Sunday, August 28, 2011

What is Engineering Design?

As defined by Engineers Australia:  National Committee on Engineering Design (NCED)

Link to NCED web Site.

Daily Newspaper with articles collected from Twitter: #Engineering Design


[28/08/2011] : Original
[26/02/2019] : Deleted Links as become obsolete

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Music Video: We’ve Got To Be That Light – A Gift to America’s Teachers

Music Video: We’ve Got To Be That Light – A Gift to ... Teachers.

From coast to coast, across the oceans to teachers every where.

Educational Testing: Cannot Inspect Quality in have to Design it in

The Innovative Educator: A Fundamental Principle: No Unnecessary Testing (N...: By Stephen Krashen | Original PDF Summary: Do not invest 4.5 billion on new standards and tests. Instead, work on improving the NAEP to g...

The testing in the education system is inappropriately focused. The students who need to learn something, are tested to assess whether the teachers are doing a good job. Forget the debate what is the purpose of education, what value are teachers? Are teachers doing a good job and should the government be investing in the schools and their personnel? That appears to be the focus of all the testing in education.

Whilst industry needs to know is this person competent to perform this job? Does this person have adequate knowledge to work safely in this job and not otherwise pose a hazard to others. Is this person capable of exercising adequate duty of care and learning what is needed to complete the job, or otherwise seeking the guidance and assistance of more qualified persons?

I always found swot vac, irritating. Who introduced such rubbish? I never wanted time to study and prepare for examinations, nor reading time once in the examination. Just give me the examination, with out warning, if I don't know the stuff being examined then the results will indicate, I have no current interest in the stuff, and no immediate need to know. The examinations are all about someone else wanting others to know, it is not about the individuals need to know. Professions are creating more and more standardized knowledge bases, exacting specifications of the elite members of the profession. But in the process actually diluting and watering down the capabilities of the members of the profession. Most professions were born out of necessity, individuals studying and acquiring and appropriate knowledge base to tackle specific problems. We don't really need members of the existing professions, we need people who can tackle today's problems.

The journey is important with respect to learning, and the important part which leads to quality learning, is the students interest in the learning, the students need to know, the relevance to the student. The problem with education, is that it is about what others believe the individual needs to know. So individuals have their own problems and circumstances to resolve, and schools deny them the opportunity to tackle these issues and force them to study a great deal of abstract irrelevances, with constitute further problem relative to their current needs.

There is need for rigorous training and testing before being appointed to certain tasks, or job functions. but such training and testing should be independent of the learning and enabling process itself. That is education enables, training develops competence and proficiency, and testing determines if the required proficiency has been achieved.

But some one may be a good soldier but that doesn't mean they are good enough to be in the SAS or any other elite group. Similarly there are many people in the work force who are very good at their job, even unaware that there are specialist professional groups in existence, they are too busy getting on with their job to worry about professions. But then circumstances change, they become unemployed, they now need job titles for what they did, a professional classification, and to get a job doing what they were doing a professional qualification. No they become excluded from their area of practice. They end up attending educational institutions supposedly being taught. But the teachers know and understand less than they do: the only advantage the teacher has is the language, the jargon of the profession that obscures communication and understanding to all that are not part of the elite group of the profession.

Knowledge is not a tree, it is a complex network or web, and there is no starting or ending point. We should be enabling the next generation to study from their own perspective, based on seeking answers to their own questions: rather than learning and feeding the known answers back to teachers. They may all start from different points in the knowledge web, and take differing paths through the web, but their breadth of knowledge is likely to converge, whilst their depth of knowledge differs.

To operate in our economy there is a common knowledge base and skill set required. All eventually acquire that skill though not part of any formal education system. Whilst if look at professionals, no matter where their initial education started: science, engineering,  medicine, many ultimately end up with an MBA or graduate diploma's in project management. The relevance of the masters or graduate status is largely irrelevant because many, have learnt such skills and knowledge on the job. So that academic awards are largely about assessing ability with out having actually used that ability in a real world setting.

That is academic awards do not indicate actually ability, but rather potential to demonstrate such ability. All the specification writing, and all the testing and filtering carried out, is not working in selecting the right people for the work that needs to be done. We are simply failing to train the people with the right skills to meet the needs of industry and society. Further their own imagination and creativity are being stifled. That imagination is required to develop new needs, new wants, new desires and new demands in the market. Do not necessarily need innovative designers, just a populace with imagination and needs.

At the extreme if no one desires to build a space colony beyond Pluto, merely just to see if we can, then it will never happen. An education system built on the purpose of creating employees for an industrial machine, which has all the cogs it needs, is of little value. More people need to be leaving school and starting new businesses supplying new goods and services, or providing alternative goods and services to those existing already, but with some innovative twist.

Where there is no issue of public safety, no exacting specification for a job function, then no testing is required. Where exacting specifications are required, then training is important, and training imposes a specific journey of incremental assessment, where you may be eliminated very quickly and never complete the training programme. Training is about developing proficiency and testing competence in realistic setting. Education and learning to acquire enabling competence and foundational knowledge should have been completed before training begins.

You don't train some one with two left feet, and trips themselves up, to be an Olympic sprinter. You train those who have the enabling competence in the first place.

In education, testing should be incremental, and it should be used to change the assistance that the teacher gives to the pupil to enable that person to learn and to encourage such learning.

Testing which concludes the teachers no value and the pupil no value is pointless. If such is so then what is going to be done about it? Teachers have to be able to adapt to the needs of their pupils, to be dynamically adaptive, to use feedback systems and adjust lessons accordingly, designing lessons to suit the needs of the individual. And that may mean that the teacher keeps out of the individuals way.

We have 10 years of compulsory education: the individual can learn as much or as little as they like. The system appears to be biased towards doing the minimum necessary to get through. No need to aim for the academic judgement of excellence, for what value does it have to the majority? Most are interested in getting away from school, attaining a ticket to employment, earning money and pursing their own lives. They don't want to be at school, and they are not with out ability, they mostly consider they are oppressed and constrained unwarrantedly. If the government, the teachers are going to hold the young captive, then better not waste their time in the classroom: teachers had better have something worth while to say: it had better be relevant to the pupils needs. If not then the teachers better get out off the way. Teachers are prison warders, and the students are not wasting the teachers time causing a disturbance, the teacher is wasting the students time. So far better filtering is required on who is permitted to teach.

If education is for the purpose of getting a job, then education is failing. If education is about more than getting a job, then education is failing. Teachers shouldn't be getting credit for the efforts of students. Teachers shouldn't be tainted by the actions troublesome pupils. It is necessary to get the right teachers and pupils together.

If our society is producing, or supplying at any rate, most of what it needs, then it has all the personnel it needs, and so new cogs for the societal machine are just going to be stockpiled in the warehouse until components wear out and need replacing. They will not be able to participate. It cannot be education for jobs, for employment, it has to be education for business, for the market, for survival, for life. What can be tested when it comes to such purpose? Better just keep out of the way.

Then each nation seems to be declaring war on the rest of the world. Like we are in an economic war and have to beat each other. School ground stuff: my nation better than your nation, we lead the world ...

Would be better if we worked together. Not the least of which one major export is education. Like local population diminishing interest in education, but over seas students have interest. Is this because locally we have nothing to develop, the other nations simply developing and building what we already have. Do we not have a future vision, or is it whats the point? We either have too much comfort, or too many constraints on being able to take risks. We have met basic survival needs, but what next? Really get bored to death with sport and the movies? Or can we go explore the depths of the oceans and the outer reaches of space. To climb Everest just because its there.

Just do Coz !  With no point or purpose. Too much rationalizing everything: some things just need to just go do.

Yeh! I get easily side tracked. The web of knowledge has no boundaries. All in the universe is connected.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Machine Analogy of Industrial Society

Society has a split personality. To talk of capitalist society is something of a contradiction of terms. The advocates of capitalism, often cite how the system more closely represents the natural world with competition and the survival of fitess: it is also why many nations have problematic legislation which protects competition rather than protecting diversity and security of supply. Such regulation implies a certain mechanical analogy to society. That society is a designed and planned machine with specific purpose. When people complain about the state of the health care system, and long waiting queues, there is an inference the machine is broken. When people complain about the state of the roads and the quality of service from public transport, there is an implication that the machine is broken. When people complain about the failure of the education system once again an implication that the machine is broken. The supply of water the disposal of waste. Financing the unemployed, the sick and the retired. Every subsystem is defective, and the machine is broken.

But if the machine is broken, then at some point in time the machine had to have been fully operational and fullfilling its function properly. Whilst some people may refer back to better times, those better times as with now, were only better for some people not all. The machine has never been fully operational, for it has never been fully built. The construction of the machine is a work in progress, but that is not what the educators imply to their pupils. Educators teach as if the machine was fully operational. There is confusion has to whether we have to fight to survive in the wilderness of the concrete jungle, or whether we are simply cogs within the machinery of industrial society.

Some people think they are not cogs: but isolate them entirely from industrial society and see how well they can survive. They are analogous cogs, because they drive and are driven by the industrial machine, from one cog to the next. As drive system or power supply, they are still component parts of the machine: represented by cogs. They are not outside of the machine, and they cannot walk away from the machine. In this respect we are certainly inferior to our ancestors reaching out into the unknown, a pioneering colony on the Moon, or Mars or a space station beyond Pluto is all a constrained possibility because of an unrealistic desire for a perfectly safe machine.

Except that we do not currently operate in a perfectly safe machine, simply travelling to and from place of work is a major risk: likely to result in death. This risk we desire to remove, to perfect the machine, and yet we don't want to be cogs in the machine. Everybody else is expected to be a highly regulated cog with in the machine but not ourselves: everyone tends towards unlimited freedom for themselves and shackles for everyone else. Legislation, regulations and law are all part of the technology of the machinery of industrial society. The laws and regulations are the software that controls the operation of the machine.

The machine operates in a dynamic environment. The environment is changed by many causes, but the very presence of the machine in the environment changes the environment. The machine therefore has to be dynamically adaptive: the environment that the machine is being built in, is not the same environment it will operate in, and the environment it operates in today is not the environment it will operate in tomorrow. If there is no feedback system and no adaptation, then the machine fails in its intended function. It grows, ages, decays and dies. If we adopt a living organism analogy for a city, then the city is a plant not an animal. The plant has to build an extensive root system to draw resources from ever distant locations, resources are wasted on transporting back to the core. Animals however can move closer to the resources, and reduce repetitive transportation distances. Animals can take risks and seek out new resources in as yet unknown places, and do so without a life line back to a point of origin. Many of the problems humans currently face are because the political machine as turned them into plants. Industrial cities and their mechanical plant are stationary engines.

Thoughts interrupted will return to this later.

The Applied Science, Technical Science and Engineering Science Cycle

Whether applied science, technical science or engineering science comes first, is similar to the chicken and egg story, none the less there is a cycle from one to the other. It is also similar to the folklore that the C programming language is written in C. As I understand the compiler for the C programming language was written in assembly language, but then needed something to test the compiler, and so the compiler was rewritten using the C programming language itself, then compiled: the result was more compact efficient machine code. The compiler thus became the one that was written in C itself, and the language and associated compiler can be extended by programming the extensions in C and compiling using the existing C compiler: it thus evolves itself. It is thus a matter of timing, and an iterative cycle or sprial.

For nearly one hundred years there has been an on going debate about the meaning of the words: engineer and engineering. There are those that declare that: those who carry out engineering are engineers. This group has to define a filter to identify and classify that which is to be called engineering. Then there are those who declare that: engineering is what engineers do. This group has to define a filter to identify those who can be placed in the box of engineers. The two groups never agree, and are unlikely to ever resolve the problem, for they the latter group in particular wants to place legal constraints on the use of the English language. When the public refers to something having been engineered, they are not referring to activity carried out by someone fitting in the box of engineers, they are referring to something that was brought about by deliberate intent. The persons that bring this about are referred to as being engineers, architects, planners or draughtsmen. Take note of the latter: once upon a time, draughtsmen had more esteem than they currently do. Technical drawing was an important problem solving and communication tool. Technical drawings are one of the lowest cost prototypes that can be produced. Being able to find the true lengths of lines and the true shapes of planes, for 3D ojects that do not yet exist, is an important skill. The technical training of the first formally trained, so called engineers, was in technical drawing, engineering graphics or descriptive geometry as it is otherwise called.

Telford and Coulomb are not engineers, because they designed and constructed things, but because they did so at the frontiers of science and technology. Telford used a rational scientific method when he built small scale prototypes before building much larger versions of his bridges. He also used proof loads to test materials that were installed within his constructions. With a qualitative understanding of the materials available he made judgements, which turned out successful, with out need of complex mathematical analysis. His prototypes, not only assessed the performance of the end-product, but also tested the construction process, and tested the supply lines for materials and labour. Navier on the otherhand taking a mathematical theory which had not been validated by empirical evidence experienced problems, with bridges apparently collapsing during construction: the result was need for some material testing and large design factors to calibrate the theory against real world behaviour. Thus sustaining the ancient Greek debate between the empirical and the theoretical. The human senses cannot be trusted therefore need the theoretical, but what good is a theory that doesn't reflect reality?

Unlike Telford, Coulomb had at least two years of formal military training in science and mathematics, largely biased towards descriptive geometry. As a miltary engineer he was engaged in building fortifications and machines of war. During construction of fortifications Coulomb encountered problems with collapse of soil embankments and collapse of the walls of trenches. This led to Coulomb experimenting and otherwise developing the fundamentals of soil mechanics.

For most of history technology has been developed by a process of trial and error. By themselves rational methods cannot solve problems, they merely validate that a solution obtained by other means is an actual solution to a problem. Problem solving, invention, and innovation require creativity and imagination, and thus far such cannot be imparted by any formal education process. Most technology was invented by people operating at the coal face of where a problem was experienced, and who also have the skills to make and the opportunity to put the technology to use. Eureka moments are typically experienced by people deliberating searching for a solution to a problem, but otherwise taking a break from such search. Thus when they tripped over the solution, they were able to recognise it has such. Being at the coal face is also important, for designers can come up with all kinds of ideas, but often all kinds of opposition to implementing the ideas arise and therefore opposition to implementing and trialing the technology. When the technology arises at the coal face, the person is willing to trial alternatives, to modify their approach to doing things. So real world experimentation takes place, mostly qualitative and observational rather than measurable and quantitative. Science in the first instance is about observation and recording, not measurement.

It has been said that the steam engine was made before the science of thermodynamics. Not entirely so, it may be that the steam engine was made before the science of thermodynamics was named and quantified, but science was otherwise there before the steam engine. Before the steam engine someone had to have observed the boiling of water and the action of steam: whether Hero's kettle spinning an axle or a lid lifted off a pan, some action of steam was observed. From the observation an hypothesis posed and technology built in the hopes the hypothesis would prove true. Further observation and/or hypothesis that more steam and larger engines would provide more energy. So no point building smaller engines to get more power. But bigger engines taking up more space and burning more fuel, was not desirable. So ask a question: is it possible to get more power from the existing engines? What modifications can be made to get more work from the engines whilst using less fuel?

An important question, for one of the first uses of steam engines was to pump water from coal mines, the coal was required for coking iron. Actually there had been something of an environmental crisis, forests or woods were being cut to produce charcoal to coke the iron to produce steel. This deprived the population of the wood they needed for cooking and heating. The discovery that coal could be used for coking iron and otherwise be used as a domestic fuel reduced further stripping of the wood lands, though brought about atmospheric pollution. All designs have detriments and benefits. Whilst the coal fired steam engine pumped water out of the coal mines, the amount of coal used was the greater share of the extra coal able to extract. If there was to be any point mining this extra coal the steam engines needed to be more efficient. Scientific observation starts to lead to something that can be measured: coal extracted versus coal consumed, and the amount of water pumped and the height raised. From the technology a quantifiable science starts to emerge. This observation, measurement and recording: is applied science. Applied science simply states what is, and provides hypothesis of behaviour that can be validated by more experiments and testing.

Knowing that the steam engine consumes more coal than desired, that the plank of wood used as a bridge snaps when the span is too great, that the stone wall collapses when too high, does not help achieve specific objectives. Imagination is required to pose a scientific hypothesis and so also is imagination required to invent methods of testing such hypothesis and validating it: merely collecting supporting evidence is not adequate scientific proof. All the evidence may support the idea that all swans are white, until encounter the black swans of Australia. But what now the hypothesis? Can we expect to find say blue swans? Just because we have not found doesn't mean do not exist? Is there a clue in the DNA that suggests blue swans not possible? Science is about curiosity, posing questions and seeking answers. Scientific knowledge is the collection of answers and solutions found: such knowledge is often simply abbreviated to science.

Once we have the qualitative and/or quantitative scientific knowledge explaining the behaviour of steam engines, beams and columns etc. then we have Technical Science. With technical science we can make sure the plank of wood is thick enough that it doesn't snap when we use as a bridge across a creek. With technical science we can make the stone wall thick enough in the first instance to match its height, self weight and the roof load it supports. We don't have to build the wall until it buckles and collapses, make it thicker, build flying buttroses and the likes by trial and error until the wall stops collapsing. We can minimise the number of trial and error experiments, because we have a scientific record of past experience, to use to direct future action. Technical science does not invent the steam engine, nor invent the wheel, technical science simply tells us how to make a steam engine fit for a specific purpose. Technical science provides us with the means of checking a proposed specification for a wheel to determine if we can expect it to perform satisfactorily. Technical science removes the need to re-invent the wheel, and also ensures that we do not invent an inferior version of the wheel should we choose to be innovative. The science itself does not provide the innovation, just the means of testing the innovation.

As indicated earlier, for me engineering takes place at the frontiers of science and technology. Not the frontier of the scientific method but the frontier of scientific knowledge, a point where there is no technical science. No technical science and the technology exists merely as a concept, an hypothesis. Whilst pure science poses hypothesis about behaviour of the natural world, engineering science poses hypothesis about deliberately directing the behaviour of the natural world through the implementation of technology. The contention here is that when the technology has been implemented, and the hypothesis has been validated by applied science, then the engineering science becomes technical science. Last years engineer becomes this years technician.

When the institution of structural engineers (UK) was founded it was done so largely with a focus on a new fangled material in the form of steel reinforced concrete. Applied science needed to determine the limits and capabilities of this composite material. Engineering science needed to determine a rational method of design for the material to be used in a large variety of different structural forms: for example plates, shells and frames. Structural forms for which technical science did not provide practical methods of structural analysis whilst the proper form and proportion of reinforced concrete itself was not understood. Today there are plenty of text books, industry handbooks, national standards and codes of practice covering the technical design of reinforced concrete. It is now a matter of technical science and the community does not expect reinforced concrete structures to fail unexpectedly.

Modern industrial society has an abundance of technical science but is otherwise failing to produce people who are adequately competent in the application of such knowledge. There is far too much focus on teaching, collecting parchments and other credentials than on exercising a duty of care.

So called professionals are creating an environment in which peoples confidence in doing for themselves is destroyed, but it also goes for the professionals themselves. They assume they know all they need to know, if they weren't taught, then they don't know and don't need to know, or they need to return to formal education and be taught some more. They are not people with curiosity, who ask questions and seek answers. Furthermore they only pursue knowledge work during the hours they are paid, they tend to expect to be given a job, and to be paid for further training to help keep the job. Professionals they may call themselves but none the less they are cogs within the machinery of industrial society. Which wouldn't be so bad, but they are defective cogs, and the machine is defective as a consequence.

Whilst it may be possible to write exact specifications for the cogs required by the machinery of industrial society to run smoothly: the machine itself only requires so many cogs. Society however produces more cogs than the machine requires, but not enough to build another machine. The existing machine is therefore inadequate. Whilst people may not want to be part of the machine, and consider themselves more than cogs in the machine, their survival is dependent on slotting into the industrial machine. Creativity and imagination is required to live outside of the industrial machine. Creativity and imagination are also required to adapt and modify the machine so that it better serves the people it is meant to benefit, rather than enslave them. Formal education cannot impart this creativity, it can only pass on the knowledge of technical science, and hope to enhance and direct existing creative talent rather than destroy such talent.

The point is, that it is not necessary to go to university to study technical science. The original engineers had no universities to go to, and there was no technical science to pass on to them. The physical world was their university, and the scientific method their principal tool. Also who first came up with a theory, who a theory is named after is not so important as to whether the theory reflects the real world. A designer in the modern world, with in industrial society has a responsibility and a duty of care to become conversant with the technical science appropriate to the technology they are dealing with. Such technical science may not directly relate to prior learning. If can find somebody else who has such prior learning, then good, but resource constraints mean that is not always possible. Such resource constraints also mean that there may not be adequate time, to become fully conversant with the available technical science: decisions have to be made and actions taken. This means that in hindsight, risks taken could have been avoidable if more resources been available, to make proper use of the available technical science.

I will leave for now, but at some future date I will essay how I believe modern professionals have hijacked the human knowledge base for profit, and are otherwise becoming a public menace. Rather than people learning to satisfy their own basic and higher needs, they are entering formal education to gain a ticket to employment and join a profession. Markets don't work on the basis of supplying to demands, rather on the basis of: this is what I have, this is what I actually need, I demand an exhange take place, else I have no need to recognise rights of ownership. Establishing and sustaining professions involves much politics, as does survival of the individual. We are not training, accrediting and licensing professionals because we need the professionals. Professionals are just like any other manufactured product, and as such can be substituted or complemented by a variety of other products. We are producing the professionals therefore largely due to lack of attention to our real needs, and also due to some social and political manipulation on the part of the professions. That is failure to write proper specifications for the cogs that the machinery of industrial society needs, and also a failure to produce universal cogs that can be put any where in the machine and dynamically adapt to their environment. This is not to say that individuals are not creative, or dynamically adaptive, but that the industrial system is not capable of producing as a matter of routine.

Further more all systems in place are creating greater restrictions on personal actions and greater dependence on professionals. Whilst quality of service and public safety require some level of regulation the current regulatory systems are inappropriate: the systems seem to deteriorate until the incompetent are in authority. The problem is technical science, it can validate solutions but it cannot solve problems. Regulations are too rigid, the environment too dynamic and a lack of imagination to fuel foresight. The rational promotes the rational and pushes out the creative, and our ability as a society to recognise forth coming probems and solve them is diminished. Also "they" are wrong, mathematics does not teach nor develop problem solving, its teaches solutioneering: problems are not actual problems but mathematical models with known evaluation techniques. Real problems have to be mapped onto the available solutions. It is highly unlikely that those that study only mathematics will ever solve the unsolved problems of mathematics: they cannot take the innovative lateral tangential leap in thinking required to find the solution. They are, merely repeating old behaviour expecting different results: their trials and errors are not on new ground. It is not an issue of a complete shift to encouraging creativity, it is an issue of getting the balance right, and otherwise denying the professionals authority to rule as a new aristocracy.

But as I said that is for another time.