Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fracking and the Dutch Disease

From CrowdSourced: Here’s what Wonkblog readers are saying about the impact of shale gas - link.

From the website:

"Reader “David Ke” raises an interesting point about the risk of “Dutch Disease,” the phenomenon in which countries that produce large amounts of natural resources have a resulting rise in the value of their currencies, which in turn makes exporters less competitive, hurting job creation.

Dutch disease will rear its ugly head as oil imports steadily give way to natural gas exports. The U.S. Dollar will appreciate, rendering manufacturing exports less competitive. Resource extraction has long been a capital-intensive (aka not labor-intensive) industry, whereas manufacturing requires a larger amount of R&D workers, salespeople, service people, etc. This is why the discovery of oil in the North Sea produced unexpected consequences for The Netherlands. Perhaps the decline in competitiveness for manufacturers will be offset by American natural gas companies who export their expertise and equipment as the fracking boom goes global. That would indeed be a welcome development. Cheaper domestic energy may even give our chemical industry a competitive edge, in the short run. That is, before we begin exporting LNG and other countries start developing their own shale gas resources."

The New Language of Water

From CRC for Water Sensitive Cities:

"The CRC for Water Sensitive Cities brings together the inter-disciplinary research expertise and thought-leadership to undertake research that will revolutionize water management in Australia and overseas.  In collaboration with over 70 research, industry and government partners, we will deliver the socio-technical urban water management solutions, education and training programs, and industry engagement required to make towns and cities water sensitive.  With a research budget in excess of $100 million, our research over the next nine years will guide capital investments of more than $100 Billion by the Australian water sector and more than $550 Billion of private sector investment in urban development over the next 15 years."

Words and terms that may be the future of water resources as discussed on their website:
  • Fit-For-Purpose Water Production
  • Water Sensitive Urbanism
  • Mapping Water Sensitive City Scenarios
  • Urban Micro-Climate
  • Building Socio-Tech Flood Resilience
  • Resource Recovery From Wastewater
  • Managing Interactions Between Decentralized And Centralized Water Systems
  • Integrated Multi-Functional Urban Water Systems
  • Intelligent Urban Water Systems
  • Reducing Urban Temperatures
  • Cities As Water Supply Catchments

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Project Management Question of the Week

A simple and fast way of calculating the estimate at completion for the project, would be to take the budget at completion and divide by:
  • Cost variance
  • Cost performance index
  • To-complete performance index
  • Schedule performance index
The basics of the Earned Value Management Process - - link.

Bonus points -

A project for the transfer and distribution of electric power is reporting a cost performance index of 0.72.  We could say that:
  • The project gets $0.72 for every spent dollar
  • Is is expected that the total project cost be 72% higher than planned
  • The project is 28% under the planned value
  • The project has completed only 72% of what was planned

Quantitative Urbanism

The new term of the week - - Quantitative Urbanism.  From How Big Data Is Entering Every Corner of Our Lives by Leo Hollis in The Daily Beast.

From the article:

"For many urban thinkers the city has become a computer; the dense collection of bodies, buildings, wires, cables, and waste has been transformed into an “Internet of things.” Buildings form the hardware, while all the life between buildings constitutes the ever-changing software flow. In this view the metropolis is the most powerful information network ever created, a big data set that contains the sum of urban life. Where once the city was powered by steam or electricity, things now run on data. The same thinkers announce with certainty that this notion of the smart city will influence the way the metropolis is transformed over the next decades, just as the railway influenced the 19th century and the car the postwar era.

The smartphone in your pocket connects you to the city in ways that were unimaginable only a few years ago. GPS makes it impossible to be lost anymore; there are apps that can provide data at any moment, connecting you to the urban mainframe. As well as transforming the city into a spatial network, there are now even Apps that can short-circuit this connexity, making sure that you don’t bump into people you are trying to avoid. The smartphone collapses the traditional boundaries of the city: Starbucks is now the new Wi-Fi factory. Data sets of Instagram usage show how differently tourist and locals use their phone cameras, creating a ghost map of the metropolis. As announced in The New York Times, stores now track customers as they meander through the shop floor. Google Earth is already influencing the way people design cities: the Palmyra Islands in Dubai, designed to look like a splayed palm reaching into the Gulf waters, is meant to be seen from the air. In Greece, the government is using Google Earth to see who can afford a swimming pool in their back yard, and then matching that against tax records.

In most cities, this information makes our comfortable lives easier, and in other parts of the world it has saved lives. In Africa, where there are few Internet connections and even fewer ATMs, mobile banking like the Kenyan M-Pesa is changing lives. When I visited the Mumbai slums, Dharavi, where nearly a million people live in precarious conditions, the one brand name that was found everywhere was Vodaphone, and mobile aerials scaled above the most unlikely dwellings, providing super fast service. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in January 2010, the Ushahidi mapping website was able to remotely monitor the damage and to pinpoint places of the most need using real-time mobile reporting and GPS. At the same time OpenStreetMap, using satellite images, was crowdsourcing a new street map for the city through the debris, giving aid workers on the ground accurate location data.

Around the world new cities are being built through this idea of quantitative urbanism. Technology is embedded within the hardware of the city to gather data, monitoring and updating the city in real time. This information can be processed and then fed back into the city, creating a latticed network of feedback loops. Thus in Songdo, a new city in Korea, built on reclaimed land outside Incheon airport, and designed by John B. Hynes III of the Boston-based Gale and Wentworth, powered by u.Life Solutions software, cameras will report the flow of pedestrians, and pavement lights will lighten or dim accordingly; congestion on the road will be monitored by registration plate software; there will be real-time meteorological forecasts so that the power grid can be prepared in advance of surges; water, waste, and energy use will be measured and efficiencies found at all stages.

The smart city, a highly sensitized, complex network of feedback loops, is the philosopher’s stone for the sustainable city. The continual monitoring of resources, the search for reduction in waste and energy usage is based on the successful gathering of boundless data. Smart buildings turn off their own lights, monitor temperature, know how to offset electricity use to off-peak times of the day, calculate how often workers move around the office space. In China, whole eco-cities are being planned. For example, in 2012 the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city was opened with great fanfare as a center for innovation. It was so well designed that, according to one report “the residents will not be expected to make any particular effort to be green.”

The task becomes more complicated when attempting to retrofit existing cities and converting the established industrial centers in smart cities. Every week we see announcements from city halls around the world launching digital strategies with the promise of high-speed connections, dragging their city into the 21st century, making it part of the “creative economy,” attracting investors, jobs, and innovation. Often these announcements come with newly inked partnerships with IBM, Cisco, Siemens, Phillips, and with the consultation of McKinsey & Company or Booz Allen Hamilton. It is clear that a mayor who is not putting all their eggs in “smart” is too dumb to be elected.

But implementing such schemes is harder than many expect; smart and big data are not the elixirs often promised and are hard to implement. In 2009 Amsterdam launched its smart-city scheme, releasing an interim report earlier this year that, among the cheerleading, revealed findings that, when talking to people in the newly retrofitted neighborhoods, it made sense not to get too technical when describing what was going on outside their front door. In Boston, there have been complaints about privacy over the use of registration-plate-recognition software."

Global Water Governance in the 21st Century

This is an excellent report from the Pacific Institute - looks at the issue and need for improving water governance in a global context.  Link to the report.

Good comment on the need for improved data -

"Good data and ongoing monitoring activities are the cornerstones of effective water management and governance. We now live in an information era, and vast amounts of water data are collected in different ways and at a variety of temporal and spatial scales, from local stream gages to global satellites. Current attempts at information sharing, such as UN-Water’s Activity Information System, Documentation Center, and Key Water Indicator Portal, provide key data necessary to tackle the water challenges identified earlier. Despite these improvements, there are still regions lacking basic water data and information. Even when the data are collected, it is often not widely available or the quality of data is poor. Efforts are needed to improve the collection, compilation, and reporting of comprehensive water-related data." 

Better Engineering at the Salad Bar

East versus West meet at the salad bar.  May the best engineering win - - from How Chinese Ingenuity Destroyed Salad Bars at Pizza Hut.  Watch the video for design and construction techniques.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Putting Complete into Complete Streets

I took these pictures in London several weeks ago - - Exhibition Road between the Science Museum and the V&A.  No curb. No gutter.  Parking, biking, driving, walking -  on the surface, it looks and feels like a seamless integration of the many purposes of a road.

This is a good article from The Atlantic Cities website (this site is a true gem - engineers and planners need to look at the material regularly!!) - - Making Complete Streets More Complete.  From the article:

"From about 1920-1970, streets and roads in America meant mostly one thing: moving cars and trucks quickly and safely – that is, "throughput." All else was secondary, including pedestrian mobility, aesthetics, other vehicles (like bicycles), or how those roads and streets really "fit" or served a particular setting. Thirty or 40 years ago, interest in streets as integral parts of "place" increased, and road engineers and planners began the process of trying, at least, to humanize them. In the last decade or so, in addition to safety, functionality, and fit, issues of environmental, social and economic costs and benefits of particular urban transportation solutions have come to the fore. But even during most of this latter period, a road’s purpose was still chiefly perceived as making cars very happy indeed."

Also -

"The good news is that many dozens of communities around the country have seen the wisdom of some of these ideas, and have made changes that are transforming the former single-minded nature of their streets and roads into a more multi-purposed and nuanced system: one that safely and adequately accommodates all forms of travel, including pedestrians, bicycles, public transit, and of course, cars and trucks. Just look at Chicago’s ambitious new street design guidelines, centered around the new big idea there: pedestrians are now number one. While all transportation modes deserve fair treatment in Chicago’s city streets as they are redesigned or upgraded, walkers now rule. Wow.

These kinds of changes are welcome and long overdue. Communities as diverse as the Borough of Woodbine, New Jersey, or Charlotte, North Carolina, have brought Complete Streets into their public policies, so that, over time, their streets and roads will begin to take on new characteristics. It is a tribute to a smart and original idea with staying power, and hard work, that it is becoming more and more mainstream across the U.S. A number cities and urban counties are finally tackling head-on the very difficult problem of pedestrian safety, and mobility through all modes of travel.

Now that these mobility and safety ideas are starting to take hold, it doesn’t seem too soon to suggest an update of the "Complete Streets" concept, one which brings environmental and economic issues squarely within its ambit. Kaid Benfield has already written about how the concept of "smart growth," now fully into its third decade, could be modernized and improved. Such a "renovation" would more completely reintegrate the environmental attributes that gave smart growth its impetus in the 1990s but may since have faded. Primarily, this would involve the idea of bringing nature back into urban communities, in order to invest them with a crucial dimension of livability that has been left out of some of smart growth’s better known attributes, such as density, walkability, or mixed uses."

American Rivers Drinking Water Infrastructure: Who pays and how (and for what?)

Organized as an advocates guide centered around a series of questions:
  • How do water systems pay for infrastructure?
  • What risks come along with financing water infrastructure?
  • Why don't water systems put water conservation first?
  • How should water systems structure their rates?
  • How do we balance conservation and affordability?
  • How do we build support for conservations?
Link to the guide.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Progressive Design-Build Procurement Guide

From the Water Design-Build Council - Link.

Greatest Invention in the Last 50 Years

The box.  Innovation by task unification.  Read The Box That Build The Modern World.

Climate Change Litigation

I would keep an eye on this.  From the Ceres website - Insurance Coverage Crossroads:

"The potential vulnerability of policyholders to climate change litigation—and thus, insurers’ potential liability for the costs of defending and indemnifying their policyholders—appears to be the least recognized future threat to insurer viability. Fewer than 10 percent of the insurers surveyed mentioned any concern about liability for the costs of defending policyholders sued for climate-related damages, although lawsuits against companies emitting substantial amounts of greenhouse gases—either directly through their business activities or indirectly through their products—have already begun to emerge. Theories of liability include negligence, which is covered by most liability policies.

The first round of tort suits seeking damages related to climate change, although unsuccessful, provides a preview of the types of actions likely to be litigated more frequently in the future. In Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, the plaintiffs alleged that the greenhouse gas emissions of numerous companies exacerbated the destructiveness of Hurricane Katrina, causing damages to their property on the Mississippi coast. The Comer litigation recently came to an end when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims based on res judicata. This was the second time the case had been before the Fifth Circuit.

A prior suit by the Comer plaintiffs had been dismissed by the same district court based on multiple grounds, including lack of a “traceable” causal connection for purposes of standing and presentation of a non-justiciable political question.

In the first appeal, a panel of the Fifth Circuit would have allowed the plaintiffs to proceed on some of their state law claims. That opinion was vacated when a majority of the Fifth Circuit judges voted to take the case en banc, but without a quorum due to the number of recusals, the district court opinion was reinstated.

In Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., an Alaskan village alleged that the emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 20 utility companies contributed to rising sea levels and warming temperatures, causing damage to the village. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the village’s suit (for reasons similar to those articulated by the district court in Comer), ultimately holding that federal common law claims for damages allegedly caused by emissions of carbon dioxide had been displaced by the Clean Air Act (CAA), which only authorizes actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Kivalina decision did not address the viability of state law causes of action.

It is certainly too early to predict whether the obstacles encountered by climate change plaintiffs will be insurmountable or whether climate change litigation will become the next mass tort (or perhaps more likely, somewhere in between). However, because liability insurers generally have a broad duty to defend their policyholders, insurers could potentially be liable for massive litigation costs whether or not plaintiffs are ultimately able to succeed on the merits of a climate change case."

Innovation and the Rule of Seven Touches

From the July 29, 2013 issue of The New Yorker by Atul Gawande and the Annals of Medicine column - Slow Ideas:

"In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.

But technology and incentive programs are not enough. “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,” wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.

This is something that salespeople understand well. I once asked a pharmaceutical rep how he persuaded doctors—who are notoriously stubborn—to adopt a new medicine. Evidence is not remotely enough, he said, however strong a case you may have. You must also apply “the rule of seven touches.” Personally “touch” the doctors seven times, and they will come to know you; if they know you, they might trust you; and, if they trust you, they will change. That’s why he stocked doctors’ closets with free drug samples in person. Then he could poke his head around the corner and ask, “So how did your daughter Debbie’s soccer game go?” Eventually, this can become “Have you seen this study on our new drug? How about giving it a try?” As the rep had recognized, human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change."

The Frackers Quest for Water

This is a good example of the energy and water markets becoming more and more linked - - Water Management for Shale Play that was held in Denver in June of this year.

What Is In My Summer Reading Bag

This is the list I am working down:
  • Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value by Daniel Isenberg
  • The Garments of Court and Palace - Machiavelli and the World that He Made by Phillip Bobbitt
  • Edmund Burke: The First Conservative by Jesse Norman
  • The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley
  • Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A course in enhancing creativity and artistic confidence by Betty Edwards
  • Megaproject and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition by Bent Flyvbjerg
  • The Son by Philipp Meyer
  • Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution by Brett Martin (Excellent - - The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, etc.)
  • Robot Futures by Illah Reza Nourbakhsh
  • How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region by Joe Studwell
  • The Panopticon: A Novel by Jenni Fagan  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What if an Industrial Engineer was in charge of Medicare?

Read this from the New York Times and you can see the clear interface between engineering and the process of medical care delivery - Link.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Rise of a More Human Robot

Goes by the name of Atlas - Link.

The Best Engineering Consulting Websites

My list of four that I always read.  Key to me - Is it informative?  Is it insightful?  It is updated regularly?  If I spend my time to look at your site, does it create value for me?  Do I want to read it regularly?  Does it allow me to dig deeper (i.e., hyperlinks)?  Does it blend technology successfully - from video, to pod casting, to blogs?  Would Tina Brown read it (If you have to ask, you don't get it - - she might actually read the Arup site!)?  In our highly verbal, digital, and technological twenty-first century American culture, does the site convey the notion that the organization is skilled in creative problem solving?

One last important thing - does it appear that interesting people that are interested in things I am interested in (along with a broad cross-section of our industry) have the passion and professionalism to think and act like a world-class digital content provider/publisher?

In order -
  1. Arup - link.
  2. CDM Smith - link.
  3. Black & Veatch - link.
  4. CH2M Hill - link.
I will update the list as I review and utilize others.

Green and Resilient

Interesting post regarding the Evergreen Brick Works and their work on green infrastructure:

At Evergreen Brick Works, we are actively working to advance greener approaches to city infrastructure; promoting innovations for replacing aging and unsustainable infrastructure with new systems that will not only be more resilient in the face of extreme weather, but will also prevent the worst effects of climate change by reducing our carbon footprint. This facility is about more than demonstrating cutting-edge green design; it’s also a hub that connects theory with action, a living laboratory where leading innovators and the public can come up with solutions together.

In developing this site, we employed the highest standards of green design, but we also recognized the need to develop our own adaptive strategy to withstand severe weather events—especially flooding. Given our location in the floodplain of the Lower Don River, we knew the site would need to absorb water on a regular basis, and that we would have to devise clean, effective ways to divert excess water when flooding inevitably occurs—both rainwater runoff and messy, silty water from the Don River’s overflowing banks.

Link to additional information on their efforts.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The World of Design-Build

From the Kansas City Star on July 22 - - Design -build gaining popularity - and profits - for Kansas City engineering firms.

"This summer, 20 million more gallons of water are flowing daily to Midland compared with last year, delivered by a $200 million project that included 44 wells, several pump stations, storage tanks and 67 miles of pipe.

“We delivered that project in under 12 months,” said Dean Oskvig, president and CEO of Black & Veatch Energy. “Done in a traditional design-bid fashion, that would have probably been a two-year undertaking.”

Design-build has been around since as far back as the 1980s, but its use has grown substantially in recent years as businesses and governments try to save money and get projects done faster.

It’s a streamlined approach that allows an owner to choose one entity to handle an entire project from design to execution as opposed to the usual approach of hiring a designer, preparing plans and then seeking bids from contractors.

“They don’t have to talk to multiple parties; they have a single point of responsibility,” said Lisa Washington, executive director of the Design-Build Institute of America in Washington.
“The other key element that’s making it popular is that the early integration of the entire team leads to cost savings, faster completion and higher quality.”

And it’s proving to be a lucrative line of business for local engineering firms.
Oskvig said design-build projects now made up almost $1.7 billion in annual revenue — more than half the revenues at Black & Veatch, the area’s largest engineering firm with 10,000 employees, 3,400 in Kansas City.

At Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City’s second-biggest engineering firm with more than 2,500 local employees, design-build revenues have grown from $50 million a decade ago to $900 million today, a 1,700 percent increase.

“Our clients were looking for someone to be their sole-source person who would be accountable for the success of their project,” said Greg Graves, chairman and CEO. “Burns & McDonnell not only accepts that responsibility, we look for it.”

A recent listing of the country’s top 100 design-build firms prepared by Engineering News-Record, a respected trade publication, listed Black & Veatch at ninth, up from 18th a year ago, and Burns & Mac at 20th, up from 22nd. J.E. Dunn Construction Co. was 64th, up from 76th, with $213.5 million in design-build revenues.

“It has been and continues to be one of the delivery models our clients demand and we offer,” said Dirk Schafer, Midwest region president at J.E. Dunn.

Schafer said some recent projects his firm has completed using the design-build approach are the H&R Block world headquarters in downtown Kansas City, the new Bloch School of Business at UMKC, and J.E. Dunn’s own new offices at 11th and Locust streets.

Oskvig said design-build had been part of Black & Veatch’s business model since the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2000 that it began to grow significantly. That’s when independent power companies began a big push to build gas-fired generators.

“They had a different approach than traditional, regulated utilities,” he said. “They were comfortable with turn-key or design-build projects.

“It’s when the same entity, maybe a joint venture, designs the infrastructure, buys the equipment and materials, and then constructs it.”

HNTB, another Kansas City engineering firm, is using the design-build approach on one of the area’s biggest transportation projects, the Johnson County Gateway project that’s overhauling the busy interchange of Interstates 35 and 435, and Kansas 10. The firm was hired by the Kansas Department of Transportation for what will ultimately be a more than $500 million project.

Scott Smith, HNTB director of corporate development, said the design-build approach can shave several years off a major public works project timetable.

“It wouldn’t be unusual for a project to take two or three years to design, and then four to five years of construction,” he said. “Design-build allows a three- to four-year process, easily cutting 50 percent of the total. It also allows the advantage of good prices.”

Missouri and Kansas officials, however, have been relatively cautious when it comes to the design-build approach to projects.

Though its use has been authorized in both states, so far Kansas has applied it only to the Johnson County Gateway project, and Missouri has limited it to three projects: the Kit Bond Bridge in Kansas City, an overhaul of Interstate 64 in St. Louis, and a statewide initiative to repair 554 bridges.

Richard Thomas, the director of state and local government affairs for the Design-Build Institute, said that despite its limited authorization in Missouri, state transportation officials have done significant work. He added that the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the city of Kansas City also have used the approach.

“Local governments in Missouri are starting to use it more,” he said. “Kansas City has used it with street projects, and Lee’s Summit just voted to authorize design-build. The biggest void in Missouri is it’s not authorized for school districts."

Read more here:

Weathering the Storm

Very good report by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions issued this month - Weathering the Storm: Building Business to Resilience to Climate Change.  From the report:
"Ninety percent of the S&P Global 100 Index companies identify extreme weather and climate change (such as

warmer temperatures, more extreme weather, or greater water scarcity) as current or future risks to their business,

across all industry sectors. Most of the S&P Global 100 companies (82), and all of the case-study companies, discussed

these concerns in their response to the Carbon Disclosure Project (which specifically includes questions on this

topic). Substantially fewer addressed extreme weather and climate change in either their financial filings (36 companies)

or their annual sustainability reports (35 companies). The limited mention of climate change impacts outside of

the Carbon Disclosure Project responses suggests that this issue has not yet risen to the level of financial materiality

or public significance for the vast majority of companies included in the research.

Of the ten S&P Global 100 companies that do not acknowledge risks from extreme weather and climate change

in any of the three sources of public disclosure reviewed, six are in the manufacturing & industrials sector, three are

consumer goods companies, and one was in the healthcare sector. Among these ten companies, five have assessed the

risks of extreme weather and climate change and concluded that such risks would not generate a substantive change

in expenses or revenues. The remaining five companies are silent on the subject.

Yet while the vast majority of companies acknowledge risks from extreme weather and climate change, they also

describe challenges with adequately understanding the risks and their implications for the business. Several, for

example, describe the risks as relatively minimal, too distant in time to be of concern, too difficult to quantify, or

too uncertain to support business decisions directed specifically at improving their resilience. Several case-study

companies describe challenges with communicating internally with decision-makers about climate-related risks that

are inherently volatile and uncertain."

Public Pensions are a National Problem

This is an important read for those wanting increased funding for much needed infrastructure improvements.  Public pensions are the point where accounting and engineering ask the same questions - "Can we truly afford public infrastructure while paying for risk-free and underfunded public pensions?"

Link to the Hoover Institute blog post on the subject and debate.  Sample from the post:

"Paul Krugman and Dean Baker took the Washington Post editorial page to task yesterday for stating that unfunded state and local pension liabilities amounted to $3.8 trillion. They accuse the page of misquoting a study in which the total was cited as only $1 trillion.

The WaPo editorial page did misquote the study, but that doesn’t change the fact that the $1 trillion is a completely mismeasured and fictional number. Unfunded state and local liabilities are around $4 trillion when the liabilities are correctly measured.

Since Professor Krugman’s post links to the study in question, by the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, I am sure he saw that the authors actually discuss these measurement issues at length. The Boston College authors even provide liability estimates under what they agree is a more appropriate methodology, and find that unfunded state and local liabilities are a multiple higher than the uncorrected $1 trillion.

Currently, standard practice measures the funding status of public pensions in the US under the laughable assumption that every dollar in the pension funds will earn compound returns of 7.75% or 8% per year. That’s the basis for the $1 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

But if a state or local government promises a risk-free pension, one that will be paid regardless of how the stock market performs, then that promise is like a government bond and should be measured accordingly. That’s the way pension promises are measured in most public or semi-public plans in countries like Canada and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, for example, discount rates of 0-4% are used. Even US companies follow this basic principle that a pension is like a bond issued by the sponsor by treating their pension liabilities as corporate bonds for the purposes of their books."

How Much Do We Drive?

Link - study from Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan (Has Motorization in the U.S.Peaked?  Part 2: Use of Light-Duty Vehicles, July 2013).  The graphics tell the story.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Water in War

The intersection of water and war in the Middle East - Link.

HNTB Publications App

Link to the app.  It will be interesting when (not if) this type of tool takes off in the professional services arena.  This is basically the print version on a screen.  Content will always be king, but it is probably better to think screens first and paper second in the new world of apps and screens.

We are all in the era of the great print/screen transition.  Last year, the Barnes & Noble Nook lost almost $500 million (when e-sales rose 44%) - but, and this is big but, their retail side made money (sales fell last year, but its profits actually rose - inventory management and efficient operations still are important in the book business).

Note to engineers and engineering marketers - a number of studies show reading is a genuinely tactile experience.  Looks and feels have a material impact on how we feel about reading.

People are stilled wedded to the print and I cannot get into my local Apple store - insightful, interesting, entertaining, useful, readable, engaging content should be the driver and not the passenger.  How new technological capabilities translate into new benefits for clients and customers is a very interesting question.

Periods of transition are always messy.

Process Innovation from Saudi Arabia

Technology transfer, either as a process or product, is key to innovation in a global economy.  When this makes it to the United States, it will be interesting to watch - my thought is maybe on the NASCAR circuit.


Predict crime in real-time.  Link to the company.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Investing In Sand and Sand Services

Sand could be the investment this century.  In the context of "beach nourishment" projects. sand has increased from $1.71 per cubic yard in 1970 to a 2013 price of $14.38 cubic yards (5.1% annual increase).

Two issues to watch - the steady increase in sand prices and the realization that easiest-to-get and the highest quality sand is being also steadily consumed. 

Consider the following from the New Yorker (The Beach Builders by John Seabrook):

"The Corps has nourished the beach at Sea Bright twic since 1995.  It is supposed to be re-nourished every six years, but, when Sandy hit, ten years had passed since the last nourishment; the state had decided that other beaches were in more dire need of sand.  By 2012, as Bocamazo put it, the Sea Bright beach was "not in its designed condition."  It had lost some nine hundred thousand cubic yards of sand.  The beach was scheduled to be re-nourished early in November 2012 - as it turned out, just a few days too late."

Urban Failure

Good discussion with Glaeser on EconTalk.

Edward Glaeser of Harvard University and author of The Triumph of Cities talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about American cities. The conversation begins with a discussion of the history of Detroit over the last century and its current plight. What might be done to improve Detroit's situation? Why are other cities experiencing similar challenges to those facing Detroit? Why are some cities thriving and growing? What policies might help ailing cities and what policies have helped those cities that succeed? The conversation concludes with a discussion of why cities have such potential for growth.

Link to the talk.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What If Your Newspaper Had Engineers

The disruptive influences of technology are clearly visible in the publishing industry.  From your local newspaper to a trip to the local Barnes & Noble - the world of Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law have had huge impacts to an old industry.  The current issue of Fortune has an interesting article (The New News Business) on the issues and problems of the publishing industry.  The world of the Hearsts, the Publitzers, the Sulzbergers, the Grahams, the Chandlers, the Coxes, the Knights, the Ridders, the Luces, the Brancofts have had a very difficult time understanding the world and thinking of the Gates, Page, Brin, Schmidt, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Case, and Jobs.  The world of journalism just never took the time or had the interest to understand the world of engineering and technological innovation.

Could the outcome been different if the newspaper giants had seen that they didn't have any engineers and that you cannot innovate and build new products without engineers in your field (or at least partner with organizations that do have engineers)?  Journalism, photography, and video production are all creative crafts - the publishing world forgot to celebrate engineering as a fellow creative craft.  Consider this from the article:

"The very core of the revolution was technological, with every new advance being driven by innovations in computer engineering, something most publishing companies never bought into.  They viewed engineering as a means to an end - plumbing - a way to enable their core journalism to travel around the world through this magical new distribution channel called the World Wide Web."

Project Management Question of the Week

During the execution of a project, the client requests a change to the scope.  The project manager evaluates the changes impact and looks for alternatives for its implementation.  He later sends a report to the client informing about the changes impacts to the project's constraints.  What are the main constraints of the project?
  • Scope, time, and cost
  • Scope, time, cost, and quality
  • Scope, quality, and cost
  • Scope, time, cost, quality, resources, and risks

Network Valuation

At one point in time, bankrupt Kodak had 140,000 employees and had a valuation of approximately $28 billion.  Online photo-sharing giant Instagram has 13 employees and recently sold for $1 billion.

Two very important issues are in play - - the nature of a particular network (i.e., are individuals making "free" contributions to the network, such as like Facebook) and size of the network (i.e., you need a great number of people to participate).

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure

A new group with a focus on public-private-partnership advocacy - - link.  From their website.

We believe effective and well planned advocacy can provide government officials with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about all the benefits of Public Private Partnership-economic development, life cycle cost savings, risk transfer and accelerated project delivery. We intend to work towards the following:

  • Clear and reliable project pipeline
  • Achieving a consistent approach for both civil and social projects
  • Early awareness of legislative & administrative issues for members
  • Clarity of procurement processes

100 Leaders in STEM

Link to the report.

The Water Channel

Link to the site.

Graph of the week

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the U.K. Prospect magazine (July 2013) - Bad Job for Britain:

"Meanwhile as trade unionism dwindled in the private sector with the disappearance of the heavy industries, and the declining size of the average workplace, the centre of gravity of British unions shifted to the public sector.  It also moved up the income and status scale.  Astonishing, 52 per cent of union members now have a degree or some other higher education qualification, compared with just 41 per cent of the workforce as a whole.  So, in their 150-year history, the unions have moved from being mainly guilds for skilled craftsmen to being mainly guilds for public sector professionals, with a phase in the middle when they also recruited poorer, less skilled workers."

Project Management in 2030

She had wanted to get an early start for the monthly construction status meeting.  The day would be long and cold and a cup of coffee would help out.  The diner was across from the project site in New York City.  She could see her truck from the booth and Charlie was in the back.  Charlie was her assistant.  Charlie didn’t drink coffee. 

In fact, Charlie didn’t drink or eat.  Charlie was her latest robotic project manager assistant marketed by Google under the brand name PMBot 6.0.  The Google marketing department called it the most advanced project management assistant in the world (". . . decentralized, flexible and mobile for rugged project environments . . . connected, responsive, and informed for project management at mid-century . . .").  She sipped her coffee and checked her watch.  She understood that Charlie was one of the key technological inflection points that engineers face in their careers.  She didn’t take a gloomy view of robotic artificial intelligence.  She fully understood that Charlie gave her enhanced capabilities and capacities on her projects.

Charlie was scheduled to launch the Boeing CRGSIS (Construction Real-time Ground Surveillance Imaging System) quad-rotor drone in five minutes.  The drone would provide video for the monthly construction status meeting.  She had spoken with Charlie the previous day and Charlie had updated the drone request in the Intelli-Master Schedule.  As the drone departed, she knew the video feed would be broadcast at her company’s board of directors meeting this morning.   The staff of Governor Ivanka Trump had also requested a link to the video feed.  As she started out the door of the diner she eyed another drone landing to collect and transport a sample of the nanobiocrete back to the laboratory for seven days of observation.

She called Charlie over and they walked across the road to the field trailer for the progress meeting.  Charlie handled two important tasks in these meetings.  The first was the mundane.  Charlie’s voice recognition module and MinutesMaker software allowed for a real-time transcript of the meeting.  The second was more complex and valuable. Charlie was an expert at modeling the outcomes of proposed project decisions.   Compared to Charlie, she knew she was operating at a self-imposed information disadvantage.  Technology was outpacing her ability to use it.  Without Charlie, she was constantly challenged to turn data into decisions and decisions into data.

The project had over 45,000 separate tasks in the schedule.  Charlie’s new goal-seeking algorithm provided her with the opportunity to think and reflect on critical decisions.  With Charlie supporting the link between sensing and knowing, it provided her the opportunity to focus more on the key project management questions.  Charlie allowed her to integrate the tasks of scope, time, cost, quality, risk, and procurement management into a more complete and accurate package for an increasingly complex project environment.  Working with Charlie, she was able to generate more ideas to solve problems and could implement them more swiftly.  Charlie gave her the ability to quickly discard the ideas that did not work for a particular problem or issue.

She was concerned about two issues.   The first was the weather forecast over the next week.  Her firm had a horizontal network of partners collaborating in real-time on this project.  One of the partners was a private weather forecasting firm that had loaded their most recent forecast with Charlie last night.   The Intelli-Master Schedule scenario algorithm had provided her with a range of outcomes and probabilities based on the new weather forecast.  Charlie and the other new project management tools were professionally disposed against the workings of chance.

The other issue was the availability of a critical project component from a Canadian manufacturer.  Her firm was one of the first organizations to utilize STAs (Supplier Transparency Agreements) to monitor the entire project supply chain.  The STAs allowed Charlie to reach deep into production activities and logistics of critical suppliers for key information and status updates.  Charlie was part of the “Coalition of the Connected” where groups of project management assistants worked on common problems and issues.  The key was the development of seamless forms of engagement that allowed her to collect and use data in the field and in real-time.

The digitization of the project management process even extended to the conference room table.  The Microsoft Smart Surface Table was a critical tool for absorbing and processing information.  For example, she had been concerned about the installation of a critical pump at the project site.  The discussion of this particular pump by the project team had alerted Charlie’s MindReader software.  Charlie could think ahead and anticipate future needs and requirements based on voice recognition and the project decision support software.  MindReader gave Charlie the ability to search for key information relating to the pump issue and potential problems.  This allowed the project team to consider alternatives more completely and timely.  Decisions that normally took days or weeks to research and review could be orchestrated via Charles during the monthly project meeting.
The Microsoft Smart Surface Table interfaced directly with Charlie and the complete network of project RFID devices and project sensors.  These tracked everything from the location of construction material, the status of equipment, health and safety monitoring, environmental indicators, and field personnel.  The project table combined with Charlie allowed the team a more complex, accurate, and timely picture of the project.   Data become information which became knowledge (in the context of individual, team, and institutional knowledge) on the spot at project team meetings. 

As a project manager, the tool associated with the smart table she found the most valuable was the augmented reality (AR) feature.  Historically, project management was a two dimensional endeavor in a world of three dimensional projects.  The quantification of a project status with the physical world had always been a challenge for project managers.  The combination of droning technology and Charlie allowed for a higher level of understanding on project progress while viewing the smart table.  The 3-D AR temporal based graphic display of what should be completed was integrated into a 3-D graphic model of what actually was complete allowing for a powerful project status representation to the team.  She had come to the understanding that project information needs to be physical and the new AR tools allowed for this goal.

Her company had a long history of establishing project and program management as a discipline.  She was well trained in the five project management groups that her firm deemed critical.  These were: (1.) Initiating Process Group – defines or authorizes the project, program, or phase, (2.) Planning Process Group -– defines and redefines the objectives and plans and the course of action required to attain the objectives and scope that the project was undertaken to address, (3.) Executing Process Group – integrates people and other resources to carry out the project/program management plan for the project or program, (4.) Monitoring and Controlling Group – Regularly measures and monitors progress to identify variance from the project management plan so the corrective action can be taken when necessary to meet the project objectives, and (5.) Closing Process Group – formalizes acceptance of project, services or result and brings the project, program or project phase to an orderly end.   Charlie helped in all five areas.

Charlie and the other tools permitted the project manager of 2030 the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of his or her project and operating environments.  Enhanced tools and robotics allow project managers and organizations to focus on a simple fact - one of the problems with management in the Age of Hyper-connectivity and Big Data is not about what; it's about which.  Project management  in 2030 is driven by somehow finding what's significant in a world of thick and expansive information networks.  Projects in 2030 will be based on the flow of information in interconnected systems.  Charlie will be a unique tool for project managers in holding systems and processes together while having a role in determining how they operate. 

Welcome to 2030.

The Art of Climate Change

Good graphics of what might happen on the West Coast - link.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Your Mortgage and Flood Insurance

Great article on this subject in the New York Times - - On Floods and Rising Insurance Premiums.  From the article:

Once the maps are revised, some coastal property owners who don’t pay for flood insurance may have to. Lenders haven’t necessarily recognized that yet, as Mr. Rossbach recently discovered when he applied to refinance his house in Rumson, N.J. His house flooded during Sandy, and although he hadn’t been in a flood zone before, preliminary map revisions show that he will be. The lender “never asked me about flood insurance,” he said, “because the effective maps don’t show me in a flood zone. But lenders are beginning to pick up on this, and it’s going to make it tougher for the consumer.”

Spending on Dam Improvements versus Spending on Drug Control?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Zoomable Map on Paper

Very cool!  Illustrates several points about innovation - - the best ideas/products/services actually just sell existing ideas better and you don't need to be an expert, just be very good at spotting an opportunity (seeing value where most people don't seev value).

Thinking about the death of paper maps?  Paper still has a place - - British military planners prepared for the 2011 intervention in Libya with the help of German maps that drew on the cartographical expertise of Erwin Rommel, the fabled Desert Fox.

Sharing Property Rights - Government and Community Associations

This is a good summary of the issue.

Amara's Law

"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How Should Wall Street Invest In National Economies?

Foresight + Innovation

The UK based consulting firm Arup has a group that focuses on trend identification and innovation - link to their blogs and website is here.

Engineering needs to get better at producing a key group of people that are good at thinking about the  drivers of change that impacts the needs of our clients and communities.

Project Management Question of the Week

You are developing the project schedule, so you have to clarify to the rest of the team some basic concepts of network diagrams.  Which of the following  statements is correct?
  • The network diagram will change whenever the starting date changes.
  • There is only one critical path in projects.
  • The project cannot have a negative slack.
  • The critical path can include dummy activities.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Geos Institute

The first climate change adaptation think tank, Oregon-based Geos Institute.

From their website - -

Listed here are major weather-related impacts, all affecting our lifestyles.  Some are temporary; others are permanent.

Climate change has already begun to affect people’s everyday lives around the globe, and changes will become more severe in the future.

Expect either of two impacts:
  • Direct Consequences.  

With direct consequences, we experience extreme weather and major infrastructure disruptions in our local area with various possible results, as shown in the chart below.

Direct Hits

Possible Impacts

Excessive precipitation over a short period
  • Flooding 
  • Drinking water shortages
  • Erosion and siltation
Lack of precipitation
  • Prolonged droughts
  • Food and water shortages 
  • Loss of vegetation or tree cover
Forest fires
  • Property damage
  • Air pollution
  • Erosion and sedimentation
More severe storm events
  • Property damage
  • Food, water, supply, and medical shortages
Melting ice sheets & Rising sea level
  • Property loss
  • People forced to move
  • Mass migrations
  • Watershed destruction
Changes in growing season
  • Crop losses
  • Irrigation water shortages
  • Indirect Consequences.

With indirect consequences, extreme weather outside our area disrupts the infrastructure serving our area, including:
  • Food and water shortages
  • Supply chain scarcities
  • Cash flow shortages
  • Work shutdowns
  • Family Dislocations
  • Medical service disruptions
  • Communication disruptions
  • Transportation disruptions
  • Electrical and other energy disruptions
  • Computer networks disruptions
  • Emergency service disruptions

Innovation And The City

This is a great study by NYU.  The best ideas from cities all over the world - Link.

Ford and Water

From the Ceres press room (Link ) on how Ford views water in their supply chain:

"But water is critical to a number of manufacturing steps, including vehicle painting, where large volumes of water are traditionally used to rinse cars, ensuring that not a speck of dust ruins that perfect paint job. Water use also can be high in the automotive supply chain, particularly in making raw materials such as steel and aluminum. Ford also has identified that the energy sources used to power its vehicles (gasoline, electric power or biofuels) play an incredibly important role in determining the water footprint of its vehicles, because of the large amounts of water required for fuel production and power generation."

Climate Change and Urban Water Utilities

This is a good report from the World Bank - Link.

Floating Schools

Look for a world where we increasingly engineer our way around changing weather and climate risk. This is an example from the developing world.


Portable hotels via Snoozebox Holdings.  Potable containers with beds, showers, and TV.  It will be interesting of the economics of this type of potable housing can make the jump from housing at Formula 1 races to portable housing for a Hurricane Sandy.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Construction and SoLoMo

From the June 24, 2013 issue of Engineering New-Record - Roped-Off Safety Zones Gain Use on Crossrail Project:

Bechtel's next innovation is to harness a consumer marketing strategy known as social local mobile (SoLoMo).  The  inspiration is a Starbucks app that pushes coupons directly to consumers' phones when they enter a Starbucks store.

"SoLoMo will allow us to identify nearly hazards on-site by using global information systems and GPS.  The system will warn workers when they enter an area that has safety risks associated with it," says Reilly.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Good Example of Water Information Sharing

Good example of collecting and sharing water data - greater efficiency and effectiveness in the Era of  Greater Water Supply Concerns - Link.

Peak Water?

Fracking technology has put the temporary brakes on Peak Oil (much depends on natural gas as a transportation fuel).  Good article on the idea of Peak Water - Link.

Project Management Question of the Week

The PM for Project XYZ is communicating with the stakeholders, internal and external, about the project's performance.  The report shows the actual status in relation to the following constraints: scope, time and costs.  What type of report is this?
  • Status
  • Time series
  • Earned value
  • Progress

Saturday, July 6, 2013

DOE's Building Performance Database

Link to the U.S. Department of Energy's Buildings Performance Database.  From their website:

The Buildings Performance Database (BPD) unlocks the power of building energy performance data. The platform enables users to perform statistical analysis on an anonymous dataset of tens of thousands of commercial and residential buildings from across the country. Users can compare performance trends among similar buildings to identify and prioritize cost-saving energy efficiency improvements and assess the range of likely savings from these improvements

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bad Math Joke of the Week

Infinitely many mathematicians walk into a bar. The first says, “I’ll have a beer.” The second says, “I’ll have half a beer.” The third says, “I’ll have a quarter of a beer.” The bartender pulls out just two beers. The mathematicians are all like, “That’s all you’re giving us? How drunk do you expect us to get on that?” The bartender says, “Come on guys. Know your limits.”

Making Your Road Reservation

Interesting idea from A market-inspired approach to reservation-based urban traffic management.

The abstract:

Urban road traffic management is an example of a socially relevant problem that can be modelled as a large-scale, open, distributed system, composed of many autonomous interacting agents, which need to be controlled in a decentralized manner. Most models for urban road traffic management rely on control elements that act on traffic flows. Dresner and Stone have put forward the idea of an advanced urban road traffic infrastructure that allows for cars to individually reserve space and time at an intersection so as to be able to safely cross it.

In this paper we extend Dresner and Stone's approach to networks of intersections. For this purpose, we draw upon market-inspired control methods as a paradigm for urban road traffic management. We conceive the system as a computational economy, where driver agents trade with infrastructure agents in a virtual marketplace, purchasing reservations to cross intersections when commuting through the city. We show that in situations of similar traffic load, an increase of the infrastructure's monetary benefit usually implies a decrease of the drivers' average travel times.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013