The sun will provide

Energy Woes

In our online forums and letters column, alternate energy and mass transit are hot buttons these days, with readers weighing in an all sides of the issues. Some advocate more solar power and mass transit. Others insist mass transit can’t work in areas with scattered populations and job sites.

To the contrary, we already have enough generating capacity for cloudy days, when less power is consumed due to decreased air-conditioning loads. Peak electrical consumption occurs on sunny summer afternoons. If solar panels could provided enough power to handle the increased air-conditioning loads on sunny days, then additional power plants would not have to be built to handle those loads.

Stephen Weinstein

Thanks for writing. But I believe peak residential loads, at least in the summer time, are after 5 p.m. when people begin arriving home from work and crank up their A/C. You would have some sun (except if you lived in cloudy-most-of-the-time Cleveland) but it would be low in the sky. — Leland Teschler

Experience counts
I just read Berke on Safety (“No accidents? Doesn’t mean you’re safe,” June 19) and had some comments. When I took CRSRSP training here in Canada, they stressed that investigation of what they termed “near misses” was important to an overall safety strategy. By handling these incidents properly, more serious accidents can be avoided. Your column hit that mark very well.

Your point about people retiring or moving out of a job also hit home. When I worked for Michelin as a plant engineer, one of their great assets was good documentation on their machinery. With about 90% of all the tire-making machinery in the plant designed and built by Michelin in France, they had the design rationale and all maintenance requirements right at their fingertips.

One of my engineering friends is now in Brazil installing tire-curing presses for Michelin. He tells me that due to retirements and transfers, they no longer have enough people in Michelin France to write up auxiliary documentation. He has been waiting six months for detailed setup procedures and maintenance information such as greasing schedules. He is also frustrated by the lack of back-up technical information. He has to fly by the seat of his pants and hope his 20 years of experience holds him in good stead.

Without detailed installation and maintenance information, safety can be compromised at times. Things like lock-out procedures and safety checklists have to be developed on site.

Conrad LeLivre

The glass half full I really enjoyed your editorial “Back to the future of the 1970s,” (June 5). My wife and I were going to buy a new car but are now holding off to see how the economy and gas prices pan out. I saw an article yesterday that said 42% of Americans are doing the same thing. I was talking to my wife though about not panicking and that it’s good to “put things into perspective.” After talking to my grandmother recently about her growing up during the Depression, things don’t look so bad. So I count my blessings. My car might be a ’96 model (an Acura Integra), but it’s paid for still gets pretty good gas mileage.

Curtis Ellzey

Mass transit missives
It is refreshing to read sanity, such as your recent transit editorial, in an otherwise insane world (“Mass-transit myths,” July 10) . Here in Birmingham, Ala., there has been talk of a mass-transit system for years, but it can never work for the same reasons it cannot work in most parts of the country. People and jobs are scattered all over the region. There is no practical way it could ever work except for a small Letterspart of the population.

The Birmingham area is a working example of the counterintuitive way to save energy by building more roads. Years ago, the commute time was long and tortuous with undersized highways as traffic crept and most gas was spent idling. Now, even with more traffic, commute times are much shorter with correspondingly less-wasted gas because lanes have been added. We need more counterintuitive thinking.

Kenneth A. Kuhn

A whole new system of transportation needs to be invented and combined as seamlessly as possible with existing modes. Personally, I would like to see a network of pneumatic tubes (about 5-ft diameter) for moving freight and eventually people as well. Passenger cars could include an LCD to replace the windows, and it could double as a TV screen and internet connection. The paranoid and claustrophobic could continue to use existing transportation modes. Another approach would bury sensors in highways for automated automobiles. To use an automated lane, you would need a car with an automation package and it could be programmed for some kind of fairness for all drivers willing to forgo control. If your typical commute is 30 miles at 80 mph and 3 miles at 6 mph think how much you would save if an automated system sent you to the same point in less time at 40 mph.

P. Pascal

A good and thought-provoking editorial on mass transit. One correction though, burning 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline would produce about 28 million (not billion) tons of CO2. Still very sizable numbers, however, and overall still a good argument.

Jim Hall

Getting kids interested
As I read your comments about the “real” people in engineering and not wanting kids to be disappointed by the lack of eye candy or glamour in real life engineering, I had to think that of all the shows our teens watch. Just how well do they fairly represent real life. Would CSI: Miami be as interesting with average looking or possibly overweight actors? Well, I suppose if the story line was good enough... maybe.

In talking with my co-workers, we often bring up the tragedy of the Kansas City, Hyatt-Regency skywalk that collapsed and killed many people. The forensic engineering that followed was interesting as it showed the skywalk wasn’t built to the original and approved design.

My daughter’s science class had to build bridges out of toothpicks. Weights were then suspended Lettersfrom the bridge until failure. This was cool, well, at least to me anyway. This class just graduated from high school two nights ago. Only one out of 73 grads is going into engineering and many really don’t know what they want to do.

Years ago, in an attempt to foster some engineering creativity, we held Easter parties and each kid was to bring a raw egg packaged somehow to prevent damage if dropped from different heights. The possible solutions were interesting. Some you thought would be great, failed miserably. Others were creative and semi successful.

Phil Nutting

Back in the 1970s, several engineering schools had egg-drop contests along the lines of what you mention. They were the beginning of the design-contest movement now prevalent on engineering campuses.

— Leland Teschler