Monday, April 30, 2012


Finally, a movie about headhunters (and it is entitled Headhunters).  All the way from Norway - - based on the excellent book by Jo Nesbo.  For whatever reason, Scandinavian writers are the masters of the dark crime novel and what can be darker than hunting heads.

After the book and movie you will probably be reaching for more on Inbau, Ried, and Buckley and their nine step method and looking for your own cute little Neither terrier.

Trailer - - and remember, earning 30% can sometimes be a very dangerous activity.  Also, the book's protagonist sums it up pretty well in the end - - "I'm a headhunter.  It's not particularly difficult.  But I am king of the heap."

Making Better Decisions Pays (Really Big)

The convergence of information technology and "big data" sifting algorithms has produced an era of systems and supporting tools that helps organizations make better decisions.  Better decisions that will boost profits and cut costs.  Norfolk Southern (the 4th largest U.S. railroad) is an example of the power of better decision making support tools.  The company uses customized software to monitor rail traffic - - with the goal of reducing congestion and allowing trains to move at higher speeds.

The net result - - Norfolk Southern estimates that making trains run an average of one mile per hour faster will save more than $200 million.  The potential of decision support tools combined with "big data" innovation is just huge - - the Next Big Thing.

Source - - GE Heads West With $1 Billion to Spend, Bloomberg Businessweek, April 30, 2012.

Wastewater and Counterterrorism

This week marks the one year anniversary of the killing of OBL in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  To mark the anniversary, Harvard professor Graham Allison has an excellent article in the current tissue of Time - - How It Went Down

One of the ways it went down may have started in a wastewater manhole.  Allison wrote the following in the article:

"A broadsheet of options included everything from surveilling the neighborhood with a miniaturized UAW that resembled a bird (so convincing that one was attacked by an eagle) to analyzing local sewage for genetic markers.  A number of these were pursued successfully and still remain secret."

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Eagle Scouts Have Positive, Lasting Influence on American Society

Link to a study of Eagle Scouts by Byron Johnson of Baylor University that was mentioned in the New York Times magazine today - - and my house is stocked with emergency supplies and I exercise daily.  I was taught well by the BSA.

Global Water Security: An Engineering Perspective

This is a good report.  A key recommendation of the research - - the global water sector needs to have an integrated water resource management and sustainability policy at its core.  The report also looks at the issue of the interrelationship among water, food, and energy security issues.

Transportation and the Next Generation

Two research organizations, Frontier Group and PIRG Education Fund, recently issued a report - -Transportation and the New Generation - - that looked at our car culture in the context of changing generational driving attitudes and habits.  The bottom line of the research - - young people are driving less and it will have broad ramifications for transportation policy. 

Driving habits in the U.S. are changing.  By 2011, the average American are driving six percent fewer miles than in 2004.  This reduction is most significant and noticeable with young people.  From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,000 miles per capita - - a drop of 23%.  As the report noted, some of the reduction is related to the bad economy.  But the trend will be long-lasting for a variety of reasons - - higher long-term gas prices, new licencing laws, improvements in technology that support alternative transportation, and changes in Generation Y's values and preference.  All of these factors are likely to have an impact for years to come.

Key points in the study - -
  • In 2009, 16 to 34-year-olds as a whole took 24% more bike trips than they took in 2001, despite the age group actually shrinking in size by 2%.
  • From 2001 to 2009, the number of passenger-miles traveled by 16 to 34-year-olds on public transit increased by 40%.
  • According to the Federal Highway Administration, from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14 to 34-year-olds without a driver's licence increased from 21% to 26%.
  • Many young people choose to replace driving with alternative transportation - - the Zipcar is an alternative example.
  • Many of America's youth prefer to live places where they can easily walk, bike, and take public transportation.
  • Some young purposely reduce their driving in an effort to curb their environmental impact.
  • Communication technology, which provides young people withe new social networking and recreational possibilities, has become a substitute for some car trips.
  • Websites and smart phone apps that provide real-time transit data make public transportation easier to use, particularly for infrequent users.
  • Technology has opened the door for new transportation alternatives, such as car-sharing.
  • Public transportation is more compatible with a lifestyle based on mobility and peer-to-peer connectivity than driving.
  • From 2001 to 2009, young people (16-34 years old) who lived in households with annual incomes of over $70,000 increased their use of public transit by 100%, biking 122%, and walking by 37%
The electric car could change these trends.  But if young people change their long-term driving habits, the implications will be far-reaching for developers, city planners, transportation engineers, and national and local governments.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Engineer as Salesman

From Robert McMurry, an industrial psychologist, and his 1961 Harvard Business Review article - - "The Mystique of Super-Salesmanship."

Key points:
  • Salesmanship is as primitive today as it was 100 years ago.
  • The most complex of the super-salesmans are the ones that sell the intangibles - - from advertising to engineering services to educational services - - a service that is in the prospect's imagination.
  • A good salesman does three things - - seduces the prospect, provides logical justification, and finally applies pressure to close.  Basically -- seduction, rationalization, and closing.  Very important - - all three things require three very different skill sets.
  • Great salesmen all have an important instinct - - "the wooing instinct."  They have a compulsive need to win and hold the affection of others.
  • The wooer is "characterized by the conviction that he is really unloved and unwanted" so must use every means at his disposal - - charm, flattery, even deception - - to win others over.
  • They have high levels of empathy - - the process of understanding another person's feelings and then sharing them. 
  • "Wooing in a sales context is as difficult to teach as wooing in a boudoir."  One cannot make John Calvin into Don Juan.
  • Five lesser characteristics -- boundless energy and optimism; plenty of self-confidence in order to brush off rejection; a "chronic hunger for money"; self-discipline and a capacity for hard work; and finally a "state of mind which regards each rejection or obstacle as a challenge."
  • Big problem for companies -- all of these traits are hard to find in one individual.
  • Too often the focus becomes the procedural aspects of selling - - the end result are legions of highly trained actors that lack the wooing ingredient.
This is from Philip Delves Broughton's tremendous new book --  The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters About the Business of Life - -

"Here lies the challenge in finding good salespeople.  You need excellent empathizers who aren't so empathetic they can't close a sale.  And you need people with strong ego needs who can still take a moment to figure out what another person wants.  They must be aggressive enough to close, but not so aggressive they put people off.  Too much empathy and you'll be a nice guy finishing last.  Too much ego drive and you'll be scorching earth everywhere you go.  Not enough of either and you shouldn't be in sales at all.  It's a miracle anyone can do this job."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Global Trends 2030

A new report from the Institute for Security Studies - - Global Trends 2030.  A key point of the study for engineering - - the ranks of the global middle class will swell from about 2 billion today to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030.  The 4.9 billion will be out of a total global population of 8 billion.  This will be the first time in human history more people will be middle class than poor.

Axion International

We are getting to the point where your recycled Coke bottle might just be the new concrete and steel.  Axion International is leading the way from bales of No. 2 plastic detergent bottles, milk jugs, and Coke bottles to railroad ties and structural beams for bridges.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fix It Plano

The nexus of asset management, mobile information technology, social media, and public participation come together in Plano, Texas with the Fix It Plano program.

Mowing your yard and network maintenance

This is interesting - - an interview with Brian David Johnson, the corporate futurist for Intel (in Scientific American, May 2012 - Professional Seer).  His research, and I love the way it is stated, is future casting; an endeavor that combine computer and social sciences.  Johnson has a book Screen Future available at

From the interview - -

"One example that Andrew (Andrew Hessel is a synthetic biologist) and I were kicking around was a way to solve "the last mile" for network connectivity.  This is literally the last mile between the network hub and your house or apartment.  Imagine now that we engineered an organism so that it was an excellent conductor for the Internet signal, better than the cable and copper wires we're using today.  Now all we have to do is lay down our little organism between your house and that network hub, and you'll be downloading HD movies day and night.

But how do we do that?  Well, what if we crossed our superconducting organism with grass seed so that it looked and grew and could be maintained like grass.  Imagine everywhere you see grass that could be a superconducting mesh network that brings the Internet anywhere it grows.  And it's alive!  Anyone who has ever taken care of a lawn knows that if you treat it right it just keeps growing, sometimes even popping up in places you don't want it.  Lawn maintenance and network maintenance become the same thing.  That grass median that runs down the middle of many highways across the world could literally become the information superhighway."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Engineer as Creative Monopolist

Peter Thiel is the founder of PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook and many other celebrated technology firms.  Thiel is currently teaching a class this semester in the Stanford Computer Science Department.  A student named Blake Masters posted his outstanding class notes online, and Thiel has confirmed their accuracy (The link - - class notes).

In the class, Thiel argues that companies mistakenly seek to be good competitors.  The focus and ultimate goal being just a little better than 150 (or 150,000) similar companies.  Instead, Thiel thinks companies should redirect their attention on being really good monopolists.  By monopolists, Thiel means the following - - instead of being slightly better than everybody else in a crowded and established field, it's often more valuable to create a new market and totally dominate it.

David Brooks had an excellent column discussing this on April 24, 2012 (New York Times - - The Creative Monopoly).  Brooks wrote the following:

"Think about the traits that creative people possess.  Creative people don't follow the crowds; they seek out the blank spots on the map.  Creative people wander through faraway and forgotten traditions and then integrate marginal perspectives back to the mainstream.  Instead of being fastest around the tracks everybody knows, creative people move adaptively through wilderness nobody knows."

The "Engineer as Competitor" is and will be necessary - - mainstream capitalism will always value the skills of discipline, rigor, and reliability.  But the "Engineer as Competitor" also needs the skills of the "Engineer as Creative Monopolist" - - that person that brings alertness, independence, and the ability to redeem forgotten innovative traditions.

A key point engineers should remember - - competition should not trump value creation.  Competition must not undermine innovation and creativity.  The outcome is clear for the "Engineer as Creative Monopolist" - - the world of the creative monopolist has much higher profit margins with the potential value to society being much greater.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead belongs in the Creative Monopolist Hall of Fame with his - "You don't what to be the best of the best, you want to be the only one that does what you do."  So the next time you go to a Little League baseball game, you will probably see 99 kids engaged in the art and glory of competition.  You also probably have one that turned his or her back on competition.  The one that is thinking about inventing their own game, with new rules, and new markets.  The difference between an A-Rod or Mark Zuckerburg.  The competitor versus the creative monopolist.  Then you have the Steve Jobs of the world - - equal parts competitor and monopolist.

Engineering Sign Of The Week

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Engineer?

From The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Volume I (1974) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - -

"An engineer?  I had grown up among engineers, and I could remember the engineers of the twenties very well indeed: their free and gentle humor, their agility and breadth of thought, the ease with which they shifted from one engineering field to another, and for that matter, from technology to social concerns and art.  Then, too, they personified good manners and delicacy of taste, well-bred speech that flowed evenly and was free of uncultured words; one of them might play a musical instrument, another dabble in paint, and their faces always bore a spiritual imprint."


Akanksha Hazari is the founder of m.Paani and last year's winner of the Hult Global Case Challenge sponsored by the Judge Business School at Cambridge university.  Her firm, m.Paani, is "m" for mobile and Paani is Hindu for water.

Her ideas for providing clean water and sanitation are innovative - - connecting the mobile phone with a clean glass of water. 

Video of her TED talk that explains the business model - -

Monday, April 23, 2012

Conservation-Oriented Water Pricing

A good presentation and primer on the topic - - link below:

Last Call at the Oasis

A water documentary film in theaters May 4 - "Last Call at the Oasis" - - trailer:

A recent article in the New York Times - - "Taking the Waste out of Wastewater" - -

Engineering and Fashion

The intersection of engineering analysis, satiric humor, and fashion all came together in the monthly student magazine, California Engineer in December 1951 (the article was based on an article in the Arkansas Engineer - - which speaks more for Arkansas in 1951 than I would have thought possible).  Written under the name Charles E. Seim (in this case the E was for Engineer) - - the article was entitled "The Stress Analysis of Strapless Evening Gowns" and needs no explanation or introduction (California Engineer, December 1951, pp. 16-17).  The link to the paper - -

Duke civil engineering professor Henry Petroski and popular-engineer-writer-godfather-of-engineering has a chapter on the paper (and others - - "A Study of the Coefficient of Distribution of Lipstick") - - An Engineer's Alphabet.

View the paper in the context of the social norms in the 1950s - - but also the impact the paper obviously had on the evolution of the strapless dress.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Not Feeling Aroused - - Making Engineering Sexy

This is an interesting letter to the Economist in the April 21, 2012 issue under the header "Not feeling aroused" - -

SIR - I have noticed a tendency in your pages to overuse the word "sexy" to describe things of interest, such as in a book review about an author who is "making physics sexy again" ("House of dreams," March 3rd).  Might I suggest alluring, fascinating, interesting, fetching, sleek, seductive, provocative, sensual, racy, slinky, to name just a few alternatives.

I have seen the strangest things described as sexy and I confess to being less than turned on.

Leslie Kingsley
Rubik, Albania

But what about engineering - - "making engineering sexy again".  Granted the word "again" seems out of place.  Designing castles for Louie VIII was probably the last time we had a "sexy" project.  What about the other alternatives that Ms. Kingsley suggested - -
  • Making engineering alluring.  It works for me.
  • Making engineering fascinating.  I like alluring better.
  • Making engineering interesting.  I just fell asleep.
  • Making engineering fetching.  EE no, but maybe petroleum engineering - - this JR kind of thing.
  • Making engineering sleek.  I think the automotive engineering people could pull this off.
  • Making engineering seductive.  This one is important - - our future depends on the seductive nature of STEM careers.
  • Making engineering provocative.  I like this one - - from climate change to sustainability to engineering for social justice to engineering to eliminate poverty - - we can and must be more provocative. 
  • Making engineering sensual.  This is problematic.
  • Making engineering racy.  This is really problematic.
  • Making engineering slinky.  This is impossible.
I'll be thinking about this as I watch Mad Men tonight.

Friedman and the Other Arab Spring

Tom Friedman recently wrote a column that addressed the important issue regarding the linkage between how climate and water problems have helped stir conflict and tension in Syria (The New York Times, April 8, 2012, The Other Arab Spring).

Friedman stated:

"All these tensions over land, water and food are telling us something: The Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic stresses, but, less visibly, by environmental, population and climate stresses as well. If we focus only on the former and not the latter, we will never be able to help stabilize these societies." 

Other key points Friedman made in the article included:
  • From 2006 to 2011, up to 60% of Syria's land experienced one of the worst droughts and most severe set of crop failures in its history.
  • In the northeast governorate of Hassakeh, nearly 75% suffered total crop failure.
  • Herders in the northeast lost 85% of their livestock, affecting 1.3 million people.
  • 800,000 Syrians had their livelihoods wiped out by the droughts - - forcing them to move to cities to find work.
  • Droughts in the wintertime in the Middle East are increasing and human caused climate change is partly responsible (the Middle East gets most of their rain during the winter).
  • By 2030, the population of the Middle East will increase by 132%.
  • 12 of the world's 15 most water-scarce countries - - Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Jordon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Israel, and Palestine.
Engineering will be tasked to design and construct climate-adaptive infrastructure and improvements in water management.  The goal is clear - - to make the region more resilient in an age of disruptive climate change.  We collectively must be willing to make the investment.

Earl Energy

Next time you fill up the car or truck remember that a gallon of diesel fuel costs $35 in Afghanistan.  Cost is one thing, demand is another - - one U.S. soldier is killed or injured for every 24 fuel conveys.  From Afghanistan to Haiti - - low-cost and reliable generators are needed in our most challenging environments.  Cut the fuel requirements to generate electricity and you end up saving lives on many different fronts.

Into the void has stepped Earl Energy with a hybrid generator that recently cut fuel consumption by 93% during a Mojave Desert test (see Wired May 2012 - The Hybrid Warrior).  Hybrid in this case is solar, battery, and diesel.  The generator utilizes solar power, with the diesel engine running for short periods of time to charge the battery module.

The founder of Earl Energy is Doug Moorehead.  His background is Navy SEAL + MIT materials science degree + Harvard MBA.  Sounds like a good combination when you are counting on a a source of electricity for medical equipment after the flood, tornado or earthquake.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Traffic management with subtitles --

The Robot as Comedian

Heather Knight (who is working on her doctorate in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University) and her soical robot Data performing at a TED conference - -

The Poll Says . . .

It says that 35% of the public reported being impacted by extreme weather in the past year.  This was recently reported in the New York Times (April 18, 2012) in an article by Justin Gillis - - A Majority Believe Role of Warming in Weather.  The results of the survey seem to indicate people are starting to connect the dots - - something is happening in the context of climate change that is impacting weather extremes.  The poll suggest that a solid majority of the public feels that global warming is real, a result consistent with other polls that have asked the question in various ways.

This is from the article - -

"A poll due for release on Wednesday shows that a large majority of Americans believe that this year's unusually warm winter, last year's blistering summers were probably made worse by global warming.  And by a 2-to-1 margin, the public says the weather has been getting worse, rather than better, in recent years.

The survey, the most detailed to date on the public response to weather extremes, comes atop other polling showing a recent uptick in concerns about climate change.  Read together, the polls suggest that direct experience of erratic weather way be convincing some people that the problem is no longer just a vague and distant threat."

When invited to agree or disagree with the statement, "Global warming is affecting the weather in the United States," - - 69% of the respondents in this new poll said they agreed.  This is very important to engineering - - the scientific evidence has always been clear (at least to me).  The issue has been the general public and their apparent willingness to see this as a problem that is distant in time and space.  We appear to be moving into a new stage - - one where time and space are collapsing.  Hundreds of tornadoes over a weekend, record setting droughts, extremely cold weather in Europe the past winter - - the world is changing and people see it.  They see the change.  They feel the change.  They are impacted by the change.

Things are getting freaky with the weather - - engineering is going to have to adapt to the new realities of freakiness.  Two goals will drive engineering as we adapt to this freakiness - - the first is to limit risk and damage.  Plan, prevent, and prepare will be an increasing part of our responsibilities.  The second goal is to build resilient communities.  Stuff is going to happen.  Some of this stuff will be bad.  Some will be very bad.  The key will be to get infrastructure systems up and running as quickly as possible.  How fast you can get back to being operational will become an important performance metric in the era of freakiness.

Disaster Risk Reduction

The second annual report from the United Nations - - Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2011 - -

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Center for Catastrophic Risk Management

A good resource for the latest on catastrophic risk management - - UC-Berkeley Center for Catastrophic Risk Management.  Founded by risk and disaster superstar professor Robert Bea - - "If we don't learn from our failures, we are doomed to repeat them.  Never let a disaster go to waste."

The engineering of sustainable buildings is not being taught

From the current issue of The Bridge - - Challenges and Opportunities for Low-Carbon Buildings by John Ochsendorf:

"Engineers who are crucial to designing more sustainable buildings, often become involved too late in the design process to make all of the necessary decisions.  Many key decisions, such as building orientation, glazing ratio (i.e., area of glass/area of opaque wall), and the overall form of the building are made in the earliest design stages.  Once these critical decisions have been made, engineers can attempt to optimize poor design, but it is difficult at that point to achieve a low-carbon design.

The challenge is to integrate engineering analysis in a way that provides rapid feedback to architects and the rest of the design team early in the process.  For this, engineers must be trained as designers, so they can purpose multiple solutions to open-ended problems.  In short, the design of high-performance buildings requires integrated systems thinking beginning in the earliest conceptual design stage.

To ensure that engineers with the necessary skills are available, more of them must be trained in building science and sustainable design.  However, most engineering schools do not directly address the design and operation of buildings, because sustainable building design involves aspects of mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and architecture.

The few existing programs in architectural engineering are turning out graduates, but in numbers far below those of traditional engineering disciplines.  Thus, despite the dramatic economic and environmental impacts of buildings and the growing need for engineers in this field, the engineering of sustainable buildings is not being taught in most schools in the United States."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quote of the week

From Sir Robert Fry (Chairman of McKinney Rogers, London, UK) in a letter to the Financial Times, April 19, 2012 -  "To be average is a statistical condition, not a moral one."

He also wrote:

"I was once a Royal Marine, and now chair a business execution consultancy.  Both traditions tells me that the average can be excellent if properly led and that there are few things more emancipating than the possibilities of self-improvement."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

QAMA Calculators

I wonder who the target customer is - -

The Interdisciplinary Approach

This is interesting - - from Educating the Next Steve Jobs by Tony Wagner in The Wall Street Journal (April 14, 2012):

The University system today demands and rewards specialization.  Professors earn tenure based on research in narrow academic fields, and students are required to declare a major in a subject area,  Though expertise is important, Google's director of talent, Judy Gilbert, told me that the most important thing educators can do to prepare students for work in companies like hers is to teach them that problems can never be understood or solved in the context of a single academic discipline.  At Stanford's and MIT's Media Lab, all courses are interdisciplinary and based on the exploration of a problem or new opportunity.  At Olin College, half the students create interdisciplinary majors like "Design for Sustainability Development" or "Mathematical Biology."

This is the link to Stanford's - -

Charlie Rose - - Mayors Roundtable

Charlie Rose had the Mayors of Chicago, Louisville, Baltimore, and Jacksonville on his show last night for a roundtable discussion on basically the State of the City.  Would highly recommend watching this - - you get the strong impression that a big city Mayor is (1.) A strong leader, (2.) Has a vision for his or her City, and (3.) Is accountable.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why High Gasoline Prices

The answer appears to be demand from the BICS - - which could be a long term issue.

Welcome Aboard, Matey!

Part of success is adjusting your idea of what it is.  Success to a ship captain may only mean keeping the pirates off of his ship.  Success in the the context of innovative thought sometimes boils down to using an existing structure (i.e., razor wire and barbed wire) and changing it a little or applying it in a new setting or application - - this is how the world solves problems.  We solve some very thorny problems by incremental adjustments.  Breadth of experience is crucial to innovation - - thinking like a warden might just make you a better ship captain.  Context, narrative, and imagination probably all intersected at some bar in a distance port - - a bar with a napkin with a crude sketch of a ship's deck and barbed wire.  Search, filter, and three beers are good steps for developing strategies for coping in a complex world.

Every innovative business has to focus on how to deliver yesterday's solution for less.  Sometimes only a picture can make this point.

Design for America

The engineering version of Teach for America - - Design for America.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Texas Water Matters

Good website for information on Texas water resources - -

Ravensburger Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) comes to the world of Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles - -

Jeff Bezos' Top Ten Maxims

From the CEO and founder of Amazon - -
  1. Base your strategy on things that won't change.
  2. Obsess over customers.
  3. We are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.
  4. There are two kinds of companies: Those that try to charge more and those that work to charge less.  We will be the second.
  5. Determine what your customers need, and work backwards.
  6. Our culture is friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove, we'll settle for intense.
  7. If you want to be inventive, you have to be willing to fail.
  8. In the old world you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it.  In the new world, that inverts.
  9. Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.
  10. This is Day 1 for the Internet.  We still have so much to learn.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Engineering Your Ribs

This is a story about my next door neighbor - - on the front page of the business section of the Dallas Morning News.

Empty Spaces

Over the last several months, I have had the opportunity to look at office space at several locations in North Dallas.  Two conclusions from this - - the first is that all the space begins to look the same.  Office space is office space is office space.  The second is the number of empty parking spots associated with all the buildings.  Regardless of the building, if you are on the 8th floor and can look down onto the parking lots and parking decks, all you see is empty - - empty as in zero automobiles (and this is with claims of 85% occupancy - - which illustrates one of the impacts of the Great Recession; much fewer employees per square foot and many empty parking spots).  It was very surprising.

I ordered Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking by Eran Ben-Joseph several weeks ago.  I have not been able to get to it yet, but The Wall Street Journal had a book review by Dan Neil yesterday (I Know It's Here Somewhere).  Neil also comments on this obvious over-supply of parking with the following:

"Along the way, cities developed zoning formulas to determine the number of parking spaces needed - typically between six and 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space.  Mr Ben-Joseph argues - as did Donald Shoup in "The High Cost of Free Parking" (2005) - that these ratios created an enormous oversupply of parking, designed to accommodate only two or three days of maximum use per year like Black Friday.  This seemingly minor miscalculations has had a dramatic effect on urban environments.  In some U.S. cites, such as Little Rock, surface lots cover a third of the land area.  Mr. Ben-Joseph estimates that there are 500 million surface-lot spaces in the U.S., covering more than 3,580 square miles, a landmass larger than Puerto Rico."

I think I can find a parking spot.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Twice Per Week Watering

From Texas Water Solutions - - Big City Water Problems Call for Big Solutions:

On the other hand, the DFW area, often vilified for its water usage, is seeking to make twice-a-week watering restrictions a permanent way of life for local citizens thanks to the banding together of four North Texas city mayors. Whether or not this particular rule is the key to all the metroplex problems, this move towards a regional approach is most certainly a huge improvement. As we all know, water doesn't respect physical boundaries so group planning in an important part of any water solution, particularly in areas where people work in one area and live in another. Unified metroplex rules can solve many points of confusion that might arise.

The Dallas City Council will be voting on twice per week watering restrictions next week.

Moving to Panama?

The Singapore of Central America sounds pretty good - -

Friday, April 13, 2012

Opportunities in an urbanizing world

A great report from Credit Suisse Research - - Opportunities in an urbanizing world.  We are in the middle of one of the largest migrations in human history - - in 1950, 70% of the planet lived in a rural setting.  By 2050, 70% of the planet will be in an urban environment.

The opportunities are especially true for engineers.  Catherine Rampell pointed this out in a April 11, 2012 New York Times article - - Never Mind Factories.  Think Services.  The article rightly points out our advantage in high-skilled engineering that we can sell to the rest of the urbanizing world.  Rampell writes the following:

"There is this huge infrastructure boom where these big, fast-growing economies are going to need to build out their roads, sewers, telecommunications networks, factories, airports, harbors, you name it," said J. Bradford Jensen, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and author of a recent book {Global Trade in Services: Fear, Facts, and Offshoring} on global services trade.  "All those projects require armies of architects, engineers, project managers, financial insurers.  These are all the finds of tradable services that we have an advantage in providing."

Given these opportunities, Mr. Jensen estimated that the United States has the potential to more than double its annual exports of services annually, creating an additional $800 billion in tradable business services like engineering and law alone.  ("Tradable" refers to services that can easily be done across borders, as opposed to work like cutting hair or drawing blood.)

Krugman on Public Works

The closing paragraph in Paul Krugman's The New York Times column today - - Cannibalize The Future.  Public works and the politicians who hate them - -

"America used to be a country that thought big about the future.  Major public projects from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, used to be a well-understood component of our national greatness.  Nowadays, however, the only big projects politicians are willing to undertake - with expense no object - seem to be wars.  Funny how that works."

Exporting Coal

Good article in The Washington Post regarding the decline in US consumption of coal and the potential shift to export markets - - What happens to America's coal if we don't burn it?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Natural gas by the numbers

Current and historic prices of natural gas - -
  • Current U.S. futures price - - $1.984 per 1,000 cubic feet
  • All-time low - - $1.32 (January 13, 1995)
  • All-time high - - $15.38 (December 13, 2005)
  • 10-year average - - $5.96
  • Current price in Asia - - $15.90
  • Current price in Europe - - $9.37
From October to March households spent $868 on average on natural gas, a decline of 17% from the previous winter (the mild winter was the primary cause and one of the reasons behind the rapid decline in natural gas prices in the U.S.).  Those savings have helped to relieve the burden of rising gasoline prices.  Households spent $1,940 on gasoline from October to March, a 7% increase from the same period a year ago.

Our boom in natural gas has the potential to create two related booms.  The first is a natural gas liquefaction boom - - liquefy it and export it to Asia and Europe, where it fetches far higher prices.  This would be a boom for engineers and construction firms.  The second boom would be generated by turning it into diesel or ethanol for the transportation markets.  This would be another boom for engineering.

Natural gas has the potential to have a huge multiplying effect - - from lowering the cost of manufacturing to liquefaction innovation to fuel for my car.  It will be interesting to see how this boom plays out economically on the global stage.  Turning the world from coal and oil to an energy platform dominated by natural gas will be a career opportunity for many engineers and engineering/construction firms.

I think the upcoming issue of Fortune has the cover story on the new era of natural gas.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Floating Ideas

We are already looking at ways to peacefully coexistence with the threat of floods and rising oceans caused by global warming.  The Dutch, for good reasons, appear to be the world leader in developing innovative ideas in the new field of aqua architecture.  A key leader in this field is Dutch architect Koen Olthuis - - he is thinking about everything from maritime housing estates to greenhouses to floating prisons.

Reading, writing, arithmetic - - and swimming lessons might just make up our core educational competencies in the not to distant future.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Water Alliance

Good site for issues relating to integrated water and wastewater management - -

Three principles that (still) impact all engineers

Three major principles that have accelerated economic activity and will continue to play a dominate role that are especially important for all engineers to keep in mind:
  1. Moore's Law states that computer processing speed doubles every 18 months with transistor improvements.  This simple calculation had held true for decades: Just try to imagine how much faster (and cheaper!) your current computer is today than one of five years ago.
  2. Gilder's Law postulates that communications bandwidth (like fiber-optic phone lines and satellites) grows at least three times faster than computer power.  Therefore, if computer power doubles every 18 months, communications power doubles every six months.
  3. Metcalfe's Law proposes that the usefulness, or value, of a network rises exponentially with the number of uses.  The more users, the more useful and valuable is the network (or market).  If only two comprise a market, it isn't particularly useful.  But if two to three billion people are in your market, do the math.  Consider how many people are now on the Internet today.
Economist Tyler Cowen places the three principles in the proper context - - "Computing power solves more problems each year . . ."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Google Eye Glasses

We truly are living in revolutionary times in the context of technology - - and the profound changes it will have on all of us.

Glen Daigger's Speech to The World Bank

Dr. Glen Daigger is the Chief Wastewater Process Engineer for CH2MHill - - this is his speech on the need to transform water infrastructure.

Frugal Design Core Competencies

From Santa Clara University and their Frugal Innovation Lab - - the ten core competencies of frugal design and innovation:
  1. Adaptation - - The process of making something suitable for a new use or purpose.
  2. Affordability - - The extent to which something is affordable, as measured by its cost relative to the amount that the purchaser is able to pay.
  3. Green Technologies - - Those technologies which were developed with concern for or in support of protecting the environment.
  4. Lightweight - - Of thin material or build and weighing less than average.
  5. Mobile Enabled Solution - - Developing solutions to community wide problems through development of mobile application that can easily be used to collect, disseminate, or communicate information to or about a population.
  6. New Distribution Models - - Improving access to solutions by millions of people, getting it broadly into field usage.
  7. Ruggedization - - Designed or improved to be hard-wearing or shock-resistant.
  8. Simple User Centric Design - - A design philosophy and a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of an interface or document are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process.
  9. Magnificent Simplification - - To make something simpler or easier to do or understand.
  10. Use of Local Resources - - Identifying local and readily available materials and manufacturing within a region for use within design rather than being limited to traditional resources which may be too expensive or may not be available.

Democratizing the design process

DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency), GE, and several universities, including MIT and Georgia Tech, will be seeking ideas in 2013.  The program will be part crowdsourcing and prize contests - - with the goal of speeding up the DOD development process.  The first contest, with a $1 million prize, involves mobility and drivetrain subsystems for an amphibious vehicle for the Marines.

More at - -

Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change

A new report by CGIAR - a research alliance financed by the United Nations and the World Bank - looks at sustainably feeding a changing world.  The report recommends essential changes in the way we think about farming, food and equitable access to it, and the way these things affect climate change.

The report linkage - - and

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Some Good News

From a post entitled - - Better Off Dead:

In states unimpeded by the sort of economic protectionism the monks are seeking to abolish, the Web has had a dramatic impact on casket prices. The wholesale discounter Costco has been selling caskets on its website since 2004, with the least expensive model going for just $949. Caskets by Design, a company based in Caldwell, Idaho, will sell you a simple pine box casket, unfinished and unlined, for $499. Thanks to retailers like these, consumers in many states can now easily buy a casket that’s five times cheaper than the average price paid in 1981.

Troubling Statistics of the Week

In the spirit of Easter and the theme of resurrection, here are some numbers that we need to start thinking about in the spirit of change and new beginnings - -
  • In the United States, companies pay on average $2.38 per hour of an employee's health care coverage.  The average for the rest of the world - - $0.98 per hour.  On top of this, Americans continue to die earlier and spend more time disabled than their peers in Europe and Japan.  We appear to be begging to take jobs someplace else, or find a robot that can do it instead.
  • Between 1990 and 2008, the United States added 27.3 million jobs, of which almost everyone was in services.  Half of the jobs were in either health care or government.  In both of these sectors, productivity growth is virtually zero.  Anyone who has waited in an emergency room or doctor's office for 50 minutes or waited in line at the local Post Office understands the poor state of cost and technical efficiencies in our "growth industries."
  • McKinsey is forecasting U.S. manufacturing would not add any net jobs to the U.S. economy between 2011 and 2021.  This was termed the "positive scenario."
  • In Texas, the average high school sports coach makes $73,000, over $30,000 more than for a teacher in any other field at the same grade.

U.S. intelligence report warns of global water crisis

World Water Day was March 22, 2012.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the World Water Day 2012 celebration in Washington DC.  Some of the most interesting comments in her speech were the following paragraphs - -

"Last year, I called on the intelligence community to conduct a global assessment of the impact water could have and was having on our national security.  Today, the National Intelligence Council released the unclassified version of its report on Global Water Security.  You can go online, read it for yourself, and see how imperative clean water and access to water is to future peace, security, and prosperity, globally.  I think it's fair to say the intelligence community's findings are sobering.

As the world's population continues to grow, demand for water will go up, but our freshwater supplies will not keep pace.  In some places, the water tables are already more depleted than we had thought.  In northern India, for example, over-extraction of groundwater could impact food security and access to water for millions of people.  Some countries will face severe shortages within decades or even sooner.  And some hydrologists predict that many wells in Yemen will run dry in as little as 10 years.

The assessment also highlights the potential threat that water resources could be targeted by terrorists or manipulated as a political tool.  These difficulties will all increase the risk of instability within and between states.  Within states, they could cause some states to fail outright.  And between and among states, you could see regional conflicts among states that share water basins be exacerbated and even lead to violence.  So these threats are real and they raise serious security concerns."

The unclassified document is located at - -

This assessment is truly a landmark document that puts water security in the rightful context of a national security issue.  The assessment is very clear - - during the next 10 years, many regions will experience water challenges - shortages, poor water quality, or floods - that will increase the risk of instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important U.S. policy objectives.

The assessment detailed five key judgements.  These are as follows:

Key Judgement A - - We assess that during the next 10 years, water problems will contribute to instability in states important to U.S. national security interests.  Water shortages, poor water quality, and floods by themselves are unlikely to result in state failure.  However, water problems - when combined with poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions - contribute social disruptions that can result in state failures.

Key Judgement B - - We assess that a water-related state-on-state conflict is unlikely during the next 10 years.  Historically, water tensions have led to more water-sharing agreements than violent conflicts.  However, we judge that as water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage, the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives also will become more likely beyond 10 years.

Key Judgement C - - We judge that during the next 10 years the depletion of groundwater supplies in some agricultural areas - owing to poor management - will pose a risk to national and global food markets.

Key Judgement D - - We assess that from now through 2040 water shortages and pollution probably will harm the economic performance of important trading partners.

Key Judgement E - - We judge that, from now through 2040, improved water management (e.g., pricing, allocations, and "virtual water" trade) and investments in water-related sectors (e.g., agriculture, power, and water treatment) will afford the best solutions for water problems.  Because agriculture uses approximately 70 percent of the global fresh water supply, the greatest potential for relief from water scarcity will be through technology that reduces the amount of water needed for agriculture.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

U.S. Storm Shelters

This could be an opportunity in the era of extreme weather events related to climate change - - U.S. Storm Shelters.  After our tornadoes in Dallas-Fort Worth this past week, this seems like a sure growth industry.

Watching Water

It is interesting to note that a host of business and financial analysts are beginning to look and write about water security and risks it poses to business and investors.  One report released by JPMorgan Global Equity Research - - Watching Water: A Guide to Evaluating Corporate Risks in a Thirsty World - - lays out the water-related risks and opportunities they see facing companies.

The main points include the following:
  • Exposure to water scarcity and pollution is not limited to on-site production processes and may actually be greater in companies' supply chain than in their own operations.
  • Power generation, mining, semiconductor manufacturing, and food and beverage sectors are particularly exposed to water-related risk.
  • Corporate disclosure of water-related risks is seriously inadequate and in typically included in environmental statements prepared for public relations purposes, rather than in the regulator filings on which most investors rely.
  • They recommend that investors assess the reliance of their portfolios on water resources and their vulnerability to problems of water availability and pollution.
The report also pointed out the three varieties of water-related risks companies face in the value chain:
  1. Physical Risks.  Physical water risks mostly affect sectors in which water is consumed or evaporated in the production process.  In these sectors, a lack of water of adequate quality directly reduces production.  Agriculture, beverages, food processing are most obvious examples, but other industries, such as power generators requiring large amounts of water for cooling also are subject to physical risks.
  2. Regulatory Risks.  Regulatory water risks have to do not so much with the absolute quantity of water available as with the conditions under which it may be used or discharged.  Traditionally, many industries were able to obtain water at little or no cost by drilling their own wells or installing their own intake pipes.  Regulatory responses include permits, prices, or both to control consumption and discharge.  Regulation has become dramatically more important in the water sector in recent years as water resources have been fully committed and engineering solutions no longer offer easy ways to increase supply.  This not only raises costs, but may result in less predictable supply.  Regulation is most consequential for sectors that use or discharge relatively large amounts of water in connection with relatively low-value production processes.
  3. Reputation Risks.  The increasing competition for clean water among economic, social, and environmental interests has a large potential for damaging the reputation and even growth prospects of companies.  This is particularly true in developing countries where multinational companies source inputs, as the associated water use or discharge directly affects the livelihoods of people who may themselves not have sufficient access to clean water.  Multinationals may be deemed "guilty by association" and singled out as culprits.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Price of Nails

Interesting insight into a most basic construction material - - the nail.  Link to the blog post is - -

The model of energy inefficiencies

With domestic electricity demand rising 10% per year in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom now devours more than a quarter of its oil production—nearly three million barrels per day. International Energy Agency figures show that Saudi Arabia now consumes more oil than Germany, an industrialized country with triple the population and an economy nearly five times as large.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Financing Sustainable Water Infrastructure

This is an interesting report from The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread.  The report lists the basic principles for sustainable water infrastructure management - -
  1. Adaptable - Maximize flexibility and future adaptability to climate change and other conditions.
  2. Watershed Scale - Plan and implement infrastructure at a watershed scale.
  3. Natural Infrastructure - Protect and restore natural system functions.
  4. Decentralize - Integrate decentralized, distributed green infrastructure that replicates natural hydrology with built infrastructure.
  5. One Water - Integrate drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater and fit the best water to the use.
  6. Resource Efficiency - Optimize conservation and efficiency investments before developing new supply or expanding treatment.
  7. Multiple Benefits - Maximize the environmental, social, and economic benefit of every infrastructure dollar.
  8. Pricing - Price water, wastewater, and stormwater for ratepayers/customers to meet the total cost of sustainability requirements.
  9. Full Life Cycle - Plan, manage, and account for full life cycle infrastructure expenditures.
  10. Asset Management - Apply best industry practices for repair/rehabilitation and replacement and innovative management.
  11. Good Governance - Governing boards, city councils, and special utility boards should be designed to ensure sustainability and transparency.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The New Rules of Global Innovation

I really enjoyed the new book by Vijay Vaitheeswaran, Need, Speed, and Greed (2012).  He developed a list of new rules for the age of disruptive global innovation.  The disruptive dozen are:
  1. Innovation is not a zero-sum game.  China's rise does not mean America's decline - but the rising tide will lift your boat only if you patch the holes in it first.
  2. Think locally, act globally.  Many of this century's thorniest problems - food and water scarcity, health scares - seem like local problems.  In fact, they often arise from failures in national and global governance.  Creative coalitions, regional approaches, and systems thinking are the way forward.
  3. Turn risk into reward through resilience.  Leaders must realign incentives for the private sector to build resilience into future infrastructure and supply chains.  The key it to shift from brittle, top-down systems to modular, flexible approaches that are future-proof.
  4. Open up and say . . . aha!  Ivory towers are so yesterday.  Open and networked innovation recognizes that the smartest people in business no longer work inside your firm.
  5. Be the dinosaur that dances.  It may be unsexy to be the incumbent firm in an industry undergoing disruption by nimble upstarts, but that is no reason to stand still.  Leverage your legacy assets, and ditch outdated business models even if they are profitable today but do not have a future.
  6. Elegant frugality trumps conspicuous consumption.  The fallout from the great recession is clear.  Consumers in developed countries, not just poor folks in emerging markets, want products and services that offer better value.
  7. It at first you don't succeed, fail, fail again.  Transform your attitude toward risk so that you celebrate fast failure.  It is not easy to fail elegantly.
  8. Forget Father - it's the user who knows best.  Bottom-up innovation works much better than the top-down kind.  When customers help you create your products and services, the resultant ecosystem gives your firm the edge.
  9. Go whole hog.  As the life cycle costs and externalises involved with economic activity get priced into goods and services, systems thinking will beat silos.
  10. The path from stagnation to rejuvenation runs through innovation.  Easing the middle-class squeeze seen in many developed economies will mean improving productivity and boosting economic growth.  The best way to to this it to invest in the long-term drivers of innovation such as education, research and development, and smart infrastructure.
  11. Put purpose on par with profits.  In the Ideas Economy, money will no longer be a sufficient motivator of talent.  Look to emerging business models of social entrepreneurship and hybrid value chains for inspiration.
  12. Keep relearning how to learn.  Each of us has an innovator trapped inside, and today's innovation revolution promises to be much more democratic than the past - but you cannot reply only on traditional schools, fancy diplomas, and employers any longer.  You must constantly work to figure out how innovation is evolving so that you can participate and prosper.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Getting wise about water

This is a link to a good paper on the methodologies associated with water footprinting and the idea of virtual water - -

How much water does it take to make a cup of coffee?  About 140 litres.  The idea of virtual water, the water that goes into the hamburger (the cow) you ate last night, the shirt you are wearing (the cotton), and drink in your hand (the Coke), is an interesting intersection of our ignorance and our goal of sustainability.  The water embedded in everything from coffee to a steak is invisible - - which produces a high level of public ignorance. 

An increase in water sustainability will need a much stronger understanding and commitment to the metrics of virtual water and water footprinting.

Engineering and the Vera Bradley Index

The campus bookstore at the traditional engineering universities, Georgia Tech, Purdue, RPI, UMR, Harvey Mudd, etc., provides an interesting view of the changing face of engineering and the STEMs.  Long gone are the bookstores that offer only the items one might find in the male dorm room.  A important indicator of the opportunities and success women face in the STEMs might be the number of Vera Bradley items offered at a Georgia Tech or a Purdue.

The Vera Bradley Index is one metric that honestly measures the changing face of engineering.

Monday, April 2, 2012

In Event of Moon Disaster

Memo for President Nixon written by William Safire in the event of a disaster with the Apollo 11 landing.

April Fools + 1

This might be one of the best announcements on April 1 that I have seen - -

The Texas drought by the numbers

A good article on the front page of The Dallas Morning News today - - Facing the fallout.  The article highlights the toll on Texas trees and the losses caused by last summer's historic drought in Texas.

The statistics of the drought include the following:
  • Crop and livestock losses are at $7.62 billion.  Damaged trees are expected to continue to die - - increasing the economic damage for years to come.
  • The Texas Forest Service estimates between 100 million and 500 million forest trees may have succumb to the drought (This would be a good Google interview question - - How would you estimate the total number of trees in Texas?).
  • In urban areas, it is estimated that 5.6 million or more trees were killed (I lost nine at my house in Southlake).
  • It will cost $560 million to remove all the dead urban trees - - roughly $100 to remove a tree eight inches in diameter.  Invest in companies that make chainsaws.
  • Texas cities stand to lose $280 million a year in economic and environmental benefits.