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 MEMagazineBlog.org (leave your comments below)

[2] Visit the Mechanical Engineering magazine Facebook page at on.fb.me/MEMAGAZINE (please use caps)

[3] E-mail us at memag@asme.org

[4] Post a comment on Twitter.com/johnfalcioni 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.

39 Responses to “our crowdsourcing project begins… get involved”

  1. 1 Alan E. Belcher
    December 4, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Sounds like a super idea! I will be delighted to participate; I have long been a fervent supporter of collaborative effort and teamwork.

    My theme will be energy conversion, and in particular a novel method of energy conversion. A descriptive White Paper is available but I am currently engaged in the final step of this project: the construction of a laboratory apparatus that demonstrates the hydrostatic principles upon which the technology is based.

    The torque developed by the apparatus will be measured and results will be compared to a value predicted previously by a simple but fundamental equation. This equation has been proven mathematically, right down to the seventh decimal place.

    How close will the results be? As they say, “Proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof”, or words to that effect.

    But, what if the results are wildly different? Then, from an engineering perspective at least, we can learn that a positive answer is just as valid as a negative one, and we can gain satisfaction from having obtained an answer.

    I will post the outcome via this medium, sometime early next year. As they say, “Stay tuned”!

  2. December 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Your crowd sourcing project is a great idea. I have a suggestion for a topic:
    The marketplace will not invest in energy solutions until consumers are sufficiently engaged to make it worth their while. After all, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders.
    So the issue is, how do we engage consumers to reduce energy. They are busy and distracted, and their participation seems to be going in the wrong direction. ZiptoGreen is working on this (and while we would appreciate your support, that is not the reason behind this email). Rather, I would like to see your typical excellent analysis of this issue.

  3. December 14, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Hey John. This project looks like a lot of fun. I blog about generational issues in engineering, talent management issues in engineering and the like at my site. I’ve tagged them in the right side column. Would look forward to working with you.

  4. December 17, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Instrument Design, Instrument Design, and Instrument Design.

    My interest is Instrument Design; Optomechanical (previously Optical), Precision, and Medical instruments. I look all over the ASME with little to no results. I even made indirect contact with the Bioengineering Group and was told that not only are they not insterested in instruments they had not interest in medical instrument (only Biomedical instruments, there is a difference). I am too old to start my own group. I know there hundreds and maybe between 5,000 to 10,000 mechanical engineers involved in Instrument Design. I need some suggestions or I can write an article or white paper.

    Roger S. Reiss which cover the above mentioned instruments. I await replys from the membership, as to how to proceed. Thank you.

  5. 5 Larry Bailey
    December 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Great idea to solicit member input to the magazine content.
    Here’s a couple of ‘high level’ energy related suggestions:

    Energy article – Best & Worst Electrical Production Projects (graded on a weighted scale which includes conversion efficiency, cost per unit output, economic NPV, safety record and other lower weighted metrics like sustainability). Include only established projects with demonstrated metrics, ignore hypothetical projects. Include all the major classes of production of power from burning hydrocarbons, to nuclear, to renewables, etc.

    Energy article – Best & Worst Transportation Devices (graded on a weighted scale which includes an efficiency metric (work done / energy consumed), an economic cost metric ($/kg-km), a safety metric, and so on). Let’s see how various auto, trucks, trains, planes, ships, space shuttles and other vehicles stack-up comparatively and in their individual classes.

  6. 7 Kc de la Garza
    January 3, 2011 at 6:19 pm


    I like the idea of a crowd sourced issue.

    My theme would be related to engineering workforce development. All of us have dreams of the future. Why else would so many engineers read/watch science fiction? To truly pull in engineers of the future, I think we need to appeal to those dreams. I have experienced and witnessed in others, the let down that occurs when you go to school dreaming of space exploration (and other engineering BIG THINGS) and end up working an AutoCad desk job. It is really hard to keep the excitement flowing. My article would be about building up that excitement in kids and then sustaining that excitement through an person’s career.


  7. January 4, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Listening to members and responding to their interests/concerns could certainly be improved in ASME. The crowd sourcing initiative is a great way to begin addressing this issue.

    One area where ASME leadership has veered off the scientific course and onto a political path is global warming/climate change. At a recent Cincinnati ASME meeting we had a presentation by a local PhD physicist titled “The data-driven view of global warming”, where evidence of each source of climate change was considered and the various causes then compared, including human activity. A scientific “consensus” is said to have formed on this subject, and the talk dispelled that idea almost immediately. The speaker was one of over 8,000 scientists with PhDs, and 31,000 scientists overall, who have signed a petition expressing their opinion that climate change is not primarily caused by human activity.

    The meeting was very well attended because members already had concerns regarding the science of global warming. At the end of the presentation I mentioned the official ASME position on global warming and the audience was clearly nonplussed. One comment,”I don’t remember supporting that position.”

    It is clear that many members would like ASME to take a more scientific view of the subject and not just parrot IPCC conclusions. How about an article by a “denier” showing the other side of the argument? This is certainly a relevant energy topic since the current administration is using global warming hysteria to justify destroying the nation’s energy infrastructure.

    • 9 Alan E. Belcher
      January 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      I agree with Peter Staats’ views on global warming although some might argue that Peter’s post is a little off-subject regarding the directives issued by John Falcioni for his “Project Crowdsourcing” (Energy, Engineering Workforce Development, Global Impact and Outreach). For now let us assume that it applies to the last mentioned.

      Global warming. Is it for real? Are we humans responsible? Darned if I know. I simply do not have the knowledge or experience to evaluate such issues. But I can at least apply some logical thinking to the subject. Surely, the first step must be to determine the extent to which human activities contribute to global warming, compared to other naturally occurring processes.

      Remediation measures can be directed only at the alleged impact of human activity. Therefore, if such activity were to account for 30% of all the factors causing global warming, for example, the effects of our remediation measures must then be reduced by a similar amount. And any cost/benefit analysis must necessarily be based on this ratio.

      Simple business; simple engineering. Are billions of dollars about to be spent for greatly reduced benefits, far below popular expectations?

      • 10 Peter Staats
        January 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm

        Alan, To me there is no question that global warming/climate change properly belongs in the Energy category. This opinion is reinforced by the January 2011 Mechanical Engineering magazine article, “Myth v. Fact”, that discusses the intersection of energy policy and technology. The article concludes that we must have “broad pollution taxes or cap-and-trade systems, to reach emission reduction goals”. It is written by people from the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. They clearly have a dog in this hunt. No reason that the other side should not be heard.

    • 11 Larry Bailey
      January 13, 2011 at 10:01 am

      Me too. I agree that the official ASME position on “global warming” and/or now “climate change” as it has been relabeled, is not aligned with my opinions. Clearly there are strong divergent views about this theoretical future problem, it’s causes and it’s solutions (if any). Why not take a vote and see where the membership stands on the subject then refine or tweak the policy statement if needed.

      The reality is that no one knows with certainty what the climate will be in 5, 10 or 50 years from now. The most knowledgeable folks in this field are not ME’s and they are still working to understand the influence of the key drives and most of them will admit that human activity is not a key driver (especially when compared to the influence of naturally occurring water vapor).

      Thanks Peter for bringing this up… the whole climate subject has been in the spotlight for far too long now, distracting us from the more important urgent issues.

  8. 12 Ray Alvarado
    January 8, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    I wish to start discussions on:

    This is a renewable energy with unlimited potential, but least understood(or liked) by most engineers and technocrats. Why? Is it geography, political will, or a perceived investment risk? Many countries beyond North America have fully embraced this form of energy, pursued an aggressive development program, and came out highly successful. To name a few, Iceland, Italy, Philippines, New Zealand, Indonesia, Mexico, and Japan have fast-track geothermal power programs at national level. Likewise, there are operating geothermal plants in California, Nevada, Hawaii, and other western U.S. States. Additional capacities are coming on-stream or on the drawing board. Technology is matured with continuing advances in deep dry-rock drilling, reservoir stimulation, binary topping, closed thermo-cycles, corrosion mitigation, and plant modularization.

    In a POWER Magazine 2010 article, geothermal power was hailed as a “green” source which wind and solar wont be able to provide. It delivers baseload power to our grids uninterrupted. There are no overcast or dead-calm days for geothermal plants.

  9. 13 Robert Kulisek
    January 10, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I like this reader-driven approach to article publication. I, for one, think that, in order to address the two directives (energy and global impact and outreach), we must first address the issue of engineering workforce development. Referencing an article from Energy Pulse magazine 4/30/2010 “The Clock is Ticking – When 50 Percent of the Experienced Workforce Vanishes: 5 Action Steps to Take Action Now!”, it is clear that there is a shortfall in the volume of technically qualified individuals (engineers specifically) able to fill the void soon to be left by the retiring workforce. Understanding that not all of these jobs will need to be replaced, it remains evident that, the remaining jobs will need to be filled by not only engineers, but qualified ones at that.

    This then brings up a much more difficult question of why are there not as many qualified engineers available to fill this void? In his speech ‘Is the Energy Race our new “Sputnik” moment?’ given on 11/29/2010, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu alluded to a report issued by the American Energy Innovation Council highlighting the absence of Innovation Leadership at the forefront of today’s technological issues (such as energy source development).

    I believe an article addressing the need to remove the growing misconception that engineeering services have become a commodity, is at the heart of addressing the issue of engineering workforce development. In order to fuel the fire of engineering innovation, we must first address those areas that have suffocated its progression in the years since the “Sputnik” moment and the space race during the middle of the previous century.

  10. 14 Larry Bailey
    January 13, 2011 at 10:19 am

    I didn’t notice any suggestions in the “global impact and outreach” category, so I’ll offer this one to consider.

    What can we do as a society (primarily domestic ASME) to accelerate the use of the metric system in more areas of US industry? Have we force our ASME Standards to metric uniformity? (sorry, I should probably know the answer to this one)

    Background – I’m >25 years out of school where we were taught unit conversions. It’s still being taught today, just like Latin (nice to know, but not very useful when everyone uses the same standards). Progress has been made since I started my professional career in the automative industry. Example 1: Back in the day GM and Ford forced suppliers to make parts to metric dimensions, but in many cases suppliers couldn’t buy things like raw steel except in english units. Example 2: Try to buy a quart or gallon of Coke or Pepsi or try to buy a liter of milk or liter of gas. We could save a lot of time and eliminate one more potential area for technical mistakes by having a broader use of the metric system like most of the rest of the world has already done.

    We ME’s have a lot of influence on the choice of measurement units used in designs as well as final products. Why are we not more unified in our effort to “speak the same language” when it comes to measurements?

  11. January 18, 2011 at 8:08 am

    This is a really good idea. I really like the interactiveness it is trying to promote among engineers. Some thoughts, that were discussed by a few engineers in the surface metrology world are below.

    Surface roughness and – friction, heat transfer, readtion surfaces, seals, improved gas mileage.
    Workforce development – how to educate enough to use surface texture knowledge.

  12. January 18, 2011 at 3:21 pm


    This is a very interesting way of getting engineers involved.

    Here it goes my proposal regarding energy: Offshore wind turbines, a short term reality?

    It is clear that wind turbines are the future of wind energy, but how far away are we from seing them as one of the major energy sources able to compete with the rest of energy generation systems?

  13. 17 George J. Mahl, III
    January 27, 2011 at 11:22 am

    As energy has been identified as a critical issue to discuss in this forum, the second law of thermodynamics, which is at the root of our analysis of all thermodynamic processes to convert thermal energy to work, deserves to be investigated. I presented a paper at ASME Energy Sustainability Conference in Pheonix last year, which challenges the foundation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If this re-evaluation of the Second Law is correct, then it opens the door to the utilization of the immense quantity of energy contained in the environment which surrounds us.

    I suggest that this paper (ES2010-90006) be published in the Mechanical Engineer to promote a discussion of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the infinte suppy of energy which this re-evaluation will lead to.

    If the energy in the environment surrounding us can be utilized to product work, the impact on energy supply and the environment will be tremendous.

  14. 18 Larry Bailey
    January 27, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    George can you share more on the paper (ES2010-90006) you referred to? (labailey@eastman.com)

  15. January 28, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I would be interested in seeing an article that touches on the global impact of engineering on society, or what I would call the Engineers Unspoken Contract with Society. While engineers successfully design and operate a large number of complex engineering marvels for the betterment of society, only disasters draw widespread public attention (deep water horizon, unintended acceleration, the space shuttle challenger explosion, etc, etc). Society demands great (near impossible) feats from its engineers, all while expecting engineers to accomplish these lofty projects without endangering the safety of the public, and staying under budget. Some might cynically consider this a thankless situation, but I consider it an engineer’s greatest service to uphold this unspoken contract with society. Engineers are beginning to reach the point where they are moving away from hoping that a system doesn’t fail, to acknowledging that all mechanical systems eventually fail, and building in ways to mitigate failures in real time.

    In this article I would like to see how engineers are currently working to uphold the unspoken contract with society to deliver previously impossible projects in a safe and economical way. Regulation, inspections, and larger factors of safety alone are not sufficient to guarantee safety since we continue to have engineering failures. How are some of the most common, but critical, engineering systems being guarded against unplanned failures.

  16. 20 b.divya
    February 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I have gone trough the recent january magazine in which the crowdsorcing project was described or launched
    In my concern the non renewable energy sources which are to be concentrated a lot since the renewable resources are being in extint and nothing would remain for future generation and
    so i would suggest for th development of non renewable energy sorces especially solar energy the energy source which never gets extinted. Hence the changing of energy resources to non renewable will even have good impact environment reducing global warming. And even storage and tranportation of such eco friendly energy sorces are to be developed for better and may be even best results.
    for example in automobiles which are regularly used use petrol and diesel, especially in developing countries like india, such automobiles if facilitated to use the solar energy instead of petrol or disel the cost of global warming would be less and such fuels can also be stored for future generations or can be used in state of crisis of fuels.

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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

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