Thursday, November 30, 2017

Are Engineers Just Bad Political Managers?

From Vox:
“Tillerson would be at or near the bottom of the list of secretaries of state, not just in the post-Second World War world but in the record of US secretaries of state,” says Paul Musgrave, a scholar of US foreign policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The former Exxon Mobil CEO — whose nomination was initially greeted warmly by prominent foreign policy hands — has failed to wield any significant influence in internal administration debates over issues like Syria, North Korea, or Russia.
His push to slash “inefficiencies” in the State Department and seeming disinterest in working closely with longtime staff were even more damaging. By failing to get people into vital high-level posts and actively pushing out talented personnel, he ended up making America’s response to major crises incoherent and weakening the State Department for a “generation,” according to George Washington University’s Elizabeth Saunders.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Engineering in a World of Wizards and Prophets

From the new book by Charles Mann - The Wizard and the Prophet:
"A thick book featuring two scientists unknown to most readers is a tough sell, but bestselling journalist and historian Mann (1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, 2011, etc.), a correspondent for the Atlantic, Science, and Wired, turns in his usual masterful performance. Nobel Prize–winning agronomist Norman Borlaug (1914-2009) developed high-yield wheat varieties and championed agricultural techniques that led to the “Green Revolution,” vastly increasing world food production. Ornithologist William Vogt (1902-1968) studied the relationship between resources and population and wrote the 1948 bestseller Road to Survival, a founding document of modern environmentalism in which the author maintains that current trends will lead to overpopulation and mass hunger. Borlaug and Vogt represent two sides of a century long dispute between what Mann calls “wizards,” who believe that science will allow humans to continue prospering, and “prophets,” who predict disaster unless we accept that our planet’s resources are limited. Beginning with admiring biographies, the author moves on to the environmental challenges the two men symbolize. Agriculture will require a second green revolution by 2050 to feed an estimated 10 billion inhabitants. Only 1 percent of Earth’s water is fresh and accessible; three-quarters goes to agriculture, and shortages are already alarming. More than 1.2 billion people still lack electricity; whether to produce more or use less energy bitterly divides both sides. Neither denies that human activities are wreaking havoc with Earth’s climate. Mann’s most spectacular accomplishment is to take no sides. Readers will thrill to the wizards’ astounding advances and believe the prophets’ gloomy forecasts, and they will also discover that technological miracles produce nasty side effects and that self-sacrifice, as prophets urge, has proven contrary to human nature."

A Paragraph to Ponder

From Slate:
"For the Tunisian women—faculty members at the school—the song was a reminder of their childhoods. For the Americans, it was a reminder that they were in the right place. They had come to dig into an emergent and counterintuitive pattern of data: There are, in many cases, a larger proportion of women studying and pursuing STEM careers inside developing, Muslim-majority countries than in the U.S.—and in some countries, those numbers are rising further."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the New York Times -

"Waymo, the autonomous car company from Google’s parent company Alphabet, has started testing a fleet of self-driving vehicles without any backup drivers on public roads, its chief executive said Tuesday. The tests, which will include passengers within the next few months, mark an important milestone that brings autonomous vehicle technology closer to operating without any human intervention."

How We Are Viewed in The World

The Flying Cow

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Manufacturing Coming to Africa

Water Affordability

The Politics of Mortgage Deductions

A Paragraph to Ponder

From Richard Florida - CityLab:

"The total value of America’s urban land is astounding, adding up to more than $25 trillion as of 2010—that’s roughly more than double the nation’s total economic output or GDP in 2006, according to a recent study by economists at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan. Nearly half the total value of America’s urban land, 48 percent of it, is packed into just five superstar metro areas: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, with land in and around the urban center being the most valuable by far."

Six Political Questions for Engineers to Think About

Provided below are six political questions that engineers and engineering organizations should be thinking about.

Question 1 – Polls and political commentators have highlighted that this is the most politically divided the country has been since the Civil War and Reconstruction.  Assuming this is true – how should the engineering communities be thinking strategically about this political divide?

The graphic on the cover page is from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia annual Partisan Conflict Index.  The index was developed by an economist with the bank.  We have had periods of high partisanship (e.g., 1911/12 and current) and low periods (e.g., World War II).  Our current historic high level of partisanship started in the mid-1960s – the start of the Vietnam War, the start of broad social/cultural change, and drastic changes on the global economic landscape.  Our political paralysis has produced an era of legislative gridlock at the national level (and in many state capitals) marked by government of executive action and orders.

Our current climate of extreme partisanship is linked to three issues – economic anxiety in the middle class, broad social/cultural/technological changes, and fringe elements on both the left and right becoming the new middle during primary election seasons.  When economic growth slows (economic growth is a demanding master – the more you have, the more you need), society loses pace and it becomes much harder to finesse our historic political differences.  Looking at the 2016 presidential results, 49% of all voters felt their lives had gotten worse over the past 50 years, while 49% felt the lives of the next generation would be worse.  The election also highlighted the political divide between rural and urban voters.  Our global economy takes the best and brightest from our small towns and plugs them into the global economy.  Globalization has produced an environment of “The Left Behinds” and “The Cosmopolitans” – global cities surrounded by rural communities of resentment.  How engineering organizations position themselves in cities (blue) and the surrounding communities (red) will be important.

This negatively has a profound impact on our industry and business (our souring mood is more about the psychology of dashed expectations rather than the decline in material comforts).  When people lose faith in the future and have long painful memories of the past, they are less likely to invest in the present.  Government infrastructure spending during the second quarter of 2017 fell to 1.4% of GDP, the lowest share on record.  According to Thomson Reuters, investment by municipalities in the first seven months of this year, at $50.7 billion, was nearly 20% below the same period in 2016.  Not long ago optimists were expecting an infrastructure spending boom.  Are we still optimistic?  Engineering is faced with addressing a difficult question – Have we hit rock bottom in terms of infrastructure investment where bipartisanship spending is around the corner or have we tipped over into political, economic, and societal decline?

Question 2 – Growing global populism (i.e., support for ordinary people and suspicion of “elite” individuals and institutions – where the unequal benefits of globalization has produced the “Left Behinds” vs. the Global Cosmopolitans) has produced a political dynamic focusing on challenges and opportunities within individual countries.  The strongest social glue is economic growth and the current populist insurgency is partly fueled by the deep problems of middle class income and wealth stagnation.  As we look inward as a country and society, what opportunities and challenges does this produce for engineering organizations?

Growing populism in the United States stems from a middle class that is falling further behind upper-income households financially.  The gaps in income and wealth between middle- and upper-income households widened substantially in the past three to four decades.  Although incomes are generally higher than in 1970, all households experienced a lengthy period of decline in the 21st century thanks to the 2001 recession and the Great Recession of 2007-09.  The greatest loss was felt by lower-income households, whose median income fell 9% from 2000 to 2014, followed by a 4% loss for middle-income households and a 3% loss for upper-income households.  Populism is rooted in a simple idea – persistent economic disappointment demands a new political narrative.  We have entered an era in which societal disappointment and anxiety is shaping a new global political narrative in the developed world.

Populism takes many different regional forms across the various engineering service areas.  Nationalism and isolationism sentiments could shift money and resources into domestic problems and challenges – including increased investment in infrastructure.   If we do enter the era of “reshoring” or de-globalization and shorter supply chains, the critically of infrastructure will change.  If more focus is placed on domestic capabilities, domestic markets, and domestic consumption – do you really want additional investment in ports and globalized infrastructure?  A populist revolution could produce many positive opportunities for civil engineers.  It could also produce new risks and challenges.

Question 3 – Globalization has produced societal and regional winners and losers.  A current national political theme is the desire to ensure that the large majority of Americans once again benefit from global trade and changing technology, rather than see both as a continual threat to their economic activity.  Politically shifting winds seem to be changing the dynamics of globalization – the old economic and trade architecture put in place after the Second World War is now showing severe signs of subsidence.  How should engineering think strategically about new sets of winners and losers in a post-peak-globalization period?

The United States has been the primary cheerleader for the benefits of globalization (i.e., the global flow of goods, services, ideas, money, and people) over the last 70 years.  The global search for cheap labor pools has been an important aspect of globalization – but the combination of enhanced capital mobility and faster and cheaper information flows changed the nature of international economic development.  Technology has created our current globalized economy – and technology is also a threat to globalization.

Replacing cheap labor with robots may provide us with even cheaper goods and services, but it may also lead to a collapse of global supply chains and, with it, a reversal of late twentieth-century style globalization.  “Reshoring” – thanks to increased automation and robotics – may lead to the rebuilding of manufacturing in terms of production but not jobs.  Satisfying the middle class in terms of reshoring your grandparents manufacturing job is a political impossibility.

The U.S. recently pulled out of the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership).  The Trump administration starts renegotiation of NAFTA this week.  The president has promised to bring jobs to the U.S. by rewriting NAFTA, but his pledge is clashing with the realities of global commerce and supply chains.  The era of post-peak globalization is going to produce new winners and losers – and this will impact engineers.  Is a manufacturing win for Indiana a logistics and trade loss for Texas in terms of NAFTA modifications?  How should we be thinking about regions and communities given the uncertainties and changes in our globalized economy?  How will all of this impact foreign investment in the U.S.?  The truth is that any form of globalization will inevitably require some form of compromise between the advantages of openness and the benefits of sovereignty.  The political debate over this compromise appears to be intensifying. 

Question 4 – Mayors appear to be the new political kings/queens – leaders in new and different ways of thinking regarding economic development, innovation, and infrastructure investment.  If our national and state political leaders continue the path of lukewarm performance, how should engineers react in the Age of the Mayor King/Queen?

In the book, The Metropolitan Revolution, the authors point out the top 100 metropolitan areas in the U.S. occupy 12% of the land mass, two-thirds of the population (with forecasted growth to 75%), and responsible for 75% of the gross domestic product.  The Metropolitan Revolution is a reminder of politics as a positive force for societal advancement.  The book profiled several regions and cities that looked at how we develop and manage cities.  The profiles show common themes – pragmatism over partisanship, innovation clustering, regional collaboration, respect for compromise, regional/global networks, clarity of focus, diversity as a strength and not a divider, and economic growth driven by the knowledge economy.  What distinguishes world class cities from national governments is the agility to find innovative solutions and to put them into practice.  In terms of change management, agility, pragmatism, closeness to the actual problems, and new ways of thinking, cities and regions will be seen as filling in the performance gaps left by state and federal partisanship paralysis. 

The limits of what cities can and cannot do politically will be tested – especially in the context of blue cities in red states.   From the Dallas Morning News on August 13, 2017:

“GOP leaders have made the Democratic mayors of Texas’ largest cities (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, respectively), along with other local officials, the poster boys for an all-out legislative assault on local control.  Republican lawmakers have filed legislation that would prevent local governments from making decisions that have long been left to the elected officials closest to the voters.”

Question 5 – Technological determinism seems to predict self-driving cars and robot medical doctors just around the corner.  Studies have indicated 80 million U.S. workers are at risk from automation/AI job loss.  Given that technology and politics appear to be on a collision course as job displacement grows, how should engineers think about this strategically?

Disruptive technology, such as self-driving cars and trucks, can also create new winners and losers.  The politics of technological winners and losers can be equally unpredictably disruptive.  In the case of trucking, some 3.5 million people (mostly white male with a high school degree or lower – the most common job title in 29 states) are employed as professional truck drivers – 8.7 million total employed in the trucking/logistics industry segment – roughly 1 in 15 U.S. workers.  Teamster union membership is 1.9 million.  The trucking industry currently has a shortage of 111,000 drivers.  In many respects, the politics and regulatory framework for self-driving trucks and the elimination of millions of trucking jobs boils down to a race between the technological hare and political/regulatory/societal tortoise.  Job loss associated with automation in the manufacturing sector happened behind closed doors and locked gates – trucking job loss is going to happen on the open road and will be much more visible to the public and politicians. 

Technological determinism is always a risky business – technology revolutions, such as the robotic/AI revolution, always take longer than predicted, but arrive faster than anticipated.  Humanity has gone through various economic stages – from agricultural to industry to services.  We have been able to move generations through the various stages – from the farm to the factory to the engineering consulting or construction firm.  Replacing vast numbers of people with non-humans has the potential to produce a new stage or class – the Economically Useless Class.  If robotics and AI develop as predicted, the economic pressure on the middle class will be relentless.  How society manages our next economic stage transition will be important politically to watch.

Question 6 – Politics over the next 10 years could be a roller coaster of unpredictability and change.  How should we think strategically about this new and different era and what new strategic planning steps should be institutionalized that allow all engineering organizations to be more agile during this era?

Political risk analysis needs to be shaped by three elements – surprise, anxiety, and disappointment.  Surprise will take many forms.  The U.S. will be minority white in 2049.  We currently have more Spanish speaking citizens than Spain.  We have never faced a demographic change like this in our history.  Time magazine owner Henry Luce coined the term “American Century” in a February 17, 1941 editorial in Life magazine.  We are 76 years into the American Century.  What is next?  By 2050, China’s economy will be twice the size of the U.S. and larger than all the Western economies combined.  China celebrates the 100th anniversary of the PRC in 2049.  Are we at the end of the American Century and the start of the Chinese Century and how does this impact engineering?  We are walking down a different path for the first time in U.S. history.  How will we handle the politics of surprise?

Anxiety hangs over many segments of the middle class.  The distributional consequences of globalization and technology have left voters who might traditionally have voted for centrist parties opting instead to support populists who claim to be more in touch with voters’ concerns.  For many people, the institutions and ideas of globalization are part of the problem, not part of the solution (globalization lifts all boats – but some set lower in the water due to the weight of the additional money)?  How does middle class economic and cultural anxiety play out politically in the coming years?

Finally, the political risk of disappointment.  Although living standards in the West continue to rise on average, the pace of increase is much slower than expected and for some there has been no progress whatsoever.  Rising debt levels are too high, and, in time, some promises societies have made to themselves – on retirement benefits, pensions, health care, and education – will have to be abandoned.  Finding a political narrative to explain this looming disappointment will not be easy. 

People are disappointed with the demand side of our government institutions, but some of the problem rests with the supply side.  Founding father James Madison was concerned that citizens of the U.S. would be simultaneously too involved and too ignorant in the democratic process (Churchill thought that the best argument against democracy was a five minute conversation with the average voter).  Polarization and apathy – the unstoppable force and the easily movable object shape our current political terrain.  Madison highlighted our democratic process is an asymmetric equation that could easily turn politics into a running circus. 

Future Railways in Southest Asia

Let your car tell you what it needs

Let your car tell you what it needs: MIT team develops software that can tell if tires need air, spark plugs are bad, or air filter needs replacing.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Templete for Interviewing Clients

Date of Interview
What’s great about your organization/business and what are you the most excited about?
What are the driving forces (i.e., social, technological, political, talent, and economic) that impact your business the most?
Where do you see your organization/business going?
What are you changing?  What do you want to change?
What keeps you up late at night – what worries you the most?
If you could ask three questions looking out to 2030, what would those be?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

How to improve infrastructure project selection: Account for positive regional spillovers, environmental impacts, and job creation benefits

How to improve infrastructure project selection: Account for positive regional spillovers, environmental impacts, and job creation benefits: Infrastructure plays a key role in the economic vitality of our country. When infrastructure investment is managed inefficiently, we lose opportunities to meet some of our country’s most critical needs: maintaining the quality and integrity of our national infrastructure networks, addressing the challenges of climate change, and narrowing economic gaps across regions.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Automation in Everyday Life

Automation in Everyday Life: Although Americans expect certain positive outcomes from developments in automation, they are worried and concerned about the implications of these technologies for society as a whole.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Paragraph to Ponder

From Meeting of the Minds:

"Vegetation-related issues are a leading cause of electricity outages; PG&E has thus built out LIDAR gathering capabilities to help manage vegetation risk and now collects data within PG&E’s rights of way (capable of going down to 2-3 cm of accuracy). Such data could also be leveraged by cities themselves for asset monitoring, solar irradiation analysis on any PV facilities, or any number of other use cases potentially via options like licensing or cost sharing."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Hurricanes Propel Forward Thinking on Risk, Resilience

Hurricanes Propel Forward Thinking on Risk, Resilience: Even as hard-hit areas of two of the country’s most developed regions push for normalcy after back-to-back hurricanes in early September, policymakers and construction industry experts are weighing the longer-term implications of the damage in Houston, Florida and the Caribbean from Harvey and Irma—and how and whether infrastructure resiliency can be accelerated and how that will affect coastal development.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Re-engineering Lego

Link to the article and podcast:

"Lego sets costing $100 or more face stiff competition from cheaper alternatives for today’s kids, Robertson pointed out. “Think about what you can get now for $10 – you can get a Raspberry Pi [computer], program it with a simple visual language program called Scratch, strap a couple of sensors and motors to it and for $30 you can do something pretty cool with it.” He noted that while Lego’s offering in that space called Lego Boost also teaches kids to program, the company has oversimplified that feature. Pricing is a critical issue for Lego because “$100 will buy you a pretty nice smartphone controlled drone,” he added.

Above all, Robertson wondered if the age profile of Lego’s target market is trending younger. “There are so many cool things for 8-year-olds and 9-year olds that weren’t there even five years ago,” he said. “I just wonder whether we are starting to see a shift in fundamental play preferences.”"

Why is Cement Exported?

Below are the 15 countries that exported the highest dollar value worth of cement during 2016:
  1. China: US$692.4 million (7.6% of total cement exports)
  2. Thailand: $612.2 million (6.8%)
  3. United Arab Emirates: $544.4 million (6%)
  4. Turkey: $494.8 million (5.5%)
  5. Germany: $486.3 million (5.4%)
  6. Spain: $477.3 million (5.3%)
  7. Vietnam: $403 million (4.4%)
  8. Japan: $391.3 million (4.3%)
  9. Canada: $368.7 million (4.1%)
  10. India: $267 million (2.9%)
  11. Greece: $248.6 million (2.7%)
  12. Senegal: $209 million (2.3%)
  13. United States: $205.9 million (2.3%)
  14. Pakistan: $185.6 million (2%)
  15. South Korea: $162.9 million (1.8%)
The listed 15 countries shipped almost two-thirds (63.4%) of global exports in 2016 (by value).

The Last Centimeter Problem

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Paragraph to Ponder

From an article in Forbes -

"Over the last couple of weeks, I was in Houston, Texas working with a Search and Rescue (SAR) team helping to find, recover, and relocate individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey. I traveled with a team from Harbinger Technologies Group (HTG), comprised of special operations veterans, law enforcement, EMT/Firefighters, communications, etc. Within 24 hours of the storm hitting, we were on the ground with two units—water and land rescue. Having been at the tip of the spear for several natural disasters over the past 20 years, it is amazing how the evolution of technology—especially the Internet of Things (IoT)—has matured and is saving lives. Although the severity of the disasters might increase, the loss of life has been greatly reduced by improvements in communications and the distribution of information."

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Real Time Wind Speed Data

Link to the site.

European Economics 101

Graph of the Week

Daily chart

Export Update

From Brookings:
"Our new analysis of goods and services exports for 381 metropolitan areas shows that, in 2016, exports did not drive significant economic growth in most parts of the country. The export slowdown was linked to declines in manufacturing exports, particularly in the industrial Midwest.
The recent decline marks a departure from the national post-recession trend. Between 2009 and 2014, exports accounted for 26 percent of the growth in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). But U.S. exports declined in 2015 and again in 2016, hampered by a strong dollar and sagging global demand. Exports recovered slightly in the first quarter of 2017, but not enough to counteract losses in the previous two years."

Your Digital Office Mate

From Customer Think -

"Digital assistant technology has a long way to go, and their current usage patterns only provide some degree of insight into what their long-term capabilities will be. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the meta-platform battle for digital assistants is going to have a significantly broader and longer-lasting impact than the OS platform battles of yore. That, by itself, will make them essential to watch and understand."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Burgess & Niple presents at WVDOT/MPO/FHWA Transportation Planning Conference

Burgess & Niple presents at WVDOT/MPO/FHWA Transportation Planning Conference: Burgess & Niple presents Get Ahead of the Curve: Combatting Run-Off-The-Road Collisions

Rethinking the STEM Gender Gap


"Women who graduate from university are less likely than men to specialize in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). We use detailed administrative data for a recent cohort of high school students in Ontario, Canada, combined with data from the province's university admission system to analyze the dynamic process leading to this gap. We show that entry to STEM programs is mediated through an index of STEM readiness based on end-of-high-school courses in math and science. Most of the gender gap in STEM entry can be traced to differences in the rate of STEM readiness; less than a fifth is due to differences in the choice of major conditional on readiness. We then use high school course data to decompose the gap in STEM readiness among university entrants into two channels: one reflecting the gender gap in the fraction of high school students with the necessary prerequisites to enter STEM, and a second arising from differences in the fractions of females and males who enter university. The gender gap in the fraction of students with STEM prerequisites is small. The main factor is the lower university entry rate by men – a difference that is due to the lower fraction of non-science oriented males who complete enough advanced level courses to qualify for university entry. We conclude that differences in course-taking patterns and preferences for STEM conditional on readiness contribute to male-female differences in the rate of entering STEM, but that the main source of the gap is the lower overall rate of university attendance by men."

When Bad Weather Does Bad Things

Friday, September 8, 2017

News from the BBC

"The BBC have already taken some steps towards producing content in virtual reality (VR) and 360-degree video. Now that has been solidified with the creation of BBC Reality Labs, a division of BBC R&D focussed on creating content in VR and augmented reality (AR).

BBC Reality Labs will be extending the work the BBC has already done in the VR area and looking into how VR and AR technologies can improve the BBC as a whole. The BBC Reality Labs team plans to work with the W3C web consortium as well as continuing to use the open-source WebVR standard to produce high-quality VR content that is viewable using only a web browser.

Part of the plan for BBC Reality Labs is to further developer WebVR content and examine how web browsers can be used to deliver VR content to audiences."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Paragraph to Paragraph

From the Sacramento Bee -

"John France, the leader of the forensic panel, told reporters Tuesday that hints of Oroville Dam’s problems were embedded in records dating to the late 1960s. These include reports of cracks in the concrete right after the dam opened in 1969, documents showing uneven thickness in the concrete slabs and signs that the drains were handling more water than they should have. All were clues that could have foretold the spillway’s failure, France said."

Clashing With a Coworker

Graph of the Week

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

An Engineering History Lesson

From the AP --

"A report released two decades ago about the Harris County reservoir system predicted with alarming accuracy the catastrophic flooding that would besiege the Houston area if changes weren't made in the face of rapid development.

The report released in 1996 by engineers with the Harris County Flood Control District says the Addicks and Barker reservoirs were adequate when built in the 1940s.

But it notes that as entire neighborhoods sprouted over the years around the reservoirs in western Harris County, as many as 25,000 homes and businesses at the time were exposed to the kind of flooding Harvey has now brought.

Engineers proposed in the report, obtained by The Dallas Morning News , a $400 million solution that involved building a massive underground conduit that would more quickly carry water out of the reservoirs and into the Houston Ship Channel.

Arthur Storey, who in 1996 was director of the flood control district, says he's embarrassed that he "was not smart enough, bold enough to fight the system" and implement an action plan to prevent the damages of Harvey from occurring."

Monday, September 4, 2017

Putin on AI

From The Verge -

"Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” said Putin, reports RT. “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

Facing Up To The Facts

From the New Yorker -

"Politicians from New York and New Jersey have been quick to say that they will not mess with Texas the way that Texans messed with them. “I’ll vote 4 Harvey aid,” Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, tweeted during the storm. Lawmakers from the Northeast should vote for aid to Houston, but with conditions. In the place of spending cuts, they should demand that Texas lawmakers and the President face up to the facts. The earth is warming, fossil-fuel emissions are the major cause, and the results are going to be far from “beneficial.” The U.S. needs to radically reduce its carbon emissions and, at the same time, prepare for a future in which storms like Harvey, Sandy, and Katrina increasingly become the norm."

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Texas Tribune -
"State crews managed to clear roads four days after Ike. Hurricane Harvey lingered in Texas for nearly a week, resulting in record-breaking rainfall and extensive flooding. The longer duration of Hurricane Harvey is expected to have caused more damage to the state's transportation system than Ike.
“I think we're safe to say that it's going to exceed the $25 million,” Williams said."

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Smile to Pay

From the South China Morning News -

"At KPRO, a new KFC restaurant that serves salads, paninis and fresh juice instead of deep-fried chicken in Alibaba’s home base of Hangzhou, customers can authenticate their payments by having their faces scanned."

Coke an AI

Link to the article -

Big Data Update

From the Marginal Revolution -

"Newly minted sociologist Sarah Brayne spent two and a half years studying the LAPD as it shifted from traditional methods to what she calls big data surveillance.
This article examines the intersection of two structural developments: the growth of surveillance and the rise of “big data.” Drawing on observations and interviews conducted within the Los Angeles Police Department, I offer an empirical account of how the adoption of big data analytics does—and does not—transform police surveillance practices. I argue that the adoption of big data analytics facilitates amplifications of prior surveillance practices and fundamental transformations in surveillance activities. First, discretionary assessments of risk are supplemented and quantified using risk scores. Second, data are used for predictive, rather than reactive or explanatory, purposes. Third, the proliferation of automatic alert systems makes it possible to systematically surveil an unprecedentedly large number of people. Fourth, the threshold for inclusion in law enforcement databases is lower, now including individuals who have not had direct police contact. Fifth, previously separate data systems are merged, facilitating the spread of surveillance into a wide range of institutions. Based on these findings, I develop a theoretical model of big data surveillance that can be applied to institutional domains beyond the criminal justice system. Finally, I highlight the social consequences of big data surveillance for law and social inequality."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Sentence to Ponder

From the Wall Street Journal today -

"The World Bank reckons that by 2050, 16% of the world's will live in large coastal cities exposed to cyclones, hurricanes and earthquakes, up from 11% in 2000."

Machine-learning earthquake prediction in lab shows promise

Machine-learning earthquake prediction in lab shows promise

Houston Area Transportation Infrastructure Largely Still Unusable

Houston Area Transportation Infrastructure Largely Still Unusable: Airports, rail and bus service in the Houston area were still being assessed Aug. 30.

Hurricanes and Debt Limits

From Fortune -

"The government's cash reserves are running low since the nation's debt limit has actually already been reached, and the Treasury Department is using various accounting measures to cover expenses. Billions of dollars in Harvey aid are an unexpected cost that at least raises the potential that Congress would have to act earlier than expected to increase the government's borrowing authority."

Friday, September 1, 2017

Still Looking Up

From the Washington Post -

"Forget the soaring stock market. Here's the real evidence the U.S. economy is getting better: Food stamp usage is down, and spending on entertainment — everything from Netflix to Disney World trips — is up."

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Body Language of Power

The Body Language of Power: In a world of bullies and machos, Angela Merkel keeps ending up on top. Andreas Kluth, our editor-in-chief, deconstructs how.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Engineering Permanently Temporary

From Meeting of the Minds -
"A ubiquitous travel trailer is the building typology that’s most resilient to rising sea level. A coastal resident can park her dwelling unit right on the waterfront and then, as the water level rises, simply tow it uphill.To make maximum advantage of the resilience of recreational vehicles, perhaps we should design coastal communities that operate more like long-term campgrounds than permanent cities. But do we really want all of our shoreline cities to look like RV campgrounds?"

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Update on The Yield Curve

From the New York Times:
"That is probably not what most people want to hear — stock investors especially. In the first half of the year, after all, stocks have performed spectacularly. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index returned 9 percent through June, churning out gains so regularly that it may seem churlish to note that clouds are appearing on the horizon.
Yet like a long-range forecast about a possible storm, an old and trusted financial indicator is telling us that trouble may be looming.
Simply put, while the Federal Reserve has been raising short-term interest rates since December, the bond market hasn’t gotten the memo. The longer-term rates that are set through bond market trading have, for the most part, been declining, though there was a brief reversal in the last few days. But the disconnect over the last few months is a sign that bond investors believe economic growth and inflation are still weak and the Fed’s actions are premature."
A good primer on The Yield Curve - -

App - The Human Story

An Idea Worth Considering - Owning Your Social Media Data

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Mind Game of the Week - How Would Jeff Bezos Run a [Fill in the Blank]?

No Longer Accustomed to Manufacturing

From The Atlantic - article on Chinese investment and management of manufacturing operations in the U.S. - -

"It’s possible that the U.S. workforce is not as skilled at manufacturing as it used to be. Many of the people who worked in manufacturing in the 1980s, before the wave of offshoring, have since retired, and younger people don’t have as much experience in factories. The economist Tyler Cowen has argued that Americans are more averse to adjusting to change than they were in the past, which potentially makes them less likely to take jobs in new fields. “You could say we got a little spoiled” as America created better and better jobs, Cowen told me. While Cowen sees this as a negative, it’s the result of a positive development: American workers are no longer interested in low-paying, backbreaking jobs like picking crops, for example. “People are not willing to become a wreck by age 60 or 65 anymore,” he said. But it makes life more difficult for employers who don’t want to (or can’t) pay workers more or improve the jobs that are available.

Cowen also pointed me to a study published last year in the Journal of Hand Therapy that indicates that today’s workers might be physically weaker than American workers of the past, which would explain some of why it’s harder to find good factory workers. Men younger than 30 have weaker hand grips than their counterparts in 1985 did, the study found. Grips might have gotten weaker because men are no longer accustomed to working in manufacturing or farming, but are instead prepared to sit at desks and work on computers."

Modeling the Oroville Dam Spillway Failure

The Impact of AI on Sports Viewing

Summer Reading List

New to the book bag - -

  • The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley are Changing the World by Brad Stone
  • Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War, and Survival by Jeffrey Gettleman
  • One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams by Chris Fussell
  • Qatar: A Modern History by Allen Fromherz
  • Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas Ricks
  • CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping by Kerry Brown
  • Island People: The Caribbean and the World by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Wheat Outlook

The Big Four of Transportation Trends

Great overview in Meeting of the Minds:
"The general press and transportation specialty publications are bursting with reports of new developments in four major disruptive transportation technologies:
  • Shared rides
  • Electric vehicles
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Connected vehicles
As we look back on the auto revolution since 1945, we have spent trillions of dollars on cars and related infrastructure. These investments transformed our country and greatly assisted us to an unprecedented level of prosperity. Yet there are many things we would no doubt do differently with 20/20 hindsight to shape the use of cars in relation to other modes of travel and in relation to the urban forms we want to live in. As we look on in amazement at the current technological prowess on display in the auto and mobility industries, it is important that we learn from the automobile revolution of the last 75 years. We can learn from the past to shape new developments to meet shared goals as these technologies unfold, rather than suffer the impacts of unintended consequences."

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the New York Times:

"For example, about half of all Canadian immigrants arrive with a college degree, while the figure in the United States is just 27 percent. Immigrant children in Canadian schools read at the same level as the native born, while the gap is huge in the United States. Canadian immigrants are almost 20 percent more likely to own their own homes and 7 percent less likely to live in poverty than their American equivalents."

A New Rule of 3s for Survival

My new rule of 3s for survival - - three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without air, and three seconds without an Internet connection!!  From Fast Company - the impact of the Internet in your pocket and how it changed everything.
"In 2007 we were still thinking, “Why would I want the internet in my pocket when I’m walking around? If I want to get on the internet I’ll sit down in front of my computer.” So 50 years from now, we’ll look back and see the iPhone as the demarcation point between when the web was growing, and the era when the web was ubiquitous and something where everybody, even your grandmother, is using it–not only daily, but on an hourly basis.
And 2007 is around the same time that Facebook was discovered by everybody. I think it’s really the combination of the iPhone/smartphone and the rise of social media that really leads to the internet as we understand it today. I’m looking out on the street in Manhattan right now, and seven out of 10 people walking by are looking down at their screen."

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Round One of the Driverless Revolution

From Medium - - might be where the initial wave of driverless investment is focused.

Rethinking Toll Roads

The iPhone Anniversary

Great stats from The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant - -

Sales by brand in the best selling categories - - Toyota Corolla (43 million units), Sony PlayStation (382 million units), Harry Potter series (430 million books) - - and the iPhone with one billion units.

Sell or No-Sell: Design Firms Weigh Choices for Future Growth

Sell or No-Sell: Design Firms Weigh Choices for Future Growth: In a more dynamic marketplace, architects, engineers and consulting firms take stock on why being acquired or staying independent best fits growth plans and culture.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The New American Heartland

A 10-Year Education Plan

A Paragraph to Ponder

From TPM Cafe:

"Like most everything with Trump, I think there is a significant element of truth in the causes that he picks up. He is addressing some real grievances. But then the manner in which he addresses them is completely bonkers. So in the case of Germany, I do think Germany is the world’s greatest mercantilist power right now. It used to be China. China’s surplus has gone down in recent years, but Germany’s trade surplus is almost 9 percent of GDP. And they are essentially exporting deflation and unemployment to the rest of the world... it is not a trade problem. It is a macro-economic problem. The solution is to get German consumers to spend more and save less and the German state to spend more and to increase German wages. It is not the trade policies of the US or any other country that is going to be able to address this issue. It is similar to the way Trump has picked up grievances about how trade agreements have operated in the United States. These agreements have created loses, and grievances that have not been addressed, and I think there is a lot of truth to those kind of things, but I don’t think he has any realistic way of dealing with those things."

The Grenfell High-Rise Fire: A Litany of Failures?

Highlights the disfunctional nature and building environment we work in - - The Grenfell High-Rise Fire: A Litany of Failures?

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Wall Street Journal by Lawrence Haas - a review of Edward Luce's The Retreat of Western Liberalism -

" . . . every single of America's 493 wealthiest counties, almost all of them urban, voted for Hillary Clinton.  The remaining 2,623 counties, most of them suburban or small-town, went for Donald Trump."

Graph of the Week

The Golden Age of Landscape Architects

Monday, June 12, 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Paragraph to Ponder

From MIT Technology Review:

"When Lois Seed wakes up in the morning, one of the first things she says is “Alexa, what is the weather?” Seed, who is 89 and has low vision because of macular degeneration, finds it convenient to get weather information by speaking to the Alexa voice-activated assistant on her Amazon Echo. She also asks her Echo to tell her the time and to play classical music from her former hometown radio station.

“Life is more enjoyable [with Alexa],” she says, proving that the recent Saturday Night Live spoof about Alexa and seniors couldn’t be further from the truth."

The Future of Retailing?

Car Code

"Twenty years ago, cars had, on average, one million lines of code. The General Motors 2010 Chevrolet Volt had about 10 million lines of code — more than an F-35 fighter jet.
Today, an average car has more than 100 million lines of code. Automakers predict it won’t be long before they have 200 million."

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Voting for Trump and Renewables

From the New York Times:
"Two years ago, Kansas repealed a law requiring that 20 percent of the state’s electric power come from renewable sources by 2020, seemingly a step backward on energy in a deeply conservative state.
Yet by the time the law was scrapped, it had become largely irrelevant. Kansas blew past that 20 percent target in 2014, and last year it generated more than 30 percent of its power from wind. The state may be the first in the country to hit 50 percent wind generation in a year or two, unless Iowa gets there first.
Some of the fastest progress on clean energy is occurring in states led by Republican governors and legislators, and states carried by Donald J. Trump in the presidential election.
The five states that get the largest percentage of their power from wind turbines — Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and North Dakota — all voted for Mr. Trump. So did Texas, which produces the most wind power in absolute terms. In fact, 69 percent of the wind power produced in the country comes from states that Mr. Trump carried in November."