Part of the job of engineers and architects is to provide a cost estimate with our design products. For projects where construction will be delayed for a year or more, we typically include an inflation factor in the cost estimate to account for an increase in prices for the future construction. Usually this inflation factor is between 2 and 4 percent. But, what actually is inflation and where does it come from?
Most people equate rising prices with inflation. However, rising prices are only a symptom of inflation, not inflation itself. Most economists agree that inflation is an increase in the supply of money. The United States Federal Reserve (the Fed) is the entity responsible for creating, or, in some cases, destroying dollars. The Fed has the authority to create money ex nihilo, or out of nothing. They can then use this new money to purchase assets, such as United States Treasury Bonds. When the Fed engages in these "Open Market Operations" to buy assets, it is adding money to the economy. The Fed states that its objective is to achieve 2 percent inflation each year. But why?
When the supply of money is increased, it has the effect of devaluing the existing stock of money. As an example, if a candy bar costs one dollar today and the Fed achieves its goal of 2 percent inflation, then next year, the same candy bar will cost you a dollar and two cents. The following year, it would increase again by 2 percent to a dollar and 4 cents and so on. Each year, the value of the dollar falls by the rate of inflation. A long term example of inflation is the price of gold. In the early 1900's, an ounce of gold would cost you 20 dollars. Today, it costs about 1290 dollars. That is some serious inflation. But, why do we as consumers want our dollars to be worth less?
The truth is, inflation is not good for the average consumer. Inflation is sometimes called the "hidden tax" because it continually eats at the purchasing power of one's wages. Because new money enters the economy at discreet points, those at the top of the money supply chain benefit from inflation. Those at the top of the money chain include banks and governments. They get the use of the new money before it has entered general circulation in the economy and caused prices to rise. Additionally, inflation benefits debtors as it makes past debts easier to service since often times wages will rise with inflation. As people "feel" richer from the increase in their wages, their past debts look "smaller" in comparison. But, the problem with this is that wage inflation rarely keeps up with price inflation and so the result is people actually end up poorer. At the same time, inflation tends to "punish" savers since the value of the money they save continues to fall over time and the interest that they earn on their savings is usually much less than the rate of inflation.
Some would argue that the money supply has to increase with the increase in the population. But, the truth is that any fixed amount of money will do in an economy. If the amount of money is fixed, then over time prices would slowly drop, not increase, because the value of the money would increase.
As an example, most people see the cost of housing as increasing over time. But why should housing go up in value? A house is in many ways like a car. It needs maintenance over time. It will need new paint, carpet, appliances, roof replacement, etc. So, why should it go up in value? If one was to chart the long term trend in the value of housing against the value of the dollar, what becomes evident is that housing isn't necessarily becoming more valuable, it is simply holding its value against the sinking value of the dollar (a comparison like this ignores local impacts to housing such as new industry moving into an area or an industry moving out of an area which can have a tremendous impact to local house prices).
So, this is a brief introduction on inflation. What about deflation? What things are deflationary? That is a topic for another time.
The Roundabout has always been one of my favorite design challenges. I’ll always get excited when a new project comes along and it’s recognized that a roundabout is needed/desired and we get to dive into the intricacies of the design. It’s effective, it’s beautiful, and it’s always a challenge to get it just right. Roundabouts are very common in Europe and are now being implemented more and more often here in the United States. You’ll even find a few double roundabouts in the area such as the Midland Ave. and I-70 interchange in West Glenwood Springs, and in Denver at the N. Pecos St. and I-70 interchange.
However, as beautiful as a well-designed roundabout can be, there is a relatively new concept being implemented that is fascinating to me: the Diverging Diamond Interchange, or DDI. The DDI allows traffic to cross over to the opposite side of the street as it moves through the intersection, giving vehicles a free left turn onto the highway on-ramp. The number of stoplights through the intersection is reduced and the standard left turn movement at a light that typically requires significant storage space and long wait times is eliminated. Studies have shown that the DDI can speed up the flow of heavily trafficked intersections and decrease the number and severity of traffic accidents. Follow this link to see a very well done conceptual video of the DDI in action: http://azc.cc/2uxDS7u (Brieanna J. Frank, The Republic, azcentral.com)
If you’d like to drive one yourself, head up to Highway 36 and McCaslin Blvd just south of Boulder. It’s slightly alarming at first as the traffic pattern directs you to what is instinctively the wrong side of the road. But, as you move smoothly through the intersection and see how easy and logical the left turn movement is, you’ll quickly see the benefit and begin to appreciate the thought that went into this concept.
Check out the links below to learn more about this exciting new interchange concept, the DDI.
Can you tell me where the nearest recycling center is?
Do you know where I can send old electronics for recycling?
Do you have a good grasp on what’s actually recyclable?
For most Americans, the answers to these questions are no, no, and not too surprising, no… Despite being less than 5% of the world’s total population, we generate roughly 30% of the world’s garbage. That’s with our rate of recycling and recovery (Both recycling and composting) at roughly 34% as of 2013. That’s a lot of garbage day in and day out!
On the surface, it seems like an easy solution. Recycle more and throw away less, done and done. As you dig however, you realize this problem has many facets to it.
• At the consumer level, more often than not, there’s a lack of education, awareness, and incentive to organize and recycle one’s disposables. Leading to larger landfill contributions and smaller more poorly organized recyclable volumes.
• At the state and municipality level, there are far too many organizations and groups in the game with their own goals, regulations, and agendas to make a sizable impact across the recycling front. On their end, they receive poorly sorted recyclables that take time, energy, and money to re-sort. With that in mind, it tends to be less expensive, in the short run, to primarily use a landfill instead. Once you factor in the unforeseen ecological impacts of dumping, in addition to the cost of eventually having to deal with the garbage itself, then recycling doesn’t look too bad on paper.
• In the corporate realm, many companies are lacking an incentive to switch to recycled materials in house, in their products, and in their packaging. Some companies even attempting to be more environmentally conscientious have reported a lack of recycled materials to even pull from for their packing and shipping materials.
• And many, many, many, more…
Even though recycling progression has all but halted over the last decade or so in the US, there is optimism that we can start implementing strategies and initiatives used by other flagship nations in the realm of recycling. Germany, South Korea, and Sweden are the poster children for recycling. I’ve attached a short article highlighting Sweden’s Zero Waste goal. They use a combination of recycling, composting, and incineration to hit this mark. By no means is any one country perfect. What works for one country may not work for others because of geographical, political, economical, or even scalability reasons. We realize this, we’re engineers. With that said though, we most certainly can pick a choose what works and what doesn’t work to create our own model for recycling efficiency here in the states.
Recycling and reusing materials is not only beneficial for products and manufacturing, it reduces energy expenditure, it keeps our air and water cleaner, it conserves our limited natural resources, thereby sustaining our environment for the use and enjoyment of future generations, and it is has the potential to create many well-paying and high tech jobs and opportunities for the community.
I intend to create some type of recycling project and/or initiative this fall through Landmark Worldwide. My goals are to spread awareness, become an expert in solutions, pitfalls, and hurdles of recycling in the states, educate children to start a systematic shift at the ground level, and last but not least, spark conversations between the many divided parties in the recycling industry to see what we can do about tackling the recycling issue as a community.
As this project takes shape I’ll keep you guys updated on its progress.
Ever heard of a water elevator? Maybe not, but I’d wager you’ve heard of the Panama Canal, which is one of many ‘water elevators’ around the world! A ‘water elevator’, also known as a canal lock, transports a watercraft from a body of water at one elevation to a body of water at a different elevation.
AutoCAD is a powerful tool when it comes to design and drafting. With each new version there are more bells and whistles that assist efficiency and productivity. Menus, buttons and ribbons continue to help make the user interface more intuitive and the command line perhaps more archaic.
However, over the years from collaborating with some of the older engineers and drafters who were introduced to older versions of CAD, I’ve learned that there are hidden or overlooked features that are not apparent. Commands that are not displayed by ribbons and buttons, so called “easter eggs” reminiscent of the “old school” drafting days are still in the code of the newest versions of AutoCAD. These are some of the hidden tricks that the user might not be aware, and may not be able to easily find unless he or she knows the exact command name to search. Often they may also be overlooked.
One of my favorite shortcuts is the FENCE subcommand. This is a selection option that does not always appear in the command line. It can be used as an alternative to using a selection box or lasso, or clicking objects several times.
For example, let’s say that we want to trim several cyan lines at the single green line, as shown.
By entering the TRIM command we are prompted “Select objects or <select all>:” First select the green line as the trimming object. The command prompt then reads, “[Fence/Crossing/Project/Edge/eRase/Undo]:”
By typing “F” at this prompt the User is able to create a temporary polyline through the desired objects to trim!
Because the lines are at an angle, a selection box is not useful, so this is a great alternative that saves time and avoids having to click each individual line the User desires to trim.
This can be used for just about any command that requires a selection! Let’s use the same cyan lines and extend them to the multiple magenta polylines shown. Enter the EXTEND command. The command prompt reads “Select objects or <select all>”.
This time there isn’t a fence option offered through the command line, however it can still be used! Type F at this prompt. Sure enough, the command line prompts “Specify first fence point”!
Create a fence through the magenta lines and ENTER.
Now create a fence through the cyan lines and ENTER to complete.
Finally, let’s erase some of them. Type the ERASE command. The prompt reads “ERASE Select objects”.
Again, the FENCE option is not listed but can still be used. Type F and create a fence through some of the cyan lines.
By ENTERing the User can exit the FENCE subcommand before completing the ERASE command. But let’s say the User wants to select more objects before completing the ERASE command. Once exiting the FENCE subcommand, the User can continue selecting additional objects, or use FENCE again! Type F to create another fence and add to the selection, then ENTER to complete the ERASE command.
The FENCE subcommand can be very useful when needing to select multiple objects oriented in tight spots or awkward arrangements. It can also be used with just about any command that requires selecting objects, even if it’s not a listed option in the command prompt.