Archive for Anyway the point is we need more money

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.


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.

Offshore Wind – Tricky

Posted in Irregular Features, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on November 5, 2010 by awickerman

The chaps at the Carbon Trusts have belatedly worked out that off shore wind farms are tricky beasts, particularly the upcoming ‘Phase 3’ lot of deep water wind farms. As we’ve used up all the easy to get to spots off shore, and as people are starting to complain about having a large, noisy, ugly bird muncher on land, we must head to deep water and that is a problem.

To solve this they have launched OWA, the Offshore Windfarm Access challenge. For obvious reasons the normal deep offshore approach wont work (helicopters and windmills go together almost as badly as birds and windmills) so they need to get there by boat. For the current generation pretty much anything will do as it’s not to choppy inshore, so the waves are small and currents low, while the windmills themselves are relatively small. It’s usually a small little 10m jobbie that uses a gangplang to get onto the access platform, no crew accommodation to speak off and fairly limited range and endurance.

In contrast the Phase 3 windfarms will be something like 300km into the North Sea, be far bigger and have to deal with high winds and big waves, the design scenario being 5m high waves and 30knot wind. Hence the need for a new shiny transfer system. And make no mistake a transfer system is important as offshore windmills run at only ~90% availability (not load factor, though availability is one of the components of load factor) and that’s for windmills in shallow water. In deep water and being hit by North Sea storms that figure will plunge, particularly when you consider the main causes of failure; the turbine controller trips out. No seriously, 70% of all ‘repairs’ are turning-it-off-and-on-again which apparently cannot be done remotely and needs a bloke on a boat to do. If the controllers get phased by inshore conditions the central North Sea is going to eat them alive, in all honesty this should probably be a contest to make hardened and competent control systems, but that would be too logical for the Carbon Trust I suppose.#

For those of you with an interest find here the project spec, you too could win £100,000 in development money and possibly millions to build a prototype. For everyone else fear not, windmill makers still need help building foundations (it’s deep, giant concrete pillars just aren’t cutting it), sorting out the wake effect of windmills (i.e. how far apart they have to be) and electrical transfer systems (how on earth to get the electricity back to the mainland).

As the Carbon Trust is very generously funded by the inordinately retarded Climate Change Levy (which is far too mind blowingly stupid to discuss here in detail) there will be plenty of money to be thrown at all these problems, not to mention the dozens of other problems they haven’t even thought of yet, because as I said at the top; Offshore Wind – Tricky.

Damn the Facts I Have an Axe to Grind!

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Rantings, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on August 9, 2010 by awickerman

The World Cancer Research Fund, who I had never heard of until today, has just announced the utterly pointless statistic that breast cancer rates in Britain are four times higher than in East Africa.

Leaving aside the damning fact that the WCRF are Belgian, surely reason enough to ignore them, they appear to have one axe to grind, “Food causes cancer!”, which they repeat at any opportunity regardless of the facts or indeed thinking. Now while I’m sure their efforts are very helpful for the Daily Mail’s ongoing drive to divide all food stuffs into either cancer causing or curing, I really don’t think we should be encouraging them.

In this specific case I would note these facts;

1. The UK breast cancer screening programme is aimed at the over 50s, it is therefore something of an older persons disease.

2. The average female life expectancy in East African countries is;
Somalia – 52 years
Ethiopia – 58 years (incredible I know)
Kenya – 59 years
Tanzania – 54 years
Uganda -54 years

3. In the UK female life expectancy is 82 years.

From this I make the wild and crazy claim that most women in East Africa die of other causes before they have a chance to get breast cancer and that diet has bugger all to do with it, save for the obvious fact that if East African women didn’t starving to death they might live long enough to  get breast cancer.

Or to put it simply, the WRCF are either stupid, wilfully abusing the facts in order to make them fit their agenda or both.

The Death of the Guardian

Posted in Irregular Features, Tenuous Link of the Day, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on July 13, 2010 by awickerman

The inevitable death of the hypocritical and tax-dodging Guardian drew a step closer as the parent group (which was itself set up to avoid death duties) announces another colossal loss.

If nothing else this is richly deserved on ground of hypocrisy. The Guardian has spent years  using every rule in the book to avoid tax while at the same time bashing everyone else for ‘tax dodging’, including getting things so wrong over Tescos they had to issue a grovelling apology and were damned near sued out of existence.

If not paying loads of tax is as ‘morally offensive’  as the paper’s columnists claim then damn well stop using off-shore trusts. Indeed the ‘moral’ thing to do would be to pay the death duties the paper’s owners so successfully avoided all those years ago, sure the penalty interest on the bill is probably quite steep but this is about morality not crass commerce!

Still with such epic haemorrhages of cash, and this is before the ConDems put all public sector jobs online for free instead of exclusively into the Guardian, I doubt they could afford they have the cash to afford their high moral tone. Which makes their coming bankruptcy all the sweeter.

Inexplicable Demands

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Rantings, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on July 3, 2010 by awickerman

Train operating companies, you would hope, would know something about how the railways work. It is therefore inexplicable why ATOC (the Association of Train Operating Companies) wants a “swift and rigorous” review of railway investment.

This is the British rail industry we’re talking about, nothing is swift and nothing is rigorous. Actually that’s unfair; much rigorous work is done, it’s just always ignored due to the paralysing fear of change or the fact it might cost more money. With the railways already being a colossal money pit (in stark contrast to the roads which turn a ‘profit’ for the government) it’s obvious why rigour is officially discouraged.

Their main points seem to be that the rail/train interface should be under unified control (theirs) and that a more commercially minded approach is needed. The later is debatable, certainly everyone else in the world manages to maintain their railways cheaper than in Britain but I’m not sure that’s a commercial issue. That’s an arse covering, fear of litigation problem. The former though is a common rail complaint which puts ATOC in the unique position of agreeing with the RMT, they both want unified control. It just the RMT want to bring back British Rail while ATOC want a fully privatised railway under their control (and no Railtrack emphatically didn’t count, it was never even slightly independent of government control and interference).

Quite why railwaymen are so keen on train operators controlling the track (or vice versa) I’ve no idea. I know why the RMT want it (nationalise everything!) and why ATOC want it (more money!) but why does anyone else want it, and want it they do. As a counter example no-one argues that air traffic control, runways and airliners should be controlled by the same people so why are the railways special? Indeed as the same people who want unified control normally looks enviously at German railways (with their cunning ‘timetable huge gaps to allow slack’ system) it should be remember that Germany operate a franchise system for train operations. But as that fact is inconvenient it will doubtless be ignored.

For all that getting ATOC involved would be handy, there are dozens of unglamorous but useful jobs that Network Rail aren’t interested in but would help train operation (it should come as no surprise that NR view actual trains as a necessary evil). But as passengers are way down the bottom of the priority list, only just above the taxpayers, there’s sod all chance of that happening.

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