Faxes and steam power
There must still be some people out there using faxes. Two readers write of their poor experiences with illegal ones. And while steam locomotives are generally found only in museum’s and Americana recreations, one engineer designs environmentally clean choo choos in case they are ever needed.

Stopping junk faxes
There might be penalties for sending unsolicited faxes, but that doesn’t mean anyone will do anything about it (“Facebook follies and privacy problems,” Jan. 12). I have forwarded hundreds of illegal faxes to Missouri’s attorney general. All I got back was a form letter. Is it really a law if no one enforces it?

What does seem to stop the flow of faxes is the “removal” phone number that appears on most illegally sent faxes.

John Marks

I have also found there isn’t much enforcement, if any, behind the law regarding illegal faxes. I have a private fax machine used for personal purposes. I often get ads for insurance, vacation travel, and other junk. I have called a number of these faxers and most do nothing about it. I had one guy tell me they would take my name off the list but he didn’t bother to even ask my name or fax number. He had no idea who to remove. I use the “remove” numbers, but I get the feeling there must be a circulating list of names and numbers that keeps being bought by these snake-oil salesmen.

Ted Lind

Coming out of the closet
I have held a PE license for 40 years and usually keep it a secret due to the envy or other bad feelings from employees and management. I keep my license for protection from lawsuits and so I can use the term engineer when referring to myself. I also might need it if I become a consultant.

Some of the letters you have received (“Hijacking the Engineering profession,” Aug. 6) come from non-PEs claiming to be just as intelligent as PE holders. If that is the case, they should simply take a day and go for the exam and get licensed. You can also keep it a secret as I have done for the last 40 years.

Bernell Shoff

A comeback for steam locomotives?
A while ago, you discussed trains and how they put so-called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (“Taken for a ride: Pros and cons of high-speed rail,” June 4). While they might be true of today’s diesel train engines, it isn’t necessarily true when it comes to modern steam engines. For example, reciprocating steam locomotives (especially the “J” designed and built by Norfolk & Western Railway in the 1935-1945 time period) could have easily pulled passenger trains at up to and exceeding 100 mph and technological advances would eliminate any environmental problems.

For the past 20 years I have been designing and developing steam-electric motive power, not reciprocating steam locomotives. In this work, my company has discovered how to eliminate NOx, reduce combustion gases to 20% of their normal volume, convert carbon dioxide to a secondary fuel for combustion in the locomotive, and cool the remaining 20% of combustion gases before releasing them into the atmosphere. In short, we have been able to achieve all the things our friends in the environmental movement want to accomplish in the Kyoto protocol.

Our proposed solid-fuel steam-electric locomotives could operate at about 25% the cost of petroleum-based diesel fuel. Unfortunately, railroads can levy surcharges to protect against diesel-price increases, which negates our design’s fuel cost advantage.

However, the future of steam-electric motive power remains a viable option just in case the 30 or so petroleum refineries have problems or the crude-oil supply is disrupted or curtailed.

We continue to design and develop steam-electric power for railroads and highway transportation. These are free-standing hybrids, not the parasitic types that must be plugged in and thus depend on the shaky national electric grid. These units can also be used as mobile generators to provide emergency, standby, peak, or industrial power, all independent of the wind, sun, or national electric grid.

Keep up the good work. We like to read about the new technologies that can be used to enhance steam, the ultimate driving force.

Tom Blasingame

Keeping our young engineers
The question about what is happening to design engineers is one near and dear to my heart (“Is the design engineer extinct?” Oct. 5). I have worked with many young engineers as well as interns over my career and I have noticed changes in the last 15 years. Students and graduates from good engineering schools, along with interns at the top of their classes, have no problems solving engineering problems using classic manual techniques. One of my interns, for example, had exceptional analytical skills for a junior in college.

The real problem lies in engineers with five to 10 years experience who cannot manually do the simplest of stress-analysis, heat-transfer, or fluid-dynamics problems. They spent thousands of dollars and four years of hard work to graduate as an engineer. But five to 10 years later, they manage to fall back to where they started.

What went wrong?

Based on my small sample, I have concluded that colleges are still doing their job in preparing students technically. Where these institutions are deficient is preparing students to make good career choices. Going to work for a small company designing custom machinery may be not be as glamorous or lucrative as going to work for a Fortune 500 company. However, that small company may provide far more opportunities to hone engineering skills. Many small companies cannot or do not want to afford these sophisticated computer programs, a different one for each and every problem. Instead they rely on engineers to solve problems.

As a postscript to the editorial, I feel the real problem resides with engineering management. An engineering graduate’s first manager is critical to his or her career. That manager can make new engineers into outstanding design engineers or relegate them into overpaid CAD technicians. Whether it is a big or little company, engineering managers need to challenge new graduates with problems that can only be solved through engineering. They should let new grads gain confidence in what they learned in college and build on that knowledge.

Richard Goldy