Friday 2013-02-08

To Engineer Is Human by Henry Petroski

To Petroski, engineering = managing errors so as to fit a target lifetime cost of a project. Difficulties arise when working with new tools or materials or environments with which the range of errors is not known.

To that end, Petroski believes that faults should recorded in history, with forensics applied so as to glean what information about the frontiers of human understanding as we can. While eminently correct, it is one thing to say and entirely another to pry secrets from the cold dead hands of times and egos past.

A profession that never has accidents is unlikely to be serving its country efficiently.
-- Sir Alfred Pugsley, The Limits of Design
As the tentacles of the railroads reached further and further out to provide service, there were more and more incentives to have heavier trains traveling at greater speeds over more rugged terrain. Any hill that did not have to be climbed or any valley that did not have to be entered was time and energy saved, and that meant money. But soon the strength required for a railroad bridge built to accomodate an early generation of iron horses was exceeded by later, heavier generations, and collapses occurred.
-- Success is Foreseeing Failure
Given that new alloys behave in new and generally unknown ways with regard to fatigue crack growth, and given that the designers of actual jet passenger aircraft would naturally use new, lighter weight and higher strength alloys in novel ways to get their planes to fly faster, smoother, quieter, higher, adn more economically than the piston-engine aircraft they would supersede, there were likely to be surprises....
-- Forensic Engineering and Engineering Fiction