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Dear Colleagues

I must gratefully acknowledge Dave MacDonald, our engineering risk consultant (currently examining risks at an international airport), for detailed advice on risk engineering in this note. I have been horrified by the basic misunderstandings by our so-called financial experts on risk, especially concerning the fact that risk is not randomly distributed and thinking that each event has no bearing on the next event in a sequence (as you can see unfolding on TV over the past...

Dear Colleagues

Over the past few weeks, I have received a number of concerned notes relating to the financial disaster slowly unfolding in the US and elsewhere. My focus tends to be on engineering (naturally enough) but I believe a comment is worthwhile. Although I am definitely not an expert in complex financial issues -  In essence, I believe we have to stay the course in what we do on a day-to-day basis. Due to the impact of considerably less credit available, projects and firms will...

1. These pieces that I write every week aim to pass on some tiny, condensed bit of information to engineering professionals. The amazing thing, however, is that I get far more learning passed back to me from your comments. Thank you.

2. Negotiating is always a thorny topic, but I can guarantee that if you haven’t already utilised the techniques that I have outlined below, you can now make yourself a few thousand additional dollars a year. And for your firm, millions of dollars - real...

Dear Colleagues

I am always intrigued by people who portray themselves as experts. Today we are all keenly aware of the carnage wrought on the financial markets by the so-called experts. Perhaps if someone had more aggressively questioned their assumptions, beliefs and actions (and presumably fat commissions), our world-wide financial well being wouldn’t be as exposed today.

Steven Vick in his well researched book ’Degrees of Belief’ writes about the key qualities of an engineering...

1. Whilst on this Queensland roadshow, I have really appreciated those of you who have approached me to chat about your work and engineering lives. Contrary to some reports I am not lying around the various country town pubs guffawing over copious beers. Our charter flights generally arrive at the next destination at midnight and everyone is up at sparrows for the next onslaught of visitors - so it can be a long day.

 2. I am sometimes inclined to agree with Thoreau who noted that "most...

Dear colleagues

1. Thanks very much for your comments on engineering burnout - I will publish these anon. And naturally thanks for your amazing support on the very successful Roadshow throughout Southern Africa. One issue that was highlighted is the terrific and growing shortage of good engineering professionals - throughout the world – who are globally mobile. They are diminishing in number and obviously in demand. As one recently graduated female engineer remarked to me: ‘We are now in...

Dear colleagues

1. Currently on the road in Southern Africa presenting a complimentary series of topics on lightning, process control, hazardous areas and new engineering learning technologies to generally great attendances. Thanks so much for the support. What really amuses (but stresses) me, is that although I try and prepare meticulously for each presentation one always has the curved balls thrown. Like today; no power in town, all day! This effectively nullifies my presentation...

Dear colleagues

1. I am still gathering materials on burn-out in engineering – if you have anything to contribute, please let me know. For the next two weeks I am off on a roadshow to lecture to an accumulated 500+ engineers - if you have any suggestions for items to discuss, please drop me a line. It should be great fun, although I will miss my little daughter’s amateur dramatics (at school that is) and my 11yo boy’s incessant need for help in writing script programs for his web site.

2...

Dear Colleagues

Thanks so much for the stack of mail last week and great enthusiasm for downloading the videos we have been collecting. I get responses from people living far and wide - from the middle of the Kalahari (where is that you might exclaim) to the city slick environs of New York City. Thank you. 

Next week, I am going to talk a bit about engineering burn-out which I have come across with a few buddies. Something we all need to watch out for - it can quickly destroy us and our...

Dear Colleagues

Do you remember the heady days in ’69 when the first crackly radio messages were coming in from our first men on the moon? Perhaps you weren’t alive then. Despite being a child, I recall the absolute excitement at seeing the grainy images of Neil Armstrong plodding on the surface of the moon. Many of you will no doubt decry the massive waste of money poured into space exploration and whilst I feel that some of the money spent on the arms business could be gainfully spent...

Dear colleagues

1.Last week, as I laboured up the myriad of ladders (admittedly secured with a harness), with the family, to the very top of the Sydney Harbour bridge, to that most magnificent view of the city and harbour, I considered some interesting facts:
• Whilst it is not the longest steel-arch bridge in the world, it is the largest and widest (Guinness Book of records).
• It has a span of 503m and a weight of 39,000 tons
• Built by Dorman Long in Newcastle, England and opened in...

Dear Colleagues,

Apologies for the break in our usual weekly offering, our captain, Steve Mackay is braving the madness in Sydney, for a well deserved break from the madness here at IDC Technologies.

As a special consolation prize, visit our videos page on our website with the link below and view some spectacular and scary engineering videos. As always, feel free to add your two cents by emailing us!

From Bec Caldwell, on behalf of The IDC Technologies Team

Dear colleagues
 
I have some really fine responses on mentoring which are important to publicise – a selection are included below. Thanks so much to all those who went to the trouble to respond. Everyone has supplied full names and addresses but due to being in sensitive positions, I have to use initials for some. I have done light editing.  Interesting and inspirational reading….
 
Yours in engineering...

Dear Colleagues

1. This past month's persistent spike in oil prices and the horrendous damage fossil fuels are currently wreaking on both our environment and pockets and in the longer term, the economy, has prompted this today. We have depended on fossil fuels for over 200 years now and any change appears impossible. The green message, which includes simply using less energy, whilst appealing, is not workable without considerable damage to our economies. Inadvertently and as a result of...

Dear Colleagues

  1. I was impressed to read Gary Perman’s piece (in the IEEE) on why strategies to find and retain employees – especially of engineers and technicians - do not work.

There is no doubt, despite the looming recession, that there is an enormous talent shortage in the engineering business – a tremendous and growing shortage of good engineers and technicians. With the rapid growth in technology and the need for highly specialized skills, the talent pool will steadily dry up...

Dear Colleagues

I am grateful to my colleague, Ian Gibson, for passing on a copy of the recent BBC Richard Dimbleby lecture, presented by the well known engineer and industrialist, James Dyson. Some of his thoughts are discussed below. As Ian dryly remarked - 'Dyson is no sucker'. Although a superb engineer, he is also a businessman with an extraordinary manufacturing business operating throughout the world and he has clarity with regards to engineering and its place in our...

Dear Colleagues

1. Last night, I watched with a curious mixture of concern, bewilderment and delight at my 10 year old son expertly bundling up an animated video he had made, and then uploading it to Youtube - the ubiquitous video site. My concern was for someone so young exposed to the questionable content in the internet video arena; my bewilderment at how quickly and easily he had mastered the process and my delight at the engineering training opportunities available to all of us. As...

Dear colleagues

1.We welcomed a sizeable group of people to our complimentary, inaugural mini forums last week. During the session they interacted live (see and talk), with each other and the presenter, using our recently developed iQuokka e-learning software package. We had some excellent discussions and as a result would love to expand on this. The mini forums involve short presentations (20 to 25 mins) with some great discussions at the end, at no cost to participants (apart from the...

Dear Colleagues
 
I am constantly impressed by the smorgasbord of  engineering know-how out on the web - freely available – although admittedly varying in quality from the utterly useless to the enormously valuable. We persistently collect whitepapers and useful materials, so if you come across anything of interest please let us know by email and we will add these to our whitepaper collection and endeavour to circulate them to everyone. We did this recently for software and were gratified by...

Dear Colleagues

According to Wikinomics, many very successful products today are being created by teams of thousands of people scattered throughout the world, using their collective wisdom.

‘No company today, no matter how large or how global, can innovate fast enough or big enough by itself.’

This is according to Tapscott who coined the phrase. The beauty of this approach is that it allows us to get an accurate idea of what the market is after and to let it shape the final product. The...

Dear colleagues

There is an apparent lack of enthusiasm in our children for building mechanical, electrical and electronic gadgets and this has become one of my pet peeves. Tinkering around with gadgets, I believe, results in the development of a passion for science and engineering from an early age. This is essentially what we, as established technicians, engineers and scientists, were doing in our workshops in the old days - admittedly often working in solitude.

But to my delight there are...

Dear colleagues

I remember my brief encounter with electronics engineering and medical technology in the late seventies. I was given the task of adjusting a heart pacemaker, in a primitive way, through the skin of a patient, while Dr Christiaan Barnard looked on impatiently at the fumblings of yet another engineering student. At the time, we told ourselves that the patient’s discomfort was minor compared with the prospect of survival. Of course, I am not going to get involved in the debate of...

Dear Colleagues

I must confess I have always imagined engineers and technicians as the rough and tough, Wild West action types (who work out in the field in pioneering conditions), compared to our more dilettante, cultured brothers and sisters in Law, Medicine and the Arts. In a book entitled Does the Engineer Need Culture?,  Prof. John Peck from City College, in New York remarked that engineers were “rough, tough spirits” who took “pride in cultivating construction-camp and bar-room...

Dear Colleagues

I was struck by an engineering colleague (in his early sixties) who was heartbroken last week at the death of his mentor. I can quite understand the depth of the relationship - I was a little saddened too, on reflection, as my mentor was only around for a few years - too short, by my reckoning, as I was still inadequate as a young engineer. Being a mentor, doesn't just refer to academic or college relationships, but as in my case - the tough and tumble world of industry and can...

Dear Colleagues

In addition to the hundreds of whitepapers (growing daily) on our site freely available to you, we have also placed up a reasonable number of conference papers (from the UK/South Africa and Australia) for you to download (at no charge obviously). These range from Pumps: Maintenance, Design and reliability, to Safety Control Systems and Industrial Wireless systems. Obviously we would appreciate it if you would acknowledge the authors (and their companies) if you refer to...

Dear Colleagues

1. I recently accompanied a ‘Roadshow’ and presented the following topics; Arc Flash Protection, Industrial Data Comms in Hazardous Areas, Lightning and Surge Protection and Process Loop Tuning Fundamentals and  ....you can access these presentations at:
 
2. I continue to receive much correspondence every week (both bouquets and brickbats) for which I thank you all. But one which caught my eye was from Adrian Carrington who added some thoughtful comments to my blog last week...

Dear Colleagues

1. Thanks so much for the flood of suggestions every week - some taking alternative views to mine so they are definitely worth reading. Many include really interesting suggestions which I try to place on the blog site. Please remember that thanks to the conferences we are running we are putting up a selection of good quality engineering papers as well (in addition to our white paper archive). These are accessible at www.idc-online.com

2.  I am currently on a roadshow...

Dear colleagues
 
My father once provided me with a warning that proved to be very wise - although it exasperated me at the time. I was contemplating doing electrical engineering when he said: "Remember my boy, with all your theory and design skills on paper, these are all nothing until you or one of the techies or craftsmen picks up the first screwdriver or soldering iron to start implementing your design".
 
In engineering education, we emphasise software and computer design skills to...

Dear Colleagues

1. First of all - thanks for the further stream of comments/corrections and additions to the engineering safety document. I will acknowledge everyone shortly and we will update this booklet by late next week.

2. As engineers and techies we are required on a daily basis to stretch ourselves - engineering skills/know-how/designs/installation works/costs (and judging by last week's comments – safety). But what amazes me is the one area that is critical to all of us and yet...

Dear Colleagues

First of all, thanks for the enormous response to common sense tips on safe practice and commissioning. We have been working on putting this into booklet form and will release it in the next few days. It will include a few hundred great suggestions (and unfortunately a few very effective, but risqué suggestions that cannot be reproduced!). One particularly interesting point has drawn horrified responses already - understandably:
 
………and still are unsure and want to ensure...

Dear colleagues

As an old engineering colleague of mine, wryly remarked to me recently - engineering and technical graduates are often like babes in the wood when newly on-site as their practical and safety knowledge is almost non-existent. Despite an intensive 4 year (or longer) study program. My retort was that it didn't only apply to young engineers and technicians - and that "common sense is not so common around here" is often an appropriate expression on-site for even old hands. As we all...

The first few weeks in Jan’08, with rolling power cuts, have been hell for industry and mining in South Africa. There is a feeling that the genie has escaped from the bottle and with it a sense of reality.  And solutions to the recent developments seem elusive.

The 2010 World Cup is being held in South Africa! Confidence in the success of these games is difficult with the power shortages prevalent, with few remedies apparent.

I must confess that I was wryly amused with these problems...

Dear Colleagues
 
 Last week, a new Boeing 777 crash landed at Heathrow, England when the pilot tried to increase the throttle on the engines when landing. All power was lost, and on first reports, we owe an incredible debt to the pilot for managing to avoid catastrophe by gliding in to land. Sometimes there is human error involved. But this doesn’t appear to be the case here.
 
Perhaps I am barking mad (again). I would respectfully suggest that this illustrates an issue I have had over many years...

Dear Colleague

Bumping over the Malacca Straits (but 40,000 ft up, well away from the sea pirates below), relaxed after a great few weeks surf and sun holiday, I was pondering about the engineering implications of the "Long Tail" coined by Chris Anderson in his recent book. A long tail is a statistical distribution plotting sales or usage against products, with a short spiky head located to the left and a long tail of the curve drifting off far to the right and being very long and low relative...

I trust 2008 is kind to you. A short one today, as I have to cope with the aftermath of two weeks of lying around on the beach with family and reading copious numbers of books and magazines. And now I am catching up here in the office.

Despite the dire predictions of a recession in the USA which will spread throughout the world, the need for engineering skills has never been more urgent. Even in Asia with its huge population, there are severe skill shortages developing (according to the...

Dear Colleagues

On my travels in Southern Africa; this morning I witnessed a horrible car accident with a little kid being tossed into the air after running across a road. Later, a good client working for one of the largest companies in the world, commented that a smelter component had recently exploded and killed an operator. A couple of nights ago, whilst supping in a sea-side café we saw flares being shot off from a small boat in distress and then shortly afterwards a rescue chopper...

Dear colleagues

The myth of bottling your experienced techies know-how before they leave

My engineering peers often shake their heads ruefully when remarking on the wasted results of the last knowledge management exercise they have done. Often costing millions. A complete waste of time, they exclaim. Trying to bottle knowledge or experience of ones staff or peers before they retire or leave is exceptionally difficult. Impossible and mythical, perhaps.

Formally put (by Gartner): knowledge...

Dear Colleagues

Two items today:

 1. Over 300 shareware software programs available

Thanks for the superb responses of a few hundred programs to my request for shareware and free software. We are finalising the list and should have it out next week with a free CD or easy-to-download from the website. Much obliged.

 2. Are we tilting at windmills with solar and wind energy?

I always admire engineers who practise what they preach. After my nuclear power article some weeks back and the...

Dear Colleagues

Thanks for the inevitably bulging mail bag of responses to my previous newsletters. Some very thoughtful engineers. And as per the suggestions, I am trying to add more engineering oriented musings. Three items today:

1. Amazing collection of free engineering software

I am always amazed by the incredible collection of engineering software programs available for free; sometimes as a result of (expensive) government sponsored research or genuinely altruistic engineers out...

Dear Colleagues

1. A response from last week’s blog suggested that I was denigrating women. It was unintentional and I apologise unreservedly.

2. Accountants are killjoys and engineers over-engineer

Most accountants are seen as misers and killjoys by engineers. They are seen to spoil the fun we engineers have in undertaking projects -they have an innate desire to measure and to ensure that we under spend on a project. On the other hand, accountants feel that we are obsessed with...

My good friend Bob Landman, a veteran electronic design engineer of fibre optic systems, was somewhat sceptical when advice came from a ‘so-called simpleton’. He was faced with a rather intractable design issue - he needed 850nm lasers to work on a data comms project, but did not have the required 850nm photodiodes to mate with them. His wife, lacking engineering know-how, suggested the photodiodes which Bob did have on hand - 1310nm! He originally laughed this off as it didn’t make initial...

Whilst trucking through Toronto this week (and getting sunburnt, despite it being October), I was intrigued by a recent problem between two of our offices due to the lack of proper communication. In this so-called connected world with email and mobile phones, communications between people are perhaps even worse than ever before.

A successful engineering firm is based on outstanding communications – both internally and externally; to clients and suppliers – something particularly...

Dear Colleagues

I am just ruefully contemplating a damaged door frame in our newly renovated training facilities. Great design and building; but one of the new doors was secured to its door frame with a few small and ineffectual nails. Within the first couple of weeks of use it came adrift ruining the entire installation and creating a safety hazard. Nice one.

The Code of Hammurabi stated 5000 years ago, that “If a builder builds a house and the house collapses and causes the death of the...

Dear Colleagues

Some of us get hugely remunerated for solving problems – an airline pilot for solving a problem which involves 45 seconds in his entire career as he wrestles a plane safely to ground, or Red Adair putting out oil fires, or the astronauts bringing Apollo 13 back. At the end of the day, as engineers, I believe problems are our stock-in-trade.

For some reason, we are taught that engineering is all about design and coming up with a nice construction - there is very little mention...

Two thoughts for the day.

1. Engineering blog comments.
2. One of education's greatest confidence tricks - lectures

1. Engineering blog comments

The comments continue to pour in. Thanks very much. I have placed them all up on my blog site at:

I am grateful for your comments. Thank you for giving up your time to read them.

2. One of education's greatest confidence tricks - lectures

Last week I was put through yet another mind-numbing engineering lecture with numerous powerpoints bouncing...

Dear Colleague

Three things today.

1. Nuclear Power

I had an overwhelming response to "Nuclear Power: To hell? Or maybe, just maybe...Heavenly Bliss?" Thanks very much. Some very interesting comments and some rather acid comments about my professed love for nuclear waste and the nuclear apocalypse. To a (wo)man, all the comments were biased toward an unerring focus on safety and looking after our wonderful environment. I tried to be neutral though and don't have an axe to grind either way. I...

Dear Colleague

Two things today:

1. Thanks so much for your ongoing stream of comments - every week, I typically get over 20 thoughtful and interesting comments from the 80,000 odd engineers and techies throughout the world who receive this note.. Please keep them coming. I really am grateful for your interest and enthusiasm. Please forward to all your compadres. Thank you !

2. Currently grinding in a tiny turbo prop over the Great Australian Outback, made me wonder about this vast...

Dear Colleague

Three things today:

Engineering training survey. Thanks very much for the incredible response here. Within short order I have had over 1600 completed surveys - I will make the results available to everyone in the next two weeks. Some very interesting and useful comments have emerged - I am very grateful.

We have hounded you too much with emails. The powers-that-be here have decided that we are driving you to distraction by sending you too many emails so we plan to send...

Dear Colleagues

We ran a successful (based on numbers and responses at the end, so I hope I don't sound like a used car salesman here) conference on Hazardous Areas (Classifications and Equipment) this week. Very enjoyable meeting so many of my engineering peers who were so interactive, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. An enormous exchange of information done in the papers presented, the tea breaks and over a beer or two afterwards.

But one of the common gripes was still the despairing...

As I sit in our surfside beach shack contemplating the surfers riding yet another great wave in this stunningly beautiful but remote village in the SW corner of Australia, I've had a good chance to measure up being a mobile (working) engineer for a few days. But as my teenage daughter says so succinctly - It sucks. There are unreliable mobile telephone connections and no web access here (despite being on the best plan).

I recently purchased a ghastly and expensive state-of-the-art PDA...

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