Monday, August 30, 2010

P.E. Exam, then what next?

Out sick still, so doing a fair amount of posting. I'm still studying. I'm fully registered for October. All I need is to study and take the test.

After all this studying, then what? The P.E. Exam will allow me to stamp drawings (taking on liability for any errors) or work on my own. Even the later is subject so all sorts of caveats. For example, the state of Louisiana prohibits offering engineering services without a license (P.E.), but does allow for the much-maligned "industrial exemption".

Anyway, the P.E. is very important with what I do, but for other industries, the P.E. is useless. I've chatted with a few of my coworkers that work in aerospace, and their companies are all about the Master's degrees, especially if you deal directly with NASA. The NASA employees look down their nose at an engineer that just has an undergrad degree.

Just throwing out random additional ideas:
* Petroleum Engineering/Geology
Petroleum Engineering Textbooks
Petroleum Engineering textbook set I picked up
When times are good, Petroleum Engineering is the highest paying of all engineering professions (when times are not so good, they all go on the unemployment line). I've got the SPE Guide to the P.E. Exam and it seems about 1/3 production system (which I know), 1/3 reservoir engineering (mostly geology), and 1/3 drilling. Now, normally someone who works on drilling would never work on production and visa-versa, but BP has taught me a whole lot about drilling.

* Naval Architecture/Marine Engineering. Recently, I've been working on a lot of offshore and marine systems (ballast systems and the like) and I've found it pretty interesting. If I were to pick up the requesite undergraduate courses, UNO happens to have one of the best NAME programs in the country. Maybe I should look into getting a degree before the Legislature's budget cuts make UNO "ain't dere no more."

* Nuclear. Nukes have always been fascinating to me. It's 20% of our electricity comes from nukes and we actually produce more power, GW(e) to GW(e), than France. I've picked up a guide to the nuclear P.E. test as well.

* Materials Science. There's always a need for a "materials/corrosion guy" on all large projects. An extensive knowledge of materials, galvanic corrosion, welding, etc. It also is a nice balance between specialization and generalization. I don't like the idea of doing just one little niche with no idea on how it fits into the total project. One cool resource: the entire ASM Metals handbook is now online.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rising Tide 5 in the books...

Rising Tide 5 is in the books. I've been sick and Candice had work to do, so we weren't around all that much, but we both made an appearance Friday night and I made it for most of Saturday.

Mac McClelland signing my copy of Halliburton's Cementing Handbook. That's something special.

The venue was great. I liked the setup a lot. There were areas to mill around and talk away from the presentations. That I think is always one of the highlights of Rising Tide. Also, the air conditioning actually worked! Amazing! The lakefront is still my favorite of the Rising Tide venues, thus far.

I decided to not use my flash for my photography, so most of my photos didn't come out well. Oops. I got a couple that came out well.

A few of my takeaways from the Politics panel:
* The focus of the panel was on 2 races: 2nd Congressional (New Orleans) and senate (Vitter/Melancon)
* Crouere: "Bobby Jindal WILL NOT serve two full terms as governor."
* If public universities start shuttering their doors left, right, and center in Louisiana, it will destroy Jindal's reputation both in the state and nationally.
* 2nd Congressional will pit "ethically challenged" Richmond vs. Cao, with Cao having a decent shot at reelection. Note that at last year's Rising Tide, the entire panel thought he was toast.
* Vitter should cruise to reelection, despite nobody actually liking the guy (Republican or Democrat). Vitter is a hard worker, but he's also never faced a strong, well-organized opponent. Every single race he's run has been against pitiful competition. Melancon isn't covering himself in glory, thus far. Also, don't be surprised if more damaging revelations about Vitter's past are released right before the election...
* The LA Democratic Party is a mess. Mitch tried to get the previous head of the party sacked and, despite the backing of his sister, failed. There's major division between the "John Breaux Democrats" and the more liberal, more black democrats. Good leadership is needed to keep the two camps pulling in the same direction and that hasn't happened for a long, long time. As a side note, remember that EVERYONE in the state was a Democrat 20 or 30 years ago.

Tim gave a great presentation on "Why can't we get some dam safety?" Related: Dam Failure - Wiki. Note that dams are considered life safety systems, while levees are not and that's written into the law by Congress.

Congrats to Cliff on winning the AshMo Award for the year.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

4 Years Ago

Originally uploaded by Noladishu
Four years ago today, my grandfather died at the age of 99. He was my only living grandfather.

He grew up in Mississippi. His father died when he was only 6, so he grew up poor. He always had to work. He remembers delivering the papers that ended WWI. He dreamed of being an architect or an engineer. He used to win architectural drawing contests in the county fair. The Great Depression killed those hopes. He came to New Orleans and started working for a bank. He started sweeping the floors of the bank, but many years later, after marrying my grandmother, and going to night school, he became the president of the bank (Federal Farm Credit Bank, if memory serves).

He always had a passion for tinkering. At first, he didn't feel that he had anyone to pass it along to, since he had three daughters and times were different then. Years later, I come along as the first male grandchild and I'd say we had a special bond. We had lots of trips to the Butterfly. He used to keep a trunk full of slingshots and other assorted contraband for me and my little brother to play with, when out of sight of my mother.

He gave me subscriptions to Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, and whatever else I requested. He taught me the basics of shop.

He rode out Katrina at Lambeth House, since the new management could get their act together before the storm, but NOFD helped them evacuate after. He ended up for a couple of months in Lutcher, LA.

He came back to New Orleans when I did to finish my last semester for Tulane Engineering. We had debates on whether or not it was appropriate, given the state of the city, but he wanted to come back. He dearly loved New Orleans.

I graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Tulane and he was there when I walked and got my degree. Despite being wheelchair-bound and not in the best of shape, he made it to McAllister Auditorium. He died three months later. He was pretty sick towards the end, but he had his mind to the end, which is about as much as anyone could ask for.

The photo is the two of us from August 2005. I was interning at an engineering firm on Magazine Street doing mostly drafting work while I prepared for my senior year at Tulane. The drawing is a rail-based launch system so a topsides unit could be rolled onto a barge and then towed offshore to be placed on a platform.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rising Tide 5

See y'all Saturday.

Details here.

5 Years of Keeping Up With the Corps

17th Street Canal Visit
In the five years since the worst failure in the history American Civil Engineering, we've had to keep up with the Corps. They've done some good things since the storm (MR-GO closure, quick and strong repairs) and some not so good things (Option 1 vs. 2a/b debate for permanent pump stations). I'd like to go through 5 major ideas that, depending on how they settle, will determine what sort of levee system we end up with.

1- Design/Build. Shortly after the storm, the Corps decided to issue most of their contracts as Design/Build instead of the Design/Bid/Build, which they've used for decades. Nobody is really sure why the Corps is doing this. I've heard arguments from the Corps saying that they'll get more "creative" designs. I've heard arguments elsewhere saying that the Corps wants someone to throw under the bus in case there is another failure. The Corps also didn't initially free up any money for bid prep work, which meant that bidding firms would spend as little as possible preparing for the bids and would go with very conservative designs they knew how to estimate the cost of. Design/Bid/Build allows you to work the kinks out of the design while still on the drawing board. It's a hell of a lot cheaper to pay a few engineers overtime than have hundreds of workers and field equipment idle while you have to redesign something in the field once construction has begun. In general, I think the design/build approach will lead to excessive cost overruns, but won't make a difference one way or the other on the quality of the work.

2- Resiliency/Backup. One of the points the SELFPA-E has repeatedly made to the Corps when arguing for work on the interior canal walls is what happens if there's a failure of the interim control structure. I have no reason to think there is a design flaw, but if there was, then the flood waters would have a direct path into the city where we know that certain sections of the floodwalls are sub-standard. If the walls are repaired, there would be a second line of defense. The Corps has said that there's no money to do repairs to the existing walls and they can only do what Congress orders them to. The Corps wants to focus all their efforts on Option 1. Now, I will give the Corps credit because there have been several promises made to do at least a modest amount of work upgrading the canal walls at known weak points and that has at least partially mollified SELFPA-E's worries about the canal walls. There is some recognition within the Corps that redundancy is a good thing. OTOH, the Corps can shift some money around and it sort of pokes a hole in their "we do what Congress orders us to do" argument, because otherwise, they wouldn't spend a nickel on canal wall upgrades. From what I understand, it looks like there will be minimally acceptable repairs to canal walls, but many engineering experts, particularly the SELFPA-E would prefer to see more.

3- Geotechnical Analysis. Southeast Louisiana is built on very soft soils and the geotechnical analysis of what sort of loads it can carry is key to any large building project. Most of the geotechnical engineers I know do not believe the Corps' geotech methods are the best that are out there. Furthermore, while I can't say this about the Corps, I have personally seen geotechs put under enormous strain give a "better" answer to allow projects to move forward. The last thing I'll say about geotechnical engineering is it's one of those things in engineering that's still sort of art mixed with science. MIT did a famous study that was presented to ASCE where they constructed a dike, gave a group of eminent geotechnical engineers every single detail about how it was constructed (fill material, depth, volume, etc.) and asked the geotechnical engineers to provide an estimate of how high the water level inside the dike could go before the dike gave way. Of the 7 experts, 5 gave predictions significantly below the level that it failed at, 2 gave level substantially above the level it failed. The geotechnical engineers were given perfect data and no political or economic considerations factored into this test.*

4- B.31.3 Calculations. Matt McBride covered this a few years ago: Post 1 and Post 2. Later, Parsons wrote a report [pdf] that stated the piping is properly designed, per ASME B.31.3 code. It doesn't happen often, but I can say absolutely, definitely, objectively that they are WRONG! I've done those ASME calcs many times before and they are just plain wrong. The consequences aren't all that severe (the piping would probably leak, causing a drop in pressure and lower pumping rates; very small risk of rupture/HSE danger), but it still worries me. If there's a mistake that obvious in something built to tight tolerances, what about more subjective engineering decisions that use materials with wide tolerances?

5- 100 vs. 1000 year protection. As Tim has repeatedly pointed out, "100 Year" protection isn't enough. We need 500 or 1,000 year protection. Furthermore, I have personal questions about how those 100-year levels are computed. The Corps, in the post-Katrina work, has actually built a bit higher than strictly to 100-year protection. For example, some levees have a few extra feet to take subsidence into account and ensure that in a decade or so, the levees will still be well above the 100-year level. Outside the government, I've seen other organizations that have completely revamped what they consider to be a "100 year event". For example, offshore, what used to be considered a 1000-year design is now only considered a 100-year design and as a result, modern construction methods are much, much more robust than they were even just 5 years ago. Don't take my word for it. "Lessons Learned the Hard Way" Page 11 [pdf]: "Yesterday’s 1000-yr criteria have become today’s 100-yr". You can also compare the old API RP's with API 2INT-MET (subsequently integrated into current API RP's).

From all this, I hope everyone sees how important it is to keep an eye on the Corps. Oversight is incredibly important. Note that the SELFPA-E is spending an enormous chunk of their incredibly meager budget to get engineering firms to review the Corps design drawings and calculations. This is important work that must continue.

UPDATE- Minor edits for spelling.
* Paper: "Reliability of embankment performance predictions" Hynes and Vanmarcke, 1976.

If God Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise

Spike Lee came down and blasted a shotgun at New Orleans. His camera caught the good, the bad, the guilty and the innocent. The main feature of Spike's documentaries is the expansive, if schizophrenic coverage they provide.

Here are a few thoughts:

My absolute favorite part of the entire thing was how they covered the plight of the elderly. More than whites or blacks the elderly had it the worst of anyone. Too many stayed in their homes in Lakeview or elsewhere. They had ridden out Betsy and Camile and just weren't evacuating. Too many drowned in their homes. Many more just had more change and chaos than they could take. So many just lost the will to live, more than any physiological illness.

From there, the rest of the film is a mix of the good, the meh, and the atrocious.

The coverage of the levee situation is atrocious. Ivor van Heerden and Brad Pitt are levee experts and Ivor says the reason the Corps is building things right is because the trial lawyers are on their ass! The Corps is given very little chance to speak (for good or for ill), and Dr. Calvin Mackie (the first black engineering professor at Tulane), who was sterling in "When the Levees Broke" dismissing dynamited-levee-conspiracy-theories, was not really referenced.

Good job on covering mental health issues.

The most questionable part of Spike Lee's style is who he decided to put in the film. It's a very mixed bag. John Kerry? Tracie Washington and Brinkley do not speak well to Spike Lee's judgment. Fuck Brinkley. Fuck anyone who wants to put a camera, mic, or pen in front of him. In his horrible book, the "Great Deluge", he writes that in 1927, they blew up the levees to flood all of the black people in the Lower 9th Ward. Nope. That's how shitty a historian he is.

IMMENSE smackdown of Warren Riley, et. al. by General Honore for panicking people about snipers and raping babies. Honore showed real leadership (unlike, say NOPD) and put his body in front of panicky soldiers with loaded rifles and told them to stand down and realize they were in an American city. As a post-script, I've been told they later realized that the alleged "sniper" near Charity was the PVSV popping off relieving pressure on a liquid oxygen tank used for the hospital.

Schools, meh. Would have liked some mention that the School Board was in the process of being flushed down the toilet before the storm.

Crime & NOPD. Man, what a disaster.

Nagin and the history question... Nagin was allowed to talk way too long and say way too little.

Ivor is also an expert on mining and oil and gas safety...

Tracie Washington is an expert on Dispersant

The BP part, meh.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Going into hibernation

Not much posting lately. Lots to study for October.

My application has been accepted by the state and all I have to do is register with NCEES and pay a couple hundred bucks. I haven't registered yet because I'm still not sure what I'll do for the afternoon section. I've narrowed it down to HVAC or Thermofluids. I have until September 16th to decide.

I'm confident I could pass either one, but it's also possible I could fail either one; there's simply so much material on it. I like to explain Mechanical Engineering to people by saying it's "anything that moves" from cars, to refrigeration, to engines, to aircraft, to pumps, etc.

I've got lots more studying to do. I don't even want to think about how many hundreds of hours I'll be putting into this before I'm done. I want to pass on the first try and would HATE to have to do this all over again. I'm not going to lie, it's starting to get old. It wears on a man, doing engineering all day and all night.

To stay motivated, I've had lots of help from Candice and I've also gotten myself a little reward for after the exam:

Go Away Bonnie

Go Away Bonnie
Originally uploaded by Noladishu
Sequal to the BP Cake