Friday, March 24, 2017

Your Cash Flow Bracket - Amazon vs. Walmart

From Supply Chain Digest.

The Art of Taking Notes

From HBR.

W170308_NAWAZ_TEAMMEETING (1)

Graph of the Week

The Future of the Great Lakes Region

From the abstract The Future of the Great Lakes Region by the Urban Institute:
The Great Lakes region—home to 50 million people in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin—has become a fixture in our national political discourse. Many of the country’s social, economic, and political challenges are being played out here.
Despite a decade of job loss, demographic shifts, and falling household incomes, evidence suggests the area has strong foundations capable of sustaining future growth and prosperity. By building on these strengths, the Great Lakes region can rewrite its Rust Belt narrative as a story of resurgence.
Outlined below are key findings from the Urban Institute report The Future of the Great Lakes Region, which offers a glimpse into the region’s past and future challenges and promise. This report provides a comprehensive analysis of recent economic, demographic, and social trends in the region, coupled with projections on how those trends will play out between now and 2040.
Manufacturing collapse, but steady population and economic growth
  • From 2000 to 2010, manufacturing jobs in the region fell 35 percent, a loss of nearly 1.6 million jobs.
  • Overall, though, the region added 1.2 million jobs from 2000 to 2015. But the growth was mainly in low-wage jobs.
  • Sixteen percent of Great Lakes residents were ages 65 and older in 2015. From 1990 to 2015, the region’s white and native-born population was stable or declined, but African American, Hispanic, other non-white, and foreign-born populations grew rapidly. The region is still less diverse than other states were in 2000.
Gradual population growth and labor force stabilization
  • By 2040, the region is expected to grow by 3.2 million people. Births will outnumber deaths until around 2030.
  • Standing at 8 million today, the senior population will reach 13 million by 2040. Younger age groups will shrink over this period, however, because of out-migration and lower birth rates.
  • The labor force will shrink because of early retirement and out-migration of workers in their 30s and 40s, but young people will continue to enter the labor force.
  • Although fewer manufacturing jobs exist, remaining industries will still be a major source of employment and high wages.
Challenges and promise
  • From 2000 to 2010, median household incomes fell more dramatically in five of the six Great Lakes states than in the entire United States.
  • More workers will have associate’s and four-year college degrees, but this increase will be held back by disparities between African Americans and Hispanics on one hand and whites and Asians on the other.
  • In addition to racial and economic segregation, demographic change and economic stress have reduced the vitality of rural, suburban, and urban communities.
Toward future prosperity
To improve the quality of life and economic mobility for Great Lakes residents, decision makers should
  • Encourage young families with children to stay in the region to sustain population levels through more targeted investments;
  • Welcome and integrate immigrants and their children into the community;
  • Prepare young adults to enter the labor force; and
  • Ensure workforce development systems upgrade worker skills, because manufacturing will continue to be a major source of jobs and high-wage employment.

Another Sign of Blade Runner 2049

Lightvert adFrom the BBC: 
"Passers-by on a London street were recently amazed to see a fleeting image of a pink tongue protruding from fruitily plump lips, seemingly suspended in mid-air.
It was the famous logo for the Rolling Stones and was part of an experiment by tech start-up Lightvert.
Its technology can produce images that appear to be 200m (656ft) high, but which only exist in the eye of the viewer for a fraction of a second.
So could we be on the verge of seeing giant digital ads in our cities, similar to those featured in the seminal 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner?
Lightvert certainly hopes so.
Its tech, called Echo, works by employing a narrow - no more than 200mm - strip of reflective material fixed to the side of a building. A high-power projector mounted below or above the strip beams light off the reflector directly into the viewer's eye.
The image appears momentarily, exploiting what's called the "persistence of vision" effect - the way sparklers seem to leave a trail of light when you wave them around quickly."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

More Oil with Fewer Petroluem Engineers

From the New York Times:

"Indeed, computers now direct drill bits that were once directed manually. The wireless technology taking hold across the oil patch allows a handful of geoscientists and engineers to monitor the drilling and completion of multiple wells at a time — onshore or miles out to sea — and supervise immediate fixes when something goes wrong, all without leaving their desks. It is a world where rigs walk on their own legs and sensors on wells alert headquarters to a leak or loss of pressure, reducing the need for a technician to check. And despite all the lost workers, United States oil production is galloping upward, to nine million barrels a day from 8.6 million in September. Nationwide, with a bit more than one-third as many rigs operating as in 2014, production is not even down 10 percent from record levels. Some of the best wells here in the Permian Basin that three years ago required an oil price of over $60 a barrel for an operator to break even now need about $35, well below the current price of about $53..."

Hacking the Farm

From Motherboard:

"To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America's heartland have started hacking their equipment with firmware that's cracked in Eastern Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums.

Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform "unauthorized" repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time.

"When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don't have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it," Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature earlier this month. "Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix].""

No Sign of Stagnation

From Ad Age:

"The brewer and IPG Mediabrands today announced a new suite of connected home services called "Miller Lite On-Demand" that will allow consumers to stock their fridge using a voice-activated Amazon Alexa command, or by using a programmable button known as AWS IoT that is based on the Amazon Dash Button hardware. The delivery requests will be fulfilled within one hour by Drizly, an online alcohol ordering platform, according to the agency and brewer, which have partnered on an incubator program aimed at testing such technologies."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

No Free Bridge

No free bridge: Why public–private partnerships or other ‘innovative’ financing of infrastructure will not save taxpayers money: Engaging the private sector in infrastructure procurement and management does not provide a fiscal free lunch. Substantial costs and risks must be taken into account to fairly compare the costs and benefits of public–private partnerships relative to traditional infrastructure financing and procurement.

Why Being an Engineering Project Manager is so Exhausting


Sunday, March 19, 2017

We Need More Engineering Professors Like This Guy

Link to Peterson's bio - - hiring professors, engineers and managers who are not members of the Complacent Class.
"Raised and toughened in the frigid wastelands of Northern Alberta, Jordan Peterson has flown a hammer-head roll in a carbon-fiber stunt plane, piloted a mahogany racing sailboat around Alcatraz Island, explored an Arizona meteorite crater with a group of astronauts, built a Native American Long-House on the upper floor of his Toronto home, and been inducted into the coastal Pacific Kwakwaka’wakw tribe.
He’s been a dishwasher, gas jockey, bartender, short-order cook, beekeeper, oil derrick bit re-tipper, plywood mill labourer and railway line worker. He’s taught mythology to lawyers, doctors and businessmen, consulted for the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Sustainable Development, helped his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia, served as an advisor to senior partners of major Canadian law firms, identified thousands of promising entrepreneurs on six different continents, and lectured extensively in North America and Europe.
With his students and colleagues, Dr Peterson has published more than a hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, and revolutionized the psychology of religion with his now-classic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. As a Harvard professor, he was nominated for the prestigious Levinson Teaching Prize, and is regarded by his current University of Toronto students as one of three truly life-changing teachers."

Guest Column: To Succeed With Drones, Keep it Simple

Guest Column: To Succeed With Drones, Keep it Simple: In our experience implementing UAV mapping operations for surveyors, civil engineers, public works departments, photogrammetrists and others, the most critical lesson we have learned is the importance of starting simply.

Seattle 360

Gadget Earth

#Sneckdown

Efficiency Adventures in My Doctor's Office

My trips to the doctor's office are typically a good time to observe and think about efficiency. Efficiency and scheduling in the context of our medical industry are always great topics as I wait in the waiting area and exam room.  Let's start with resource efficiency - - where resource in this context is the labor of my doctor.  She wants to utilize her time as efficiently as possible - - just like my employer in terms of my time.  Labor utilization is a key performance metric of the service sector - - from accounting to law to consulting. For more that 200 years, our form of capitalism has been built around the idea increasing the utilization of resources.

Let's make a guesstimate of my doctor's labor utilization.  Assume her office is open 10 hours per day and let's also assume she is in direct contact with her patients (i.e., the value adding portion of the medical process) for six hours per day.  Her labor utilization would be 60% - - 6/10.  This is her side of the efficiency coin.

Let's look at my efficiency story.  I don't care all that much about her labor efficiency - - my concern is what is known as flow efficiency.  Flow efficiency is the time it takes to process a "unit" through an organization.  In this case, I am the "unit" and the process is seeing my doctor.  In this particular case, my total process time was 60 minutes.  Most of this time is waiting and non-value adding activities. The time I spent with the doctor was 10 minutes.  So my flow efficiency was 17% - - 10/60.  We have one visit to the doctor, yet two different ways to examine efficiency and two very different results. One is an internal focus (i.e., resource efficiency) and the other is more about the customer experience (i.e., flow efficiency).  

In many respects, I cannot to be only one to think this, my visit to the doctor's office is a visit to the efficiency wasteland - - a process with low labor utilization and low flow efficiency.  If you look at the graph below, what the medical industry needs is movement upward and to the right.  Debates about medical insurance and drug prices are important, but let's also have a discussion about efficiency improvements.




Smartphones Are Revolutionizing Medicine

Smartphones Are Revolutionizing Medicine: Researchers say smartphone add-ons and applications are turning the smartphones into revolutionary medical tools.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Intelligent Flying Machines (IFM)

Intelligent Flying Machines: An intelligent drone that can autonomously capture data at construction sites.

The Garage at Northwestern

Link to their student startup incubator.


Think About Joining a Learning Circle

Example of a self-directed learning group.


Agility Management

From a profile in the current issue of GQ - The Life Lesson's of Villanova's Jay Wright: the Anti-Coach - link.

"“We're not complex in what we do X-and-O-wise,” he tells me. “But we do spend a lot of time on how we react mentally to every situation.” The idea isn't to draw up lots of plays but instead to give his guys the confidence and the freedom to make plays. And here is where Wright's psychological approach feels unique. While just about every coach in America rallies his or her players with motivational verses or tries to summon an inner-dwelling Tony Robbins, Wright wants his players to feel as if they're in control on the floor, admonishing them to play with a “free mind.”"

Friday, March 17, 2017

Engineer Interview Tip - - Ask for a Joke

From a comment on Marginal Revolution - - Tyler Cowen was throwing out a question on what it means to be funny.  For your next interview of a graduating engineer, ask (1.) how would you go about estimating the number of gas stations in the U.S., and (2.) tell me a joke.

"I don’t know how to describe what makes something funny, but I do know that you have to be smart to be funny. We all grew up with people who got terrible grades in school but we knew they were very smart, often smarter than the grinders who got straight A’s, because they were hilarious (and the grinders were not)."

UPS Drone Testing


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

NYC Wastewater Resiliency Plan

Link to the report.


Graph of the Week



Working With the Complacent Class


Musings on Strategic Planning


Since the end of World War II, the operating environment for the AEC industry has been remarkably stable.  The world and U.S. has experienced broad social, economic, political, technological, and cultural change but relative stability since 1970.  But consider the current general business operating environment in the United States.  The average life span of a company listed in the S&P 500 has decreased from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today.  Yale University professor Richard Foster found that on average a S&P 500 company is now being replaced every two weeks, and he estimates that 75 percent of current S&P 500 firms will be replaced by new firms by 2027.  But with death comes resurrection.  Facebook took six years to reach revenue of $1 billion a year, and Google just five years.  We live in the Age of the Idea – you used to need money, power, and scale to change the world.  All you need today is an idea.

Artificial intelligence, smart software, robotics, and the “internet of things” have come together to bring significant productivity gains and lots of disruptive change.  You walk around your house, or the store, and ask for things to happen and they do.  You can ask any question just by talking to yourself, and a good answer comes immediately.  Unfortunately this technological dynamism has yet to hit the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, Construction) industry.  A recent report by Wells Fargo showed a productivity slowdown in almost every sector of the American economy.  Perhaps most strikingly, the sector “professional and technical services” showed no increase in productivity of the average worker and professional at all.  You might think IT and the wired office has boosted office productivity substantially, and it has in some ways, such as enabling rapid-fire communications across great distances or after work hours are over.  But the evidence has yet to materialize for any kind of recent boost in office productivity.  For every rapid change in our external operating environment, other internal things are not changing fast enough.

This historic stability of the recent past produced an environment in which strategic planning was viewed as a process of analysis.  You do some research into what is and what is not possible.  Future projections were intimately tied to interpretations of the past and the present.  You define a goal, break that goal down into manageable steps, and determine how to implement them while identifying the expected consequences of each step.  It’s a logical and linear straightforward process to sequentially move the organization from where you are now to where you want to go.  In a stable world we too often viewed doing nothing as the best strategic action.

During the 1950s and 1960s, this was an acceptable methodology to think about strategic planning.  The huge flaw in this process was the assumption that the world is reasonably stable and somewhat predictable.  But anyone who has been paying attention the last few years knows that today’s world is neither.  We are living in increasingly uncertain times.  Many have termed our current and forecasted operating environment this century as VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.  Changes are occurring too fast for any of us to really process them in the traditional manner.  The changes going on can easily give us the feeling that we are not really in control of events.  The standard response in such situations is to try to control too much (we forget the old rule of control – worry about that which adds significant value and let go of the rest), in which case everything will tend to fall apart as we fall behind.  Or to let go, an equally disastrous mindset.  What we are going through requires a different way of thinking and responding to the world.

The AEC industry not only faces an exponentially uncertain future, we also have the legacy and baggage of being under strategic and overly tactical – where the overwhelming daily battles of increasing revenues, lowering costs, and delighting clients dominates our thinking (tactics is what we do when there is something to do; strategy is what we do when there is nothing else to do).  We equated tactical success as strategic success.  Engineers also have a desire for complete control, don’t like messy complexity, and are culturally risk adverse – which doesn’t play well in a VUCA world (Spears to rockets, was it ever not a VUCA world?  The difference is that today VUCA travels wider, movers faster, and can hit harder than ever.).  Engineers are comfortable controlling the controllables.  The AEC industry also thinks learning is about looking in the rearview mirror.  People say “learn from the past.”  But what gets lost is the fact that you can learn more from the present (i.e., now-driven) and a whole lot more by thinking strategically about the future. 

The vast majority of the AEC industry can relate to the some or all of following conditions organizations face in terms of strategic skill sets with key personnel:

·       Doesn’t think or talk strategy.

·       Can’t put together a compelling strategic plan.

·       More comfortable in tactical here and now.

·       Lacks the perspective to pull together varying elements in a coherent strategic view.

·       Can’t weave a vision of future.

·       May reject the usefulness of strategy, considering it pie in the sky.

·       May have narrow experience and not be knowledge of business and world events.

·       May try to simplify too much or be very tactical.

·       May lack the disciplined thought processes necessary to construct a strategic view.

Gone are the days when strategies could be rigid multi-year plans.  Strategic planning historically has been done with a beginning and an end.  Rapidly changing operating conditions were seen as a road ending – versus an understanding that a bend in the road in not the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turn.  Strategic planning was conducted by senior management and typically resulted in a formal written plan.  We wrote static plans for a static and predictable world.  But in a world of uncertainty, strategic planning needs to be replaced with strategic thinking and strategic agility (Agility defined – the ability to be both highly dynamic and inherently stable at the same time.  Agility means an organization has the ability to move and adjust quickly and easily – it’s a learn and adapt feedback loop.).  The shift needs to be less linear thinking and planning and more continuous strategic looping and feedback (a VUCA world will require engineering management to overcome linearism).  Strategic thinking and strategic agility never ends – both need to be core values in a world where what is right today is different tomorrow.  It becomes an integral part of how an organization conducts its business.  It is more entrepreneurial – where acting entrepreneurially is not about sporadic engagement, rather strategic thinking needs to be a regular and systematic part of a firm’s behavior and culture.  The key question at hand relates to which strategic model or models fit best within the AEC industry operating in a VUCA world.  Management models based on planning and predicting instead of resilient adaption to changing circumstances are no longer suited to today’s challenges.  The plodding era of strategy is being retired by a desire for a quicker strategic pace – a world where operational and strategic tempo are aligned.

Why Indoor Robots for Commercial Spaces Are the Next Big Thing in Robotics

Why Indoor Robots for Commercial Spaces Are the Next Big Thing in Robotics: There's a massive untapped market for robots to be used in commercial spaces such as hotels, offices, and retail stores

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Story of Resilience

Designing Better Charts

Beer and Self-Driving


Behind the Curtain of Online Grocery Shopping


New deep learning techniques analyze athletes' decision-making

New deep learning techniques analyze athletes' decision-making: Sports analytics is routinely used to assign values to such things as shots taken or to compare player performance, but a new automated method based on deep learning techniques -- developed by researchers at Disney Research, California Institute of Technology and STATS, a supplier of sports data -- will provide coaches and teams with a quicker tool to help assess defensive athletic performance in any game situation.

Engineering in a Red State but Blue City


Old Ways to Talk to People

Some old formats - - from Marginial Revolution:
1. Chalk and talk.  Or with Powerpoint.
2. Play a video and comment on it.
3. Panel discussion.
4. Debate.
5. Manage an audience or classroom discussion.
6. One person interviews another or interviews a panel.  Or, one person interviews another and children burst into the room, only to be pulled back by their mother.  This latter option seems popular right now.
7. All Q&A, no talk (one of my favorites).
8. All questions, no answers allowed from the speaker (never seen this one, but it does produce audience participation).
9. Read aloud from one’s book (the worst).
10. Play or sing a song, or perform in some other manner, such as doing periodic magic tricks.  Chat or trash talk while attempting basketball free throws.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Calculating the Cost of Trump's Wall

Funding Cuts for Texas Roads

Engineering and the Lack of Big Ideas

Report from NBER.  From the report's abstract:

"In many growth models, economic growth arises from people creating ideas, and the long-run growth rate is the product of two terms: the effective number of researchers and the research productivity of these people. We present a wide range of evidence from various industries, products, and firms showing that research effort is rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply. A good example is Moore’s Law. The number of researchers required today to achieve the famous doubling every two years of the density of computer chips is more than 75 times larger than the number required in the early 1970s. Across a broad range of case studies at various levels of (dis)aggregation, we find that ideas — and in particular the exponential growth they imply — are getting harder and harder to find. Exponential growth results from the large increases in research effort that offset its declining productivity."

Transit Building in LA

Plan Z for Miami Bikers

Trump and Investing in Remote Sensing

From economics professor Matthew Kahn:

"On the general topic of climate change adaptation, I believe that we must promote choice under "full information".  Given that climate change poses several "known unknowns" and given that information about such risks is a public good, government plays a unique role in supplying such information. I do hope that President Trump's team continues to invest in remote sensing so that for each piece of the U.S that we have real time information about emerging threats.  As predicted by the efficient markets hypothesis, such emerging "new news" will be capitalized into asset prices such as real estate and self interested individuals and firms will make many decisions regarding self protection and supply chains based on this information. In this sense, the government plays a key role in allowing the "invisible hand" to work its magic."

A Paragraph to Ponder

From Reuters:

"The proposed change provides a path to the eventual sale and deployment of self-driving vehicles in California, state transportation secretary Brian Kelly said in a statement.

The state has licensed 27 companies to test driverless vehicles on public roads, including vehicle manufacturers from BMW to Tesla Inc; suppliers such as Delphi Automotive Plc and Nvidia Corp; technology companies such as Alphabet Inc's Waymo and China's Baidu Inc; and a long list of self-driving startups such as Zoox, Drive.ai, AutoX and PlusAI. Also licensed are China-funded electric vehicle startups NextEV and Faraday Future."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Joys (and Addiction) of Watching Deconstruction

Percentage of Adults by State Who Think Climate Change is Happening


Oroville Dam Spillway

oroville dam spillway

States Face Transportation Funding Gaps

States Face Transportation Funding Gaps: While top state transportation officials look and listen for hints about President Trump’s promised, still unreleased infrastructure plan, they are working to cope with more-immediate funding issues.

Graph of the Week


The Rise of the Super-Generalist

The Greatest Crosswalk Message

Building the Yes We Can Do That Society

From the always brilliant Marginal Revolution:

"India is a much more entrepreneurial society than the United States. That may seem surprising since India is poor and we typically associate entrepreneurship with being rich but it’s clearly true. Everyone here is on the make and open to an opportunity. You need to hire someone to fix your wifi or repair a bicycle or make a movie? You can find someone within hours. “Yes, we can do that” is the default answer to any question. Of course, it may have to be done illegally but, subject to that, it can be done. The can do attitude is especially prevalent in Mumbai but it’s true elsewhere in India as well."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Trump's Wall and The Public Non-Interest Statement

From CityLab-

"One company that is highlighting its lack of interest in the project is AECOM, a multinational engineering firm that posted $17 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2016; Engineering News Record has named it #1 among its top 500 design firms for the last 7 years running. Chris Bauer, an executive vice president for AECOM, made a point of calling CityLab to note that the firm’s name was nowhere to be found on the list of interested companies."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Resource Efficiency vs Flow Efficiency

From Marginal Revolution-

"Maersk had found that a single container could require stamps and approvals from as many as 30 people, including customs, tax officials and health authorities.
While the containers themselves can be loaded on a ship in a matter of minutes, a container can be held up in port for days because a piece of paper goes missing, while the goods inside spoil. The cost of moving and keeping track of all this paperwork often equals the cost of physically moving the container around the world."

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Paragraph to Ponder

From The Verge-

"Amazon boss Jeff Bezos wants to start delivering packages to the Moon. According to The Washington Post, Bezos — who also owns private space travel company Blue Origin — has written an internal report arguing that a good delivery service will be key to establishing a functioning lunar settlement."

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Boston Mobility Ecosystem



The IoT Comes to SNCF


Oroville Dam Problems Trigger a Nationwide Review of Flood Control

Oroville Dam Problems Trigger a Nationwide Review of Flood Control: A trio of spillway failures at the 770-ft-tall earthfill Oroville Dam that prompted the evacuation of more than 188,000 people from central California has renewed questions about the reliability of hundreds of dams in the state and more nationally.

The State of the American Dream


Cisco on Transportation

Link to the report.

Construction Needs to Fix Its Productivity Problem