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National Society of Professional Engineers – bloggers?

Who knew the NSPE had blogs, certainly not me but then I’m not a member. I’m a member of that old joke ” I just don’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” (Groucho Marx)

One blog I read pertained to engineers getting into public office.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best thing you can do is the right thing. The second best thing you can do is the wrong thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” As America is faced with a struggling economy, high unemployment, and a serious dissatisfaction with Washington politics, now is the time for us to raise our voices and demand common sense approaches to bring our country back from the brink.

PEs are problem solvers by nature and training. We tend to be dispassionate and apolitical in our decision-making as well, which is probably just what is needed today to deal with the serious issues we face.

I somewhat agree with this sentiment but I often find engineers to be rigid, cautious and slow to implement changes. (I know we spend a lot of time learning stuff and then it changes, which means we have to learn more stuff and then that changes..which can really piss you off when a project is due and you have to redo some little stupid thing that actually becomes a big thing because you have to change five plan sheets and.. )

And what is politics but forging solutions to problems through meaningful consensus(Great overview of decision making systems).

The problem is our country’s appetite for social politics which seem to divide us rather than bring us together.

I think I am sitting this next election out…..

p.s. another post by the same fellow admits some misgivings on climate change.

Is climate change still up for debate?

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That bridge blowed up good…

David sent me an email from which I stole all his ideas and links….yes I am a bad person. Thanks David!

The demolition of the historic Fort Steuben bridge in the USA.

Shahara Bridge, Yemen (David)

While I was researching the bridge demolition question I stumbled upon these beautiful photos of the Shahara bridge in Yemen.


Shahara is located 90 km to the northeast of Amran governorate of Yemen. It can be reached through the city of Houth. Shahara is the administrative centre of the district that is divided administratively into two districts (Shahara and Al-Madan).

The city is located on the converging mountains; the eastern and the western known as (Shaharat Al-Feish) and (Shaharat Al-Amir), each is 3000 metres above sea level. The two mountains are connected by a foot bridge that was built across the ravine separating them.

Travelling between the two mountains used to require a lot of time and effort due to the rough roads and precipitous terrain. The bridge was built in 1323 A.H, 1905 AD during the Imam Yahia Bin Hameededdein’s regime (of the Ottoman Turkish period?). The Shahara bridge is considered to be one of the important Yemeni architectural innovations with the existence of a paved stone road in the western mountain starting from at the bridge and travelling upwards.

Due to the declivity of rocks, the architect was forced to design arches and erect the paved way that was built on them. The bridge is considered to be a remarkable architectural masterpiece and a great geometric work.

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5 Stages of Engineering

I’m not sure who sent me this…..

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the stages people experience while coping with the idea of becoming an engineer.

5 Stages of Engineering

Stage One: Denial and Isolation

A temporary state of shock during which a person denies that it is happening.

Stage Two: Anger

The person lashes out at others, blaming them for the situation; a normal response to the disability and loss of control over one’s life.

Stage Three: Bargaining

The person makes promises to God or others to reform in some manner of exchange for escape from the cubicle life.

Stage Four: Depression

The person accepts his/her fate, but is depressed and grieves about being an engineer. This stage is eased if people are allowed to vent their despair to those who care for and support them.

Stage Five: Acceptance

The person accepts the inevitability of being an engineer and is willing to wait and watch. He/She acknowledges a sense of powerlessness over the coming events. It is often accompanied by a sense of contentment; making the best of things.

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anti-science lobby

What do you think are we slipping back into the dark ages of science? I kinda think so……

From the Guardian,

Most scientists, on achieving high office, keep their public remarks to the bland and reassuring. Last week Nina Fedoroff, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), broke ranks in a spectacular manner.

She confessed that she was now “scared to death” by the anti-science movement that was spreading, uncontrolled, across the US and the rest of the western world.

“We are sliding back into a dark era,” she said. “And there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.”

And from BBC News,
et tu Canada?

The Canadian government has been accused of “muzzling” its scientists.

Speakers at a major science meeting being held in Canada said communication of vital research on health and environment issues is being suppressed.

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Create a Calatrava – Open Bridge Competitions

Do you like Bridge Competitions? If yes, keep reading as we come to the real question. What makes a good bridge competition? A student contacted the Happy Pontist essentially asking that question. (go there and share your ideas!)

I like bridge competitions, I like seeing the creativity of designers of all abilities (and heights!) trying to incorporate their vision into a buildable bridge.

What I hate is the way competitions are run in the United States. Most competitions are safe affairs, typically with prequalification requirements that keep out the individual designer.

This makes sense for the owners who are deathly afraid of public disapproval. Bridge projects are usually funded with public money and the last thing you want is your tax dollars going towards an “extravagant” design. The feeling is the government should only produce practical, non-descript grey structures. Don’t spend my money on frills! (or teachers for that matter, snark.)

When I work with communities I often hear the opposite, please design something that enhances our neighborhood instead of the standard bridge. So in a perfect world, how would I run bridge design competition?

I would like a competition to be broad enough to include the unknown designer. Give a chance to ideas that come out of left field. Give a chance to designers from small firms to get noticed. Create some Calatravas in America. Allow engineers the opportunity to enter, show their work to the world, and defend their ideas from critics. Allow the public a chance to see good and bad designs, so we can encourage them in the right direction when they have to pick a design.

(I think the competition for the second Calgary pedestrian bridge was a fair competition and a pretty good model for future contests. (I will nit-pick how the judging was set up, but that is another story.))

Look how this helped Maya Lin become famous.
“Lin believes that if the competition had not been “blind”, with designs submitted by number instead of name, she “never would have won”. (Because she was an unknown, obviously, won out of 1400+ entrants AND a student. But a brilliant design!) And don’t get me started on Linsanity….

All I am saying, is give (bridge designers) a chance. (with apologies to John Lennon.)

Look I’m inspecting bridges under water! (Hey I had/have a scuba license.)


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Sebastien Le Prestre, the Marquis of Vauban (1633 – 1707)

(David again saves my blog from death. Thanks D!)

Public works contracts – letter in defence of a fair price (from 330 years ago)

There are various versions of the following letter. The following notes are adapted from this French language blog.:

Sebastien Le Prestre, the Marquis of Vauban (1633 – 1707) was a man of multiple skills: a civil engineer, a military architect, an urban planner, hydraulic engineer and a feisty commentator, whose ideas prefigured those of more recent times.

While he was General Commissioner of Fortifications for France, Vauban wrote the following letter in the year 1683 to the Marquis of Louvois, Minister for Public Works and Secretary for War in the French government during the reign of Louis XIV. Here is a transcription in English of this letter:

“To Louvois:

My Lord,

There are some remnants of construction works in recent years which are not finished and will never reach satisfactory completion, and all that, My Lord, due to the disorder resulting from the frequent discounts of which there are records in your financial accounts. For it is certain that all these broken contracts, promises not kept, and revision of adjudication only serve to attract towards you as Contractors all those desperate ones with no other place to turn, the untrustworthy, and the ignorant, and to scare away all those who have something valid to offer and who are capable of running an enterprise correctly.

I maintain, in addition, that they delay and increase considerably the final cost of the works which they carry out most badly, because these discounts and bargains that are so sought after by the free market are imaginary, especially so because it is the Contractor himself who also loses out, like a man who is drowning and who grabs at anything he can reach. This Contractor does not pay his suppliers from whom he took the materials; he pays badly the workers whom he engages, cheats all those he can, and can only find the worst ones because they are desperate and allow themselves to be paid more cheaply than others; he uses only the meanest of materials, quibbles about everything, and still cries for mercy against this and that.

This should be enough, My Lord, for you to see the imperfection of this conduct: and then to abandon it in the name of God, RESTORE GOOD FAITH;


I remain, My Lord, with all my heart, your very humble and very obedient servant,

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban
Maréchal de France
(Archives nationales de Paris).

17th July 1683.”

As the blogger notes, “any further comment would seem to be unnecessary”. Here are some examples of Vauban’s projects which include bridges:

I attach a copy of the original letter as a JPEG file.

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Apparently, engineers are a happy bunch

From WebMD,

Depression was most commonly reported by personal care and service workers and least commonly reported by engineers, architects, and surveyors.

Depressed full-time workers tended to be young (18-25). Depression was more commonly reported by women than men.

Here are the percentages of full-time workers in each field who reported being depressed in the past year. Fields with the same percentage of depressed full-time workers are ranked together.

1. Personal care and service: 10.8%
2. Food preparation and serving: 10.3%
3. Community/social services and health care: 9.6%
4. Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media: 9.1%
5. Education, training, and library: 8.7%
6. Office and administrative support: 8.1%
7. Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance: 7.3%
8. Financial and sales: 6.7%
9. Legal and transportation: 6.4%
10. Mathematical and computer scientists: 6.2%
11. Production: 5.9%
12. Management: 5.8%
13. Farming, fishing, and forestry: 5.6%
14. Protective service (includes police and firefighters): 5.5%
15. Construction: 4.8%
16. Installation, maintenance, repair, sciences: 4.4%
17. Engineering, architecture, and surveyors: 4.3%

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Random thoughts


Some good links for non engineering thoughts.

I thought the civil war letter was particularly amazing. Take that Valentines day!


A letter from the long-distant past:

One way to deal with rejection?

And a great post about engineers and how they lack “life” (my take)

AND a plant my wife gave me for Valentines Day, about six years ago. The remarkable thing is it is still alive!


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Hey I made it at lunch. (Have to keep my sanity somehow.) It reminds me how many people are underwater in the world. My parents went through it.

Based on a model from the google warehouse.

If your really bored check out the Goat Bridge link
David sent me. You think I’m crazy.