Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the tag “engineering”

The Balance of Public Private Partnership and Government Funding in the Infrastructure Industry

 

     Hello everyone, sorry about being away for a bit.  I had an exam and had to focus in on school work, but I feel like I did good on the exam and can get back to a normal rhythm.  Today I would like to pose an interesting question.  What is best for the infrastructure industry – public private partnerships or government funded projects?

     I read a good letter-to-the-editor piece in CE Magazine recently that was critical of politicians who only wanted to pursue the infrastructure investment bank option for increasing investment.  In the author’s opinion, it is the job of the government to do whatever it takes to provide the infrastructure systems for this country.  I don’t see it as one dimensional as the author does, but this brought an interesting point to my attention.  A lot of people involved with the infrastructure industry like the public private partnership type projects as a way to bring more investment to the infrastructure construction and maintenance process.  Since increased funding in this area is needed ASAP, I have no problem with them pushing for this option if people are willing to do this.  However, issues in the infrastructure industry that can’t be addressed through a public private partnership system are largely over looked.

    Public Private Partnerships can help relieve a lot of the issues that drag our infrastructure down right now.  For example, a private company could charge tolls for a road and use that to maintain the road as part of a business plan.  This is a great system once you solve the oversight and standards issues.  Another area that this could be beneficial for is management of projects and procuring construction manpower and equipment.  As people have discovered with the government projects, having to maintain a large bureaucracy in managing these large projects is expensive.  Off loading those expenses to companies willing to do the work would allow for increased efficiency in the infrastructure construction process.

    However, there are some parts of the infrastructure industry where government investment is required to some degree.  The main one I see is the initial investment stage of these large scale projects.  Any private company will need some help (or at least an incentive) to take on the large amount of initial investment required.  Private businesses in general prefer projects that have large profits and the lowest possible expenses.  Government can provide a lot of aid to the infrastructure industry by allowing private companies to apply their preferred model for business.  The other area I see the government being essential are the parts of infrastructure where for profit motives aren’t the bottom line.  A great example of this is public transportation.  Overall, it is a largely inefficient industry in regards to cost and maintenance.  However, it doesn’t mean that it is something that shouldn’t be promoted as a part of our infrastructure improvement plan.  I’m not saying that we should take a loss in these projects, but it is something that should be offered without an eye towards massively cutting cost or increasing profits.  Since a company will not see the same high margin of profits they might find in a large highway construction project, they are more like to not take the project or to maintain an inadequate system due to their goals of minimizing inefficiencies and increasing profits.

    To sum it up, a balance needs to found between the application of public private partnerships and government funded projects in the infrastructure industry.  Some of the ways I think we can find a good balance are listed above.  What is your opinion about the balance of the infrastructure industry?  Is there anything you think we need to do to improve it?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

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Different Types of Matlab Files and How to Use Them

Hello everyone, I hope y’all are doing well.  Today I wanted to talk about all the different types of files available in Matlab and the most efficient way of using them.  There a two standard program files that can be used in Matlab: the script file and the function file.  Along with that, there is a variable file which can be used to save the variables in the workspace.    And finally, to save the results there are figure files for any figures that have been created and text files for any results that have been shown in the command window.

Script file:  (.m) This is a program file to run a unique calculation for any data or process.  My preference is to individually create these for each new problem or set of calculations I need to perform in Matlab.  This doesn’t mean I always have to start from scratch; and if I am is lucky enough, there is minimal changing required if it’s a common issue/calculation.  The best way to think about this in my mind is that this is the unique framework of the problem and anything repetitive, common, or extraneous can be performed using one of the following methods.

Function file:  (.m) This is a specific type of program file which takes some given inputs, runs some standard calculations/processes, and provides the necessary outputs.  All the calculations are considered separate from the script program itself; as a result, the variables and data internally used aren’t saved in the workspace unless specified as an output.  This is a great tool to run a repetitive calculation or clean up a script program if it is running very slowly.  These can be user defined or standard Matlab functions.

Variable file:  (.mat) This file is basically a saved set of variables for the workspace.  These can be loaded fairly quickly with one or two command lines at most and are great for introducing the initial data in a clean and efficient manner.  I’m assuming there is also a way to save a variable file in the program as well which may be beneficial if a method for saving the data for the workspace in the future is desired.

Figure file: (.fig) This file is used to save any figures that have been created.  This is a very simple concept in that its sole purpose is to save figures so that the program does not need to be run to create them every time.  A great time saver for a long running script or function file.

Text file:  (.txt) This is similar to a figure file.  To use this efficiently, create a diary using the diary command and save it as a text file.  This creates a file that shows everything done in the command window while running the script file.  It pretty much serves the same purpose for the command window as the figure file does for any figures.

Synopsis:  This is the combined usage of the files in most of my matlab programs.  I write a script file to accomplish the unique calculations/process necessary.  I set up a text file using the diary function so that all the calculations in the command window are saved.  I use a variable file to bring in the initial data.  I use and/or create function files to perform any extraneous or repetitive calculations if necessary.  I could use a variable file to save the resulting data in the workspace, but I haven’t had to do that yet.  I save any figure files that have been created.  If possible, I do all of this with commands in the script file itself so that all I have to do is click run to get the results and files.

That is how I personally use those files and I find it to be the most efficient so far.  Like I have mentioned before, there are different methods and every programmer has their own voice so to speak.  As long as everything is properly commented and nothing too crazy is done, everything should work out fine.  I just wanted to let you know my process in case any of it might help you.  Have a good week!

Question of the Week:

How do you use the different Matlab files and why?  If it is different from mine, do you think is better or worse than my method and why?

Four Basic Types of Loops and Conditionals in Matlab

Hello everyone.  I’ve been enjoying my spring break from school.  I’ve looked over material for a school project and plan on applying for jobs this weekend.  I hope your week is going well.  Today I wanted to describe two types of functions in Matlab, the loop and conditional, as it is used in coding for Matlab.  A loop is a function used to repeat a cycle.  A conditional is used to decide which calculation or function to perform based on a set of criteria.  Matlab has four types of loops and conditionals available by default: if conditional, while loop, for loop, and switch conditional.  In this post, I will describe to you each type, how to use them, and give a basic example.

If conditional

Description: The if conditional is a function that takes a piece of data, checks for a mathematical condition, and then uses that to apply the desired function.

Standard Usage: This function is commonly used to perform calculations that accurately account for large quantities of diverse data.

Example: In this case, y=-2+2*4=6

%

x=4;

if x < 0

y=x^2;

elseif x < 2

y=x;

else

y=-2+2*x;

end

%

While Loop

Description: The while loop executes a function as long as a mathematical condition is true.

Standard Usage: This is commonly used to iterate a process until a specific criterion is met.

Example: In this case, y=1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9=45

%

y=0; x=0;

while x < 10

y=y+1;

x=x+1;

end

%

For Loop

Description: This is a loop that executes a function for a set number times.

Standard Usage: This is commonly used to perform calculations on a specific set of data for each individual data element.  This can also be used to perform calculations for cases where a specific number of iterations are used.

Example: y=[2,4,6,8]

%

x=1:1:4; y=zeros(4);

for i = 1:length(x)

y(i)=2*x(i)

end

%

Switch Conditional

Description: This is a conditional that takes a value or string variable and uses it choose which calculation to perform.

Standard Usage: This is commonly used to write a program to execute a variety of calculations depending on a user specified situation.

Example: In this case, y=4

%

x=2;

calc=’square’

switch lower(calc)

case {‘linear’}

y=x

case {‘square’}

y=x^2

case {‘cubic’}

y=x^3

otherwise

disp(‘y is unknown’)

end

%

These are the four types of loops expressed in a very basic way.  This information can also be found by typing help and the name of the function, ie ‘help if’.  However, I thought this would be helpful because this shows them in their simplest form while also telling you when and how they are used.  When learning to program in Matlab, the issues I found when using loops and conditionals were not always how to find the information but figuring what function to use and how to use it in a specific circumstance.  Hopefully, this post will help with that if you are initially learning this language and get stuck with these types of functions.

If you a learning how to use loops in Matlab right now, what do you find difficult and easy?  If you already have experience using this, what did you find difficult and easy when you first learned this?  Is there still anything specific about these loops and conditionals that cause issues?  Let me know if you have any questions and have a good week!

Engineering references in e-book form – would you use them?

Hello everyone, I hope you are doing well.  Nothing much has really changed here.  Still waiting to hear back from UTA so I can register for courses – I did do the renewal training seminar for substitute teaching so I at least have a way to make money if all else fails.  I tried looking for engineering job openings but I didn’t many postings for entry level jobs that interested me this week.  Overall not a bad week though.  Today I wanted get an idea of whether of whether or not you would use your standard engineering references as e-books if they were available in that form.

The whole concept came from a blog I read that did a series of articles saying what is in their bag.  There are some things which remain same for everyone – paper, pens and pencils, erasers, calculators, etc.  Reading it got me thinking about a recent dividing point – the e-book.  Most people I know, even amongst people my age, either love the fact that e-books are so easy to use and have fully embraced the technology or don’t use it at all because they just have to have the paper book in their hand for it to feel right.  For me, it’s a no brainer – e book.  While there might be some books that I would buy still, it would because it’s a special edition cover or something like that.  Then I could be like Ron Burgundy and try to impress women with my collection of classic books lol.  For day to day usage, I would prefer to use a kindle though because it is lighter and can hold all the books you’ll need with and infinite amount of archive space online as well.  So that would mean my optimum bag would contain very little stuff because of that – laptop, kindle, page scanner wand, calculator, engineering paper and then office supplies to round it off.

What is the case for you?  Do you think we are a long ways of from kindle usage being the norm for most books?  Or is it going to be a change that occurs in the near future?  And on a side note, I just wanted to let ya’ll know that I am changing the format a bit.  The posts are going to be the same but I’m going to try posting on a random schedule but at 1 time a week minimum to see if my creativity for my blog increases.  Let me know your thoughts either way.  Have a good week! 🙂

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