Archive for December, 2010


cover stories

Our top stories aren’t always our cover stories. But a look at the covers of Mechanical Engineering magazine in 2010 (click here to take a look) helps paint a picture of what was hot last year and of the trends to watch in 2011 and beyond.

The topics of our covers are rarely those of the “spot news” or single-occurrence variety. Rather, they represent important trends that transcend a particular event and have become either breakthroughs or remain challenges that face the profession.

Some of the areas we examined this past year include the responsibility to manage risk in the design of complex systems. This touches both on the engineering and the ethical components of technology. We’ve also explored the tangible importance of diversity of thought in the composition of effective design teams. We looked at the ultimate reward of nanosystems: utilizing mechanical processes to revolutionize the field of oncology. We reviewed the intellectual leadership role that the profession must play in reindustrializing America. And we looked at gee whiz advances in technology that today no longer appear as far-fetched as they would have seemed a few years ago—today’s technology makes the dream of designers plausible.

Overall, we’ve written hundreds of articles this year. It is a privilege to help you stay atop the technology, the news, the trends, and the practices that help you maintain a comprehensive perspective on today’s fast moving technology developments. We look forward to bringing you the developments of 2011.


Interesting highlights of 2010

There are many year-in-reviews all over print and elsewhere. These two courtesy of Google. The first one is a video clip (click here), the second is interestingly interactive (click here).



old rigs and deeper drilling

In The Wall Street Journal today, an interesting Page One article titled, “Aging Oil Rigs, Pipelines Expose Gulf to Accidents,” says rightfully that the Deepwater rig blast earlier this year set off a fierce battle over deep-sea oil drilling. But the debate, The Journal says, has largely ignored another threat: The troubled state of offshore infrastructure that remains in place long after wells are drilled.

The report says more than 100 structures built in the 1940s and 1950s are still in operation. Click here to read the article.

In this month’s Mechanical Engineering magazine, our cover story tells of a new oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that is producing from wells at depths that are unthinkable a generation ago.

The International Energy Agency estimated in 2005 that deepwater and ultra-deepwater rock formations contain as many as 300 billion barrels of recoverable oil, more than Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves.

These require a combination of large financial resources and command of specialized technology, much of it newly developed, to drill and produce oil fields at great ocean depths. BP’s Macondo well blowout demontrates that a lot can go wrong.

These two articles provide fodder for an interesting discussion.


searching for answers in the developing world

The search for truth about education, health and nutrition as it pertains to the developing world is mired in local politics and geopolitics.

The obstacles that exist in providing fundamental services in Third World countries are so foreign from those that exist in the world most of us live in that only through observing the situation first-hand can we appreciate the magnitude of the challenges that face humanitarian efforts worldwide.

This is one of the reasons that for several years now New York Times columnist Nick Kristof travels to the Third World in search of stories that bring us all closer to the realities on the ground. In his column yesterday, click here to read it, he talks about his experiences in traveling these parts of the world and he welcomes readers who may want to join him in his upcoming fact-finding and reporting trip.

Because the answers to some of the challenges that exist are found in the work of engineers and technologists, whose work impacts the infrastructure and lays the groundwork to improvements in education, healthcare, and nutrition, we encourage Mr. Kristof to look for and write about ways in which engineers can help.

One way to engage technologists is through ASME’s Engineering for Change initiative, of which you’ll hear more next month.

It takes many people working in different ways to make a dent in the lives of those living in what’s referred to as the Base of the Pyramid. Engineers provide the infrastructure that leads to a better life. We must help ensure that they have the inspiration to do so.


In a column in The New York Times last week, Tom Friedman took a creative and rather insightful stab at what a Chinese version of WikiLeaks might read like. In a faux letter from the vantage point of a Chinese correspondent reporting on what the Chinese embassy is witnessing in Washington, Friedman mocks what he sees as some of the absurdities of America.

One of the observations hit home: “America’s politicians are mostly lawyers — not engineers or scientists like ours — so they’ll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it.”

The point is well taken. Greater engineering and science expertise among government leaders would shifts the conversation on technology from mostly subjective to knowledge-based.

Human nature imposes upon us the inevitable habit of telling others what we think. If Congress were better informed on matters of technology, opinions would carry the weight of knowledge. This is essential as the debate on energy policy and the necessary infrastructure continues.


our crowdsourcing project begins… get involved

Hours following the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, streams of text messages flew throughout the ravaged island nation with cries for help. Reports of trapped people, fires, polluted water sources, and requests for food, water, and medical supplies were transmitted in real time. Web sites were set up to help first responders react to the needs on the ground.

Two years earlier, during a post-election crisis in Kenya, a Web site, Ushahidi—meaning “testimony” in Swahili—was developed to map reports of violence. Since then the site has grown into a platform collecting and visualizing information and bringing awareness to crisis situations throughout the world, including Haiti.

These are examples of crowdsourcing, which uses the power of unconnected people with similar interests and empowers community voice toward a specific goal. In the case of Ushahidi, the Web site utilized human resources on the ground to inform authorities and the world of violence in Kenya. In Haiti, eyewitnesses strengthened relief efforts by acting as on-the-ground reporters for authorities and agencies deploying help to the earthquake’s victims.

Driving the process of crowdsourcing is social media. Twitter and Facebook, along with cell phones, are its tools. The messages are curated to deploy necessary resources and a move to action ensues.

Beginning this month, we (meaning each of you along with us) are embarking on a unique 12-month initiative called Project Crowdsourcing. The end result will be that our readers will determine the content of the December 2011 issue of Mechanical Engineering magazine.

We don’t presume that our crowdsourcing experiment has the depth of social impact that the projects in Haiti and Kenya have had. Our motivation is to build on the engineering esprit de corps. We are empowering our community of readers to tell us what’s important.

The only parameter to this project is that the ideas for articles be focused on at least one of ASME’s three strategic initiatives. That is, they should be related to energy, engineering workforce development, or global impact and outreach.

This is how Project Crowdsourcing works:

Phase I. From now through February we are conducting an online discussion to collect your ideas for articles and themes based on ASME’s three initiatives. These could be as general or as specific as you like. You can comment on the ideas that others have posted or add your own. At the end of February we will unveil a list of potential articles from the feedback you’ve given us.

Phase II. In March and April you will vote on these article ideas and determine which six you want us to publish.

Phase III. From May through November we will recruit authors for the articles and work with them to prepare the articles for publication.

Phase IV. In late November, the December 2011, crowdsourced issue of Mechanical Engineering magazine will be mailed to subscribers.

Beginning today, you can give us your comments via four methods:

[1] Here on (leave your comments below)

[2] Visit the Mechanical Engineering magazine Facebook page at (please use caps)

[3] E-mail us at

[4] Post a comment on and use the hashtag #MEcrowdsource

Crowdsourcing reminds us that the ability to influence change rests within us. We look forward to your input and to what we hope will be an important dialogue.

The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

December 2010

Twitter from John Falcioni

Twitter from Engineering for Change