Monday, April 29, 2013

Good ideas of the week

This is my sample - -

Wang Shu
The Mission Continues
The New Digital Age
Development Geeks
Africa's Economic Boom
USAID's Higher Education Solutions Network

Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI)

Bancroft Global Development

Engineering faces a future of many risks and opportunities.  One risk is we are living through a period of global climate change.  Regardless of the causes, the experience of history (namely the 17th century) shows that long-term turbulence and unreliability of the weather inevitability produces calamitous outcomes for humanity.  Engineers will be on the front lines of these new battles; climate-related catastrophes such as drought and flooding, harvest failure and enforced migration will produce civil unrest, conflict, disease and destruction which will concentrate our efforts on massive global resiliency and redevelopment that has never been seen in human history.

All the problems mentioned above require large coalitions of states to commit to sophisticated, long-term collective action and global problem solving.  But the recent failures of major multilateral negotiations on trade and climate change have not generated much optimism.  The most negative view of our climate change future will have stable governments failing and commerce fatally disrupted.  Many experts are advocating for a new path forward that eschews new global institutions in favor of informal networks that bring governments, private groups, and experts together to form new coalitions with the goal of developing remedies for a world of climate change and catastrophes.

One example of a firm that could potentially operate in this new world of risk and opportunity is Bancroft Global Development.  The firm has an unusual business plan - - war-zone real estate development.  Their current focus is development opportunities in Somalia and Afghanistan.  Unpredictability always is a source of opportunity - - and nothing is going to be more unpredictable than the weather this century.  Organizations like the United Nations are and will increasingly be incapable of managing the instabilities created by climate change and global interdependency's.  Firms like Bancroft will start to fill a void - - from security stabilization and relief efforts (Bancroft also  does everything from counterinsurgency tactics to bomb disposal, sniper training, and road building) to redevelopment of areas impacted by our coming global crisis.

Engineering must start to think and execute more in terms of the informal versus the historic formal organization structures and less government/institutional response in times of crisis and more in terms of public-private partnerships, networks, and connections.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Working With Male Engineers?

Engineering and Philosophy

The April 22, 2013 issue of ENR (Engineering News-Record) is the Award of Excellence Winner 2013.  The winner was Wayne Jones, a project manager with Traylor Bros. Inc.  This is what the article said about Mr. Jones:

"A project manager with Traylor Bros. Inc., Jones is admired for inventive problem solving and quiet, resolute and effective planning and management. His key role in the construction of the Lake Borgne surge barrier all in New Orleans and the delivery of the system in time to keep Hurricane Isaac's surge out of the city last year earns him ENR's 2013 Award of Excellence."

Excellence has many starting points.  From parents, to teachers, to sports, to life experiences, to mentors - - all of these events can have framing impacts as they relate to an internal drive toward excellence.

One of Mr. Jones' starting points is rather unique to the engineering and construction professions.  From the article:

"I've tried to emulate the people I respect in my life - how they deal with other people and what worked for them," Jones says.  "Twenty years ago, I decided to read all of the philosophers, from Aristotle to Spinoza, and I've gone past Spinoza."  Studying philosophy helps him solve people management and construction problems because, Jones says, "philosophy is the critical analysis of a subject while setting aside all of our preconceptions and dogmas."

Taylor's excellence had a starting point in the liberal arts.  For a profession that has a general ignorance of the past and a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness regarding philosophy, Mr. Taylor provides us all with a strong message.

Dark Sky

This is an interesting App - - link:

Dark Sky is a new kind of weather app. It uses state-of-the-art weather forecasting to predict when it will rain or snow — down to the minute — at your exact location, and presents it to you alongside the most beautiful radar visualizations you’ve ever seen.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia

Good organization and website on infrastructure sustainability - - Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia.  Their mission:

Enhancing the liveability and productivity of our major cities and our regional communities through advancing sustainability in infrastructure planning, procurement, delivery and operation.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Amazon Mechanical Turk

The future of buying and selling technical services (link)? 

Project Visualization

Check out the project animation video of the Rio waterfront in preparation for the 2016 Olympics.  The project will require 15-years of effort, but you can see the whole process in four minutes.  In the Age of Screens and Stories, nothing sells the benefit part of cost-benefit analysis better that a story on a screen.  Look to advanced project animation and visualization tools and techniques becoming a requirement for selling the benefits of an urban metamorphosis.

Thirsty Texas and Stubborn Oklahoma

The Red River Compact dispute finally had its day at the Supreme Court Tuesday.  As reported in The Miami Herald (link):

“You read this brief that you submitted,” Justice Elena Kagan told the Obama administration attorney at one point, “and it gives you a kind of a headache.”
At another point, Justice Antonin Scalia told a lawyer, “I don’t understand what you just said,” while Justice Sonia Sotomayor acknowledged that she “can’t make rhyme or reason” out of some provisions of a water deal.  And following one drawn-out scenario that seemed to reach a dead end, Justice Stephen Breyer offered a simple one-word verbal shrug: “Anyway.”


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Earthquake Resilient Water Pipe

Designing for green and sustainability will be a must this century.  Designing for resiliency is in its infancy - - look for resilient design (the ability for systems and communities to absorb a shock and then bounce back) to become a huge opportunity and market.
More here and from the introduction to the article:
Water pipes that bend and move rather than rupture and break in an earthquake could soon become commonplace after the most recent disaster in Christchurch, New Zealand, demonstrated that the innovative technique could be successful.
Underground pipelines are a lifeline when disaster strikes, especially in earthquakes, and so Cornell University professor Thomas O’Rourke set about finding a resilient alternative.
O’Rourke carried out research at the George E Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) with colleagues from Cornell and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
Funded by National Science Foundation, NEES is a 14-site distributed shared-use laboratory of earthquake engineering equipment interconnected by a cyber-infrastructure, managed by Purdue University. NEES provides researchers with access to laboratories, computing and collaboration tools and to a curated central data repository for all data generated from NEES research. Researchers can execute experiments that were not possible before, conduct computer simulations at U.S. supercomputing centres, measure the results and share them in real time.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Property Values in Watertown, MA

See the link to the New York Times aricle and the last two paragraphs.  Question of the day - - can public exposure of a neighborhood during a manhunt increase property values by 10%?

Texas - Uncharted Waters Ahead

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is tasked with developing our state water plan.  Provided below is a summary of the TWDB mission:

Development of the state water plan is central to the mission of the TWDB. Based on 16 regional water plans, the plan addresses the needs of all water user groups in the state – municipal, irrigation, manufacturing, livestock, mining, and steam-electric power – during a repeat of the drought of record that the state suffered in the 1950s. At the end of each five-year regional water planning cycle, agency staff compiles information from the approved regional water plans and other sources to develop the state water plan, which is presented to TWDB's governing Board for adoption. The final adopted plan is then submitted to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Texas Legislature.

The 2012 State Water Plan is the ninth state water plan and the third plan based on the regional water planning process. In addition to incorporating the regional water plans, the state water plan serves as a guide to state water policy and includes legislative recommendations that the Board believes are needed and desirable to facilitate voluntary water transfers. The plan also identifies river and stream segments of unique ecological value and sites of unique value for the construction of reservoirs that the Board recommends for protection.

Since I moved to Texas in 1980, this has been what has happened in terms of statewide water planning:
  • Starting in the late 1990s, regional groups began identifying strategies that became the core of the overall plan.
  • Every five years, the groups revised their ideas.
  • Legislators repeatedly failed to identify a funding source.
This cycle might be different this year.  Population growth and the challenges created by recurring droughts have the state looking at funding the water plan with $2 billion from our rainy day fund (although a state limit on spending could stop legislators from using rainy day funds).  Time will tell if we can avoid a water funding meltdown.

Putting funding issues aside, the TWDB might consider adding scenario planning to the tool-box.  The folks in Austin only have to look down the road to Houston and Royal Dutch Shell to understand the value of anticipating future water development issues.  From the unknowns of population growth, to changing demographics, to climate change, to changing energy fortunes, to nudging people to conservation, to advanced technology - - sustained scenario practice can make Texas leaders and citizens comfortable with the ambiguity of an open future.  Scenario planning can expose and counter the hubris and assumptions of our water planning exercises that would otherwise remain implicit.  Taking our "bottom-up" approach to water planning and applying "top-down" scenario planning will foster quicker adaptation and resilience in times of crisis. 

Water in Texas requires the navigation of both complexity and conflict - - managing disagreement, fragmentation, and group think.  Scenario planning in the context of water has the power to engage and open the minds of political leaders and decision makers.  The fundamental goal is to prepare water resource leaders to pay attention to novel, less comfortable, and weaker signals of change and prepare for discontinuity and surprise.  Various scenarios relating to water management provide the right framework to appreciating fundamental long-term choice - - which is not the same as the next five-year plan.  Scenario planning and a strategic vision for water resources in Texas must start to consider three different worlds - - the world of possibility, the world of relativity, and the world of creativity.  Understanding these three worlds will allow Texas leaders to ask the right questions regarding our uncharted waters - - questions that hopefully will allow the state to match capabilities with context.

Nothing speaks to the "Water-Energy Nexus" more than Shell and their long history of effectively utilizing scenario planning.  Check out the link to the latest on what Shell is doing and thinking regarding scenario planning.  Remember that water and oil are marched down the same path - - expect the unexpected.

The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board

The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) has taken the broad context of the Triple Bottom Line (environmental, economic, and social) and has created what it calls "Materiality Maps" for 88 industries.  SASB's Materiality Maps rate how relevant environmental, social, and governance issues are to shareholders in five categories (leadership & governance, business model & innovation, human capital, social capital, environmental), on a scale from 0.5 to 5.0.  The higher the number, the greater the probable impact on a firm's financial performance.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

10X Management

This is interesting - - 10X Management is a firm that "represents" superstar engineers, designers, and programmers.  Like Hollywood starlets or professional athletes, the world of agents has come to the world of technology. 

A hot designer with BMW signs up with someone like Ari Gold.  It could be interesting:

Ari: It’s all gonna be fine.
E: How?
Ari: Because the Jew has arrived and he doesn’t like Germans!

Slingshot Water Purifier

Creative Confidence

To be published this October, Creative Confidence, Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by David and Tom Kelley of IDEO fame.  My advice - read everything that IDEO publishes.  They are the absolute best at bringing the design-thinking process to the world - - IDEO and the Kelley's have shown their clients the belief they can routinely innovate.  The Kelley's have taught engineers and designers a valuable lesson - - nothing in life is done with one side of the brain.  Engineering is fundamentall human-centered - - the most important context for any designer is the human point of view.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Connected City Design Challenge - City of Dallas

The City of Dallas is recruiting designers to tackle redevelopment of the Trinity River.  The city design challenge is part of the Trinity River Corridor Project - - a $2.5 billion makeover of a 20-mile stretch along the river.

One of the grand attractions to city life and culture is the waterfront.  Dallas and Fort Worth are no different.  From San Antonio to Seattle - - waterfront development has huge potential to create great value for a city.  The goal is simple - - the ability to walk from the downtown to the Trinity River.

The Connected City Design Challenge includes two different categories - - one for design firms and one for non-professional designers (an open call in the world of open-sourced solutions).  In the professional category, a jury will select three design teams through a competitive request for qualifications process.  Each of those teams would be awarded $50,000 to bring their expertise to the table and up to $10,000 for travel.  In the open category - - the jury will choose four finalists, who will receive $5,000 each and participate in panel discussions about designing a walkable connection between Dallas and the Trinity River.  Watch the results of the open competition.  Professionals have a tendency to think and innovate along narrow lines.  Can an open call produce workable solutions that weren't even on the radar?

More details at this link.

Absorb and Bounce Back

From Boston, MA to West, TX, this week is another reminder that cities and communities will face events that effect our sense of well-being.  Resilience is easy to understand - - it is the ability of people and communities to absorb and bounce back from crimes and calamity.  Engineering plays a (maybe the) key role in planning, designing, and constructing a stronger and wiser world.

What makes a resilient city?  Engineers will be increasingly looked at as the profession to help address this question.  The City of Dallas is thinking about this exact question.  The Sustainability Forum of the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture's Center for the City recently completed a daylong forum on the resiliency question (Link).  The Dallas Post of the Society of Military Engineers is also completing a daylong seminar on resiliency and "future-proofing" of our critical infrastructure (Link).

Engineering for a world of absorbing and bouncing back will be highly important as we move through this century and beyond.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Crash Stories NYC

Link to the story and research.  From the site - -

The New York City Police Department is the primary City agency responsible for collecting crash data in New York City. Approximately 78,000 crashes happen each year in New York City.

However, the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad investigates less than half of 1 percent of all crashes (Transportation Alternatives, 2012. Reclaim, Vol 18, #4, p.19).

New York City needs more comprehensive crash reporting, and that starts with New Yorkers like YOU.

In addition to mapping more information about where and how crashes and “near misses” occur, this map also provides a tool for witnesses of a crash to reach out to the victim(s), for any police, legal or insurance needs.

Smart Skin

From the Georgia Tech Newsroom - -

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a novel technology that would facilitate close monitoring of structures for strain, stress and early formation of cracks. Their approach uses wireless sensors that are low cost, require no power, can be implemented on tough yet flexible polymer substrates, and can identify structural problems at a very early stage. The only electronic component in the sensor is an inexpensive radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip.

Moreover, these sensor designs can be inkjet-printed on various substrates, using methods that optimize them for operation at radio frequency. The result would be low-cost, weather-resistant devices that could be affixed by the thousands to various kinds of structures.

"For many engineering structures, one of the most dangerous problems is the initiation of stress concentration and cracking, which is caused by overloading or inadequate design and can lead to collapse – as in the case of the I-35W bridge failure in Minneapolis in 2007," said Yang Wang, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "Placing a 'smart skin' of sensors on structural members, especially on certain high-stress hot spots that have been pinpointed by structural analysis, could provide early notification of potential trouble."

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Nooly is a weather app that generates localized forecasts within 0.4 miles of a given spot.  The software analyzes real-time radar and satellite data from NASA and NOAA to create hour-long predictions broken into five-minute intervals.

Engineering Counseling

The April issue of Civil Engineering (published by the American Society of Civil Engineers) has an important article Financing Out Future by Carlos Olea, CPA.  The article addresses our infrastructure crisis in the context of our financing constraints and opportunities.

The closing of the article lays out a path for consideration:

"In short, by making use of all of the tools in our toolbox, we can transform the nation's infrastructure.  By means of tax revenue, private equity, alternative taxes, public involvement, and government leadership, we can amass the financial resources needed to satisfy the nation's infrastructure needs with just a few years."

Everything you read on our need for additional infrastructure investment fundamentally goes back to the same issue - - our infrastructure needs bold leadership and a compelling vision at the national level.  We also need leadership at the local level - - far more engineering counseling than engineering consulting.  The idea of counseling versus consulting is the importance of a Socratic dialogue with key stakeholders - - Engineers at the local and regional levels helping people see that the world is going to be different and it's time for them to adapt to it.

Infrastructure investment when government is an insurance company

This is important - - The Newest Federal Budget Proposals Cut Infrastructure Spending to the Bone.  From the article:

In the last half-century, the U.S. government has gradually changed from an investment engine to an insurance company. In 1969, direct payments to individuals and investments (education and training, scientific research, and infrastructure) each made up one-third of the federal budget, Ron Brownstein reported. In the last half-century, wars have ended (the defense budget includes investment, too), and infrastructure has languished, while entitlements have grown. Now payments to individuals have doubled their share of the budget to 65 percent. Investments have fallen to 14 percent.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Smart Tunnels

This is interesting - -

An innovative new method for the assessment of subterranean tunnels is being developed by British engineering firm Costain in conjunction with researchers at the University of Cambridge in hopes of achieving more efficient installation of underground power lines in the UK capital of London.
The system uses optical fibres which are embedded within the concrete segments of the tunnels to assess the amount of axial and bending strain experienced at the tunnel lining.
The data collected by the optical fibres can be subsequently used by university researchers to analyse the performance of the tunnel lining both during and after construction, in order to determine which parts of the tunnel require less thickness so that greater efficiency can be achieved.
The Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CCISC) at Cambridge University devised the process after Constain requested that it explore potential innovations to facilitate the construction of the National Grid’s London Power Tunnels (LPT) project.
The LPT project will see the construction of 32 kilometres of underground tunnels in London, which will be used to supply residents of the British capital with power for decades to come.
Link to the story is here. 


Driving is normally fun, but waiting for a parking spot can be miserable.  ParkMe is an App that finds you a parking spot - - a real-time database of available spaces and prices.

Graph of the week

The 2013 Critical Infrastructure Symposium

I had the opportunity and privilege to attend the 2013 Critical Infrastructure Symposium: Advancing Full Spectrum Resilience at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. this week.  Resilience in the context of our national infrastructure will be increasingly important - - probably just as important as sustainability.  The future of our public and private infrastructure will probably be defined in the very near future in terms of both resilience and sustainable. 

Several terms and words were utilized during the symposium that infrastructure engineers need to start to understand and focus more attention on.  In a world marked by more and more events like Hurricane Sandy, response and recovery activities will be critical tasks for engineers.  The goal is to provide greater engineering leadership to improve current practices and policies to advance regional and national infrastructure security and resilience.  Be thinking about the following in the context of infrastructure resilience:
  • Public-Private Partnerships
  • Change, Adapt, Move
  • Technology to aid decision making and a common operating picture (one of the metrics of an effective asset management program)
  • Bottom-up relationships
  • System interdependencies (the #1 term during the conference that I heard)
  • Need for system thinking and system engineering
  • Supply chain coordination
  • Imagination
  • Risk of the wastewater treatment infrastructure (Sandy illustrated this - seems this was a huge problem and significant risk with more future extreme weather events)
  • Utilities not recognized as first responders
  • GIS
  • Communication and trust
  • Making the business case for resiliency
  • Testing/tracking assumptions
  • Performance based engineering
  • Serviceability and safety
  • Consequences based approach
  • Operational culture of resiliency
  • Asset management (reciliency as a key function under asset management)
  • System performance, recovery time/cost
  • Condition Index
  • Spatial awareness and critically (where "stuff" is and who knows where the "stuff" is -  still a huge problem)
  • Proximity factors
  • "Learn as you listen"
  • "To protect everything, you protect nothing"
  • 16 critical infrastructure sectors (Name them?)
  • Private sector runs and operates approximately 85% of the national infrastructure (when you list the 16, it will make sense)
  • Single point of failure
  • Re-image
  • Risk map and risk mapping (great idea as part of an asset managment program)
  • "Stuck on stupid"
  • Mapping for the purpose of understanding relationships (the definition of GIS)
  • Business continuity and importance during recovery
  • Pattern recognition
  • Dutch (as in Dutch engineers and engineering)
  • New defintion of 100-year events
  • Climate change assumptions
  • Moral hazard
  • System gaps and vulerability
  • Funding bad solutions
  • "People live off of history"

Effective Asset Management

Look for asset management to mature to the point where you start having standards and program/process certifications. 

This is one example:

The first such guidelines appeared in the form of ISO50001, a specification created by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) for establishing, implementing, maintaining and improving energy management. However while this was welcomed by the industry as a key step in the shift towards greater professionalism in asset management, some argue it was limited in its scope.

When PAS 55, Asset Management Publicly Available Specification (PAS) was published in 2008 by the Institute of Asset Management (IAM) in collaboration with British Standards Institute (BSI), many felt it was more encompassing of asset management practices overall, more insightful and thorough, and included within it much of the information deemed to be absent in ISO 50001.

PAS 55 covers the lifecycle management of assets, establishing a framework for trade-offs between performance, cost and risk. It provides objectivity across 28 aspects of asset management, from lifecycle strategy to everyday maintenance against the parameters of cost, risk and performance. It enables the integration of all aspects of the asset lifecycle: from the first recognition of a need to design, acquisition, construction, commissioning, utilisation or operation, maintenance, renewal, modification and/or ultimate disposal. It also provides a common language for cross-functional discussion and provides the framework for understanding how individual parts fit together, and how the many mutual interdependencies can be handled and optimised.

Link to the article with additional details.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pecha Kucha

Are you really tired of boring engineers and their presentations at conferences - - blah, blah, blah?  Or maybe you are in the public sector and you have to listen to engineers (probably the same ones from the conferences) and their "explain the world" presentations for 35 minutes over four days.

Add some innovation and creativity to the process - - engineers talking about innovation and creativity utilizing a innovative and creative process.  Try Pecha Kucha.  Developed in Japan by architects and designers to share ideas.  Literally translated as "chit chat" - - you have 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide with automatic advance.  So, you have 6 minutes and 40 seconds maximum to do your thing.  The time constraint focuses greater attention and concentration on exactly what your thing is.  You end up with more meaningful and purposeful messaging and far less blah, blah, blah.

Every worldly problem and solution should be explainable in a little over 6 minutes - - over the years engineering has drifted to far into blah, blah, blah territory and away from Pecha Kucha.  Start working on explaining the world in under 7 minutes.


Waterfind is a water information and trading company focused on the Australian water markets.  I can see this type of firm providing a valuable service in Texas and the Southwestern United States.  Water trading potentially exists in the future, but the information service has huge potential right now - - at the state level but also in terms of regions.  Pricing information, storage levels, allocation, rainfall, forecasts, etc. - - a Water Market Information Center in real-time with access to historic information.  The world of open-sourced big data on eveything water meets the world of GIS data visualization and real-time sensors that allows organizations and policy makers to start thinking of water in terms of markets - - where markets are defined by the metrics of supply, demand, regulations, price, etc.

Texas Rain Catcher Award Winner

The winner is the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District.

The Great Lakes Century

Monday, April 15, 2013

Engineering As The Fourth Science

The United States needs more homegrown engineers.  Fewer than 5% of American college students graduate with engineering degrees.  We not only need innovation in the commercial sense, but we also need it in the academic.  Check out The Next Generation Science Standards as a means to add applied science and engineering to the high school classroom.  Teaching engineering as the fourth science will challenge students with practical problems that opens up a world of opportunities.

Engineering in a World of Screens and Mobile Phones

These are two new books that were recently published that are on my reading list.

The Age of the Image: Literacy in a World of Screens by Stephen Apkon is the first.  This should be required reading for the folks at ASCE that publish our national infrastructure report card.  In the unthinking age of the image, we engineers constantly forget that we are in an era with a new literacy.  We make our infrastructure report cards dense and deep with words and the occasional high school level graphic that are perfect for an age of logic and verbal argument. 

Engineering still relies too much on words (and we are not a words profession), where our declining infrastructure must also be wrapped with images (and we are a truly great images profession).  From highways to dams to airports, our most trusted collective sense is eyesight.  YouTube "uploads" can help craft our new infrastructure message (the word "upload" needs to be strongly embedded in engineering, technology, and innovation). 

Policy makers and the public need to understand visually - - the perceiving, absorbing, and interpreting of our physical decline on a screen.  If some portion of our national infrastructure is graded D+ (and it has been for five straight years)), show the public what this means in terms of a screen in the Age of Images.

The second book is The Great Indian Phone Book by Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey.  In 1947, India had only 100,000 phones.  India currently has more than 900 million telephone subscribers, 96% of which are mobile users.  In the context of either new technology or innovation with old technology, engineers must be interested in the "what it all means" question. 

The social, cultural, environmental, and economic impacts must become part of the engineering equation of technological change.  How does a single cell phone transform a individual, family, or village?  How does technology make it easier and cheaper to do business while improving the quality of life for residents in the megacities of the developing world?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Texas Streamflow Index (SFI)

Animation graphics on Texas drought information - - link.


Innovyze is a good example of the new breed of powerful tools for infrastructure asset management - - in this case water and wastewater systems.  Part management, modeling, and planning tool - - Innovyze also has a powerful decision support platform.  These types of decision support tools combine engineering and behavioral psychology around the reality of limited funding for infrastructure management, maintenance, and improvements.

Decision support systems attempt to help people and organizations address the "want-should" question - - What we want to do versus what we should do.  The goal is to reduce the conflict people struggle with regarding multiple goals.  Infrastructure asset management is typically a struggle with things management and the public thinks they should do and those they want to do.  When do I need to rehabilitate the old lift station versus expanding the interceptor by the city park?  This conflict typically takes place in an environment in which management does not have complete and accurate information; for example, incomplete condition assessments, outdated hydraulic modeling, limited cost data, no real-time flow information, etc.  We want to make good decisions about the future with a poor understanding of the present and the past.

Look for decision support systems being the norm in all types of asset management going into the future.  The "want-should" conflict and question is going to increasingly drive how we think about managing our public investments.  The goal of systems like Innnovyze is to improve governance in the context of infrastructure management - - we all want more reflection and choice and less decision making by accident and force.

Consider the following from the Harvard Business Review Blog, Fixing the World's Infrastructure.  Most engineers worlding in the infrastructure markets will face a future of many, many "want-should" decision points:

Just to keep pace with anticipated global GDP growth, the world needs to spend $57 trillion, or on average $3.2 trillion a year, on infrastructure over the next 18 years. That's more than the entire worldwide stock of infrastructure on the ground today — and nearly 60% more than the world has invested over the past 18 years. Tackling maintenance backlogs, future-proofing infrastructure to cope with climate change, and meeting development goals such as access to clean water and all-weather roads to transport goods to markets would cost a great deal more.

Locking Into A More Expensive Cost Structure

This is insightful, from the April 12, 2013 edition of the Financial Times - More buck, less bang by Sylvia Pfeifer and Guy Chazan:

"The increasing sophistication of Big Oil has made crude more costly.  That, combined with rising oil demand from the emerging economies of Asia, is partly why the price of oil has more than quadrupled over the past 10 years, from about $25 a barrel in 2002 to $110 last year.  That in turn has meant soaring petrol prices that have only exacerbated the economic problems of the past four years.

Yet one of the most alarming elements of the increase in cost and complexity is that the majors have been getting much less of a bang for their buck.  According to Schlumberger, the oil services group, annual capital spending for the industry has more than tripled in the past 10 years , reaching $500 billion in 2011.  But all this expenditure is not delivering.  Last year, Bernstein says, the European majors failed to find enough new oil and gas to replace what they had produced , chalking up a reserve replacement ratio of only 92 per cent.

More alarming still is that oil majors' seeming inability to deliver the new generation of multibillion dollar "megaprojects" on time and on budget.  A recent study by Independent Project Analysis shows the average big exploration and production project is 22 per cent late and 25 per cent over budget."

The Energy-Water Nexus may be producing a similar track for water - - where water is "locking into a more expensive cost structure."  The language of energy and water is increasingly the same - - searching in remote areas, increasing sophistication, cutting edge, new frontiers, nothing new, mature production, loss of control, etc.  It is the language of a different cost structure looking into the future.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Graph of the week

The impact on engineering if we all died at 40?

This is an interest post - - link.  Tyler Cowen looks at the question from the eyes of an economist - - the issue clearly has complex social and economic ramifications.  His comment regarding the decline of innovation is interesting.  No iPod, iPhone, or iPad if we all just don't wake up once the clock strikes midnight on the 40th?

Friday, April 12, 2013


Great idea and design - - design thinking meets the developing world.  This is the link.

No Stagnation in Technology Innovation and Development

I had the opportunity to look at a Yeti cooler in a Buc-ee's  on the way to Houston this week (only in Texas has the roadside service station evolved into a creation like a Buc-ee's).  A Yeti represents our technological commitment to colder beer.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Advice For A Changing World

This is a very good book - - 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years by Jorgen Randers.  Sobering but realistic, the importance of the book lies in getting engineers to start thinking about the future.  None of the forecasts could come true, but many fall into the 50/50 category that will require careful thought and deliberation as to a course of action over the next 40-years.  Resource constraints, population growth, climate change, and extreme weather events all add additional risk and uncertainty to this new 50/50 future.  Picking the wrong path or mis-managing a coin toss further reduces the economic, environmental, and social operating space as we approach 2052.

Based on the ideas presented in the book, Randers came up with his list of twenty pieces of personal advice looking 40-years into the future:

  1. Focus on Satisfaction Rather Than Income.
  2. Do Not Acquire a Taste for Things That Will Disappear.
  3. Invest in Great Electronic Entertainment and Learn to Prefer It.
  4. Don't Teach Your Children to Love the Wilderness.
  5. If You Like Great Biodiversity, Go See It Now.
  6. Visit World Attractions before They Are Ruined by the Crowd.
  7. Live in a Place That Is Not Overly Exposed to Climate Change.
  8. Move to a Country That Is Capable of Decision Making.
  9. Know the Unsustainabilities That Threaten Your Quality of Life.
  10. If You Can't Stand a Job in Services or Care, Go into Energy Efficiency or Renewables.
  11. Encourage Your Children to Learn Mandarin.
  12. Stop Believing That All Growth Is Good.
  13. Remember That Your Fossil-Based Assets - Suddenly One Day - Will Lose Their Value.
  14. Invest in Things That Are Not Sensitive to Social Unrest.
  15. Do More Than Your Fair Share - to Avoid a Bad Conscience in the Future.
  16. In Business, Explore the Business Potential in Current Unsustainabilties.
  17. In Business, Don't Confuse Growth in Volume with Growth in Profits.
  18. In Politics, If You Want Reelection, Support Only Initiatives with Short-Term Benefits.
  19. In Politics, Remember That the Future Will Be Dominated by Physical Limits.
  20. In Politics, Accept That Equal Access to Limited Resources Will Trump Free Speech.

The Israeli Water Authority

Keep an eye on things coming out of the Israeli Water Authority.  It has built its supply strategy on recycled wastewater and desalination.  Eighty percent of the country's wastewater is recycled for agricultural use.  Most of Israeli's drinking water comes from reverse osmosis desalination.

With huge natural gas fields off the coast of Israel, look for them to be one of innovation leaders in the water-energy nexus.

A sentence to ponder

From Bloomberg Businessweek on April 1, 2013 - -

"The number of Walmart stores in the U.S. grew 13 percent while the worker rolls shrank by 1.4 percent."

Houston Ozone Map

This is the only one of its kind in Texas - - Houston Ozone Map App.  The data on the App is updated nearly every five minutes - - we are getting close to real-time information regarding environmental attributes and tools for citizens to avoid such things as smog.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Grading the Grader on U.S. Infrastructure

See the post from Bloomberg and be sure and link to the other reports referenced in this document.

Also read the comments from readers.

No Stagnation in Technology Innovation and Development

Always Be Willing to Surf the Next Technology Wave

The New York Times had a wonderful profile of Roger Ebert in the April 8, 2013 edition - - Roger Ebert As a Builder Of an Empire.  The article highlighted Ebert's career and may accomplishments.  Engineers should study his career - - it is a template for how a lone microplayer can become a brand.

Ebert is also important in the context of how technology can shape and structure a career.  Ebert had his start in the age of paper (The Chicago Sun-Times) and ended it in the age of blogging and Twitter.  The old man of newspapers ended his career with over 20,000 blog posts and 840,000 followers.  As technology changed, he changed successfully, reinventing himself time and time again.  From newspaper to PBS to cable to blogging to Twitter - - Ebert fully utilized the changing tools at his disposal.  This is a very wise lesson for the engineering professions.

From the last paragraph in the article:

"For writers and media companies looking for yet more ways to adjust to the digital age, Mr. Ebert demonstrated that it is much easier to surf a wave enthusiastically than to crankily swim against it.  Great writing, constant reinvention and an excitement about what comes next seem to have done the trick for him.  And besides, typing your way off this mortal coil is not a bad way to go."

Corporate Naming Rights for Your Local Waterway?

How do you protect an urban river from pollution?  The Sustainable Raritan River Initiative in New Jersey might be a good case study to explore this question.  Check the report that the local engineering council completed - - Our Blue and Green Infrastructure: New Directions for Stormwater, Flood Mitigation and Management in the Raritan River Basin.  I wonder if "open-sourced" solutions are coming to the public sector?  Critical questions are put forth to the public on some type of "open-sourced" platform - - the goal being a rich and multidisciplinary range of discussions and potential solutions from talented, concerned, and most impacted citizens, community leaders, or just clever people with really good ideas.

This is interesting from the engineering report in the section on funding alternatives.  Maybe Lake Starbucks or Jack-In-The-Box Creek - - would corporate naming rights  of our water resources and public infrastructure (i.e., The Texas Instruments Water Reuse Municipal Center) be the ultimate in public-private partnerships?

Another means of project funding could be to develop a program for corporations and entities which would give them the opportunity to be good environmental neighbors and give them stewardship of an area of the river. It should be a good green neighbor opportunity and the participating corporation would receive good publicity from their sponsorship while providing an ecological benefit. This could be modeled off of the "Adopt-a-Highway" program.


The world of drones, in this case drones developed on an open-source platform, are coming to the world of sailing and oil spill cleanup.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Autodesk's ReCap

Can a City be Certified as Carbon Neutral?

The answer appears to be yes - - see the link to what Melbourne, Australia has accomplished.

City of Dallas Neighborhood Investment Program (NIP)

Engineering is often seen as a catalyst for needed social change and development.  Revitalization and quality of life issues have a strong engineering component - - in many ways we are tasked with the  "social re-engineering" of a community or neighborhood.  Many of the best "social re-engineering" programs are organized and managed as citizen-directed public-private collaboration and transformation efforts.  Engineers and planners from the private sector that want to create a vibrant community in South Dallas need to have the following on the back of their business cards - - "Private Sector, Public Interest."

Check out the South Dallas/Greater Fair Park Community Revitalization Plan.

The Desalination Project

Monday, April 8, 2013

Best Song Lyrics of the Week - - Merry Go Round

From Texas singer and song writer Kacey Musgraves.  Maybe the best chorus in history - - "Mamas hooked on Mary Kay . . . ."

If you ain't got two kids by 21,
You're probably gonna die alone
At least that's what tradition told you.

And it don't matter if you don't believe,
Come Sunday morning you best be there
In the front row, like you're s'posed to.

Same hurt in every heart.
Same trailer, different park.

Mamas hooked on Mary Kay
Brothers hooked on Mary Jane
And Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.

Mary Mary quite contrary,
We get bored so we get married
And just like dust we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go,
Where it stops nobody knows...
And it ain't slowin' down, this merry go 'round...

We think the first time's good enough,
So we hold on to high school love,
Say we won't end up like our parents.

Tiny little boxes in a row,
Ain't what you want it's what you know,
Just happy in the shoes you're wearin'.

Same checks we're always cashin',
To buy a little more distraction.

Cause Mamas hooked on Mary Kay
Brothers hooked on Mary Jane
Daddys hooked on Mary two doors down.

Mary Mary quite contrary,
We get bored so we get married
And just like dust we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go,
Where we stop nobody knows...
And it ain't slowin' down, this merry go 'round...

Mary Mary quite contrary,
We're so bored until we're buried.
And just like dust we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round...
Merry go 'round...

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
Jack burned out on booze and pills,
And Mary had a little lamb,
Mary just don't give a damn no more.

What is EWICON?

EWICON stands for Electrostatic Wind Energy Converter.  Basically a bladeless windmill which creates energy by letting charged water (another good example of the water-energy nexus) particles  blow against the direction of an electric field.

Texas Water 2013

Texas Water 2013 is this week in Galveston.  The largest water trade show in the southwest and one of the largest in the world, it is an annual event where water resources meets the everything-is-bigger mentality of Texas culture.  It is also the place where our current situation, much of Texas in a drought since the fall of 2010, meets a collective reality - - no water equals no business.

Water engineers, managers, and policy makers ought to run out and get a copy of "Big, Hot, Cheap and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas" by Erica Grieder, before they head to the coast for Texas Water 2013.  Ms. Grieder is a onetime correspondent for The Economist who now writes for the Texas Monthly.  The book covers the Texas Model - - weak state government, with few taxes and fewer regulations and services.  Ms. Grieder writes that our key to economic growth is because we are "pragmatic, fiscally conservative, socially moderate and slightly disengaged", with people that are "tolerant, optimistic, and results-oriented."  We are sometimes viewed as obnoxious right-wingers, but in 2009 Houston became the country's largest city to elect an openly gay mayor.  The book is correct - - "Texans are, ultimately, a pragmatic people."

It will be interesting to see how water resource development and management interfaces with the notions of big, hot, cheap, and right.  In the context of water resources, "bigness" can be a burden (it also produces opportunities).  Half of Texas has historically been water rich with the other half water poor.  But getting rich to poor is difficult - - just driving from east Texas to west Texas takes more than a day.  Also, our geographic bigness produces huge opportunities for population growth.  My part of Texas (North Texas of Dallas and Fort Worth) is expected to grow from six million to almost ten million over the next 20 years.  The Texas population of 26 million is expected to grow by 80% by 2060.

The hot part has gotten the recent attention.  We are hot, dry, and parched over most of the state.  Texas is under water restrictions, in some cases severe, in most parts of the state.  The state's water plan, released last year, recommends spending $57 billion (in 2013 dollars) over the next half-century to ensure there is enough water to go around.  Hot is forcing the state to look north and south.  Texas is suing neighboring states to get more water.  The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in two weeks in one of these cases, in which the authority that supplies water in Fort Worth and fast-growing surrounding communities is demanding more water from Oklahoma.  With abundant natural gas resources and leadership that understands the "water-energy nexus" - - look for the Texas coast becoming the Silicon Valley of desalination technology.  Texas isn't a straight pro-business state.  It is (and will always be) pro-Texas business - - Texas businesses will work hard to solve Texas problems.

Cheap is going to be a challenge given big and hot.  Don't expect Texas to consider wild and expensive ideas, like piping water from the Missouri River.  Texas leadership does understand a simple fact - - water is increasingly becoming a national concern.  Economics will rise and fall on the availability of water, whose price is inexorably marching upward. 

Cheap and right are going to become more intertwined.  The "right" part will allow Texas to look outside the box.  Texas has a long tradition of looking outside the government for support  - - and often finding it (as we are currently doing in the transportation markets).  This predates the Texas revolution and was reinforced by the rise of the cattle kingdoms and the oil booms.  Public-private partnerships are coming to the Texas water markets, but their impact on cheap will be debated.  Despite growing interest in public-private partnerships, these bring no new money to the table that is not available from traditional municipal bonds.  These water public-private partnerships will work only if the public sector makes astute decisions about which risks are best handled by the public sector, and which are not.

Yesterday the New York Times had an excellent story on Texas water problems, Getting Serious About a Texas-Sized Drought.

From the article:

Texas does not and will not have enough water” in a bad drought, the state’s water plan warned last year. More than two dozen communities could run out of water in 180 days, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Looking ahead, the already-dry western half of the state is expected to be hit particularly hard by climate change. State leaders generally accept such projections, even as they question the scientific consensus that humans are a major cause of climate change.
Officials from Gov. Rick Perry on down are focused on expanding water supplies. Doing nothing could create “a reputation that Texas is not a business-friendly state,” State Representative Lyle Larson, a Republican, warned fellow lawmakers last month. Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, agrees. “Clearly, not having an adequate water supply will harm us in terms of bringing jobs to Texas and is doing so now, already,” he said recently.

From the same article and an excellent way to start Texas Water 2013:

Wes Perry, an oilman who doubles as Midland’s mayor, put it this way recently: as valuable as oil and gas are, he said, “we are worthless without water.”

Underground with the Triple Bottom Line

Sustainability development and Triple Bottom Line (TBL) concerns are typically focused in the context of life on the surface of the planet.  Rarely do we consider the broad environmental, economic, and social impacts associated with our vast infrastructure resources that lie below our feet. 

Ignoring the underground in terms of the TBL is slowly changing.  The National Research Council recently released Underground Engineering for Sustainable Urban Development that addresses the need for a more integrated and holistic approach to planning, design, and construction in the underground matrix.  Engineers, infrastructure managers, and policy makers should read this report.  The world of underground infrastructure is the perfect laboratory to explore and develop sustainability policies and standards.

It is an area of the infrastructure market that is in need of innovation - - from data visualization to robotic construction to enhanced risk assessment/mitigation modeling - - that supports sustainability over the entire life-cycle.  Climate change concerns and adaptation mitigation strategies will force engineers to move broadly to consider the sustainability issues of system interdependency, vulnerabilities, complexity, and adaptability.  Our underground "mental matrix" must change to accommodate the need for broader and more innovative thinking regarding the TBL for the under world.

Any discussion regarding the TBL and sustainability issues must also take into consideration the importance of the interdisciplinary nature of our underground.  The underground infrastructure space is a complex mixture of transportation infrastructure, private utility service providers, building foundations, and public infrastructure.  Collaboration, communication, and coordination will be critical in the TBL of the underground.  Thinking in terms of the complete service life-cycle will be especially important - - activities such as access for inspections, maintenance, repairs, upgrades, and reconfigurations are key for thinking about a more sustainable underground.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Buckland & Taylor

One of my favorite weekly columns is Creating in the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal.  Each week the columan profiles an individual in a creative or innovative endeavor.  About half the profiles are of engineers (the WSJ should publish a book with the best profiles).  Put Creating on your reading list.

This past week covered bridge engineer Murray Johnson of Buckland & Taylor.  Mr. Johnson excels at the art and science of truss sliding - - a process described in the article as " performing open-heart surgery on the runner while he's running a marathon."

This is a great observation from the article, especially in the context of our fixation with a paperless profession and industry:

"Mr. Johnson goes through a lot of paper, drafting thousands of pages of calculations, drawings and diagrams."

Link to the article in the Journal - - Feats of Bridge-Building Bravura.

MEMCOR CP Membrane Water Filtration System

 Siemens' pressurized pre-engineered MEMCOR CP Membrane Water Filtration System - - Link.

Additional information on the membrane/filtration markets - - Link.