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Civil Engineering news, technology, and opinions

So, it seems like I jumped the gun by saying I could only add up to 15 results through the yahoo pipe.  A quick look at the comments on the original post about this yahoo pipe shows that there’s an argument in the twitter search api allowing you to specify the amount of tweets to receive!  It also shows you how to create a google map using the export to kml function. So here’s an updated map with a full 100 tweets.  Note that a lot of them overlap because people have their location set to a city and not a set of coordinates. 

In fact, almost half of these tweets are about a watermain break in Toronto re-tweeting that “Subways are bypassing Union Station due to severe watermain break that is flooding the station”. This is in part due to the fact that Toronto’s twitter users have started using twitter to provide real-time updates on the status of Toronto’s public transit.


Watermain Breaks Twitter Map

[created from this yahoo pipe]
Try clicking the “view larger map” link so you can cycle through the tweets to see the overlapping ones.

View Larger Map

While we’re at it, let’s try a few other search terms!


World Water Day Tweet Map

[original yahoo pipe]
This one’s a bit more spread out.  Still focused a lot on the United States.  My guess is that this is a result of a skewed user base and language differences, not the actual publicity for World Water Day.  This map is probably more representative!

View Larger Map


Stormwater Tweet Map

[original yahoo pipe]

View Larger Map

Any other great ideas for a tweet map?  Leave them in the comments!

22 Mar, 2009

Watermain Breaks Mapped via Twitter

Posted by: Skylar In: internet coverage|water

Pam Broviak recently commented on my original watermain + twitter post from a few days ago, asking if it’s possible to actually map out all the tweets about watermain breaks.  Well, yes it is possible.  And it’s actually quite easy, once I found a Yahoo! Pipe that automatically builds a google map out of a search term.  The one real problem is that it only maps the last 15 tweets on the subject.  [UPDATE: Check out my new map here!] Not exactly a good sample size to see where watermain breaks are happening.  Not to mention that a lot of twitter users seem to tweet on news that is occuring in very different places than their own town (the app uses the user’s set location to map it).

Anyways, here’s the link to my map.  In the future, it might be interesting to figure out a way of showing a larger sample of the tweets.

21 Mar, 2009

E-Quip Blog on Proposal Writing

Posted by: Skylar In: general

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, but I still feel a need to share these articles with my readers.  Back in February (I know – time flies!), Mel Lester from E-Quip Blog wrote a series of articles on proposal writing.  The first article is entitled “Tired Yet of Mediocre Proposals?”, and focuses on the sad state of proposals in the industry today.  Mel claims that despite advances in the look of proposals (partially due to technology and marketing firms),

The more important qualities of an effective proposal are (1) strong content that is (2) presented efficiently. In these areas, I’ve not seen that much improvement over the last 20 years.

His second post, entitled “Proposals: Two Chances to Shine” he discusses two strategies that can improve your proposal writing.  The two key issues that he cites are “Client Focus” and “Skimmability”.  If you’re looking for some help with your technical writing skills, this is a good article to read.

Lastly, in “Proposals: How David Slays Goliath” Mel presents a case study in proposal writing.  The case study is a proposal he assisted with at a company that was “at a terrible disadvantage with the client determining that our qualifications didn’t even merit receiving the RFP!”  Read the article to learn how you can use a proposal to leverage your company when you’re the underdog.

12 Mar, 2009

The TVA Ash Spill Aftermath

Posted by: Skylar In: news

If you’ve been reading the past postings here, you’ll know about the TVA ash spill incident a couple month’s back.  Well, there’s been a lot going on since then, as the Engineering-News Record reports:

TVA says it will likely switch from wet to dry storage at all its coal plants and sell all qualifying ash for use as a cement replacement in ready-mix concrete.

TVA also has filed a detailed dredging plan to begin clearing the Emory River.

I think it’s important to monitor breaking news, but it’s just as important to follow up with the aftermath.  What has been done to fix the issue?  What will prevent this from happening again in the future?  Read the article at ENR to learn more:

[After Dike Failure, TVA Cleans Area Near Kingston Coal Plant]

You can also read about it straight from the TVA website.

If you haven’t heard of David Zetland’s blog entitled “Aguanomics”, it’s a blog dedicated to water and the economics of water.  As it turns out, today he writes about the civil engineering profession in light of the New Orleans “failure”.  It’s a great post, and it’s a must read for anyone that is interested in the subject of civil engineering and it’s public image.

Much of the post is taken from a letter by Professor Raymond B. Seed, which reflects upon the incident and the current state of the engineering profession.  One of my favourite parts of the letter is both inspiring and eye-opening:

I have spent my life working to inspire young people to enter this field (that I consider so wondrous), and trying to provide them with the knowledge and tools to perform well in this exciting profession. I thought that was enough, but I was mistaken. I did not realize that they also needed the opportunity to work in a field of good ethics. I took that for granted, as most civil engineers work at something that they love, and are generally underpaid for the level of effort and expertise that they bring to bear; a recipe for attracting unusually moral and ethical individuals.

Read the rest here (you won’t regret it!):

[Engineers Doing It Right]

27 Feb, 2009

Friday Fun – Feb 27

Posted by: Skylar In: general

For the weekend, here’s two bits of fun:

Alright, that’s it.  Have a great weekend!

27 Feb, 2009

Proof that this blog is cutting-edge

Posted by: Skylar In: Uncategorized

The screenshots say it all:

Thanks for reading.  More friday fun on the way…

26 Feb, 2009

Eng-Tips Roundup: Jan/Feb ‘09

Posted by: Skylar In: roundup

26 Feb, 2009

Watermain Breaks: Causes, Places, and Twitter

Posted by: Skylar In: water

One of my newest rss feeds is a twitter search for the term “watermain”.  Originally I had high hopes for this search.  I expected tips in design, some current infrastructure project updates, and all that fun stuff.  What I got was a continual update on watermain breaks throughout twitter’s domain.  “No water. Main broke on my street.” “X Street is closed due to watermain break” “Sinkhole the size of Y created by watermain break.”

To be honest, I’m not disappointed.  Sure I’d love to see some good ol’ fashioned info about watermain construction, design, or materials.  But it’s also fun to see where all the watermain breaks are happening as it happens.  It actually seems like a majority are reported in the Greater Toronto Area, which would make sense – being a city that can experience a lot of freeze-thaw patterns throughout the winter.  A recent article in the Toronto Sun claims that it’s only beginning: Prepare for a flood of watermain breaks.

This brings me to my next point.  What causes watermain breaks? From the Toronto Sun:

Paul Clements, a manager with Toronto Water, acknowledged most of the city’s 1,500 annual watermain breaks happen in the winter because of what he called “bouncing,” when the ground expands and contracts repeatedly with the changing temperatures.

This is the science behind watermain breaks, but expanding and contracting ground is only the catalyst.  It’s also a problem of aging infrastructure.  Older mains are more worn and weaker, making them more likely to burst.  Bring on that infrastructure stimulus package!

[Click here to see the latest twitter posts about ‘watermain’]

Oh – and here’s the aforementioned sinkhole via twitter.

25 Feb, 2009

Canada’s Budget Implementation: Bill C-10

Posted by: Skylar In: news

Everyone’s heard about the conservative’s own “stimulus package”.  Heck, I’m pretty excited about it myself.  Being a person working primarily in municipal engineering, I’d say it’s good news for my future job security.  But there have been some people raising a fuss about this new budget bill.  And believe it or not, most of them aren’t complaining about the budget itself.  The main complaint I have read has to do with the additional law amendments contained within the bill.  From the Toronto Star:

At the same time, he is quietly introducing measures to weaken environmental laws affecting rivers and lakes, limit federal oversight of most foreign investment and scale back some of Canada’s few remaining restrictions on foreign ownership.

Now, I’m not an economist or a lawyer so I don’t have too much to say on the foreign ownership requirements and the other amendments.  However, I think it’s important for me to raise the issue of changes to environmental law.  The environmental law that this article is referring to is the Navigable Waters Protection Act.  The act is meant to protect Canada’s waterways and the access Canadians have to those waterways.

The government claims that the intention of this amendment is to remove some of the “red tape” in project proposals, ensuring that the federal spending provides a speedier stimulus.  Essentially, the amendments are meant to reduce the amount of Environmental Assessment work required for projects.  And yes, parliament has said that they are trying to remove the requirement only for certain types of works.  The real question is whether this has been properly implemented with the proposed bill or not.

I have not read the bill, nor am I an expert on anything related to navigable waterways.  As such I humbly back away from the argument.  I do not have a specific opinion, but I thought it would be good to bring attention to the issue.  I understand that red tape due to environmental assessments can (sometimes unnecessarily) hold up a project proposal.  However, this does not make the assessments useless.

At best, it raises red flags for me seeing environmental law amendments included in a budget implementation.  If you’d like more information, you can try these:

Anyone out there have extra details or opinions?  Feel free to leave a comment here.


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