Letters 8/11/2011

Aug. 11, 2011
Are engineers antisocial or do they just lack the time to post helpful hints on Web-based forums? Our readers, the social ones, at least, disagree with our editorial and say there is a future for online design communities

Engineers and social media
Are engineers antisocial or do they just lack the time to post helpful hints on Web-based forums? Our readers, the social ones, at least, disagree with our editorial and say there is a future for online design communities. Meanwhile, one helpful reader points out a potential flaw in an inventor’s new suspension.

Engineers and social media
In a recent editorial (“Bad Advice Online,” May 4), you imply that technical people are too busy and won’t bother to send comments to online forums. Perhaps you are forgetting that techies are human beings and have the same needs, urges, and interests as other human beings. There may be some weird ones, but there will be a fair percentage who would share and collaborate in forums and something good may come out of it.

Dolores Rabuan

Your editorial seems to say that design professionals have better things to do than waste their time with online forums. This strikes me as dismissive of those who value online collaboration. In fact, members of other fields such as the software-development community have plenty on their plate, yet they find huge value in the online community — both in making contributions and seeking advice. For instance, there is plenty of good advice on StackOverflow, and those who give good advice are rewarded with higher status. (Microsoft rewards online contributors with an MVP award.) And in the open-source world, the online community is the only resource. The reason online interactions in the scientific community have failed is that online contributions do not count towards tenure.

A more-constructive comment might be that the design community has not yet developed a successful model for online collaboration. Then you could list some ways engineers and designers can take advantage of the huge opportunity this resource presents. For instance, while the software community can easily share source code snippets or entire source code archives online, it is still awkward to share 3D models or design calculations in a way that a broad community can take advantage of. When these kind of tools begin to appear, perhaps the online design community will finally reach its potential.

T. D. Rosenstein

You need to distinguish between asking people for help finding information that is out there somewhere, and asking people to engage in critical thinking about the problem you have at hand. The former can be easier. There are a lot of Good
Samaritans. The latter is tough, particularly if you are trying to break new ground. And what company wants the R&D it paid for going to competitors trolling tech forums?

There is also an issue of how much weight to give the advice you get. Unless the response is from someone you either know personally or by reputation, you don’t really have a clue whether or not they are full of beans.

Recall that a few years ago on an online personal health forum, the person voted by forum participants as giving the most complete and useful advice turned out to be a teenager. — Leland Teschler

It’s all local
I read your editorial regarding the economic situation of the United States with regard to the increase in government jobs and tying that to innovation (“Good Enough for Government Work,” April 19). Although I generally agree with all the points made, I was interested in the 22 million number (the number of people working for the Federal government, which is more than in manufacturing, farming, fishing, construction, forestry, mining, and utilities combined).

Because most readers would regard the arguments made in your editorial as national ones, you might think the connection with government jobs would be federally oriented. But you also included manufacturing, farming, fishing, construction, forestry, mining, and utilities in the article. I decided to find out what industry was the largest employer in the U. S.

Apparently, from 1946 to 2006, the federal employment level has stayed exactly the same. State-government employment levels rose slightly, but the biggest winner was local governments. They saw a 400% increase over that time period. I found that surprising and am still struggling with the implications that has for manufacturing in general. As you stated, government jobs are obviously pulling talented people away from industries which generate revenue rather than consume it. It might be that this growth in local governments hurts business even more as local governments don’t have the resources to do much other than regulate and tax on the local level rather than develop policies which let producers compete on the international level.

Luke Seed

What can you do with old glass?
Here’s an answer to the question posed by a recent article (“Sustainable Design: What Can You Make with Old Glass?” May 4). Glass is ultimately made from rocks. Plastic is refined from petroleum. Asphalt is just a mixture of rocks and petroleum by-products. Why isn’t anyone mixing multicolor glass and recycled plastic to make asphalt for our deteriorating roadways?

B. Cephalo

Because glass is sharp and gravel is cheap.

Vance Greem

With so few glass-container plants left in the U. S., it’s hardly worth trucking cullet. At our glass plant, we found you can use tricolor for amber if the cullet is reasonably consistent, the customer is not picky, and you adjust your batch. We used to use probably 20% green in amber cullet with no ill effects.

Lee Frank

Suspension problems
Not sure if this is patentable due to prior art of Heath Robinson (“A New Twist on a Fully Independent Vehicle Suspension,” May 4). I think he would approve, though.

Personally I think the off-axis torsion/torque loads would lead to rapid slop, bearing failure, or torsional arm failure. Looks to me like the loadings are several orders of magnitude higher than on a standard double-wishbone configuration. I shudder to think about a fatigue model of this design.

And the inventor is wrong about the zero track change. It might be true for the horizontal plane but, in three dimensions the track is definitely still changing, and that’s where it actually matters.

Mark Reed

If the camber-link is set to zero, then there’s absolutely no track change, I assure you, and I can prove it. Even if camber-link is set to offer positive/negative camber gain/loss, the overall vehicle track change is zero because track gain on one side is offset by track loss on the other. So I respectfully stand by my assertion of zero track change.

As for Heath Robinson, I’ll have to look into that, but some pretty knowledgeable people have reviewed my design, the VXI, and none have claimed prior art even close to it. The patents are pending, so we’ll soon hear what the U. S. Patent Office has to say. — Winthop Dada, inventor of the VXI suspension

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

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