Archive for the 'engineering' category

Friday Fun: The Onion on How To File A Patent (and a few more serious readings)

Feb 05 2016 Published by under culture of science, engineering, friday fun

Oh, The Onion. You are so wonderful and your take on the world of patents is so spot on that it hurts.

What are patents for, anyways?

Here's a bit of an excerpt from their 11 Step Program. Drop by the site to see the rest. Brilliant.

Step 1: First, come up with something really cool, like a cheese grater that works in both directions. Oh shit, don’t steal that one! That’s mine!

Step 2: Research the marketplace to find out if your idea is original or if some asshole has already stolen it from you
Step 11:
Spend remainder of bitter, unnaturally truncated life filing lawsuits to protect patent

For your edification, here are a couple of readings on the state of the patent world.

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Reading Diary: Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration by Chris Impey and Holly Henry

Feb 10 2014 Published by under astronomy, book review, engineering, science books

Sometimes a book isn't quite what you expected. And you're disappointed.

Sometimes a book isn't quite what you expected and you're pleasantly surprised.

Chris Impey and Holly Henry's Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration definitely falls into the latter category. What was I expecting? From the subtitle I was hoping the book would be a fairly straightforward account of the history of unmanned space exploration -- all the missions, how they were planned, the engineering challenges involved in getting them off the ground, the logistical challenges of keeping the various vehicles and missions alive and productive in a variety of extreme circumstances. And most of all, some fairly specific details about what the missions were designed to discover and what they actually did discover.

And Impey and Henry's book is some of that, or more precisely those sorts of details are where it starts. And I have to admit I was initially a bit disappointed that they skimped a bit on those gory scientific and engineering details. After all, it is a science and engineering book. Right?

Yes, of course. But the surprising thing is that this book is just as much a kind of scientific (and sort of cultural) history of why these various missions were important -- the broader scientific context in which the decision was made to launch this particular mission and especially how the discoveries branched out beyond space science and into other realms.

Missions like Viking and MER and Voyager and Cassini and Stardust and SOHO and Hipparcos and Spitzer and Chandra and Hubble and WMAP. Some quite familiar and some quite new to me. Each chapter takes a mission and puts it in a context beyond astronomy, like how the Stardust mission on comets relates to DNA research or how Spitzer relates to fish migrations and so much more.

The great strength of this book is how it goes so much beyond what you would find just by looking the missions up in Wikipedia and takes the reader into new territory. Yes, it could have had a bit more "core" information and I probably did miss having some of that. On the other hand, it does a great job of putting all those missions into the context of how we see our lives on this planet too.

I recommend this book for any academic library that collects popular books on space science or engineering. It will find an audience beyond just the scientists and engineers who would normally be the target for a book like this. Larger public libraries would also find an eager audience for this book.

Impey, Chris and Holly Henry. Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. 472pp. ISBN-13: 978-0691147536

(Review copy supplied by publisher.)

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Scitech librarians take note: The Western Conference on Science Education

The biennial Western Conference on Science Education will be taking place this coming July 9–July 11, 2013.

I'm thinking very seriously of going and I think science/engineering librarians in general should consider doing so as well.

Here's how they describe it:

The biennial Western Conference for Science Education creates an ongoing organizational infrastructure that invites teaching and research faculty, librarians and other educational professionals, regardless of their experience level, to collaborate on the improvement of post-secondary Science education through the exchange of experience, innovation, ideas, and research in teaching and learning across disciplines.

Although situated in the context of Canadian higher education in Science, the Western Conference recognizes that fundamental issues in teaching and learning often transcend disciplinary, institutional, and national boundaries. Participation by colleagues working outside the country, or outside the traditional disciplines of Science, is welcome.

Specifically, the Western Conference for Science Education is designed to create and sustain an on-going organizational structure that:

  1. enhances a Science education community by enticing faculty and educational staff to venture out of their respective discipline-specific circles to meet, discuss, and collaborate with one another;
  2. promotes ongoing improvement in post-secondary Science education through support of a range of scholarly approaches to teaching and learning;
  3. contributes to the professional development of Science educators by providing access to educational leaders, resources, and training;
  4. promotes productive inter-relationships between educators and various private sector academic publishers, suppliers, technology providers etc;
  5. provides an avenue to share ideas, innovation, and research;
  6. ensures that Conference proceedings are archived and accessible.

Conferences are planned for every other year after 2013. On off-years, we encourage other colleagues, organizations and institutions to host synergistic events that benefit from, and in turn increase, the momentum created by the Western Conferences.

The call for proposals is here and the submission guidelines here.

The conference topic threads have a lot of scope for the kinds of work librarians do:

Thread A: Teaching and Learning Science
Thread B: Evaluation of Learning
Thread C: Curriculum
Thread D: Education Technologies and Innovative Resources
Thread E: Other

And the session formats leave a lot of leeway for interesting ways to pitch that work. In particular, the "Short & Tweet" format seems to have a lot of possibility for advocacy.

  • Workshops: Workshops are highly participatory hands-on 80 minute sessions allowing participants to come away with a product, tool, or skill.
  • Presentations: Presentations are 40 minute sessions providing the opportunity for presenters to engage with their peers in the form of a traditional paper, novel demonstration, provocative debate, or other creative formats. When appropriate, two complementary presentations will be paired.
  • Short and Tweets: This is an engaging 14.0 minute live presentation that will be summarized in 140 characters. Short and Tweets will be collected and presented in six-packs.
  • Posters: Posters are self-explanatory visual displays offered in a format that promotes informal dialogue between the poster’s author(s) and their peers. At least one of the poster's authors will be available for discussion during the Poster Session.

The Canadian Engineering Education Association annual conference (June 17-20) is another I'm considering for the spring/summer and I know that it's also a very good conference for engineering librarians.

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Friday Fun: A Software Engineer, a Hardware Engineer and a Departmental Manager were on their way to a meeting...

Jan 04 2013 Published by under engineering, friday fun

Nothing like a little engineering humour to get the year off to a good start!

This is one of my favourite engineer jokes, one that's been kicking around the web for quite a while. I'm not sure the original source, but this is there I found it for today's post.

If you know the original source, please let me know in the comments.

Here goes:

A Software Engineer, a Hardware Engineer and a Departmental Manager were on their way to a meeting in Switzerland. They were driving down a steep mountain road when suddenly the brakes on their car failed. The car careened almost out of control down the road, bouncing off the crash barriers, until it miraculously ground to a halt scraping along the mountainside. The car's occupants, shaken but unhurt, now had a problem: they were stuck halfway down a mountain in a car with no brakes. What were they to do?

"I know", said the Departmental Manager, "Let's have a meeting, propose a Vision, formulate a Mission Statement, define some Goals, and by a process of Continuous Improvement find a solution to the Critical Problems, and we can be on our way."

"No, no", said the Hardware Engineer, "That will take far too long, and besides, that method has never worked before. I've got my Swiss Army knife with me, and in no time at all I can strip down the car's braking system, isolate the fault, fix it, and we can be on our way."

"Well", said the Software Engineer, "Before we do anything, I think we should push the car back up the road and see if it happens again."

(And BTW, I do hope to be a little more consistent with the Friday Fun posts going forward than I was in the latter part of 2012.)

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The York University Lassonde School of Engineering: Announcement followup & Storify

Before heading off to the Charleston Conference last week, I blogged about the big announcement of Pierre Lassonde's big $25 million donation to York to found the Lassonde School of Engineering.

I attended the announcement and livetweeted it quite extensively: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

I also created a Storify story of a fair bit of the quite extensive twitter traffic of the annoucement and that is here. I've embedded the Story at the end of this post. It's mostly tweeting form the day of the announcement but I have added quite a few more since then.

Also, some of the internal press release, bloggy and other coverage:

[View the story "York University Engineering Expansion Annoucement" on Storify]

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Pierre Lassonde, York University and renaissance engineers

Nov 01 2011 Published by under Canada, education, engineering, yorku

It's a big day here at York University, especially for us science & engineering types both within the Faculty of Science and Engineering and those of us who support their teaching and research missions. There's a big announcement about the coming expansion of our engineering programs to include many of the more traditional streams, such as electrical and others.

The details are being announced today at a news conference at 1pm. I'll be there livetweeting as will others, I imagine.

There was a first announcement a little while back about some government money that was being committed.

Today's will likely revolve around a large gift of $25 million from Canadian engineering entrepreneur Pierre Lassonde.

There's a nice article in the Globe and Mail today by James Bradshaw: Mining entrepreneur's university donation digging for 'renaissance engineers'.

When mining entrepreneur Pierre Lassonde announces a $25-million gift to York University on Tuesday, he's hoping it will do more than build a new engineering school - he wants to help groom a generation of "renaissance engineers."


"You are an engineer, but at the same time you are an artist and you have to be able to tell the world how what you're doing is going to benefit the world," Mr. Lassonde said, leaning across a boardroom table at the Toronto offices of the mining and energy royalty company Franco Nevada, where he is chairman.


York has wanted a full-scale engineering school since 1963, yet still has only about 300 students in specialized programs such as geomatics engineering. Now it is spending $100-million, including Mr. Lassonde's money and $50-million from the province, on a new faculty and building expected to hold 2,000 students by 2020.

Mr. Lassonde is hoping that York engineering will grow to be a leader in interdisciplinary learning and industry partnerships.

"I wouldn't accept being second to anybody, and this is our aspiration," said York president Mamdouh Shoukri, a former engineering dean.


He knows it is not a new idea that grads should be flexible, entrepreneurial and socially conscious. Engineers are already required to complete an eighth of their studies in humanities and social sciences, and cross-disciplinary programs have proliferated. In the past decade, the University of Waterloo has added engineering streams such as mechatronics, nanotechnology and management, all of which are based partly in other departments. Its systems-design degree even has a faculty member jointly appointed from the philosophy department.

And some more detailed information from York Computer Science & Engineering professor Andrew Eckford: Big news for York Engineering .

With the donation, the university's goal is to move away from the "niche" engineering programs currently in the program, and become a full-fledged "traditional" engineering school. You can expect York to add traditional engineering disciplines like civil, mechanical, and chemical over the next few years.

However, it's electrical engineering that will take the lead in expansion. I am chairing the committee that will write the EE proposal, and we're operating under the assumption that the first students will be admitted in 2013. I'll try to blog more about our progress as things develop.

And I'll certainly second Andrew's final words in his post, "For now, it's definitely an exciting time to be at York."

Yes, it'll certainly be an exciting time! And as Engineering Librarian it's going to get pretty fun and busy for me too!

Update 4pm: I did a ton of live tweeting of the announcement, some of which is here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. The most significant new information revolves around naming the new engineering school The Lassonde School of Engineering. As well, what is now the Computer Science and Engineering Building will be known as the Lassonde Building.

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Hacking stereotypes in educating people about computing

Sep 27 2011 Published by under computer science, education, engineering, social media

Computer science and computer science education are a couple of my evergreen topics here on this blog, as you can see by perusing the computer science tag.

And of course, my trip to Harvard for LIAL this past summer perhaps has that institution on my radar a bit more than usual.

So how wonderful is it to find a way to connect those two things?

Along comes Hacking Stereotypes by Steve Kolowich.

It's about a program called HackHarvard which is part of a series of efforts at Harvard to encourage technology entrepreneurship: and increase enrollments in their basic computing course,

HackHarvard, which is in only its second semester, operates on two premises: that most students cannot turn good ideas into operational apps, nor operational apps into successful businesses, without help; and that there are plenty of good ideas to go around. The club's leaders describe it as an incubator where students can get feedback on their ideas, learn the nuts and bolts of building Web applications, and meet with like-minded peers and potential collaborators.

And which has also seen an increase in enrollments in their basic "Computer Programming for Everybody" course:

After topping out at 386 during the height of the '90s tech boom, enrollment in Harvard's introductory course in programming, known as "CS50," fell precipitously after that bubble burst. In 2002, fewer than 100 students took the course. Then, in 2007, the college revamped the course to make it less wonky and esoteric. By that time, venture capital had begun flowing to social networking start-ups that investors hoped would follow in Facebook's footsteps -- or at least get caught in its orbit. And although The Social Network was not yet on the big screen, the story of Facebook's hapless non-founders was widely known and had a clear moral: in the landscape of tech entrepreneurship, the power lies with those who have good ideas and know how to code them.

This fall CS50 drew 651 students, becoming the second most popular course at Harvard.

There are some very cool stories in the article, well worth checking out and reading in it's entirety.

What I find really interesting is the emphasis on twin ideas: both that computing is an amazing way to solve a wide range of problems and that implementing those ideas on the web is often simple enough to be broadly accessible to a wide cross-section of a normal undergraduate population. And of course, beyond undergrads as well, but I guess that would be another article.

It would be very cool is more institutions took a lesson here from Harvard and perhaps thought a little differently about the place of both entrepreneurship and computing in their curricula.

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From the Archives: Debunking 9/11 myths: Why conspiracy theories can't stand up to the facts by Dunbar and Reagan

May 15 2011 Published by under book review, engineering, science books

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts, is from February 24, 2008.


This is one of those books that I picked up at a the train station cheap remaindered books kiosk. I do that every once in a while, find a quick read for a long train ride. And this short book is certainly a short and involving read. It's an expansion of a long article in Popular Mechanics a few years ago which took at a bunch of different 9/11 conspiracy theories, looked at the facts from a science and engineering perspective and decided if the theory had any real basis. Guess what? None of them did.

This may be a quick read, but it's still a very important one. There's a lot of stupid stuff on the Web, a lot of it pet theories about what really happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. This book will, I hope, start the process of setting at least some of them straight.

What are some of the myths that are debunked? That not enough damage was caused to the buildings to cause them to collapse. That puffs of dust visible while the buildings were collapsing were the results of planned explosions. That nearby seismographs detected those planned explosions. That WTC 7's collapse was also the result of a controlled demolition. That the Pentagon's blast-proof windows could not have survived a real crash. That Flight 93 was shot down by jet fighters. Well, the list goes on.

And on that topic, in my opinion, are the myths effectively debunked? They certainly are. Some of them are so loopy that it's hard to even believe that some people out there give them any credence at all.

I would recommend this book without hesitation for all public, school and academic libraries.

Dunbar, David and Brad Reagan, eds. Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts. New York: Hearst, 2006. 170pp.

Update 2011.05.16. I should have noted that there's a new, expanded edition of this book coming out in August. Check it out here.

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Friday Fun: We Are the Engineers!

May 13 2011 Published by under education, engineering, friday fun

This past Saturday I spent the afternoon at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival at the Toronto Reference Library. It was a blast, I met a ton of great comics people, spent way too much money and supported a lot of great artists and writers.

The highlight was discovering the new collection We Are the Engineers by former University of British Columbia engineering student Angela Melick. The book is an expanded collection of strips from her webcomic Wasted Talent.

Here's a bit from the Info page:

Welcome to the site! Basically, this is all you need to know: JamJAM, or Angela, is a mechanical engineer who draws comics (including this one). She lives in Vancouver. Likes cats, silly hats, coffee. She recently graduated from UBC and now works for "energyWise".

These comics are silly true stories from Jam's life. ... that's it! There's no ongoing "plot", but obviously, you learn more about the characters the more you read. Jump in wherever you like, and enjoy!

The book is terrific. Very funny and very true to life. A great slice of what it's like to be an engineering student. The webcomic has evolved into being about the life of a working engineer.

And here's a taste, a strip originally here in the webcomic and reprinted on page 54 of the book. (posted with permission)


Oh yeah, and buy the book. You won't be disappointed.

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Randy Reichardt: SLA Engineering Librarian of the Year

Apr 20 2011 Published by under education, engineering, librarianship

I don't usually announce these sorts of things on the blog, but since Randy is a long-time friend, colleague and fellow Habs fan, I just had to make an exception.

The SLA Engineering Division is the group that hands out the award. From their mailing list:

2011 SLA Engineering Librarian of the Year Award

The Engineering Librarian of the Year, sponsored by IHS, highlights the accomplishments and contributions of SLA Engineering Division members to the engineering librarian profession.

The SLA Engineering Division is pleased to announce: Randy Reichardt is the recipient the of the SLA Engineering Librarian of the Year Award.

Randy Reichardt is a Research Services Librarian (Engineering) at the Science & Technology Library, University of Alberta, in Edmonton. He was worked there since September 1983, and has worked specifically with engineering since 2000. His subject responsibilities include chemical, materials, and mechanical engineering, engineering management, nanotechnology, and space science and technology. His responsibilities include collection development, reference and consultation service, instruction, and liaison. He currently sits on a number of library advisory boards, and previously served as Standards Chair for the Engineering Division of SLA. Randy joined SLA in June 1984 and has been a member for 27 years.

IHS will present Randy Reichardt with the award and a $1500 check during the Engineering Division Luncheon & Business Meeting, Tuesday June 14, 2011, 12:00pm - 1:30pm.

Congratulations Randy!

I second that. Congratulations Randy!

Writing up this post makes me realize that I should have done the same thing last year when another long-time friend and colleague Jay Bhatt won the ASEE ELD Homer I. Bernhardt Distinguished Service Award. A belated congratulations to Jay as well!

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