Smart Tagging Engineering Plans

The city of Manor, Texas, has been successfully using QR codes for some time to convey information to citizens. And a while ago, I blogged about Microsoft tags – another method of conveying information through the use of a code and mobile reader. The Microsoft Tags have intrigued me because if you have time, you can create a code that can be “hidden” in your logo or another image.

Unfortunately I was so excited about trying out the tags that I didn’t take the time to make a custom one. So I can’t demo how cool that would be, but I can show you an engineering-based use for these smart tags. Below is the cover sheet of the most recent set of engineering plans I prepared for a small sewer job we are constructing in my city. On the cover we placed two codes. One is displayed near the JULIE or 811 One-Call logo – by running the reader on your mobile and focusing it on this tag, your mobile is activated to call for a utility locate. Before actually calling, the number is displayed, and you are asked if you want to call.

Dunstan Storm Sewer Cover Sheet

If someone runs the reader on their mobile and focuses on the other tag, the mobile device is routed to the IDOT Website page displaying the State of Illinois Standard Specifications for Road and Bridge Construction. These are just two easy demonstrations of how these codes can be used in engineering and construction. I am sure with time, more ideas will arise. Feel free to comment below with your own ideas.


Stimulus Money Won’t Stimulate?

I am disappointed to have to write this blog post but wanted to make sure others were aware of what is happening due to the language of the Recovery Bill with respect to road construction. So far, from what I have been told by DOT employees, the only roads that will be eligible to receive funding from this legislation will be Federal Aid routes. And those road projects will only receive funding if they were already programmed for construction and already have an approved project development report, an approved set of plans and specifications, and are on the April letting (if they are in Illinois).

This means that the only local roads eligible to receive this funding are local roads that were going to be built anyway with federal funds and a small portion of local funds. So how is the Recovery legislation funding going to help out immediately in this case? These local roads were going to be built anyway. This is significant because this means that the money from this legislation is not generating new jobs or new work. It is paying for jobs and work that would have been created and paid for anyway. And the small portion of local funds that are saved are not enough to make a major impact on job creation.

As an engineer who has been working in the civil engineering/public works field for 25+ years, I know I can get a significant road project for my community out to bid in a month or two depending on the extent of the reconstruction. However, this is only true if the roadway is not a Federal Aid highway because the process for getting a project out using that funding mechanism is lengthy and time consuming due to policies and regulations.

Now I also realize they are talking about another wave of funding, but that won’t happen immediately either, and again, local governments will not be able to prepare projects fast enough if they have to use the federal aid funding process.

I guess I had thought the desperate economic situation was going to allow our Federal government to actually award local governments the funds they need to rebuild their infrastructure without having to impose all these policies and regulations since the need to put people to work was professed to be the first and foremost concern. Now, I realize that this program, like so many that have been passed before is just throwing money out the door without really thinking about the mechanism and results.

Looking back what really should have been done to make this work would have been first to meet with local government people who understand how projects are designed, bid out, and constructed, and get input on the most efficient and practical method to get jobs out and put people to work. Unfortunately this does not seem to have happened, and now we are faced with not being able to receive significant funds to make much of a difference – at least at the local level.

I don’t have much insight on the other funding programs in the Recovery Bill other than the water and wastewater sections, and in those areas, they are talking about loans and only a portion of grants to local government so again, I am not sure there will be a significant impact. These projects were going forward anyway with local funds, and since the federal money will only be a loan, these local funds will have to go to pay off the loan and will not be freed up to go towards other projects.

With the Senate yet to make a decision, I suppose there is still a chance to fix this, but I have not seen any signs that the Senate will address this aspect of the Recovery Bill. I still believe that spending money on public works projects would significantly stimulate the economy, but first we have to have projects chosen and eligible for funding. And from down here in local government, I am very sorry to say the Recovery Bill does not appear to be focused on granting eligibility to all local projects that are sitting on the shelf ready to go to bid. Hopefully the Federal and State projects will be enough to make a difference.


Why Do Social Networks Hate My Avatar?

Ok, I am really starting to get a complex about my avatar. For the second time this year, I have tried to join a social/business network and been told by the administrator that they don’t let people stay in their network unless a “real” photo is used in the profile. In other words, “No Avatars Allowed.” The network this time is a CAD-related ning network named Space Claiming.

Pam Broviak\'s Avatar - Banned for being non-real
Pam Broviak's Avatar - Banned for being non-real

Because I already have blogged about “avatar discrimination” here, I will not go into all that again. But each time this happens, I cannot help but wonder why the network administrator makes this decision. Are they so superficial that they need to actually see what someone looks like in order to adequately judge if someone is worthy of being admitted into their special group. They certainly cannot think I am nonhuman – I post blogs, upload photos, comment on other’s posts, respond to messages. Maybe they hate the way my avatar looks. All of these thoughts go through my mind, and then I realize if someone can only accept my contributions if they can see what I look like, then I probably don’t want to be part of that group anyway. It is kind of like what happens in high school, but I never thought 28 years after graduation, I would still be dealing with that mentality.

Maybe next time, I will just upload a photo of my crazy Aunt Sophie – God rest her soul. Would network administrators prefer this because it is real?

My crazy Aunt Sophie (now deceased).
My Aunt Sophie (now deceased).


Siemens PLM Software Scavenger Hunt On Now

In my last blog entry, I mentioned that Siemens PLM Software was hosting several events this month on their island in Second Life. Along with the presentations, the company is offering a scavenger hunt on the Siemens Innovation Connection island from 10 A.M. (EST) May 28 to 10 A.M. (EST) June 23. Visitors to the island can register at the red railroad car with the National Steel Car logo then proceed to find the six other railroad cars sitting at different locations on the sim. Each car poses a question related to Siemens PLM Software. Answer correctly and a prize will be placed in your inventory. One car distributes shirts with the National Steel Car log.
Register here for the Siemens PLM Software Scavenger Hunt in Second Life

An added benefit for going through the hunt is the chance to win a prize in real life. All avatars correctly answering all six questions will be entered into a drawing for a real life prize. To participate, register for a Second Life account, go through a quick orientation, and then use the search tab in Second Life to search for “Siemens Innovation Connection.” Hit the teleport button and you will be transported to the island where you can begin your hunt. For those of you who are already members of Second Life you can get a slurl here: Siemens Innovation Connection


Siemens PLM Software – Making CAD Easier and Even More Fun to Use

Siemens PLM Software has hosted a few events recently in the virtual world of Second Life that have been fun and interesting for anyone interested in CAD. And according to their calendar, this is just the beginning. During one of these events, held on May 20, the company hosted a live launch of its Velocity series in Boston while at the same time hosting a live virtual launch in Second Life. Although I would never have been able to attend the Boston event, I was able to find my way into the Second Life event. What a great presentation!
Siemens PLM Software Velocity Series Launch
Photo of Bruce Boes in Second Life and in real life giving a presentation about Siemens PLM Software Velocity Series

By attending in Second Life, I was able to find out the following information presented by Bruce Boes, global vice president, Velocity Series Marketing:

  • The company has 425 channel partners on a global basis
  • 90% of the company’s Velocity business goes through their channel partners
  • Siemens PLM Software currently has a third of the market and is projected to represent half by 2011
  • A case study on Conn-Weld Industries showed a reduction in design time of 66% in their move from 2D to 3D
  • The presentation was fun and energetic and really nothing like I would have expected or had ever seen before having worked in the engineering field for the last 25 years or so. Lets face it, engineers aren’t usually thought of as the life of the party. But Siemens PLM Software showed me that maybe things are changing a little in our field. Throughout the presentation, a guy who introduced himself as the “answer man” would jump onto the stage to offer his own take on what was going on. The distraction provided a unique method of introducing key points.

    Answer Man at Siemens PLM Software Launch
    A photo of the Answer Man who kept interrupting the Siemens PLM Software Velocity Launch Event in Boston.

    Several videos were shown to demonstrate the ease with which products can be designed with the software in the Velocity series. I have to admit that I primarily use CAD for mapping and producing civil engineering plans which are quite a bit different from mechanical drawings. But even I could appreciate the ease with which products could be designed and then changed on the fly.

    Some benefits included the ability to create specific constraints in the drawing such as holding a particular dimension, and then making changes to the product without having to worry about going back and checking or updating each constraint. During the editing process, the software revised everything on the fly as specified. You can even tell the software to always make sure a particular hole or component is always located in the center of another part – thus specifying a constraint based on a formula. That seemed impressive to me. I wish I could do that in my CAD software with my roadway or sewer design as easily as this was done in the Siemens PLM Software.
    Editing a drawing with Siemens PLM Software

    So in answer to why this type of drawing manipulation – termed “synchronous technology” is useful, Boes said it will allow the engineer the freedom to be an engineer and not have to be fully proficient in CAD. And this is good – if engineers can actually start creating the product drawing while they are designing, a significant decrease in time and elimination of mistakes can be realized. And this is what company’s are experiencing. Boes went through several design process examples to show how much time and money can be saved.

    Anyway the grand finale was a man who got on stage and put himself inside a balloon. Now there’s something you don’t get to see everyday. And that part happened at the real life event!
    Man in a Balloon