Friday, November 30, 2012

Municipal Wastewater Reuse by Electric Utilities

A report by ASME and the Water Environmental Federation - - Municipal Wastewater Reuse by Electric Utilities: Best Practices and Future Directions. 

From the report: 

"Energy and water have a well-known relationship that is interconnected and interdependent. While water production, processing, distribution, and end-use all require energy, electric utilities rely on a steady flow of water for essential functions, particularly cooling. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that in 2005, thermoelectric power accounted for 49% of total water withdrawals, approximately 201 billion gallons per day. This portion is the highest of all U.S. water withdrawals, including irrigation, industrial use, and public supply. 

As the demand for power and water increases due to significant U.S. population increases in the coming decades due to organic growth and population shift, an increasing level of strain will be placed on the country’s already dwindling freshwater supply. A new American Chemical Society report indicates that as a result of this increasing demand and the impacts of climate change, 7 in 10 U.S. counties could risk freshwater shortages by 2050, with 1 in 3 counties classified as having a high or extreme risk of water shortages in the same time period.

The impending regional freshwater shortages and increasing electricity demand in the United States have encouraged the reuse of municipal wastewater in electric utilities. Treated by municipal wastewater plants, this reclaimed water can safely meet the water needs of the power producing process while conserving freshwater for other uses."

GPS For The Indoors

Comes from the technology of Locata.

Transportation Economics

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The GE Industrial Internet

Climate Street

From the idea of "Complete Streets" to "Climate Street" - -

Le Drone and MS Engineering Glasses

French company Parrot is selling its high-end toy, the $300 AR Drone 2.0, to consumers.  The engineer in 2020 may go through this mental checklist on the way to the project site.  iPhone - check.  iPad - check.  iGlasses - check.  iDrone - check.

If the iGlasses don't pan out, Microsoft appears to be working on your MS Engineering Glasses.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Minecraft Reality

Augmented Reality takes another step toward the masses - -

How Important Is Your House?

Having most of your assets tied up in homeowner equity has been a disaster for large segments of the U.S. population:

GAO Reviews the Energy-Water Nexus

From the September 2012 GAO report - - Energy-Water Nexus: Coordinated Federal Approach Needed to Better Manage Energy and Water Tradeoffs (link to the report):
Improved energy and water planning will require better coordination among federal agencies and other stakeholders. GAO’s work has demonstrated that energy and water planning are generally "stove-piped," with decisions about one resource made without considering impacts to the other resource. Improved planning will require federal agencies to work with one another and other stakeholders, such as state and local agencies, academia, industry, and environmental groups. Congress and some agencies have taken steps to improve coordination, but these actions are incomplete or in their early stages. For example, in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a federal program to address the energy-water nexus, but DOE has not done so.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Look at the Weather Trends and Make Plans

From the Financial Times yesterday - Weather needs to become top priority for companies by Charles Batchelor:

Failure by business to manage its risks frequently ends up at door of insurers.  "We follow all these climate change reports very closely and do considerable research," says Neil Smith, manager of emerging risks and research at Lloyd's of London, the specialist insurance market.  "We say  to our syndicates, 'Look at the trends and plan them into your future business'."

Protecting the Health, Safety and Welfare of the Public

Haste is the mother of failure . . . but as the video demonstrates, to many members of the civilized world their very existence is wallpapered over in layers and layers of luck.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin

The most recent bulletin release is here.

The 4 Degree C Scenarios

This report ought to scare the hell out of engineering - - Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 Degrees C Warmer World Must be Avoided.  The report is published by the World Bank (November 2012) and written by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Graph to Ponder

Engineering Antifragile Systems

Antifragility in the context of engineered systems subject to extreme weather and climate change risks could be an important opportunity for engineers.  The word "antifragile" comes from Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Taleb is of "Black Swan" fame).  As we have seen recently along the New York and New Jersey coastline, a key engineering question is "What is the opposite of fragile?"  Most engineers would answer either "resilience" or "robustness."  Taleb feels "antifragile" is better - - if fragility means something that breaks (and numerous systems broke during Hurricane Sandy) under stress, its exact opposite means something that grows stronger under pressure.  Engineering doesn't have a word that captures this condition.

Taleb argues that in a world of increasing uncertainty, antifragility is a secret to our success.  It has always been a secret to our own collective well being.  Evolution is a process in which random events are turned into lasting advantage.  We respond well to pressure - - IQs increase with learning and testing; leg muscles get stronger with running and weight lifting.  Airplanes get safer after each crash and investigation.

In many engineering endeavors, long periods of stability allows risks to accumulate until their is a major disaster.  Volatility can mean that things and systems do not get too far out of kilter.  Disaster-resistant construction and retrofitting  existing building stock should have elements of antifragility thinking.  A significant  opportunity to reduce loss in future events and thus increase resilience is to strengthen and/or retofit the nation's existing building stock.  In the case of hurricanes, the new construction and retrofitting is relatively inexpensive and can include installation of exterior hurricane shutters or replacing windows with impact resistant glass, garage door bracing, strengthening soffits, and securing loose roof shingles.

Jo da Silva in Shifting Agendas: Response to Resilience has outlined characteristics of a resilient system.  It is important for engineering to incorporate antifragility thinking into these characteristics:
  1. Flexibility - the ability to change, evolve and adapt alternative strategies in either the short or longer term.  The favors "soft" rather than "hard" solutions.  Sounds very antifragile.
  2. Redundancy - superfluous/spare capacity to accommodate increasing or extreme/surge pressures/demands.  Redundancy includes diversity, multiple pathways and a variety of options.  I can see elements of antifragility - - diversity and multiple pathways.
  3. Safe Failure - this is related to the ability to absorb shocks and the cumulative effects of slow-onset challenges in ways that avoid catastrophic failure if thresholds are exceeded.  When a part of the system fails it does so progressively rather than suddenly, with minimal impact to other systems.  Failure itself is accepted.  Goes to the heart of antifragility and volatility.
  4. Resourcefulness - the capacity to visualize and act, to identify problems, establish priorities, mobilize resources when conditions exist that threaten to disrupt an element of the system.
  5. Responsiveness - the ability to re-organized, to re-establish function and sense of order following failure.  Re-organizing could be antifragile.
  6. Capacity to Learn - direct experience and failure plays a key role in triggering learning processes.  The systems should have the ability to learn from past experiences and failures, to avoid past mistakes and exercise in future decisions.  The is the heart of antifragile thinking.
  7. Dependency on Local Ecosystems - valuing the services provided by local and surrounding ecosystems (green and blue infrastructure), and taking steps to increase their health and stability.  These services (often undervalued) perform processes such as flood control, temperature regulation pollutant filtration, and local food production.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Global Coal Risk Assessment

From the World Resources Institute - - Global Coal Risk Assessment: Data Analysis and Market Research.  The report is divided into the following sections:
  • Proposed Coal-Fired Plants
  • Existing Coal-Fired Plants
  • Global Coal Trade
  • Coal Finance
  • Data Gap

The Engineer as Noble Prize Winner

Is this case, Professor Dan Shechtman of Technion, Israel Institute of Technology fits into the dual role of engineer (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, M.S./PhD Materials Engineering) and Nobel Prize winner (2011 in chemistry).

Shechtman has been instrumental in creating Israel's entrepreneurial culture.  He has taught a popular and highly regarded class - - "Technological Entrepreneurship." 

This is Professor Shechtman describing the class - -

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Obesity and Production Complexity

A paragraph to ponder on Thanksgiving.  From the New York Times Magazine (November 11, 2012) by Suzy Hansen - - "It's Not Us Saying You Must Have This.  It's You Saying It."

The article provides a unique view of retailer Zara - - the world's top fashion retailer.  Rather than hire world-class designers, Zara, which is based in Spain, politely copies them.  Then it relies on a global network of shopper-feedback to tweak their designs.  Corporate HQ absorbs thousands of comments and sends tweaks to their manufacturers in Europe and Northern Africa, who literally sew the feedback into their next line of clothes.  The clothes are shipped back, and the stock changes so quickly that shoppers are motivated with a "now-or-never" choice each time they try on a blouse that won't be in-store in a few weeks.  It's the user-generated approach to fast fashion.

Zara is highly successful globally, but the United States is a very different story.  This is a quote from Nelson Fraiman, a professor at Columbia Business School who has studied Zara and the parent company, Inditex:

"Would you expand in the United States?" Fraiman asks.  "Zara to me is a European store with  European style; it's very fashion forward.  And what is the problem in America?  They don't fit in the clothes.  So why do it?  Having to make larger sizes makes production so much more complex."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Getting Worse Before it Gets Worse

From The Atlantic - - In All Probability: Climate Change and the Risk of More Storms Like Sandy.

The Industrial Security Service Complex

Print a copy of this report before you race to the airport and wait in the TSA lines.  You will probably be able to read to the point in the report (pages 55 and 56) in which you learn that the number of people killed in worldwide Islamic terrorist attacks outside of war zones = the same number of people that drown in their bathtub in the United States (between 200 and 400).

Watch getting in and out of the tub over the holidays.

And please fly - - after 9/11, driving fatalities in the United States increased by close to 250 per month.  People switched from a low-risk means of transportation to a higher-risk form because of short-term risk perception.

Momentum Machines

Sometime in the future.  Robots could be coming to your local McDonald's.  Momentum Machines is attempting to bring robotics to the most labor intensive industry in the United States.  The next time you're in line to get your Quarter Pounder, remember that what you see behind the counter and in the kitchen represents labor costs of $9 billion per year for the industry.

If you dropped out of high school to make a career of cooking french fries and flipping burgers, you might want to rethink that alternative.  Robotics are coming to the last bastion of the unskilled labor markets.  The Chinese had nothing to do with this!!

It actually looks good (360 burgers per hour is the projected production rate = six burgers per minute!!).  All I want  are robotics and reliability engineering to come to my local McDonald's shake machine.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Drones Across America

The latest drone news from the USGS National Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office.

Conservation Drones

Drones have come to the fields of environmental protection and natural resources management in the form of Conservation Drones.  Researchers from the Swiss Federation of Technology and the University of England have created an autonomous plane with a 4.5-foot wingspan that uses GPS signals to fly preprogrammed routes, and bring back remarkably detailed pictures and data.  The drones have been utilized as part of orangutan studies, forest studies, river surveys, and fighting wildfires.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Floating Sensor Network Project

Consider the scenario known as "California Katrina" outlined in Bloomberg Businessweek this week - - Disaster in Waiting.  An earthquake or superstorm causes Gold Rush-era earthen levees to collapse.  Saltwater from San Francisco Bay floods the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, displacing half a million lowland Californians, poisoning the water supply for an many as 28 million more who live in L.A., San Diego, and Silicon Valley, and ruining farmland that produces 11% of the nation's agricultural value.  The eighth-largest economy in world could be sunk for months, even years.

A team at UC Berkeley has developed a potential early warning network for leaking levees and the scenerio outlined above.  They have build sensors for monitoring waterways - - a flotilla of controllable data-gathers that water resource managers could deploy to vulnerable areas, to relay information back in real time.  The theory of the sensors is straightforward.  When a levee is leaking or about to break, there are potential warning signs.  The salinity level might go haywire as seawater trickles in.  Or the water temperature can start to look odd. 

Keep in mind the Berkeley floaters are not static river monitors which are subject to being swept away and are mobility dumb.  Their network is controllablely mobile and smart - - not your basic rubber ducky.

So what is in a floating sensor?  Wired magazine this month (Flotation Device) outlined the anatomy of a self-guided sensor:
  • GPS and Motorola G24 cellphone module.  Relay geotagged data in real time over a GSM network to an online server.
  • Twin Motors.  Traveling about a foot per second, the unit can steer itself, say, to a place where there might be a tributary in the future, a buoyancy-control system will even let it dive below the surface.
  • Depth Finder and Salinity Sensor.  Onboard instruments gather information on water conditions.  Knowing salt levels in areas where rivers and seawater collide, for example, helps assess the health of estuaries.
  • Short-Range Radio.  Enables drifters to keep tabs on one another so as to avoid collisions or fan out to measure an area.
  • Lithium Battery.  Powers the whole setup.  How to save power is a key.  One way to save power - - start the devices upstream of their destination and make small movements as they move downstream so they don't have to fight the current.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Graphic of the week

Saudi America

Should the United States join OPEC?  This is an interesting question that Bloomberg Businessweek raised this week in the article Is It Time for the U.S. To Join OPEC?

Consider the following from the article:

"Within 10 years, U.S. oil imports will drop to about 4 million barrels a day from a current average of 10 million, thanks to new oil production in the U.S. and stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, IEA Chief Economist Faith Birol said at a London press conference on Nov, 12.  The U.S. will pump 11.1 million barrels of oil a day in 2020 and 10.9 million in 2025, according to the IEA.  The figures are 500,000 barrels and 100,000 barrels higher, respectively, than its forecasts for Saudi Arabia for those years."

Fake or Real?

See if you can tell the difference in the movie - - Q would love this.

Iron Dome versus the DIY Rocket Industry

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Escalating Risks for U.S. Water Providers

Ceres is a nonprofit organization advocating for sustainability leadership.  Ceres directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), a network of 100 institutional investors with collective assets totaling more that $10 trillion.  Engineers engaged in water resources management and planning should make Ceres a source for information - - they produce excellent reports directed toward the space between engineers, managers, public utility officials and underwriters, bond counsel, rating agencies, and bond buyers.

An example of a report is Water Ripples: Escalating Risks for U.S. Water Providers by Sharlene Leurig.  The report discusses several issues that engineers and managers need to be more concerned about.  One important fact concerns many of our critical water supplies being over-allocated (i.e., Colorado River Basin), contested (i.e., Red River Compact), over-abstracted (i.e., groundwater), and imperiled (i.e., groundwater contamination).

This is a sentence from the report to ponder:

"As surprising as it might seem, water providers have been more damaged in recent years by declines in water demand than by a lack of water."

Key points from the paper:
  • Managing demand is not something to be saved for a dry spell.  Emergency conservation measures during droughts or legally-induced water shortages may be necessary, but it is the demand management through conservation outreach, efficiency investments and pricing that protects a system's financials during times of shortage and that enables systems to deliver the lowest-cost water to customers over the long-term.
  • Water systems' demand projections should not be taken as a given, by policymakers, investors or credit rating agencies.  Water use is changing, but that change is not reflected in how most systems project demand.  As the costs of supplies increases, building for phantom demand can put ratepayers and investors in big financial trouble.
  • Investors and credit rating agencies should be seeking out better information on the ways that water rate structures influence demand, and in turn shape the stability of water systems' revenues.  Not all rate structures are built alike, yet research on the relationship between factors is not making its way from academics and rate consultants to credit rating agencies and investors, for whom this should be an absolutely central part of credit analysis.
  • As investor water risk awareness grows, water systems that provide the best information to the market will benefit.  Investor opinion determines the cost systems pay to finance critical infrastructure, whether the opinion is based on bias or hard data.  Transparent and accurate disclosure should be valued positively by the market.
  • Environmental advocates and consumer advocates should assume a far more active role in building political support for sustainable water rates.  Educating customers and elevating water security and long-term affordability within political constituencies is in the interest of those advocating on behalf of the environment and the low-income.

October Weather

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA) - - State of the Climate Global Analysis, October 2012.  Summary of several key points regarding our October weather.

The average combined global land and ocean surface temperature for October 2012 tied with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record, at 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.1°F). Records began in 1880.
The globally-averaged land surface temperature for October 2012 was the eighth warmest October on record, at 0.92°C (1.66°F) above average. The globally-averaged ocean surface temperature tied with 2004 as the fourth warmest October on record, at 0.52°C (0.94°F) above average.
The average monthly temperature across the United Kingdom was 1.3°C (2.3°F) below the 1981–2010 average, making this the coldest October since 2003. Regionally, Scotland had its seventh coolest October since records began in 1910 and coolest since 1993.
Central and southeastern Europe were warmer than average during October. Temperatures were about 1.1 to 1.6°C (2.0 to 2.9°F) above the 1961–1990 average across large parts of Croatia, particularly in the south and west, while the Republic of Moldova reported monthly temperatures across the country that ranged from 2.5 to 3.5°C (4.5 to 6.3°F) above average.

The OPEC View of the World

Very interesting report and outlook from OPEC - - the 2012 World Oil Outlook.

Combat Operations and Social Media

This is the social media view of the current Gaza operations from the Israeli Defense Force. I suspect this represents the norm in future conflicts - - twitter and blogs battling it out for public opinion.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Making A Better Decision

The November 13, 2012 edition of the Financial Times had an important article for all engineers.  The article by Philip Delves Broughton, Decidedly Better Choices, covers the topic of understanding how to make decisions more effectively leads to better outcomes.  Key points in the article:
  • It is not just the substance of the decisions that matters but also the process and style in which decisions are reached.  You could make the right decision through luck and never know how to repeat your success.
  • The idea of "choice architecture" is important - - the context of which we choose.  Good choice architecture can help overcome our tendency to make poor decisions because we procrastinate, avoid complexity, or simply turn away.
  • Our aversion to losses makes us too cautious.
  • Our tendency to anchor choices on certain assumptions makes us give too much weight to information that might be irrelevant.
  • Since human judgment is so badly flawed, senior managers must find ways to limit its worst consequences.
  • Good decision-making is not a permanent trait, but the result of a fluctuating state of mind.  You can get decision fatigue.
  • Options-based decision making - - ways to develop new strategies in business environments where information is constantly changing, and the context is resistant to change.  By keeping many options open and reviewing them regularly, organizations become more flexible than if they are always waiting for one monumental decision and its consequences to unfold.
The article listed the keys to improving your decision-making:
  • The ability to make good decisions fluctuates throughout the day.  Don't exhaust yourself with small choices.  Save your decision-making energy for what matters.
  • Good process leads to good decisions.  Consciously work to challenge the bases of decisions and the biases and prejudices of decision makers.
  • Make decision-making a constant and flexible process.  Keep a running list of several options for important decisions, discussing them with fellow managers and updating them with new discoveries.  This lessens the drama of big decisions and allows for more course corrections en route.
  • Seek ways to distance yourself from the emtion of decision-making.  Going over the decision in a second language might sound a strange approach, but it has been shown to lead to more rational decisions.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Energy Demands on Water Resources

Written before hydrofracking became a technological and economic force, Energy Demands on Water Resources; Report to Congress on the Interdependency of Energy and Water written by the U.S. Department of Energy, December 2006, still provides an excellent primer on the energy-water nexus.
From the report:

"Therefore, the U.S. should carefully consider energy and water development and management so that each resource is used according to its full value. Since new technologies can reduce water use, there will be a great incentive for their development by the public and private sectors. Given current constraints, many areas of the country will have to meet their energy and water needs by properly valuing each resource, rather than following the current U.S. path of largely managing water and energy separately while making small improvements in freshwater supply and small changes in energy and water-use efficiency."
The key words for engineering - - "full value."  This is the link to the report.

Green versus Safe Cities

Engineering will be tasked with helping to figure out the green versus safe dilemma.  In many cases the dilemma with be to engineer cities that are green, safe, and smart.  One (smart) will go along ways to ensuring the other two (green and safe).

From a lecture by Holger Sieg at the University of Pennsylvania (November 13, 2012) - - Managing Urban Environmental Challenges.

I.B.M. Predicts Traffic

Textile Engineering Can Still Innovate

From Japan - - the link.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The New Energy Map and Water

This is the link to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) 2012 World Energy Outlook.  The report has been in the press the last couple of days regarding the changing energy map and the impact on the United State economy.  North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production.

This is an interesting comment in the report relating to water and energy:

"Water is essential to the production of energy, and the energy sector already accounts for 15% of the world’s total water use. Its needs are set to grow, making water an increasingly important criterion for assessing the viability of energy projects. In some regions, water constraints are already affecting the reliability of existing operations and they will introduce additional costs. Expanding power generation and biofuels output underpin an 85% increase in the amount consumed (the volume of water that is not returned to its source after use) through to 2035."

Engineering and the Mad Max Economy

Aon Benfield, a division of Aon plc, is the world's leading reinsurance intermediary and full-service capital advisor.  They publish a monthly global catastrophe summary that is probably going to be a must read in the era of extreme weather.  This is the link to the September 2012 Global Catastrophe Recap.

The Three Types of Innovation

From innovation guru Clayton Christensen in the New York Times (November 3, 2012) - - A Capitalist's Dilemma, Whoever Wins on Tuesday - - and three types of innovation:
  1. Empowering Innovation - - These transform complicated and costly products available to a few into simpler, cheaper products available to the many.  Examples include the Ford Model T, Sony transistor radio, and the personal computers of I.B.M. and Compaq.  Schwab would be a service example.  Cloud computing is a current example.  Empowering innovations create jobs, because they require more and more people who can build, distribute, sell and service their products.  Empowering investments also use capital (to expand capacity and to finance receivables and inventory).
  2. Sustaining Innovation - - These replace old products with new models.  The Toyota Prius replacing a Camry is a good example.  The transaction has a zero-sum aspect to sustaining innovations - - they replace yesterday's products and create few jobs.  They keep our economy vibrant - - and, in dollars, they account for the most innovation.  But they have a neutral impact on economic activity and on capital requirements.
  3. Efficiency Innovation - - These reduce the cost of making and distributing existing products and services.  Examples include Geico and steel making minimills.  Taken together in an industry, such innovations almost always reduce the net number of jobs - - because without them entire companies and industries would disappear in competition against companies that have innovated more efficiently.  Toyota's just-in-time production system is an efficiency innovation - - it also emancipate capital.  JIT allows manufacturers to operate with less capital invested in inventory.  Toyota can redeploy capital allowing it to fund new, empowering innovations.
Think of the various types of innovation as a life-cycle, operating in a recurring circle.  Also, which type of innovation does your company or organization engage in?  Some engage in all three and others probably just one or none.

Engineering Normality

From the November 10th 2012 issue of The Economist - - What Sandy did next - -

"Disastrous storms may well become the norm.  One firm predicts that catastrophe losses  will double every decade because of growing population density on the coasts.  It is projected that, by 2020, 39% of Americans will live in shoreline counties.  In New Jersey alone, 235,000 people live less than five feet about the high-water mark.  Rebuilding will have to take this into account.  Some question the sense of rebuilding in flood zones; yet tourist spots like the Jersey Shore, with its 217 miles of while Atlantic beaches, are an economic engine for the state, generating $38 billion last year.  Tourism-related jobs count for nearly 20% of all jobs in New Jersey."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


This has tremendous business and national defense opportunities and benefits - - MindMeld.  This fall, Expect Labs is releasing MindMeld, a free app that adds the company's voice-powered search technology to the iPad's videoconferency capability.  During a conversation between as many as eight people, the app picks up keywords and uses GPS to provide relevant, location-targeted information in an on-screen panel.

Sandy spurs calls to bury power lines

A paragraph to ponder from the November 12, 2012 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek - -

"Superstorm Sandy's record backouts laid bare the U.S. electrical grid's vulnerability to wind and floods and renewed calles for utilties to invest billions to bury power lines.  Sandy cut power to more than 8.5 million homes and businesses across 21 states.  Some U.S. utilties have balked at moving more infrastructure underground, arguing it would cost about $2.1 million per mile and mean higher utility bills for consumers.  Consolidated Edison, owner of New York City's utility, says underground power systems are not fail-safe.  Exelon's Baltimore Gas and Electric, however, has already moved more than 60 percent of its system below ground and is stepping up tree-triming to prevent storm devastation."

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Red River Compact

As codified in Oklahoma law - - link.

Pricing Water Consumption and Appendectomies

My residential water rate for the block volume that I typically consume is $3.33 per 1,000 gallons.  This is $0.0033 per gallon of water purchased at my house.  I have a Starbucks roughly three miles from my house (don't we all).  I purchased a liter of Fiji water yesterday.  The cost per gallon with tax is roughly $11.25 per gallon.  So water over a three mile radius varies by a factor of roughly 3,400 (assuming Fiji is the upper end and I am not going to drink out of my bar ditch)..

According to the November 2012 issue of Wired (Sticker Shock by Andy Grove of Intel fame), the removal of an appendix in California ranges from $1,529 to $189,955.  So appendectomies vary by a factor of over 100.

Water is water and the procedures for appendectomies are identical yet we struggle mightily with how to price a somewhat basic commodity.  One of the supreme challenges we face, with broad implications to engineers and engineering, is the proper pricing in the context of value for our critical resources.  This includes water, public infrastructure, air, health care services, etc.

This a great organization,, that matches volunteers with people affected by disasters.  The helpful supporting the helpless.  The organization and website has a key starting point - - communities need to have disaster preparedness sites in place before clamity strikes.

Enginees have an important part in this process.  From volunteering to setting up your community site - - this is about developing resilience and supportive communities at the grassroots level.  It is about citizen-led groups having the ability to go much faster than offical channels.

Engineering and the Soft Skills of Explanation

This is from Lee Lefever and the new book The Art of Explanation.  Engineering explanations often fail the keep-it-simple test.  This leads to off-target messages.  Lefever teaches the audience-friendly 3Ps - - plan, package, present.  Lefever thinks any explanation must answer the Why question and must make people also care about the Why.  As an example, the ASCE infrastructure annual report card does a good job of addressing the former Why; the report card does a very poor job with the latter Why.

This is a breakdown on the Ps:
  • Plan - - It's not about the details; it's about your audience's ability to understand them.  Too many speakers, companies, and engineers make assumptions about levels of understanding.  This effects the message.  Different constituents require different messages.  Lefever utilizes an "explanation scale."  Identify differing needs to point the way to tailored messaging.
  • Packaging - - Boxes and 11 x 17 drawings have spatial limits; so do explanations.  The size of your explanation "package" depends upon your target's place on the explanation scale.  Those with low understanding  need small packages.  As understanding increases, so does the information in the package.
  • Present - - Get to the what quickly.  The title should frame the topic.  Then dive into the why.  Keep it short; you're trying to move people along the explanation scale.  Slow the words down.  A slow pace leads to greater understanding.  And reduce the noise when using visuals.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Before and After of Sandy

Bounce Imaging

Throwable sensors and video cameras - - Bounce Imaging.


Texas - Oklahoma Shootout

The rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma historically has been one dominated by the fall game between the University of Texas the University of Oklahoma.  The interstate rivalry has seen only one aspect - - football.  This is changing with board implications for the nation, especially the western states.  A new topic beyond just football has entered the conversation - - interstate compacts for the allocation and appropriation of water across state borders and water sources.
First a little history.  The Red River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River.  It rises in two primary forks from the Texas Panhandle and flows east, adjacent to the border between Texas and Oklahoma.  It thereafter marks a portion of the border between Texas and Arkansas and Louisiana and discharge into the Gulf Mexico.
Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, having been "moved by considerations of interstate comity," and with consent of Congress, executed the Red River Compact.  The compact served the purpose to "promote interstate comity and remove causes of controversy between each affected states" by "providing an equitable apportionment among Signatory States of the water of the Red River and its tributaries," thereby enabling 'state planning and action by ascertaining and identifying each state's share in the interstate water of the Red River Basin.
 To facilitate the equitable sharing of water, avoid strife, encourage economic development, and forestall federal intervention, states have proactively entered into more than 30 agreements among themselves to address the allocation and appropriation of water across borders.  Such interstate compact are the "oldest mechanism available to promote formal interstate cooperation."  These compacts have become a vital tool in water management throughout the country.
The battle over the Texas-Oklahoma interstate compact is playing out in the court room.  Engineers and planners should be watching this particular case and the implications for water resource planning and the legal status of the other compacts.
The Red River Compact is currently pending before the Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari (based on the mixed results of the Tenth Circuit's decision).  Tarrant Regional Water District v. Hermann is a lawsuit between North Texas's Tarrant Regional Water District and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board concerning Texas's right under the Red River Compact - - which allocates water from the Red River system among Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana - - to access water located in Oklahoma.  At issue in the case are two significant questions of federal constitutional law: (1) Whether the Red River Compact - an agreement designed to enhance cooperation and resource sharing among its signatories and using language present in virtually all water compacts between western states - expressly authorizes Oklahoma to hoard its water by enacting discriminatory state water laws that otherwise would be invalid under the Dormant Commerce Clause; and (2) whether compact language that allocates to the signatory states "equal" shares of water within a particular region preempts protectionist state laws that obstruct other states form accessing their allocated share of water in another state.  The Tenth Circuit answered the former in the affirmative and the latter in the negative. 
Links to several more additional sources of information - -

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Graphic of the Week

Climate Change and Social Stress

The National Research Council released this week a study commissioned by the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies - - Climate Change and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis.  The release of the report had been delayed due to Hurricane Sandy.
The C.I.A. and Department of Defense will be faced with a future of more frequent and unpredictable weather crises.  This will impact water supplies, food markets, energy supply chains, and public health systems.  The report highlights how ill prepared we are for the potentially near-apocalyptic catastrophes that a heated planet could produce.
From the report:
"Anthropogenic climate change can reasonably be expected to increase the frequency and intensity of a variety of potentially disruptive environmental events—slowly at first, but then more quickly. Some of this change is already discernible. Many of these events will stress communities, societies, governments, and the globally integrated systems that support human well-being. Science is unlikely ever to be able to predict the timing, magnitude, and precise location of these events a decade in advance, but much is already known that can inform security analysis, including details about the character of events that are becoming more likely and about the general trajectory of increasing risk."

Climate Change Impacts on Texas Water

The is an excellent paper from the Texas Water Resources Institute in their Texas Water Journal - - Climate Change Impacts on Texas Water: A White Paper Assessment of the Past, Present and Future and Recommendations for Action by Banner et al (Volume 1, Number 1, Pages 1-19, September 2010).  Two points are important.  One important issue is the eight recommendations that the paper lays out.  These recommendations should be the the foundation for any future discussion regarding climate change and Texas water.  The second point is the model results.  The projections to 2100, even if they are only partially proven correct, should provide many sleepless nights for engineers and policy makers.


Texas comprises the eastern portion of the Southwest region, where the convergence of climatological and geopolitical forces has the potential to put extreme stress on water resources. Geologic records indicate that Texas experienced large climate changes on millennial time scales in the past, and over the last thousand years, tree-ring records indicate that there were significant periods of drought in Texas. These droughts were of longer duration than the 1950s "drought of record" that is commonly used in planning, and they occurred independently of human-induced global climate change. Although there has been a negligible net temperature increase in Texas over the past century, temperatures have increased more significantly over the past three decades. Under essentially all climate model projections, Texas is susceptible to significant climate change in the future. Most projections for the 21st century show that with increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, there will be an increase in temperatures across Texas and a shift to a more arid average climate. Studies agree that Texas will likely become significantly warmer and drier, yet the magnitude, timing, and regional distribution of these changes are uncertain. There is a large uncertainty in the projected changes in precipitation for Texas for the 21st century. In contrast, the more robust projected increase in temperature with its effect on evaporation, which is a dominant component in the region’s hydrologic cycle, is consistent with model projections of frequent and extended droughts throughout the state.

For these reasons, we recommend that Texas invest resources to investigate and anticipate the impacts of climate change on Texas’ water resources, with the goal of providing data to inform resource planning. This investment should support development of 1) research programs that provide policy-relevant science; 2) education programs to engage future researchers and policy-makers; and 3) connections between policy-makers, scientists, water resource managers, and other stakeholders. It is proposed that these goals may be achieved through the establishment of a Texas Climate Consortium, consisting of representatives from academia, industry, government agencies, water authorities, and other stakeholders. The mission of this consortium would be to develop the capacity to provide decision makers with the information needed to develop adaptation strategies in the face of future climate change and uncertainty.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Waste Management in Sweden

Interesting report on why Sweden wants your trash.

It's the Infrastructure Stupid

From Fareed Zakaria in his Time blog posting from November 7, 2012 - - How to Rebuild Trust - and Infrastructure:

"In the long run, you cannot have robust growth without strong infrastructure.  The U.S. has historically been world class in this regard.  Only a decade ago we were ranked fifth in overall infrastructure by the World Economic Forum; today we have dropped to 25th.  The American Society of Civil Engineers calculates that we have a $2 trillion backlog of repairs that must be done over the next five years to stay competitive.

Hurricane Sandy should give us a sense of urgency about these projects.  Our crumbling levees, roads, subways and bridges are not just barriers to growth; they are dangers to our lives.  We are simply not prepared for a world in which there will be sharp increases in hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and perhaps even earthquakes.  We could use concern about these threats to build a new and more resilient system, including most vitally a new energy and information grid, so that we are protected from nature, resilient is hardship and poised for growth."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

LightSail Energy

Check out the video and keep an eye on LightSail Energy.  LightSail is building a compressed-air energy storage system.  The idea is straightforward - - electricity from a wind turbine drives a motor that powers an air compressor.  Water (energy needs water and water needs energy) is sprayed into the air during the compression process to absorb heat.  The mix of water and air is then ejected from the compressor chamber and sent through an air and water separator, yielding dry and liquid water, which are stored in large tanks.  To harness the energy that has been stored in this way, you just run the process in reverse.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Real Trusted Adviser

Thomas Ricks The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today has gotten mixed reviews, but I found the book insightful with broad applications to management studies and engineering.  For example, many engineers are cast in the role of trusted adviser to public officials and leaders.  From energy policy to figuring out the impacts of climate change on key parts of our infrastructure, engineers will increasingly be asked to offer professional judgement on complex issues.

As Ricks and others have pointed out, General George Marshall during World War II was the model of  professional adviser.  The Marshall - Roosevelt relationship was never close, but always professional.  Difficult times and difficult issues requires a higher level of frankness - - the public and professional obligations of engineers requires frankness.

Ricks writes the following:  

"Marshall's attitude toward his dealings with Roosevelt provided a model of civil-military discourse.  It was, most of all, frank - at least on Marshall's side.  Yet it was not close.  As chief of staff, Marshall would insist on remaining socially and emotionally distant from the president, seeing it as necessary to maintaining a professional relationship.  Nowadays, most senior officers would leap at the chance to spend time with the commander in chief during his more relaxed moments.  For example, before the Iraq war, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, then chief of the U.S. Central Command, overseeing the Middle East, visited President George W. Bush at the latter's ranch in Crawford, Texas, as Marine Gen. Peter Pace would do later as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Marshall was wary of such intimacies.  "I found informal conversation with the president would get you into trouble," he later explained.  "He would talk over something informally at the dinner table and you had trouble disagreeing without creating an embarrassment.  So I never went."  He refused even to laugh at the president's jokes.  The first time he ever visited Roosevelt's home at Hyde Park, New York, was the president's funeral.  But he and the president were perhaps the best wartime civil-military team the nation has ever had."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Engineering Between Homer Simpson and Mr. Spock

People generally like water.  They like swimming and a sunny day at the beach.  They like sailing and a beach front view of a sunset.  They like a beach stroll and collecting sea shells.  Given a choice of living and working in Manhattan, Kansas (Go TCU!!!, as K-State enters town this week) or living and working at any beach location, in just about any country  - - the beach is always going to win with the vast majority of individuals and families.

Rappaport and Sachs have an excellent paper, The United States as a Coastal Nation, that illustrates the fact that the United States population and money is moving to the coasts.  Given this human migration fact, and the facts associated with coastal risks caused by climate change and extreme weather events - - engineering is faced with working and interfacing with two very different groups of people.

The first group of coastal residents are the Homer Simpsons.  The Homers believe that nasty disasters can't happen to them.  They generally don't understand basic probability and the true meaning of a 100-year storm or surge event.  They generally live closer to the water and expect coastal areas to be "bailed out" by the federal government.

The second group are called the Mr. Spocks.  They walk the beach and look into the sunset while forming rational expectations of future random events and recognize that climate change means that these probabilities increase overtime.  They understand that you can have 200-year storms or surges in consecutive years.  They view coastal living in terms of costs and benefits and risks and rewards.  They currently see greater benefits and rewards than costs and risks.  The Spocks like to live on higher ground near the beach.  The Spocks also expect coastal areas to be "bailed out" by the federal government.

Continued extreme weather will force engineers into long-term dealings with the Homers and the Spocks.  Both the Homers and Spocks will control the discussion and economics of where we live.  Engineering will provide a focus on how we build and on what we build in the context of coastal communities.  Prevention, prediction, and preparation will become key words and actions.  Engineers must become more adaptive as we work between the worlds of the Homers and Spocks.  This will not be easy.

Coastal communities are a complex network of interconnected risks.  Both the Homers and the Spocks tend to underestimate the risk of infrastructure systemic breakdowns and over estimate the robustness of such systems.  For coastal communities in the age of surging sea levels, the problem starts with a wanting to supplement an unhappy reality (my nice beach house could be gone out to sea during the next storm) with a convenient fantasy (there will always be more money and someone else will take more responsibility for my actions).  Engineers will be placed in the role of trying to cheat a disappointing fate. 

Most engineers have never had to take a class called "ENG 101 - - Cheating Fate."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Who Benefits From Hurricane Sandy?

From the online Atlantic - - 5 Beneficiaries of Hurricane Sandy in order:
  1. Construction Workers
  2. Media
  3. Engineers
  4. Hotels - the ones with power
  5. Cyclists
The text of the comments related to engineers:

In the short-term, there is, obviously, a lot of work in Sandy's wake for engineers. Admittedly this is a broad categorization, but the damage has been wide-ranging, and it seems obvious that engineers of the hydraulic, structural, electrical and mechanical varieties will be in demand in the Tri-State area for a while. The Army Corps of Engineers’ elite "dewatering" team was flown into New York to examine its inundated infrastructure, the first time they had been deployed outside of New Orleans. Areas of New Jersey and Long Island that are still standing will need dunes and infrastructure rebuilt immediately if they are to survive winter storms.

It’s likely that engineers will also have work to do in the region in the future. Governor Andrew Cuomo admitted that the effects of the storm require long-term planning: "I think we need to anticipate more of these extreme weather type situations in the future and we have to take that into consideration in reforming, modifying our infrastructure."

New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Republican, hinted that he agreed this was not an isolated event: "I'm never going to use the phrase hundred-year storm again because we've had three of those, three hundred-year storms, in the past three years," he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
If Cuomo’s pledge becomes a reality, we could expect massive engineering projects in the New York Harbor in the coming years. Talk of climate change and infrastructure will become more common, particularly after Tuesday’s election.

Engineering Coastal Cities

This is an insightful and timely paper in the February 14, 2012 issue of Nature Climate Change by Lin, Emanuel, Oppenheimer, and Vanmarcke - - Physically based assessment of hurricane surge threat under climate change.

Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan

The report, published in March 2011, identifies eight goals in the context of the New York City waterfront.  Goal 8 - Increase Climate Resilience is discussed starting on page 104.

A sentence to ponder

From the November 12, 2012 issue of Fortune - - The Driverless Revolution:

"In congested urban areas, about 40% of total gasoline use is in cars looking for parking."

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID)

This is an excellent report and a good example of the type of document engineers will be tasked to develop as climate change begins to dominate more and more aspects of infrastructure development and management.  Review Chapter 9 - Transportation and look at the projected subway damage from 2011 and what actually happened during Hurricane Sandy.

Strategically Armored and Fortified Environments (SAFE)

In the age of climate change and killer zombies, SAFE might be the home builder for you.  Need your current estate (or house) outfitted with an underground bunker 30 stories below ground?  No problem.  SAFE services the upper end in the high-tech, high-end disaster protection and security markets.  Windows that can withstand a 2X4 traveling at 40 miles per hour.  Exterior walls of 12-inch thick reinforced concrete.  Critical space elevated against flooding.  Ballistic-proof front doors.  Facial-recognition entry systems.  HEPA filters with positive pressure systems.

If needed, they can also "proof-up" the yacht.