Archive for February, 2009

Water bridge

February 25th, 2009 by Gene
 
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People have been building bridges for thousands of years, but there’s never been a bridge quite like a new one in Germany. We’ll check it out, today on Engineering Works!

Think about famous bridges and what do you get? The Golden Gate Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge. Verrazano-Narrows. If you’re an engineer, you might come up with the Tacoma Narrows bridge. Some are beautiful. Some cross spaces that are especially wide or deep.

The new bridge in Germany is pretty strange. First, instead of pavement, it carries water — over a river. The Elbe River. And instead of cars and trucks, it carries barges, big cargo barges with loads of anything from fuel oil to gravel or grain. This water bridge connects two important canals in central Germany and it lets the barges avoid having to motor along the Elbe River, which can be slow because parts of the river are pretty shallow. Sometimes the water is too low for the barges to move at all.

Building it was a huge project. It’s about half a mile long and deep and wide enough to float barges loaded with 1,500 tons of cargo. Engineers first started thinking about it in 1919. Then World War II and later the Cold War got in the way. But once the German engineers got started, they only spent six years in construction. And $600 million.

Well, our barge is here and it’s time to cross our bridge. See you on the other side.

EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU FM in College Station. We’re on the World Wide Web, too. Visit us at engineeringworks.tamu.edu.

Underground

February 17th, 2009 by Gene
 

Photo: stock.xchng/Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

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There must be a joke here somewhere, but engineers are working on a better way to look into holes in the ground. We’ll see what’s going on, today on Engineering Works!

Unless we’re planting shrubs in the yard, most of us don’t spend much time thinking about holes in the ground. Some engineers think about them a lot. Most of the big things that engineers design and build start with a hole in the ground. These holes – for foundations, footings and things like that – are pretty simple as far as holes go.

It’s when you start excavating tunnels, mines or big underground chambers, that things get interesting. Being able to understand what’s going on with these holes is important. You want the holes to stay holes and not collapse on top of whatever you put into them. Not easy. It’s hard to see through rock and dirt.

Now engineers and computer experts are working up a way to use computed tomography – the same technology that goes into a CAT scan in the hospital – to get a clear look at what’s under there. The whole thing should be able to run out of a handheld personal data assistant, or PDA, that engineers on the site could carry with them.

They’re also working on a virtual reality program that will let the engineers walk through the hole they’re excavating before they’ve dug it out.

It’s time for us to get out of this hole. See you next time.

EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU FM in College Station. We’re on the World Wide Web, too. Visit us at engineeringworks.tamu.edu.

Cyberwar

February 11th, 2009 by Gene
 
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It’s a new kind of war. Fighting with bits and bytes instead of bullets and bombs — cyberwar, today on Engineering Works!

The tiny Baltic country of Estonia seems to be the first battlefield in this new kind of war. Computer engineers and security experts have worried about cyberwar for years. But nobody had ever started one — until now.

This war started when computers in Russia and around the world started flooding Estonian computer networks with data. So much data that many of them crashed. Imagine everything in Microsoft’s newest operating system downloaded onto your system, every six seconds — for 10 hours.

The attack almost shut down Estonia’s digital infrastructure. That’s saying something. Estonia is one of the most wired countries in the world. People there use the internet for everything — vote, pay taxes, shop, pay for parking.

The president and prime minister’s web sites crashed. So did computer systems at the parliament and other government departments. It was a near thing for the country’s biggest bank.
Good computer security and emergency planning seems to have saved Estonia from being shut down by this cyber attack, but security experts are worried about the next time.

What started the war? If you’re not Estonian or Russian, it seems pretty silly and we’re not going to go into it here. The Estonians say the Russians did it. The Russians say they didn’t. We don’t really care.

Nobody’s attacking our system, but we’re still out of data. See you next time.

EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU FM in College Station. We’re on the World Wide Web, too. Visit us at engineeringworks.tamu.edu.