Monday, May 18, 2015

Update

I will be on a blogging hiatus until May 30.

Engineering and The Disappearance of Jobs

One of the key issues facing engineers this century will be a relatively simple question.  Will engineers be the eaten or eaters in the job-eating maw of technology?  From lawyers to radiologists to software designers, the middle-class historically was based on the assumptions of a college degree combined with flexibility, creativity, and a continually upgraded skill set.  This appears to be an assumption that is no longer valid.

Technology traditionally has been an effective partner with the middle class.  The world of MS Excel and Word made the global economic system cheaper, faster, and better.  Excel never had the goal of complete labor replacement.  But as Martin Ford points out in the one of most important books to come out in years, Rise of Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, the goals of cheaper, faster, and better are rapidly shifting to the goal of complete replacement.

From a review of the book by Barbara Ehrenreich in the New York Times Book Review yesterday:

"Ford offers little hope that emerging technologies will eventually generate new forms of employment, in ways that blacksmiths yielded to automakers in the early 20th century.  He predicts that new industries will "rarely, if ever be highly labor-intensive," pointing to companies like YouTube and Instagram, which are characterized by "tiny workforces and huge valuations and revenues."  On another front, 3-D printing is poised to make a mockery of manufacturing as we knew it.  Truck driving may survive for a while - at least until self-driving vehicles start rolling out of Detroit or, perhaps, San Jose.

The disappearance of jobs has not ushered in a new age of leisure, as social theorists predicted uneasily in the 1950s.  Would the masses utilize their freedom from labor in productive ways, such as civic participation and the arts, or would they die of boredom in their ranch houses?  Somehow, it was usually assumed, they would still manage to eat."

How More Engineers Can Enter the 1%

It may start with becoming a member of the confidence elite.  From the always excellent Schumpeter column in the current issue of the Economist - How to Join the 1%:

"This overwhelming emphasis on style rather than substance many seem an odd way to select members of the 1%.  But those at the top of consulting, investment-banking and legal professions know that the most priced possession in uncertain times is not brainpower, but self-confidence.  For all the talk of the world becoming dominated by the "cognitive elite", in reality it appears it is nothing more than a "confidence elite."

Do We Really Talk Like This?

From Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance:

"For all his swagger, Musk can be surprisingly shy and awkward in person.  Like a lot of engineers, he will pause while searching for exact phrasing, and he'll often wander down a scientific rabbit hole without offering any lay translations along the way.  He expects you to keep up; there's no small talk."

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Black & Veatch and Microgrids

One of the key issues associated with greater infrastructure and energy system resiliency are microgrids.  This is a great example of a future marked by our ability to link and think in terms of both sustainability and resiliency operational requirements.

From the B&V website:

"Overland Park, Kansas (28 April 2015) -- Black & Veatch today celebrated the commissioning of a new microgrid system that provides power to its World Headquarters. Featuring a range of renewable energy resources and natural gas power, the system allows the company to evaluate microgrid technologies. 

Microgrids are a key area of interest for many companies and municipalities seeking to lower their carbon footprint and enhance electrical power supply resiliency. The new system, which powers the Rodman Innovation Pavilion, is the first microgrid powering a commercial building in Kansas.

The system uses a combination of natural gas, solar energy, geothermal and battery storage. It can operate as an independent power source or in support of the traditional electric grid adding resiliency to the building and lowering energy costs. The microgrid provides enough clean energy to run the entire Innovation Pavilion. Area city and state officials as well as regional electric utility leaders toured the microgrid system today."

GeoSure

Great travel App!!!

Three Ideas for Infrastructure Investment

From Brookings last week:
"One, we need to talk about infrastructure in specific rather than abstract terms. Take transportation. Because of the high-profile discussion about the need to shore up the federal highway trust fund, we assume that Washington has the largest role in transportation. But in reality, since 2007 the federal share of total spending on roads and public transit is only about25 percent. States (40 percent) and localities (36 percent) each play a larger role. For other sectors, such as freight rail, telecommunications, and clean energy, the federal funding role is even smaller or nonexistent. By overemphasizing the federal role we fail to recognize the diverse and highly fragmented ways that America selects, builds, maintains, operates, and pays for critical assets as different as seaports, broadband, and water.
Second, to get around fiscal austerity and political gridlock, we must change the way we fund and finance individual sectors of infrastructure. While a handful of state and metropolitan leaders are finding innovative ways to stretch infrastructure dollars and get projects done, most still struggle with financial, regulatory, political, and institutional hurdles. Developing truepartnerships between government agencies, private firms, financiers, and the general public is how many nations successfully develop infrastructure around the world today. The nature and mix of public and private arrangements will likely be customized depending not only on individual transactions but also on the nature of the particular infrastructure sector.
Third, we need to change the way we prioritize investments so infrastructure derives from real and actionable economic, social, and environmental goals, and not from the vagaries of local or regional funding for this or that project. This means making investments in freight connectivity to enable access to metropolitan markets through modern global value chains, making investments that support the transition to cleaner and more abundant domestic energy sources, and focusing on green infrastructure to absorb and manage water rather than rely on costly over-engineered solutions."