Day 50, I suppose I should write something interesting, but don’t have anything. Well I have a head full of stuff, but like yesterday, I didn’t write anything I was going to write. I tried to keep it short because wasn’t in the mood for writing, whilst my freewriting jumps around all over the place, there are threads connecting everything, I just don’t make that explicit in the writing.
To start writing requires getting the ideas to flow, so just have to start by writing something, anything really, and once the writing starts, who knows where it leads to. Whether writing, drawing or design, start with a blank piece of paper and start with jotting down ideas and connecting them. That is effectively where I was today. I got sidetracked from what I was going to do, and started investigating knowledge graphs. Unfortunately most of the information is biased towards google search engine.
I’m fairly certain every child in infant school knows about the tree of knowledge. I’m also fairly certain they will rapidly discover that the tree is a poor description and that knowledge does not form such a hierarchy. That knowledge is divided into overlapping areas of knowledge and is difficult to separate out into isolated distinct subject areas. That the tree of life gave way to the web of life, and in turn the tree of knowledge became the web of knowledge. That our mechanistic subdividing doesn’t help explain everything and the sum of the parts is not equal to the whole. There is emergence.
When you move from pupil relying on teachers providing direction, and become a student, then you will realize that human knowledge is not organised, and any attempt to organise merely creates more disorder. Each attempt to create order, merely adds to the sum total of knowledge and becomes part of the disorder.
Each of us has a limited lifespan and has to take our own chosen path through the total pool of knowledge. Knowledge becomes ordered only from our own perspective, with respect to our own needs and interests. Formal education is flawed because it attempt to meet yesterdays needs tomorrow. If we have a shortage of mechanical engineers then spending 4 years educating them will not solve our current problem. But such shortages are mostly a consequence of a myopic viewpoint. Seeing everything as a nail when the only familiar tool is a hammer.
Most things only need to be designed once and then implemented many times. The thing could be a physical object or a process. Products as goods and services. We design the product to suit our needs rather than acquire the product that gives us status and prestige on the world stage.
The problem we currently have is that engineers are starting to believe their own mythology: that engineers built and are responsible for civilization. The public at large knows that is total nonsense. People with bachelor degrees didn’t build anything, and the knowledge these people are studying wasn’t created by people with university degrees. People with university degrees mostly extended rather than originated. People with imagination and ingenuity gave us knowledge, imagined a future, and acted to make the dream a reality. You cannot teach people to do this. Necessity is the mother of invention. People need the opportunity. Simply educating people just creates people stressed like coiled springs wondering where they can unleash their energy and learning. It is therefore unhelpful to say we need engineers, when we cannot give them work commensurate with their education.
The starting point for most design is written abstract objectives. Then comes drawing, setting dimensions and geometry. Most houses are designed by owners and drawn by drafters. The drafter takes some verbal description and informal sketches and turn them into formal drawings. Drawings and written words describe intent. Once we have an intent then and only then do we have something which can be evaluated by mathematical modeling, then and only then do we have something which can be quantified.
Many of the people providing drafting services have little formal education in technical drawing, as a consequence they occasionally encounter situations in which they fail to properly address the dimension and geometric problems posed by a proposal. So the first task is not to start training engineers, but to educate properly qualified drafters and design drafters.
Drafters take informal sketches and create formal technical drawings properly following the rules of the graphic language. Design drafters, resolve problems concerned with dimension and geometry associated with form and function, and the practicality of fabrication and construction.
For example a typical so called building designer, will draw a thick black line on a drawing and identify as “beam by engineer”. Eventually this will result in an irate builder arguing with an engineer: both parties thinking the other is a fool. The real problem lying with the building designer who has neither designed anything nor fully described their intent. The plan drafter has typically failed to draw an elevation and section through the building at the location of the beam. The elevation will show the vertical space available to place the beam and identify the support either side of the opening to be spanned by the beam. The section will identify the width available in which to place the beam and how the beam is to be hidden, and the structure that is to be supported on the beam. If the requirements are properly specified then the beam is more likely to fit the available space. For example if ceiling is 2400 mm and opening is 2100 mm, then have less than 300 mm space available in which to place a structural section. Less than 300 mm because the beam is likely to be encased in plasterboard to match the walls. The structural section needs to be manually handled through the front door of the house. There is little need for the beam, if have to remove the house roof and crane the structural section into place. Is the engineer a fool if the beam calculations require a 410 UB? No! Either the opening is too large, or “beam by engineer” is not the correct solution to the real problem. Plan drafter not a building designer and certainly not a structural designer. The structural section doesn’t have to be a beam, and it doesn’t have to be placed in the available 300 mm space. An alternative is to use small structural sections to construct a triangulated truss in the roof space, possibly something like 1200 mm deep. Then there is the issue of the posts supporting such structure, where were they on the plan drafters drawing? Do they really expect to rip the wall out and support a beam spanning such opening, on two spindly timber studs?
There are qualitative issues to resolve before get into complex mathematical problem solving. For example problems in mechanics typically start with drawing a free body diagram showing actions and reactions. Then visualising behaviour such as the deflection and movement of the structure / mechanism under the action of a given force.
For example we look at the side elevation of a building, and apply a horizontal force and then visualise the movement of a pinned structure. We see that it is effectively a four bar mechanism and will fold flat against the ground, and include it is potentially unstable. We look at the connection details and identity that the connections are not typically considered moment resisting. This reinforces the view that the structure is unstable. For certain, we could put some numbers to the structure and determine that the connections do actually have adequate moment of resistance to resist the applied force: but that would not be a good approach and the design would not be overly robust. It is better to complete the qualitative design and either select connections which are considered moment resisting, or modify the elevation and include cross bracing.
If industry has real need then people can be educated with the qualitative aspects of design in less than 1 year, they can continue with further study part time. Existing drafters can be given further education to improve their qualitative understanding of the technical science behind technology they describe. If we have real need for people, and real opportunity for people to work on technology projects.
But the actual need is not for engineers but for people fully conversant with the established technologies, which no business is currently designing and building locally. Science does not provide confidence about designing technology. Being able to design technology doesn’t mean the skills are available to build the technology, and only getting the design 50% complete is not good enough.
It is the opportunity to try and fail which is missing.
There is too much regulation which assumes we as a society have the knowledge, when we don’t. An assumption that we have the resources to get it right and should get it right. It is an environment in which DIY is not good enough and which fuels retail. It becomes increasingly more favourable to purchase than to design and make. More favourable to import than to build locally.
However, mining, agriculture and construction have to be done locally. However all the machinery, structures and buildings can be imported. Only the work on the ground needs to be done locally: no matter which nation.
The industrial food chain determines what needs to be done, when and where. In its turn the industrial food chain determines the path to be taken through the web of knowledge.
The knowledge forming formal academic programmes can be rearranged and scheduled in different ways. The point and purpose of the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) to to define properly articulated qualifications, where moving from level to level there is an increase in depth, or sideways across qualifications at a given level breadth is increased. Most professional degrees define breadth not depth. Both industry and society would be better served by breaking those academic programmes apart and paying more attention to the breadth. It is the common content contained in the breadth which industry mostly needs, not the specialisations which define the professions.
Industry and society are thus hindered by restrictions imposed by professions. Jobs defined not in terms of the task at hand but in terms of membership of some largely irrelevant education and/or profession. Such may be relevant when have a shortage of jobs: such however is unacceptable when projects and national development are stalled due to declared shortages of professions not actually required for the task at hand.
Just because you don’t have a D9 bulldozer doesn’t mean that you cannot build the canal. Our ancestors seemed to be more ingenious, adaptive and less hindered then we have become.