Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Engineers and Scholars Should be Doing

It seems that time barely moves. That is a good sign. It means a lot had been achieved and they had been accomplished so in a rather short time frame to have paled the notorious fast paces time is known to man since its introduction

I am finally committing to the landslide book project. I have been benevolently inspired by Chien Ning's writings, especially his epic book on mechanics of sediment transport. It proves a crucial point of a man's work: you have to document what you found. Documentation has to be performed through a careful sieving and crystallization process, and that means the person penning the compilation has to come alive within the words he composes. Few scholars write like that. And that's why they are famous, and also why their influences are widespread. They are able to wade through sea of literatures, pull from it a string that connects them, and upon that line build comprehensive contemplations and progressive works. In the landslide field, you do not see such type of writing. Even giants like Takahashi and Sassa are either too technical or too specific or too superficial. Emiliani said that the still looming science illiteracy today is largely due to the way science is taught in a fragmentary way. And in fact, this alludes to the knowledge of the engineering fields existing today as well: civil, electronics, electrical, computer engineering etc. Everywhere one looks, the flowers are blooming in their own springs but one can hardly see the core of all roots. Nobody seems to bother writing a simple comprehensive text that, say, wraps up civil engineering as a whole for a simple residential building from geotechnical to material to structural and lastly building maintenance.

I see that there are a lot of values in doing this. We as human beings are going to face greater and greater challenges due to intense climate change and population overgrowth. We need to start thinking about engineering the other way around, e.g. condensing a whole 7 million population of Hong Kong into merely two sky towers, a concept which now is heavily researched by the Japanese. Or start to look for possibilities of building structures under sea. Space is a dream. I do not say it will not become a reality 1000 years later, but at least in the future 100 years, I still cannot fathom 10 million people living in Mars. Think about the basic needs we have to supply ourselves in order to survive. How can you even guarantee there would not be a oxygen leak hazard in a dome civilization on Mars? That's a lot of engineering and over-the-edge investments needed to be funneled into that single effort alone.

I am just being realistic. Let's say, we are going to resort to building sky tower and marine structures. We need a lot of bright minds to involve to solve all the problems we are still trying to figure out all these years. Look guys, we cannot even dig into hard earth more than 1.5 kilometers deep, that I assure you. We still do not know for sure what is inside the core of the Earth. There's still a long road down there, and to be able to go revolutionary enough one needs works from the existing scholars today to write comprehensively about the existing technology and the directions academics are heading. Conduct extensive literature review, make predictions, and point out the workable big direction. Then make suggestions. Make a lot of suggestions, problems we need to solve like the impossible foundation loading of such a sky tower or marine structure, fire safety, seismic hazards etc. 

I look to my peers to commit to works in other fields. Every man will have at most 70 years to stay healthy enough to contribute. Let us encourage each other so that we can really educate the bright younger generations through these comprehensive writings and motivate them to look at the right problem in the right direction. And through these efforts, it will not be lost on us too the mountain of works we need to solve together. One day, humanity will need these knowledge. Let's just hope we can provide them before the day of dire needs comes.

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