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Bridge Pier Turbine

Sunday night play. I’m sure it has been done before but a bridge pier would probably support underwater turbines. The turbines can be used to make electricity which can heat the bridge deck and illuminate the bridge.

My first attempt, which will not work, shows some of the challenges. Getting water to a turbine, protecting the turbine from debris, changing water levels, etc.

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tallbridgeguy Podcast 1

Okayyyy, so heres the thing, I wanted to try something new. So I made a podcast, actually I started a ton of them, threw them away and started again. They all had the same problem, me. Finally I decided to just do it (sorry Nike) and post the result.

Sure its lousy, I am not a professional broadcaster, and trying to make my stream of conscious into a coherent product is difficult.

BUT I did it and posted it, embarrassing as it is….I also learned a lot about wordpress and Audacity. My next step is to try and get it on itunes. Why, just for fun.

Give me some feedback (good and bad) and some questions I can use if I ever decide to do another one.

Seriously you can skip this post…..

tallbridgeguy com podcast 1

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Tips for New Bridge Designers

I am sitting in class (yes I am a bad student) and started thinking about things I wish I knew when I started designing bridges.

Since I am typing on an Phone, I will ask for help. What are your tips?

1) Ask questions! Brain mining of established designers is a quick way to knowledge but
2) Do the work. It takes a long time to really understand bridges and exposure to a large number of structures is crucial.
3) Don’t accept bridge dogma without checking it yourself. Again a senior engineer might know when to use rules of thumb and standards but make sure you check/agree with them.

I will think about it some more. You bridge designers out there, what are your tips?

Update: Eric had some great tips!

As a young engineer, Thanks for the tips.
Thought I might add:
Learn from mistakes
Always check work before submitting it for review

Someone at my office mentioned this today:
“Simple bridges have simple problems, continuous bridges have continuous problems”

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Engineers and Creativity

Are bridges the only structures where engineers CAN lead the design and express their creativity?

I realize engineers can design projects where they use new materials, etc. but what other endeavors require a mix of engineering knowledge and aesthetic considerations?

Other than bridges, engineers are typically working in the background.

Seriously are there any other areas?

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I am sitting in a five day Bridge Rehabilitation course. Tough to sit that long. So I made a bridge sculpture on break. What do you think about sculpture on bridges? I know Artists love them.

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FRP panels instead of Concrete for basements

I was asked by a leader in composite technology to look into the idea of replacing current concrete basement wall systems with FRP panels.

The advantages of the FRP panel system, (maybe)

  1. Installation speed – pre-manufactured panels should go in fast and easy.
  2. Thermal conductivity – FRP is 5 to 10 times better at keeping the heat in the basement.
  3. Carbon footprint – concrete makes up about 5% of the worlds CO2 production, FRP would reduce that by about 20%.


  1. Cost – higher for FRP but it should pay for itself over the product lifecycle.
  2. Flammable – FRP may be less resistant to fires.
  3. Unproven technology, weight, etc

This is obvious a quick overview but I think it touches on another issue.

How does new technology gain a foothold in current markets?

This also relates directly to bridges. We have numerous design manuals for concrete and steel but very few, if any, for new materials.

My engineer brain says “concrete is the best solution for everything” but am I being shortsighted in this viewpoint? How do we change engineering minds? (Should we?)

Update: I found a good article on using bamboo in FRP boats. (It is too related.)

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The Precertainty Principle

I think I found the name of my next book, “The Precertainty Principle” . (Go ahead and Google it and I should be the first hit…..)

It is a complete rip-off of the “precautionary approach” advocated in this 1992 UN Declaration on the Environment.

Essentially my theory goes like this, the future is uncertain but we still plan for it.

Even if global warming is a charade, it wouldn’t hurt to err on the positive side and reduce pollution. Even if the amount of oil we have now is enough it wouldn’t be a bad thing to plan for a oil less future. Even if, …..well you get the idea.. Planning is a good thing as Mr. Rodgers would say.

And guess what, engineers are some of the best planners around. So you can be precertain they will be out there trying to improve the future. (Dilbert fame here I come.)

Yes I had one of those days.

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off topic rant – school system

This is off topic but it is steaming my clams. It seems our school district policy is to keep a students math test and never return it so it can be used over and over.

I’m quite upset over this policy. I think parents need to see how they child is doing in school and part of that is working old tests and seeing where a child has difficulties. I have started the process to change this policy but I’m not sure I can fight the system. You actually have to make an appointment to see how your kid did on a test! (Don’t copy a question or it will be hell to pay.)

Here is the policy. What do you think, am I mad?

Continue reading off topic rant – school system

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don’t want to pay more for it

Go figure…

Upkeep of roads, bridges and transit systems is a high priority to an overwhelming margin of Americans, but by an even greater margin they don’t want to pay more for it, according to a survey that will be released this week.

  • 64% of voters say that how the government currently spends money on building
    and maintaining our transportation infrastructure is inefficient and unwise,
    including one in four (26%) who says it is very inefficient. Just 32% say the
    government currently spends efficiently and wisely.
  • Republicans (72% unwise) and independents (67% unwise) are particularly
    adamant that this is the case, though 56% of Democrats say that current
    spending is unwise as well.
  • Given this attitude, it is unsurprising that the public supports a number of
    measures that would change the way in which transportation dollars are spent

Update: cool bridge video, thanks Pete!

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Yin Yang Bridge Engineer

I was reminded again today that I have a fractured engineering mind. On the one hand, I think costs and function are the most important elements of a good bridge design. Then on the other foot, I think, wow, I don’t want that box of a bridge in my neighborhood.

My father, an engineer, always said “if engineers designed houses they would all be square.”

And as the all knowing wiki points out,

Yin yang are complementary opposites that interact within a greater whole, as part of a dynamic system. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, but either of these aspects may manifest more strongly in particular objects, and may ebb or flow over time.


There is a perception (especially in the West) that yin and yang correspond to evil and good. However, Taoist philosophy generally discounts good/bad distinctions and other dichotomous moral judgments, in preference to the idea of balance.

So the whole point is balance in a bridge design. This is a difficult thing to do in a media obsessed world where the far out (I’m old) design usually wins.

The only thing I know for sure, if engineers want to be bridge designers, they better get in front of the concept and not behind it.

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Stupid computer

I was playing around with a stream render and my computer crashed before it was done…and stupid me forget to save the render settings… fuzzy one of a kind image.