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BIG- Denmark Architecture

Looking at architecture firms on the web, the firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) has some cool projects and fun models. I built a number of bridge models in my life (not great ones) and they were great visual aids for public meetings.

How many engineers have ever built a model for a presentation? Should we build models or use 3D graphics more often?

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Commercial engineering software

My blog is starting to be a place for me to place my random thoughts before they
escape my increasingly slippery mind.

One of the things I have thought about lately is the advent of more commercial engineering software. It seems that in-house or self-derived software was the norm for most engineering offices.  Now most engineering software is coming from commercial vendors.
The question, is this a good thing?

I found this to be a half-full kind of thing. Engineers just do not have the time or training to program complex design software, so outside programs can be really helpful. The downside may be software that cannot “design” the way YOU want to design. By that I mean, the software may do things differently than you did in the past. Its still right, just a different methodology.

I also lament the lose of experience an engineer gets from really knowing all the quirks in a program (or spreadsheet) they put together. It seems to me that a good designer has to personalize their tools.

So is structural software just a tool like excel or is it a more personal commodity?

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Truss Bridge

In what may have been my last class teaching in a University I spoke about analyzing trusses. You remember, assuming only compression or tension in the members, pin connections and coplaner 2D truss members. Using the method of joints or the method of sections to find the forces in each element of the truss and only loading the truss at the joints.

Since I have never really designed a truss bridge, I wondered if this simple model would actually apply to a bridge? Is this really the method bridge designers used to design all those great old bridges before the advent of computers?

Some of my colleagues just designed a new sign truss, using an FE model with secondary bending stresses in the truss. Would a simple model have worked? Check out for tons of truss bridges!

Updated: You have to check this out! The USMA(U. S. Military Academy at West Point) has a great pdf explaining truss bridges and all the steps to make your own MODEL truss bridge. Its great!!! (10mb pdf though)

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Well my teaching career may be over, I find out Monday if my ultimatum was accepted or rejected. Shame to go out on a low note….

Anyway, since I love hockey and nothing says “hockey” like kids fighting. In Russia!

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DIY Book Scanner (and teaching update)

Now I know copying your CDs to your ipod is legal but I kinda doubt digitizing your personal book collection is legal….BUT I wish/hope it is.

I have a ton of books and I would like to carry digital copies of them wherever I go. (Well not everywhere…) So here is the DIY home book scanner.

As to teaching, two things. One, digitized text books would be welcome.I end up scanning images from the book so often for lectures that a digital copy would be heaven.

And two, I’m fairly unhappy the way my University is going.

I just got the word that next semester my section will be combined into one super section. That means instead of two 50-55 student classes, it will be one 100-110 students, “Introduction to Structural Analysis” class! With multiple choice exams! Partial credit be dammed!

When I started teaching 12 years ago I had 20 students and I knew all their names. Now it looks like a bad night at the bus stop. A small room, crowded with overcharged, under served, semi-angry customers. Throw in one under appreciated instructor and your facing an educational disaster!

So, I doubt I will be back, instead, I will look for more part-time work in addition to my regular job. I liked teaching, tried hard, but it is getting to be too much.

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Should professional engineers teach at the University?

I admit I am having some difficulty adjusting to the University teaching culture, even though I have taught off and on for more then ten years.  The actual teaching and the student interactions are fun but working with the system can be difficult. The current system is really not set up for outside engineers and is traditionally geared toward graduate students and post docs. (Which is where friction can occur…)

So my question is, is it worthwhile for outside professional engineers to teach a course in their field of expertise?

If no, we are done. If yes, how can Universities encourage engineers to share their knowledge and help teach a course?

I would also love to hear, from other engineers, how their course went when they taught at the University.

update: I found this paper (pdf) on the web. Sort of, kind of, related.

Money quote.

Back in my undergraduate days in the 1970s, I had one professor that had many years of experience. We didn’t like him very much, but he did tell us stories. I don’t remember the details of his lectures, but I remember a number of his stories, and so I remember the points he was trying to get across. I even use some of his stories myself. In retrospect, he was probably one of my best teachers.

Stories are fun, but they need to make a point. That point can be a moral, an example of how to do
something right, an example of how to do something wrong, or simply an example. Be sure that the point is clear and not confused. Tell the story so that the point will be remembered; humor is a great tool for this. Tell it so that the students can see the theory brought to life, and can use the lesson when they are faced with a similar issue years later.

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Pier Design

I have been under the weather the last few days, including the day I made this video. So it might not make sense…

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Writing a book

I am interested in writing a book, both for the experience and the big bucks. (ha)

I have self-published books, with a valid ISBN (I bought a batch of 10 for fun.) and one of them is even in our state library. (Hey they were dumb enough to buy it.) It is pretty easy to do, now a days, with book sites like and others. You get a really good quality book that you can sell yourself.

I was wondering if anyone can give me some advice on the following.

  • Do you wait until you get approached or do you pitch ideas?
  • Is it worth it monetarily?
  • Would it be better to continue to self publish?
  • What topics would engineers like to see?
  • Are books outdated ideas?