Having fun (Wasting Time) with ‘Big Data’

Of all the sexy phrases currently in fashion, ‘Big Data‘ is one you cannot afford to ignore. It is one concept that manages to be cool, scary, useful and exciting all at the same time. If the NSA and the issue of privacy scares you, the many advances the tool claims and is able to achieve excites.

The cool part is my recent discovery of Google’s Ngram Viewer. A bit late though as it was released in December 2010 but, I haven’t wasted this much productive time since Angry Birds came out.

It makes use of the controversial 20 million books that Google scanned, to allow the user to trace usage of a particular word or phrase from the the 1800s to 2008.

Below are a few match-ups I’ve tried my hands at. Be warned though, Data can and will be manipulated, made to look like what its presenter wants you to see.

Engineering vs other Professions

Engineering vs other Professions

Boeing vs Airbus

Boeing vs Airbus

Engineers vs Engineers

Engineers vs Engineers

Please do leave a comment on any other interesting match-ups

Travel Smartcard data and the concept of “familiar strangers”

A Bus Stop in Singapore

A Bus Stop in Singapore

People tend to become familiar with the pedestrians they always meet during their daily routines, the dog walker they encounter everyday whilst on their healthy habit of taking early morning walks, or the group of exuberant school-uniform clad teenagers they run into returning home after school while they themselves are returning home from a really busy and tiring day at work.

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A350 XWB/Chomping Chantelle’s first flight

14th  June 2013

At the Airbus Filton site where I currently work, for about 2 hours during another usually casual Friday work atmosphere, work completely stopped for more than an hour.  This wasn’ t because electricity was down as if we were working in Lagos, Nigeria, and Filton employees were standing by for the generator to be powered on.  The reason was that A350 XWB, an aircraft that most would have been involved in its development in smaller or larger ways, was having it very first flight – MSN1’s very own Bar Mitzvah.  Their baby as she is affectionately referred to  by many, was now ready to fly.

Caricature by Maurice

Caricature by Maurice CHRETIEN

10th June 2008 (roughly)

All aboard a chartered coach heading for a field near Heathrow, because the local authority was concerned that an aircraft flying near a motorway could stray out the reach of its on-the-ground controller.  This wasn’t testing for the latest fighter pilot-displacing UAV, but the first flight for a model aircraft built as part of a final year group project. No Champagne, no media coverage (Airbus TV, local, national), no specially ordered cakes or large audience well past double figures. There was, though, just as much anticipation, preparation, a fews eyes watching and futures at stake.

 

The success of the A350 XWB has meant that the company behind it has captured 678 orders already, 69 at the recent Paris airshow where the aircraft flew by. The timing clearly a strategic move.

Facilitators of the Chomping Chantelle have now gone on to different things – one is writing this blog post, others this and that.

Airbus now has to concentrate on delivering its orders on time, so it’s back to work across the Airbus sites all over Europe and the fantastic ‘capture the flag’ site in Mobil, Alabama (A320 final assembly). When the noise of your success is made in your rival’s backyard, it is sure to make him green with envy, or is that fuel efficiency?

Engineering in the news and around the ‘net

Wow, what a week for engineering! Last week was a bumper week for engineering in the news, so I’ll round up with a few that stick in my mind. Please feel free to share your favourite  stories in the comments!

 

Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a £1 million global prize, recognising outstanding advances in engineering that have changed the world and hopefully inspiring the next generation. The first QE Prize was awarded by the Queen at Buckingham Palace last week, to a group of people for their work creating the internet.

Chosen by a panel of leading industry experts, the winners were Robert Kahn, Vint Cerf and Louis Pouzin (for their contribution to the protocols that make up the Internet), Sir Tim Berners-Lee (for inventing the world wide web) and Marc Andreessen (who wrote the Mosaic browser).

As part of the day of celebrations, a lunch was hosted at the Guildhall, and a party took place in the evening at the Tate Modern gallery. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Tate Modern, and thoroughly enjoyed the interactive engineering exhibits on display during the evening!

 

 

Encouraging engineers with Bloodhound

David Cameron is pushing for more people to take up a career in engineering and so the Bloodhound car made an appearance in Downing Street. The plan is to inspire 100,000 new engineering technicians into the profession by 2018. This gained coverage all over the place, including mainstream news such as Sky News and the Daily Mail, so hopefully the campaign works!  My favourite quote from the coverage (taken from the Daily Mail) is from the Prime Minister himself:

‘British engineering and innovation are a part of our history that we are rightly very proud of and our engineering excellence continues to change the world that we live in for the better.’

Too right, anyone from any country should be proud of their engineering industry!

 

FIA World Electric Land Speed Record

An example of engineering excellence is the Drayson B12 69/Ev, an 850bhp all electric Le Mans prototype car, that broke the world landspeed record for lightweight electric vehicles at Elvington in Yorkshire. The previous record of 175mph was beaten easily, with Lord Drayson behind the wheel and reaching an average of 204mph.

Electric racing cars will take centre stage in 2014, when the new Formula E series hits the track. More on the blog about that soon!

 

IET webcast – Women Engineers: Building a Bright Future

The IET held a webcast with female engineers to coincide with the closing date for nominations for their Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards, with past and present winners of the award answering questions about their experiences in engineering.

I only managed to catch the start but it was quite interesting, I’m looking forward to watching the rest.

LIVE: Women Engineers: Building a Bright Future

Sally Walters

From: Women Engineers: Building a Bright Future, 20 June 2013, IET London Savoy Place

 

2013-06-20 00:00:00.0 News Channel

>> go to webcast>> recommend to friend

 

There has also been talk of the UK shale gas reserves and the ever controversial HS2 rail network. All kinds of engineering really has been in the news! Please feel free to share your favourite stories from the past week or so.

 

 

Bloodhound SSC – the 1000 mph car

Andy Green at Autosport 2012 (Originators: Curventa and Siemens)

Andy Green at Autosport 2012 (Originators: Curventa and Siemens)

In a guest blog for Developing Engineers, IMechE volunteer Kathryn Taylor discusses the benefits of collaborating with other local groups to bring the Bloodhound project to a larger audience, as well as highlighting the immense impact Bloodhound is having in education.

The Bloodhound SSC (supersonic car) is propelled by a rocket and a jet engine, with a Formula One engine used to pump the fuel into the rocket. The Bloodhound project will attempt to break the land speed record (currently 763 mph, set by Andy Green in 1997 driving Thrust SSC), and reach 1000 mph. Continue reading

National Science & Engineering Week 2013

Today marks the start of the National Science Science & Engineering Week in the UK, running from 15th to the 24th March. Coordinated by the British Science Association, there are over 4500 events up and down the country organised to celebrate science, engineering and technology. This year the theme is invention and discovery, but the events don’t have to fit it, meaning that all sorts of great events are organised.

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It’s not the parts, it’s the labour.

Maintenance: surely one of the aspects of engineering most likely to conjure up the image of mechanics, wrenches, oily rags and overalls, and the whistling intake of breath through the teeth that heralds the conversion of the estimate into the final bill.  Sometimes, though, it really isn’t the parts and it really is the labour.

Let’s make some sweeping generalisations about cultures, industries and design engineers. Let’s say, for example, that European cars are less reliable than Japanese cars, but are easier to repair and the parts are cheaper (1) (2).  Let us also say that the same holds true for trains manufactured in Europe and Japan (3).  Why do we think this (admittedly exaggerated) situation has arisen?   The answer lies in whether you are designing a product for reliability or maintainability.

The Europeans like to design for maintainability.  You assume that certain components are going to fail at some point, so you make sure you can replace them in the shortest possible time, with the minimum amount of people, and with standard tools.  Your suppliers in turn make systems highly modular, so you can quickly replace the offending sub-system and get back to earning money with your valuable assets.

The Japanese, people would have us believe, design for reliability.  If you invest in development and testing and have high levels of confidence in the performance of your components, why should you need to spend time designing easy-access covers and making sure maintenance technicians can operate comfortably in the equipment bays?

If you are in the business of providing complex equipment, take a moment to think where your company sits on the line between these two extremes.

Often it comes down to what the customer wants and what they are willing to pay for.  When delivering large projects, a company’s experience from similar products, coupled with contractual requirements that specify minimum reliability performance, will drive them to either design a product that lasts, or one that can be easily repaired.

But things are changing.  In the case of the Intercity Express Programme, there are contractual requirements for availability of the trains, but not an actual number of trains.  This means the supplier can chose how many trains to supply, as long as the right number of trains are available to go into service every day.  This only works because the supplier of the trains is also responsible for their maintenance for 27 years, and has to put their money where their mouth is.    The procurement of the UK Search and Rescue (helicopter) service is set up in a similar way, with the emphasis on providing a service in the right time at the right place.

Engineers will increasingly have to balance the triple constraint of Reliability, Availability and Maintainability when working on large contracts.  Depending on your company’s current philosophy, that might mean some significant changes, to make sure a technician can wield a torque wrench comfortably during maintenance.

In the case of my car, I just wish the headlights were slightly easier to replace.

 

References:

(1) author’s experience from owning a Dagenham-built Ford Fiesta Mk4 and a Japanese-built Honda Accord Mk7.

(2) JP Power survey 2012 - 5 of the top 10 cars are Japanese

(3) an experienced colleague’s summary from working on the Hitachi Class 395 and various European fleets.

2012 as seen by Developing Engineers…

Well it’s been a busy year for us here at Developing Engineers, with over 70 blog posts published and recording over 16,000 unique visitors (up 170% on 2011!) and around 70,000 articles read (up 455% on 2011!!!)  So, I thought it was fitting that we had a bit of an end of year review of just what our developing engineers covered… Continue reading

Successful Test of the Bloodhound Hybrid Rocket

Wednesday 3rd October 2012 will go down in the Bloodhound Project’s history as a momentous day – the day the hybrid rocket that will power the car to 1000mph was tested – and it didn’t blow up!

The Bloodhound Project Truck at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2012

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Back to (virtual) school

Back in February, Peter wrote about online education resources for developing engineers.  Numbers of these university-grade courses seem to be increasing, along with their popularity, and two of the major providers, edX and Coursera, are offering more and more varied courses this term.

The courses cover subjects ranging from Sustainability, Programming Languages and Materials Science, to appreciation of sci-fi literature and world music.  I’ll leave it to our community of engineers to decide which ones best support their Initial or Continuous Professional Development goals.

Completion of the courses results in the award of a certificate of “participation” or “completion” and, depending on the course and the providing institution, more or less detail on grades received, merits and other feedback.  The lecturer of the Sustainability course from the University of Illinois even says that the students submitting the best personal projects could be invited to contribute to the field of study.

One common feature of this new format is the option to collaborate via forums and wikis dedicated to each course.  This should allow for a much more interactive and sociable environment than traditional, stand-alone online courses.  Give or a take a few hours for time differences across the globe, it’s not uncommon to see students posting frantic requests for help in the hours leading up to deadlines.

It will be interesting to see how employers and educators react to these new types of courses.  Their novelty, combined with the fact that they vary in duration, complexity and grading systems means that anyone trying to use them as evidence of knowledge and skills may find themselves explaining time and time again what exactly they have achieved through online learning.  On the other hand, if these types of course become more established, and especially if the awards come to represent an agreed standard of achievement, then employers will have to familiarise themselves with this format.

If any readers want to share their experiences of online learning, we can start to see how valuable they are, and how much recognition they are getting.

Hope everyone enjoys going back to school!