Tag: engineering

This week on JobMakers, Host Denzil Mohammed talks with Anita Worden, renewable energy business entrepreneur, about her work to improve representation of women in crucial economic sectors like technology, a place where they can innovate and have real impact.  Anita was born in England of Indian parents, grew up in Algeria, moved to the U.S. as a teenager, and attended MIT. While still a student, she co-founded her first company, Solectria Corporation, in 1989, and then went on to found Solectria Renewables in 2005, both of which were acquired.  Now retired, Anita is working to promote tech as a viable, lucrative and satisfying career choice for women and girls, just as she’s educating Americans about her passions, climate change and shifting the narrative around immigrants in the U.S.


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Many of us are familiar with some of the great things Mitch Daniels is doing as president of Purdue University including not raising tuition for a decade ( Press Release from Purdue ) or standing up for free speech on campus ( Mitch Daniels on Free Speech on Campus ) but many are not aware that […]

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Youth Is Wasted on the Young


I swear that some younger engineers are absolutely unteachable (unlearnable?). They not only know little of the industries they serve but are ignorant of how and why their industries do things in particular ways. I could of course cite Chesterton’s Fence as one example, but there are plenty more besides.

Over the last few days, I have had a back-and-forth with a younger engineer at a long-time customer, who seems keen to change how his company is doing things, but fails to understand why they are doing what they do in the first place. He’s going to have to learn the hard way, just like all the other younger engineers. What follows is just the condensed transcript of my emails back and forth.

Customer: I want to spec part Y on my vehicles.

Delayed Innovation


Sometimes the best thing that can happen to an inventor is for him to be ignored.

Take for example German archery enthusiast Jörg Sprave. He pitched his bow designs to manufacturers for years. None purchased his plans. But Sprave did not idly wait for broader success. He continued to iterate until building something he wished he had thought of years ago. 

Piercing the Clouded Veil of Thinking Caused by the Status Quo


“A relentless barrage of “why’s” is the best way to prepare your mind to pierce the clouded veil of thinking caused by the status quo.”– Shigeo Shingo

Shigeo Shingo was a Toyota engineer and the progenitor/guru of “Lean,” or “Sigma Six” business improvement methodology. When my spouse was in the military, Total Quality Management™ was a thing. W. Edward Deming’s TQM had allegedly made Japan an auto tech powerhouse, was doing the same for the Ford Motor Company, and had now come to a USAF base near you! (Though her boss still had a Two-Minute Manager book in her office. So last decade.)

Quote of the Day – Ragsdale’s Rules


Once upon a time, I was a green engineer a couple of years out of college. At the time I was working in the space program making the normal sort of blunders associated with green engineers a few years out of college. Then I started working for a gentleman by the name of Al Ragsdale. He was one of the sharpest engineers I ever knew. His specialty was simulators and simulations.

He had been working in the space program at JSC since the Apollo days. If you watch the films of Mission Control during the Apollo 11 landing you can see him on the other side of the glass window on the right side of the Mission Control room, to the right of the picture, working the back room at the time. He was also working on the Lunar Lander simulators. During Apollo 13 he kept the simulator at least four hours ahead of the actual mission making sure nothing done would kill the crew. (In sims he “died” half a dozen times, but was always able to develop workarounds to ensure the crew did not suffer a similar fate. I think he got a Silver Snoopy for that.)

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In the late 1940’s, many small airplane companies thought that returning GI’s, exposed to aircraft operations in WWII, would purchase light aircraft to travel faster than the pre-Interstate highways, where a 50 MPH average speed was considered fast. By 1950, the small aircraft market was saturated, and it didn’t solve the problem of the “last […]

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Seth and the Waterbed


Water is heavy. This was a lesson I learned in my freshman year in college, back more years than I care to remember. It was something I learned in class, but the lesson was underscored by my first-ever roommate, Seth. It is not his real name – for reasons obvious as this story progresses.

I was accepted to the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. How far back? Back a few years after the Great Aerospace Bust left engineering graduates unable to find a job more challenging than pumping gasoline upon graduation. Not just baccalaureate degree holders, but rather those with masters and doctorates. In some ways folks looked on engineering grads the same way we view those with worthless studies degrees today.

The Night of Fire


Blaise Pascal, mathematician, scientist, inventor, and philosopher, a man who from the age of 16 had been making historic contributions to mathematics and the physical sciences, who, despite a sickly constitution and a capacity for intense abstraction nonetheless oversaw the material construction of his experiments and inventions with great zest, was barely past 30 when saw something unexpected one raw November night. He saw fire. The vision of it so branded him that he sewed the record he made of it, his Memorial, into his coat, carrying it with him the rest of his life:

Memorial, Pascal

The Greens’ Dishonesty on Solar Energy


shutterstock_107540705Solar energy — mostly, though not exclusively, in the form of photovoltaic panels — has improved vastly in the last twenty years, and will likely become a significant energy source in the future as it becomes more efficient and less expensive. This is for good reason: the Earth receives orders of magnitude more energy in sunlight than we consume from all other sources; everyone has at least some access to sunlight; the technology scales easily; its process is simple, easy to maintain, and requires no fuel; and (as you might have heard) it emits no carbon while generating power. But like every energy resource, these advantages come with significant trade-offs. In this case, start with massive up-front costs, scarcity of some necessary materials, and enormous requirements of space.

But the biggest problem with solar power is that sunlight is intermittent and unreliable. In addition to the daily cycles of night and day, there are also seasonal cycles (especially at higher latitudes), as well as 11-year cycles within the Sun itself, all of which make it extremely difficult to design an electrical grid that relies heavily on solar generation. These predictable problems are further complicated by the chaotic ones posed by weather. In short, relying on solar energy is fine so long as you don’t mind having your source of light, heat, air-conditioning, and all our other modern life-enhancing, life-saving amenities be at the mercy of nature and the clock. There are two potential solutions: Either build a secondary power network as a back-up to the solar one (massively expensive and impractical), or find some way to store excess energy when it’s abundant so that it can be used when in demand. Unfortunately, there is no sensible, economical solution available right now, nor is any on the horizon. And any self-professed environmentalist who doesn’t acknowledge this is either ignorant or dishonest.

There’s no shortage of ways to store energy, though all of them are  problematic and — currently — uneconomical. On a residential scale, batteries are expensive and wear out in a few years, hydrogen fuel cells are too inefficient and high-tech, fly-wheels and compressed air containers are dangerous. To make matters worse, none of these scale up well enough to level out solar’s shortcomings on either a regional or national scale. Gravitational energy storage — generally, in the form of pumping water into reservoirs when energy is available and releasing it through a turbine when in demand — does scale up and is in use already, but it’s too expensive, weak, slow, and geographically restricted to work for the purposes solar would require. A similar system involving trains mitigates that last problem, but we’re still talking about very small amounts of energy.

Learning the Basics and Things that Matter


shutterstock_209972047To the sadness of all, anonymous has decided to end his amazing Saturday Night Science series (though he’s still writing for Ricochet on similar topics). Out of a sense of both depression and a desire to turn that feeling into something constructive I have decided to write a primer on something which I have found to be important in my life. I want to start out with describing a small toolbox of ideas that is taught to engineers and scientists as a means of looking at the world.

Of course, there is a lot of confusion about what it is that engineers do. The truth of the matter is that there isn’t just one thing that engineers do; our professional lives are so varied and specialized that the term “Engineer” even with modifiers such as “Chemical,” “Civil,” “Mechanical,” or “Electrical” cannot capture the breadth of depth of what people do in the various disciplines. However, there are typically a few core courses which bind all of the branches of engineering together at the root of their undergraduate training. One of the most important courses which all well-trained engineers take is Thermodynamics.

Thermo gets a bad rap from the outside world. Its very name is scary, foreign, and oftentimes associated with the incomprehensible. So what is thermodynamics if it isn’t a totally baffling subject best left to boffins?

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Over at PJMedia, I have a piece attacking the credentialism that underlies much of the climate debate: There is no scientific consensus that we must dramatically cut back on fossil-fuel use to avoid environmental catastrophe, despite the implication of that sentence and, in fact, the very notion of a “scientific consensus” is an oxymoron. That is […]

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