Monday, September 30, 2013

Engineers Love Big Cities

Six cities - in order, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, New York City, Houston, Denver, and San Diego - account for almost 13 percent of science and engineering employees nationwide.

Check out the report by the National Science Foundation on STEM geographic concentrations.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The World's First Precast Network-Arch Bridge

Currently under construction in Fort Worth, Texas by Sundt Construction.  The bridge is a series of 12 post-tensioned concrete arches, six on each side, which are the main structural elements.  Each arch is 163 feet long and over 23 feet tall.  While the new bridge will remain with four traffic lanes, it will be much wider to incorporate lanes outside the arches for pedestrians and cyclists.

The plan calls for building the precast arches off-site, with expected total bridge closure time of no more than 150 days.

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Free Exchange column of the September 28, 2013 Economist - The Mission Millions:

"Between 2007 and 2012 the number of applicants for DI [disability insurance] shot up from 11.2 per 1,000 working-age people to 14.  Unpublished research by Mary Daly of the San Francisco Fed, Richard Burkhauser of Cornell University and Brian Lucking, a graduate student, estimates that this rise in applications equates to 2.6 m people.  Depending on how many of those applications are eventually awarded benefits, this could explain between 31% and 59% of the decline in participation among 16-to-64-year olds."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Marketing Idea of the Week

The $2 bill as part of our advertising budget?  Link to the story.

Scientists More Certain Humans Are Heating the Planet | MIT Technology Review

Scientists More Certain Humans Are Heating the Planet | MIT Technology Review

Project Management Question of the Week

You are the project manager for the manufacturing of a piston pump custom made for the client.  Along with the project team, you have determined what will be done when uncertain events occur and who will be the person responsible for monitoring and controlling the risks.  What has just been completed for this project?
  • Quantitative risk analysis
  • Risk responses planning
  • Risk identification
  • Qualitative risk analysis

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Business of Breaking Bad

From the Schumpeter column in the Economist this week - - The "Breaking Bad" School:

"Three things help our chemistry teacher turn an insight into a flourishing business. The first is huge ambition. He is not in the “meth business” or the “money business”, he says. He is in the “empire business”. The second is product obsession. Other dealers might peddle “Mexican shoe-scrapings” on the ground that addicts care little about quality. He produces the king of meth, so pure that it turns blue, and would rather destroy an entire batch than let an inferior product be traded under his brand. The third is partnerships and alliances. He spots talent in a former pupil turned drug-dealer, Jesse Pinkman, and forms a strong working relationship with him. He also contracts distribution to a succession of local gangs so that he can concentrate on the higher-value-added part of the business: cooking and quality control.

Again Mr White is not alone. There is a reason people talk of business empires: tycoons like Rupert Murdoch are latter-day Caesars, fixated on conquering new territories. Steve Jobs eventually outcompeted Microsoft because he was so painstaking in perfecting Apple’s products. Partnerships are the heart of a striking number of businesses: whether Larry Page and Sergey Brin or Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger—or indeed Goldman and Sachs or Hewlett and Packard. As for contracting out distribution, it is de rigueur for high-growth start-ups.

“Breaking Bad” is even sharper on the forces of destruction in business. Mr White’s relationship with his partner falls apart. He is regularly in conflict with his distributors. And he sucks at work-life balance. Being in the meth business gives a unique twist to all these problems. His relationship with his partner is shattered by his leaving one of Mr Pinkman’s girlfriends to die of an overdose and poisoning a subsequent girlfriend’s son. His relationship with his best distributor is undermined by the man’s scheme to engineer him out of the supply chain by learning his skills and killing him. His work-life balance is complicated by his reluctance to tell his wife he has become a meth dealer."

Big Data on Water

From the Babbage column:

"Two days later when racing resumed on Race Day Five the Oracle boat looked different with a much shorter bowsprit. Other less obvious modifications had also been made both to the foils and the wing, all approved as being within the rules by the race committee. Crunching the vast amount of data collected during races (about 3,000 variables are recorded ten times a second), closely analysing the performance of the rival boat and testing the effectiveness of apparently tiny adjustments on virtual models run through a supercomputer, mathematicians and designers had been working night and day to make the boat faster. And they had."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

L.A. to Treat Contaminated Groundwater for City Use

L.A. to Treat Contaminated Groundwater for City Use

New Army Corps of Engineers Financing Tools Are on the Horizon | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

New Army Corps of Engineers Financing Tools Are on the Horizon | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Underground Science City

When you cannot grow up, the only alternative could be to grow down.  Check out what Singapore is considering: 

"But as one of the world’s most crowded cities, and with projections for 1.5 million more people in the next 15 years, Singapore’s options are as limited as its space. So Singapore is considering a novel solution: building underground to create an extensive, interconnected city, with shopping malls, transportation hubs, public spaces, pedestrian links and even cycling lanes."

"Calatrava bleeds you dry"

The Age of Blogs and Social Media can be ugly for the stars of the design profession.  Check out the Web site - - link.  Even famed engineer/architect Santiago Calatrava is open to attack in a very public forum. 

See the New York Times story - - A Star Architect Leaves Some Clients Fuming (link).  A sentence to ponder from the article:

"He was paid even when repairing his own mistakes."  (In this context, $127 million, for a project budgeted at $409 million that climbed to $944 million.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Climate Change Road Trip

This is interesting - - a travel log across the United States that looks at how people are adapting to climate change.  Link to the blog.

Radar Technologies International

Firms that actually find water could be of considerable value in the future - - check out Radar Technologies International.  From their website:

"The WATEX™ - short for "water exploration" - System is a unique field-proven proprietary technology that prospects and explores sub-surface water, soils and geology in order to enable and support effective hydrogeological investigations with optimal certainty. It is the result of years of research and development by RTI.

Using the WATEX™ technology, RTI produces groundwater target maps which:
  • Provide a regional view of water resources
  • Identify shallow water aquifers and their potential
  • Identify deep-water aquifers
  • Increase drilling success rate to between 75% and 95%
The ground water target maps produced with WATEX™ are designed for decision-makers, policy-makers and drillers. WATEX™ is a game-changer in terms of water exploration allowing decision-makers to initiate larger scale water development and management projects.

WATEX™ achieves rapid, accurate mapping of groundwater potential thanks to its transdisciplinary and multi-technological design, which comprises a calculated mix of space-based remote-sensing and oil exploration technologies and conventional hydrogeological techniques.

A particularly innovative feature of WATEX™ is the WATEX™ image processing component, which detects groundwater moisture in depths of 40 meters or more and enables accurate modeling of aquifers and fractures in shallow depths (0-100 meters). WATEX™ also maps deep aquifers from 100 meters to 4,000 meters with the integration of petroleum industry data.

RTI can implement the WATEX™ technology without prior knowledge of the area and without pre-existing data. As a matter of fact most regions in which WATEX™ was used by RTI had no existing geologic or hydrogeological maps."

Also check out the following article in the New York Times - - Huge Aquifers Are Discovered in North Kenya.

Engineering Picture of the Week

Insect gear - -

From the following article - - This Insect Has The Only Mechanical Gears Ever Found in Nature | Surprising Science.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The 2% Percent

In California it is the 8% - - Pot grow houses eat 8 percent of California’s residential electricity use.  The link to the report.

"The study estimates that indoor pot-growing operations in the United States burn about $5 billion worth of electricity a year, or about 2 percent of national residential power consumption. The carbon emissions from these operations equal those of about 3 million cars."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

CH2M Hill Names Global Unit Chief Jacqueline Hinman As Corporation's Next CEO | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

CH2M Hill Names Global Unit Chief Jacqueline Hinman As Corporation's Next CEO | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Drought-Racked Las Vegas Starts Emergency Fix To Keep Water Flowing | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Drought-Racked Las Vegas Starts Emergency Fix To Keep Water Flowing | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

How to Design a City for Women

How to Design a City for Women

This is a great point from the article - -

Women used public transit more often and made more trips on foot than men. They were also more likely to split their time between work and family commitments like taking care of children and elderly parents. Recognizing this, city planners drafted a plan to improve pedestrian mobility and access to public transit.

Project Management Question of the Week

On month three, a project has a planned value of $300, an actual cost of $220, and an earned value of $250.  The budget at completion on month six is $600.  What would be the cost variance and the schedule performance index?
  • 30 / 0.83
  • -50 / 1.2
  • -50 / 1.14
  • 30 / 0.88
Cost variance: CV=EV-AC

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Black & Veatch : Smart Infrastructure (AMI) in the Water Industry

Black & Veatch : Smart Infrastructure (AMI) in the Water Industry


Engineering and the Decline of Stuff

Stuff is in decline.  Look at your desk.  The desktop has been replaced by the laptop which will shorty be replaced by you iPhone.  At some point in time, the idea of an actual desk will be challenged.  If the desk gets challenged, then so will the building and all the stuff that makes up a building.  Amazon sells stuff, but it also makes a whole bunch of the retail supporting infrastructure stuff rather hard to justify.  Books, magazines, newspapers - - paper stuff is clearly in decline.  Driving (and hence autos) are in decline.  Keep an eye on your utilization and consumption of stuff.  The history of engineering is the history of stuff.  How we think and use stuff has a profound impact on engineering.

See the blog from Nemo - Link.  From the post:

"The list goes on. If I did an inventory of how much steel, aluminum and the like I consume it has likely gone down a great deal and is comically less than what my parents consumed. Sure I spend a fair bit on services – publication subscriptions, Evernote, gym membership, Fitbit, going out to eat, etc. – but the central fact of my existence is that the material content has gone down markedly all the while my quality of life has improved markedly. It has also become increasingly similar to that of everyone else as Rick Bookstaber has observed."

IT Investment and City Government

From the City of Richardson, Texas -

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dry with chance of shortage | river, shortage, declared - Forecast for Colorado River Basin - YumaSun

Dry with chance of shortage | river, shortage, declared - Forecast for Colorado River Basin - YumaSun

Miami as a Smart City

The Innovation Deficit In Urban Water

Link to a fascinating paper.  The abstract:

Interaction between institutional change and technological change poses important constraints on transitions of

urban water systems to a state that can meet future needs. Research on urban water and other technology dependent

systems provides insights that are valuable to technology researchers interested in assuring that their

efforts will have an impact. In the context of research on institutional change, innovation is the development,

application, diffusion, and utilization of new knowledge and technology. This definition is intentionally inclusive:

technological innovation will play a key role in reinvention of urban water systems, but is only part of what

is necessary. Innovation usually depends on context, such that major changes to infrastructure include not only

the technological inventions that drive greater efficiencies and physical transformations of water treatment and

delivery systems, but also the political, cultural, social, and economic factors that hinder and enable such

changes. On the basis of past and present changes in urban water systems, institutional innovation will be of

similar importance to technological innovation in urban water reinvention. To solve current urban water infrastructure

challenges, technology-focused researchers need to recognize the intertwined nature of technologies

and institutions and the social systems that control change.

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the September 13, 2013 Wall Street Journal - Floods Soak Colorado Region Left Vulnerable by Fires:

"The large wildfires that wiped out swaths of forest land in the central area of the state during the past two years have exacerbated flooding conditions and sent debris-filled water careening down from the mountains, accord to the National Weather Service."

What is the Future of Water?

Water as the next big issue.  Water in the context of drought and scarcity.  Water and the energy nexus.  Water in need of additional public funding.  Water rates need to increase.  Water priced to cost and not value.  Water in need of innovation.

Maybe - Only 5 percent of the $4.3 billion in VC money invested in the clean tech industry goes to water technologies.

Water as a very slowing moving monopolistic industry and doesn't get risk management in the context of innovation and disruptive technologies is a large potential problem as we search for new supplies and practices.

Friday, September 13, 2013

AECOM's Take on P3s

Link to the White Paper.

Movie Trailer of the Week

Seeing Climate Change as an Engineering Opportunity

 From a recent Atlantic Cites post - link:

"Develop a set of land-use priorities. Infrastructure, including transportation networks, sewage treatment plants, solid waste facilities, energy supply and distribution systems, utilities, and public health facilities demand the highest priorities for adaptation, whether by protection, accommodation (some utility distribution systems could be made submergible; other system elements could be raised or made floatable); or by retreat to higher ground. In any case, for this essential infrastructure, higher flood standards need to be considered (such as the 0.2%/year flood elevations), and margins for sea level rise must be added that are in a time horizon commensurate with the expected lifetime of the facility itself. New rights of way will need to be relocated from low-lying areas to higher elevations.

These measures should be seen as an opportunity. The benefits of rebuilding more resiliently and at safer grounds can catalyze the modernization of what, for many municipalities, has become antiquated infrastructure. Subways, other mass transit systems, and road tunnels should be reconsidered before they become victims to ever more frequent saltwater flooding. Rail systems along the East Coast are a century old in their basic designs, and are located at ever more flood prone elevations and locations. Facing up to the demands imposed by climate change provides us with an opportunity to see a long overdue high-speed train network connecting storm-resilient cities."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Counting The Cost of Fixing The Future

A paragraph to ponder from the New York Times (September 10, 2013) - European Rail Crashes Show Gap in an Increasingly Precarious System:

"Starting new year, the European Union plans to spend $30 billion in 28 countries on transportation, much of it on rail modernization, to integrate about 20 intersecting national rail networks.  Yet even after years of such investment, member states have struggled to put in place a sophisticated unified system as state-owned monopolies gave way to private, competing train operators."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Material of the Decade - Graphyne

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you,  Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr, McGuire: Graphyne.
Benjamin: Exactly how to you mean?

This is an example of the "how" associated with Graphyne - - from MIT Technology Review, How Carbon Wonder-Materials Are Promising To Revolutionise Desalination:

"Conventional desalination plants that rely on reverse osmosis require a massive 1.5 kiloWatt-hours of electricity to produce 1 tonne of freshwater. Clearly a better approach is needed.

Today, Wanlin Guo and friends at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in China say they have identified just such a better way. The new technique involves a material known as graphyne, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms connected together much like graphene but with an altered structure because of double and triple bonds in certain places.

Graphyne is interesting because these double and triple bonds create holes between the carbon atoms that are large enough for water molecules to pass through. However, these holes are not big enough for sodium and chloride ions, which are larger because they attract a shell of water molecules since they are charged.

Graphyne can form in several configurations known as α-graphyne, β-graphyne, graphyne-3 and so on. Wanlin and co have created a computer simulation of the way that these membranes allow water molecules to pass through while sieving the various types of ions found in seawater.

Their conclusions are promising. They say that while water molecules can move freely back and forth through the holes in graphyne, none of the ions they simulated could pass through at all.

According to their calculations, a water molecule has to cross an energy barrier of less than 2 kcal/mol to pass through graphyne. By contrast, the energy barriers opposing the passage of sodium, potassium and chloride ions are in the region of 10 kcal/mol. And doubly charged ions such as magnesium and calcium face energy barriers as high as 60 kcal/mol.

“None of these ions can permeate through α-graphyne, β-graphyne and graphyne-3,” they say.
What’s more, Wanlin and co say that water passes through graphyne at a rate some two orders of magnitude faster than through the polymer membranes used in conventional reverse osmosis techniques.

There’s a caveat, of course. Nobody has ever been able to make graphyne of the type that these guys have simulated.

That may change in the near future. A couple of years ago, a team of Chinese chemists grew a different version of graphyne on a copper substrate, the first time that any type of graphyne had been synthesised.

So an important question is first whether this membrane material can actually be synthesised and whether it can be done on an industrial cost-effective scale. That’s no small challenge.
In the meantime, desalination is set to improve thanks to another carbon wonder material. Earlier this year, researchers from the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin announced that they had punched holes in sheets of graphene to produce a molecular sieve that removes sodium and chloride ions from seawater. This, they said, could desalinated seawater much more quickly and cheaply than existing methods."

Updated Rules of Survival

The revised numbers for the "Rule of Threes" - -
  • Three seconds without Internet connection or smart phone service.
  • Three minutes without air.
  • Thirty minutes without electricity.
  • Three days without water.
  • Three weeks without food.
More on water - - How to Survive Without Water.

The Difference Between Scarcity and Drought

A good look at the differences between the two terms - see How to distinguish water scarcity and drought in EU water policy?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Stantec Buys Drone

In Edmonton, Alberta, Stantec, a consulting company that uses aerial photography in its design and mapping business, recently bought a drone made by senseFly and has been training with it this past winter and spring.

From the Nevada Governor's Office of Economic Development - link.

"Other companies are beginning to integrate the technology into their business. Stantec, for example, recently purchased its first unmanned aerial vehicle to help with its mapping and topographical work. The small plane has a wingspan of almost one metre, weighs 630 grams and takes high-resolution pictures."

Engineering Storytelling

Engineering is a profession with a rich history of successful and interesting stories.  What we lack are a breed of storytellers - those that are great at selling the narrative (marketing is fundamentally about selling the narrative)..

Moth is a non-profit "storytelling organization" that teaches organizations and individuals the fine art of storytelling. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Building Clever Cities - - Data discussion with the Economist.

Drones in Construction

The new Trimble UX5 released in June.

Bridge In A Box

Engineering Consulting and the What Time is it Question

The "time question" is important in consulting.  Engineering consulting is no different.  Duff McDonald has written a new book that looks at the legendary management consulting firm McKinsey - The Firm.  From the book as told by a senior partner on why McKinsey is so different and successful:

"Let's say a client asks us what time it is . . . If you as Booz Allen, their response will be "What time do you want it to be?"  If you ask A.D. Little . . . they will tell you "It's 9:45:20, Greenwich Mean Time."  But if you ask McKinsey, we will say "Why do you want to know?  What decisions are you trying to make for which knowing the time would be helpful?""

Too often relationship management is viewed in the shallow waters of "What time do you want it be?"  Getting relationships (and brands) into deeper waters allows for a much fuller discussion in the context of "why" and the important "We need . . ." declaration from clients. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Are Engineers Getting Hosed by Firefighters?

Pavement replacement or a new fire truck?  Early retirement for the fire chief or a new pump station?  New emergency response radios or new bike trails?

Cities across the nation need to be spending more money on infrastructure renewal and upgrades.  We need to be spending much, much more money.  It is important that our local governments make better data-driven decisions on what has priority.  We clearly have limited fiscal resources and need leaders that are filling to make the hard decisions (great leaders understand the difference between a "tough" decision and a "hard" decision).

The how and why of fire department budgeting needs to be carefully examined.  Fear mongering and hero worship (engineers need a little more hero worship from the public) needs to be replaced with the hard data.  Ignoring the water resources part of fire safety by overly concentrating on the firefighting portion is the "easy" decision.

Check the report in the Boston Globe - Plenty of firefighters, but where are the fires?:

"But as a recent Globe story reported, city records show that major fires are becoming vanishingly rare. In 1975, there were 417 of them. Last year, there were 40. That’s a decline of more than 90 percent. A city that was once a tinderbox of wooden houses has become—thanks to better building codes, automatic sprinkler systems, and more careful behavior—a much less vulnerable place.

As this has happened, however, the number of professional firefighters in Boston has dropped only slightly, from around 1,600 in the 1980s to just over 1,400 today. The cost of running the department, meanwhile, has increased by almost $43 million over the past decade, and currently stands at $185 million, or around 7.5 percent of the city’s total budget."

Engineering is responsible for this huge improvement in fire safety, but are we the ones that ultimately are getting hosed?

Graph of the Week

Project Management Question of the Week

You are the project manager for the manufacturing of carousels for heavy products.  Last week you met with your work team to explain the requirements that need to be fulfilled in the project.  In that meeting you clarified that it is critical to not deviate from the requirements by the client.  Which quality process is this?
  • Total quality management
  • Quality assurance
  • Plan quality
  • Quality control

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mid-sized AEs Are Not Endangered, Says Survey of 35-Year ENR Top 500 Trends | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Mid-sized AEs Are Not Endangered, Says Survey of 35-Year ENR Top 500 Trends | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Interstate Bridges First to Use New Abutment Method

Interstate Bridges First to Use New Abutment Method

Work to Replace Collapsed Bridge Span Under Way

Work to Replace Collapsed Bridge Span Under Way

Water Law is Interesting

Civil engineers working in the area of water resources need to keep up with the world of water law.  Texas and the Southwestern U.S. has several interesting cases currently being litigated.

One case of interest is The Edwards Aquifer Authority vs. Bragg.  The Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio, Texas recently issued a ruling that restricting the amount of water that can be pumped from a well constitutes "compensable taking."  Look for the case to go to the Texas Supreme Court.

Water engineering and water law are becoming growth industries.

Why Are You So Smart, Aaron Shapiro?

Why Are You So Smart, Aaron Shapiro?

This is fascinating column to follow!!!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Great Book on Texas History

While in Bandera, Texas over the Labor Day weekend, I read a great book that I would highly recommend.  Empire of the Summer  Moon - Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne.  Part history of the Comanche nation, part history of the Southern Plains, part history of Texas - - after you read the book, driving across the San Saba River will feel a little different as you read about the San Saba Massacre of 1758. 

If you are going to recommend a book about Texas, you also have to recommend a bar in Texas.  My choice is the 11th Street Cowboy Bar in Bandera.  Check out the bra collection over the bar.

 A slide presentation of my pictures from the bull riding at the Bandera rodeo - -

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Golf Club Engineer

It's the Storm Path that Matters

Link to Model projections of atmospheric steering of Sandy-like superstorms in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.


Superstorm Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard of the United States, costing a great number of lives and billions of dollars in damage. Whether events like Sandy will become more frequent as anthropogenic greenhouse gases continue to increase remains an open and complex question. Here we consider whether the persistent large-scale atmospheric patterns that steered Sandy onto the coast will become more frequent in the coming decades. Using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, phase 5 multimodel ensemble, we demonstrate that climate models consistently project a decrease in the frequency and persistence of the westward flow that led to Sandy’s unprecedented track, implying that future atmospheric conditions are less likely than at present to propel storms westward into the coast.