Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Art of Now

As an engineer I suffer from “think ahead and think the worst -ites”. Look it it up, it typically affects tall bridge guys. I stress out about upcoming meetings, classes, projects and family matters.

So how can I learn to live in the now and not fixate on future events?

Psychology Today has an article that may help, called, “The Art of Now: Six Steps to living in the Moment”.

We need to live more in the moment. Living in the moment—also called mindfulness—is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present.

Living in the present, sounds a little sketchy. How can I just worry about the present..

Mindful people are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure. They have higher self-esteem and are more accepting of their own weaknesses. Anchoring awareness in the here and now reduces the kinds of impulsivity and reactivity that underlie depression, binge eating, and attention problems. Mindful people can hear negative feedback without feeling threatened. They fight less with their romantic partners and are more accommodating and less defensive. As a result, mindful couples have more satisfying relationships.

That’s the first paradox of living in the moment: Thinking too hard about what you’re doing actually makes you do worse. If you’re in a situation that makes you anxious—giving a speech, introducing yourself to a stranger, dancing—focusing on your anxiety tends to heighten it. “When I say, ‘be here with me now,’ I mean don’t zone out or get too in-your-head—instead, follow my energy, my movements,” says Hayden. “Focus less on what’s going on in your mind and more on what’s going on in the room, less on your mental chatter and more on yourself as part of something.” To be most myself, I needed to focus on things outside myself, like the music or the people around me.

When subjects in a study took a few minutes each day to actively savor something they usually hurried through—eating a meal, drinking a cup of tea, walking to the bus—they began experiencing more joy, happiness, and other positive emotions, and fewer depressive symptoms, Schueller found.

So what do you think, do you live in the moment or like me, do you fixate on the moments yet to come?

A cartoon from The New Yorker sums it up: Two monks are sitting side by side, meditating. The younger one is giving the older one a quizzical look, to which the older one responds, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”

Professor Michael P. Collins – In Search of Elegance

Can you get youtube overseas?

From wiki

Collins has concentrated his research effort on understanding how cracked reinforced concrete resists shear stress. Shear failures can cause concrete structures to collapse without warning and hence, accurate analytical models for shear behaviour are critical for public safety.

Unfortunately, most traditional shear design procedures rely upon empirical design rules which lack a rigorous theoretical basis and can be dangerous if applied to new situations. The Compression Field Theory, and subsequently the Modified Compression Field Theory, developed by Professor Collins and his colleagues at the University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, provides a rational basis for shear design and has received worldwide recognition.

A Simplified Modified Compression Field Theory is currently the design standard in the Canadian CAN/CSA A23.3-04 which is the basic truss model, and soon to be updated and included in the European Building Code. He is the author of over 80 technical papers, 8 of which have received research prizes.

Solar Tower and Jörg Schlaich

David sent some great links on Solar Towers and the original inventor, engineer Jörg Schlaich. (Mr. Schlaich is also a very famous bridge designer.) (Thanks David!)

ENR Story, Wiki, and ecosmagazine.

From The Stuttgart School of Building Design

Jörg Schlaich (b.1934) was born the son of a Lutheran minister and studied engineering at the University of Stuttgart, Technical University of Berlin, and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Schlaich became a protégé of Leonhardt with his research work on concrete structures. In 1963, he joined the office of Leonhardt-Andrä Partnership (LAP) and eventually became a partner, where he worked as a designer on many innovative projects. He was responsible for the design of a widespan concrete shell covering a swimming hall in Hamburg, several bridges, and also footbridges constructed of special structures.

In 1980, Schlaich established his own engineering practice with Rudolf Bergermann (b.1941). They started with an extraordinary project in Spain – the planning of a thermodynamic powerplant powered by air traveling through a 660-foot (200 meter) high chimney driven by the temperature differential between the ground and atmosphere. Schlaich-Bergermann Partnership’s second project was the Hoogly Bridge near Calcutta, which they took over from LAP and then completed. This cable-stayed bridge was specially designed for ease of construction by requiring riveting rather than welding, which made it ideal for a developing country like India. Additionally, Schlaich extended a series of extraordinary footbridges in and around Stuttgart, which were variations on suspension bridges, cable-stayed designs, and bridge designs corresponding to the flow of forces.

Professor Schlaich’s strength is invention and the realization of ideas, as his constructed projects clearly demonstrate. In 1974, Schlaich was appointed the chair of concrete structures and the successor to Fritz Leonhardt at Stuttgart University. Schlaich has been able to make many of Otto’s ideas real, such as gridshells enclosing a swimming hall (Schwimmhalle Neckarsulm), the Hamburg History Museum (Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte), and an ice rink roof with an arch stabilized by a cable-net in Munich. More recent projects include adaptive bridges, such as a foldable bridge near Kiel in Northern Germany and a suspension bridge with a variable opening near Duisburg. Today, Schlaich collaborates with many famous architects, including Frank Gehry, Rafael Vinoly, Thomas Herzog, and Volkwin Marg. One of his most famous projects, the Twin Towers Memorial, is in New York City.

CityPlace Puente de Luz Bridge

The Toronto Puente de Luz bridge (Bridge of Light) is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2011.

Some original concept images here, and some construction photos here.  The Happy Pontist gave it a somewhat ambiguous parrot rating.

Parrot rating (for the charrette proposals): ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!

I would probably gave it a Python rating of “egg, sausage, and spam“. To be honest I do not understand what the cables on top of the bridge do? (Update: I believe the cables are intended to portray a “horse’s head” on the bridge. Is this true or is someone pulling my leg?)

Five Questions for an Engineer – Peter Mulqueen

Peter Mulqueen, of Novare Design, designed the iconic Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, located near New Plymouth, in New Zealand. (Thanks Peter for agreeing to the interview!)

From Close 2 Home

After growing up in the swede paddocks of Balfour, he spent two years as a drafting cadet with the Lands and Survey Department. At 20, he was a late starter at Canterbury University where, in 1988, he gained a Bachelor of Engineering with first class honours. He stayed on to do his masters degree, then worked in Invercargill for a consulting firm before heading to Switzerland in 1990.

In Zurich he worked for Electrowatt Engineering Services, a daughter company of Credit Swiss, (one of the major banks, which financed the first Gothard Railway Tunnel under the Swiss Alps) that has had a long history of financing significant engineering projects. He came home, achieved an MBA, then worked inWellington, Christchurch and Invercargill. For several years he travelled to and from Switzerland.

In 2001 he moved to Zurich and began working for the legendary Santiago Calatrava.

“To call him legendary, in this circumstance, is not wrong,” Mulqueen says. “I’d heard about him. He’d designed the famous Stadelhofen station in Zurich. They were advertising and I applied and had a job.

Calatrava employed 35 staff there, about 40 in Valencia and two or three in Paris at the time. I thought there was a remote chance of getting the job. Everyone was young and worked hard. The fact is I know him quite well. He’s the star architect when it comes to bridges.” From 2002 to 2006, Mulqueen worked for Calatrava on a number of designs, including the James Joyce bridge in Dublin and the Bridge of Strings in Jerusalem, (which caused much controversy because it was so unusual), the preliminary design of the National Photography Museum of Qatar, the new entry hall to the New York Metro at Ground Zero, and the turning torso tower in Malmo, Sweden, the largest skyscraper in Scandinavia. Track them on Google for a fascinating journey through some modern engineering marvels.

Today, Mulqueen is working on four railway bridges, with all-steel ballast decks, a first of a kind in this country, made of weathering steel which rusts but doesn’t flake off and instead becomes tightly adhered to the parent metal. “They’re heavy, robust bridges,” he says with a real sigh. “It’s hard to make them look elegant but nevertheless they fascinate me all the same.”

The Happy Pontist has a number of posts on the Te Rewa Rewa bridge here and here.

Recent Awards for the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge:

  • 2011 Arthur G. Hayden Medal for a single recent outstanding achievement in bridge engineering demonstrating innovation in special use bridges.
  • 2011 Ingenium Excellence Awards.
  • 2011 International Footbridge Award in the aesthetics category (medium span).

1) What brought you to the field of engineering?

I was a farm boy with no encouragement or opportunity to go farming.
Childhood experiences of building things on the farm and my love of drawing lead me to study engineering as an adult student after starting my working life as a drafter.

When I started working for Santiago Calatrava in 2002, I entered the rarefied atmosphere of iconic bridge design. I have always loved bridges and have no great desire to design anything other than bridges and long spanning structures. I should point out, I spend most of my time designing heavy railway bridges which I enjoy just as much as the sexy projects like Te Rewa Rewa (TRR). Although the feedback for innovative and highly valued railway bridges is not quite the same as the feedback from TRR.

2) In what areas do you expect to see engineering innovation happening
in future years?

Standard short span precast bridges are about a 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of a “landmark” bridge, but the story their owners tell to Joe Public is “here is your bridge, perfectly functional, like it or lump it”. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is an affront to the senses or the community in which the bridges are situated. The public are becoming more demanding in terms of what is acceptable visually in terms of bridges. Non price attributes of bridges will have a greater bearing than just price on bridge selection.

With growing public intolerance to standard precast bridging, and with steel making technology and concrete moulding technology improving all the time, words like style, grace, elegance, dignity, meaning will start to be used alongside words like, economic, efficient, and the most dreadful of all “fit for purpose” in terms of bridge design. There will be resistance from clients, contractors, and engineers to this, but after a public backlash or two, things will change and everyone will get on board and some really great bridges should come out of this movement.

In New Zealand, I would like to think TRR and even some of the weathering steel ballast deck railway bridges I am currently designing are examples of this. They bring a value that never existed before.

3) Any advice for new engineers?

Develop a structural understanding for both concepts and details. This can be through hand sketches of simple models, details etc. and some associated hand calculations. Understand the load paths and structural behaviour before switching on the computer.

Develop a creative style. In regards to bridge design, actively study other bridges. Mentally note the pleasing and displeasing aspects of a particular bridge. Develop the mind to paper process by sketching concepts and details that are pleasing. Keep them in a folder or drawer until the opportunity arises where they can be utilised.

Train your eye to see what is beautiful in structures.

4) What is your dream project? (Maybe it is one you already built?)

Te Rewa Rewa was a dream project. I left Calatrava and Switzerland with a dream to design beautiful bridges in my homeland of New Zealand. Withsome fellow engineers we started Novare Design Ltd and started off designing railway bridges in 2004 and haven’t stopped. New Zealand is not only a “far” land it is a practical land by virtue of its history and remoteness.

In the past we haven’t had need or time for anything frivolous. The default position on bridge design is “cheap as chips” and “fit for purpose”. After my experience working for Santiago, this new environment was quite a contrast. When I first heard that the New Plymouth District Council wanted an “iconic” bridge, I thought “are they sure they really know what they are asking for”.

This was my opportunity. I was going to give them something special and off the top shelf. During the design competition I was competing against two other teams with architects, but really in my mind I was really trying to “out do” Santiago. My edge was this was my home land, I knew the history and had a sense of what was important to the local people.

The end result was TRR. In marketing parlance it has become a “destination”. However, the secret of its success is its spiritual dimension and the deeper meanings it engenders particularly for the local community.

I enjoy designing bridges for KiwiRail. I would like to design more truly iconic bridges – they don’t have to be big, they just need make people stop and wonder.

5) When your not working, what do you do for fun?

My kids are 5 and 7 so with school activities and their sport, they take up most of my time after work. I like to appreciate bridges but try not to become obsessed with them. I enjoy travelling with my family and catching up with friends.

The ASCE Infrastructure Cult

Not my title but a blog post by Charles Marohn, on the new urban network.

I think we need money in infrastructure but I agree it is not always well spent money…..maybe not every bridge or road deserves to stick around. How about using some of that infrastructure money for universal broadband, cleaner water and air?

The American Society of Civil Engineers has just released a report that should be titled, “Pretending it is 1952.” Like a broken record, ASCE is again painting a bleak picture of the future if American politicians — as if they need to be plied — won’t open up the checkbook for our noble engineers.

And in a way that the Soviet Central Committee would have expected from Pravda, the media and blogger world is sounding the alarm. This feels more like a cult than a serious discussion on America’s future.

We poured money in highways, county roads and local streets. We have so much transportation infrastructure — a huge proportion of it with no productivity — that every level of government is now choking on maintenance costs.

Got a big idea? Nevermind.

Big ideas used to be everywhere, remember the moon, flying cars and something called science? Big visions may not come true but without large goals all you get is small thinking.

From the NYT.

If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.

It is no secret, especially here in America, that we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy. While we continue to make giant technological advances, we may be the first generation to have turned back the epochal clock — to have gone backward intellectually from advanced modes of thinking into old modes of belief. But post-Enlightenment and post-idea, while related, are not exactly the same.

More Engineers, of course.

Makes sense.

The explosion of salaries on Wall Street has attracted many of the talented individuals who otherwise would have gone into research, design, and engineering occupations. This flight of talented students to work in finance harms all of us because it means that we have fewer “positive spillovers” from innovative activities.

The beneficiaries from Apple’s innovation were not just its shareholders and iPhone users the world over, but also its competitors that are now building smartphones inspired by the iPhone, as well as the millions of consumers who now use Android-based phones.

These spillovers from innovation imply that society gains when its best and brightest go into innovative sectors. This is what the U.S. economy has been able to achieve for decades but should not take for granted anymore. Allocating our best talents to finance risks damaging the long-term innovative capacity of our economy.

Aérotrain!

A little off the bridge path but David introduced me to the Aérotrain! A cool floating mode of transportation that would be great in any movie!

From Wiki.

The Aérotrain was a Hovertrain developed in France from 1965 to 1977. The lead engineer was Jean Bertin.

The goal of the Aérotrain was similar to that of the magnetic levitation train: to suspend the train above the tracks so the only resistance is that of air resistance.

Consequently, the Aérotrain could travel at very high speeds with reasonable energy consumption and noise levels, but without the technical complexity and expensive tracks of magnetic levitation.

From David,

A lot of resources were spent on the development of the French Aerotrain before it was abandoned in favour of the present TGV (very high speed rail) which was inspired by the Japanese Shinkansen railway system.
The reasons were financial and probably appeared to be sensible and practical at the time – the TGV (HSR) train could use existing railway corridors with less investment in the special trackway, and the technology was proven and less revolutionary. The inventor’s death probably also killed it as he was the brains behind it all. However the Aerotrain was quite something!.

Here is an earlier model.

The Politics of Engineering

I would venture that politics touch the lives of engineers every day but we rarely discuss it. (In my case it something I should definitely stay away from…..)

Should we discuss it more? Should blogging engineers write about politics and give their two cents worth on current issues? Or should we run away screaming so we are not associated with those “political” types. Is it safe for engineers to make their thoughts public or is it a death sentence for future work?

Obviously, if you have been reading the news lately, you can see we are in difficult times. Can engineers make a difference? Would our logic circuits help the debate or would our sometime glacial processes of change make it worse?

Take any issue, for example, how about more funding for infrastructure to create jobs. Sounds like a great idea for engineers, more work, more money. But is it the way to go in a recession? Or would it be better to cut debt to the bone, something like cutting up your credit cards, to stop the bleeding.

Most of the time I see political debate hinge on untrue “facts” and opinions that are presented in a distorted manner. Could we fix that or is something beyond the control of rational minds.

From a speech at MIT.

In truth, MIT students should be making decisions in higher levels of government because they have such great intelligence and potential. Often, politicians are asked to make policy decisions on issues they do not understand, and they frequently lack the qualifications to make such decisions. This can lead to disastrous outcomes because the “blind” are asked to lead the way. Alternatively, scientists and engineers with a technical background and robust experience should be called upon as experts. There is no reason that the innovations made in the lab cannot be applied on a larger scale and be implemented effectively across the nation.

Could engineers compromise and focus on macro issues instead of fighting over the size of a bolt in a connection? (Engineers often fight over the smallest things and overlook the major, more expensive, issues. Like should we really build there…)

I know, I know, I have a lot of questions and no answers. I tired of feeling that I spend my time discussing small issues while the big fish are getting away….What do you think?