Friday, February 22, 2013

Engineers and their toys

It's a Friday afternoon, and I'm day-dreaming about some of the more fun aspects of technology...

  • For whatever reason, one of the best articles about the nearly-completed Bay Bridge appears in the New York Daily News, of all places: As San Francisco’s Bay Bridge redesign nears completion, architect Marwan Nader reflects on his feat of earthquake and aesthetic engineering
    “The thing people tend to forget is that we’re dealing with very poor soil under the bridge,” Nader said.

    In fact, Nader’s team found they would have to dig three times deeper than the current footing in order to make sure they would have a firm enough foundation so that the bridge to withstand another major earthquake of 7.0 or greater.

    To do this, crews had to drill more than 300 feet into the Bay floor, where they were finally able to secure concrete-reinforced steel pilings.

  • Speaking of digging into the floor of the bay, and speaking of New York City, I love these great pictures of the project to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Station: The Tunnels of NYC's East Side Access Project
    Deep underground, rail tunnels are extending from Sunnyside, Queens, to a new Long Island Rail Road terminal being excavated beneath Grand Central Terminal. Construction began in 2007, with an estimated cost of $6.3 billion and completion date of 2013. Since then, the cost estimate has been raised to $8.4 billion, and the completion date moved back to 2019. When finished, the line will accommodate 24 trains per hour at peak traffic, cutting down on commute times from Long Island, and opening up access to John F. Kennedy International Airport from Manhattan's East Side.
  • Over the holiday weekend, my wife and I picked a fun rainy-day activity: we went to see Life of Pi, the delightful screen adaptation of Yann Martel's bestselling book. After the movie, I commented to my wife about how amazingly realistic the computer-generated Richard Parker was, and she was shocked that it wasn't real. Everyone is expecting the production team to win major awards on Sunday for their superb work, but as Wired points out, the work has driven other advances as well: How Mathematical Research Is Making the Life of Pi Tiger Even Better
    As that object deforms, it’s easy to approximate the resulting movement with a linear deformation, which is a good treatment for small movements, but wildly inaccurate for larger ones. Sanan’s central task is to use “geometrically nonlinear” models which are almost as easy to use as linear models, yet work equally well for all deformations, maintaining an object’s volume across a full range of motion.
  • On a similar movie-related note, I enjoyed Spencer Ackerman's piece at Wired: Inside the Battle of Hoth
    What did the Empire gain at Hoth? It had the opportunity to deal the Rebel Alliance a defeat from which the Rebels might not have recovered: the loss of its secret base; the loss of its politically potent symbol in Leia; and most of all the loss of its promising proto-Jedi in Luke. Instead, Luke escapes to join Yoda; Leia escapes with Han to Cloud City (where Vader has to resort to Plan B); and the Rebel Alliance’s transport ships largely escape
  • Lastly, the week wouldn't be complete without my obligatory nod to the Tesla review, with a nice reflection from Taylor Owen at the Columbia School of Journalism: What the Tesla Affair Tells us About Data Journalism
    And here in lies the principle lesson from the whole Tesla affair: Data is laden with intentionality, and cannot be removed from the context in which it was derived. We do not know, from these data alone, what happened in that parking lot.
    and some great work by Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic: Elon Musk's Data Doesn't Back Up His Claims of New York Times Fakery
    In the end, it looks like Broder made some compromises to get from the Newark charging station to the Milford one, in both speed and temperature. Broder may not have used Musk's car the way Musk would like, but Musk is, for now, overhyping his case for a breach of journalism ethics.

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