Friday, January 31, 2014

What Is Engineering?

Engineering and Meta Cognitive Dissonance

From the pages of Arup - this is probably the #1 issue that engineers will have to deal with this century.

"There’s not a nation on Earth where the drive for increased economic growth isn’t still the dominant political shtick. And there’s not a nation on Earth that isn’t signed up (theoretically, at least) to the scientific consensus that we should be doing everything in our power to ensure that the average temperature increase by the end of the century stays below 2°C.

We’ve all heard of cognitive dissonance – the ability to hold two or more contradictory ideas at the same time. The paragraph above falls into a new category of Meta Cognitive Dissonance: the ability on the part of nation states to subscribe to two totally contradictory ‘big ideas’ in order to keep alive that even bigger idea of ‘progress’ as we’ve known it since the start of the Industrial Revolution."

Water Blues Green Solutions

Well done videos at the Water Blue Green Solutions site

The Snow-School Closure Index

Texas should be changed to the "threat of any snow" - just a forecast can generate mass hysteria and chaos.

Manhole Makeovers

This is a good reference document regarding the available materials and technologies associated with manhole renewal - link.  From the people at the Trenchless Technology Center at Louisiana Tech University.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Smart Rainwater Tanks

How Are Your Customers and Clients Coping With Managed Dissatisfaction?

Ken Auletta is the best at walking the layman through the mine fields of our changing media scene.  This is from his Outside the Box: Netflix and the future of television in the current issue of The New Yorker:

"Hastings [Reed Hastings, CEO of Netfix] has succeeded, in large part, by taking advantage of what he calls viewers' "managed dissatisfaction" with traditional television: each hour of programming is crammed with about twenty minutes of commercials and promotional messages for other shows.  Netfix carries no commercials; its revenue drives entirely from subscription fees.  Viewers are happy to pay a set fee, now eight dollars a month, in order to watch, uninterrupted, their choice of films or shows, whenever they want, on whatever device they want."

Hastings saw the future of television as more like a book - you control a book and timing of reading much differently than an episode of the Simpsons.

The article pointed out that Blockbuster should also get the Kodak-What-Was-I-Thinking Award.  In 2000 Netflix offered to sell a 49% stake to Blockbuster.

Mayors Weigh In on Energy, Water Infrastructure | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Mayors Weigh In on Energy, Water Infrastructure | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

We're All Becoming Israeli Engineers

How Israeli is your company or community?  This could be a key question in the era of climate change - for the rancher in West Texas, to the desert communities of Arizona.  The Israelis get hotter and drier - they get the need for innovation and engineering in the face of the inhospitable.  They get engineered supply-side solutions and a faith in capitalism.

Consider the points from McKenzie Funk in Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming:

"Because of climate change, we're all becoming Israelis now.  In Peru in 2009, a scientist won a World Bank award for his proposal to paint the Andes white and repel the sun's lethal heat. In India's Ladakh region, a retired engineer built a $50,000 artificial glacier in the shadow of the Himalayas, collecting runoff in rock-lined ponds that would freeze and attach to an existing glacier in winter.  In Spain, Barcelona became the first city in mainland Europe to resort to emergency water imports: 5 million gallons transported in 2008 in a converted oil tanker.  In China, the central government prepared to divert rivers at a scale the world had never seen: The $65 billion, a three-canal, 1,812 combined-mile South-North Water Transfer Project will someday move 4.5 trillion gallons each year from the Tibetan Plateau, home to nearly 40,000 melting glaciers, to the cities in the country's arid, industrializing north."

This Map Wants to Change How You Think About Your Commute

This Map Wants to Change How You Think About Your Commute

Goldman Sachs and Engineering Consulting Firms

The Fortune annual 100 Best Companies to Work For was released this month.  Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs was #1 - engineering consulting firms Burns & McDonnell (#14) and Kimley Horn & Associates (#73) also made the list.

This is great observation from Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfien on what type of individual makes it in their culture:

"You don't have to be the smartest person, but it's probably the highest combination of smart and interesting and interested-in-the-world kind of people."

The engineering consulting community should take notice - hiring for smart, interesting, and interested has long-term competitive advantage (and especially so, per the article, if you can get smart, interesting, and interested for 70-hours per week).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Getting Back to the Peak

The Last Sound System You Will Ever Want!!!!!!!!!!!!

How A New Science of Cities is Emerging From Mobile Phone Data Analysis | MIT Technology Review

How A New Science of Cities is Emerging From Mobile Phone Data Analysis | MIT Technology Review

A Paragraph to Ponder

From The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee -

"Of the 3.5 trillion photos that have been snapped since the first image of a busy Parisian street in 1838, fully 10 percent were taken in the last year.  Today, over 2.5 billion people have digital cameras and the vast majority of photos are digital.  The effects are astonishing: it has been estimated that more photos are now taken every two minutes than in all of the nineteenth century."

You messed up Kodak!!

Colorado River Augmentation Study

The word of the century in the context of water resources might be "augment" - as in what can we do to make a limited resource greater.

Great report on the subject - link.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Natural Gas Could Replace Diesel-Burning Trains: General Electric (GE) Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) Capitalizing On US Natural Gas Boom

Natural Gas Could Replace Diesel-Burning Trains: General Electric (GE) Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) Capitalizing On US Natural Gas Boom

Map of the Week

Large parts of the global economy are still "hilly" as the world "flattens" from the influence of globalization.  The music industry has its superstar "hubs" of influence in just a few locations.

Spatial Data Repository

Do You Need a Coach With Your Smart Racket?

How will coaching be impacted in the era of big data and smart tennis rackets, baseball bats, and golf clubs?  The "stick and racket" sports will be first, but smart training bowling balls and sensor/smart polo ponies have to be on the drawing board.

Link to the tennis racket story.

Making Your Utility More Efficient and Sustainable

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Purchasing the New ISO Asset Management Standards

Link to purchasing the new ISO 55000/1/2 Asset Management standards - here.

The overview -
BS ISO 55000 Asset Management – Overview, principles and terminology.  This introduces the critical concepts and terminology needed to develop a long-term plan that incorporates an organization’s mission, values, objectives, business policies and stakeholder requirements.
BS ISO 55001 Asset Management – Requirements.  This specifies the requirements for the establishment, implementation, maintenance and improvement of an asset management system.
BS ISO 55002 Asset Management – Guidelines on the application of ISO 55001.  This provides guidance for the application of an asset management system, in accordance with the requirements of ISO 55001.

Engineering a Better Bra

The Myth of a U.S. Manufacturing Revival

Fracking and abundant energy will not bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.  This is the important message in Steven Rattner's The Myth of Industrial Rebound in the Sunday New York Times.  Interesting points in the article:
  • Wages in blue collar automotive manufacturing jobs have dropped 10% since the recession ended in June 2009.
  • Some jobs have come back to the U.S.  Six million manufacturing jobs were lost in the great recession - but only 568,000 have been created.  Many are low wage - the $13.50 per hour variety.
  • The challenges are enormous.  In Mexico, an automotive worker earns $7.80 per hour.  Productivity is inline with a U.S. worker.  The total compensation for a U.S. worker is $45.34 per hour.  The ratio doesn't scream out manufacturing renaissance.  The rise of the machines is taking also taking aim at the $45.34.  In 1950 it took 85 workers to make a widget.  In 2014 the company only needs nine workers.  Cheap natural gas doesn't impact that rise in productivity.
  • Only 1/10 of U.S. manufacturing  involves significant energy costs - and many engineers are working today to reduce this number.
  • Manufacturing accounts for only 12% of our economy - in 1953 the number was 28%.
  • In the age of advanced manufacturing and "manufacturing with code" we have the grossly overqualified (15% of cabbies have college degrees) while many companies cannot find the quality of workers needed to operate and maintain advanced manufacturing equipment.

Omni Water Solutions

Inflatable Satellite Antenna (ISA)

Smart Water Network Management

The Best Water Utility in the World?

Hard to argue that Hagihon Company Ltd. of Israel is not in the elite category.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Standard & Poor's Looks at Private Investors Filling the Infrastructure Gap

Good information - link.

From the report:

"An estimated $57 trillion will be needed to finance infrastructure development around the world through 2030, according to a report from consultant McKinsey & Co. (see chart 1). Standard & Poor's Ratings Services believes this presents institutional investors with an unprecedented opportunity to fill some of the huge gap created by public-funding shortfalls. Given the many budgetary constraints burdening governments globally, and with banks' long-term lending restricted by regulatory requirements, nontraditional lenders such as insurers and pension funds are poised take a larger share of the infrastructure investment pie. (Watch the related CreditMatters TV segment titled "Institutional Investors Could Help Fill $500 Billion Infrastructure Funding Gap.")

Under our base-case assumptions, we estimate that institutional investors could provide as much as $200 billion per year--or $3.2 trillion by 2030--for infrastructure financing, given recent industry-stipulated asset-allocation targets. Although this would represent an ambitious increase versus the historical trend, the gap between investment needs and available public funds could be more than twice that--at around $500 billion annually (see table 1)."

Why Asset Management?

Great fact sheet on the benefits relating to setting up an asset management system for your collection system - link.

Drones in Civil Works

From Sensors & Systems:

"Woolpert, a national geospatial, architecture and infrastructure firm headquartered in Dayton, announced it has conducted an unmanned aerial system (UAS) joint test flight at Wilmington Air Park with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Mobile District. The test was conducted to determine the viability of using Woolpert’s Altavian Nova Block II unmanned aerial system (UAS) accompanied by a metric camera system for upcoming USACE Mobile District mapping projects.

The USACE Mobile District has partnered with Woolpert to use the larger UAS because it is more stable and, accompanied with the metric camera system, allows for repeatable, calibrated performance which results in high-resolution data and more accurate imagery. “Using an accurate, high-resolution metric camera system with a UAV, we can continue to explore the many applications and benefits of unmanned aerial technology,” said Clint Padgett, USACE Mobile District. Despite the FAA’s recent announcement of its six UAS test sites, which did not include Ohio in its selection, the USACE Mobile District will continue to work with Woolpert to further develop operational concepts for upcoming 2014 UAS data collection efforts. “The Dayton Development Coalition sees UAS as an industry with high growth potential. The entire Dayton Region is positioned to capitalize on future opportunities regardless of the FAA designation,” said Jeff Hoagland, President & CEO, Dayton Development Coalition. “Woolpert and other DDC members are poised to benefit.” Through its partnership with Sinclair Community College, Woolpert was able to conduct the test flight using Sinclair’s Certificate of Authorization (COA) granted by the FAA. A COA is currently required in order for organizations to operate a UAV until the FAA opens the air space for commercial use of UAVs.

The recent test flight was a necessary step in USACE Mobile District’s plans to continue to lead growth of domestic UAS technology use for science applications and reliable, safe and efficient data creation."

Water Falls - The Trailer

Man versus the Machines

Fracking and the Geothermal ROI

Engineers need to be following this - one technology (i.e., fracking for gas wells) aiding another industry (i.e., geothermal).  Geothermal could be a nice slice of the energy pie in our low carbon future.  From Arup: 

"Drilling a deep geothermal well several kilometres into the ground to exploit these resources is very similar to drilling an oil or gas well. The difference is that an oil or gas well delivers a commodity that guarantees a significant return on investment. The hot water flowing from a geothermal well provides a lower return on investment, making it less attractive to investors.

In countries like the UK, Spain, France, Germany and the East Coast of the US, where geothermal resources remain largely untapped, exploration risk is still high due to a lack of available data from deep wells. This is not an enticing prospect for investors, who remain unwilling to provide the capital investment needed to drill – trapping the industry in a difficult cycle to break out of.

Geothermal energy’s synergies with shale gas production could offer a way out. For a geothermal resource to be viable, you need both heat and permeable rock to pump water through. You often also need to improve the heat transfer from the ground to the power plant by using pressurised water to shear the rock – a broadly similar process to that used in the shale gas industry."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Planning Your Next Project Fly Over

What Is An Innovation District?

Risk Management Inside the Water-Energy Nexus

I found this interesting - from Harto and Yan in Analysis of Drought Impacts on Electricity Production in the Western and Texas Interconnections of the United States published December 2011:

"A total of 423 [thermoelectric power] plants were analyzed.  Of these, 43% were identified as having cooling-water intake heights of less than 10 ft. below the typical water level of their source."

Bentley's Asset Painter

Good article on the Crossrail Information Academy run by Bentley in London.  They developed the "Asset Painter" to manage the rail network's one million assets in a central data hub - link.

What Happens When a Suburb Can't Afford Its Roads

What Happens When a Suburb Can't Afford Its Roads

Why Hackers are Interested in Your Smart Toilet

Efforts Underway to Secure Connected Devices | MIT Technology Review

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Drones for Sewer Inspection in Ohio

Droning may happen faster than most experts are thinking - - link to the story.

Lakewood Buys Drone to Survey Sewers and Erosion Along the Cliffs

Thursday, December 26, 2013

In an effort to monitor the lakeside cliffs, the city of Lakewood will launch its first video surveillance drone this spring.

The Phantom, manufactured by DJI, came with a price tag of approximately $1,200. The city is required by the EPA, once per year, to survey and evaluate 130 sewer pipes that outlet into Lake Erie.
Public works director Joe Beno said that using the drone will save money – mostly from cutting labor hours associated with workers repelling down the cliffs and eliminating the need for boat rental.
“I was surprised that the drone was that inexpensive,” Beno said.

The battery-powered drone – weighing in at only a few pounds – uses GPS technology to find problem areas. With a mounted camera, all of the heavy lifting can be done remotely from the engineering department at city hall.

The drone will even fly back on its own when the battery is low.

The first flight is scheduled for this spring.

Stop reading my blog and read a book

10 Years of London Underground Ridership Data in One Map

10 Years of London Underground Ridership Data in One Map

A Paragraph to Ponder

From Water Utilities Set Their Sight on Energy Savings - link:

"Pumping and aeration systems are the highest energy users in a water treatment plant. Typically aeration systems are responsible for 50 to 60 percent of total wastewater treatment plant energy use. In some areas, pumping within a water distribution system can use as much as 80 percent of total energy for municipal water supply. As a result, systems not tuned or unable to reduce excess aeration blower or pump capacity can waste energy and money for decades. This waste can also result in greater greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the plant."

Looking Ugly in CA

These two graphics tell the story - -

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Internet-Style Routing For Gas Could Dramatically Improve Europe's Energy Security | MIT Technology Review

How Internet-Style Routing For Gas Could Dramatically Improve Europe's Energy Security | MIT Technology Review

The Midwest Is Running Dangerously Low on Propane

The Midwest Is Running Dangerously Low on Propane

Song Lyrics of the Week

The Handsome Family - Far From Any Road - from HBO True Detective.

From the dusty May sun
Her looming shadow grows
Hidden in the branches of the poison creosote
She twines her spines up slowly
Towards the boiling sun
And when i touched her skin
My fingers ran with blood

In the hushing dusk under a swollen silver moon
I came walking with the wind to watch the cactus bloom
And strange hands halted me, the looming shadows danced
I fell down to the thorny brush and felt the trembling hands

When the last light warms the rocks
And the rattlesnakes unfold
Mountain cats will come to drag away your bones

And rise with me forever
Across the silent sand
And the stars will be your eyes
And the wind will be my hands

Why are Traffic Engineers so Bad at Forecasting?

Link to the post.  From the article:

"But in a way, that’s even more sobering than if the fault were localized in USDOT, since it provides clear and compelling evidence that the nation’s entire transportation forecasting apparatus is completely broken. In the aggregate, all of those hard working forecasters in all of those state DOTs are just making up numbers. Worse, it appears that these traffic forecasters have had no incentive to correct their work, incorporate new information, or even ensure that their forecasts pass the laugh test."

Engineers Get Into Trouble Because We Often - -

  • Jump to conclusions
  • Fail to think through implications
  • Loose track of our goal
  • Are unrealistic
  • Focus on the trivial
  • Fail to notice contradictions
  • Accept inaccurate information
  • Ask vague questions
  • Give vague answers
  • Ask loaded questions
  • Ask irrelevant questions
  • Confuse questions of different types
  • Answer questions we are not competent to answer
  • Come to conclusions based on inaccurate or irrelevant information
  • Ignore information that does not support our view
  • Make inferences not justified by our experience
  • Distort data and state it inaccurately
  • Fail to notice the inference we make
  • Come to unreasonable conclusions
  • Fail to notice our assumptions
  • Miss key ideas
  • Use irrelevant ideas
  • Form superficial concepts
  • Misuse words
  • Ignore relevant viewpoints
  • Cannot see issues from points of view other than our own
  • Are unaware of our prejudices
  • Think narrowly
  • Think imprecisely
  • Think simplistically
  • Think superficially
  • Think ethnocentrically
  • Think egocentrically
  • Think irrationally
  • Are poor communicators
  • Have little insight into our own ignorance
From Learning the Art of Critical Thinking by Richard Paul and Linda Elder in Rotman Management Winter 2014

Graph of the Week

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Getting German Engineering and Beer Together

Energy in Akron, Ohio

The wastewater-energy nexus in Akron - link.  From the story:

"Due to the expansion of an anaerobic digestion facility at a wastewater treatment plant in Akron, Ohio, domestic sewage will generate roughly 12,192 megawatt hours (mwh) of electricity in 2014 -- enough green energy to provide electricity to 1,600 homes.

KB BioEnergy, owner of the anaerobic digestion plant, invested $32 million last year to expand their existing composting operation in order to more effectively extract the renewable energy stored in human biosolids. Likewise, a private-public partnership (PPP) between the city of Akron and KB BioEnergy helped make the expansion of this renewable energy facility possible."

Droughts and Decentralization of Water Resources

We saw this in places like Austin during the 2011 Texas drought - link to reports of drilling activities in CA.

The Asset Test

 From the October 2013 issue of Municipal Sewer & Water - The Asset Test: Cambridge, Ontario:

"The city’s approach to asset management is paying big dividends. The city reduced inflow and infiltration to the sewer system by 22 percent between 2009 and 2012. Between 2010 and 2012, the city saved $2.5 million and reduced I&I by almost one billion gallons. Water losses were likewise reduced by 22 percent between 2009 and 2012, which saved the city 580 million gallons of water and $1.6 million in revenue from 2010 to 2012. The number of water main breaks peaked at 52 in 2007, dropped to 37 in 2011 and was down to only 27 in 2012.

"Asset management and new technologies help to advance data and information sharing among the team, increase the cooperation and intelligence around renewal and other infrastructure needs, and enhance operations in the field through better work planning processes," says Shah. "That results in better coordination and improved opportunities for proactive maintenance. At the end of day, people are working smarter and more cost-effectively.""

A 360 Hero Presentation

Civil engineering needs to start thinking about how to better integrate video into presentation and projects - the world is increasingly about showing stakeholders your project concept on a screen (a smartphone screen!!).  Interesting, insightful, cool, inexpensive - - assign someone to start experimenting with a Go Pro camera!

Advanced Cannabis Solutions

The greening of the marketplace is all around engineering - Advanced Cannabis Solutions could be the future employer of the best and brightest of the industrial engineering crowd.  From their website:

"If you’re in the cannabis industry and would like to learn how to improve your operations and profitability, while staying in full compliance with local regulations, Advanced Cannabis Solutions is a proven resource."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Engineering and the Big Now

Society is increasingly centered on the Now at the expense of the Future.  This has huge implications for engineering.  Must read article on the subject at link.

Quick sample:

"Welcome to the world of “present shock,” where everything is happening so fast that it may as well be simultaneous. One big now. The result for institutions—especially political ones—has been profound. This transformation has dramatically degraded the ability of political operatives to set long-term plans. Thrown off course, they’re now often left simply to react to the incoming barrage of events as they unfold. Gone, suddenly, is the quaint notion of “controlling the narrative”—the flood of information is often far too unruly. There’s no time for context, only for crisis management. Sure, the rate at which information spreads and multiplies has accelerated, but what’s taking place now is more than a mere speeding up. What we’re experiencing is the amplification of everything that happens to be occurring at the moment, and a diminishment of everything that isn’t. It’s not just that Google search results favor the recent over the relevant; it’s that suddenly an entire society does.…It wasn’t always like this. As recently as the end of the 20th century, the zeitgeist was animated by a kind of forward-leaning futurism. There was a sense that we were accelerating toward a big shift fueled by new technologies, networks and global connectivity. Today, that shift may have finally occurred, but rather than encouraging us to look further ahead, it has instilled in us a pervading “presentism.” Our old obsession with the pace of progress has been drowned out by the onslaught of everything that is happening right now. It’s impossible even to keep up, much less to look ahead."

High Speed Train From Mecca to Medina

U.K. Crossrail Project Hits Halfway Mark | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

U.K. Crossrail Project Hits Halfway Mark | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Saturday, January 18, 2014

BP Energy Outlook 2035

Out this January - Link.

The Map That Reveals 5,900 Natural Gas Leaks Under Washington, D.C.

The Map That Reveals 5,900 Natural Gas Leaks Under Washington, D.C.

Shale Gas and Water

Recently released study from the UK - link.

How Information Flows During Emergencies | MIT Technology Review

How Information Flows During Emergencies | MIT Technology Review

Ten Future Changes in California Water Management

This is a very good post from the California WaterBlog (link) - this one in particular has broad ramifications for all regions in the U.S.

"Growing supply risks and higher costs will drive reductions in urban water use and efforts to capture more local supplies. Urban conservation potential is illustrated by Australian cities, which use much less water than California, while sustaining a similar economy, culture, and climate (Cahill and Lund 2013). Regulations and pricing will help motivate this transformation. Although not costless, this is the easiest change on our list. These adaptations in urban water management will improve urban water supply reliability, and help reduce some other water challenges in California by freeing up some water for agricultural and environmental uses. But not all actions are equally effective everywhere. Water conservation, reuse and stormwater capture will be more effective in coastal urban areas, with effective conservation in inland areas focusing on reductions in landscaping irrigation (Hanak et al. 2011; Ragatz 2013)."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Engineering, Construction Observation, and the EarthCam Movement

Construction observation in the future will belong to the world of EarthCams and drones.  One engineer will be able to track multiple construction projects from multiple sites - remotely.  Innovation and technology is rapidly changing the labor markets - construction, construction engineering, and large swaths of the public sector had better be keeping an eye on the rise of the machines.

Good EarthCam example from SF-Oakland Bridge - link.

Construction Divers

This looks good - Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey.  From the Amazon website:

"A quarter-century ago, Boston had the dirtiest harbor in America. The city had been dumping sewage into it for generations, coating the seafloor with a layer of “black mayonnaise.” Fisheries collapsed, wildlife fled, and locals referred to floating tampon applicators as “beach whistles.”

In the 1990s, work began on a state-of-the-art treatment plant and a 10-mile-long tunnel—its endpoint stretching farther from civilization than the earth’s deepest ocean trench—to carry waste out of the harbor. With this impressive feat of engineering, Boston was poised to show the country how to rebound from environmental ruin. But when bad decisions and clashing corporations endangered the project, a team of commercial divers was sent on a perilous mission to rescue the stymied cleanup effort. Five divers went in; not all of them came out alive.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents collected over five years of reporting, award-winning writer Neil Swidey takes us deep into the lives of the divers, engineers, politicians, lawyers, and investigators involved in the tragedy and its aftermath, creating a taut, action-packed narrative. The climax comes just after the hard-partying DJ Gillis and his friend Billy Juse trade assignments as they head into the tunnel, sentencing one of them to death.

An intimate portrait of the wreckage left in the wake of lives lost, the book is also a morality tale. What is the true cost of these large-scale construction projects, as designers and builders, emboldened by new technology and pressured to address a growing population’s rapacious needs, push the limits of the possible? This is a story about human risk—how it is calculated, discounted, and transferred—and the institutional failures that can lead to catastrophe.

Suspenseful yet humane, Trapped Under the Sea reminds us that behind every bridge, tower, and tunnel—behind the infrastructure that makes modern life possible—lies unsung bravery and extraordinary sacrifice." 

Honest Buildings

Match Dot com for the build world - - Honest Buildings.

Big Data on the Crossrail Project

Why So Many Emerging Megacities Remain So Poor

Why So Many Emerging Megacities Remain So Poor

Engineering is the Big Gamble

A paragraph to ponder - - from The Washington Post:

"Some of the most highly touted smartphone innovations are barely used at all. A 2012 Harris Interactive poll showed that just 5 percent of Americans used their smartphones to show codes for movie admission or to show an airline boarding pass. Whether that’s because of a lack of interest or lack of know-how (or both) is not entirely clear, but experts who study smartphone use, as well as tech-support professionals who work with the confused, say they see smartphone obliviousness at all ages and for all kinds of reasons."

Two important points for engineers to consider.  The challenge for engineering is and will always be to somehow find what's significant in civilization.  What is it that we want and/or desire?  In this context our future is a race between good innovation and bad innovation.    At any given moment in time, it can be difficult for engineers to see if good is bettering bad.  The second point is the path of forward progress is sometimes less than straight.  The world is full of nonlinearities.  The smartphone could be an example of proper problem framing - but we also have given people what they want or need in the wrong order.

Engineering is always the big gamble - a gamble that the future will represent an improved version of the past.  The relative degree of improvement is what keeps engineers up at night.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Palmer Drought Index Map 1934

What's In My Book Pile

Looking forward to reading the following:

The Dynamics of Disaster by Susan W. Kieffer

The Doodle Revolution: Unlock The Power to Think Differently by Sunni Brown

Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory 1793-1815 by Roger Knight

The Case of California's Disappearing Snow

The Case of California's Disappearing Snow

A Paragraph to Ponder

From New Mideast Pipeline Deal Shows Why Water Doesn't Start Wars:

"Ten million people now live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. If they were to be self-sufficient in food, they would need ten billion cu. meters of water per year. As it is, they have only about one-third of that: enough to grow 15-20% of their food. They import the rest in the form of food."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Smart Water Networks Market

"Abstract" of a market research report (link).  The price of the report ($4,200) probably says something about the changing economics of the water industry.

"The world’s water systems are under increasing pressure. Water utilities are relying on aging or inadequate infrastructure to meet growing demand, tough environmental targets, and increasing regulatory requirements. At the same time, utilities need to reduce non-revenue water losses and improve their operational efficiency. Smart water networks have an important role to play in addressing these challenges. They are also an intrinsic part of the transition of the water industry to a data-centric business that is able to maximize the benefits of intelligent devices, IT, and communications networks.

Smart water meters are a key component of smart water networks, but other monitoring and control technologies are becoming increasingly important for leak detection, pressure management, and water quality monitoring. The smart water networks market is attracting a wide range of new players and presenting established players with the opportunity to expand their business into new areas. Both sets of players face challenges in an industry that is hungry for change, but also conservative in its operations and restricted in its financial options. Navigant Research forecasts that the global smart water networks market will expand from $1.1 billion in annual revenue in 2013 to more than $3.3 billion in 2022.

This Navigant Research report examines the evolution of the smart water networks market, with a particular focus on drinking water systems. The study provides an analysis of the drivers and barriers for the transformation of the water industry, including technological, financial, environmental, and economic factors. Global market forecasts of shipments and revenue related to components of smart water networks, including water meters, smart meters, water network monitoring and control, data management and analytics, and communications infrastructure, extend through 2022. The report also assesses the competitive landscape and various approaches to smart water networks in different world regions and provides case studies of major smart water projects."

Graph of the Week

The Rise and Fall and Eventual Rise Again of the Smart City

The Rise and Fall and Eventual Rise Again of the Smart City

Texas Central Railway

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The U.S. Future is Texas


From Sustainable Growth in North Texas: Vision North Texas (link):

"Eight of the 15 fastest-growing large U.S. cities and towns for the year ending July 1, 2012 were in Texas, according to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Lone Star State also stood out in terms of the size of population growth, with five of the 10 cities and towns that added the most people over the year.

Even within North Texas, the population of the ten-county Dallas-Fort Worth region is expected to grow from approximately 5.1 million in 2000 to 9.1 million in 2030, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).  Tremendous pressure is placed upon the North Texas region land and natural resources to support the massive population increase. To mitigate the strains that will develop as cities expand, and to maximize the potential economic opportunity that well-managed cities can offer, North Texas needs a proactive approach to addressing the challenges of urbanization."

A Great Example of Effective Highway Asset Management

Link to the story regarding Colorado mile marker 420 (hint - 420 is code for something).  We will await the reports on how long mile marker 419.99 makes it.

Skully P1 Intelligent Motorcycle Helment

Pipeline Predictive Analytics

The context of this post from Black & Veatch is the natural gas industry, but the ideas apply to a host of asset management intensive industries.  Link to the article.  From the post:

"Will Williams, Managing Director in Black & Veatch’s Management Consulting Division, said utilities that perform asset management principles have a much better understanding of the risk of their business and which portions need the most critical attention. He said such an undertaking helps utilities to prioritize the capital investments, better understand their risk, and implement policies and procedures that make sure high standards are maintained.

“Asset management helps clients understand the design, materials and deterioration rates of their infrastructure,” Williams said. “They’ll realize when a pipeline reaches a point where the risk is no longer acceptable.”"

The Top 15 Cities Driving the U.S. Future

Link to the list. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Life in the White Ghetto

Interesting story on life in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia - link. From the article:

"In effect, welfare has made Appalachia into a big and sparsely populated housing project — too backward to thrive, but just comfortable enough to keep the underclass in place. There is no cure for poverty, because there is no cause of poverty — poverty is the natural condition of the human animal. It is not as though labor and enterprise are unknown here: Digging coal is hard work, farming is hard work, timbering is hard work — so hard that the best and brightest long ago packed up for Cincinnati or Pittsburgh or Memphis or Houston. There is to this day an Appalachian bar in Detroit and ex-Appalachian enclaves around the country. The lesson of the Big White Ghetto is the same as the lessons we learned about the urban housing projects in the late 20th century: The best public-policy treatment we have for poverty is dilution. But like the old project towers, the Appalachian draw culture produces concentration, a socio­economic Salton Sea that becomes more toxic every year."

Asset Management for Small Water Systems

Invest in Forest Fire Fighting Equipment

The continuation of the multi-year drought in California is looking particularly grim in 2014.

The Brackish Water Revolution - Continued

From WaterWorld - Study shows shortfall in Lower Rio Grande Basin future water supply:

"WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 30, 2013 -- A new study conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation finds that a shortfall of 678,522 acre-feet of water per year will be required in the Lower Rio Grande Basin in 2060 due to increased demand and climate change.

The study indicates that climate change is likely to result in increased temperatures, decreased precipitation and increased evapotranspiration in the study area. As a result, a projected 86,438 acre-feet of water per year will need to be added to the 592,084 acre-feet per year of supply shortfall predicted in the existing regional planning process in 2060.

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor released the Lower Rio Grande Basin study that evaluated the impacts of climate change on water demand and supply imbalances along the Rio Grande near the United States/Mexico border from Fort Quitman, Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico.
"Basin studies are an important element of the Department of the Interior's WaterSMART initiative and give us a clearer picture of the possible future gaps between water demand and our available supplies," Commissioner Connor said. "This study of the lower Rio Grande basin will provide water managers with science-based tools to make important future decisions as they work to meet the region's diverse water needs. In addition, the study will help inform water management discussions between the U.S. and Mexico through the International Boundary Water Commission."

Seawater desalination, brackish groundwater desalination, reuse and fresh groundwater development were examined as alternatives to meet future water demands. The study found that brackish groundwater development was most suitable. Further analysis was conducted and found that regional brackish groundwater systems would best meet the planning objective. An appraisal-level plan formulation and evaluation process was conducted to determine potential locations of each regional brackish groundwater desalination system.

Accordingly, water supply imbalances exacerbated by climate change will greatly reduce the reliability of deliveries to all users who are dependent on deliveries of Rio Grande water via irrigation deliveries. The study includes an acknowledgment that all water management strategies recommended through the recently adopted regional water plan are part of a needed portfolio of solutions for the study area.

The Lower Rio Grande Basin Study was developed by Reclamation and the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority and its 53 member entities. Further, it was conducted as part of WaterSMART -- the U.S. Department of the Interior's sustainable water initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. Basin studies are comprehensive water studies that define options for meeting future water demands in river basins in the western United States where imbalances in water supply and demand exist or are projected to exist. Since the program's establishment, 19 basins have been selected to be evaluated. For more information, visit"

Great Engineering Article on Stormwater

From Thomas Grisa, director of public works at the City of Brookfield, Wisconsin - - Relabeling Extreme Rainfall Events to Improve Public Understanding.

From the article:

"The 100-year rain storm is understood poorly by the public — this can lead to confusion or worse. Unlike rainfall events, natural disasters, including earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes, are not rated using recurrence intervals. Instead, they use straightforward scales, such as the Richter, Fujita, and Saffir-Simpson scales that rate the severity of the event, not the rarity of the event. The public understands that, in general, the higher the number, the worse the event.

The current rating for rain events uses recurrence intervals based on the probability of a storm occurring. The system defines how rare the storm is, not its severity. While it is generally true that severe storms happen rarely, defining storms by their frequency misleads the public into thinking that once the storm happens, it will be a long time until it happens again. Instead, defining storms by their severity impresses on the public that these can be significant — but not necessarily rare — events, and that they should consider protecting themselves to minimize the storm’s consequences.

One solution is to develop an alternative system similar to the rating of other natural disasters. One example, called the Rain Storm Severity Index, rates rain events on a scale of 1 to 10 based on the storm’s severity. This rating system builds on existing and accepted hydrologic science, so there is no change in background data or analysis. It does, however, change the designation from a recurrence interval to a simple scale for presentation to the public in much the same way that a graphic user interface makes computer programs easier to use."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Readings in Asset Management

Several good reads

Defining Public Asset Management for Municipal Water Utilities

Get to know the PAS 55 asset management standard

Smart water analytics

Big Data at Yorkshire Water

Bridging the Water Innovation Gap

Rockefeller Foundation Cites 11 Most Resilient U.S. Cities

Rockefeller Foundation Cites 11 Most Resilient U.S. Cities

The Asset Management Landscape

Good paper on the asset management topic - link.

The Chicago Police Department - Predictive Analytics Group

The face and function of the traditional municipal public works department will change.  The new organization will have the designation of "Department of Asset Management" run by a certified asset manager.  One engineer will be in charge of predictive analytics - the ability to pinpoint a potential source of problems and predict outcomes by analyzing  big-data will be a true game changer for the old public works department.

The police department of the work are getting these new powers and opportunities.  From a interview with the founder of the Chicago Police Department Predictive Analytics Group, Brett Goldstein (link):

"I think predictive analytics is a game changer. Prediction is how you take data to the next level. First, using the data that’s available, you take a picture of the current status and try to identify what we know now. Then, you couple this with some of the more traditional research, the classical journal research that looks at a social science problem over several years to try to understand what drives outcomes. Prediction is when you bring together these pieces together.

What does prediction mean for the city? I would argue that Chicago, like any other city, is an ecosystem. Within Chicago, we have many ecosystems within the broader ecosystem, such as neighborhoods. As we take data and all of these different sensors within urban science, including data from 311, 911, bus movements, and crime, you start to understand how things are related to one another. As you understand how things become leading indicators for other things, that’s when you can start to tweak what happens. Imagine instead of us dealing with problems reactively, we’re able to think about dealing with issues earlier to prevent a certain outcome.

A couple of examples might help illustrate this. One, there’s a small area of Chicago where when the alley lights go out, the garbage cans disappear. Every garbage can costs us money to replace. This seems like a great opportunity to use our understanding of the system to prevent that outcome. Let’s think of other cases. Say we’re about to get a big rainstorm. Where are the areas that have the highest probability of flooding? This can help us stage our resources appropriately. This all comes back to an idea that it is not okay with the mayor and not okay with me, which is “good enough for government work.” By leveraging this data, identifying the patterns, and identifying the leading indicators, we’re doing what medicine started to do a number of years ago. We start preventing problems instead of reacting to them, and that’s the core of prediction."

Quote of the Day

From The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings into Space by Michelle Evans,  By Scott Crossfield:

"There is no such thing as an accident.  It was either designed wrong, built wrong, or used wrong.  Generally, it's used wrong."

Rural Flight

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Cmax System

The Overlooked Questions of Infrastructure Development

From the McKinsey Global Institute - paper entitled Infrastructure: Doing More With Less (link).  From the paper:

Whether creating new systems or upgrading existing capacity, urban leaders have considered

four fundamental questions often overlooked in infrastructure development planning:

* Are we building the right infrastructure?

* Are we using existing infrastructure most effectively?

* How can we deliver infrastructure more efficiently?

* How can we benefit from working with private partners?

Finding the right answers to these questions will help urban leaders meet their growing

infrastructure needs more effectively, more efficiently, and more quickly. Ignoring these

questions can lead to costly and wasteful mistakes. For example, during Japan’s "lost decade,"

the 1990s, the country overbuilt infrastructure with no clear strategy, squandering billions of

dollars with little impact. In one instance, 17 bridges were built for three expressways to connect

the main island of Japan to Shikoku, an island with about 3 percent of the country’s population.

The costs reached $29 billion.

InfoMaster Sewer

What is a Stroad?

The Importance of Engineering In Marketing

From Ad Age - Degree in Engineering Key to Unlocking Doors to Marketing Suite.  Interesting points:

As an icebreaker at a dinner of 15 marketing executives in San Francisco last fall, each attendee offered a personal tidbit no one at the table knew. One of the first to go revealed a career that began not in marketing but engineering.
"We were all initially surprised to learn that so many of us had engineering backgrounds," said Salesforce CMO Lynn Vojvodich, who hosted the dinner and was among those who spent time as an engineer. "But as we started talking more about it, it made sense. Many of the skills we learned as engineers translated well into marketing."

The engineer-turned-marketer has become less unusual in recent years, especially among b-to-b brands, and their stock is rising. As marketing organizations have beefed up their data capabilities to more precisely target and message, big names like Salesforce and Emerson have turned to former engineers to help drive that effort. And consumer brands such as JetBlue and Kohl's employ senior marketers with engineering backgrounds, suggesting the trend is moving across the spectrum.

For CMOs like Ms. Lansing, the job is about more than crafting a message, but selecting the right technology, overseeing its implementation and turning the dials just right so the messaging leads to sales. It's work well-suited for a trained engineer. "What you're going to find is the people that are running marketing departments are going to be far more technical and are going to have the best of both worlds," said Ms. Lansing. "They're going to have that technical understanding, and they're going to marry it with that insight and creative that the marketing side brings."

Michael Allen, senior managing director of executive search firm Allen & Associates, said marketing's increased prominence within organizations has also created demand for engineering skills. "We had clients that years ago looked at marketing as a support function. That's changed," he said. Marketing executives with engineering backgrounds particularly have a leg up, he said. Trained engineers tend to understand product development, line extensions, supply chain and operations -- key competencies for the roles he's trying to fill.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Role of Art in STEM Education Studied

Role of Art in STEM Education Studied

Cities struggle as reservoirs dry up | The Press Democrat

Cities struggle as reservoirs dry up | The Press Democrat

Green Driver

This is very interesting - from the Babbage column in the Economist - Green Light Districts:

MUCH of driving involves stress and attention—or inattention. Drivers are required to observe everything happening on the road around them while increasingly choosing to distract themselves with phones (smart and dumb) and in-car entertainment systems. Matt Ginsberg, the boss of Green Driver, aims to remove a portion of that stress by pulling data out of cities' traffic-management grids to provide drivers with intelligent predictive information about traffic signals and related matters delivered via smartphones and automotive computer systems. The system will make its official debut today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Dr Ginsberg says Green Driver's currently free Enlighten app for Apple's iOS and Google's Android will count down the seconds while a driver is at a standstill waiting for a traffic light to change from red to green. The app chimes by default when five seconds remain. The app works with live data in Portland, Oregon, and his hometown of Eugene, Oregon, and is in beta testing across the state of Utah, in Las Vegas, a Dallas suburb, and three cities in California: Arcadia, Pasadena and San Jose. He notes that to avoid safety issues, the app provides no information while a driver is in motion nor alerts them of when a green is switching to yellow or red. "We don't want to have a distracted driver issue," he says, or people rushing to catch a light.

Green Driver accomplishes this seemingly simple task through a large amount of behind-the-scenes data crunching. American cities typically work with one of six traffic-signal management firms that design the hardware and software that manage traffic flow. Dr Ginsberg says, however, that the data these systems produce are a massive and continuous flow of lights' current statuses, rather than reports of changes between states and imminent changes. His firm has worked with each vendor to give them software code that produces a simplified stream that can be more easily interpreted.
Predicting when a light will turn green sometimes relies on identifying the particular timing program in place for a signal: some lights run on recurring intervals. Others are triggered by time of day, or sensors embedded beneath the pavement and pedestrian buttons (despite the widespread notion that such "walk" buttons do nothing at all, which is sometimes true). Green Driver looks at signal programming and historical data to determine whether it can, with confidence, tell a driver reliably when the light will change. If so, the Enlighten app triggers the countdown and then the chime. If enough cars run Green Driver's software through smartphones or internal computers with cellular links (such as GM's OnStar system), the software could anticipate cars about to trigger pavement actuators on adjacent streets which would allow further accuracy in predictions.

Green Driver's product, which requires no new hardware, joins a burgeoning automotive computing sector. GM has equipped 30 models of its cars with its cellular data OnStar system, representing some tens of millions of cars on the road, of which about 6m American owners have active subscriptions, which require a large one-time or a smaller recurring fee. The firm Automatic launched a product in late 2013 as a combination of a plug-in module that works with a standard data port on U.S. cars and a smartphone app. The module monitors a driver's behaviour for rapid acceleration and braking, and for high speeds on the motorway to provide a combination of audio feedback and retrospective reports via the app that aim to retrain skills so as to use petrol more efficiently.

Enlighten is just the start of Green Driver's efforts, says Dr Ginsberg. With this data, he says the company can address three separate goals, of which just one is reducing the stress of sitting at a light with unknowable period of time of alertness (or a penalty of drivers behind one honking or even rear-ending one). He notes that with integration into a car's computer, a hybrid could more efficiently choose between petrol and battery as it approaches an intersection where a light is about to signal a stop. He estimates a 3-5% saving in petrol from this one change, based on testing. The firm is talking to carmakers already.

There's also a safety angle. Dr Ginsberg suggests the case in which a driver is about to run a red light, either traveling too fast to catch the change or breezing through an intersection. If his software were continuously talking to the car, the auto could honk its horn and flash its lights (rather than, say, slam on the brakes), warning other drivers and potentially reducing side-swipe accidents. Data could also be anonymously collected and uploaded to tell local law-enforcement about trouble spots where drivers are blowing through lights, whether accidentally or intentionally. Green Driver can also provide fault data to cities about whether or not their signal-control systems are functioning correctly or optimally.

Dr Ginsberg says he is frankly baffled that his tiny company is the first and so far only to build such processing and delivery software. He must approach cities one at a time to make deals, and he thinks the foot-leather portion may have deterred potential competitors. His other firm, On Time Systems, has spent 15 years providing optimisation software for large-scale problems often seen as intractably irreducible, such as shipyard scheduling and efficient multi-point routing of aircraft, and is providing the expertise under license to this new effort.

Green Driver's work stands in contrast to one promoted by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) Technology, in which the USDOT proposes a new wireless networking system that would aid with traffic flow and attempt to reduce collisions, but also require new hardware to be built into every car and intersection, and new spectrum allocated.

The programme's work began in 2008, at a time at which American cellular data networks still had relatively low capacity, and only several million true smartphone users. Between the 145m Americans who own smartphones (61% of mobile phone owners), GM's OnStar, other carmakers' products and self-driving cars, the red light may stay on for the USDOT effort, while fleeter firms like Green Driver get the signal to go."

An Introduction to Asset Management and the ISO 55000 Standard

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Stamen Design

Introduction to the thinking of one of the premier data visualization firms in the world - we live in a fire hose world of information.  Engineers have a primary task to make sense of this flood of information.  A key point for engineers - the world of engineering data is mostly temporal.  Our numbers flow over time - numbers and ideas that flow are very well suited for animation.  You really want your clients and stakeholders to be able to take a data journey. 


Modified GPS Helps Track Quakes and Floods | MIT Technology Review

Modified GPS Helps Track Quakes and Floods | MIT Technology Review

The Saildrone

Monday, January 6, 2014

Real Time Control for Wastewater Treatment

Incent Software

Incent Software is the type of firm and product line that goes along way toward "incentivizing" customers with information on water consumption.  Our water crisis must involve two parallel tracks - engineering for increases in supply and efficiency + engineering for behavior modification that deduces demand.

From the Incent Software website:

"Incent Software changes how people use water with innovative customer engagement applications and technology that inform and motivate efficient behavior.  Incent’s customer information portal maximizes the capabilities of a utility’s customer meter data infrastructure to empower customers with actionable information.  Incent shows customers how much water is being used indoors and outdoors and offers useful comparisons to determine if current levels of usage are efficient."

Graph of the Week

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Drones, CAD, and Civil Engineering

Crude - but with refinement and innovation, you can start to see some of the many useful applications.

The Information Footprint of Your Water Utility

Asset management for your local water utility has historically broken down into three categories - land, employees, and equipment.  The "value" of the utility looks at several key questions: How much land do we own?  How many people to we employ?  How many pumps do we have in the collection system? 

What is often overlooked is the following - What information assets does the utility have?  The value proposition for any utility is changing.  Value is increasingly a function of how well a utility is at creating, collecting, analyzing, and deploying information.  Every information-savvy organization in the world understands this.  A pipe in the ground is the enabler - but information, especially either real-time or predictive information, can be the true source of value creation.

Information footprinting for a water utility has three dimensions.  Length is the extent to which information is deployed outside the organization's boundary to support existing utility operations.  Depth is the degree to which information is deployed inside the organization to improve existing operations.  Breadth is the degree to which information is being deployed as the key resource or springboard for innovation.

Water utilities should think of information as an asset.  Information generating activity has the potential to generate huge utility-specific value.

Infrastructure Improvements and Winston Churchill

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has their infrastructure report card that most U.S. citizens have never heard of.  Our crumbling infrastructure is up against many things, but the most important is a quote from Sir Winston - “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”  Our inability to make rational decisions regarding critical issues such as infrastructure improvements raises awkward questions about concepts central to democratic theory, including consent, representation, public opinion, electoral mandates and officials’ accountability.  This is very important to civil engineers that work, either directly or entirely, in the public sectors.  Our profession is one of hope - we pray that voters will do the correct things to advance civilization.

Consider your next public meeting regarding an infrastructure project.  If you randomly selected 100 people to attend the meeting, this is what you are up against:
  • 20 will think the sun evolves around the earth.
  • 70 will be unaware of the enactment of the prescription drug entitlement in 2003, the largest expansion of Medicare since 1965.
  • 48 will not be able to name the three branches of the federal government.
  • Over 50 will not be able to locate New York State on a map.
  • 70 will not be able to name both their federal senators.
  • Most of the 100 will spend more time investigating the purchase of an automobile than researching a candidate.
The central problem that ASCE and others miss is that our infrastructure crisis is a function of our ignorance - namely political ignorance.  Increasing funding for bridge repairs and improvements is mostly a political process.  It requires a knowledgeable citizenry with some basic understanding of public affairs.

The Tom Friedman column in the New York Times today illustrates how our collective disinterest in public affairs has allowed us to blow a perfectly good opportunity for renewal, long-term growth, and change:

"For instance, on the debt/spending issue, Congress should be borrowing money at these unusually low rates to invest in a 10-year upgrade of our crumbling infrastructure (roads, bridges, telecom, ports, airports and rail lines) and in a huge funding increase for our national laboratories, research universities and institutes of health, which are the gardens for so many start-ups. Together, such an investment would stimulate sustained employment, innovation and the wealth creation to pay for it.
But this near-term investment should be paired with long-term entitlement reductions, defense cuts and tax reform that would be phased in gradually as the economy improves, so we do not add to the already heavy fiscal burden on our children, deprive them of future investment resources or leave our economy vulnerable to unforeseen shocks, future recessions or the stresses that are sure to come when all the baby boomers retire. President Obama has favored such a hybrid, but it was shot down by the Tea Party wing, before we could see if he could really sell it to his base."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Abstract of the Week

From Cornell University - link:

"Time travel has captured the public imagination for much of the past century, but little has been done to actually search for time travelers. Here, three implementations of Internet searches for time travelers are described, all seeking a prescient mention of information not previously available. The first search covered prescient content placed on the Internet, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific terms in tweets on Twitter. The second search examined prescient inquiries submitted to a search engine, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific search terms submitted to a popular astronomy web site. The third search involved a request for a direct Internet communication, either by email or tweet, pre-dating to the time of the inquiry. Given practical verifiability concerns, only time travelers from the future were investigated. No time travelers were discovered. Although these negative results do not disprove time travel, given the great reach of the Internet, this search is perhaps the most comprehensive to date."

The U.S. has experienced a productivity slowdown

Excellent report from the Atlanta Federal Reserve - link.

Robotic Fuel Pumping from Fuelmatics

The Importance of Being Inquistive

I found this interesting - the importance of being intellectually inquisitive as one of those key professional career attributes in general and demonstrating this in an interview in particular.

From the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Kevin Clark, Why the Eagles Aren't Ducks.  It highlights the interview process between Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and former Oregon coach and current Eagles coach Chip Kelly.  From the article:

"To screen candidates for the head coach job, Lurie said he prepared a list of 100 questions.  The questions ranged from "How would you deal with your offensive line after a poor performance?" to "What would you say to your team if you were overmatched because they didn't expect certain plays to happen?"  Most candidates offered earnest, predictable answers.

Kelly, however, answered almost all the questions with questions of his own:  Why worry about a perfect run-pass balance?  Why try possessing the ball for long periods of time when the goal is to score more points?  Why should the kicking of an extra point be automatic?  Why punt automatically?  Why align the tackles in a balanced way?  Why practice Wednesday, Thursday, Friday?  Where's the science behind that?

"There was obviously a philosophy of being inquisitive," said Lurie, calling Kelly "someone who challenged the obvious.""

"In the desert, any water will do"

This ancient Arabian proverb is one of the keys to water resource management in the Southwestern U.S.  Look for the next ten years to be the start of how we management and utilize brackish water in  the Southwest.  The good news - we have an ocean of it right under our feet.  The even better news - brackish groundwater found in the Southwest has salt levels that make it undrinkable, but it requires about half the energy to desalt as seawater (the water-energy nexus is a big deal - around 12% of our national energy consumption is devoted to pumping, heating, and treating water). 

Texas is a great example of energy innovation (an increase in cheap and cleaner natural gas) interfacing as the energy source to power our Brackish Revolution.  Keep in mind that our brackish water resources is co-located with states having significant sunshine and wind resources.  Our renewable energy systems will have a significant part in harvesting this brackish groundwater.

This is the link to the National Brackish Groundwater Assessment homepage supported by the USGS.

The Value of Infrastructure Asset Management

A good white paper on the value of asset management in the context of transportation - link.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Consuming Your Risk Reduction?

When I started skiing in the mid-70s, very few people wore a helmet.  Today just about everyone wears one.  Are we safer or have we just consumed the risk reduction of the helmet by taking more high risk chances.  From the New York Times - Ski Helmet Isn't Reducing Brain Injuries ( link).

"In fact, some studies indicate that the number of snow-sports-related head injuries has increased.  A 2012 study at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine on head injuries among skiers and snowboarders in the United States found that the number of head injuries increased 60 percent in a seven-year period, from 9,308 in 2004 to 14,947 in 2010, even as helmet use increased by an almost identical percentage over the same period. A March 2013 study by the University of Washington concluded that the number of snow-sports-related head injuries among youths and adolescents increased 250 percent from 1996 to 2010.
Experts agree that the roots of the trend are complicated and could be related to increased awareness about brain injuries and reporting of them. But they also agreed on one element underpinning the trend: an increase in risk-taking behaviors that they said the snow-sports industry had embraced. In recent years, many resorts have built bigger features in their terrain parks and improved access to more extreme terrain. At the same time, advances in equipment have made it easier to ski faster, perform tricks and venture out of bounds."