Archive for the Engineering Category

Female Engineers and Lying at Interview

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Engineering, Irregular Features, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , , on April 1, 2014 by awickerman

Lured in by the bewitching headline that 1 in 10 of the population had named a Brunel when asked to name a famous female living engineer or scientist. One can only assume they felt the same confusion I did as frankly it’s a struggle; I could name plenty of female engineers, I just don’t think anyone has heard of them so I wouldn’t call them famous.

Resolving to solve this mystery I tracked down the organisation behind this poll, hoping to find the actual source data. Alas the depressingly 1990s name ScienceGrrl has decided not to release that information, perhaps because they too are struggling with a famous living female engineer but don’t want to admit it.

Now to the point of this post, this article by one of their directors. It begins by her complaining about how she had to lie about pretending to be interested in Lego to get her first engineering job, she then glosses over the part about how she didn’t last long in the real world and ran off to the fluffy world of non-profit development work and research before ending on what she would like to have said at interview, a bundle of content-free buzzword heavy fluff about impacting on disadvantaged communities and working respectfully. She even talked about shifting goalposts, frankly I was left feeling slightly ill. Perhaps this explains why I drew two completely contradictory conclusions;

1. It was a good thing she did lie at interview, because if she had spouted that bilge at me I’d have never hired her. Engineering is about many things, but buzzwords, fluff and waffling like an architect are never helpful.

2. It was a terrible mistake she did lie at interview, had she said the “truth” hopefully the interviewer would have stopped it there and kindly explained she was in the wrong industry. I like to imagine they would have gone on to suggest she stop wasting everyone’s time and just go work in a fluffy job, much like the ones she has now. Alas her poor first employer was woefully misled into thinking she was a proper engineer who liked Lego and not a naive, idealistic buzzword spouter (her words not mine, well the first two anyway)

On the subject of the actual problem, the lack of women in engineering and science, I really can’t help. I would read their doubtless thrilling report on the subject, but frankly it starts with ‘Gender Lenses’ and just goes down hill from there. It does appear to be a long list of ‘Anyway, the point is we need more money’, as these reports always are, mixed in with baffling contradictions about how girl’s “STEM needs” are the same, but also different. However maybe I’m just not using my Gender Lenses correctly and it will all make sense if I squint a bit and knock down the diversity stereotypes.  Or not.

Perhaps specialisation is important

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , , , on October 8, 2013 by awickerman

Property developer set up their own construction company after becoming “increasingly dissatisfied with the service of external construction companies”.

Construction company has a few good years, buys itself wins an award as construction company of the year in 2011.

Company goes into administration on 7th October “after serious flaws were unearthed in the pricing of a number of the contracts”. They also admit “”[We have] encountered considerable difficulties in progressing and completing current projects.”

It’s almost as if pricing construction works and then delivering them is not as easy as it appeared. Maybe they should have stuck to what they were good at rather than branching out into something they clearly weren’t as good at as they originally thought.

Either way as they couldn’t offload the job for Southampton Cricket Club onto a different contractor fast enough they have left their current clients in the lurch, and no doubt ‘increasingly dissatisfied with external construction companies’. If you don’t find that amusing you have a heart of stone.

Undoing their own bad work

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Engineering, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , , on September 9, 2012 by awickerman

Hidden amongst the government’s planning changes was a small section on how this would help making digging holes in the ground cheaper;

Internet providers have also been told that they will “face less cost and bureaucracy in laying cables in streets”

Leaving aside whether or not such simplification will ever happen (hint: it never has before) one of the main sources of cost and bureaucracy for new street works is a new government scheme launched in London this very July. Under the scheme people digging up roads can be charged up to £2,500 a day in ‘lane rental’ to dig up the road, indeed even if you ignore that ‘up to’ number the DfT’s own Q&A section on the subject freely boasts that this scheme will increase the cost of streetworks;

Q36: How would it help?

A well-designed charging system would also include exemptions or discounts from the daily charge when works are completed at less busy times. So by spending a bit more say on overtime to get the job done at evenings or weekends – utilities and others carrying out works could avoid having to pay the charges.

So it’s pretty clear this scheme was quite explicitly designed to make work happen at more expensive times and, as with all such schemes, will almost certainly involve lots of paperwork proving why each job is allowed to avoid the charge.

Thus barely three months after increasing the costs and bureaucracy of installing cables in the road, the government is pledging to reduce those costs “once officials have found a way to simplify current permit schemes.”

Maybe they should of thought of that before introducing further complications into a system that the previous government had already made stupidly over-complicated and expensive. But then that would be joined up government by competent people, so no chance of that then.

Of Trees and Railways

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, The Railways, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , on May 21, 2012 by awickerman

With the cutting edge up-to-the-minute reportage that this blog is justly famous for I now give you a report from January; the gripping London Assembly report into railway embankments.

The shocking conclusions are;

1. People don’t like it when the trees and greenery between them and train lines is removed.
2. Enviromental groups don’t like it when trees and greenery are removed at all. (Except Japanese knotweed which they want removed faster.)

However all this is somewhat irrelevant as;
3. Network Rail isn’t run by tree hating tyrants who destroy greenery for fun and all the work is in fact necessary.

If this wasn’t obvious to you without that report well done, you are well qualified to be a London Assembly member. The report is full of such utter tosh as recommending Network Rail join the London Bio-Diversity Partnership, as;

While responding to the need for safety, the value of biodiversity and wildlife should always be taken into consideration.

Regular readers (hello to both of you) will know I don’t often have a good word for NR but in this case they are bang on the money. What is the point of considering biodiversity in relation to vital engineering works? If the tree needs to come down to keep the embankment safe, it will and all the consultation and partnerships in the world wont change that. That is in fact one of the curses of the modern age, the fake consultation – pretending to take account of public opinion while in fact intending to plough on regardless. NR should be congratulated for not pretending and anyone looking for savings in the TfL/LU budget should start by sacking everyone involved in such pointless partnerships.

To be fair I can see the point of the recommendation on  better informing people, a bespoke letter and a working phone number would probably keep the locals happier than the current form letter and main switchboard approach. Just remember though, all this extra consultation and caring for trees is why railworks in Britain are 40% more expensive than in the rest of Europe. France just cuts down any tree anywhere near a railway line on general principle and without telling anyone, though interestingly anyone who isn’t a state monopoly industry needs a permit (une demande d’autorisation de coupe ou d’abbatage d’arbres) to cut down their own trees or indeed to plant a tree in your own garden.

So on that note I remind you that bad as things are, it could be worse. You could be in France, applying for a government permit to do your own gardening.

Why I Rarely Post

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , on March 22, 2012 by awickerman

Saw this job advert – a trainee asbestos surveyor – and was somewhat surprised at how little it pays (15-17k) for someone with an engineering degree working in Kent/London. Especially given the many, many opportunities for engineers on such low profile jobs as Crossrail and High Speed 2. And the fact that if you do really well, get trained up and get a few years of fibrey death experience you might get up to 25k (or might get barely more than a trainee).

Sadly I ended up poking around the Office of National Statistics trying to find out what a typical engineering degree actually pays, which I soon realised was far, far too much research for a blog read by up to several people. Of course I could just rely on one of those self-selecting salary surveys. Equally I could use tarot cards or astrology, which I suspect would be about as accurate. While I’m sure the answer is somewhere, I’m equally sure I can think of better things to do with my time. Hence why I rarely post; I like to try and check the facts are correct, even if the wild accusations aren’t, but I no longer think it’s really worth the time.

Offshore Wind – Still Tricky

Posted in Engineering, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming with tags , , , on January 20, 2012 by awickerman

Round about a year ago I noted the Offshore Wind Accelerator scheme trying to overcome the problems of deep water offshore wind being tricky and noted that in addition to the problems they were trying to solve there would be;

the dozens of other problems they haven’t even thought of yet, because as I said at the top; Offshore Wind – Tricky.

Well one of those other problems has just popped up – scour. The turbine foundations are surrounded by large armour stone blocks and these are sinking, up to 1.5m in some cases, as the sea washes away the sea bed beneath the stones. As the report says;

Lead author Anders Nielsen says the sinking stones are a real problem as they can, ‘reduce the stability of the monopole and change for instance the natural frequency of the dynamic response of an offshore wind turbine in an unfavourable manner.’

To be fair I’m sure it will be solved, in the short term just dropping more stones down every few months will do it, but I’d be very surprised if the solution doesn’t end up being making each turbine more expensive to install, which is probably the last thing an already very expensive form of power needs. Still when was renewable energy ever about providing the consumer with cheap and reliable electricity?

A self contained mystery

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings, The Railways, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on October 11, 2011 by awickerman

Rick Haythornthwaite, the chairman of Network Rail, has decided not to seek re-election (i.e. as a well known Labour placeman he probably correctly thinks a Conservative-Liberal government wont ‘elect’ him). As he was leaving he decided to share this wisdom with the public;

“We know that many of the public view the leadership of the industry with confusion, suspicion or disdain. They don’t trust us and therefore are resistant to changes we want to make.”

But why? Why on earth would the public distrust a leadership that includes men like Rick? I mean yes he was picked solely due to being close to New Labour, his last real private sector job went badly, his previous government job was on cutting Health and Safety rules (he didn’t)  and he had absolutely zero experience of the railways, but is that any reason not to trust his wise leadership? Or men like chief executive David Higgins, a man who was Chief Executive of the ODA and was in charge while the final bill for London 2012 skyrocketed and then took his zero rail experience (but his vast knowledge of spiralling budgets) to Network Rail.  And the disdain surely can’t be because of the huge sums they earn for incompetence, so how on earth can we explain Ricks’s problem? Luckily Rick gives us the answer in the same article;

“I believe we have the chance to leverage a newfound appetite for change among the public, born of crisis, to galvanise a shift from a fragmented to a connected Britain.”

Breaking that down ‘leverage an appetite’ means pushing through expensive schemes that would normally be rejected as a waste of time and money, ‘born of a crisis’ means doing expensive schemes quickly so no-one has a chance to stop them, ‘galvanise a shift’ means push through expensive schemes in the face of entirely accurate opposition and ‘connected Britain’ means High Speed 2 and dozens of other very expensive schemes. To those who are spotting a common theme – well done.

In summary anyone who speaks such utter tripe will be untrusted and disdained and damned if I know why he’s surprised at that.

Ohh and “resistant to changes we want to make” is not only referring to High Speed 2, it’s also code for ‘we want bring back the massive bonuses that we got regardless of how bad things went’, something most people are quite rightly resistant of.

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