Category Archives: Engineering

NC Senate Proposes Removal of Drinking Water Protections

Jane Porter, writing for IndyWeek:

Scientists regard vegetative buffers as the most cost-effective and fair means of controlling polluted runoff from farms and developments; the Senate budget would have them repealed and would schedule the repeal of state requirements for buffers along the Neuse River, the Tar-Pamlico River, the Catawba River on December 31, 2019— even if no alternative is in place.

“This provision isn’t a tweak, it’s a sledgehammer,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the North Carolina Sierra Club in a statement. “It is as if the Senate has forgotten how important our waterways are for tourism, recreation, and drinking water.”

Autonomous Vehicles Are Coming

Cars, trucks, busses, trains, and construction equipment. What does the future hold for these machines? Autonomous navigation and control. Most people would think this technology is far into the future, but the exciting (and perhaps daunting) prospect is that the technology is here and the advantages and disadvantages of it will be a reality sooner than you might think. Continue reading

Bullet Journal

In April of last year, I decided it was time to come up with a better system of to-do’s than the sticky notes and self-emails I had been relying on. With new responsibilities at home and at work, and to-do lists piling up for all sorts of different tasks and side projects, I needed a system that would work for me to keep everything together.

Rather than invent something myself, I spent quite a bit of time researching different methods people use, and even interviewed friends and colleagues for their opinions. While interested in the idea of using something electronic (read: my iPhone), the Type-A personality in me was looking for something with check boxes that could be satisfyingly checked with a pen.

Enter the Bullet Journal. While crediting the many people that have used something similar before, Ryder Carroll presents a take on the Bullet Journal by presenting the concept through website and video tutorials. I made a concerted effort to give it a shot. I started at the beginning of April, 2014 and gave myself a few weeks to see if it would work for me. Weeks grew into months, which continued for the remainder of the year, and by December it was time to order a fresh journal for 2015.

For anyone looking for something similar, I highly recommend it. I think it’s enabled me to be much more effective at getting things done by providing an avenue to track goals for the day, week, and month. I started with the blank Moleskine Classic Large Squared and I like the flexibility this provides.

Below is a comparison picture of my 2014 journal and a new journal, showing how nine months of ink and emotion add significant thickness and weight. The outside shows it’s wear as well, but the binding is very much intact and continues to serve in an archival role on the bookshelf.

Get Started

  • Bullet Journal Tutorial
  • Moleskine Classic Large (black, hardcover, squared)
  • Pilot G2, .7mm Black (my current favorite pen)

The Road on Two Wheels

Though I haven’t written much in the past year, I’ve been logging away thoughts (engineering, and otherwise). One in particular kept resonating with me last summer when looking over some road designs: how can you design a road for all vehicles without having driven them?

Designers rarely refer to books alone, but utilize experiences that back up the numbers. You’d be hard pressed to find a transportation engineer in the United States that has never driven a car; it’s the most prominent personal transportation method here. But you might more easily find transportation engineers that have never driven a motorcycle. Or an FHWA Class 8, four-axled truck and trailer. Yet we design roads daily, sometimes with the use of simulations, sometimes with nothing more than a reference guide and our engineering judgement. But there’s a disconnect there. Last October, I aimed to remedy one part of this problem and have some fun doing it: learn how to ride a motorcycle. Continue reading

Collision Statistics

I was passed along this article today, reporting on a sharp increase in pedestrian fatalities in Minnesota. In the StarTribune letter of the day yesterday, written by Michael D. Hoy, he questioned the conclusions of the reporter, showing that the fatalities fall in line with what is expected of normal fluctuations.

About two-thirds of the time, the statistic will lie within one standard deviation of the mean. This is what happened in the last 11 years. Two-thirds of the years had a death count between 33 and 45.

Also, about 95 percent of the time the statistic will lie within two standard deviations of the mean. Again, this is just about what happened. – Michael D. Hoy

Continue reading

NCSITE Technical Retreat 2012

I’ve recently become more involved in the North Carolina Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (NCSITE), a fantastic group of people from the industry. I attended a NCSITE lecture and meetup last month and played a lot of catch-up with professionals I know but don’t widely see on a day-to-day basis.

“So, you’re going to the technical retreat in August?”

This is the question of the hour. The thought crossed my mind, but I had such a busy month ahead, I was hesitant to make plans. NCSITE needed commitment early to reserve the facilities they planned to use, and holding off on registration for too long was going to make things difficult for the event.

With some shuffling, it was feasible to adjust my work schedule to get the time off I needed. Peer pressure is the strongest around those who’s careers you admire, so what do you say? You say “Yes.” Continue reading

Roundabout Changes

I was a huge fan of the roundabout installation on Hillsborough St. near the NC State Bell Tower. It was well thought out, it reduced delay, and it was a pleasure to drive in. For a traffic engineer. Continue reading

Signal Warrants and Why We Use Them

A friend sent me a link to a recent WRAL article posted yesterday about a fatal collision in Cary on Sunday, February 12th1. Tragically, both passengers in a left-turning vehicle died when the driver crossed the path of another vehicle. This is terrible and my condolences go out to those affected by the incident. I also feel for safety engineers everywhere who feel the emptiness of failure at each reported fatality2, especially the highway safety professionals who work in this jurisdiction. However, as an engineer and scientist it is of utmost importance to step back and remember a few things about working within the confines of the real world: with limited tax funds, systems are imperfect and not every collision is preventable. Continue reading

Engineering Trek 2012

Twin Cities, MN

I had a few spare weeks recently, and decided to go on a cross-country trek to visit some friends. I also took the opportunity to take in some civil engineering landmarks along the way. First stop was Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. Had a great time visiting my college buddy Garrett, now a grad student at U of M. We passed by the Civil Engineering building on campus, a building residing almost completely underground. For it’s unique design it was awarded with the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award by ASCE in 1983.

I visited the new 1-35W Mississippi River Bridge, the replacement bridge on the site of the disastrous 2007 bridge collapse. Improper design as well as large loads from construction equipment and extra layers of pavement caused the original bridge to collapse. Nearby, I walked across the Stone Arch Bridge of Minneapolis, overlooking the only waterfall on the Mississippi river. Built in 1883 and named a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, the bridge served as a railway bridge but now serves as a pedestrian and bicycle path across the Mississippi. In the area are many parks that serve the historic district and showcase the history of the water-powered mills that put the Twin Cities on the map.

It’s always exciting to see public transportation improvement projects, and it was neat to see the construction of new light rail stations by the local Metro Transit in St. Paul. We also visited the Town Hall Brewery and attended the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival 2012.


Next stop was Colorado. Not too many civil engineering landmarks on this leg of the trip. Instead, I had the wonderful opportunity to have some family in the area expose me to some really neat experiences. I went ice-fishing, fed buffalo, visited Odell Brewing, and sat in on a volunteer-firefighting training seminar. For those most interested in the sciences, here’s a nerdy exposition: you can calculate the thickness of clear ice h (inches) that can withstand failure from a load of p (tons) with the following formula: h = 4√p

There’s all sorts of other factors you can throw in for safety, and if you plan on driving out on the ice, you should probably give these a good read:

Some more neat information:

Los Angeles, CA

My last stop was LA, visiting another NC State friend and former roommate, Joe. Much warmer than the previous stops, I enjoyed the beautiful sunny weather of Pasadena. I visited Venice Beach, the infamous Hollywood sign, Griffith Park Observatory, El Pueblo, Hollywood Boulevard, La Brea Tarpits, IO West Improv Club, In-N-Out Burger, and Point Fermin Lighthouse.

Of course, my visit to the locale wouldn’t do my “engineering” trek justice if I didn’t review local transportation resources. I rode both the Metro Bus and the Metro Rail, visited Union Station, and found it all to be exceptional for my use as a tourist. Joe commutes to and from work daily via Metro Rail and bicycle (which he can bring on the train) and finds them more than adequate. I was impressed with the timeliness, cleanliness, and usefulness. I only wish we had this kind of rail in Raleigh.

I also noticed the use of ramp meters both here and in Twin Cities. These are not a congestion tool we currently use in North Carolina, so I sent a quick email to Dr. Hummer, professor at NC State, with some questions on use cases and statistics. He responded rather quickly and gave me great information on the topic. They can keep the mainline traffic moving better than Level of Service “F”, preventing a 100-300 vehicles per hour per lane drop in capacity. They break up “platoons” of cars, and can decrease travel time up to 10%. In North Carolina, it’s been easier to add conventional capacity in the past, but NCDOT may need to look at ramp meters more closely for use on I-77 in Charlotte and areas around RTP.

All in all, the trip was very rewarding, and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to do a similar trip in the future. Special thanks to family and friends for taking time to spend with me and making my trip possible!

Bonus Footage

Recipes for Success in 2012

Those who know me know I like to create, and cooking is a fantastic hobby I’ve picked up. There’s always something new to learn. It’s art. It’s expression. And best of all, you can eat it.

But like all things, if you do it, do it right. Cook like you mean it. Go big or go home. And recently I’ve learned that the culinary arts, or at least the kitchen responsibilities involved therein, have a lot in common with the engineering industry. It was this wonderful article on a chef’s blog that really punched it home to me: sous chefs are engineers, but not all engineers are sous chefs.

Being a sous chef has little to do with the title and all to do with what you make of it…

Cook your ass off. Organize your station better than I would. Stop whining. Turn problems into solutions. Take challenges and ride them one handed. The bull threw you? Get up and get back on. Ask for help when you need it. Rally support that’s available to you. Work cleaner every day. Create systems and implement them. Learn stations you’ve never known.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Manager or not, if an engineering office was a kitchen, everyone should strive to be a sous chef.

Think about it as you set your goals for the new year. Be the sous chef. Leave egos at home, get your hands dirty, and get cooking.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Block quote comes from the following article. Make sure you give it a read: Shuna Fish Lydon, Eggbeater Blog