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Petroski on Engineering: Engineering & Civilization

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naperlou
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Still readable
naperlou   5/3/2012 9:47:48 AM
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Henry, one comment you made really resonated with me.  You mention that Vitruvius's book is still eminently readable.  I find that all the time.  It is interesting to go back to read source material (as opposed to contemporary commentaries) on any subhject and to see how much like those authors we are.  Despite all the great innovations we have developed, we still think in similar ways.  In some ways that seems suprising.  I guess it should not. 

A wile back I was in Germany and our hosts were showing us a Roman aqueduct that was still in operation.  It is really a testament to their knowledge and skill.  We build on that foundation and reap the benefits.

Charles Murray
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Lessons of failure
Charles Murray   5/3/2012 1:22:35 PM
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Professor Petroski's point about learning from failure is an important one. A recent book, "Creating Innovators: The Making of Ypung People Who Will Change the World," makes a similar point. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the author, Tony Wagner, writes, "In most high school and college classes, failure is penalized. But without trial and error, there is no innovation." Professor Petroski puts that lesson in historical context when he describes how ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks built a body of engineering knowledge by learning from failure.

Larry S.
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Iron
Much of what is built today will barely last a lifetime ...
Larry S.   5/3/2012 3:15:11 PM
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Buildings, roads, bridges are repeatedly repaired, replaced, and demolished.  We seem to have the technology to make better materials; engineering sophistication to make things last; but not the foresight to put quality ahead of short-term cost considerations.  The TV breaks, it is cheaper to toss it out and buy a new one.  Plastic plumbing components are replacing copper products that are now so cheaply made that they have become undependable.  This says something about the current state of engineering AND our "civilization".

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Lessons of failure
Rob Spiegel   5/3/2012 3:57:20 PM
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Good point about failure, Chuck. I remember a few decades ago IBM -- then considered a master of business organization -- did a study and found that the most successful employees were also the empolyees who made the most mistakes. The conclusion of the study was that employees should be encouraged to take more risk.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Much of what is built today will barely last a lifetime ...
Rob Spiegel   5/3/2012 4:05:16 PM
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Good points, Larry. When it comes to TVs, though, I think they last well beyond the period consumers want to own them. Consumers give up well-made, perfectly well-running TVs in order to gain new features.

Charles Murray
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Re: Lessons of failure
Charles Murray   5/3/2012 7:27:32 PM
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Rob, I believe some engineering schools are starting to take note of this fact, as well. Most notably, it's being incoporated in the curriculums at Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts.

bobjengr
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ENGINEERING AND CIVILIZATION
bobjengr   5/3/2012 7:54:34 PM
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Excellent point—engineering and civilization DO go hand-in-hand.   Several years ago, my company sent me to Egypt to call on a distributor concerning issues with atmospheric gas burners softening (another word for melting) during extended periods of firing.  Propane gas was used as the fuel.  If you recall, propane gas has a heating value of approximately 2500 Btu/Ft³ so the orifices must be sized accordingly or you will definitely have problems.   While there, I had an opportunity to visit the pyramids.  Pictures, in no way, do them justice.  They are massive—massive.  I would love to know the mechanisms used to hoist those stones upward and into place.   I have always thought that for such an undertaking, there would be some form of documentation as to how this was accomplished.   In our day, time is "of the essence".  It is definitely hard to believe the "ancient" engineers worried that much about time.  They seemed to be more in tune with achieving quality.

Mydesign
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Technology and civilization
Mydesign   5/4/2012 5:33:41 AM
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Henry, civilization and engineering are closely co-related and related in a bilateral way. Technology can bring up the living standards of citizens and this in turn can uplift the civilization. Most of the technologies we are using now a day's are either digitalized or extended versions of the older ones.

Mydesign
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Re: Lessons of failure
Mydesign   5/4/2012 5:41:16 AM
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"The most successful employees were also the employees who made the most mistakes"

Rob, exactly correct. Most of the innovations are happened by accidently, similar to Einstein discovered force of gravity. If employees are not making any mistakes means, the productivity and innovation are less associated with him. He is just doing whatever he knows , that's all.

GlennA
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Gold
The 'Quality' Myth
GlennA   5/4/2012 9:24:40 AM
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Larry S.;  Quality means different things.  In manufacturing 'quality' is conformance to specifications.  A process can be Six Sigma and still produce junk, but it is 'quality junk' if it conforms to specifications.

And there is always the demand to always make things 'less expensive'.  The trick is to stop making things 'less expensive' before the point of making them 'cheap'.

And a tangent:  Despair.com has a take on building the pyramids = when you have an unlimited supply of expendable labor, there's nothing you can't do.  Still, there are ancient structures that rival modern buildings.

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