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There was a diary Friday about engineering problems on the S.F. Bay Bridge that some feel could lead to a collapse in a major earthquake.  The author is not an engineer but was writing based on news articles he had read.  He got some harsh responses from some engineers defending their brethren and their profession with such comments as "engineers ... are obligated by oath to serve the interest of the public."  (Right, and doctors take an oath to "first, do no harm.)  

I also am NOT an engineer and, like Will Rogers, "All I know is what I read in the papers" but there was an interesting, not unrelated, article in today's (8/24) Las Vegas Review-Journal about - hey, look, figure skating doodle bugs, who knew!

Where was I, oh yeah, the article was about the five year struggle over the partially completed Harmon tower on the Las Vegas strip.  In 2008, construction defects were found that caused building of the tower to be stopped after only 26 stories of the planned 48 were completed.

On Friday, a District Court judge gave the owners of the tower the OK to have it demolished.  An engineering expert testified that more than 7,000 defects were found during one testing phase with every element tested having at least one flaw and nearly all having multiple diverse defects.  He said that due to the flaws the tower could collapse in a major earthquake.

The builders, while admitting problems, insist that the building is fundamentally sound and could be repaired.  The legal battle has been going on since construction was halted.

So, yeah, sometimes architects and engineers screw up.  Some even insist that it was the body's engineer who routed a sewer line thru a playground.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged. G. K. Chesterton

    by redbaron on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 12:11:31 PM PDT

  •  see: Mullholland, William (7+ / 0-)

    and the St. Francis dam disaster.

    "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

    by limpidglass on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 12:14:37 PM PDT

  •  There was a long period when people in (9+ / 0-)

    the computer business complained constantly about the abysmal quality of much software, and demanded to know why we couldn't write software that worked, in the same way that bridges don't fall down. I found that hilarious. (The quality of commercial software is still frequently abysmal. That is one of many reasons why I use only Free/Open Source Software.)

    Historically the first bridge builders whose bridges did not routinely fall down were the Roeblings (most famous for George Washington Roebling's Brooklyn Bridge, which at one point was in danger of falling down due to corruption in the Boss Tweed Administration) and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The Roeblings did it by calculating how strong their bridges needed to be, and then making them six times stronger than that. Brunel did it by refusing to build conventional bridges, and coming up with a design that that was universally decried as impossibly ugly, but that he could analyze accurately. Once Brunel's bridges had stood up rather more reliably than those of his competitors, at lower cost, they were redefined to be modern art and architecture, and to reflect the spirit of an age. I won't bore you with how to design software so that you can analyze it.

    The Brooklyn Bridge documentary made Ken Burns's reputation in 1981. It is still very much worth seeing, not only for the engineering and artistic challenges and the stellar cast, but for Roebling coping with Boss Tweed's minions. You can get it from PBS Home Video.

    See also Galloping Gertie, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, that vibrated in the wind in precisely the manner of a clarinet reed, and one day snapped, flinging cars in the air and motorists to their deaths.

    Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

    by Mokurai on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 12:38:44 PM PDT

  •  Well as a bona fide registered porofessional (5+ / 0-)

    engineer I can tell you that Engineers are never wrong!

    (except of course when we are - LOL)

    “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it … we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    by DefendOurConstitution on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 12:39:15 PM PDT

    •  I was the construction engineer in charge of (4+ / 0-)

      cooling tower framing of a building in Manhattan long ago.  The company making the framing complained to SOM's engineer that the design was inadequate, but he kept blowing them off, so they came to me.  I drew a small to-scale picture.  The framing got redesigned.

      ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

      by slowbutsure on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 01:16:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm not sure this is a good example (11+ / 0-)

    for your thesis. Looks like it was the construction company that screwed up, not the engineers.

    These construction defects reduce the capacity of the structural elements in the Harmon tower and result in a building with significantly inferior structural performance when compared to the expected performance of the building if it was constructed in accordance with the contract documents,” Ekwueme wrote.
    •  As an engineer in many professions... (12+ / 0-)

      ..this has been my experience as well. I've had contractors not build to the print, because they hired cheap labor that couldn't read the prints, then ask me to O.K. what they built. Instead, I sent them documents to "correct" what they built to make it a safe structure, because they couldn't get the inspecting engineer to sign off on what they built and he wouldn't unless I approved it. I wasn't going to approve unsafe construction.

      I've also been involved in machine design where the owners brother asked me to redesign something, which would have lowered the cost and eased assembly but made it less safe. I declined. He didn't like that. My boss told me if I did that again I would be fired. I said, "I guess it looks like I'll be fired if it happens again."

      I don't know how many times I have had to bump heads with the owners of companies I've worked at, because "safe" good design get's in the way of them making money. The majority of these kinds of companies that I worked for were usually founded by sales men with money who think they're technical geniuses but nowhere close.

      In fact, I've told my friends who went on to become engineers as well to try and work for a company that was founded and/or is operated by an engineer. They're usually hard working and demanding, but they don't tolerate any B.S. when it comes to design principles. At least that's been my experience.

      Regulated capital serves the people, unregulated capital serves itself.

      by Alumbrados on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 01:13:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm an engineer and work for a CEO engineer (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW

        The problem with many engineers (I could say all, but that would be stereotyping) is they can't stop tinkering with a design.  In the case of the bridge engineer that over designed the bridge by 6x, he probably did it not in one stage but 6 or more, he just couldn't stop tinkering.  The other problem is many engineers (again, I could say all) are terrible at sales.  If engineers were responsible for engineering and selling a product, it would never get done and not one would be sold.  

        On another front, the diarist referred to engineers taking an "oath to serve the interest of the public".  I don't remember that.  I have been responsible for the engineering of products that sold in the millions, but I never once took an oath to design a good product.  I do remember many a meeting with executives where us engineers threatened to sabotage the product if they made more than 2, but never an oath.  Until the Challenger disaster, us engineers didn't have many recent disasters to point to (we forgot about Galloping Gerty), but after the Challenger exploded because of frozen O-rings, we had memorial O-Ring plaques made to inform executives that engineering was not approving of the product.  I won't say that every product we shipped worked perfectly, far from it, but most engineers do take pride in their work and even if it isn't a matter of life and death, we don't like shipping defective products.  But there is no such thing as a perfect product either.  So compromise is something that many companies need to understand.  Many executives (I could say all, but that too would be stereotyping) feel it is more important to make the quarterly numbers than wait for a properly designed product no matter how long it takes (see tinkering above). There is usually a point between the ever tinkering engineers and the sell anything sales guys that both could be happy with.  But with the right not being willing to compromise these days, having a boss that is an engineer makes the shipping part of a product development cycle less of a problem.  [serious snark]

        "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength", George Orwell, "1984" -7.63 -5.95

        by dangoch on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 07:57:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, I never took an Oath... (0+ / 0-)

          ...though I know many who have taken tests for licenses. ;)

          I would rec your comment but I waited too long to check back here.

          Regulated capital serves the people, unregulated capital serves itself.

          by Alumbrados on Wed Aug 28, 2013 at 07:59:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, and it seems like - wait for it - it was (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, Eyesbright, kurt, alain2112

      an * engineer * who supplied the testimony that this structure wasn't safe.

      Which almost leads me to a pro-engineer rant, but I don't have time right now - one of my favorite episodes of Engineering Disasters is starting

    •  elmo: true example (0+ / 0-)

      I worked for an indoor air quality company doing remediation on several schools in the Lower Rio Grande Valley from 2001-2005.

      The architect had spec'd steel for the supports in the perimeter of the gymnatorium (cafeteria-gym-auditorium space) for the building when he drew the plans in '98. Plans approved & signed by engineer. Construction inspected (remember, we're talking a public school building here) repeatedly, signed off at each stage. Building opens in 2001 fall, and eighteen days later moss is falling out the ventilating system, green slime running down the walls, and a teacher has an allergic reaction that puts her in the hospital.

      (I won't go into the kind of idiotic "energy management" practices that created a situation where the building's condensation rained inside the walls every night.)

      The fix is ... massive dehumidifier units. We're installing them on the roof in August, and a text comes over every Nextel phone in our crew: Get out. Get out now. Get out fast. Get out. Get out. Get out.

      The contractor subbed aluminum irrigation pipe in for all the steel supports. Every. Single. One.

      LBJ, Van Cliburn, Ike, Wendy Davis, Lady Bird, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 09:32:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My point is not whether engineers are infalible (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ckntfld, prfb, Kevskos

    or not... My main focus is on corruption; on purposely cutting corners because of profit motives, and on cover ups trying to hide the decision making.  And with the systemic issue of the privatization of profits and the socialization of loses--leaving the citizenry holding the bag.

    Either way, thanks for posting this diary.

  •  I am an engineer. (11+ / 0-)

    I haven't taken an oath since I was in Boy Scouts (OK, there was that court thing).

    I've spent most my life working with engineers. Many were very long days.

    So I speak with some expertise on this topic.

    Engineers are fallible.

    "Jesus don't like killing, no matter what the reasons for." - John Prine

    by JoeEngineer on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 12:48:34 PM PDT

    •  However, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, elmo

      ..in most of the engineering professions I've worked in, if it was something safety related, we had internal reviews to check work to make sure it was safe. But that's just been my experience. Because everyone makes mistakes, it's good to have a second layer to check it to be sure. It can also cut down on costly manufacturing mistakes as well.

      Regulated capital serves the people, unregulated capital serves itself.

      by Alumbrados on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 01:16:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hey Joe, we aren't fallible, we just can't stop (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      tinkering.  It's the sales guys that are fallible, they keep the engineers from tinkering forever.  In every case where a serious defect was identified by a customer, it was usually because schedules were messed up and things were pushed into production too early.  I will admit that engineers are not infallible when it comes to keeping schedules, but I'll never swear to it.  

      "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength", George Orwell, "1984" -7.63 -5.95

      by dangoch on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 08:07:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  There's a Reason We Need Codes (6+ / 0-)

    Everybody's human.

    Remember the Mars probe that shot past the planet because different parts of the system were measuring distances in miles and kilometers.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 01:08:57 PM PDT

  •  Everyone can screw up (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Ckntfld, kurt

    architects and engineers.  The pope.  Anyone.

    Just curious, I apparently missed the part about who made the errors at the root of the problem.  Architects, engineers or steelworkers or suppliers?  Did anyone catch it?  There are a lot of different professions and roles on a big job site.

    I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

    by Satya1 on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 01:22:56 PM PDT

  •  My last supervisor at the City of Chicago... (8+ / 0-)

    ...who, incidentally, beat me out for the job of Signal Section supervisor, always wanted everything ASAP, but he seldom checked stuff for small errors. The timings would then sit for months before they were sent to the electricians. Last time I visited the office, for the next engineer to take early retirement this year, I was shown one of those timing schedules by the man who is the lone staff engineer now. He fixed the hard copy with a ballpoint pen, and declined my correcting the CAD file. I took early retirement in 2010, BTW.

    The City has 2,905 signalized intersections, and just 2 engineers now to deal with the traffic engineering for timing, coordination, and improvements. Where they need at least 6 to operate effectively. Don't blame the engineers for that!

    And drive carefully out there, y`all!

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 01:40:44 PM PDT

    •  Ah c'mon (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, Calamity Jean

      No one pays attention to signals in Chicago anyway!

      True story:  I was moving south on Federal Ave, waiting on the light at Van Buren.  It turned green and I started across the intersection but on the far side crosswalk pedestrians crossing Federal wouldn't let me get through even though they had "don't walk" and red light.  I didn't think blasting someone with the horn was needed yet.  I finally found enough space to begin to slowly nose through without killling anyone.  However a person walked into the side of my car near the forward right wheel.  She just looked at me with obvious embarrassment.

      I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

      by Satya1 on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 02:12:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  we have had a traffic light in East Lansing on (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, Kevskos

      Grand River near MSU that cheats eastbound traffic out of about 6 seconds of time that the westbound lanes have as green.  

      They just redid the lights and used the same time schedule on the light.

      This means that Eastbound Grand River is frequently backed up to Bogue St. during peak traffic times and during events, and regular backups to the eastbound Grand River at times other than peak times.

  •  And wasn't there a story recently about a tower (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nchristine, JeffW, elmo

    in Dubai that didn't have elevators for the 46 stories?  Good aerobics climbing those stairs though!

  •  Galloping Gertie - the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nchristine, JeffW, Eyesbright, kurt, lilsky

    This is a cultural icon, the poster child for faulty engineering:

    I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

    by Satya1 on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 01:55:21 PM PDT

  •  Everybody makes errors (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, prfb, Kevskos, BlackSheep1

    In the airline industry we've come to accept that. Our training philosophy now is all about "trapping errors".

    We realize that humans will make mistakes so we back each other up to hopefully "break the chain of errors" before it snowballs into something catastrophic.

    Obviously we have a ways to go.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 06:58:13 PM PDT

  •  We are we are we are we are we are the engineers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eyesoars

    We can we can we can we can demolish 40 beers
    Drink up drink up drink up drink up and come along with us
    For we don't give a damn for any old man who don't give a damn for us

    - In honor of Lady Godiva, the patron of engineers the world over

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