Monday, May 29, 2017

Civil Engineering and Infrastructure Cost Control

Points out the two major problems with infrastructure investment in the United States - -

Sky Robot

Embrace the Right Kind of Failure

India's Port Infrastructure

Graph of the Week


Link to the website.

KFC Drones

Engineering the Perfect Conversation

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Death of an Oil Rig

Regulatory Barriers Stymie Onsite Potable Water Systems

Regulatory Barriers Stymie Onsite Potable Water Systems: California, Oregon and Washington are among the states moving forward with regulations and road maps for the construction and operation of building- and district-scale graywater capture and treatment systems for non-potable-water use, such as toilet flushing and irrigation.

The Impact of Declining Retail

From CityLab:

"Nationwide, sales taxes comprise nearly one-third of the taxes that state governments collect and about 12 percent of what local governments collect, according to Lucy Dadayan, a senior researcher at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, a New York-based research group. “The epic closures of the brick-and-mortar stores is troubling news for state and local government sales-tax collections,” she said. They’re already feeling the hit: States’ tax revenues grew just 1.9 percent between 2014 and 2015, after growing 5.8 percent in the previous four quarters, according to the Rockefeller Institute. Local-government sales-tax collections grew just 1.7 percent, after growing 7.5 percent in the previous four quarters. In Ohio, state tax revenues grew just 0.1 percent, when adjusted for inflation, between 2015 and 2016, according to Dadayan. When revenues don’t continue to grow, governments have to slow down spending and can’t readily invest in long-term projects."

The Big Book of Dashboards

Infrastructure Inc.

A Paragraph to Ponder

From Tyler Cowen:

"What’s also striking is that, if the Trump budget can work at all, the spending cuts are probably not needed. It would suffice to cut taxes only, and allow the economy to grow out of an even-greater budget deficit. In this regard, the Trump budget reflects a deep incoherence, and it inconsistently mixes various optimistic and pessimistic scenarios. If the spending cuts are required for fiscal stability, then we probably shouldn’t be doing the tax cuts.

This framework allows us to pinpoint the huge and, I would say, excessively dangerous gamble in Trump’s budget. There is no guarantee that the growth rate of the economy remains higher than the government’s borrowing rate. It is common in American history that government borrowing rates run 5 percent or higher, and the aging of the American population, or perhaps an unexpected catastrophe, such as a war, could lower the growth rate. 1 And once a government becomes addicted to borrowing, it is hard to shake the habit, as subsequent tax increases damage economies."

Monday, May 22, 2017

Graph of the Week

Not Looking Like the Road to Blade Runner 2049


From the New Yorker - The World is Running Out of Sand:

"Pascal Peduzzi, a Swiss scientist and the director of one of the U.N.’s environmental groups, told the BBC last May that China’s swift development had consumed more sand in the previous four years than the United States used in the past century. In India, commercially useful sand is now so scarce that markets for it are dominated by “sand mafias”—criminal enterprises that sell material taken illegally from rivers and other sources, sometimes killing to safeguard their deposits. In the United States, the fastest-growing uses include the fortification of shorelines eroded by rising sea levels and more and more powerful ocean storms—efforts that, like many attempts to address environmental challenges, create environmental challenges of their own."

Friday, May 19, 2017

This Cannot Be Healthy

Google Looks as AR

The Zero Sum Retail Game

From Wharton:
"More than a dozen clothing retailers that have traditionally populated the American mall landscape have announced bankruptcy, shuttered locations or closed down completely in the last several years, including Macy’s, The Limited, Wet Seal, Bebe, Guess, Payless ShoeSource, BCBG Max Azria, Abercrombie and Fitch — the list goes on. Those who haven’t shut down or scaled back are stagnant, such as Target and Kohl’s.
“The legacy retail business is in terrible shape,” Cohen says. “For big players like Macy’s — who are not in imminent danger of bankruptcy but, frankly, don’t have a strategy to go forward — this is breakage that is just starting to reveal itself. We’re looking at a paradigm shift that’s just getting started.”"

Graph of the Week

No automatic alt text available.

Monday, May 15, 2017

What Is Texas Thinking?

From City Lab:

"But Michigan’s strategy of linking research to AV development is unusual. More common are state initiatives that invite AV testing without building connections to universities. The Texas legislature, for example, introduced multiple bills to encourage AVs but declined to fund the Texas Department of Transportation’s request for $50 million in AV research for the University of Texas System and Texas A&M. If the state really wants to grow an AV industry, that doesn’t make a lot of sense."

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Economist - 

"Two new aircraft—the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350—make it profitable to carry smaller numbers of passengers over long-haul routes. Secondary cities half a world away from each other can increasingly sustain direct connections. That eliminates the need to change planes in the Middle East. Big legacy carriers, in addition to long-haul, low-cost pioneers such as Norwegian and AirAsia X, are buying these planes in huge numbers. The fact that Airbus has 750 outstanding orders for its A350, compared with just 107 for the A380s that Emirates flies, shows where airlines think the future of aviation is heading."

The STEM Outlook in North Texas

What I Learned About the Dismal State of U.S. Retailing

From the Economist - Briefing American Retailing:

  • Last year 4,000 stores closed - in 2017, it is estimated that twice this number will close.
  • Standard & Poor's predicts more retailing defaults in 2017 than in 2009.
  • Since January, the retailing industry has shed 50,000 jobs.
  • To match demand - 30% of space could close permanently.  This would constitute job losses of potentially 4.8 million retail workers.
  • Retailing makes up 31% of all U.S. commercial property.
  • Just 20% of retail store workers have a college degrees.
  • Malls account for 8% of U.S. retailing.
  • Retailers have a market value of $1.6 trillion - how much will vanish during the structural correction?
  • By July 2018 retailing will have shed three times as many jobs as Amazon is due to create.
  • E-commerce jobs will require a college degree - - traditional retailing does not.  
  • More retailing jobs than coal mining jobs by a factor of 300.

From Toilet to Tap

Indian Engineers

From the current issue of Bloomberg Businessweek on the tragedy of the murder of an Indian engineer in Olathe, Kansas:

"Because of a glut of green-card applications, Indian workers in the U.S. wait, on average, more that 10 years to gain permanent-resident status.  That's already prompting engineers, scientists, and students in India to seek other destinations or simply stay at home - a trend that may accelerate if Trump pursues tougher immigration laws."

Economists at Amazon

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Déjà Vu and the Dilemma for Planners

Déjà Vu and the Dilemma for Planners from NewGeography.

Education as How versus What

From the Tom Friedman column in the New York Times today - - Owning Your Own Future:
"If you think machines are smart today … wait a year. It’s this move from 14-nm to 10-nm chips that will help enable automakers to shrink the brain of a self-driving car — a brain that has to take in sensor data from 360 degrees and instantly process whether it’s a dog, a human, a biker or another car — from something that fills a whole trunk to a small box under the front seat, so these cars can scale.
When you get that much processing power, putting out that much data exhaust with ever-improving software, you create a world where we can analyze, prophesize and optimize with a precision unknown in human history. We can see trends we never saw, predict when engine parts will break and replace them before they do, with great savings, and we can optimize everything — from the most energy-saving flight path for an airplane to the ideal drilling path for a natural gas well."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Communicate on Their Level

From KelloggInsight on the challenges of managing and retaining US Army millennials - -

"“Leaders tend to get frustrated when millennials challenge them,” Carr says. “And it’s true that some millennials can be very outspoken. But usually what they’re doing is stretching, which isn’t always a bad thing. As a senior leader, you have to have the discernment to say: ‘This millennial isn’t challenging authority; they’re challenging the way things have been done,’ which forces you to be more agile, flexible, and innovative.”"

Has CVS crafted a promising new drugstore shopping journey? – RetailWire

Has CVS crafted a promising new drugstore shopping journey? – RetailWire

Blade Runner 2049 - Picking the Winners and Losers by Mid-Century

A Gallup Predicted World of Over 65-Year Old Engineers

Civil Engineering and the Tyranny of Sunk Costs

Black & Veatch 2017 Strategic Directions Report

Report from B&V with a focus on smart city strategic directions.

Your Next Project Management Assistant

Probably will include some of the following three features - link:

1. Make easy phone calls

We call them smartphones, but I know a few millennials who don’t ever make calls. They text all day, and when they do place a phone call, it’s maybe once per week. In the living room, if you could make a quick call, it would save time. “Hey Siri, find an appliance repairman and make the call,” would be much faster than using Google Chrome or scrolling through contacts. Today, that doesn’t really work on an iPhone, so the speaker would have to use added intelligence to parse out what you want to do.

2. Engage in real dialog

Siri is pretty dumb, actually. The voicebot doesn’t really engage with you, and the best bot we have for dialog is the Assistant on Google Home. You can ask a question like “Who is Steph Curry?” and then say “When was he born?” and that works. It doesn’t work with Echo or Siri today. Apple could go much further with the speaker and let it converse with you about a wide range of topics; that's important since the speaker will become such an important part of your day (and your morning and your evening).

3. Summarize my email

Siri lets you dictate a text message pretty easily, but I’m not as interested in that. What I really want it to do is summarize my texts and emails, and then I'll keep typing emails on my laptop. The bot should know which ones are important, based on my frequent interactions and machine learning. For example, the boss needs me to call her right now. I’d like Siri to be able to let me know when that happens. And, the bot could tell me a quick synopsis of less important emails, set reminders, and ignore email fluff.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


The Man From FAIR

History in the Making

How Managers Become Leaders

Tidal Lagoon Power

UK National Infrastructure Forum

The Rise of Machines - Coal Edition

From an excellent article in the Washington Post.

"The average miner underground in West Virginia produces three tons of coal per hour. The average miner at a strip mine in Wyoming produces nearly 28. That is not the fault of the miners but of the mines’ geology."

Construction Asks: 'Where's the Infrastructure Program?'

Construction Asks: 'Where's the Infrastructure Program?': Trump's executive orders so far are his most effective tool, but the infrastructure 'plan' remains a mystery.

Civil Engineering as Data Extraction Profession

From The Economist - data at the center of the new economy.  Civil engineering has always been at the center of the extraction economy - from oil to natural gas to mining to water.  The evolution of homo civil engineerius needs to look at civil engineering as a data/information extraction profession.

"AN OIL refinery is an industrial cathedral, a place of power, drama and dark recesses: ornate cracking towers its gothic pinnacles, flaring gas its stained glass, the stench of hydrocarbons its heady incense. Data centres, in contrast, offer a less obvious spectacle: windowless grey buildings that boast no height or ornament, they seem to stretch to infinity.

Yet the two have much in common. For one thing, both are stuffed with pipes. In refineries these collect petrol, propane and other components of crude oil, which have been separated by heat. In big data centres they transport air to cool tens of thousands of computers which extract value—patterns, predictions and other insights—from raw digital information.

Both also fulfill the same role: producing crucial feedstocks for the world economy. Whether cars, plastics or many drugs—without the components of crude, much of modern life would not exist. The distillations of data centres, for their part, power all kinds of online services and, increasingly, the real world as devices become more and more connected.

Data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change. Flows of data have created new infrastructure, new businesses, new monopolies, new politics and—crucially—new economics. Digital information is unlike any previous resource; it is extracted, refined, valued, bought and sold in different ways. It changes the rules for markets and it demands new approaches from regulators. Many a battle will be fought over who should own, and benefit from, data."

Passenger Focused Design

From Arup:
"A human-centred design approach to the rail passenger experience would enable operators to deliver real delight. To better understand these issues, Dutch rail operator NS has developed a pyramid of customer needs. In their assessment, travel time, safety and ease of use only meet the baseline of an ‘acceptable’ experience. To reach customer ‘delight’ however, means providing useful amenities like power and Wi-Fi, providing above-average levels of comfort and cleanliness, and engagement with friendly staff.
This approach has been adopted by Transport for London in its ‘Strategy for Improvement’ approach, which includes ‘Delighters’ – customer service measures that improve overall satisfaction, such as receiving local information or personal assistance.
Examples of passenger-centric design thinking might include user-centred technology, such as Citymapper or electronic ticketing on your smartphone, enhancing the passenger experience through great station design, such as King’s Cross/St Pancras or Birmingham New Street station, or perhaps smaller scale measures such as Olympics medal news on display screens at stations to cheer up the weary commuter.:

Are We All Flint?

From the NRDC:
"America has a drinking water crisis. An NRDC study has found that contaminants that may harm human health are found in tap water in every state in the nation.
Established in 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act is one of our bedrock environmental laws, consisting of rules that regulate about 100 contaminants found in drinking water. NRDC has documented serious problems with our outdated and deteriorating water infrastructure, widespread violations and inadequate enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act for more than 25 years.
Our analysis shows that in 2015 alone, there were more than 80,000 reported violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act by community water systems. Nearly 77 million people were served by more than 18,000 of these systems with violations in 2015. These violations included exceeding health-based standards, failing to properly test water for contaminants, and failing to report contamination to state authorities or the public. What’s worse, 2015 saw more than 12,000 health-based violations in some 5,000 community water systems serving more than 27 million people."

The Great (Bullet) Train Robbery

Graph of the Week

Not good - most of civil engineering is an extension of all levels of government.

What Infrastructure Dis-Investment Looks Like

From an excellent article in the New York Times:
Most of New York’s subway system still relies on antiquated technology, known as block signaling, to coordinate the movement of trains. A modern system, known as communications-based train control, or C.B.T.C., is more dependable and exact, making it possible to reduce the amount of space between trains. A computerized signal system like C.B.T.C. is also safer because trains can be stopped automatically. New York’s quest to install the new system began in 1991... More than 25 years later, the authority has little to show for its effort to install modern signals. The L line began using computerized signals in 2009 after about a decade of work. A second line, the No. 7, should have received new signals last year, but the project was delayed until the end of this year.
The process is complicated. It requires installing transponders every 500 feet on the tracks, along with radios and zone controllers, and buying new trains or upgrading them with onboard computers, radios and speed sensors. The authority also had to develop a design and software that was tailored to New York’s subway. Over the years, the authority has kept pushing back the timeline for replacing signals. In 1997, officials said that every line would be computerized by this year. By 2005, they had pushed the deadline to 2045, and now even that target seems unrealistic. Upgrading the signals is expensive, but an even bigger challenge is scheduling work on such a vast system where ridership is always high, even on weekends... (In London) The rollout of modern signals on four lines has significantly reduced delays, making travel across this huge city of nearly nine million people more efficient. This month, the Victoria line will reach a peak of 36 trains per hour — compared with 27 trains per hour a decade ago, and among the highest rates in Europe. In New York, the Lexington Avenue line, the nation’s most crowded subway route, runs a peak of 29 trains per hour.

Crossrail - Successful Infrastructure Project?

Out of Africa

From The Economist:
"Several African countries have tried in the past to become tailors and cloth-makers to the world. Nigeria’s northern cities of Kaduna and Kano were once home to textile mills that employed 350,000 people. Yet these factories are now rusting, and employ perhaps a tenth of that number.
This mirrors a wider trend. In 1990 African countries accounted for about 9% of the developing world’s manufacturing output. By 2014 that share had slumped to 4%."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

P3 Water Summit

Attention Bargin Shoppers

Water Markets

From Grist:

"Wateria’s popularity demonstrates the unique culture immigrants have forged in Los Angeles, and the distrust many of them have for public services. Customers pay a premium of hundreds of dollars a year to drink filtered water instead of tap water because they’re more confident in its safety or think it tastes better. Communities of color and low-income areas in the United States are more likely to have contaminated drinking water supplies, and trust in public water systems has been further battered by the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan."

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Characteristics of Hierarchical versus Networked Organizations

From Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Chessboard & The Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World.

Fordism: workers perform specialized tasks over and over as part of defined sequence
Flexible specialization: small-scale production teams simultaneously work on complementary projects
Employee traits: deference to authority, obedience, conformity
Employee traits: autonomy, adaptability, problem solving, collaboration
Ties are strong but few
Ties are loose but many
Tasks, managers, and departments are organized by function
Tasks, managers, and departments are organized by project
Communication is vertical command through defined channels
Communication is lateral as well as vertical consultation
Management derives authority from title, rank, and seniority
Management derives authority from expertise and contribution
Job description and areas of control are narrowly defined
Job descriptions are broad and boundaries are permeable
Transaction and payment are the glue of relationships
Trust and reputation sustain relationships
Slow to adapt, difficult to change
Quick to adapt, easier to change
Key decisions are centralized so coordination costs are low
Decentralized decision making so higher employee satisfaction and loyalty
Performs well in stable, predictable environment
Performs well in ambiguous environment that require efficiency and flexibility

Predicting Our Future

Totally in agreement with BBC report:

"Unfortunately, some experts believe such tough decisions exceed our political and psychological capabilities. “The world will not rise to the occasion of solving the climate problem during this century, simply because it is more expensive in the short term to solve the problem than it is to just keep acting as usual,” says Jorgen Randers, a professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, and author of 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. “The climate problem will get worse and worse and worse because we won’t be able to live up to what we’ve promised to do in the Paris Agreement and elsewhere.”"

Graph of the Week

Shorting Las Vegas

From CityLab - - which areas in the U.S. are most vulnerable to the rise of machines and automation:

"A new analysis suggests that the places that are going to be hardest-hit by automation in the coming decades are in fact outside of the Rust Belt. It predicts that areas with high concentrations of jobs in food preparation, office or administrative support, and/or sales will be most affected—places such as Las Vegas and the Riverside-San Bernardino area may be the most vulnerable to automation in upcoming years, with 65 percent of jobs in Las Vegas and 63 percent of jobs in Riverside predicted to be automatable by 2025. Other areas especially vulnerable to automation are El Paso, Orlando, and Louisville."

Paragraphs to Ponder

From Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

"A main cause of the current decline is slower growth in economic efficiency -- that is, in the amount of output yielded by given inputs of capital and labor. In recent decades, so-called total factor productivity in the U.S. has increased by less than 1 percent a year, well under half as quickly as in the 50 years to 1970. And during the past several years this measure of productivity has grown at a crawl, rising less than 0.5 percent a year.

Robert Gordon describes four current "headwinds" in "The Rise and Fall of American Growth." First is demographics: The labor force is growing more slowly, which means slower growth in output. Second, growth in the 20th century was powered by rising numbers of Americans completing high school, a one-time transition that's over. Third, globalization tends to worsen inequality -- within the U.S. at any rate -- by rewarding the highest-skilled workers and owners of capital more than the moderately skilled or unskilled who make up most of the population. Fourth, public debt has risen and will have to be serviced; in due course that's likely to mean higher taxes."

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Complete Streets

Research leader tapped as Purdue dean for College of Engineering - Purdue University

Research leader tapped as Purdue dean for College of Engineering - Purdue University

Sober takes over as WEAT president

Sober takes over as WEAT president: Garver’s Texas Water Team Leader Jeff Sober was elected recently as the 2017-2018 Water Environment Association of Texas President at the...

Amazon Fact of the Day


"We find that Amazon saves between $0.17 and $0.47 for every 100 mile reduction in the distance of shipping goods worth $30. In the context of its distribution network expansion, this estimate implies that Amazon has reduced its total shipping cost by over 50% and increased its profit margin by between 5 and 14% since 2006. Separately, we demonstrate that prices on Amazon have fallen by approximately 40% over the same period, suggesting that a significant share of the cost savings have been passed on to consumers."

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Business Case for Sustainability

Another Dam to Watch

No Stagnation In Pizza

Link to the article - -

"Domino’s Pizza now lets customers sync their smart home devices with the ETA of their pizza deliveries.
The pizza giant is partnering with If This, Then That (IFTTT), a free platform that allows users to create connections — or applets — between digital devices and services. By integrating its digital Domino's Tracker, which enables customers to monitor orders from preparation to delivery, into the platform, the company has created Domino’s-branded applets.
For example, one applet lets customers digitally turn on their porch lights as their delivery arrives, while another deactivates lawn sprinklers as the delivery driver makes his way up the walk. Customers can also create their own applets and link their smart devices within any step of Domino's Tracker.
Domino’s is the first restaurant brand to join the IFTTT platform, the company said.  
"We understand how much people love using Domino's Tracker, not only to know where their order is in the preparation and delivery process, but also to plan around that much-anticipated pizza arrival," said Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior VP, chief digital officer. 
"And now we're empowering customers to unleash their imagination as they create new ways to integrate some of our favorite innovations, like Domino's Tracker, into their everyday lives,” he said. “Thanks to the endless possibilities of IFTTT applets, customers will be more connected than ever.”
The applets join Domino’s growing portfolio of innovations. For example, the company has tested drone deliveries,  , voice-enabled ordering and launched a wedding registry."