The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the most recent major new aircraft design from Boeing, and the manufacturer’s most fuel-efficient plane. I have never had the pleasure of being passenger on one of these, but the design is certainly very modern. Composite materials are widely used in the aircraft, which is key to the plane’s fuel efficiency and explains the popularity of the plane. With more than 800 orders in the books, Boeing was also on a good track to break even commercially.
Then, on January 16 the FAA grounded all 787, following a number of technical problems. Earlier, the Japanese airlines ANA and JAL had already suspended all 787 flights, which was a significant signal because combined these two airlines operate almost half of the 787 delivered to date. Aside from a number of other technical issues such as a fuel leak, a key reason to ground the entire fleet has been two incidences where the back-up batteries overcharged and overheated such that there was the danger of fire on board. But how big a deal are these battery incidents? [...]
For the past weeks this blog has been more quiet than usual. Mostly, I was busy with a number of projects, including the co-organisation of a Nature Conference – ‘Frontiers in Electronic Materials: Correlation Effects and Memristive Phenomena‘. The conference took place in Aachen/Germany, and was organized in collaboration with the Jülich-Aachen Research Alliance (JARA) formed by the RWTH Aachen University and the Helmholtz research centre in Jülich – who did a great job in getting this meeting off the ground. Rainer Waser in particular dedicated a tremendous amount of work to the conference. And with close to 600 attendees, the popularity of the conference certainly exceeded all our expectations.
I do not intend to summarize all the interesting talks at the conference here. Instead, I like to focus on two aspects that I think contributed in particular to the success of the conference, and that could be of interest also to those that couldn’t attend the meeting. They’re related to the scope of the conference and its organisation. [...]
Henry Petroski is an engineer who has written extensively about his profession. So it is no surprise that over the past decades he has amassed a broad range of facts on engineering, some of which while certainly interesting may not fit into the usual books. For example, did you know that hard hats were first worn during the construction of the Hoover Dam? Or that for the construction of the latter about 2.5 million cubic metres of concrete were used?
Well, as with so many other facts, Wikipedia would also give you the answer to these questions. But that’s not the point. What Petroski has now done is to collect and curate interesting facts related engineering, and published them in alphabetical order as “An Engineer’s Alphabet“.
There are plenty of gems to discover in the book. Many of them I would never have thought to even look up on the internet without being prompted, and in that respect the book is inspiring. I certainly enjoyed browsing through the text. Written by an American professor, it is more American Dream than Steampunk in character, although to be fair Isambard Brunel does appear in eight different entries. Herbert Hoover thirteen times. Robert Noyce only once, in passing.
The best way to go about reading this book is simply do flip through it and to read here and there. Or, to use the indispensable index at the end. Indeed, if £18.99 or $21.99 should be a bit too much of an expense it might make sense to consider the various ebook options, with the highly useful possibility of searching the book. On the Kindle or the Nook prices are about half of the hardcover ones. It doesn’t seem to be available on iBooks. Either way, if you love engineering and are interested in broadening in particular your historic knowledge of the profession, this book might be for you.
Petroski, Henry. An Engineer’s Alphabet. Cambridge University Press, 2011. 268 pages. ISBN: 9781107015067. $21.99 / £18.99