July 2008 Archives

ECONOMICS: The MPG Illusion, by Richard P. Larrick and Jack B. Soil. Science, 20 June 2008, V320, N5883, pp 1593-1594 (podcast here)

The authors here suggest that we turn MPG upside down and look instead at GPM. Miles per gallon is the most common way of expressing fuel efficiency in the United States but it is an incomplete picture. Looking at gallons per mile or gallons per 100 miles gives a better indication of costs and savings. Doing the math here we find that the best public policy would be to remove or improve the most inefficient vehicles rather than trying to improve the efficiency of already “efficient” vehicles. The data reported in this article shows that changing the way these terms are used does affect behavior.

Sustainability and Asia

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Just attended and interesting presentation on globalization and sustainability here. The focus of the talk was on engineers and what they could to improve energy consumption in a global economy but it had a great deal of general globalization content as well. Key takeaways:

• China will pass the US in GDP in 2040
• India will soon outgrow China in population as a result of china’s one-child policy
• World population to exceed 9 billion by end of century
• There is a shortage of coal in China due to the inability to extract it fast enough
• There is some concern over China’s use of nuclear energy because some of the plants are suffering from lack of maintenance
• For every 3 barrels of oil extracted in the world, only 1 barrel is discovered

I also found it interesting at how numbers are viewed. While it is commonplace to compare the amount of energy used per person, a more telling statistic is energy used per GDP. Yes, the US used more energy per person than China but we also produce 3.5 times as much GDP as China per unit of energy used.

The first general session this morning discussed the on-going debate of requiring 30 hours of education, and the upper- or graduate-level in order to be licensed as a professional engineer. The two presenters gave a good overview of the history and pointed out the pros and cons of the proposal. I admit that the tone of this discussion was much better than what I have heard in the past, especially when presented by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). ASCE presentations in the past have tended toward painting this a fait accompli and implied that the entire engineering profession was behind this. Of course that is not true. This presentation pointed out that there is on-going debate.

My concern, and comment made during the Q & A session, is that we have not included the state legislatures. It is the state legislatures who, for reasons of saving money, have reduced the number of hours we can have in an engineering baccalaureate degree. Without including them in the discussion we will not be able to get the proposed model law for registration enacted.

I arrived in Portland as scheduled although the flight was miserable. We started with a delay in Columbus and had to sit on the plane at the gate because we “missed our reservation” so “flow control” made us wait. Got off about 40 minutes late and arrived in Atlanta where we had wait for the ramp agents to direct us to the gate. Once again, ASA demonstrated that they are incapable of running an airline in any semblance of efficiency. How hard is it to get word out that a plane is here?

I was ninth on the upgrade list to Portland and there was only one first class seat left so I was not happy about that. The flight from Atlanta to Portland was turbulent most of the way. Not the real turbulent stuff that can be fun, but the very mild turbulence that bumps you every now and then just to keep you from getting good rest. I did rest most of the way though. I plugged in the Bose QC3 to my iPod and tuned in the music and tuned out the noise kids and talkative people.

Now for a few days of meetings.

Are Facts Obsolete?

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Thomas Sowell sums it up well in his op ed Are Facts Obsolete? Sowell has a way of pointing out the obvious, the obviosu which is ignored among the mantra "change"

Smitten Eagle and I share the same feelings about books, as do others mentioned in his post. I love to collect books and I love to read books but not everyone understands that. I have every intention of reading the books I have but I never have the time to read them all. But it doesn’t matter; I still like to collect books.

Yes, the arguments are that I can borrow from the library. Well, not all of the one’s I like, but even so, borrowing them is not the same as having them. I also like hardbacks rather than paperbacks. Sure, paperbacks are less expensive but they don’t last as long. Besides, the real cost in reading a book is not the cost of the book but rather my time.

You can tell a lot about me by looking at my library. If you knew when I bought what you can tell how my interest have evolved over time. When I younger I read what I had to read and then tried to read what I wanted to read. In college and shortly thereafter I read to improve my professional knowledge of my specific area of interest and never read fiction. My reading time was so precious I couldn’t see wasting it on fiction. However, I soon learned the error of my ways and now read some fiction, some good fiction. I also try to read more outside of my area, but with my weird education it is hard to say what is in and is out of my area.

SE also mentions General Mattis and links to this AFJ article which has a profile of Mattis. I have never met General Mattis but would love the opportunity. I suspect I could just sit and listen to him for hours.

Had what seems to be a nice presentation to the Consulting Engineering Council organizations from Mississippi and Alabama. Had about 25 to 30 in the audience, it seemed, which I thought was pretty good given the topic was ethics and I was competing with the beach, pools, and golf courses.

Several people came up afterwards to share a few comments and that is always nice. Engineering ethics is not always the most exciting topic to be covered in a vacation hot spot but I try to make it interesting as possible.

I was also treated very well by the organization. My wife had planned to attend with me and we were going to make it something of a short vacation but her recovery from two broken ankles made the 7 hour drive impossible and the idea of walking around undesirable. Maybe next time.

Vacationaries

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ARTICLE: Churches Retool Mission Trips, by Jacqueline L. Salmon, Washington Post, 05 July 2008

I am in no way trying to be critical of mission trips but I am glad that they are getting looked at seriously. I have long been concerned that these trips were more about the doing the work than the people the work was being done for. When I think of the money spent to high school students to another country and compare that to the work that is actually accomplished, I can’t help but think that money could be put to better use; perhaps it could be used to support a long-term missionary or two. Maybe the money could simply be donated and pay locals to do the work the youth had planned to do.

When we send youth we are essentially sending unskilled labor to a country to do unskilled labor jobs. The youth will learn a little about how to build a house or paint a church but, coming from mainly affluent families, they will return home, go to college, and get jobs where they will never be expected to build a house. Meanwhile, how many of these youth come from communities that have active Habitat for Humanity projects in need of work?

I freely admit that I am much more understanding of those who go to remote locations in third world countries. While their trips may not be the most effective method of delivering aid, I cannot question their dedication and sacrifice. I have no doubt their hearts are in the right place. But those who go to the Bahamas, New York, or Los Angeles really concern me. I hear of churches in Mississippi, yes, my home state, which send youth missionaries to New York City to work in a soup kitchen. Come on now. It is as if there is not work to be done in Mississippi that can be accomplished with local commutes. I simply have to assume the reason for these trips is because there is better shopping and more plays in New York than in the Mississippi Delta.

There are other lessons to be learned and taught. Sending the youth to some of these locations, especially the third world remote locations, certainly changes their outlook on the world and may yield an even greater impact later in the lives of these people. Work also gets done even if it is not always efficient.

Perhaps drawing attention to this will result in churches thinking more about what they do and how they do it. The most disturbing part of the article to me is that permanent missionaries are declining. Thinking about what could be accomplished with the money currently spent on these vacationaries may result in redirected mission funds.

MSU interimm president to hold interactive chats

This was first titled "MSU interim president to hold Web chats" but was changed when a commenter pointed out it was not the web. It is an easy mistake to make though. After all, in this day and age anyone else would have had a web chat with questions submitted either on-line (similar to the web conference I was involved in yesterday!) or email them in. Going to extension centers for this? Give me a break. I think is more about solidifying Ag support rather than getting word out.

The word that comes to my mind is--disappointing. I also fear that our future is going to look a lot like our past. But hey, it's just my personal opinion.

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