Friday, 20 February 2015

Proposal for Technology Code

As suggested previously in my proposal for National/International structural code, I consider that an over arching technology code should be established to guide the development of the artificial environment in which we live.

Building codes like the Building Code of Australia (BCA) only give coverage to buildings in the built environment, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) would like the Building Code of Australia (BCA) or now National Construction Code (NCC) to be the single point of reference for everything in the built environment. I indicated I did not find this acceptable as the BCA only really covers habitable buildings and provides inadequate coverage of other structures in the built environment. However it is also inadequate because there is a lot more in the built environment than buildings and other kinds of structures.

Trees whilst part of the natural environment are also deliberately placed in the built environment, typically without thought or consideration to the future impact. When there is a severe wind storm, trees are likely uprooted and crash onto power lines, then have both power  lines and poles crashing through house roofs, through carport roofs and otherwise trees crashing directly onto cars. Sport facilities, like golf courses have to provide protective barriers to busy roads, to stop stray balls from hitting passing vehicles. Cars can be over turned by the wind and can cause damage in the built environment. Just about everything we use starts of as raw materials extracted from nature via some localised built environment, and then transported into the larger built environment of towns and cities. This all ultimately becomes landfill within the built environment. Sewage treatment works an important part of the built environment along with water filtration plants: and clearly not habitable buildings. The drainage of storm water from land and the collection of potable water supply, likewise important features of the built environment, the artificial controlled environment that is the living space of humans: and again clearly not habitable buildings.

As I have indicated previously I have an idealistic view of engineering: requiring that engineering take place at the frontiers of science and technology. At the very minimum engineering provides a predictive quantitative model of a technology so that parametric variants can be designed and developed to serve a specific purpose, and otherwise assessed as being fit-for-function or suitable-for-purpose. Once such model has been developed, then the engineering is over, and it is just a matter of routine technical design.

The problem is that these predictive models may have been held in the heads of individuals, and be an interpretation of in-house company information resources or government resources. With privatisation of many of the engineering related government departments, the established body of knowledge has been lost or at least scattered to the four winds. Further private industry has carried out very little training and passed little to no knowledge onto the next generation. This is largely because many of the larger Australian engineering consultancies rely on contract engineers: they tender for a job, win it, then go searching for contract engineers who can do the job. Contract engineers are individuals, and what they know that others don't is their competitive advantage. It can all eventually lead to the collapse of the foundations on which our society rests.

Whilst dams, and water filtration plants do not need designing and constructing every year, they do need maintaining, and at some distant point in the future additional such items are required to cater for expanded population.

Engineering gave us the systems that we have, and having been engineered there is no need to re-invent the wheel: more to the point as a society we do not want any inferior variant of the technologies that we are currently using. Last years engineer is this years technician. Once the system is engineered, the engineering science is transformed into the technical science of a generic technology. Once we have the predictive model we no longer need the person with the ingenuity to develop such models, instead we need an army of people who can put the predictive model to use and adapt the generic technology to suit specific purposes. These people if we must have occupational classes are Technologists, Associate Technologists and Technicians.

{Prior to the idiot MBA's in Engineers Australia (IEAust) deliberately making a mess of everything, here in Australia we had 2 year qualified Engineering Associates. The IEAust absorbed the institute of engineering associates, ignored the technical officer awards, renamed the occupation to engineering officers, and then failed to accredit further academic programmes. Industry has no more an idea of what an engineering officer is than an Engineering Technologist, and consequently it would seem IEAust achieved its objective, employ more engineers. Except they are not engineers, they are just graduates with B.Eng qualifications largely operating at less than the capabilities of the former engineering associates. Unions just want labour monopoly, a captive audience they can charge extortionate fees. If the IEAust has a learned society  function as it contends it does, then I contend it is the worlds most useless learned society. With the federal industrial award system in place, the technical officers award is now largely displaced to history, and the IEAust has inconsistent systems in place: some referring to engineering officers and others to engineering associates (eg. will find a chartered engineering officer on the national engineering associates register (NEAR) assuming such exists at any point in time.): and these they have in any case equated to engineering technicians via the WFEO Dublin accord. Engineering Associates were not technicians: technicians were the lowest ranking technical officer and typically had advanced trade certificates or were part way through completion of the academic award for engineering associate: Engineering Associates were the highest ranking technical officer. Above them were scientists and engineers.

Any case my objective is to keep the idiots with the post nominal detritus happy, by avoiding the use of the word engineer and engineering, and proposing the new occupational class of associate technologist. I say new, because the engineering associates are not what they once were, it is also clear that they are not engineering technicians and that they are also not just drafters. Unfortunately workplace culture has changed, depending on industry, and someone with a B.Eng is only going to delegate their trite and trivial work to someone  else with a B.Eng unless it involves significant drafting. Work where drafting is a significant part of the work then the engineering associates may get opportunity to put their full education to use, for example storm water drainage and road design. Those with a B.Eng also rarely get to put their full education to use and that is part of the point, its a major national waste. The bachelor degrees are not being pursued for the purpose of learning and putting such learning to use, its purely as a ticket to employment: with what appears to be an hopeful expectation that they never have to put the knowledge to work: but they otherwise have title, status and salary.

Contrary to the IEAust, my interest is in making lower level qualifications more desirable. To me it seems like we have been making things easier so that can climb higher more quickly. My interest in making things exponentially harder, so that cannot climb higher, as each additional step is significantly harder to reach than the previous. I believe that universities and institutes or technology or polytechnics have different roles, and universities should not cater to the whims of industry or society. Universities are the guardians of knowledge, and to a significant extent guardians of societies culture.}

It is important that if legislation or a code of practice makes reference to engineer, then engineer shall be defined with in such context. For example I do not recognise the American PE license as defining and engineer, to me that is the definition of a technologist or technician. The FE/PE exams are clearly concerning the established body of technical science and application to established technologies, and the point of such legislation is clearly to sustain consistency in the performance when implementing variants of the established technologies for specific purposes. Or put another way the PE license defines the potential to be an engineer, not that they actual are: remembering that my requirement is that engineers operate at the frontiers of science and technology, and therefore concerns knowledge on which they cannot be examined because the body of knowledge does not yet exist, as it is their task to create such knowledge. In that respect I think the Americans have shot themselves in the foot, as no point inventing the engineering technologist if the legislation is centred around restricting work to licensed engineers.

Therefore to avoid such hindrance, the technology code needs to identify various classes of work and the occupations with the authority and responsibility over such work and required to perform such work.

The technology code is to be an over arching code, so it doesn't contain significant content on a subject, rather it identifies the accepted references to be used, general principles of planning, design, management and experimentation. The accepted references are therefore books and papers to be kept in print and to be readily available to practitioners. Such books and papers also represent information to be sorted, filtered and organised into better formats.

Whilst the primary purpose of the technology code is to prevent the emergence of inferior variants of established technologies being placed into our controlled built environment, it also has the task of providing some degree of control over the currently unknown and the integrating of such new knowledge into the code.

For example we do not want people doing research in atomic physics to blow up half the continent, similarly we don't want those researching genetics to unleash some mutant virus that wipes out half the population, nor rogue nano-machines causing havoc. On the other hand whilst imagination and fiction provide good cautions, we don't want such creating paranoia and hindering beneficial technology. But it also needs be understood that each benefit also has an associated detriment. Choices shouldn't be made solely on want you want or don't want, but what combination of benefits and detriments are willing to accept and tolerate.

So as I indicated there are different classes of work:

  1. Pushing forward the frontiers of science and technology.
  2. Exploiting natural phenomena in new ways without any rational scientific understanding.
  3. Developing rational scientific design models where there weren't any
  4. Applying rational scientific design models to design variants of generic technologies for specific purposes
  5. Applying adaptive systems for specific purposes involving significant selection/assessment process
  6. Applying prescriptive solutions involving significant selection/assessment process
  7. Applying prescriptive solutions involving mere selection
Applying prescriptive solutions involving a simple process of selection is typically with in the capabilities of trades and the general public without any prior training. Selecting a car, a mobile phone, a computer, or a house are all things people do without too much technical thought. They may make the wrong choice and then have to tolerate the inconvenience: but in the main their choice won't cause them any harm unless they use the products for purposes for which they were not designed.

The fact that once a product hits the market it can be used for all kinds of purposes beyond the intents of the designer, means that all products are raw material. The technology code needs to place limits on the responsibilities of designers: clearly identifying who is the designer with respect to a specific usage. Every end-user is the responsible designer with respect to their specific usage of a product: they can take it on good faith the product is suitable for its intended purpose but no more than that.

A technology code should not make any specific product/technology mandatory and/or compulsory other than the design process. For example there is no call for mandatory smoke detectors, RCD's or bicycle helmets. Rather it is the characteristics or functions which need to be implemented or otherwise questioned. For example why is there a need to detect smoke and what use is an audible warning device? Can the objective be achieved by other means and does such objective need to be imposed on everyone? It isn't as if everyone's house was burning down before mandatory smoke detectors, nor is it the case that houses have stopped catching on fire, nor is it the case that people are actually awakened by the smoke alarm at an appropriate time. Or put another way neighbours still seem to be more use, than a smoke alarm. So maybe we should make neighbours mandatory. The problem to be solved is deaths by fire and/or smoke inhalation: smoke detectors are only a partial prescriptive solution. If all that a designer does is specify a smoke detector, then they may have complied with a regulation, but they have not tackled the problem. Having such products made mandatory wastes money on deficient solutions to a problem and hinders implementing a real solution. On the other hand most buildings are mostly simply specified without much thought going into them, hence the problem wouldn't actually be tackled. On the other hand whilst the problem may not be tackled it is not so wide spread an occurrence that it necessitates imposing a mandatory product on every building owner.

Part of the purpose of the technology code is therefore to hinder the formation of such mandatory requirements, but at the same time to foster the creation of large numbers of alternative prescriptive solutions.

Prescriptive solutions are important, they aid and speed up design and implementation, and otherwise enable people directly in need of a solution to find and implement suitable solution.

For example structural drawings largely comprise of stick diagrams, these sticks can be replaced by structural sections of any size and any material. Architectural drawings on the other hand need to allow space for the required structure. The structural drawings are based on a a grid using the centrelines of the structural sections. The architectural drawings are based on a grid defined by over all envelope for the building and required internal spaces. If the required structural section doesn't match the assumed structural section and the space allowed for the structure then the grids need to change. It can take several iterations between building designer and structural designer, to achieve the required internal spaces and a suitable structure to enclose such space.

A prescriptive solution like the Australian residential timber framing code (AS1684) reduces the number of design iterations. A building designer should know from the start what the maximum clear space is from such timber framing, and know how much space they need to allow for such structure. Not only should the building designer know the requirements for the framing but also the builder, and the carpenter, and for that matter the building owner can also check if they wish to.

Similarly if we need water pumping station, water filtration plant, sewage treatment works, a hospital or a school, then all such things can be supplied off-the-shelf as far as design-documents are concerned. The question is whether the off-the-shelf design is suitable for the intended purpose?

Building air-conditioning for example is typically provided for by installation of various air-conditioning units to match the required load. A special single air-conditioning unit is not designed to supply the whole load. This has its benefits and its disadvantages. On the one hand the smallest unit may be too large for a small installation load, on the other hand many small units give greater flexibility and potential for more localised control.

Whilst small unit machines may be considered wasteful in terms of materials used on their casings compared to larger machines optimised for a specific purpose, the small unit machines are typically more flexible in usage. It should also be noted that a system can only be optimised for a specific set of conditions at a specific point in time. An optimised system can rapidly become inefficient.

One problem we have with electrical power supply for example is caused by the size of the generator sets used. It is not a simple matter of one or two people reducing their use of electricity, enough people have to reduce their use of electricity to shut down an entire generator. The larger the generator the more people who need to reduce their usage. National and international grid is one way to distribute surplus capacity and put it to use, and possibly shut down some of the smaller generators. So whilst locally there is no reserve capacity the grid or network has reserve capacity. That great creator of inefficiency and social inequity, competition, will probably push towards certain regions implementing larger power stations and generators, putting smaller stations out off operation altogether. Optimum solutions are never absolute. The question is should a large power station be built using large generators or many small generators, and is it efficient to concentrate all generation in one region? Many smaller stations closer to end-users may be better: but they need fuel to be transported from somewhere. Is transmission of electricity by cable more efficient than transport of coal or diesel fuel? That's where wind, water, solar and biofuels start coming into play, as they tend to permit more localised usage and self-sufficiency.

This also highlights another issue, whether to have large or small scale unit technology is not just technical, but also social, political and an economical issue. A technology code also needs to bring these issues to the forefront of the designers thoughts.

Whilst a centralised water supply provides some consistency in quality of water over household rainwater tanks, it also represents political control of the populace. For example whether you want fluoride in your drinking water or not, you do not have a choice, unless can attach some technology to remove the fluoride at the house. Similarly if don't want to drink recycled water: though all water is effectively recycled. Education of the population is therefore also an important aspect of a technology code. It is something that all citizens can reference.

Take fracking for example, the community opposition to such indicates little trust in the scientists and engineers and their employers. The technology code would provide a single point of reference for all parties, though it would reference other information. More importantly however the technology code provides a more fundamental set of principles for accessing the other information referenced, identifying deficiencies in both information and process, minimum requirements for qualifications, and minimum requirements for research and testing, and various quality controls, and requirements for independence, along with environmental impact and monitoring, and assessment of risks, hazards and consequences. Despite all the control systems that may be in place, the consequences of failure may be just plain unacceptable.

Climate change is another issue which is more political than technical. Clearly all life draws resources from the environment and exhausts waste back to the environment, and therefore changes the environment. The concept that we can somehow undo the changes already done, and otherwise stop further change, and engineer the entire planets environment to some more desirable state which we can sustain is not sensible. We need to adapt to the changes. Consider our ancestors, the single continental mass is going to split apart: don't worry we'll get the engineers to stitch them together with steel and prevent the breakup. We need to pursue sensible technologies.