Thursday, July 31, 2014

Water Management In a World of Inflow - Outflow < 0

Lake Arrowhead - Wichita Falls, TX

plot of recent storage data

Texas Could Win Big Under New Climate Change Rules

Link to a positive report on Texas in a world of climate change.  Four areas of strength for Texas outlined in the report:

"And a new analysis by the Center for Strategic for International Studies goes into more detail about how it could work. Here’s four ways Texas stands to win economically under the proposed carbon rules:
  1. Billions of Dollars in Additional Revenue: Thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling, Texas has unlocked massive amounts of natural gas — and could continue to do so, especially if the price is right. In the West South Central region, which includes Texas, the average annual revenue from natural gas production could go up anywhere from $4 billion to nearly $18 billion a year according to the CSIS report. Add in the savings from Texas not having to spend billions to buy coal from other states, and you’ve got a real “shot in the arm” for the Texas economy, Webber says.
  2. Renewables Might Get a Boost as Well: In addition to plenty of fossil fuels, Texas is also a leader in wind power and has the potential to do the same with solar energy. “We have a lot of cheap, flat, sunny, windy land that’s connected to billions of dollars of transmission lines, so we can move that power to market easily,” Webber says.
  3. Texas’ Power Could Be Sold to Other Markets: If Texas built up enough renewable energy, Webber says it could even sell it to other grids or as credits in a carbon offset market. “So we might be able to make a lot of money in a lot of places,” he says.
  4. Tech Hubs like Austin May Drive Efficiency Innovation: A major source of new, carbon-free power that could come out of the rules could be power that we don’t use. Efficiency and consumption reduction programs like demand response could mean jobs and demand for energy efficiency services. “IT, software, automation — with Austin and our tech sector here, we stand to benefit from that demand as well. There should be a lot of winners in Texas from this,” Webber says."

Engineering Should Abandon the Word Wastewater

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Graph of the Week

Pulse Flow and the Colorado River

Texas Desal 2014

Texas Desal 2014: Best Practices & Emerging TechnologyLink to the conference in Austin on September 11-12.

Big Data Comes to AEC Project Management

Look for engineering and construction firms to embrace the power of big data.  Rarely does the AEC industry examine why certain project teams and work crews are more productive than others.  What are the key variables that separate superior performance from the rather ho-hum?

The Schumpeter Column in the July 19th edition of the Economist (Little things that mean a lot: Businesses should aim for lots of small wins from "big data", that add up to something big) has a paragraph the AEC project management gurus should consider:

"The approach can even be used to tell businesses how better to organize their employees.  QuantumBlack, a data-analysis firm, says a client, an engineering multinational, measured how the output of its teams of workers varied as a result of dozens of differences in their composition.  It found a small step-change in productivity when the teams had more than seven members, whereas efficiency fell steadily with each additional time-zone in which team members were based.  How well the members already knew each other turned out to be especially important, yet the managers doing the scheduling had thought of this.  Most individual improvements were in the range of 0.5% to 1%, says Simon Williams of QuantumBlack, but together they added up to a 22% rise in teams' overall productivity."

The Water-Energy Nexus Hell - Higher Costs and Declining Revenue

Water and energy share a common concern.  Both industries rank as our most capital intensive.  Revenue growth matters to both industries - - both are in their comfort zone when revenue growth in electricity and water mirrors GDP growth.  But times are charging for both industries.  How would you like to manage in an era where your costs are going up 2% annually while your revenue is flat - - or actually declines?

Consider the following from the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Rebecca Smith, Electric Utilities Get No Jolt:

"Sluggish electricity demand reflects broad changes in the overall economy, the effects of government regulation and technological changes that have made it easier for Americans to trim their power consumption. But the confluence of these trends presents utilities with an almost unprecedented challenge: how to cope with rising cost when sales of their main product have stopped growing."

We are probably entering an era of disruptive forces - rate increases feedback loop.  Yes, you were a good economically inclined citizen and customer and you did the energy/water conservation projects.  And yes, you cut your energy/water consumption by 15% annually.  But a bunch of your neighbors did the exact thing that you did.  Revenue at the local water utility dropped by 10% and they cannot cover their fixed costs. You may never see the full savings and benefits of your conservation projects - - your rate will be going up by 10% next year.

A Great View of the Middle East 50-Years Out

"Gaming Israel and Palestine is republished with permission of Stratfor."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Value of Brownfield Remediation

NBER working paper.  From the paper:

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Program awards grants to redevelop contaminated lands known as brownfields. This paper estimates cleanup benefits based on a nationally representative sample of brownfields using a variety of quasi-experimental techniques. To our knowledge, this is the first paper that combines non-public EPA administrative records with high-resolution, high-frequency housing data to estimate the effects of brownfield cleanup across the entire federal Brownfields Program. We find increases in property values accompanying cleanup, ranging from 4.9% to 11.1%; for a welfare interpretation that does not rely on the intertemporal stability of the hedonic price function, a double-difference matching estimator finds even larger effects of up to 32.2%. Our various specifications lead to the common conclusion that Brownfields Program cleanups yield a positive, statistically significant, but highly-localized effect on housing prices."

FlexNet™ Advanced Metering Infrastructure System (AMI)

FlexNet™ Advanced Metering Infrastructure System (AMI)

MWH - - AutoForm

Mobile technology is one of the things you should be thinking about - - platforms that allow users to collect data in the field and automatically upload.

Be thinking in terms of custom-built apps - - the millennials in your organization are perfect to leverage in an app filled technology-driven world focused on enhancing project delivery systems.

AutoForm is one example.  From the iTunes store:
AutoForm™ is used by field techs, engineers, scientists, and anyone who needs to capture data offline in the field and quickly share it with others then sync with the cloud for collaboration, analysis and reporting. Form data can include number, text, and dropdown fields as well as GPS locations, photos with markups, and signatures.

The US House of Representative Looks at Integrated Planning and Permitting

Big Data Comes to Construction Equipment Management

From the Wall Street Journal yesterday by James R. Hagerty - Heavy-Machinery Makers Push Tracking Tools:

"Daniel Samford, vice president who manages the equipment fleet at Herzog Contracting Corp., a builder of roads and railroad lines based in St. Joseph, Mo., recently got a request form his colleagues: They needed another wheel loader to help move raw materials at an asphalt plant in Missouri.

With a few clicks on his computer, Mr. Samford determined that the company which owns more than 2,000 machines, had an underused wheel loader at a Dallas work site that could be sent to Missouri.  In the past, he might simply have bought a new machine, costing roughly $150,000.  It was difficult to track use of company's machines, scattered at work sites in about 20 states.  Now, with the growing adoption of tracking devices and software to analyze the data they spit out, companies like Herzog, can make better decisions about when to buy and when to merely move gear."

Mission Blue

Graph of the Week


Monday, July 28, 2014

The Current State of Water Utility Finance

What We Learn is Dependent on How We Learn

From Malcolm Gladwell in an interview with The Guardian:

"I learned more about the world from playing board games than anything else. One summer I played 105 games of Monopoly in two months. We played Risk games that would take 15 hours. What you realize is that it’s nothing to do with what happens on the board. It’s everything to do with your relationships with the people you’re playing. That’s a really hard lesson to learn as a child."

The Future of Construction Management - Replacing Labor with Technology

The RS Means Guide in 2030 (you will be viewing it with your Google Glass or similar) will have new categories - - crew configuration (human), crew configuration (non-human), and crew configuration (hybrid).

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What Engineers Can Learn From Film School

Several good tips and ideas to ponder from 101 Things I Learned in Film School from Neil Landau and Matthew Frederick. Ideas that engineers should ponder:
  • Show, don't tell.  Engineers get into huge problems when they think more toward telling than showing.  Our work is the showing profession (Law is a telling profession).  In the Age of Screens, we need to get better at showing in terms of video on a wider range of platforms.
  • Follow the action.  Your clients and key stakeholders want to be close to your project action.  Give them the optimal view of the project.
  • Make psychology visual.  If you want to show the "people skills" of your project team, don't just show the client pictures of your physical stuff.  Show the client people pictures of your project team - - in team meetings, meeting with the public, talking to the operations staff, etc.
  • A flawed protagonist is more compelling than a perfect protagonist.  Don't market your proposed project manager as the Jesus Christ of PMs.  Show him or her as imperfect --  with the ability to learn, grow, change, adaptable, and learn from mistakes.  Clients want to work with successful lesson learners and problem solvers/learners and not unrealistic saints.
  • Beginning, middle, end.  When you show your protagonist/project manager during an interview or presentation - - think in terms of three acts.  Act 1 - Establish the Problem.  Act 2 - Complicate the Problem (every project has the potential for conflict and tension!!).  Act 3 - Resolve the Problem.
  • What's at stake.  The client should always understand what is at stake on every project.  What is it that drives the valve creation chain?
  • Create tangible objects of desire.  Engineers should be the masters of this - - bringing the abstract idea of that new bridge into a physical public/award success story.  The combined world of imagination and animation are important in the Age of Screens.
  • Practice perfect pitch.  Hollywood is infamous for the 10-minute movie pitch.  Engineers need the same for their 5-minute project pitch.
  • A high concept movie can be explained in one sentence.  The next time you listen to a 30-presentation for a proposed project, have the project manager explain the story line in one sentence.
  • Have a strong but.  How many project plans and projects don't have a strong but?
  • A good title says what a movie is.  An effective title conveys what your presentation is actually about.  The protagonist's quest, the setting, the theme, genre, etc.
  • Plot is physical events; story is emotional events.  Engineers care about the plot; you client and key stakeholders may care more about the story - - caring more about how everyone feels about the story.
  • Whose story is it?  Your presentation is from the point of view of who - - and understand the difference between an objective POV and a subjective POV.
  • Create memorable entrances.  Style, character, behavior - - you must be distinctive and engineers will hate me for saying this - - it matters a lot!!
  • Tell a story at different scales.  The American Society of Civil Engineers doesn't get this in their telling of the infrastructure is declining story.  How does a water system of  grade D+ impact my neighborhood?
  • The best story structure is invisible.  The best presentations I have seen have a certain unfolding narrative - - hard to pull off but very effective.
  • Every scene must reveal new information.  The same holds true for PowerPoint slides.
  • Animation provides an opportunity to think expansively, not expensively.  I don't agree with this in the context of the AEC industry - - but look for additional opportunities and cheaper/effective technology to change the way we can tell stories.
  • Dialogue is not real speech.  Your presentation must sound authentic.
  • Have some showstoppers.  Your next presentation at the national technical conference -- think in terms of several memorable high points.  Have a big scene that the audience will remember.
  • Every movie is a suspense movie.  Remember this is how your clients things about the next project.
  • Help the audience keep track of your characters.  Assume the audience forgets details.
  • A comedy isn't just about jokes.  Remember that good comedy ultimately grows out of its underpinnings - - from creating interesting situations and playing with expectations of how they should turn out. 
  • Good writing is good rewriting.  A good model is to write fast but don't hurry and remember a screenplay typically undergoes ten or more full rewrites before it is ready for the marketplace.
  • Make rejection a process.  This is the key to business development in the AEC industry.  
  • Different lenses tell different stories.  In many project stories you will need to show and discuss both the telephoto and wide angle of your vision of the project.
  • Read it aloud.  The next time you write an a SOQ or project approach, read it aloud.  Don't always rely on the voice in your head.
  • Rehearsal isn't just for the actors.  For your next practice presentation, have the entire production team attend.
  • Don't overtax an audience's good will.  Remember that people are attending your public meeting on the bridge project to learn something.

Rethinking Water Rates

Less revenue from water sales due to drought restrictions and longer term customer behavioral modification has utility operators in the Southwest rethinking the basic base rate of their financial models.  From the Environmental Finance Blog: 

"Base charges are critical for water utilities’ finances given that the majority of utility expenses are fixed in the short term and require a stable revenue source to pay for them despite decreasing demands. The most common practice is for utilities to set a constant base charge for each customer class or vary the base charge by meter size. Yet, this assumes that every residential customer with a 5/8″ meter places the same fixed costs on the water system. A few utilities have determined that this was not the case and have structured base charges more creatively, resulting in varying base charges among customers of the same customer class. This post describes some of the less common structures of base charges."

Climate Change and the Naked Commuter

I rode the NYC subway system over the July 4th weekend.  The first thing I noticed was how hot the underground stations were - - and this is from a Texan.  Others are thinking about heat waves and the heat on trains and the stations.  From the London Evening Standard.

Blogging for Construction Professionals

If you can take a class on something - has to be a big thing (link to the class).

Austin Is Looking at the Impact of Climate Change

Austin is being Austin and is thinking about the impacts of climate change - - while the rest of Texas is on a path to ignore the whole climate change and extreme weather issue.  From the New York Times today by Neena Satija - Think It's Hot in Texas? Austin Knows Better (Get Used to 110):

"The study, which was done by the scientific research and consulting firm Atmos, also found that while Austin would probably experience longer dry spells and receive less rain over all, it would be hit more frequently with "extreme precipitation" events that could lead to widespread flooding.  City departments recently asked the City Council for more than $650,000 for detailed assessments of how climate change could affect Austin's infrastructure, from its water reservoirs and power plants to its parks."

The report is available here.  Neena Satija is the water resources/environmental reporter for the Texas Tribune - - follow her reporting on these critical issues for Texas!!!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Innovation Marches On

Not Enough Public Sector Design and Construction Work - Look In the Mirror


The Best Public Service Ad!!

Think about what the TSA could do with this ad agency!!

Experts Say Autonomous Cars Are Unlikely to Master Urban Driving Anytime Soon | MIT Technology Review

Experts Say Autonomous Cars Are Unlikely to Master Urban Driving Anytime Soon | MIT Technology Review

Developing Water Utility Business Model Resilience in the Face of Climate Change Risk

This is an important topic that water utilities need to be paying closer attention to -- especially those communities subject to increasing climate change risk and uncertainty.  The current drought in the West is a perfect example of the disruptive forces impacting water utilities - - drought restrictions and bans on water use combined with technological advances reducing industrial water consumption.  Reduced revenue has many water utilities losing money.  The ugly political and economic feedback loop has many citizens (keep in mind that water customers are really water citizens - - Verizon and other "utilities" don't have to worry about this difference) e-mailing the local Mayor the following - - "WTF, I cut my water consumption by 5% and you want to raise my rate 7%!!!"

More at the Environmental Finance Center.

Russians, Arabs, Villains that Smoke . . . Not Our Primary Concern

Graph of the Week

Data from the Energy Information Administration.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Increasing number of water utilities are experiencing declining revenue

From the Environmental Finance Blog (which I will add to my blog list) - - a very important post/paper by Shadi Eskaf, Even Total Water Demand is on the Decline at Many Utilities.  From the paper:

"Regardless of the drivers of changing demands, of which there are many, the implications of declining total demands are significant. Water utilities have a complicated relationship with customer demands. On one hand, declining demands is great for water resources management, increasing the potential supply for new customers, avoiding costly expansions, and protecting environmental habitats. On the other hand, lower demand equals lower revenues, while large fixed costs remain unchanged and must still be paid. If utilities are projecting growth in demand and instead are witnessing a decrease, revenue shortfalls will result. More worryingly, utilities that expand their water systems based on old demand projections and then experience a decrease in total demand instead of an increase will have taken on new debt and capital costs to pay for capacity that may not be used for many years, at the same time when revenues may also be suffering due to declining demands, intensifying their financial difficulties."

White House Unveils $10B Rural Infrastructure Fund | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

White House Unveils $10B Rural Infrastructure Fund | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Drinking Texas Water

From the Texas Tribune and Neena Satija (would recommend her work - - good Texas water articles and insight) - Drinking Water Systems Draw Federal Concerns:

"A separate EPA review done in 2012 found that nearly a quarter of public water systems in Texas had committed significant violations of water law — either because of unhealthy levels of contaminants, or because they failed to test water properly and frequently enough. That’s a higher percentage of violations than in other large states, such as California, where 8 percent of water systems had committed significant violations."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mastering the Art and Science of Relationship Psychology

Business development requires engineers to become masters of relationship psychology.  Good blog post on the insight you can gain from a better understanding of basic psychology.

Schottky Pumpkin Ale

Check out this beer.  Only an engineer would name his beer like this - -
"This beer is an homage to German physicist Walter H. Schottky (1888-1976) who played a major role in developing the theory of electron and ion emission phenomena. The shape you see carved into the pumpkin on our beer labels is actually the sign for the Schottky diode, which is a semiconductor diode with a low forward voltage drop and a very fast switching action."

Taylor & Francis Online :: Desalination and Water Treatment

Taylor & Francis Online :: Desalination and Water Treatment

Water Wars or Water Cooperation?

Excellent post from LobeLog - The Forgotten Key to Israel-Palestine: Water:

"There was a real diplomatic blowup in the Knesset last week, when Naftali Bennett led a walkout of the chamber by his HaBayit HaYehudi party during a speech by European Union Parliamentary President Martin Schulz. The comment Schulz made that elicited his response was this: “A Palestinian youth asked me why an Israeli can use 70 cubic liters of water and a Palestinian just 17. I haven’t checked the data. I’m asking you if this is correct.”

Is this just another example of Israeli hyper-sensitivity and over-reaction? In fact, it is not. At first glance, this seems like a foreign leader framing a question, one that seems to be regarding an issue that makes Israel look no worse than frequent statements about settlements and foot-dragging on the peace process. It actually touches on an issue that is at the very heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but that is too often overlooked. That issue is water.

When one mentions water in conjunction with the Middle East, there is always this “oh, yeah” reaction as people remember that this is probably the single most important issue in the region. But it is too rarely considered in political analyses. It isn’t discussed often enough in the context of the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but it is absolutely fundamental to Israeli policy and Palestinian dispossession.

People are usually puzzled as to why Israel risks international isolation and opprobrium in order to maintain its occupation. Is it religious zeal? Nationalistic fervor? An obsession with security considerations that Israel’s military might has transcended and that are based in military thinking that is a half-century out of date? All of these are very real factors. But somehow, water is never mentioned as more than an afterthought (and I confess, I am as much at fault as my fellows in this regard).

But anyone who has ever been to Israel and also to other countries in the region knows that Israel, although it certainly needs to be more water-conscious than most Western countries, lives a more water-rich lifestyle than any of its neighbors. Talk to older Israelis who remember things before 1967; that was a different Israel in many ways, and water was a big issue. The difference between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is even more starkly visible; the contrast between homes with lush lawns and, in some cases, swimming pools in the settlements, and the arid homes of Palestinians with water cisterns on the roofs that are not always filled on schedule and often hold less than what is required between fillings is quite striking.

Today, and for more than four decades now, many of Israel’s major cities get a huge portion of their water from the mountain aquifer in the West Bank. Other water sources in Israel are dependent on this aquifer, and a few other smaller ones in the West Bank as well (see the map here). So not only would abandoning the West Bank mean that Israel loses a major portion of its water supply, the Palestinians would actually have the ability to control the sources of some water that is drawn within Israel’s internationally recognized boundaries.

That’s why water is always a sensitive issue. It’s made more so, of course, because, while the Palestinians and Israel “share” this major water resources, consumption is not at all equal. According to the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, daily per capita water consumption among Palestinians connected to the water grid in the West Bank for domestic, urban, and industrial use is some 73 liters. In areas in the northern West Bank, consumption is much lower. In 2008, per capita daily consumption was 44 liters in the Jenin area and 37 liters in the Tubas area, according to B’Tselem’s statistics. Today it’s about 38 liter per day in Jenin, but 169 in Jericho, which is very close to Israeli usage. About 113,000 Palestinians are not connected to the water grid, however, and their daily consumption is a mere 20-50 liters.

Most Palestinian water consumption is thus considerably lower than the WHO’s and USAID’s recommended bare minimum of 100 liters per day, and considerably less than the Israeli average of about 183 liters per day. So, yes, Schulz overstated it when he said Israelis consume four times as much per capita as Palestinians. They “only” consume between 2.4 and 3.5 times as much, with the gap between the average Israeli and the worst off Palestinian being about 7.5 times as much. And, let’s remember, that this is a resource that Israel took from the Palestinians when they occupied the West Bank. Before that, under Jordanian rule, and for the most part under the British Mandate, West Bank Palestinians enjoyed full access to the water resources in their area.

The conditions described above apply only in the West Bank. In Gaza, the situation is much worse. Gaza depends almost entirely on the coastal aquifer, which is also used by Israel and Egypt. The Palestinian Water Authority pumps more than three times the aquifer’s replenishment rate per year, and even that, due to unreliable supplies of electricity, water supply is erratic on a daily basis.
Over-pumping of that aquifer is a long-term problem, one that pre-dates Israel’s occupation of the Strip in 1967, but is now reaching crisis proportions. According to WHO findings, the Strip is expected to exhaust its supply of usable drinking water in 2016. UNICEF says that at present, 90% of the water from the coastal aquifer is unfit for human consumption. The majority of Gaza’s citizens have to buy water from vendors, with some paying as much as one-third of their income on water.

The pollution of the aquifer will, of course, also have a significant effect on Israelis and Egyptians, even beyond the fact that they will have to find alternative water sources. The World Bank funded the construction of a water treatment plant to alleviate part of this problem, but although the plant has been completed, it stands idle, caught in the middle of a dispute between Israel and Hamas over Israel providing increased electricity to the Strip in order to run the plant (Gaza still depends on Israel for most of its energy needs).

One can expect that Israel will eventually address this issue. The siege has, from the beginning, been carefully managed by Israel to ensure the deprivation of Gaza’s population while avoiding the sort of massive death and illness that might create international outrage and force Israel to act. But the water issue, as it involves both Gaza and the West Bank, threatens to turn into something much greater.
Although some groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, had warned years before the outbreak of violence in Syria of the extent of destabilization that the water crisis there could cause, such warnings were not loud enough and went unheeded by all those world leaders (including the Obama administration) who are currently wringing their hands about their “inability” to take action to stop the ongoing civil war there. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a similar dynamic is currently underway, and it is complicated by the occupation, the concomitant restrictions on movement and on Palestinian access to water (while Israeli needs have not yet been impacted significantly) and by the continuing and increasingly petty bickering between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

The subject of water is therefore a touchy one for Israel on many levels. Not only is it an issue of unequal access to this most crucial of resources, but it also illustrates the difficulties of truly separating Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, when it comes to water, it will be impossible for Israel to end the occupation and maintain its current standard of living with regard to water. It will also be impossible for any Palestinian entity to survive without significant external investment in irrigation, water treatment, desalinization, and other methods of conserving and treating water. In other words, when it comes to water, it is highly unlikely that Israel and the Palestinians can separate from each other as the Oslo formulation of a two-state solution envisions.

It has often been said that in the 21st century, water will become one of, if not the leading cause of war. That is nowhere more evident than in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The warning signs are all there now, before things spiral even farther than they already have. But water can also become the basis for a pressing need on which Israelis and Palestinians can cooperate. That can lead to a practical solution and, while that can be a single state as some advocate, it can also be a two-state vision, albeit one that is very different from the Oslo formulation. Two states existing in cooperation and mutual dependence is the key to avoiding more conflict and opening the door to healing. That, rather than the obsessive separation of the two peoples, can exist in two states and can lead to peace. Water can either be the spark for increased conflict or the key to a better future for both peoples. This is the choice facing Israelis, Palestinians and, yes, the United States.

Addendum: The Israeli journalist Amira Hass, writing in Ha’aretz, lists some very pertinent and basic facts about the use of water and the massive inequality therein between Israel and the Palestinians. She makes it quite clear that the situation is much more dire than even Schulz realizes and that Israel is going to great pains to ensure that people (including most Israelis) don’t know how bad it is. In any case, the article is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand this crucial issue. It should be accessible, but if people have any trouble, please contact me through my web site and I will gladly send you a summary of the facts Hass relays."

The Atlas of Death and Loss

The Disaster Bible.

Pipe Liners Undergo Initial Seismic Test

Pipe Liners Undergo Initial Seismic Test

Monday, July 21, 2014

Managing the Selfie Generation

See the examples of where not to.

Hazard Owl - Arup Risk Information Action System

I would like to see more on the Arup System - - seems to get at the requirement of the Smart City + The Resilient City.  This is a huge plus if we can actually get to a real-time natural hazard information.  From the their website:
"Each year natural disasters cause significant damage to businesses and communities globally. A key component when designing for resilience is understanding the risks natural hazards pose and having the ability to react rapidly before a hazard occurs. Current alert systems provide hazard information, but they do not assess the vulnerability or consequence a hazard presents to the assets of concern.
Arup has developed a system that assesses real-time natural hazard information and the risks they pose to a portfolio of assets. When a pre-defined risk measure is exceeded Hazard Owl sends an alert to a client’s risk management team to initiate a response. From early warnings through to post-hazard assessment and works, Arup’s Hazard Owl helps ensure business continuity by significantly improving the resilience of your assets."

Water System Strategic Advisor

ASCE Career Connections - - interesting position for the Seattle Public Utilities.

Drone Law

A good site for the latest news on drone regulations.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Engineering and the Economics of War

Cost comparison between the Israeli drone dome defense system and a Hamas rocket.

Amerika, du hast es besser

We have a bunch of children on our border that understand Goethe's famous poem - "America, you've got it better."  The line comes from Den Vereinigten Staten ("To the United States").  Just as German Jews in the middle decades of the nineteenth century turned their backs on their home country and looked to America - - a country founded upon the proposition that equality of all men and the inalienability of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were self-evident truths - - to find the freedom and equality that they had failed to achieve in Germany.

America has been the refuge from discrimination and prejudice since our founding, but also the national embodiment of Enlightenment ideals.  When Goethe wrote his poem in 1827, he was reflecting upon the advantages that youthful America had over Europe in having no tradition, no "decaying castles," - - a country waiting to have its history written upon it.

Those individuals protesting on the bridges over Dallas and Fort Worth are the embodiment of a old class of people hoping to protect "decaying castles" - - they could care less about our collective history of encouraging migration to the United States and publicizing the financial, social, and political advantages of the "New World."  They have no interest in providing hope and support to those prepared to make what has been an alarming and exciting fresh start.

We are losing the image of America as "the common man's utopia" to the rest of the world.  We will all be poorer for it.

North Texas - Engineering The Toll Road Capital

From the Dave Lieber column in the Dallas Morning News - Area's roads toll for thee.  From the article in the paper today:

"The emergence of North Texas as Toll Road Capital, USA represents failure of government of the worst kind.  We have to pay for what we could do for free."

They say they don't raise our taxes.  But fees that can cost hundreds of family dollars a month to get to an from are money out our our pocket.  Call it by any name you want."

I disagree.  Government gets blamed way too much for things that are just flowing down from citizens and voters.  We have changed as a society.  The actions of the collective have taken a backseat to the individual. Taxes versus tolls is just the tip of the iceberg.  Our declining infrastructure and failing public education is symbolic of our failing culture and society - - we see everything through a fiscal lens and ignore the more important societal shifts.  We no longer think in terms of the collective.  From health care to highways we have become a nation with a very dangerous view of the world - - me first.  What do I get out of it?  How can I maximize my collective benefit with minimal input?  We hate the idea of helping the needy in terms of health care and love the idea of paying a toll so we can get to work faster than our neighbors.  We love our private schools and do nothing to help support and change our public systems.  We love the military and our wars - - as long as my kid isn't involved and has no risk of coming home in a body bag.

Tolling is the most visible example of we get the kind of government we want and deserve.  It all is coming down to me and not us.  Pooling resources for our collective benefit is becoming a distant memory.

100 Years of the Top 100 U.S. Cities

From New Geography and the excellent A Tale of 273 Cities:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Problem With Conservation

Saving Water Could Cost California Water Agencies - -- this is one of the bigger issues facing water utilities in Texas.

Why AECOM Really Bought URS

These two graphs tell the story.  Slowing growth in the developed world means firms must think in bigger and broader terms (If you want growth in the AEC industry, you had better be thinking in terms of global project execution platforms that can reach the developing world).  Debt in the developed world will seriously constrain traditional public sector opportunities.  The future belongs to those that can navigate the new world of public-private partnerships - - several organizations have estimated the U.S. transportation needs at $983 billion.  Only firms like the AECOMs + URSs of the world can get their checkbooks and thinking caps around numbers like that.

Infrastructure and Project Financing in Canada

A Paragraph to Ponder

From ENR - AECOM's $6B Offer for URS Keeps the Company Whole.  Burke is Michael Burke, AECOM CEO.

"Burke said, however, that more clients are seeking integrated services, which the combined firm can provide. He noted that about 40% of global water projects are design-build, up from 10% just a decade ago."

Asset Management and the Art & Science of Inspection

Good asset management post from the folks at Urban WorkBench.  Check out their blog - - top rated engineering blog.  From their post:

"In most cases, better quality data only comes from inspections. General assumptions can be made regarding the age of an asset, but without inspection, the actual condition of an asset can only be assumed. Inspections don’t have to be extremely detailed as a first assessment, for instance, streetlight assessments could firstly be done using Google street-view to assess light standard types and “drive by” visual assessment. The next level would be a visual inspection of each pole, looking for rust, dents, missing bolts and soundness of installation. From this information, priority ranking could be determined for repair or replacement."

Engineering and City Anatomy

ancha_sketchFrom City Protocol:

"The City Anatomy provides a common language with which to describe the different key features of city life. It takes into consideration three systems: Structure (environment, infrastructures, built domain), Information (platform, economy, governance), Society (culture, functions, people). This tiered conceptual approach aims at setting the stage for effective city governance, evaluation and transformation while providing cities with a common structure to describe their unique set of challenges and opportunities to each other, in a way that helps them discover what commonalities they might share."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

140 Google Interview Questions

Link to the list.  Run this past the Boss in the morning and see if he or she is as smart as a Google manager (and if the Boss suggests feeding the odd numbered employee to the sharks to make the math easier - - he or she has huge CEO potential).  You also have to spring the "Given a file of four billion 32-bit integers, how do you find one that appears at least twice?" question in your next interview.  Note the answer is not required, just the methodology.  But act very impressed if they actually come up with the correct answer.

Google Interview: Engineering Manager
  • You’re the captain of a pirate ship, and your crew gets to vote on how the gold is divided up. If fewer than half of the pirates agree with you, you die. How do you recommend apportioning the gold in such a way that you get a good share of the booty, but still survive?

American Water Summit 2014

American Water Summit 2014: Smashing Silos

The conference is scheduled for Houston, Texas October 23-24.  The theme is Smashing Silos - the agenda points out the multi-dimensional and multidisciplinary issues associated with our water resource constraints and opportunities.

Can't Get Enough Soccer - - The Sir Alex Ferguson Formula

From the Business Insider:

1. Start with the foundation

Sir Alex says his first order of business was bringing in young players and building a youth system that could sustain the club for years, rather than signing veterans for short-gain success.

2. Dare to rebuild your team

Since he wasn't afraid of being fired, he made decisions based on what the team would look like in four years. He thinks that every team should be retooled every four years.

3. Set high standard — and hold everyone to them

He tells a great anecdote about how meeting high standards can become contagious: "I used to be the first to arrive in the morning. In my later years, a lot of my staff members would already be there when I got in at 7 AM. I think they understood why I came in early—they knew there was a job to be done."

4. Never, ever cede control

You have to get rid of an employee if he's creating discord and trying to wrest some of your power, even if he is the best player in the world. Don't worry about whether employees like you.

5. Match the message to the moment

Ferguson says there is no general rule about when a manager should criticize players and when a manager should encourage players. The context of a situation determines the best message to send to your team.

6. Prepare to win

This is more about risk-taking than anything else. Ferguson's philosophy is that if you're down 2-1, you might as well put on an extra offensive player and lose 3-1 rather than play conservatively and lose 2-1 anyway.

7. Rely on the power of observation

Early in his career, he delegated managing practices to assistant coaches so he could simply watch and observe what was going on with each individual player. He said, "I don't think many people fully understand the value of observing."

8. Never stop adapting

English soccer exploded into the multi-billion dollar business it is during Ferguson's tenure, but he was still able to win, regardless of the changing nature of the sport. He explains, "I believe that you control change by accepting it."

MasterCard and Smarter Transit Systems

Drought and Urban Water Management

Texas Will Be Bigger and Hotter

The Texas Tribune has a wonderful series on Texas Falling Behind.  Check out Water Planners Focus on Bigger Texas, Not a Hotter One.  From the article:

"But as state water planners prepare to spend that money and address Texas’ water needs in the coming decades, they are only planning for a bigger Texas — not a hotter one. Scientists say Texas Republican leaders’ aversion to reducing the state's economic dependency on carbon-polluting fossil fuels — and their reluctance to acknowledge climate change — prevent the state from properly planning for the impacts of a warming planet on natural resources crucial to its growing population."

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Worst Fears of the AWWA

Setting A New Low

An Engineer Reviews the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I am a fan of the monkey movie. I can remember where I watched the original Charlton Heston version - the post theater while at Fort Riley, Kansas on a Boy Scout overnight. After a month of monkey mania and building anticipation, I was a bit disappointed.  I would rate it much better than most sequels - - go and see it, just see it with reduced expectations.

Several of observations:
  • The IRS has been in the news the last several months over the case of missing e-mails.  As Dawn, The Walking Dead, 28 Days, etc. have all pointed out, the future of human kind is not threatened by missing e-mails from the IRS.  The real threat is someone at the CDC either losing something very bad or someone taking something home that they shouldn't.  Hasn't the CDC been in the news recently over the case of the missing really bad biological whatever?  Most dystopian futures have a major screw-up by the CDC in the plot (OK, Snowpiercer does have a bad case of failed geoengineering - - in attempting to cool a warming  planet, we go a little too far.)  Someone in the House of Representatives needs to get busy on the CDC and a potential monkey future.
  • If someone handed me a modern automatic weapon, I would be totally clueless without the instructional YouTube video or the app.  How many humans can immediately fire your basic Heckler Koch MP5?  One has to admire the weapons training the monkeys received from someone at sometime.  
  • I agree with other reviewers that have commented on Cesar speaking in a cross between Gandhi and Che Guevara.  Which is not a bad combination - - listen to Bloomberg News interviews and how many human CEOs speak in a language part Che and part Gandhi.  What shareholder wouldn't like the human version of Cesar.  I found myself warning our two Siamese cats on Sunday during a cat disagreement - - "Cat don't kill cat."
  • What is it with monkeys and only riding really dark black horses?  Review all the movies.  Have you seen a monkey riding a painted horse?  The National Painted Horse Association needs to jump on this for the next movie.
  • In a post-human world, the civils and electricals are in the biggest demand.  So petroleum and chemical - - you are taking a significant salary and status cut in a post-human world.
  • The multi-technology, multi-communication part of the movie - - computer generated monkeys, talking in sign language, with subtitles.  This illustrates our own advancing civilization and progress.