Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cities Built on Resilience

From the WSJ:
"The World Bank estimates that the share of the world’s population living in large cities exposed to tropical cyclones and earthquakes will rise from 11% in 2000 to 16% in 2050. Economic exposure will grow even more because of rising sea levels linked to a warmer climate, economic growth and urbanization.
In 2005, the 10 cities most economically exposed to coastal flooding—led by Miami, New York, New Orleans, Osaka-Kobe and Tokyo—accounted for 5% of world GDP. That is likely to grow to 9% by the 2070s as Guangzhou, Kolkata, Shanghai, Mumbai, Tianjin, Hong Kong and Bangkok join the list.
As for New York City, it has been courting disaster virtually ever since its founding. The areas of lower Manhattan inundated by Sandy correspond almost exactly to those parts reclaimed from the seas since 1609. Two Dutch water experts, Jeroen Aerts and Wouter Botzen, have calculated that in the past century, the value of buildings in New York’s hundred-year flood zone has risen from less than $1 billion to $18 billion (in constant 2009 dollars)."

Engineering and the U.S. Housing Market

An interesting post from Moody's.

Friday, October 30, 2015


A Paragraph to Ponder

From Inside Climate News - Power Grid Remains Ill Prepared for Future Hurricanes, Study Shows:

"The report focused on five metropolitan regions: the Delaware Valley, southeastern Virginia, the South Carolina lowcountry, southeastern Florida and the central Gulf Coast. The proportion of exposed substations ranged from 16 percent in southeastern Florida to nearly 70 percent in the central Gulf Coast. In Norfolk, Va. and Charleston S.C., more than 80 percent of substations would likely be inundated."

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Graph of the Week

Engineering in the Age of Exhaustion

From an excellent article in The American Interest:

"In our daily lives, we dwell on gadgets. Distractions have always been with us. In the time of The Great Exhaustion, it is their scope and place in the ecology of daily life that is new. For the Liberal, the future is secured through property and the generative family. If any time or money remains after property and family have been secured, distractions can be fleetingly entertained. In the time of The Great Exhaustion, however, this relationship is reversed: property being a burden, we rent; the generative family being an archaism, we have fewer children or none at all. Neither is thinkable unless the present takes precedent over the future—a thought that can only seriously enter the mind when we are convinced that the beneficent state will provide for our security and care for us in illness and in our dotage. The gadget, once a distraction, now becomes the center of gravity around which those other, once-central, concerns distantly orbit. Here is the urban life of 400 square foot apartments built for “the folks” who do not own a car or a bicycle, but may rent one from time-to-time. They look up to the state, whose power grows as property and family recede.10 And they look down to “browse” on their mobile phones and tablets, whose unit sales proliferate in proportion as they do not."

The new Stars Wars trailer is another great example of the Age of Exhaustion. Where the wonderment of innovation, the opportunities embedded in the future, thoughtful debates over good versus evil, the power of the human experience, etc. is being reduced to a Star Wars as anti-white message and debate.  Very sad - the force is no longer with us.

View image on Twitter

Climate Change and Preparedness in Urban America

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Problems of URS

From an investigation by the Dallas Morning News that made the front page of the Sunday paper. Quality Based Selection (QBS) lacks the appropriate rigor without effective transparency and information.  Someone needs to come up with the "What is Your Consultant Up To" app to aid public officials and stakeholders on the performance of consultants and contractors.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Are You Working for An Everyone Else Firm?


An Engineer Reviews The Martian

I read Andy Weir's The Martian when it was first published and loved it. I thought it was the best book I read that year.  My hope was that someone would snap up the movie rights and get it the theater as soon as possible.  The movie is better than I hoped for.

I saw the movie today - outstanding across the board.  Several comments:
  • Astronaut Mark Watney is both a botanist and mechanical engineer - "Everyone on the mission had two specialties.  I'm a botanist and mechanical engineer; basically, the mission's fix-it-man who played with plants.  The mechanical engineering might save my life if something breaks." What actually saves his life is his interdisciplinary training and experience - on a planet with truly "wicked" problems he cuts across discipline boundaries very effectively - parts botanist, agricultural engineer, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, computer scientist, etc.  Each problem is a seminar on systems thinking and systems engineering - you see the axiom that every influence is both cause and effect.  Nothing is ever influenced in just one direction - every solution is balanced by a series of complex constraints.
  • You see and understand from the movie that the reliability of a solution is as critical as the solution itself.  Engineering is ultimately about adapting to a changing world - where changes on Mars produced solutions that were both reliable and unreliable.
  • The book has a much richer and insightful view of the math and science of the various problems and solutions Watney faces.  What is obvious is that he is data-driven and being data-driven is a precondition for his survival on Mars.
  • You see both point solutions (i.e, his ability to heat the rover) and platform solutions (i.e., the system to grow the potatoes).  Engineers learn to combine, connect, and construct - and if you can reduce and simplify, even better!!
  • Engineers work at the intersection of the feasible, viable, and desirable.  Watney had to manage this under the umbrella of survivability.
  • Engineers are integrators who pull ideas together from multiple streams of knowledge.  Watney was a master of this.  He was great at thinking in terms of creating new "solution spaces" - suites of possibilities that offered new choices and extended his time on Mars.  Watney was full-spectrum versatile and adaptable - most organizations only dream about engineers like Mark.
  • If you know construction you have a jump on destruction - many of his solutions required deconstruction skills. 
  • He was a throwback to historical engineers - more the "Think-and-Do" skill sets.
  • Data gets physical on Mars.
  • The heart of an engineer is optimism - Watney was the master of this.  He was purposeful, smart, and driven - all engineers need these attributes.  He was stubborn on vision (i.e, getting off Mars) but flexible on detail.  Engineering solutions always take the same path - the only way out is to move forward.  Accentuate the positive and possible and get on with it.
  • Watney understood risk management - weighing the relative merits of various choices with potential outcomes.  He was constantly in risk mitigation mode.
Go to movie but read the book.  It is a first class text on the art and science of engineering and a manual on how engineers think.

Gridlock Sam Brings His Own Street Smarts to Transportation | ENR

Gridlock Sam Brings His Own Street Smarts to Transportation | ENR

The Top Engineering Programs in the World

Link to the list.