Empathy is a core engineering value

Bryan Cantrill from Joyent explains why the company expects engineers not to use gendered pronouns in documentation: "empathy is a core engineering value—and that an engineer that has so little empathy as to not understand why the use of gendered pronouns is a concern almost certainly makes poor technical decisions as well." Read the rest

How engineers freeze soil to create structurally sound solid walls of earth

In Japan, engineers are attempting to contain radioactive contamination from the Fukushima power plant by freezing the ground around it into "ice walls" that will remain frozen for years. At Nova, Jessica Morrison writes about this weird technique, which has been around for over half a century and is more commonly used as part of massive construction projects with large underground components, including Boston's Big Dig. Read the rest

Gonzo essay on the limits of chip design

The term "gonzo journalism" gets thrown around pretty loosely, generally referring to stuff that's kind of shouty or over-the-top, but really gonzo stuff is completely, totally bananas. Case in point is James Mickens's The Slow Winter [PDF], a wonderfully lunatic account of the limitations of chip-design that will almost certainly delight you as much as it did me. Read the rest

How physics sunk the Titanic

The iceberg wasn't the only thing that took down the Titanic, explains Yale University materials scientist Anissa Ramirez. Instead, cold temperatures in the icy North Atlantic changed the behavior of the materials that made up the boat — changes that reduced the ocean liner's ability to withstand a head-on iceberg collision.

Video Link

Check out more Anissa Ramirez science videos Read the rest

Ancient nanotechnology

How the ancient Romans created color-changing glass goblets that shifted colors based on what you put in them. Read the rest

507 Mechanical Movements, with animations

507 Movements brings to life Henry T Brown's 1868 treatise "Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements, Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines, Mill and Other Gearing, Presses, Horology, and Miscellaneous Machinery; and Including Many Movements Never Before Published and Several Which Have Only Recently Come Into Use," and includes selected animations of the mechanisms. Hypnotic and educational!

507 Mechanical Movements (via O'Reilly Radar) Read the rest

How ants always land on their feet

As they move through tunnels dug in a wide variety of soils, ants do sometimes slip and fall down their own shafts. But they catch themselves, with their limbs and even with their antenna. Scientists are studying the ways ants brace against a fall to help design better robotos for search-and-rescue missions. Read the rest

Life of astronaut Sally Ride honored in Kennedy Center tribute

American astronaut Sally Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck in 1983. Photo by Apic/Getty Images, via PBS NewsHour.

Tonight, PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien will serve as master of ceremonies in a Kennedy Center gala honoring the life and legacy of astronaut Sally Ride. The tribute will highlight her impact on the space program and her lifelong commitment to promoting youth science literacy.

Her Sally Ride Science organization reached out to girls, encouraging them to pursue careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, where a gender gap persists.

At the PBS NewsHour website, read the column Miles wrote immediately following Ride's death in July 2012, 17 months after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

 Sally Ride, first American woman in space, has died Sally Ride's sister, on the quiet acknowledgement of her orientation ... Astronaut Sally Ride's partner won't receive death benefits ... Read the rest

How to: Build a better sand castle

Why build a normal, weak sand castle, when you could have a defensible sand fortress?

A spaceship that tastes like Grape-Nuts

This morning, Marketplace Tech Report had a story on a new cellulose-based building material that could be made by genetically engineered bacteria — altered versions of the bacteria that naturally make stuff like kombucha. This tech sounds like it's got a long way to go from laboratory to the real world, but if they can perfect the process and make it large enough quantities, what you'd end up with a strong, inexpensive goop that could be used to build everything from medical dressings, to digital paper, to spaceships. Yes, you could theoretically use this stuff to make rocket casings, according to R. Malcolm Brown, Jr., a professor of cell biology at UT Austin. And if you can build a rocket from this stuff, you could also break the same material back down into an edible, high-fiber foodstuff. Read the rest

Why do trains stay on the track as they go around a curve?

Let's sit down for some story time with everybody's favorite science uncle, Richard Feynman.

World's largest tunnel boring machine lands in Seattle

Known affectionately as Bertha, this tunnel boring machine has the widest diameter of any boring machine ever built; 57.5 feet. It's being used to dig a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle and it just arrived there today after being shipped from Japan.

I feel this warrants your attention for two reasons: 1) If you live near Seattle, you can actually go get a look at this massive beast before it starts chewing its way through the city. If you like looking at giant machines (or know someone who does) now's your chance. She's coming into the Port of Seattle, Terminal 46, as you read this and there will be ample opportunities to get a look as the pieces are assembled and moved into the nearby launch pit. The Washington State Department of Transportation has suggestions on places to go to get a good view. 2) If, for some reason, you were looking for a new way to lose massive amounts of time on YouTube, Bertha (and boring machines, in general) can help with that. Here's a cutaway animation explaining how boring machines work. Here's a video of Big Becky, another boring machine, breaking through to the other side of a tunnel at Niagara Falls, Canada. (In fact, boring machine breakthrough videos are, in and of themselves, a mesmerizing genre.) And in this video, you can watch the massively long line of support equipment go by in the wake of a boring machine. Read the rest

Photos from on top of the Great Pyramid

The Pyramids of Giza close to tourists at 4:00 pm. Recently, a group of Russians managed to hide out at the site after closing time and scramble up the Great Pyramid of Cheops in the fading light. Naturally, they took photos. (Because if there is one thing the Internet has taught me about Russians, it's that they like to climb to dangerous heights and then take photos.)

These shots are kind of fabulous, not just for the thrill of "yeah, somebody broke the rules!", but because of the perspective you get from on high that isn't visible in the many ground-level shots I've seen. From on top of the Pyramid, you can see how the stone is pockmarked and carved — it really looks like something humans cut out of the Earth. You can also see the graffiti left by generations of tourists in multiple languages; English, Arabic, French, and more. And you can see the edge of the modern city, shimmering just at the horizon. I don't think I'd previously had such a profound sense of how closely modern Egyptians lived and worked to the Great Pyramid, before. What a fascinating view!

Thanks to Steve Silberman for the link!

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How to: Demolish a truss bridge

Like the people cheering at about :25 into this video, I'm a sucker for dramatic explosions. This one comes from Texas, where the transportation department blew up an old bridge in the city of Marble Falls on March 17th. Also, apparently, it's warm enough in Texas that multiple gentlemen could watch a bridge explode from the comfort of their jet skis. Read the rest

Building a better Bay Bridge

San Francisco will get a new Bay Bridge this summer. The New York Daily News has an interesting story about that bridge's creation — and the earthquake-resistant engineering behind it. Read the rest

The secrets of elevator design

Making a high-quality elevator isn't just about designing something that can safely go from one floor to another. Elevators are service items. That means that when you design an elevator, you also have to design for people — both individual desires and needs, and the desires and needs of a variety of cultures.

If engineering is really about designing socio-technical systems, then elevators are big, fat, obvious reminder of that dynamic in play. In a profile written for the Wall Street Journal, author Kate Linebaugh describes the work of Theresa Christy, a mathematician and Otis Elevator research fellow.

You press a button and wait for your elevator. How long before you get impatient and agitated? Theresa Christy says 20 seconds.

As a mathematician steeped in the theories of vertical transportation at Otis Elevator Co., Ms. Christy, 55, has spent a quarter-century developing systems that make elevators run as perfectly as possible—which means getting most riders into a car in less than 20 seconds. "Traditionally, the wait time is the most important factor," she says. "The thing people hate the most is waiting."

... The challenges she deals with depend on the place. At a hotel in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, she has to make sure that the elevators can clear a building quickly enough to get most people out five times a day for prayer.

Read the full story at The Wall Street Journal

Via Maria Konnikova

Image: Elevator, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 25103209@N06's photostream Read the rest

In post-Sandy "dewatering" mission, Army engineers drain one Olympic-sized pool's worth of water per minute

In an Army Corps of Engineers press release, details on the astounding rate at which workers are draining water from New York's subway and transit tunnels: "To date, the USACE has used about 50 pumps of various sizes to remove 64 million gallons of water from the New York City mass transit system. Operations are ongoing at six sites, with pumps removing about 116,000 gallons per minute. The 696,000 gallons the pumps are draining each minute exceeds the amount of water in one Olympic-size swimming pool (660,000 gallons). There were roughly 600 million gallons in the tunnels when pumping operations began on Thursday, Nov. 1." (via Noah Shachtman). Read the rest

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