Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Graph of the Week

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Finanical Times:

"Last year, for the first time, the working-age population declined, a trend set to continue for the next two decades. Unless the country can keep lifting the labour force participation rate (for example by getting more women into the workforce or persuading older people not to retire), China will struggle to expand its labour force by even 1 per cent per year. To sustain economic growth of more than 7 per cent, productivity would need to grow by 6-7 per cent a year across the entire economy."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Talking Machines

Technology and innovation is taking the world of asset management to a new culture and approach based less on reactive actions and more on proactive, preventative, and predictive.  When construction equipment talks back, it changes the dynamics of how and what we think in terms of fleet management.  When pumps talk back at the lift station, it changes our approach to asset management.  Every asset has key decision points along the life cycle.  Having sensors and analytics that help at these fork-in-the-road moments allows for more insightful and informative decision making.

Consider the following from the current issue of ENR - New Strategies to Extend Equipment Life:

"The good news is that modern machines are getting better. Design, metallurgy, machining, lubrication and assembly are improving. Sensors, telematics and machine-control systems make it possible for machines to protect themselves and "speak" to us. We must change our policies, mind-sets and procedures to maximize the longer lives now built into the quality products available and benefit from the improvements made by manufacturers. I grew up thinking 10,000 hours was all you could get; my sons think in terms of 15,000 to 20,000 hours, and my grandsons will think in terms of 30,000 to 40,000 hours as a good first life."

The 10 Largest Hotels in the World | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

The 10 Largest Hotels in the World | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

What's In My Summer Book Bag

My list for the summer:
  • Drucker & Me by Bob Buford.  I am a huge fan of Peter Drucker.
  • Mapping the End of Empire: American and British Strategic Visions in the Postwar World by Aiyaz Husain.  We still struggle in 2014 with where lines on maps were drawn a hundred years ago.
  • The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur by Mark Perry.  Great general, would have hated to work for him.
  • You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves by Hiawatha Bray.  Will probably get lost in Columbus, Ohio next week.
  • The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch by Lewis Dartnell.  A must read before Walking Dead starts back up in the fall.
  • The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan by Carlotta Gall.  Wrong enemy in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Three wrongs.
  • Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the World by Amir Alexander.  Can battling mathematicians be exciting?
  • A Game of Thrones by George R. Martin.  Typically not my thing.  In Chapter 3 - so where is all the sex?
  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink.  Being a medical doctor is never easy.
  • Write Anything: A Complete Guide by Laura Brown.  Page 164 - Letter to fight a parking ticket.
  • Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty.  On page 339 - I really like it but not sure why.
  • Flood Control and Drainage Engineering by S.N. Ghosh.  It just has to start raining in Texas.
  • The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations by Jacob Soll.  A "sweeping" history of the world of debits and credits.  For the end of summer.
  • The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century.  A very good century to be an engineer.
  • The Gathering Storm: The Second World War Volume 1 by Winston Churchill.  A good time to start re-reading Churchill. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Power To The People

When your driverless car runs into your neighbor's driverless car

We seem to have this scenario covered. The Department of Defense is currently flight testing flying cars.  I am sure we can also handle the flying car/driverless car mishap.  From Who Is At Fault When a Driverless Car Gets Into an Accident? - -

"Today’s products liability law is the result of decades—or more, if you take the longer view—of precedent that has established the responsibilities that accompany making and selling products. Plaintiffs in products-liability lawsuits can choose from among various (not mutually exclusive) “theories” of liability when seeking to recover damages.
Negligence occurs when manufacturers fail to design their products to be safe when used in reasonably foreseeable ways. Consider an autonomous steering technology that works well during the day but that tends to cause fender-benders when used at night. A person whose car is damaged as a result could assert that night driving is a reasonably foreseeable use of a vehicle, and that the manufacturer’s failure to ensure the technology worked effectively at night constitutes negligence.
Design defects are another commonly asserted theory of liability. Suppose that the software for controlling braking in an autonomous vehicle doesn’t sufficiently increase braking power when the vehicle needs to stop on a downhill slope. If, as a result, a vehicle causes a frontal collision (i.e., impacts a car in front of it), a person who suffers injuries or economic losses due to the collision could file a design-defects claim against the manufacturer.
Even when a design is sound, manufacturers can be liable for manufacturing defects. If an autonomous vehicle technology provider accidentally ships some vehicles with an early, non-market-ready version of software containing a flaw not present in the newer version that was supposed to have been shipped, a person injured in an accident attributable to this flaw could seek to recover damages from the technology provider.
Because the process of marketing and selling a product creates explicit and implicit warranties, products liability also involves contract law. Consider a provider of automated parallel parking solutions that claims in advertisements that the system can “parallel park in tight spaces equally well whether it’s day or night.” If, instead, the system only works during the day, and only in spaces that aren’t particularly tight, a purchaser of such a system could file a products liability claim citing breach of warranty (and would likely also allege that there was a design defect).
As these examples illustrate, while the specific fact patterns will vary, in products liability terms, manufacturers of autonomous vehicle technologies aren’t really so different from manufacturers in other areas. They have the same basic obligations to offer products that are safe and that work as described during the marketing and sales process, and they have the same set of legal exposures if they fail to do so. Products liability law has been highly adaptive to the many new technologies that have emerged in recent decades, and it will be quite capable of adapting to emerging autonomous vehicle technologies as the need arises."

Is Kimley-Horn the Boston Red Sox of Engineering Consulting?

Engineering consulting is all about talent.  Having casually observed the youthful demographics of the Kimley-Horn professional workforce over the years, one can start to draw a key hiring conclusion - - they excel at youth dominance.  In world of talent wars for engineers, it's not the expensive engineers, but inexpensive ones, who are becoming the consulting's prized commodity.

The current issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an article on the management of the Boston Red Sox (John Henry and the Making of a Baseball Dynasty) that intersects with engineering consulting.  Hiring engineers and hiring baseball players look very similar after reading the article.  Consider the following from the article:

"One of the papers presented at the Sloan conference attempts to quantify how all his is affecting the game.  In "Can't Buy Much Love: Why Money is Not Baseball's Most Valuable Currency," Martin Kleinbard arrives at a conclusion that mirror's Henry's [John Henry, co-owner of the Red Sox] own thoughts about where the true value lies in baseball today.  Kleinbard finds a weak correlation between payroll disparity and winning, arguing instead that "youth dominance" - a team's reliance on younger, cheaper players not yet eligible for free agency - has become a much stronger predictor of success.  "To me, the most important thing this study shown is that virtually all of the underpaid players are under 30 and virtually all of the overpaid players are over 30," says Henry.  "Yet teams continue to extravagantly overpay for players above the age of 30."

In other words, it's not expensive players, but inexpensive ones, who are becoming baseball's prized commodity, Henry's Red Sox have been shedding the former while betting heavily on the latter."

A Paragraph to Ponder

From The Economist this week - - Age Invaders:

"Since the turn of the century that trend has reversed. Almost 20% of Americans aged over 65 are now in the labour force, compared with 13% in 2000. Nearly half of all Germans in their early 60s are employed today, compared with a quarter a decade ago."

Friday, April 25, 2014

Civil Engineering and the Future of Managed Retreat

This is a must read on the Atlantic Cities website - Post-Sandy, Designers Are Forced to Imagine Asking People to Move.  The Era of Climate Change and the Era of Choices are trending together - - in many cases we will be the professional party that breaks into two camps - - one being defend at all costs against the forces of mother nature and the other thinking it is not sacrilegious to imagine that sustainability and greater resilience will require us to contemplate retreat in some cases.

From the article:

"The idea of forcing people to move after they’ve suffered life-altering trauma has been anathema. Voluntary buyouts are expensive, and uprooting holdouts may require condemnation, which is expensive, time consuming and — in the minds of many — a violation of private property rights. (New York’s Governor Cuomo won’t expand the $400-million Sandy voluntary buyout program in New York City after approving the purchase of only a few hundred homes.) At the same time, taxpayer commitment to rebuilding is fading as costs exacted by predictable disasters like Sandy reach the tens of billions each, and people get subsidized to rebuild repeatedly in areas of known danger."

London property prices by tube line map

London property prices by tube line map

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Team Seeks to Learn From Fatal Landslide

Team Seeks to Learn From Fatal Landslide

Engineering and Visual Explanations

In the future, engineers must improve their visual and statistical thinking.  Supporting your ideas and projects with quantitative thinking is no longer enough - - the future belongs to those engineers that understand that certain methods for displaying and analyzing data are better than others.  In the Era of Screens, how you place data in an appropriate context for assessing cause and effect, how to make quantitative comparisons, understanding the the logic of the display design must reflect the logic of the analysis, and designing for the fact that information is physical helps to explain our increasing connectedness in the marketplace of ideas.

The communication of ideas - - you can even make death interesting.  Consider this infographic.

Graph of the Week

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Water is going to be seen as a strategic resource

The Pacific Institute and Vox Global have teamed up to produce a fascinating report Bridging Concern with Action: Are U.S. Companies Prepared for Looming Water Challenges?  The report surveys 50+ companies listed in Appendix - ranging from AT&T to DuPont to Merck to Unilever.  The report details several eye opening statistics - three in four companies said they were already facing water-related challenges, 60% are predicting that water challenges would have an impact on business growth and profitability in the next five years, and nearly 85% said that in five years' time, water issues would influence decisions on where they located facilities.

Water scarcity shows up in may different places on the balance sheet of firms.  From the report on the impact of drought conditions on railroad giant Union Pacific:

"Soil with high clay content underlying railroad tracks - like that found in much Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas - is especially vulnerable to expansion and contraction that compromises the track bed structure, operability and safety.  When widespread drought conditions occur, damage and subsequent costs from infrastructure repair are incurred by the companies.  For example, in 2001, Union Pacific saw increased operating expenses of $18 million due to repairs and other costs associated with damaged tracks in the state of Texas."

Warming By State

A Smart Water Distribution Network

Monday, April 21, 2014

Engineering and Life in the Infosphere

Civil engineering has become an information-intensive profession as our clients in the public sector have become increasingly information-oriented.  Cities still have a need for tangible assets (roads, pipes, libraries, water plants, etc.), but value in advanced societies is highly dependent on information-based, intangible assets.  Cities have emerged as key nodes in the information society.  Civil engineering needs to better understand this marriage of the physical with the inform parts of society.  This sort of physical/inform holistic enlarging of our professional responsibilities will allow us to deal more effectively with our many challenges.  As the world moves toward greater and greater informatization - all of engineering needs to adapt.

The civil engineering profession needs to periodically reexamine where it stands in the context of the Zettabyte Era.  Review the lifecycle of information to see where we can create additional value.

Stages in the Information Life Cycle
Discovering, designing, authoring, etc.
Networking, distributing, accessing, retrieving, transmitting, etc.
Processing and Management
Collecting, validating, modifying, organizing, indexing, classifying, filtering, updating, sorting, storing, etc.
Monitoring, modelling, analyzing, explaining, planning, forecasting, decision-making, instructing, educating, learning, etc.

Engineering and the Vulnerability of U.S. Coastal Infrastructure

The risks of climate change and extreme weather events should be clear to people and communities along our national coastlines.  I am not sure we have come to gripes with the likely consequences.  Thirty nine percent of the population lives in coastal shoreline countries.  This population grew by 39% between 1970 and 2010, and is projected to grow by 8.3% by 2020.  The population density of coastal countries is 446 people per square mile which is over four times that of inland counties.

Consider the following statistics:
  • $6.6 trillion contribution to GDP of the coastal shoreline counties, just under half of U.S. GDP in 2011.
  • Total number of jobs is 51 million in the coastal communities in 2011.
  • $2.8 trillion in wages paid out to employers working at establishments in 2011.
  • Ranks #3 in global GDP (behind the United States and China) if coastal communities were considered a separate country.
  • The expected increase in the coastal communities density - 37 persons per square mile - a projected 8.3% increase.
Check out the excellent Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises by the National Research Council.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Do Engineering Students Have a Pre-Existing Desire to Make Money?

Great question.  Excellent blog post on Economics Majors and Earnings: Further Exploration.  I would like to see the same type of analysis completed for engineering students.  Points #4 and #5 are important to ponder.  Engineering is also a "signaling" career choice - from the blog:

"Majoring in economics probably signals desirable traits to employers, but the degree to which this is true, and the impact on expected earnings is unclear. (On the latter point, note that college major plausibly plays much less of a signaling role decisions about raises and promotions than it does in hiring decisions.)

It’s worth noting that majoring in economics doesn’t have to be an accurate signal of a desirable trait in order for it to have signaling benefits: all that’s necessary is that employers believe that it’s a signal of the trait.

The fact that economics majors make more is a signal that they’re better employees
Unless one attributes the wage gap entirely to signaling (which would correspond to a belief that employers are generally mistaken in paying economics majors more), one can know that economics majors tend to be better workers, even if one doesn’t know why. Thus, employers will take the fact that economics majors make more money as a signal of quality. So the wage gap itself gives rise to signaling benefits.

Employer surveys
According to a survey of the The Chronicle of Higher Education:
  • Economics is one of the most desired majors in business (pg. 67)
  • 19% of employers state that they look for specific majors, 44% value some over others, 34% say that they balance it with other factors, and 3% say that it’s not important at all. (pg. 64).
The preference for certain majors will be presumably be lower if one restricts to non-technical jobs. It should be noted that employers listed internships and employment during college as more significant than college major, with volunteer experience and extracurricular activities are not far behind. (pg. 24)

2013 Gallup poll of business leaders asked about the weights that they assign to different factors when making hiring decisions. What they indicated is summarized below. (The columns starting with the second are the percent who ranked the factor as “very important”, “somewhat important” “not very important” and “not at all important”)"

Vodafone Instant Network Mini

A 24-pound mobile network - a satellite connection enables five concurrent calls within a 330-foot radius and thousands of text messages.

FloodWatch App

Link to the App.  The American Red Cross also recently released a need flooding App.

Growth Areas for Engineers - Survival of the Fittest

Bringing tech to the disaster world of prediction, protection, and response could be big business this century.  The "perfect storm" of more frequent, more intense, and less predictable weather events and natural disasters will have organizations and communities looking to engineers for innovation.

Group your thinking by the following categories and needs:

Area of Engineering
Examples of Technology
Disaster detection – issuing warnings from minutes to hours.
Advanced GPS, sensors, monitors, networks, drones, etc.
Diminish the impacts of storms and climate change – design for resilience with faster recovery times.
Tunnel plugs, absorptive pavement/streets, storm resistant windows/materials, flood gates, storm surge barriers, etc.
Helping first responders – better equipment to move in faster with greater impact.
Drones/UAVs, mobile networks, solar traffic lights, heartbeat detectors, advanced communication, etc.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

An Update on IBM Predictive Analytics

Link to an interesting article in The Telegraph.  The water-energy nexus will benefit greatly with the addition of smart metering in both the water and energy sectors.  Watch for a future in which the two industries operate more in harmony - better operational information and predictive analytics will produce an environment of greater efficiency and sustainability.

The Top 500 Design Firms | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

The Top 500 Design Firms | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Samara Disposable Wildfire Data Drone

Link to a paper on the Samara.  News on the drone.

Milton-Madison Bridge Earns Title of Longest Slide | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Milton-Madison Bridge Earns Title of Longest Slide | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Bridges, Bullets, or Hip Replacements?

The Era of Choices gets extremely complex when the world of hip replacements eats into the world of national security and infrastructure improvements.  From the New York Times Health Care Spending's Recent Surge Stirs Unease (link):
"But some health care experts and economists said that an expanded use of the health system might start to have the opposite effect. Americans feeling more economically confident might demand more procedures from doctors and hospitals. Insurers paying more money for those procedures might, in time, increase premiums, cutting into wage gains. The government might end up spending more on the health law than current projections imply.
“We knew this was coming,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office and a prominent Republican economist, of rising spending because of the coverage expansion and improving economy. “The question now is whether we can hold spending down.”
Many other analysts said they had long expected health spending to increase. “If we are seeing an uptick, it’s the beginning of the uptick,” said Drew Altman, the president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “We’ve expected to see a lagged effect, both when the economy declines and when it improves.”
The question is whether health spending might grow moderately, with a one-time bump from new Affordable Care Act enrollees, or whether it might surge, with potentially damaging consequences for the fiscal deficit and wages. Economists from both the right and left — including in the White House — have said that there is no greater threat to the government’s budget than soaring health spending."

What would be your 12-lessons of engineering speech?

From Nobel winner Tom Sargent and his commencement address at Berkeley:
  1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible.
  2. Individuals and communities face trade-offs.
  3. Other people have more information about their abilities, their efforts, and their preferences than you do.
  4. Everyone responds to incentives, including people you want to help. That is why social safety nets don’t always end up working as intended.
  5. There are trade-offs between equality and efficiency.
  6. In an equilibrium of a game or an economy, people are satisfied with their choices. That is why it is difficult for well-meaning outsiders to change things for better or worse.
  7. In the future, you too will respond to incentives. That is why there are some promises that you’d like to make but can’t. No one will believe those promises because they know that later it will not be in your interest to deliver. The lesson here is this: before you make a promise, think about whether you will want to keep it if and when your circumstances change. This is how you earn a reputation.
  8. Governments and voters respond to incentives too. That is why governments sometimes default on loans and other promises that they have made.
  9. It is feasible for one generation to shift costs to subsequent ones. That is what national government debts and the U.S. social security system do (but not the social security system of Singapore).
  10. When a government spends, its citizens eventually pay, either today or tomorrow, either through explicit taxes or implicit ones like inflation.
  11. Most people want other people to pay for public goods and government transfers (especially transfers to themselves).
  12. Because market prices aggregate traders’ information, it is difficult to forecast stock prices and interest rates and exchange rates

Home - Car Emergency Resilience

A thunderstorm knocks out the electric grid in your neighborhood for a week.  Plug your fuel cell powered car into your house and you are up and running for a week.  One of the keys to greater resilience will be greater decentralization and the ability for one system (i.e., transportation) to support another (i.e., housing).

Friday, April 18, 2014

City Resilience Framework

Publication from Arup - link.  From the announcement:

"What is city resilience? It is the capacity of a city to function, so that citizens survive and thrive no matter what stresses or shocks they encounter. This framework, supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and developed by Arup's International Development team gives cities a tool to understand their resilience; to shape urban planning, practice and investment."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Could Starcraft Measure the Performance of Future Engineers?

When you think of world class engineering talent you probably think in terms of critical thinking and problem solving skills.  In a world focused on sustainability and resilience, those engineers that understand the constraints and opportunities of resource management will be in high demand and this could be another critical skill.  Engineers entering the global workforce face constant change and complexities where disruptive technology and social/economic change call into question everything we thought we knew five years ago.  Engineers had better be very good at adaptive decision making as we look into the future.

How might we measure the skills of critical thinking, problem solving, resource management, and adaptive decision making?

Games like Starcraft measure all of the above skill sets - - in the added environment of intense time pressure.  Sounds just like engineering!!!

Why Your Neighbors Will Finance Solar Panels for Your Roof

Why Your Neighbors Will Finance Solar Panels for Your Roof

To Understand Water, Learn the Math

To Understand Water, Learn the Math

Monday, April 14, 2014

Graph of the Week

Texas Water 2014 and Eight Areas to Consider

In honor of Texas Water 2014 this week in Dallas, here is my list of growth opportunities that engineers and managers need to be looking at:
  1. Smarter systems and software for metering and network monitoring - - Asset management will increasingly focus on managing what you can measure.  Reactive management needs to get closer to active management.
  2. Urban Water Management - - Out with the silos of water management and in with the notion of thinking in terms of One Water.  We just need to call it water.
  3. Low-Energy Treatment and Better Process Efficiency - - Optimizing asset performance over the complete life-cycle will require civil engineers to think more like industrial engineers and OR experts.
  4. Flood Safety and Security - - We know we face a future of extreme rainfall events.  Risk reduction and management, from better mapping to real-time monitoring/barriers, need more attention and innovation.
  5. Wastewater Reuse - - The local wastewater treatment plant is a valuable source of resources and nutrients.  In a resource constrained world, wasting wastewater will not be considered sustainable utility management.
  6. The Water-Energy Nexus - - Water needs energy and energy needs water.  The interdependencies of the two systems have the potential to have cascading impacts this century. 
  7. Zero-Discharge Sanitation - - Innovation will continue to drive the idea of a system that generates zero or minimal wastewater.  Resilience and sustainability will drive a de-centralizing water resources movement.
  8. Megacities - - The best jobs will be in the best cities.  Mass migration to the best jobs/best cities will produce higher density living conditions - requiring creative engineering and technology in the context of full spectrum water resources management.

Intelligent Pipeline Monitoring - Syrinx's TrunkMinder Smart Monitoring

The Syrinx system pinpoints leaks in trunk mains by delivering non-stop real-time data (Link to the Syrinix site).  Water management is increasingly looking at Smart Distribution - achieving better leakage detection, better-focused maintenance and improved pressure management - as the future of turning reactive asset management into active asset management.  From their website:

Civil Engineering and Dysfunctional Government

The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent to the State by John Mickelthwatt and Adrian Wooldridge (both of The Economist with Woolridge writing the Schumpter Column - which I think is the best business column) comes out in the middle of May.  The movement from big government to smart government will be a challenge and opportunity for civil engineers that are entwined and embedded in the race to reinvent the state.  The really smart and insightful engineers will be at the center of this reinvention.

From Amazon:

"Dysfunctional government: It’s become a cliché, and most of us are resigned to the fact that nothing is ever going to change. As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge show us, that is a seriously limited view of things. In fact, there have been three great revolutions in government in the history of the modern world. The West has led these revolutions, but now we are in the midst of a fourth revolution, and it is Western government that is in danger of being left behind.

Now, things really are different. The West’s debt load is unsustainable. The developing world has harvested the low-hanging fruits. Industrialization has transformed all the peasant economies it had left to transform, and the toxic side effects of rapid developing world growth are adding to the bill. From Washington to Detroit, from Brasilia to New Delhi, there is a dual crisis of political legitimacy and political effectiveness.

The Fourth Revolution crystallizes the scope of the crisis and points forward to our future. The authors enjoy extraordinary access to influential figures and forces the world over, and the book is a global tour of the innovators in how power is to be wielded. The age of big government is over; the age of smart government has begun. Many of the ideas the authors discuss seem outlandish now, but the center of gravity is moving quickly.

This tour drives home a powerful argument: that countries’ success depends overwhelmingly on their ability to reinvent the state. And that much of the West—and particularly the United States—is failing badly in its task. China is making rapid progress with government reform at the same time as America is falling badly behind. Washington is gridlocked, and America is in danger of squandering its huge advantages from its powerful economy because of failing government. And flailing democracies like India look enviously at China’s state-of-the-art airports and expanding universities.

The race to get government right is not just a race of efficiency. It is a race to see which political values will triumph in the twenty-first century—the liberal values of democracy and liberty or the authoritarian values of command and control. The stakes could not be higher."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Civil Engineering Classes to Consider

Several interesting classes from SMU that get at potential civil engineering challenges we face in our future.

CEE 5325 (3). DISASTER MANAGEMENT. This course introduces the student to basic

concepts in disaster management. Drawing on a range of sources from the textbook to the U.S.

National Response plan to research papers, the course covers the fundamentals of preparedness,

mitigation, response, and recovery. An all-hazards approach is taken, providing analysis of

natural, technological, and man-made disasters. In addition to discussing the basic theories of

disaster management, the course introduces the student to key methods in the field, including

simulation modeling, consequence analysis tools, design criteria, statistical and case study

methods (lessons learned), and risk analysis.
ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS. Introduces the concepts of engineering systems optimization,
reliability and risk assessment, and applies them to civil and environmental engineering

systems. Includes an introduction to engineering systems definition, classical methods of

optimization, linear programming, integer programming, dynamic programming, nonlinear

optimization, and reliability and risk concepts in engineering planning and design. Engineering

applications include transportation networks, fleet assignment, supply chain management,

environmental engineering systems, fluid transport and water reservoir operation and

structural engineering systems. Advance topics include an introduction to chance-constrained

optimization and basic decomposition approaches and their application to real-world problems.
CEE 5328 (3). INTRODUCTION TO SUSTAINABILITY. Introduces basic concepts in
sustainability. Drawing on a range of sources, including selected books and readings, the course

explores the idea of total connectedness of resource use globally, with particular emphasis on

the situation in north Texas. Addresses the issues of air quality and energy supply, sustainable

construction, water use, transit and other related areas of resource use, and waste generation.

The inclusion of multiple guest lecturers will provide a series of multiple viewpoints and areas
of specific expertise. Prerequisite: Graduate standing or permission of instructor.

technologies and methods used in sustainable design and analysis. Areas covered include the

scientific understanding of alternative energy systems, water reuse and supply, and state-of-the-art

materials created for sustainability. Also discussed are methods for assessing sustainability,

including life cycle assessment and the development of sustainable indicators. Prerequisite:

Graduate standing or permission of instructor.
CEE 5330 (3). DESIGN FOR SUSTAINABILITY. This course introduces the student to the

issues involved in creating a sustainable built environment. The course will address issues of

resource use at the regional and project specific level. Specific techniques for designing and

constructing sustainable buildings will be addressed. Systems of measurement for sustainable

properties will be discussed on a comparative level, and the USGBC’s LEED system will be
specifically addressed. Prerequisite: Graduate standing or permission of instructor.

Clouds Start To Lift From the Solar Sector | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Clouds Start To Lift From the Solar Sector | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Years of Living Dangerously

Infrastructure Spending and a Long Summer

From the New York Times Editorial Board today:

"Congress is lurching toward its standard emergency, edge-of-the-cliff deal for the federal Highway Trust Fund, which could run short of money as early as August. The fund pays for the nation’s vitally needed road and transit projects and has operated on an 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax that hasn’t been raised since 1993. Now it is running on fumes, raising about $39 billion a year but facing shortfalls of close to $20 billion annually as more efficient cars pay less into the fund while infrastructure repair costs rise.
Worried lawmakers and administration officials are warning that road and transit projects could be halted in a matter of months and hundreds of thousands of construction workers left without paychecks unless Congress comes up with a viable solution soon. Without a long-term solution, planning, building and repairing infrastructure on state and local levels must inevitably suffer, transportation officials are warning.
Uncertainty over the faltering pace of federal funding prompted Arkansas officials to postpone the awarding of 10 planned highway and bridge projects last month. Officials in Colorado and California are talking of similarly slowing or delaying projects because of an anticipated summer slowdown in federal support as trust fund receipts fall short.
Increasingly, states have debated raising their own taxes to assure at least some continuity in transportation projects as Congress dawdles.
The obvious and equitable answer is to raise the gas tax, particularly in an era in which the neglect of infrastructure important to the economy gets palpably worse every year. But even a reasonable increase in the gas tax is considered a nonstarter for timorous lawmakers in an election year. The Obama administration has proposed a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill that would bolster the trust fund with the help of corporate tax reforms, not a higher gas tax. But this approach is already being rejected by congressional leaders as unlikely to pass this year.
Representative Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who oversees the Ways and Means Committee, has talked about a tax code change to tax profits repatriated from abroad as a revenue source for the highway fund. While this idea has good bipartisan potential, it seems unlikely to happen given Congress’s default mode of gamesmanship and procrastination.
“We’re running out of time,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who leads the public works committee, of the need to find a multiyear solution. A more stable, six-year plan sought by some lawmakers would require an additional $100 billion to cover trust fund shortfalls, according to congressional budget officials.
Two years ago, lawmakers raided general budget revenues to plaster a patch on the highway trust fund until Sept. 30 of this year. Congress has very little time left to come up with something better than last-minute fiscal sleight of hand."

The 5th Annual Critical Infrastructure Symposium

I had the opportunity of attending the Critical Infrastructure Symposium on April 7-8, 2014 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Critical Infrastructure Symposium is a collaborative learning community comprised of students, educators, practitioners, and government officials all engaged in developing the next generation of critical infrastructure protection and resilience leadership, technologies and strategies.

Engineering will need to help create and build companies and organizations that are more resilient. Cities will need to learn how to manage with extreme volatility while companies with need to learn how to profit from the same volatility.  Global climate change and increasing constraints on resources will require companies and cities to fundamentally rethink their strategies, operations, and business philosophy in order to create new value and thrive.  This will require engineers to design and build in a world of imperfect choices.  This new world of resilience will require engineers to ask difficult heretical questions, help organizations and cities to design better investment tools, and collaborate in radical new ways.  Engineering for a world of resiliency will require us all to get better at pivot strategies - - where we speak to both the notion of a sound defense but also a smart offense.

Civil Engineering and the Game of Drones

Drones will be a very big tool and asset for civil engineers this century.  My guess is much sooner than later.  There is way too much interest and intellectual energy doing on around drones to consider this a passing fad.  We have also entered the perfect storm in terms of asset management - the convergence of constrained fiscal resources, aging infrastructure with longer and longer deferred maintenance/replacement schedules, and advanced robotic technology that can aid and replacement expensive labor resources.  The Game of Drones will be won by those engineers that can think more creatively about integrating technology from one field into another very different field.

Check out the following from The Friendly Drones of Michigan Tech:

"The Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) is looking into the use of drones in transportation. MTRI scientists and faculty from the main Michigan Tech campus are using unmanned aerial v"hicles (UAVs) to help the US Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovation Technology Administration (USDOT/RITA) and other agencies develop low-cost, highly-efficient ways to handle tasks that range from mapping the condition of unpaved roads to understanding traffic jams and evaluating the conditions inside culverts. The research will help transportation agencies save money and reduce risk to staff who would otherwise have to go on a roadway or bridge, or inside a confined space, to understand infrastructure conditions there.

Meanwhile, a graduate student in the School of Technology is developing a fixed-wing, autonomous aerial vehicle to take high-resolution digital images from heights of three hundred feet. And the Great Lakes Research Center is saving time, money, and lives by checking underwater pipelines, cables, and municipal water intakes with Iver 3, the latest generation of autonomous underwater vehicle."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Water Management and the Art of the Mixed Message

From the California WaterBlog - Drought's No. 1 lesson: modernize water management:

"Most water system costs are fixed; those for distribution pipes, treatment plants and labor don’t vary with the volume of water delivered. Unless most of the monthly bill is a flat fee (which dims price incentives to consumers to use water efficiently), revenues often cannot cover fixed costs during droughts, when extraordinary conservation reduces water sales and revenues. Utilities then must raise rates after the drought."

The City of Dallas Connected City Design Lecture - Stoss + SHoP

Dallas’s Central Waterway is Reinvented

Dallas’s Central Waterway is Reinvented

Space-Saving Sink-and-Toilet Combined Design

Space-Saving Sink-and-Toilet Combined Design

Giving Engineering the Benefits of Females

Excellent article in the Dallas Morning News this morning by Avi Selk - Science in their Sights.  The article profiles the "Girls of Technology" at the Singley Academy in Irving, Texas.

From the article:

"Females think differently,” Barton said. “Girls don’t need foo-foo aesthetics. But they need color and labs that will appeal to them instead of walking into a cave. The guys get wrapped up in the technical side. ‘How are we going to make this work?’ Girls tend to respond to things they see changing the world around them.”

That’s why Lesly wants to make robots. She imagines them rolling across Mars or helping legless people walk.

For Barton, it’s as much about giving women the benefit of science as it is about giving science the benefit of women. Sometimes she sees a group of boys come up with a complex plan to solve a task. “‘Let’s do this, do this, do this, do something else.’ And one of the girls reaches over and says, ‘if we just do these two steps, we’ll get this accomplished.’”

A middle class family can afford . . .

The long-term trend is for more and more people moving to larger and larger urban environments.  It will be interesting to see how this works in the long term - - the model will not be very economically sustainable if it produces large numbers of "refugees" in search of cheaper housing.  It will also be interesting to see how the economic costs and pressures of things like climate change adaptation and rising seas levels get reflected in the cost of living in places like SF and NYC.  If I was a policy maker in those two cities, I would be very worried about who can actually afford to pay for noble goals of resiliency and sustainability.

Consider the following regarding what a middle-class family could afford:
  • 14% of the homes in the San Francisco area
  • 24% in the New York area
  • 50% in the Austin area
  • 55% in the Denver area
  • 57% in the San Antonio

Engineering needs to use the future as a reference, not the past

The new buzzword for engineering is "resiliency" - - a word suited for Americans (tough, hardy, strong, flexible, etc.) that is intended as a nonpolitically charged way of getting at issues underlying climate change: the need to rebuild in ways that take ecology, economy, infrastructure and weather uncertainity into account.

Press releanse for Water Week 2014 and the count the number of times resilience is used:

WASHINGTON, DC, April 10, 2014 -- As part of Water Week 2014, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) recently hosted a Water Resilience Summit to explore climate-driven resilience challenges that water and wastewater utilities face, as well as develop viable collaborative approaches and solutions to address them.

Following a number of discussions the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leadership earlier this year, NACWA and AMWA recognized the need to explore the legal, economic and practical challenges to utility climate change resilience and to explore these solutions with federal agencies. At the Summit, key municipal and federal agency leaders and economic experts engaged in a facilitated discussion expanding on three themes:

  • Resilience, Risk Tolerance and Long-Term Planning
  • Constraints to Local Utility Resilience and Collaborative Ways to Overcome Barriers
  • Financing and Funding for Resilience and Opportunities for Partnership

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy provided a keynote address at the Summit: "From historic droughts that threaten water supplies to super storms that overwhelm sewer systems, the impacts of climate change are felt at the local level where we treat and manage our water. That's why EPA supports AMWA's and NACWA's leadership on building and designing resilient water systems that take climate change into account."

Diane VanDe Hei, AMWA's Executive Director, added, "Confronted with drought and rising coastal waters, water utilities are planning and building resilience into their operations and infrastructure. Those who participated in the Water Resilience Summit are on the forefront of that work. Over the last day and a half, the leaders of those water utilities shared their experiences and offered recommendations for future partnership with federal agency officials."

Accordingly, Ken Kirk, NACWA's Executive Director, said, "Climate change is all about water. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made it clear that the issue of resilience is so vast and so important, that municipalities and the federal government must come together to address it. The Summit is just the beginning."

In addition to utilities from coast to coast, federal agencies represented included EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Department of Energy, the White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Providing a financial risk perspective, Lindene Patton, Chief Climate Product Officer of Zurich Insurance Group, Ltd., noted that, "we have an opportunity to dramatically improve the resilience of our critical infrastructure. This can be achieved in a manner that will ultimately save federal, state and local governments billions of dollars annually. Seizing this opportunity will require investment by local, state and federal governments in enhanced infrastructure resilience measures and elimination of government policies and programs that provide disincentives to improved resilience."

America's Most Sprawling Cities Are Also the Most Republican

America's Most Sprawling Cities Are Also the Most Republican

Climate Report Calls for Engineering Solutions

Climate Report Calls for Engineering Solutions

Better Social Engineering for Water Conservation

The "softer" skill sets of water conversation need much greater attention.  Designing a water bill that compares your comsumption to your nieghbors and city is one tool in the behavior modification basket that needs greater attention and research.  From Using Nonpercuniary Strategies to Influence Behavior: Evidence From a Large-Scale Field Experiment by Ferraro and Price (link):

Policymakers are increasingly using norm-based messages to

influence individual decision making. We partner with a metropolitan

water utility to implement a natural field experiment to examine the effect

of such messages on residential water demand. The data, drawn from

more than 100,000 households, indicate that social comparison messages

had a greater influence on behavior than simple prosocial messages or

technical information alone. Moreover, our data suggest that social comparison

messages are most effective among households identified as the

least price sensitive: high users. Yet the effectiveness of such messages

wanes over time. Our results thus highlight important complementarities

between pecuniary and nonpecuniary strategies.


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Imagination of a Structural Engineer

The blonde creative force behind this is a structural engineering student at SMU - Miriah Cowley. I heard her speak at TEDxSMU today. This was part of an exhibit she did for the children at Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas. Very well done!!

Thinking Like a Dutch Engineer

From Russell Shorto of the New York Times - How to Think Like the Dutch in a Post-Sandy World (link):
"He was clearly eager for the challenge of persuading a giant country that it needs to live with water and not simply resist it. But he was skeptical about anyone’s ability to effect meaningful change in the United States. He had recently taken an exploratory trip to the Far Rockaways, with a team of American engineers that was rebuilding storm walls damaged by Sandy. “These are the same walls that broke before?” Ovink asked. “Yes!” came the reply. “And what if they break again?” “We’ll rebuild them again.”
Beyond that, Ovink feared that politics might undermine any chance to encourage new thinking about water management. “When I mentioned climate change to one official,” he said, “she almost hit me.” He characterized some of the wishful thinking he believed he would be dealing with as: “Don’t hire a Dutchman — believe in angels.”
Dutch battles against water led his country to develop a communal society. To this day, Water Boards, which date to the Middle Ages, are a feature of every region, and they guide long-term infrastructural planning. American individualism, on the other hand, has yielded a system in which each municipality has a great deal of autonomy, making regional cooperation difficult. “The vulnerabilities are regional,” said Judith Rodin, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which is the main funding organization working with Donovan’s team. “Yet we have individual community rule, and very little incentive to get out of that.”
But the need to apply new thinking in the U.S. couldn’t be greater, Ovink said. Climate scientists predict that by the end of the century, sea levels will rise by between one and a half and four feet. New York City could see storm surges up to 24 feet. Miami Beach could be under water. “Water has not been a policy issue in the U.S.,” Ovink said. “That’s because you’re mostly all above sea level. But what if the sea level changes?”"