Houston’s Structural Skyline: From Steel and Glass to Beer Cans

AC-1Houston’s Structural Extremes

This weekend, Saturday April 11, Houston’s Annual Art Car Parade will be held.  It is one of the highlights of the local entertainment season, a perfect meld of engineering/mechanical aptitude and artsy wackiness: something purely Houstonian.

The idea of the Art Car Parade is that anyone with an old junk car (or anything else on wheels) spends a year or more decorating it in a unique artistic style that speaks to them alone: the car may end up covered with dancing lobsters, or disguised as a dragon, peacock, or even as Siamese twin VW bugs.  Then one Saturday a year, 250 or so art cars parade down one of Houston’s main drags, like some psychedelic Easter parade strutting for the appreciative crowds.  If you can’t make the Art Car Parade in person, here is the next best thing:  http://www.thehoustonartcarparade.com.    
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This Joist is Jumpin’: the Structural Dynamics of Dance

Don’t try this until a Professional Engineer has checked things out

I’ve been out dancing several times in the past month or so – New Year’s Eve was spent with a Latin band which played salsa, bachata, and merengue.  A few weeks later my wife and I went to a ballroom gala, getting an opportunity to trot out our fox trot, rumba, cha-cha, and swing.  And every few Fridays we manage to squeeze in an hour or so of our favorite, Argentine tango. Continue reading

Engineering, on the Way to San Jose

Dominic Kinnear, fellow traveler on the road west

“Will you live in the Bay Area January through March 2015, if we fund you?” – Last Tuesday night I came to the moment of truth on the application that I was filling out, in my attempt to get CloudCalc selected as a member of the Winter 2015 class of YCombinator, the world’s preeminent technology accelerator — the birth place of such luminaries as Dropbox, Reddit, and Airbnb.  Now they were asking the clincher – if selected, did I promise to relocate for 3 months from Houston to Silicon Valley? Continue reading

NYC’s Highline – Where “That” Type of Engineer Meets “This” Type of Engineer

New York City’s High Line, then and now

“Whooooooooo whooooo!”  Admit it, there’s some train love in all of us.  I first realized my love of trains when I was a little kid, in the years following the great interstate highway build out, when it was pretty well decided that the long haul trucker had made the train obsolete.  Whenever my family went for a drive it seemed like we always passed train graveyards.  To me, it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen – what were all the different types of trains and street cars used for, where had they traveled, what would it be like to own one to play in?
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Engineering or Art: Why not Both?

art-3Dubai Skyline – Engineering or Art?

“Filling a space in a beautiful way. That’s what art means to me.” – Georgia O’Keeffe


This past weekend my wife and I were in Providence, visiting our daughter for the purpose of meeting her new boyfriend.  Walking through our hotel I noticed an interesting diptych among the artwork decorating the hallway – two pieces celebrating the nearby Exchange Bridge.  One piece, an engineering drawing used in the construction, had many characteristics – clean lines, geometric patterns, symmetry, and interesting ornamentation – usually associated with many purely artistic works.  The other piece was a photo capturing the beauty of the resulting tangle of structural steel that was the bridge itself.  The photographer, coming upon this utilitarian object, recognized that it had “filled a space in a beautiful way” – and thus was art, to Georgia O’Keeffe, to the photographer, as well as to many others who walk the streets of the city (or the halls of that hotel) every day. Continue reading

One Engineer Remembers the World Trade Center



Yesterday marked the 13th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, an attack that destroyed both towers, killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, decimated New York City’s first responders, and in many ways changed the world forever.  The date September 11 will always conjure up, for those who lived through it, horrible memories — of the sights, the fears, the concerns for loved ones, and above all the concern and sorrow felt for those nearly 3,000 who we did not even know.

This blog article is an inadequate place to try to honor the memory of those who lost their lives on that day, so I will not even try.  Rather I would like to celebrate the too brief existence of two buildings – two buildings which hold a significant place in my life.

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First and √100 – an Engineer’s Guide to Football

As if the real JJ wasn’t big and scary enough

This weekend the pro football season starts across America.  Sunday will find me at NRG Stadium alongside 72,000 Houston Texans fans, joining 1,000,000 others in 15 NFL stadiums across America, as well as 100 million viewers parked in front of televisions watching their favorite teams.  Today, hope is alive for every NFL fan – every team is still undefeated (late edit: except the Packers), and every fan dreams of the feats that their favorite players will use to win the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XLIX in February.  I know the Texans fans are salivating over their expectations of all the times that JJ Watt and JD Clowney will combine to drive the opposing quarterback into the turf.  I hear the callers to sports talk radio swearing that Ryan Fitzpatrick (recently named by Sports Illustrated as the 5th smartest athlete in sports — so he could have been an engineer, too) will erase the memory of Matt Schaub’s pick-sixes by connecting on touchdowns to Andre Johnson.  And the entire Houston community believes that new coach Bill O’Brien (another guy smart enough to have been an engineer) will finally turn the team’s long simmering potential into real wins.

But engineers are logical thinkers.  We know that only one of 32 teams can win the Super Bowl, and thus “our” team (anyone’s team) has a 97% chance of being a loser.  So why get our hopes up with the action on the field when we know that there is virtually no chance of success?  So what’s an engineer to do for entertainment while attending a football game?  Well how about checking out that engineering wonder that we’re sitting in, the modern football stadium?

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