cashflow problems and values the engineering group at about $2 billion.  The group played a leading part in the 2012 Olympics and has roles on HS2 and UK nuclear decommissioning projects."

From the Apollo website - interesting in the context of who Apollo invests in and their investment goals.  Also the CH2M press release.

Trouble With Grey

Monday, May 18, 2015


I will be on a blogging hiatus until May 30.

Engineering and The Disappearance of Jobs

One of the key issues facing engineers this century will be a relatively simple question.  Will engineers be the eaten or eaters in the job-eating maw of technology?  From lawyers to radiologists to software designers, the middle-class historically was based on the assumptions of a college degree combined with flexibility, creativity, and a continually upgraded skill set.  This appears to be an assumption that is no longer valid.

Technology traditionally has been an effective partner with the middle class.  The world of MS Excel and Word made the global economic system cheaper, faster, and better.  Excel never had the goal of complete labor replacement.  But as Martin Ford points out in the one of most important books to come out in years, Rise of Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, the goals of cheaper, faster, and better are rapidly shifting to the goal of complete replacement.

From a review of the book by Barbara Ehrenreich in the New York Times Book Review yesterday:

"Ford offers little hope that emerging technologies will eventually generate new forms of employment, in ways that blacksmiths yielded to automakers in the early 20th century.  He predicts that new industries will "rarely, if ever be highly labor-intensive," pointing to companies like YouTube and Instagram, which are characterized by "tiny workforces and huge valuations and revenues."  On another front, 3-D printing is poised to make a mockery of manufacturing as we knew it.  Truck driving may survive for a while - at least until self-driving vehicles start rolling out of Detroit or, perhaps, San Jose.

The disappearance of jobs has not ushered in a new age of leisure, as social theorists predicted uneasily in the 1950s.  Would the masses utilize their freedom from labor in productive ways, such as civic participation and the arts, or would they die of boredom in their ranch houses?  Somehow, it was usually assumed, they would still manage to eat."

How More Engineers Can Enter the 1%

It may start with becoming a member of the confidence elite.  From the always excellent Schumpeter column in the current issue of the Economist - How to Join the 1%:

"This overwhelming emphasis on style rather than substance many seem an odd way to select members of the 1%.  But those at the top of consulting, investment-banking and legal professions know that the most priced possession in uncertain times is not brainpower, but self-confidence.  For all the talk of the world becoming dominated by the "cognitive elite", in reality it appears it is nothing more than a "confidence elite."

Do We Really Talk Like This?

From Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance:

"For all his swagger, Musk can be surprisingly shy and awkward in person.  Like a lot of engineers, he will pause while searching for exact phrasing, and he'll often wander down a scientific rabbit hole without offering any lay translations along the way.  He expects you to keep up; there's no small talk."

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Black & Veatch and Microgrids

One of the key issues associated with greater infrastructure and energy system resiliency are microgrids.  This is a great example of a future marked by our ability to link and think in terms of both sustainability and resiliency operational requirements.

From the B&V website:

"Overland Park, Kansas (28 April 2015) -- Black & Veatch today celebrated the commissioning of a new microgrid system that provides power to its World Headquarters. Featuring a range of renewable energy resources and natural gas power, the system allows the company to evaluate microgrid technologies. 

Microgrids are a key area of interest for many companies and municipalities seeking to lower their carbon footprint and enhance electrical power supply resiliency. The new system, which powers the Rodman Innovation Pavilion, is the first microgrid powering a commercial building in Kansas.

The system uses a combination of natural gas, solar energy, geothermal and battery storage. It can operate as an independent power source or in support of the traditional electric grid adding resiliency to the building and lowering energy costs. The microgrid provides enough clean energy to run the entire Innovation Pavilion. Area city and state officials as well as regional electric utility leaders toured the microgrid system today."


Great travel App!!!

Three Ideas for Infrastructure Investment

From Brookings last week:
"One, we need to talk about infrastructure in specific rather than abstract terms. Take transportation. Because of the high-profile discussion about the need to shore up the federal highway trust fund, we assume that Washington has the largest role in transportation. But in reality, since 2007 the federal share of total spending on roads and public transit is only about25 percent. States (40 percent) and localities (36 percent) each play a larger role. For other sectors, such as freight rail, telecommunications, and clean energy, the federal funding role is even smaller or nonexistent. By overemphasizing the federal role we fail to recognize the diverse and highly fragmented ways that America selects, builds, maintains, operates, and pays for critical assets as different as seaports, broadband, and water.
Second, to get around fiscal austerity and political gridlock, we must change the way we fund and finance individual sectors of infrastructure. While a handful of state and metropolitan leaders are finding innovative ways to stretch infrastructure dollars and get projects done, most still struggle with financial, regulatory, political, and institutional hurdles. Developing truepartnerships between government agencies, private firms, financiers, and the general public is how many nations successfully develop infrastructure around the world today. The nature and mix of public and private arrangements will likely be customized depending not only on individual transactions but also on the nature of the particular infrastructure sector.
Third, we need to change the way we prioritize investments so infrastructure derives from real and actionable economic, social, and environmental goals, and not from the vagaries of local or regional funding for this or that project. This means making investments in freight connectivity to enable access to metropolitan markets through modern global value chains, making investments that support the transition to cleaner and more abundant domestic energy sources, and focusing on green infrastructure to absorb and manage water rather than rely on costly over-engineered solutions."

Check Out TRAVIC

Link to the site.

Who Makes Your iPhone

Saturday, May 16, 2015

What GM Engineers Were Thinking About In 1956

A Paragraph to Ponder

From Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal:

"The pursuit of "efficiency" - getting the most with the least investment of energy, time, or money - was once a laudable goal, but being effective in today's world is less a question of optimizing for a known (and relatively stable) set of variables than responsiveness to a constantly shifting environment.  Adaptability, not efficiency, must become our central competency."

What Footballers Can Teach Engineers

From the Financial Times today by Mike Forde and Simon Kupur - Taking Care of the Talent: Football coaches grapple with egos, tantrums, and rivalry.  Business could learn a lot from them.

Their list of the lessons:
  1. Big talent usually comes with a big ego.  Accept it.
  2. Look for big egos that have "got over themselves."
  3. Single out and praise those who make sacrifices for the organization.
  4. The manager shouldn't aspire to dominate the talent.
  5. Ask the talent for advice - but only for advice
  6. The manager's job isn't to motivate.
  7. The talent needs to trust each other more than it needs to trust the manager.
  8. Improve the talent.
  9. 99 percent of recruitment is about who you don't sign.
  10. Accept that the talent will eventually leave.
  11. Gauge the moment when a talent reaches its peak.
Number 6 was telling - A review of Amazon illustrates that it has over 200,000 book titles on the subject of motivation.  From the article:

"Motivation has not really got much of a place in sport."  You win the Tour de France, he [David Brailsford, general manager of cycling's Team Sky] explains, by going out to train on rainy mornings where you aren't the slightest bit motivated.  Rather than motivation, Brailsford emphasizes long-term commitment: sustained motivation over time."

A key takeaway - Big talent is usually self-motivated.  He or she wants to succeed for himself or herself.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Woes of Water and Wastewater

Federal Funding Trends Graph[1]

A Survey of LA Water

Report from UCLA.

National Defense and Global Water Problems

Someone is probably looking at this already - - but the CIA might want to look at adding a water desk in the National Resources Threat Department.  Report and outlook on water issues in Morocco is a good example of what the future might hold.

A New Species - The Engineering Foxhog

From the current issue of Rotman (my favorite business journal) - Q&A with Ian Leslie:

"This comes from a Greek fable from Isaiah Berlin made famous.  The gist of it is, the fox knows many things, he is very clever, but the hedgehog only knows one thing: spikes up, curl into a ball.  He doesn't need any other tricks.  And so the hedgehog is a specialist, and the fox is a generalist.  What I"m saying is, it used to be okay to be a fox, but increasingly, you also need to be a hedgehog.  Ideally, you should be a specialist with a wide-ranging base of knowledge and a huge curiosity.  You need to be both today: you need to be a "foxhog".

As people think about their careers, they are asking, "Should I be a specialist or a generalist?'  In the last 50 years or so, the trend has been towards greater specializations - and this is true in academia as well as business.  In say, advertising - which is the field I work in - to say that you're an adman like Don Draper doesn't cut it anymore.  You're got to be a "social media expert" or "sponsorship expert" or "a brand strategist".  And that is true across the board, in every industry.

However, there is a counter-trend to the that now, which means that it actually pays to have a generalist mindset as well, and that's because people are collaborating more with people from many different disciplines.  As industries get more complex, you need a lot of different skills at the table to execute any project successfully.  To work well in a team, to be a good team player and collaborator, you need to quickly understand what the other guys are doing, and people who do that best are curious people.  Even though they're specialist in one particular discipline, they'll have some generalist knowledge, and a lot of interest in what the other people are doing and saying.  That enables them to bridge the expertise with different people in their company, and today, that is an incredibly valuable skill."

Big Data, Bigger Responsibility | MIT Technology Review

Big Data, Bigger Responsibility | MIT Technology Review

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Civil Engineering, Resilience, and the Need for Systems Thinkers

Great article in newgeography - How Cities Can Show Resilience.  From the article.

"Health experts have known the value of systems thinking in global health efforts for years. The same logic has grown popular in urban planning. Dr. Timon McPhearson, an Assistant Professor of Urban Ecology at The New School in New York City puts it this way:

“Systems thinking is crucial to problem solving including for urban planning and policy, because no problem exists in isolation, all are part of a larger system of interacting networks; social networks, bio geophysical networks, political networks, and economic networks. Interestingly, it turns out that you can’t understand the behavior of a system by studying its parts; you need to study the whole thing.”

California is an example. It may be easy to understand how the state’s drought is impacting its ability to produce food. However, you may be unaware that the drought is also having tremendous impacts on energy production. Energy and water are inextricably linked, with energy required to pump, treat, transport and cool water. Conversely, the force of falling water turns turbines that generate hydroelectricity, and most thermal power plants depend on H2O for cooling.

The smartest cities create resilience from shocks and stresses: When your body has a weakened immune system, it will often lose the fight against viruses and disease. Cities also bounce back much more quickly from earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods if the core components of their social fabric are strong – things like education, health, general prosperity and community cohesion.
There is also a strong connection between resilience and social networks. Disconnected communities have weak resilience. Transportation systems, entertainment venues and open spaces that bring communities together can have extraordinarily positive effects on their bounce-back capabilities.
Only diverse teams can create epic resilience ideas: The strongest resilience solutions generally come from large, multi-disciplinary teams of engineers, architects, designers, social scientists, and economists. Masterfully crafted city projects are both beautiful and functional. They stimulate the economy and improve quality of life for the community.

They also require diverse teams. Recent research reported by NPR found that diverse teams generally perform better, especially in idea rich fields like research, urban planning, and science. In the world of research, paper citations are a metric of effectiveness. Diverse teams lead to more citations. According to Harvard economist Richard Freeman, “People who are more alike are likely to think more alike and one of the things that gives a kick to science is that you get people with somewhat different views.”

Creating resilience solutions requires input from many, and an open mind to diverse perspectives.
Resilience solutions can have dual benefits: When Superstorm Sandy’s 14-foot storm tide nailed Hoboken on October 29, 2012, the streets, according to Mayor Dawn Zimmer, filled with water “like a bathtub." The storm caused more than $250 million in damage.

The initial reaction was to erect giant sea walls around Hoboken, but citizens cringed at the thought of giving up their magnificent views of New York harbor and Manhattan skyline. Perspectives changed when the city began working with a winning team from Rebuild By Design, a competition created in the wake of the storm to pioneer ways of designing, funding and implementing a resilient future. Instead of erecting big, ugly sea walls, the team created a system of parks, buildings and greenways as barriers against flooding, as well as a park around the city to serve as a rainwater storage site.

The Hoboken example shows how resilience projects following a disaster don’t have to be a drag. They can protect cities and their citizens, and improve quality of life.

Cooler heads design the best resilience strategies: Mayor Lianne Dalziel, of Christchurch, New Zealand, knows something about resilience. Christchurch was hit by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in September, 2010. It devastated the city and aftershocks that followed were equally grim, including a 6.3 aftershock the following February that killed 185 people. A thousand buildings were damaged or destroyed in the city center alone, and rebuilding continues to this day. The financial impacts have been estimated to be $40 billion. Some economists have projected that it will take New Zealand’s economy 50 to 100 years to completely recover.

As I listened to Mayor Danziel speak to an audience of experts and city officials last year, I was deeply moved by her warnings to communities about rushed decisions following a disaster – decisions that could ultimately do more harm than good. She even suggested that a “national cooling-off period” should be observed to prevent communities from major policy decisions fueled by emotion and sadness. It was a joke, but she might just be on to something. How do you avoid making rush decisions? Plan ahead.

Most of the best resilience ideas are borrowed. Salvador Dali once said, "Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing." Every city in the world is different, but the problems they face are often similar. Good solutions should be shared.

According to the World Bank, almost half a billion of the world’s urban residents live in coastal areas prone to storm surges and rising sea levels. This includes New York City, Miami, New Orleans, Mumbai, Ho Chi Minh City and Shenzhen, China; those are six of the ten cities projected to have the highest annual flood costs by 2050, according to Tim McDonnell of Climate Desk.

The United States, Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia, Australia, Guatemala, China, and Kenya are all also losing billions to drought. The World Economic Forum reports that since 1900, global droughts have affected two billion people, leading to more than 11 million deaths. Organizations like Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities Challenge (100RC) recognize commonalities between urban areas, and are working hard to facilitate information sharing. In the networked age of information, sharing ideas is easier than ever.

Hire resilience experts: Are you leading a community development or critical infrastructure improvement project? Hire advisors, engineers, and urban designers that understand how to design for resilience. The community is where resilience starts and ends. It is the grass roots where the best-laid plans are hatched, and it's also where the suffering begins when things go bad.
City leaders must engage with all levels of the socio-economic ladder, particularly the lower rungs. That's where the people who are hit the hardest when disaster strikes are, and where to find those who are usually the most receptive to new ideas, especially if they can see how it will help them in the short run. The key is connecting with them in meaningful ways. And giving them real, open pathways to you."

Charles Rath is President & CEO of Resilient Solutions 21, or RS21. RS21 pulls from a wide array of disciplines to create solutions for cities, countries, agencies and businesses challenged by the physical, social and economic forces that will drive our world in the 21st century. For more information, contact

New to My Book Pile

Cover art

California Lawmakers Receive Grim View Of Drought -

California Lawmakers Receive Grim View Of Drought -

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Graph of the Week

Award Winning Fort Worth Bridge

Civil Engineering and Its Green Problem

Envision all you want - - but this is where the rubber meets the road.  From CityLab:

"Here's the catch: “It's one of the dirtiest industrial processes out there,” says Courland. There are two reasons for this. First, when limestone is processed into cement, it emits the greenhouse gas CO2. Second, cement-producing furnaces typically burn fossil fuels, often coal, to achieve the blistering temperature of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. On a global scale, the resulting emissions boggle the mind. Concrete produces 5 percent of global CO2 emissions—as much as the entire country of Russia."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Which Presidential Candidate Has an Infrastructure Investment Position?

The American Society of Civil Engineers would support this - - guess the candidate?

The sad truth is that the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the United States of America an overall grade of D-plus on the condition of our infrastructure. That doesn’t just mean roads and bridges. It also means airports, dams, drinking water, electrical grids, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, mass transit, ports, public parks, rail lines, schools, and solid waste and wastewater management. Only one of the 16 categories evaluated earned as high as a B-minus (solid waste), and just four others finished in the C range (bridges, ports, public parks and rail).
It’s shameful that we’ve allowed this to happen. We are not a developing nation, dependent on foreign aid to survive. We are the richest nation in the history of the world. We were the birthplace of Yankee ingenuity in the 19th century, the arsenal of democracy in World War II, and the undisputed economic powerhouse of the last century. Once, our infrastructure was the envy of the world. Today, we’re judged to be in 12th place internationally. While bridges are collapsing around us, we’re spending only half as much as Europe on infrastructure and just over a quarter as much as the Chinese.
Is this the best our country can do? No. We can and we must do better. That’s why we need to invest at least $1 trillion over five years to rebuild America. This will not only make us safer, more productive and more efficient, but it will generate income and create jobs — lots of jobs. The estimate is that this $1 trillion investment will create and maintain 13 million jobs — which is exactly what our economy needs. We have ignored our infrastructure crisis for too long. The time to act is now.
The longer we wait, the worse it will get. Roads and bridges don’t fix themselves, and it is already costing us dearly in terms of travel delays, floods, broken water mains and brownouts (not to mention catastrophes like collapsing bridges). The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that if we fail to make these improvements, by 2020 we will have lost $3.1 trillion in gross domestic product, along with 3.5 million jobs. We can’t afford to keep lagging behind our competitors around the world. We need to start repairing bridges, improving electrical grids, rebuilding levees and securing our drinking water supplies as soon as possible. We can do better and we must.
While unemployment has been falling, it is still much too high. In fact, as of December 2014, a shocking 17 million Americans were either without jobs, only marginally attached to the labor force, settling for part-time work when they wanted full-time jobs, or had become so discouraged by their prospects that they had left the workforce entirely. The economists are clear in telling us that the fastest way to create good-paying jobs is to rebuild our infrastructure. Let’s do it.
We are a great nation, but we cannot be a world leader when the physical infrastructure of our country is rotting and we are falling further and further behind other countries. We cannot be a world leader when real unemployment is more than 11 percent and millions of our people are unable to find decent-paying jobs. If we are serious about the future of our country and the needs of our middle class, it is imperative that we invest in infrastructure and rebuild America.
There’s a reason that investing in our infrastructure has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. It’s a good idea. It creates jobs, income, profits and tax revenues. It lays a foundation for the efficient operation of our economy in the future. It would give us a necessary boost in the wake of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. It returns us to where we should be internationally, in the front and not behind. This funding should receive the highest priority.

It’s high time we stopped bailing out Wall Street and started repairing Main Street.

Top Flight Technologies

WeShop and the Impact on Infrastructure Asset Management

Imagine a world where you point your iPhone at a pump or value and your augmented reality app overlays critical information.  The WeShop system from Accenture could be the next big thing in asset management - remember that innovation is about linking ideas in one industry to problems in another.

Graph of the Week


The Risks of the Left Hand Turn

From WNYC - The Transportation Nation:

An Engineer To Lead Arlington, Texas

Link to the story on Mayor-elect Jeff Williams.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


The world of Twitter and thinking outside the box.

AECOM and the Quest for Labor Productivity in 2065

The current issue of ENR magazine has their annual list of the top 500 design firms in the United States (ENR link).  What makes this year different is their look-back to the engineering world of 1965 - - what firms were around in 1965 and which ones have disappeared.

The interesting point to the article in my mind was how the world has changed since 1965 in terms of engineering consulting labor productivity.  I defined that as revenue divided by the number of employees.  As with all organizations, it is a good macro-indicator of the long historical march of technology and investment.  The engineering consulting industry is no different than the widget manufacturer - the goal is to increase output for a given employee.

The important idea embedded in the ENR 1965-2015 look-back is how technology has changed the industry and the nature of labor productivity improvements.  Imagine a world of 1965 characterized by slide rulers, manual drafting, and typing pools.  If you were the CEO of a consulting firm in 1965, you would have been thrilled with labor productivity of $10,000 per employee.  Fast forward 50-years to 2015 and think about all the technological changes that have impacted the nature of engineering consulting. From the HP calculator to CAD to MS Word/Excel to the iPhone - we have all felt the influence of technology over the last 50-years.  We have seen and experienced a unique period in our economic development as it relates to productivity improvements.

The #1 firm on the ENR list is AECOM (link to their fact sheet).  Their current labor productivity is $195,000 per employee ($19.5 billion in revenue with approximately 100,000 employees).  Most firms in the top 500 firms have seen similar impacts to their labor productivity since 1965 on a non-inflation adjusted scale - growth from the $10,000 per employee range to around $200,000 per employee.  I will make the argument that this huge growth has been fueled by investment and adoption of labor saving technology.

Looking toward the next fifty years is always a challenge.  In the case of AECOM and all the others on the ENR 500 list, they want their labor productivity to grow at a rate faster than the inflation rate. Assume that the next 50-years holds the same technological promise as the previous 50 - we want annual labor productivity increases in the order of 6% annually (assuming an annual inflation rate of 4% over the next 50 years).  This means that in 2065, the labor productivity for AECOM needs to be approximately $3,500,000 per employee.

The question that one arrives at is what new and advanced technology will support this rate of labor productivity growth over the next 50-years?  The current issue of The Economist has a cover story - Artificial Intelligence: The Promise and the Peril - that highlights our probable technological future in terms of technology and labor productivity growth.  The changes from 1965 to 2015 will seem mild compared to the world of 2065.  The robot and AI economy will have huge impacts on the top 500. From janitors to surgeons to bridge designers, virtually no jobs will be immune to the rise of the machines.  Whether you are training to be an airline pilot, a retail assistant, a lawyer, a financial trader or a project engineer for AECOM, labor saving technology is whittling your numbers - as we have seen with the ENR 500, drastically so.  In 2000, financial services employed 150,000 people in New York.  By 2015 that had dropped to 100,000.  Over the same time, Wall Street's profits have soured.  Up to 70% of all equity trades are now executed by algorithms.  Almost any job that involves sitting in front of a screen and manipulating information will be disrupted by the rise of machine learning and Cyborg design engineers over the next 50-years.  This has both promise and pitfalls.

Pick your job and career very carefully in the context of what the next 50-years holds.  Many jobs at the AECOMs of the world will be lost to machines.  Most will not - technology gives as well as taking away.  The rise of the machines will enhance the skills of project managers with strong people, communication, and empathy skill sets.  The future will enhance the abilities of those whose jobs it does not replace, giving everyone mental skills possessed at present by only the few.  The best of AECOM will become better in the march toward 2065.

The ENR 500 list will be an interesting read in 2065!!

10 Science Fiction Writers Look Into the Future

From the Huffington Post.

Civil Engineering Needs Financial Engineering

Engineering and the Battery Century

LiveTrain NYC

The Next Forrest Gump

Harvard Engineering Rethinks BBQ

Friday, May 8, 2015


Organization focused on smarter water innovation.

What is a Protected Intersection?

Engineers are wealthy even if they don't know it

Article from Medium - Join the Engineering Leisure Class.

Engineers Need Bigger, Bolder, and Better Ideas Regarding Our Infrastructure Crisis

Excellent Op-Ed  piece in the NYT today by civil engineer and transportation planner George Haikalis - - Don't Rehab La Guardia Airport.  Close it.
"LAST week, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey put off, yet again, deciding between two proposals for a nearly $4 billion project to rehabilitate the dilapidated Central Terminal Building at La Guardia Airport. Disdain about the disrepair, crowds and grubbiness at La Guardia is so pervasive that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has likened La Guardia to an experience “in a third world country.”
But piling billions of taxpayer dollars into upgrading La Guardia, which opened in 1939, won’t solve its fundamental problems. It can’t easily expand. Its two runways and four terminals are surrounded on three sides by water, making landing difficult and hazardous. Parking is a nightmare.
Moreover, some 50,000 people who live near La Guardia are subjected to a level of noise higher than the standard deemed acceptable by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a 2011 study by the Regional Plan Association. (Another 95,000 living near Kennedy International Airport, also in Queens, and 44,000 living near Newark Liberty International Airport, are affected as well.)
The popularity of La Guardia, which serves nearly 30 million passengers a year, is almost entirely related to proximity — a typical nine-mile trip to Midtown Manhattan can be done in about 20 minutes during off-peak hours, 10 to 30 minutes less than it would take to get to Kennedy or Newark. But proximity comes with a price.
With the consolidation of the major United States airlines and the sluggishness in the global economy, the much larger Kennedy and Newark airports could accommodate La Guardia’s passenger load, by adding more frequent service and using larger aircraft, if the F.A.A. were to lift the caps on the number of flights allowed there. Kennedy, with its two sets of parallel runways, could handle many more flights, particularly as new air-traffic control technology is introduced in the next few years.
Most flights serving La Guardia already duplicate flights that serve Kennedy and Newark. Many of these flights are to a relatively small number of regional hubs. Average loads per flight at La Guardia are only two-thirds those at Kennedy. Small regional jets, with fewer than 100 seats per plane, make up a little more than half of La Guardia’s peak-period flights. Airline efficiency would be improved by concentrating traffic on fewer, larger aircraft, while still maintaining service to major hubs.
The Port Authority, which operates all three major airports, is conducting noise studies, at the request of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The governor sees an overhaul of the 1964 central terminal as the centerpiece of a $4 billion plan that would also include a $450 million AirTrain connection to the No. 7 subway line in Willets Point, Queens. But he should reconsider.
Mayor Bill de Blasio should insist that the La Guardia study examine the feasibility of closing the airport, and that plans for a new terminal be put on hold until the study is completed.
That study should take place in the context of a comprehensive aviation plan for the region, which would examine, among other things: trends in the growth in air travel; the environmental consequences of applying advanced air-traffic-control technology; modernizing runway and terminal layouts and improving rail access at Newark; and finding an appropriate role for secondary airports like Stewart, Westchester and MacArthur, which currently handle a tiny fraction of the region’s air passengers.
Stewart, over 60 miles north of Midtown, in Orange County, N.Y., has significant room for expansion and can accommodate long overseas flights, and strong support exists for an enhanced rail connection to MacArthur, in the town of Islip, on Long Island.
New York has three "bad" airports: JFK, LGA, and NWK. Why not have one good one? Much of the negative experience is the problems of getting...
The money budgeted for the La Guardia upgrades would be better used to create a long-proposed one-ride express-rail link between Manhattan and J.F.K., by reviving a long-disused, 3.5-mile stretch of track in central Queens and completing the modernization of the terminals at Kennedy. Currently, passengers who use the AirTrain to reach Kennedy must transfer from subways or the Long Island Rail Road. A world-class, direct rail trip to Kennedy could match the current travel time of even a fast, off-peak car trip to La Guardia.
Finally, think of what the 680 acres of city-owned land on which La Guardia sits could be used for. If built at the density of Co-Op City in the Bronx — which has around 15,000 housing units on 338 acres — it could accommodate over 30,000 homes. Even more could be built in nearby areas, where growth is currently restricted because of La Guardia’s flight paths. This would contribute significantly toward Mr. de Blasio’s plan to develop 200,000 units of affordable housing.
By avoiding the costly replacement of outmoded terminals at La Guardia and by creating a new express rail link and upgrading terminals at Kennedy, the increased economic activity could more than make up for the lost jobs (not to mention the jobs that would be created by redeveloping the La Guardia site).
There are precedents for replacing airports close to the center city with modern, more outlying airports. Hong Kong and Denver are two examples; Berlin will soon follow suit.
New York’s importance to America’s economy demands a first world vision to shutter this third world airport."