Simplicity and Efficiency

An Offical Entry Submitted to the Kenneth Severn Award 2017 by the Institution of Strcutural Engineers UK (IStructE)
An Essay by Enrico Miguel L. Dalistan, 29 January 2017

Answering the requirements of safety and serviceability almost always come naturally with engineers; because that is exactly what most of us were trained to do. In the context of structural design, safety and serviceability are the main goals together with addressing the constraints of the project budget and schedule. However, once we add the question of beauty and elegance, majority of the time, most engineers would assume that this problem is for the architect to answer. As engineers, we seldom concern ourselves with beauty and elegance, although some of us might have pondered about this at some point, we were conditioned to refer to the architect each time the question arises.
If beauty and elegance come out from simplicity, the question, first and foremost, arises not from the realm of engineering but from art, from aesthetics. This, we all know is a philosophical question. How does one determine if a thing is beautiful? Further, if it is at all, elegant? These are tough questions and even impossible to be answered from a technical standpoint. But we can all agree that an average person even without technical background neither with any education on art of whatever form can identify something as beautiful and elegant. So how do we say if something is beautiful and elegant? The short answer is we don’t. We simply intuit these qualities whether they are present or not. Whether something is beautiful and elegant or not, we cannot easily tell, at least objectively. As humans, we evoke these qualities out from our emotions and experiences. Does this mean that we are doom not to have certain standards of beauty and elegance? No. While these qualities are highly subjective, there exists a popular notion of beauty and elegance; that they are products of simplicity, symmetry and order. Taking it a step further, I say that we should strive to follow nature; more appropriately, the “forces” of nature.

 

Force Follows Form

I would like to take the tree as an example. The tree is a natural structure. Although it is alive which gives it an advantage (to adapt to its changing environment) over the structures that we build, we can somehow learn a thing or two from it. Try to look at a tree and see it in a purely structural context – the branches act in combination forces of tension or compression and bending. So is the trunk, which is firmly held by the roots below the ground. So we see the tree sways with the wind, as it gracefully resists it. But of course, we cannot make every project into a tree-like structure. But by studying specific forms that handles certain forces quite well, we can produce not only serviceable and safe structures but something more intuitive that can be perceived as beautiful and elegant. It is as if the structure is trying to communicate how it works to handle the forces in its environment including its own weight.

Structural engineers contribute to the beauty and elegance of the built environment by adhering to simplicity as they observe the established laws of physics. We can take a certain structure as beautiful and elegant if they are expressive and intuitive. If it somehow tells us a story of how it came to be; of how it resists and/or transfer certain forces efficiently seemingly from its form alone. Of course, it takes a trained eye to be able to tell. But those who do not have the training in structural mechanics seem to also to catch the same idea by simply looking at the structure. In as much as I would like to expound on it, I am afraid that words are hardly sufficient to give a reasonable description. Nevertheless, I would carry on by illustrating some examples.

salginatobel-bridge
Salginatobel Bridge:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salginatobel_Bridge_mg_4074.jpg

With the advent of sophisticated engineering software programs today, structural engineers are enabled to explore and engage a much wider range of possible solutions which are almost always more complex that simple but efficient solutions are often overlooked. Perhaps one the most relevant examples would be Robert Maillart’s Salginatobel Bridge. It is evident here how Maillart exploited the natural action of the three-hinged arch. But the genius lies on the curvature which follows the assumed distribution of loads on the deck. This also allowed the dramatic reduction of the section towards the foundation. Also, the Cristo Obrero Church in Uruguay by Eladio Dieste, is a thin-shell vaulted structure that utilises curvature to provide stiffness; from the idea that thin structures could have sufficient stiffness derived from folding. In effect, the church arguably stood with elegance. Other good examples could be found in the works of Pier Luigi Nervi. Vaulted ribs, heavy piers and arches; all these tell a story of how they stand and serve their purpose. The non-verbal interaction between the structure and its users or occupants is well expressed.

cristo-obrero
Cristo Obrero Church:
http://www.worldarchitecturemap.org/buildings/cristo-obrero-church

It may or may not have been part of the engineer’s intention to make beautiful and elegant structures in the beginning. They might have been just searching for the most viable solution but these traits are well established with their work nonetheless. Unlike a piece of art, an engineering work is not usually judged by its beauty or form. While it may be the case that a structural engineer’s work is a work of art as well, it could never be considered engineering unless it possesses its required utility. With the principles hitherto discussed, we can contend that beauty and elegance, in structural context, could be judged through simplicity and efficiency. The technical nature of structural engineering enterprise could be taken a step further by staying faithful to these two qualities.

nerviOn Pier Luigi Nervi: https://architecturefarm.wordpress.com/2013/11/page/2/

 

A More Human Approach on Academic and Professional Development

Before I end, I would like to move with some ideas on how make structural engineers more equipped towards this endeavour of striving for beauty and elegance on top of ensuring serviceability and safety.

My educational experience, I think, is not quite unique compared to most structural engineering professionals. A curriculum centred on Mathematics, Physics, especially Mechanics together with subjects on construction and materials science is common; and this is what I had for my academic training. I find this perfectly well in terms of being able to do my job from day to day. However, as I progress in the profession, the work has its tendency to become monotonous. This is not because of the profession itself but due to prevailing culture within engineering environment, especially how knowledge is being passed on from seniors to junior engineers. Often, innovations and new ideas come from younger people but wisdom and conventions are set by more experienced people. I am not trying to generalise this idea but the fact is there exists a certain form of culture within structural engineering profession. Another example is ambivalence towards architects.

As I have said, the type of academic training I had suits me well and it may also be true for others. But I think if we also emphasise more of the subjects within the Humanities, especially Philosophy and History, we would definitely see another breed of structural engineers that could better adapt to the growing needs within the built environment. If this is not possible within the academic circles, it is doable within professional development. This helps in two ways. First, it is primarily the people that we create and develop the built environment for. Understanding our nature as humans, our needs, wants, hopes and aspirations, allows us to connect more with one another. This would definitely enable us to devise solutions that are more human centred. Second, studying the Humanities fosters creativity. Philosophy allows us to engage in abstraction with which we see things that are not obvious otherwise; we link them together forming new connections and ideas that may not have been previously available to us. History teaches us about the past with which we could build and improve our ideas upon. We can learn from mistakes as well as successes. Besides, there is arguably nothing more pleasing to the rational mind than continuity.

-END-
Disclaimer: The pictures used in this paper may be subject to copyright. The author does not claim ownership of any of these pictures but merely uses them for commentary purposes (under Fair Use).

Who Is Excited For The Coming Elections?

Amidst all the advertisements, promotions, propaganda and disinformation, I was drawn to look more deeply into my thoughts in relation to what is happening these days. On TV, internet and even on the radio, I see and hear faces and voices of ‘presidentiables’, fanning out their cards for the coming elections. As we may know in politics, candidates secure votes not just by selling themselves and what they can do, but by also destroying the reputation of their opponents. Sometimes, that is all they have to do to win. Have seen one lately?

philippine-presidents

Photo Credit: ryanericsongcanlas.wordpress.com

 

From these I turned to ask: “What makes a great nation?” But prior to this, I realised that I needed to ask a more fundamental question: “What makes a nation?”

Borrowing two (2) meaning from Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it says: 1). a large area of land that is controlled by its own Government; 2). the people who live in a nation. For our purposes, we use the both of these. Now, if we talk of greatness that is not in the physical meaning of the word, we can see that we cannot use the first definition above. On the other hand, it makes sense to use the second then attach the first. Hence se can say that nation is made up of people who live in a large area of land that is controlled by its OWN government. This implies that a nation is basically, made up of people.

Now, on the one hand, I am certain that there are a lot of great Filipino people. But the majority might tell us a different story on the other. As a nation, what we can see are tired, hungry, frustrated, demoralised and afraid population, which can be easily brought into manipulation towards an infinite cycle of these emotions, making them a lot easier to control. An evidence of this is when most people turn to hope. Hope that one man or woman can effect dramatic changes within the realm of the government. But let us not forget at this point that a government alone does not make a nation, much less that it makes it great. Although one cannot discount the effects of a good leader. Personally, I believer in our capabilities as human beings; that we can accomplish almost anything. But without the sense of direction or common goal (which a leader can provide), we tend to lose our selves and flounder. Nevertheless, it is difficult to feel optimistic with the coming elections. Here’s why:

First, the Hope that people has is misplaced or misdirected. Most of us expect that the change in the country’s president is equivalent to direct changes in our everyday lives. Nothing can be further from the truth. This idea of hope leads many people to project certain things upon the position of the president which in reality are not even within its powers. Not to mention that accountability is something the government never bothers itself with.

A bigger problem exists because this makes people more and more distracted. Pulled into abstract issues which almost always have nothing to do with the everyday life of an ordinary citizen, it is unclear what exactly they hope for, of what concrete changes they want to see. Everything is vague. When a “talk of the town” (who says, wears or gets what?) is thrown into the social media, chances are it becomes a national issue the next day; sensationalised or romanticised. In effect, people end up being an easy prey for propaganda and the mainstream media. Being distracted, we get easily divided and eventually turned against each other – the classic “divide and conquer”.

Second, the primary role of the president is to attend to big issues; to chart the overall direction of the country through certain policies – Economic, Fiscal, Foreign Trade and Relations, National Security, Infrastructure and Development, Education, Health etc. Unfortunately, the effects on these areas are not usually felt directly in our everyday lives. Thus, it is hard for ordinary citizens to judge the country’s performance from an objective standpoint. Plus the fact that the metrics for the abovementioned policies are not designed to be understood by an average person. Another thing is if we try to understand the structure of our government. There is inherent slowness and redundancy within the bloated bureaucracy. We may see that none of these are intended to deal with everyday minutiae. It may be said the local governments have far more direct effects on the lives of their constituents than the national government. But then with the relatively short term of office within local or national position, it is not surprising to see only few accomplishments if we invoke the effects of the bureaucracy.

Finally, it is because we believe in Corruption. With this, I do not mean the same with what the mainstream media tells us and I do not agree with the common knowledge that corruption is the root of the problem. Believing that is just a means to shake off one’s guilt as a citizen. And I do not subscribe to the context which it is mostly used today. Corruption does not simply mean that politicians are stealing from the coffers of the state. It is a very abstract word which we hear almost everyday and everywhere but no one ever dared to show us how and why it is the root of the problem. Now that sounds fishy, does not it? Why? Because it is simply not the root of the problem. They have been convincing us ever since that it is and we always bought it. Politicians even used it (to fight against it) as the core of their campaigns. Some even won their votes. But the issue on corruption has never been solved. Interesting huh?

Corruption existed throughout history. It exists everywhere, regardless if a country, shall we say; belong to the “First World” or the “Nth World”. It exists in all countries, great or poor. Although great countries are able to hide it better because of their influence and power. But it is undeniable that it exists in us all. Our inherent corruptibility makes us vulnerable to it. What we need is to fight this tendency with utmost discipline. But by losing ourselves in abstract words, we are impaired to properly identify the “a priori” or causes of the effects we want of get rid of.

Last Words

Let me end this by being completely honest with you. Whoever wins the presidency in the coming elections, chances are, you will still have the same roof over your head and still sleep on the same bed but that is if you are lucky to have these. You will still work on the same job, work for the same boss and endure the same drudgery, day-in and day-out. I bet your alarm clock will still be set in the same time from Monday to Friday. What do I mean with all these? Nothing changes, that is until you do. A slight change in frame of mind may bring forth changes with it, albeit uncertain. The decisions you make everyday have a more profound effect on your life than any other “change” they sell you. But certainly with more discipline, we would start to see better and better things.

In conclusion, our nation can be great if we can have certain reforms on our government structure; and of course, if most of us would become a better citizen through discipline. Presently with what I see, I find it hard to muster some hope and optimism. But I sincerely wish, with all my heart, for our country to be great. Not for you and me, but for our children and the next generations to come.

Battle of Evermore: The Untold Story of Ambivalence Between Managers and Staff

If you ever experienced working as an adult, you probably had a share of stories about bosses. There are good ones who have their own way of helping you perform your job as best as you could. Others call them the ‘Leader’ types; to the extent that managers and leaders are greatly polarised. On the other hand, there are terrible ones who are labelled as ‘bossy’, ‘controlling’ and at worst, ‘do-not-know-anything-so-they-delegate-everything’. In the same manner as ‘Leaders’ are recognised, they are known as ‘Managers’ and/or ‘The Boss’.

battle-of-evermore

Photo Credit: merapoetics.com

 

The image of a boss or manager depicted above is the one we tend to associate with Kevin Spacey in the movie ‘Horrible Bosses’. Aside from other aspects such as large desks with titles, suits/uniforms, office space, furniture and other benefits; we generally see the difference among staff and managers inevitably as part of their job descriptions. In a nutshell, the staffs do all the leg work while the managers seat all day in their respective offices without any need to exert themselves. This is what we can say with the overall dynamic, based on what we SEE. While there is certain truth to all these, the problem is we judge from what we see. And it is almost always that what we see is limited by our ‘position’.

A perfect example of this scenario could be found in engineering and other technical fields. As an engineer, I had a chance to work with different people from various fields besides technical ones. When I was younger, I tend to garner more respect for technical people. There is this certain type of conditioning that engineers go through which makes them hold their stature in a higher regard than what is necessary. Today, I do otherwise.

Most technical people suffer from “Engineering is hard, everything else is easy” syndrome. Now wait, I did not invent this up. I borrowed the term from Guy Kawasaki; as his term is right on point. It describes exactly what goes through the mind of most engineers. As I learned new things outside my field, I get to appreciate others more than I ever did in the past. Especially now that I am switching roles often, wearing many hats from technical work to managing my business.

I remember a time when I was in a conference early this year. The speaker cracked a joke about how managers do not know anything but to give orders. The whole crowd of engineers laugh their hearts out. You can see how many of them can relate to the story. Not quite of a good sight. Coming from an engineering background, I understand how important technical matters are. But as I move to a different role, I began to see a different picture. Something I did not have when I was starting out. The things that we produce as engineers, almost always end up as parts of a product(s). And a product is ONLY a part of a business. Having a product does not mean you have a business. Yes, engineering is hard but so does everything else. Everything is important.

Now, since we agree that everything is important, how come this does not seem to reflect on your payslip? As the saying goes, “You are paid in proportion to the value you deliver in the market.” So does this make the staff less important than the managers? The short answer is NO. But here are some of the reasons why:

 

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

This timeless law of economics plays a large role in almost every aspect of our daily lives. In a typical corporate office, there are only few positions available for managers compared to staffs. This dynamic makes the ‘few positions available’ more valuable due to scarcity. Naturally, many among the staffs aspire to rise to such levels. This competition further increases the value of the ‘few positions available’. The demand is low but the supply is high (and will always be high). As a staff, one might think that his or her role also has high demand. While it could be correct, from the company’s standpoint, it is not always the case. And once you decide to leave, there is always another guy waiting by the door.

With this line of thought, one solution would be to make yourself more valuable; by developing new skills, by assuming more responsibilities, by showing that you can be accountable in making tough decisions, etc. If you continuously improve yourself, you will inevitably fill more than enough space to aid you in moving to the next step of your career or to other avenues that would open up in the process. Once you are able to do things better and more efficient than what others can do, you will never come short in finding demands for your capabilities. Since it is a fact of life that we are not born equal, only few people ever reach the top. How all these came to be? Well, let us take a brief look at history which we will go through next…

 

HISTORY

One characteristic of humans that help them advance and grow is found in their social nature. People flock and form groups to strengthen one another or to help them accomplish certain interests. This phenomenon could be observed ever since man walked into this earth (one of the things we share in common with primates).

As societies advanced, different norms and values developed with it. Looking at forms of government, the most common are monarchical or aristocratic in nature. Tribes have their leaders or chiefs which happen to be the strongest male and thus more valued than others; the one who could protect them from the threats of early human habitation and from other groups as well. As time passes, population grows and tribes developed into states and kingdoms where the aristocracy was established. Hence, the noble blood and royal families began to exist. Finally, there goes democracy, the youngest among forms of government.
Have you ever questioned the value of the monarchs, aristocrats and other political leaders? They might call you an anarchist. All we know is that monarchs are of nobility and in a republic, the leaders are chosen by the people. But in a corporate office, it is not of democracy, it is aristocracy. Everyone is merited by their abilities and skills. People are selected among the best of the bests.
Certain groups differ from one another, i.e. in a similar manner that religious groups differ from political groups. Although groups have glaring differences (at least in the surface), they share much more things that one could imagine. After all, no matter what the group or however it is organised, the fact remains that people are the ones in its core.

 

Final Words

This phenomenon others call as office politics. I am not in position to change this underlying dynamic; but what I do is try to understand it and be more realistic. I suggest you also try to see things this way. One must not expect things to change for him or her. With the desire to seek understanding of things around us, we could hope to live with them in a more harmonious way.

I sincerely hope you got something new today. Thanks for dropping by.

Cheers,
Miguel

A Day in the Life of a Could Have Been Valedictorian

“Tis the only comfort of the miserable to have partners in their woes.” – Miguel de Cervantes

What happened? You feel that you’ve been mistreated or CHEATED. So you raise the complaint and filed it appropriately. Now you have your case. But it turned out that the verdict was not in your favour. You filed for an appeal. They say your appeal was unreasonable. Again, you’ve been denied. Still, you can’t simply accept it. Who would?

Of course, you’ll think of another course of action. A desperate situation calls for a desperate action. You decided to air your sentiments publicly to validate your position after you’ve been denied. You get sympathy by playing the victim. If this was really your plan, as you found a way to somehow mislead the Authorities, I do not know what is next, but you were able to get a following. Who knows? It might serve you better in the future. It’s too early to tell. As P.T Barnum says: “Every crowd has a silver lining.”

Was it worth it? Maybe yes; you let off some steam. I understand somehow that it feels better when there are people with you in times like these. It feels better when you know that people take heed of your suffering, whether they may be true or not. Most of the time, we mistake sympathy for love and understanding. At the end of the day,  we’re human beings. But why do you need this title so badly? What does it mean to you? These are the things that only you could know and nobody else could ever answer for you.

What did you get in the end? Justice? Maybe after all, you just wanted to be heard. But really what you got is a STIGMA. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, or until when will you carry it. To a Journalist, you are just right holding unto so-called “Freedom of Speech”. To a Conservative, it seems that you do not know a thing or two about modesty by expressing a contempt or disdain in the Authorities. To a Rebellious Teen who hates the world, you are an ever wonderful paragon after you stirred their emotions. To those who are mild and meek, you are a bit of an Extremist. To an average man who rushes to generalise without looking onto other possibilities,  you are the victim and you deserve all the privilege without asking for reasons why. And you will know them very easily by hearing “Syempre”. They are like sheep and they also feel somewhat entitled to a lot of things in life.

We live in a society that is governed by certain rules. We sometimes conform while sometimes do not. We do not even know why some of them are needed to be followed. But we have enforcers and moderators to guard these rules; without them, we simply fall into chaos. In some instances we are tempted to bend or even break these rules in order for us to get our way. One may ask, what if those who hold the rules are the ones who break them? This is when things get messy – if we fall into a belief that the situation warrants us to do the same.

Life is tough, we just have to get used to it and try to extract the lessons. No matter how unfair things might be, the next time you get your chance, you can make your mark so clearly distinguishable, (just like this one) regardless if you will end up as first, second or even last. That way, no one could ever question your position.

Most effective leadership style to managing the work of subordinates

culcleewt's Blog

Which personal style should managers adopt to ensure success? What is the most effective approach to managing the work of subordinates? These questions have been extensively researched and debated over the last century, and while the general consensus has moved away from ‘command and control’ to management and leadership towards more consultative and participative approaches, there is no single ideal, as the best approach may vary according to circumstances and individual characteristics” (CMI 2013). 

pushpull

Management and leadership are different but both have similaries. Basically, managers perform functions in organisations. Managers hold titles and power to manage organisations. For example, a marketing brand manager is responsible for the marketing of products. They are also responsible for the performance and productivity of their subordinates. Fayol’s theory (1949) describes management is often have to do with planning, organisation, directing and controlling the activities of staff. However, leaders aim to influence and…

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What we can learn from the day the US burned to death 100.000 women / children

Redwood Forest

PSYCHO KILLERS

Red Ice Creations
redicecreations.com|By Henrik Palmgren

 


2015-03-12 20:25

From: stopwar.org.uk

32887tokyo_firebombing_460

Quote:
“America’s needless firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 is one of the ‘good war’ myths used to justify the endless war policies of today.

March 9, 2015 marked the seventieth anniversary of the American firebombing of Tokyo, World War II’s deadliest day.

More people died that night from napalm bombs than in the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But few in the United States are aware that the attack even took place.

The lack of ceremonies or official state apologies for the firebombing is unsurprising considering that many Americans see World War II as the “just war” fought by the “greatest generation.” These labels leave the war and the atrocities Americans committed during it largely untouched…

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