Episode 60 — Social License


socialGeological engineer Pamela Rogalski shares her insights about using social license to enact change in organizations and communities during this episode of The Engineering Commons.

  • Adam notes that bureaucracies seem rather opposed to the concept of change.
  • Our guest for this episode is Pamela Rogalski, a licensed professional engineer from Canada who has worked as a manager, strategist, educator, negotiator, and executive level adviser for geotechnical engineering and power generation firms in her home province of British Columbia.
  • Pamela notes technology can be viewed as having both beneficial and deleterious aspects, a theme widely reflected in literature and the arts, as well as in engineering reasoning.
  • The conflict between humans and machines is woven into Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” in which the author expresses discomfort that people would “serve” a mechanical thresher he calls the “red tyrant.”
  • Pamela’s technical degree is in Geophysical Engineering, which maps the earth’s subterranean properties by analyzing how electrical, magnetic, or seismic waves propagate through the subsurface.
  • Geotechnical engineering investigates structural properties of the earth’s subsurface.
  • Both Geophysical and Geotechnical Engineering are subfields of Geological Engineering.
  • While still a student, Pamela joined Engineers Without Borders.
  • Our guest believes engineers can be much better at communicating how technical solutions align with organizational priorities.
  • Getting engaged in the “procurement conversation” is a method Pamela recommends for increasing an engineer’s organizational influence.
  • A social license is a community’s consent to a project or structure existing in their local area.
  • Pamela co-founded the Engineering Leadership Council, a non-profit organization that works with technical professionals to advise companies and communities in addressing social and environmental concerns as they implement infrastructure projects within Canada.
  • Brian mentions the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository as a project that failed to acquire social license from the local communities.
  • It’s nearly impossible for “social impact” to win a direct fight with financial interests, according to our guest.
  • A community of practice allows for shared learning among individuals with a common area of interest.
  • Pamela feels that change management is an important aspect of bringing about innovation within an organization or community.
  • A change curve attempts to map personal and organizational reactions to new situations and technologies.
  • Pamela describes the ADKAR change model, detailed in the book “ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and our Community,” by Jeffrey Hiatt.
  • Jeff asks about similarities between the change curve and the adoption curve.
  • Pamela enjoys managing volunteers, but notes that “high-capacity” volunteers deserve a lot of support.
  • In her spare time, Pamela enjoys mountaineering.
  • Our guest encourages engineers to work in line with their personal values, and to seek ways for nudging their organizations into actions that are consistent with those values.
  • Pamela can be reached via email: progalski ++ at ++ engleadership.org. There is also a “contact” page on the Engineering Leadership Council website.

Thanks to JD Hancock for the photograph titled “Social.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 59 — Engineering Technology


cnc2We talk with aeronautical engineer Mark French about degrees and careers in Engineering Technology, as well as delving into wind tunnels, guitars, and how to launch a ping-pong ball at supersonic speeds.

  • While Carmen is unsure if he’s a technologist, he’s pretty certain that Daft Punk is Technologic.
  • Our guest for this episode is Mark French, an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology at Purdue University.
  • A guitar builder in his spare time, Mark has written two books about guitars: Engineering the Guitar: Theory and Practice and Technology of the Guitar.
  • Many Engineering Technology students transfer in from an engineering program, having found the typical engineering curriculum too abstract.
  • Prior to completing his undergraduate degree, Mark worked as a technician in Virginia Tech’s Stability Wind Tunnel.
  • After graduation, our guest worked as a civilian engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
  • While working for the Air Force, Mark investigated aeroelasticity, optimization and photomechanics.
  • Moving into the corporate world, Mark took a managerial job for Lear Corporation, where his consumption of Tums increased considerably.
  • Our guest moved to an academic job prior to the economic collapse of the auto industry.
  • Mark leads us through a brief discussion of academic ranks within the United States.
  • We again mention the Grinter Report (previously discussed in our episode with guest Dave Goldberg), which permanently altered the focus of engineering education.
  • Mark identifies some of the differences between engineering and engineering technology curriculums.
  • There appears to be a lot of overlap in the jobs that engineers and engineering technologists can compete for in today’s industrial workplace.
  • Carmen describes a History Channel documentary about designing and building the Yeti roller coaster at Walt Disney World. ( see this YouTube video, starting at about 1:25:00.)
  • Jeff mentions the book “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work” by Matthew Crawford.
  • Technology students are not eligible to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam that is required to obtain a Professional Engineering (PE) license. (Commenter David notes that this ruling may vary from state to state.)
  • Mark’s brush with internet fame has come from his involvement in the design and construction of a supersonic ping-pong gun.
  • Videos of the ping-pong gun are available showing the device operating at normal speed, or in super-slow motion.
  • Mark gives good marks to the performance characteristics of Double Happiness (DHS) ping-pong balls.
  • The ping-pong shooter was publicly announced via a short paper submitted to the Arxiv repository.
  • A recent MythBusters episode constructed a supersonic ping-pong cannon. While Mark got a small credit at the end of the show, alas there was no such glory for grad students Jim Stratton and Craig Zehrung.
  • Lighting a charcoal grill with liquid oxygen is another way to gain internet attention.
  • As a result of his interest in guitars, Mark has led guitar building workshops, and also offers a semester-long course in guitar construction.
  • If you want to refresh your engineering skills, you can take a look at the many videos on Mark’s YouTube channel (PurdueMET).
  • Mark can be reached via email: rmfrench ++at++ purdue.edu

Thanks to Andy Malmin for the photograph titled “Nacho on VF-2 Mill.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 58 — Miscellany


gaugesIn a completely off-the-cuff discussion, Adam, Brian, Carmen and Jeff wander through subjects including finite state machines, power circuit wiring, and the economic implications of technological advances.

  • Jeff is busy preparing to teach a Software Carpentry course, as well as revising the Mechatronics course he taught the past two years.
  • Although there are certain conceptual advantages to having students automate their devices using an FPGA (field-programmable gate array) rather than an Arduino board, one downside is the need to teach a hardware description language (HDL), such as Verilog or VHDL.
  • On a past episode of The Amp Hour, Dave Vandenbout of XESS Corporation talked about MyHDL, a software package for programming FPGA devices using the Python language.
  • One should apparently avoid schematic capture as a means for programming FPGA devices.
  • A finite state machine (FSM) can be a handy mathematical abstraction when programming physical devices that have distinct operating modes.
  • A quote about finite state machines that Jeff refers to, but never states:

    “The formal, mathematical definition of an FSM is such brain numbing, eye popping mumbo jumbo I feel certain that 9 out of 10 electronic engineering and IT students switch off in the first 5 minutes of the FSM lecture series, never to ever benefit from the power of FSMs in their work. This is not difficult stuff, it’s just made to look difficult by the academics!” — David Stonier-Gibson

  • Adam is working on a brewery control system, using Android and Bluetooth.
  • To bring water up to a boil, Adam uses a 2000 watt immersion heater running off a 120 VAC power outlet.
  • For his birthday, Carmen has asked for the Arduino starter kit from Adafruit.
  • Brian mentions an Arduino + LabVIEW bundle that is available from Sparkfun.
  • Carmen references an episode of The Amp Hour that describes how companies buy up old equipment to make out-of-production IC chips.
  • At one time, NASA was buying up out-of-stock Intel 8086 CPUs from eBay to maintain their supply of spare parts.
  • Entire CPUs can be programmed into FPGAs these days.
  • Adam describes the slow advancement in traffic signal controller technology over the past several decades.
  • Brian asks Jeff if autonomous vehicles are robots.
  • Without using the “singularity” term, Jeff hints at the coming intermingling of humans and machines.
  • Brian ponders future robots declaring that certain problems “do not compute.”
  • The group gets into an extended discussion about the economic effects of technology, especially with regard to the number of jobs being automated each year.
  • Marc Andreessen has famously declared that “software will eat the world.”
  • Jeff recounts the central plot to Fredrick Pohl’s short story from 1954, “The Midas Plague,” in which the rich consume less, while the poor are forced to consume the glut of goods and services produced by robots.
  • Rodney Brooks has started a company, Rethink Robotics, which is selling an adaptable robot for less than $25,000.
  • In a discussion about people resisting change, Jeff recalls the story of John Henry, a “steel-driving man” who raced a steam-powered hammer in tunneling through a mountain.
  • Jeff asks the group to consider the economic effect of Chris Gammell‘s hypothetical “chip printing machine.”
  • A relatively small firm in England, ARM Holdings, designs the instruction set architecture used in the popular ARM processors.
  • Carmen points out that small companies and advanced hobbyists can fabricate their own chip designs using the MOSIS foundry service, which is operated by the University of Southern California.
  • Brian notes the recent interest in solar-powered roadways, although not everybody thinks it is a good idea.

Thanks to Steve Snodgrass for the photograph titled “UH-1N Cockpit.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd