Thursday, 12 January 2017

Reflections from a Sustainability Study Day

This week, I was published on the ICE Civil Engineer blog explaining how engineers can use our development action plans and CPD records to grow our own careers and serve society better. I have written previously about the challenges within my discipline to adapt to the increased frequency and impact of extreme weather events, as illustrated in this article from Iain McKenzie reflecting on the challenges of maintaining earthworks for Welsh roads (“Can we make it rain less in Wales, or maybe flatten out some of those pesky mountains? If not, are we headed for a managed decline in performance?")
But when engineers talk about climate change, we have a tendency to focus on adapting to its effects rather than addressing the root cause, so a key objective for me this year is to improve my understanding of low carbon and energy saving solutions which are applicable to the rail sector.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Mental Models of the Underworld

This is the first in a series of posts inspired by the Bryan Lovell Meeting at the Geological Society, 24th to 25th Nov 2016. More details here
At the end of two days talking about watery hazards such as flooding, drought, landslips and sinkholes came a session focused upon communication skills to explain those risks to the people who are affected by them. But there's a catch: it's not enough just to use what you think are simplified words in place of your usual engineering or geological jargon. First, you need to establish whether you have any concepts in common to which you can refer!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

These Psalms Were Made For Walking

Some Psalms are known as the "songs of ascent", to be sung by pilgrims while walking up the steep road to Jerusalem for the major festivals. A friend was telling me this morning how he had done this himself earlier this year, an experience which had changed his understanding of the Psalms forever. But it turns out most of the Psalms have a sense of movement about them.

For example, what comes to your mind when you think of Psalm 23?

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Engineering: The Perfect Retirement Job?

I was interested to read a piece in Infrastructure Intelligence this week which suggested that the engineering industry is losing out on the experience of older people by failing to support them in later life. This surprised me, because that hasn't been my experience at all. 
I'm thinking of several people for whom engineering has proved the ideal retirement job, provided that companies allow them to focus on doing what they do best: great technical work and passing on their expertise to the next generation. After all, who would willingly give up a job as endlessly fascinating and useful as bridges and railways, roads and flood defences?

Monday, 7 March 2016

International Women's Day: Why I'm Pledging for Parity in the Rail Industry

The theme for this year's International Women's Day is to Pledge for Parity: "to change everything, we need everyone" because everyone can contribute to creating an inclusive culture. So what does that look like in engineering, and particularly the rail industry? I highly recommend the ICE's series of Engineering Change short talks (you could use these as conversation starters in a team briefing this month!)
Engineering change takes all of us - yes, you too! (image (c) Institution of Civil Engineers)

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Walls in the Willows - a renewable construction material

This week I was fascinated by a lunchtime talk about a renewable construction material that grows itself: retaining walls made from willow! This has been used in several locations in Norfolk either on its own (for footpaths or river banks which aren't particularly sensitive to settlement) or to provide living scour protection for gabion basket walls (for roads or rail applications).

Willow spiling wall comprises posts and withy infill.
Image from JPR Environmental
What is willow spiling?
A willow spiling wall consists of two elements:

  • Live timber posts measuring at least 100mm in diameter (being a natural material, the size will vary somewhat) which are installed at 0.6 to 1.0m centres like a king post wall. 
  • Willow "withies" are woven between the posts to form the infill panels (as this is a fairly open weave, a layer of Terram is advised on the landward side of the wall to prevent loss of fines). Backfill to the retaining wall should comprise silt, sand or gravel.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Sitting Down for a Fairtrade Breakfast in York

"Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world" (Martin Luther King)
Perhaps this morning you relied on farmers in India for your tea, Colombia for your bananas, cocoa from Cote D'Ivoire, sugar from Malawi or coffee from Ethiopia. So since we rely on so many people just to produce our breakfast, how come the people who grow the food we take for granted can’t always feed their own families? This question lies at the heart of this year's Fairtrade Fortnight, which we kicked off in style in Yorkshire by hosting a Fairtrade Breakfast in front of York Minster. This is probably the only time I'm likely to eat breakfast outdoors in my pyjamas with the Lord Mayor of York in her dressing gown! The passing tourists loved it, unsurprisingly...
Breakfast with Lord Mayor of York, Sonja Crisp, in her dressing gown, complete with mayoral chains (she refused to be drawn on whether she actually goes to bed in these!)