Sunday, March 31, 2013

Drought, demographics, conservation and declining revenue

This is a good article on six strategies for water utilities as they deal with the potential of declining revenue - - link.

The Best Article on the Impacts of a Driverless Society

The link to the article is here.  How will driverless cars effect our cities?, by Issi Romen, currently completing his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Califorina, Berkeley.

From the article

"Once most people stop driving manually, there will be a far less compelling need for buildings and parking to be adjacent. This does not mean that all parking lots will be converted to other land use – the total need for parking will only be reduced if other developments like increased car-sharing take off. But it does mean that parking lots on the most valuable land will be available for infill development. Driverless cars will gladly navigate to abundant off-site parking that will substitute for the lost parking on less valuable land.

The places in which infill development takes place will become denser and more walkable. The busiest suburban shopping districts will probably be among the first to see their parking built upon, as will clusters of suburban office towers which often spread out over vast areas. In so doing these areas will attain a more urban feel.

Of course the broader environment will remain suburban, but the local clusters of walkable density we have today – primarily old town centers engulfed by sprawling metro areas – will be joined by a new breed born of formerly pedestrian-free suburban centers and infill development upon parking. Given that the overwhelming majority of dense walkable areas in this country were built before World War II, a new generation and breed of walkable locations is rather exciting."

Municipal water and wastewater infrastructure as laboratory of innovation

This is interesting - - could the local wastewater treatment plant be a source of economic opportunity and job creation?  What about a city that creates a platform for innovation for companies with new ideas to reduce operational costs and improvement wastewater treatment?

The City of London, Canada thinks so.

From The London Free Press, January 21, 2013 - - Wastewater treatment to be City's calling card.

London may soon become a leader in North America in wastewater technology, city council’s civic works committee was told Monday.

Peter White, president of the London Economic Development Corp., said plans to turn a sewage treatment plant into a world-class laboratory will build on London’s reputation as a leader in waste­water technology and innovation.

An $8-million addition to the Greenway pollution control plant, to be split between the city and federal government, will house the Southern Ontario Water Consortium London Wastewater Facility.
Led by Western University, partnering with other universities and IBM, the centre will use real-life sewage volume to test ways to improve treatment and potentially turn sewage into drinking water, he said.

“This is the only facility of its type in North America,” he said, and will be a magnet for research and high-tech firms.

“London was always seen as a leader,” he said, noting the local presence of wastewater treatment companies Trojan Technologies and Purifics.

City engineer John Braam described the venture as “a very exciting project” and persuaded the committee to allow staff to move ahead with the signing of agreements and issuing of tenders to ensure completion meets timing deadlines associated with the $4.7 million coming from Ottawa.
The federal money must be allocated by March 2014, Braam said.

Council has already approved the city’s $3.8-million share of the venture. Aside from Western, major partners include McMaster University, Ryerson University, the University of Guelph and Wilfrid Laurier University.

Inrix Gridlock Index

Inrix is a company that monitors diving time by tracking cellphones and GPS devices in cars and trucks.  The company has data since 2010 on how long it takes vehicles to travel on roads in 100 metropolitan areas in the United States, as well as abroad.  Check out their gridlock index in the context of general economic conditions - - the price of getting America back to work is gridlock.

Engineering Spanners

The Chronicle had a very interesting article on March 29, 2013 by Dan Berrett - Double Majors Produce Dynamic Thinkers, Study Finds.  Engineers and organizations that hire and development engineering talent should take note of several key points in the article.

Engineering consistently views the breadth / depth of knowledge issue as a binary decision point - - it is always an either/or decision.  Rarely do we think in terms of both/and.  In our complex and multi-disciplinary world, the collective inability to think in terms of both/and is troubling and has serious long-term consequences for the various engineering professions.  The bottom line in the breadth / depth issue - - it impacts our ability to produce innovative solutions across a host of complex problems.

Our engineering future will require more individuals with what is known as integrative thinking.  This will entail engineers learning the deeper, underlying meaning of a discipline while making connections across disciplines and applying different intellectual perspectives.

This type of creative thinking that embraces "both/and" gives engineers the opportunity to build bridges between domains of knowledge (and allows engineers to actually across the bridges from time to time).  Bridges give engineers the opportunity to generate fresh and original ideas by interfacing with distance disciplines and spheres of knowledge (the Internet has changed the picture and application of a knowledge bridge).

Engineering has a successful legacy of producing "deepeners" - - hyper-specialization in one domain.  Research indicates that "spanners" are able to integrate nearly as well as the "deepeners" - - but the "spanners" were much better at being able to think differently and were able to approach tasks more creatively.  The "spanners" don't get stuck in one frame of mind and have the ability to switch back and forth among various disciplines.

Engineering "spanners" - - be thinking double major and a life of bridges.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Next (Newt) Automotive Revolution?

How mainstream is the idea of a driverless car culture?  So mainstream that Newt University (probably no one has them in their driverless car bracket) recently offered a course in the new technology.  Newt University is the brain child of Newt Gingrich.  This is the link to the course description.

From their website on the course:

That’s why I’ll be conducting an online short course at Newt University on Monday, March 25 to discuss self-driving cars and their potential to create a better American future. It will broadcast live at 4:00 pm EDT, but you can click here to register in advance. We’ll make sure to send you a reminder on Monday.

The course will explore the many implications of this new technology.

For instance, because roughly 80 percent of car accidents are the result of driver error, there is good reason to think driverless cars could save hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

I wonder if his driverless car will consistently drift to the right?

Investing in Water Infrastructure

 From the World Bank and their excellent resource library on public-private-partnerships - White Paper, November 2012, Investing in Water Infrastructure: Capital, Operations, and Maintenance - link.
A summary of the paper:

The paper seeks to synthesize the extensive body of literature on this subject into a broad overview, providing some examples of the historical trends in financing, and taking lessons learned from developed to developing countries. Most of the published literature on this topic emphasizes the need for additional financial resources to respond to increasing demand for services. Furthermore, the studies are limited primarily to the water supply and sanitation sector and rely heavily on illustrating means of increasing private sector participation and private financing. In contrast, this paper defines new challenges in the wake of the recent global financial crisis and provides insight into improving the efficacy of water supply, sanitation, and irrigation infrastructure finance from public and private sources. Given that in developing countries around 75 percent of investments in water are from public resources (loans, grants, technical assistance), this paper emphasizes the importance of efficiencies in the investment and monitoring of public spending. In many instances, additional financial resourceswill not necessarily result in increased access and better services, but efficiency improvements will reduce overall financing needs; a crucial factor in this era of financial

Outpost WASP Smart Water Meters

We probably cannot "develop" our way out of our upcoming water crisis in the Western half of the United States.  Conservation and efficiency improves will be key.  Both conservation and efficiency need the same basic requirement - better and more real-time information.  Smart metering technology will play a key role - firms like Outpost Central seem to be making the conversion to smart metering easier and more productive.

From their website:

"Outpost WASP Smart Water Meter is a revolutionary low cost water monitoring solution. With no power supply or data cables required you can connect the device to any compatible water meter. Meter readings and water consumption information are automatially transmitted to your website for consumption and efficiency reporting. Meter Readings can alternatively be directed to your billing system."  


Water Main Break Study

"75% of all utilities have corrosive soil conditions and combined with a high portion of CI and DI pipes, one in

four main breaks is caused by corrosion which is ranked the second highest reason for water main pipe failure.

Northeast and North Central USA utilities (Region 6 and 8) will experience a higher percentage of corrosion

breaks due to a higher concentration of CI and DI pipes (90%) installed."

Graph of the week

FireWater Fuel

You might want to keep an eye on this company - - FireWater Fuel.  Hydrogen fuel has always been on the renewable back burner.  Far more potential than practical promise.  But the funny thing with a hydrogen based economy and delivery system - - people and organizations never seem to give up on the idea.
From their website:
"The renewable energy sector is set to undergo a period of unprecedented growth in the coming years. From the 2011 Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Global Renewable Energy Market Outlook, investment in renewable energy projects is expected to reach $395 billion (bn)/yr by 2020 and $460 bn/yr by 2030. Solar and wind combined will account for $290 bn/yr by 2020. Overall, an estimated 7 trillion dollars in capital will be required between 2011-2030.
One of the challenges facing the deployment of renewable energy systems is the intermittent nature of renewable energy resources – the sun does not always shine, nor is wind always present. This drawback presents a huge global opportunity for energy storage systems that can harness excess solar or wind energy and release it during periods where the sun or wind aren't present. One of the most promising systems is hydrogen (H2) owing to the fact that H2 has a high energy density. One kilogram of H2 holds three times the energy of gasoline (i.e., 1 gallon of gasoline = 1 kilogram of H2). Hydrogen can also be used to power fuel-cell electric vehicles, convert sequestered CO2 into liquid fuels, sold as merchant gas or simply stored until it is needed.
Hydrogen must be extracted from a source because it does not occur naturally. The ideal source of H2 is water. FireWater Fuel Corp. has developed a new technology that can produce cheap, scalable and environmentally friendly hydrogen cleanly from water. The opportunity of the future is here today."

Friday, March 29, 2013

Rana Abboud and AR

I have been following and writing about augmented reality over the past several years.  It has the potential to  be a huge disruptive force in engineering, architecture, and construction.  Things are moving very fast with the technology.  This research should be of key interest to the engineering communities - - Architecture in an Age of Augmented Reality: AR’s Affordances for Design Visualisation, Construction Supervision and Post-Completion Maintenance.

Link to additional information on the research:

Sydney-based architect Rana Abboud from Codessi Architecture has been awarded the 2013 National Women in Construction (NAWIC) International Women’s Day Scholarship.

The prize for the competition is a $10,000 cash prize to develop and research a white paper, with Abboud choosing to investigate 'Architecture in an Age of Augmented Reality: AR’s Affordances for Design Visualisation, Construction Supervision and Post-Completion Maintenance'.

It is the second award that Abboud has received in a matter of months after receiving the inaugural CSR Cemintel 9 Dots Award for her house design ‘9 Dot House’ which makes creative use of off-the-shelf products.

The NAWIC scholarship, now in its fifth year, was judged by NAWIC’s chief executive officer, Sheryle Moon, design manager at Davenport Campbell, Lisa Dinham, and the 2012 scholarship winner, Laila Mehrpour.

Moon said:
"NAWIC was delighted with the calibre of the IWD Scholarship nominations.
“NAWIC is committed to removing the barriers to women’s participation in the construction sector, and to supporting a world-class industry through the involvement of women. Rana Abboud’s contribution will help us to advance our mission,” Moon said.

Minneapolis versus Miami

This paper addresses the sand versus snow issue - - Air conditioning versus heating: climate control is more energy demanding in Minneapolis than in Miami.

The abstract:

Energy demand for climate control was analyzed for Miami (the warmest large metropolitan area in the US) and Minneapolis (the coldest large metropolitan area). The following relevant parameters were included in the analysis: (1) climatological deviations from the desired indoor temperature as expressed in heating and cooling degree days, (2) efficiencies of heating and cooling appliances, and (3) efficiencies of power-generating plants. The results indicate that climate control in Minneapolis is about 3.5 times as energy demanding as in Miami. This finding suggests that, in the US, living in cold climates is more energy demanding than living in hot climates.

Bridge Inspections

From Bentley - - InspectTech Collector Mobile iPad App.  The future of engineering is about information.  The key is being able to access it, manipulate it, learn from it, and improve our lives with it.  Hopefully the key also become one of collaboration rather than just information - - where networking, sharing, organizing, and reaching out to one another drives the organizational culture and the need for an informed and engaged citizenry.

Look for more of these types of tools to play a huge role in effective and efficient asset management.  Mobile application on an iPad platform for inspecting assets like bridge, rail, transit, and road transportation infrastructure assets.  Mapping, capture photos, create reports, and interactive mapping/GPS coordinates - - in the age of the iCitizen, it will be interesting to see how diffused information like this becomes (i.e., critical infrastructure and guarded or more open sourced?).   Will the megaplayers of asset management of old age be challenged by the new microplayers that could be better at sharing information and providing meaningful insight?  Where the Smart City of 2030 is really one that has greater connectivity and more transparency regarding our public infrastructure.

Water Is Coming To The Supreme Court

Mark your calenders for April 23, 2013 - - oral arguments before the Supreme Court on Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann.

This is a link to an excellent summary of the TX-OK water rights issues.  Here is a summary from the article:

Next month, Texas' challenge to those laws will be heard at the Supreme Court in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, a case that could have far-reaching implications for precious water resources in the West. Experts say that if the court upholds Oklahoma's laws, it has the potential to undo the more than 25 water compacts on which Western states rely.

The compact language at the heart of the dispute, said attorney Kirsten Nathanson of Crowell & Moring, is of "broad importance."

"Similar language appears in many of the interstate compacts in this country," said Nathanson, who's not directly involved in the case. "It would allow states to have statutes similar to Oklahoma's, and that would cause all kinds of disruption in the implementation of these compacts."

Bottom line, she said: The court could throw the current water crisis into overdrive.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Two Sides of Infrastructure Investment

The first side is related to our water infrastructure.  From Fix This: Water in the current issue of Bloomberg Business (the reference in the quote is Chicago) -

"From 1890 to 1920 we were installing water mains at a rate of about 75 miles a year.  And over the last 10 years we were only replacing them at about 30 miles a year."

The other side is relate to transportation infrastructure; namely rail.  From The Wall Street Journal on March 27, 2013 by Betsy Morris, Boom Times on the Tracks: Rail Capacity, Spending Soar -

"Welcome to the revival of the Railroad Age.  North America's major freight railroads are in the midst of a building boom unlike anything since the Industry's Gilded Age heyday in the 19th century - this year pouring $14 billion into rail yards, refueling stations, additional track.  With enhanced speed and efficiency, rail is first becoming a dominant player in the nation's commercial transport system, and a vital cog in the economic recovery."

SMU Engineering & Humanity Week - April 6 - 12, 2013

If you are in the area, be sure and check out Engineering & Humanity Week at SMU and Fair Park in April.  I am planning on stopping by to see the water tap at the living village.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Underground Engineering for Sustainable Urban Development

This looks like an interesting report from the National Research Council.

A summary of the report:

For thousands of years, the underground has provided humans refuge, useful resources, physical support for surface structures, and a place for spiritual or artistic expression. More recently, many urban services have been placed underground. Over this time, humans have rarely considered how underground space can contribute to or be engineered to maximize its contribution to the sustainability of society. As human activities begin to change the planet and population struggle to maintain satisfactory standards of living, placing new infrastructure and related facilities underground may be the most successful way to encourage or support the redirection of urban development into sustainable patterns. Well maintained, resilient, and adequately performing underground infrastructure, therefore, becomes an essential part of sustainability, but much remains to be learned about improving the sustainability of underground infrastructure itself.

At the request of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Research Council (NRC) conducted a study to consider sustainable underground development in the urban environment, to identify research needed to maximize opportunities for using underground space, and to enhance understanding among the public and technical communities of the role of underground engineering in urban sustainability.

Underground Engineering for Sustainable Urban Development explains the findings of researchers and practitioners with expertise in geotechnical engineering, underground design and construction, trenchless technologies, risk assessment, visualization techniques for geotechnical applications, sustainable infrastructure development, life cycle assessment, infrastructure policy and planning, and fire prevention, safety and ventilation in the underground. This report is intended to inform a future research track and will be of interest to a broad audience including those in the private and public sectors engaged in urban and facility planning and design, underground construction, and safety and security.

One Prize 2013 - Stormproofing

ONE Prize has an open design competition for building resilient cities.  From their website:

ONE Prize Award aims to explore the social, economic, and ecological possibilities of urban transformation. This year’s competition is set in the context of severe climate dynamism. How can cities adapt to the future challenges of extreme weather? The ONE Prize is a call to deploy sophisticated design to alleviate storm impact through various urban interventions such as: protective green spaces, barrier shorelines, alternative housing, waterproofing technology, and public space solutions. We wish to reinvigorate infrastructure and repurpose spaces towards environmental adaptation in order to put design in the service of the community.

The ONE Prize seeks architects, landscape architects, urban designers, planners, engineers, scientists, artists, students and individuals of all backgrounds.
How can urban ecosystems be enhanced to prevent flooding?
What can restore Rockaway Beach social infrastructure and public space?
When can the New Orleans community change to accept storms without losing character?
What can protect Asian Coastal Cities against the unforeseen?
Where can shorelines be storm surge barriers as well as interactive zones?
How can storm proofing be seen as an opportunity to rethink the future of our cities?

The ONE Prize Award is an international competition and it is open to everyone from professional to students. The teams can have one or more members. The proposals can be for real or speculative projects, at one or more actual sites. Projects can be located either in the U.S. or abroad, but should be applicable to the U.S. Proposals need not be generated exclusively for this competition, provided that they address the intent of the competition.

Climate Change and Value That's Priceless

From The New York Times, March 22, 2013, Well Before Summer, Hamptons Luxury Real Estate Is Scorching:

“Waterfront properties,” she continued, “are always sought-after, but it’s probably safe to say that waterfront with elevation is becoming more important. Maybe that’s the new value that’s priceless.”  

Keep an eye out for how the market is responding to climate change adaptation strategies.  From the house on a "hill" next to the ocean to development opportunities in places like Greenland and Iceland - - change not only produces constraints, it also produces tremendous opportunities.    

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

National Coastal Population Report

NOAA's state of the coasts and trends - 1970 to 2020.  This is the link to the report.

Bloom Boxes

Our natural gas revolution is sure to spark greater interest in methane based fuel cells.  See the following regarding fuel cells and data centers:

Apple isn’t the only large data center operator pursuing this strategy. Microsoft is planning to build data plants where modular data centers will be powered by renewable energy, including biogas from water treatment plants and landfills.

Apple says that using biogas will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants while diversifying the fuel mix for its data center energy. The announcement of the fuel cell sparked speculation that Apple might use biogass from pig manure as a fuel source. But the FERC filing indicates that Apple will use landfill gas rather than manure digester gas.

The installation is expected to feature 24 200-kilowatt Bloom Energy Servers placed on outdoor pads, according to regulatory filings. Bloom Energy is converting a former Chrysler auto assembly plant in Delaware into a manufacturing facility to churn out its Bloom Energy Servers for East Coast customers, including Apple.

The Bloom Energy Server is based on solid oxide fuel cell technology that converts fuel to electricity through an electro-chemical reaction, without any combustion. Because they are housed at the customer premises, the Bloom box can continue operating during grid outages.

“Once the Bloom Energy Manufacturing Center is completed, we will double Bloom Energy’s production capacity,” said KR Sridhar, Principal Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bloom Energy. “Delaware complements our California roots and strategically positions us to better serve our expanding customer base.”

For additional information, check out Bloom Energy.

The BP Urban Energy Systems Project

I have not read this book, but it looks interesting.

Also check out the BP Urban Energy Systems Project associated with Imperial College in London.

Monday, March 25, 2013

List of Texas Public Water Systems Limiting Water Use to Avoid Shortages

From the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality - updated weekly.  This is the link.

The Hunt's Urban Innovation Lab for Youth in Dallas

From the Dallas Morning News yesterday:

Hunter and Stephanie Hunt think any child in Dallas might be able to save the world — or at least make it a better place.

For the last year, the couple has been quietly piecing together plans for an unusual teaching center in downtown Dallas. Their Urban Innovation Lab for Youth will give underserved youths access to the latest technology and some of the world’s most creative mentors.

“Existing labs are typically private, very expensive and only allow access to a targeted few,” said Stephanie Hunt, who is leading the initiative. “We want to provide an open-access space where kids can collaborate or experiment together in solving problems — a place where they can feel safe to fail, iterate and evolve their thinking.”

As an example, students will learn about digital fabrication and rapid prototyping through 3-D printing with the mentorship of entrepreneurs, she said.

The 40-something son and daughter-in-law of oilman Ray Hunt established the Hunt Institute for Engineering & Humanity at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering in 2009.
Hunter, 44, is president and CEO of Hunt Consolidated Energy Inc. Stephanie, 45, is the daughter of prominent Dallas banker Jim Erwin and the force behind Engineering & Humanity Week, which highlights problems faced by the acutely impoverished.

Their latest project, still in its formative stages, was given an unexpected boost last month when David de Rothschild of Los Angeles, a descendent of the international banking aristocracy, decided to give the project his famous Plastiki, a 60-foot catamaran made of 12,500 recycled bottles and other biodegradable products.

The 34-year-old global adventurer and his unconventional craft made international headlines in 2010 when he skippered it 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Sydney.

The Plastiki is being hauled for 12 days and 2,500 miles from San Francisco Bay to Fair Park, where it will be exhibited at Engineering & Humanity Week starting April 6.

“The Plastiki will be the symbol for the innovation center, its beacon,” Hunt said. “Having a partner like David who is high energy and passionate about sparking curiosity in the next generation matches perfectly with our desire to offer a fun, open-source space for young minds.”

De Rothschild also is a trustee of the Natural History Museum in London and has arranged for the Hunts’ lab to use the museum’s 300 scientists as resources.

The innovation lab’s primary focus will be on biomimicry, the study of nature to solve human problems. Plastiki’s hull design, for example, was inspired by a pomegranate.

After its stint in Fair Park, Plastiki will be moved to the plaza of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science for the summer. Hunt wants to use the Perot facilities for programming while the lab is being built.

Perot CEO Nicole Small shares that hope.

“We’re about to announce an exciting, fun summer exhibit that will tie directly with the boat,” Small said, not willing give details. “The way Stephanie thinks about creativity and innovation is very much in concert with how we think about it. We had a fun meeting a few weeks ago where we were brainstorming around how you inspire innovation and engage young people in creativity.”

Focusing on youths
The lab is being developed by the ROi (for return on innovation) Project, which the Hunts formed and funded last year. Their original idea was to create a physical space where people could congregate and discuss innovation.

The couple narrowed their scope to 12- to 24-year-olds after seeing how other countries used similar labs to tackle the skyrocketing unemployment of young adults. “Our tagline is ‘inclusive innovation,’” she said.

Southern Methodist University, Paul Quinn College and bcWorkshop in Dallas, the University of Oxford and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have signed on as project partners.

The Hunts didn’t intend to go public with their plans for a downtown center until they had gotten a site, an executive director and other sponsoring partners.

But questions began to arise about where the Plastiki would go after Fair Park. It seemed unlikely that an 11-ton vessel would make the arduous and expensive return trip to the Bay Area.

Although Mayor Mike Rawlings hasn’t been fully briefed on the project, he’s excited about it. “It’s another example of Stephanie and Hunter stepping up in a major way to help revitalize downtown.
“Dallas five years ago didn’t have much to offer when it came to drawing in families. This shows that with inventive things, families are flocking to downtown. This is an important strategy for us.”
The Hunts won’t say how much money they’re kicking in or what the project is expected to cost, saying the financials depend largely on land, which they hope to lease or have donated. They’re looking at several downtown sites with access to public transportation.

“We have some property that they might be interested in,” Rawlings said. “We need to get together to make this happen as quickly as possible.”

The Hunts are looking for support from the community and city of Dallas. “We need this to be a community effort,” Stephanie Hunt said.

‘Kinship’ by design
Hunt said the center will probably be designed by Lot-Ek, an architectural design firm in New York and Italy. “They take old cargo containers, airplane fuselages, oil tankers and turn them into whatever you want, whether it’s a one-purpose building or a dormitory or a city.”

She would like to have the permanent structure ready by next spring. But mobile units — single cargo containers equipped with technology — should be ready to visit neighborhoods in the southern sector by the fall.

Giuseppe Lignano, Lot-Ek design principal, said this will be the first Texas project for his firm.
No contracts have been signed, but Hunt and Lignano see their collaboration as natural selection.
“There is a lot of kinship,” Lignano said. “We are definitely going to be able to interpret what Stephanie wants to do with this urban innovation center down in Dallas. We think we can create an incredible experience for the kids, not just to witness the design and construction of these buildings but also then to live in them and experience them.”

He’s intrigued by the idea of making the Plastiki the centerpiece component. “Dallas is inland, so it’s going to be interesting.”

De Rothschild had other offers for Plastiki’s post-sailing life but chose Dallas because he loves the innovation lab concept and is sure that Hunt will make it happen.

“If you’d said to me this time last year that the Plastiki was going to end up being positioned in Dallas, I would have said to you, ‘Really?’” de Rothschild said last week as he and his crew were loading the boat on to a flatbed.

“I know people who are very, very wealthy who don’t have the commitment. It takes somebody of Stephanie’s vision, energy, commitment and passion with everything she does.”

A sentence to ponder

From the The Great Indian Phone Book: How Cheap Mobile Phones Change Business, Politics and Daily Life by Robin Jeffrey and Assa Doron - -

"More Indians have used a mobile phone than a toilet."

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

Engineering has been ignored in the world of science and economic awards.  We have the Nobel Prize, the Asahi Prize, Fields Medal, Turning Award, Kyoto Prize, IgNobel Prize, Abel Prize, ant the Fundamental Physics Prize.  All of these awards and prizes cover contributions from the scientific communities.

But enter the first award for engineering - the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.  The prize committee honored Marc Andreesen, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf, Robert Kahn, and Louis Pouzin for their contributions in the development of the modern Internet.  The prize money?  Current prize money is $1,500,000 - one of leaders in the prize and award category.

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a new global engineering prize that will reward and celebrate an individual (or up to three individuals) responsible for a ground-breaking innovation in engineering that has been of global benefit to humanity.

The first winner of the £1million prize will be selected by a distinguished and eminent panel of judges from across the world. The prize will be presented by HM the Queen in the summer of 2013.

During the search for a winner, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering will discover and celebrate stories of engineering success, raise the international public profile of engineering and inspire new generations of engineers to take up the challenges of the future.

Nominations are now closed. Judging for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is now underway.

Graph of the Week

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Water Asset Management

Link to a market research report summary prepared by McGraw-Hill on water asset management.

This is the link to the complete report.

Bluebeam Revu iPad

This is impressive by itself.  But also impressive is the interaction among viewers of the video and Bluebeam.  From YouTube to Faceback, the ability to effectively interface with potential customers and clients represents the power and influence of social media strategic marketing.

The Brinno TLC200 Camera and Civil Engineering

Nothing explains civil engineering and construction better than time-lapse videos.  You can take 18-months of bridge construction and reduce it to three minutes.  Forget the days of before and after photographs.  Show me the entire 18-months.  Starting thinking video visualization in the context of the standard Internet Age three minute attention span.

Making the three minute video has never been easy or cheap.  Check out the Binno TLC200 Camera - - at under $200 it seems to pass the easy and cheap test.


This was recently announced by Lockheed Martin - -

BALTIMORE, March 18, 2013 – Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] has been awarded a patent for Perforene™ material, a molecular filtration solution designed to meet the growing global demand for potable water.

The Perforene material works by removing sodium, chlorine and other ions from sea water and other sources.

Access to clean drinking water is going to become more critical as the global population continues to grow, and we believe that this simple and affordable solution will be a game-changer for the industry,” said Dr. Ray O. Johnson, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Lockheed Martin. “The Perforene filtration solution is just one example of Lockheed Martin’s efforts to apply some of the advanced materials that we have developed for our core markets, including aircraft and spacecraft, to global environmental and economic challenges.”

The Perforene membrane was developed by placing holes that are one nanometer or less in a graphene membrane. These holes are small enough to trap the ions while dramatically improving the flow-through of water molecules, reducing clogging and pressure on the membrane.

At only one atom thick, graphene is both strong and durable, making it more effective at sea water desalination at a fraction of the cost of industry-standard reverse osmosis systems.
In addition to desalination, the Perforene membrane can be tailored to other applications, including capturing minerals, through the selection of the size of hole placed in the material to filter or capture a specific size particle of interest. Lockheed Martin has also been developing processes that will allow the material to be produced at scale.

The company is currently seeking commercialization partners.

The patent was awarded by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs about 120,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The Corporation’s net sales for 2012 were $47.2 billion.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Boston Studies Climate Change

Preparing for the Rising Tide - - Boston is study what a wet future might look like.


Current models predict that Boston will experience up to two feet of sea level rise by 2050 and up to six feet by 2100. Planning and preparing for this growing threat will save money and prevent disruption of people’s lives and livelihoods. This report provides vulnerability analyses for Boston Harbor and time-phased preparedness plans for Boston’s Long and Central Wharves and UMass Boston campus to increase their resilience to coastal flooding over time.

Forward-Deployed Inventory Centers

The next time you are in your local Target or Walmart, start to think and envision the traditional retail environment and operating structure as a "forward-deployed inventory center."  Same day delivery demands and strategies are forcing retailers to have their retail stores perform double duty.  In cities like Denver, you can place an order via  Workers in the local store fill the order in a couple of hours.  Delivery to your front door is between 4 and 8 pm. 

Time will tell if "forward-deployed inventory centers" are an answer to the "last mile problem" in the same day an order is placed.

The Planners

For those interested in planning the cities of the future that cannot get enough Downton Abbey -watch The Planners on BBC. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Two Most Important Words in Engineering

This is from the current issue of Harvard Business Review in an article by Robert Eckert (Chairman and CEO of Mattel) - The Two Most Important Words.

The two words?  Thank You.

Good points from Mr. Eckert - -
  • Set aside time every week to acknowledge people's good work.
  • Handwrite thank-you notes whenever you can.  The personal touch matters in the digital age.
  • Punish in private; praise in public.  Make the public praise timely and specific.
  • Remember to cc people's supervisors.  "Don't tell me.  Tell my boss."
  • Foster a culture of gratitude.  It's a game changer for sustainability better performance.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Solar Roadways

This is interesting - the DOD needs to look into base or post applications.  Maybe fund R&D efforts or a pilot program for a small parking lot.


Take thermal imagining and add something like Google Street View and you end up with Sagewell. 

New to my Kindle

Looking forward to reading these three new books:
  • Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World by Graham Allison et al.
  • The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World by Kishore Mahbubani.
  • The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Change Isn't What It Used to Be by Moises Naim.

Monday, March 18, 2013

This Is Engineering

What is LA County Worth?

This is an interesting report on the value of land and buildings in Los Angeles County - Link.  The answer is over a trillion dollars.

It would be useful to see this same information and format on the top 50 urban areas in the United States. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013


The band-aid is a great design and innovative thinking tool and exercise for engineers.  Go down the band-aid aisle at your local drugstore or grocery store.  The conventional band-aid does not cover all wounds well.  A cut on you finger is different than a cut on your thumb.  Consumers have to buy a box full of multiple shaped and sized band-aids.  In a world of "smarts" - the band-aid is also very "dumb."

Entire AmoeBAND.  University students in Taiwan have come up with a design that features cutaways so the hand-aid can be adjusted to fit the location of the wound.  The name comes from the shape-shifting amoeba.

A pH-sensitive cross at the center alerts the wearer if the wound is infected.  Innovation and creativity is making the dumb band-aid smart.

Rethinking the old is always a source of innovation.  A new and better future requires a deep and insightful view of the present and past. 

The Wall Street Journal had a great quote from Peter Heuken, playground designer, in The Engineer of Playground Pizazz over the weekend:

"Creativity is hard work.  Usable ideas require knowledge and a close command of details."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Designing for Engineers

Interesting article on how Google thinks about and designs its workspace - - link.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Graph of the week

The Admiral, the Public, and the Insurance Industry

Three stories and three different perspectives on climate change.  An Admiral, the Australian electorate, the insurance industry - - the following three stories demonstrate the paradox and challenges in dealing with climate change and extreme weather events.  Is it a national security concern?  Can the public come to grips with the long-term issues of climate change?  Do insurance companies and other organizations understand the economic risks?

From the The Boston Globe:

CAMBRIDGE — America’s top military officer in charge of monitoring hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China provides an unexpected answer when asked what is the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region: climate change.

Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, in an interview at a Cambridge hotel Friday after he met with scholars at Harvard and Tufts universities, said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’

“People are surprised sometimes,” he added, describing the reaction to his assessment. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”

From the Design Build Source:

Efforts to advance the sustainability agenda via fear-mongering have failed to achieve their desired effect, with public concern over climate change declining precipitously in just the past five years.
Speaking at the Green Cities environmental building conference in Sydney last week, economist Eric Knight observed that concern among the Australian electorate regarding climate change had undergone a sharp decline despite strenuous efforts by campaigners to raise awareness about the issue.
While well over half of voters considered climate change to be a factor which would impact their support during the Federal Election in 2008, this figure had plunged to around 35 per cent by February 2012 – a decline of 20 percentage points in the space of only half a decade.
Nine years of polling by the Lowy Institute show major fluctuations in attitudes towards climate change among Australians. In 2007 and 2008, it was considered one of the country’s top five foreign policy goals, yet by 2010 and 2011 it was considered the third least important on a list of 12 foreign policy priorities.

2012 was the warmest year on record in the lower 48 states and the second most extreme weather year in United States history. Insurers are increasingly acknowledging that extreme weather has become the new normal, yet a new report from Ceres finds that many in the industry are only just beginning to think about how to address the effects climate change may have on their business – while a small group of companies is leading the way.

From Ceres:

The Ceres report, Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Survey: 2012 Findings & Recommendations, is based on 184 company disclosures in response to a climate risk survey developed by insurance regulators. Surveys were completed by insurers licensed to operate in three states – California, New York and Washington – that require climate risk disclosure. Collectively, these companies represent a significant majority of the American insurance market.

Ceres found only 23 companies in the property & casualty, life & annuity and health insurance sectors have comprehensive climate change strategies. Those companies provide a roadmap for the rest of the industry as it begins to wrestle with the issue.

“Every segment of the insurance industry faces climate risks, yet the industry’s response has been highly uneven,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, who wrote the report foreword. “The implications of this are profound because the insurance sector is a key driver of the economy. If climate change undermines the future availability of insurance products and risk management services in major markets throughout the US, it threatens the economy and taxpayers as well.”

“Climate change is potentially a serious financial threat to the insurance industry, and needs to be on insurers’ and regulators’ radar,” said Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, a leading advocate for stronger climate risk disclosure and action by insurance companies. “If insurance is to remain available and affordable, companies will need to adapt. The last thing we want to see are unprepared companies simply pulling out of markets or seeking unreasonable rate hikes.”

Thursday, March 14, 2013


The smart pipes of the future will have all sorts of sensors and data collection devices.  Most will be low-energy, but energy none the less.  What will supply the power?

HydroSpin could be the answer.  From their website:

"Water supply and utilities networks world over are spending today increasingly large amounts of money, in supplying energy for uses such as monitoring the movement and quality of water through the network of pipes. “Smart Water” technologies of today need to retrieve large amounts of data in frequent intervals. As the Smart Water market is expected to quadruple by 2020, so are its energy needs. Existing energy solutions are limited and will not be able to support this growth sufficiently.

HydroSpin has developed a unique generator that produces micro-energy from the flow of water inside distribution pipes. The HydroSpin generator creates enough power to support low-energy devices throughout the water network; such as sensors, probes and transmission devices (GPRS). It costs significantly less than existing solutions and lasts for a much longer time with minimal maintenance required."

The Frivalous Engineering Company

This is the link.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Public-Private Partnerships

This is from PricewaterhouseCoopers - - Public-Private Partnerships: The U.S. Perspective.

The Next Housing Bubble?

I put my 83-year old mother's house on the market last week.  Get out your calendars - - the senior sell-off is one of those demographic certainties that you can calculate with a little census data and a calendar (remember the saying that "demographics is destiny").

See The Great Senior Sell-Off Could Cause the Next Housing Crisis.  From the article:

"In the coming years, baby boomers will be moving on (inching further through the python, if you will). “They will want to sell their homes, and they’re hoping there are people behind them to buy their homes,” says Nelson, director of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah. He expects that in growing metros like Atlanta and Dallas, those buyers will be waiting. But elsewhere, in shrinking and stagnant cities across the country, the story will be quite different. Nelson calls what’s coming the “great senior sell-off.” It’ll start sometime later this decade (Nelson is defining baby boomers as those people born between 1946 and 1964). And he predicts that it could cause our next real housing crisis."

A Problem With Sustainability

The market place is moving in the direction of standardized rating systems for sustainability.  From materials to projects, systems have been developed that rate your activities in the context of various sustainability attributes.

Envision is an example of one such system.  From their website:

"Envision™ provides a holistic framework for evaluating and rating the community, environmental, and economic benefits of all types and sizes of infrastructure projects. It evaluates, grades, and gives recognition to infrastructure projects that use transformational, collaborative approaches to assess the sustainability indicators over the course of the project's life cycle."

Rating systems will undoubtedly play a key role in our sustainability future.  But so will a common and collective language and definition regarding the notion of what it means to be sustainable.   Let's start with a common definition - - narrowing down 100 ways to define sustainability is probably a good starting point.

A paragraph to ponder

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Fracking, reconsidered: A conventional gas boom would release even more pollutants.

"Our results surprised us: On average, shale gas wells generated about 10 times more wastewater but also produced about 30 times more natural gas. This means conventional wells generate about three times more wastewater than hydraulically fractured wells to produce the same amount of natural gas."

Good ideas of the week

This a sample -

Center on Megacities - University of Southern California

Sustainable Water Infrastructure Coalition

Planning for Sustainability: A Handbook for Water and Wastewater Utilities

Primer for Water and Wastewater Utilities

The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies

Trevi Systems

Transatomic Power

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Autodesk 123D Catch

What is a Water Purchase Agreement?

This is a brief introduction to the topic - - from the Carlsbad Desalination Project.

Engineers as Material Boys

Interesting post - - The Real Winners of the Global Economy: The Material Boys - - Facebook and social media or food and energy as economic engines.  We still need lots of food and oil to Twitter.

Arguably the biggest surprise has been the United States’ strong advantages in the resource race. America has a far richer endowment of raw materials than its primary competitors, including the European Union, India, China and Japan. Only the Russian Federation is equally well-endowed: The Siberian periphery that was first conquered in the great period of Russian expansion between the 16th and mid-19th centuries remains one of the greatest resource regions on the planet and the base of that country’s economy.

Agriculture is perhaps the least appreciated of the new drivers of the U.S. economy. Farm exports have been surging; in 2011 the U.S. exported a record $135 billion worth of agricultural goods, with a net favorable balance of $47 billion, the highest in nominal dollars since the 1980s.What accounts for this boom? One key driver is China, which consumes almost 60% of the world’s soybean exports and 40% of its cotton.

Perhaps even more transformative has been the energy boom, largely sparked by new technologies such as fracking and deepwater drilling. This has transformed the Great Plains alone into the world’s 14th largest oil producer, roughly on a par with Nigeria and Norway. Unless stopped by regulatory constraints, this expansion may only be in its infancy. We can expect large increases in production not only in North Dakota;Texas’ Eagle Ford shale oil is expected to quintuple its daily production by 2014 . New finds in the Wattenberg Field north of Denver alone could contain more than a billion barrels of recoverable oil and natural gas, essentially matching the huge Eagle Ford or the Bakken Field in western North Dakota. Another find, the Green River formation in Wyoming, could contain an astounding 1.4 trillion barrels of oil shale.

Sahara Forest Project


In the world of modeling software and simulation, Ansys reduces the need to expensive prototyping.  The future of engineering will center on software tools that make a good engineer great. 

Short-Term Water Management Decisions

This is a good report that looks at climate change in the context of monitoring product needs, forecasting product needs, understanding and using information products in water management, and information services enterprise.  Report - - Short-Term Water Management Decisions: User Needs for Improved Climate, Weather and Hydrologic Information.

Report abstract

This report is the second in a series of reports by the Climate Change and Water Working Group that identifies how to improve supporting information for water resources management decisionmaking, motivated by potential climate change impacts on water resources. Adapting to these impacts includes potential enhancements in water resources management decisions over the short term (less than 5 years) through improvements in monitoring and predicting hydrology, weather, and climate and through better use of currently available information. This report identifies how Federal agencies, along with state, local, tribal, and nongovernmental organizations and agencies, are working together to identify and respond to the needs of water resources management in the changing climate. The report describes short-term water management decision processes within U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), including how decisions are influenced by assumptions of short-term climate, weather, and hydrologic information. An operator use assessment characterized current information uses by USACE and Reclamation within their short-term water resource management activities. This assessment provides a foundation for identifying opportunities based on user needs and gaps in the currently available information. Needs are identified within four categories: Monitoring Product Needs, Forecast Product Needs, Understanding and Utilizing Information in Water Management, and Information Services Enterprise.