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March 24, 2011

Comments

Highly focused aid by real experts can help a lot, and without all the controversy about priorities. There's an Israeli field hospital already set up in the heart of Japan's disaster area. See:
http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?ID=213123&R=R1

A hospital is by its nature more of prepackaged module than other approaches, which may naturally be more diffuse. But that's no reason to not do it. Distributing supplies to the masses and cooling the reactors are undoubtedly things that the Japanese can manage best themselves.

Although, if somebody has an airborne generator-and-fuel system that could be flown in and set up as a freestanding unit, it would have come in handy. A globally mobile cooling station like this could be invented for next time.

Thanks AreaMan, that is very interesting. As someone whose family went thru Katrina, hearing about their challenges in getting power and now with this, it makes me hope that this will encourage the kind of research in portable power, perhaps in the form of fuel cells. I have mentioned this before, but cell phones got a huge boost from the Great Hanshin earthquake, leading to the range of selection and features we have today.

Don't know if this counts, but this article talks about Japan and world soccer and notes this

That has been borne out by the overwhelming display of solidarity shown over the past two weeks, with contributions from clubs, players and fans all over the country and throughout the rest of the world. These gestures, whether huge donations or something as simple as Valencia's players wearing their shirt names in katakana for a Spanish League match, have not gone unnoticed by those most in need of help.

my point is that in the networks that aid workers are a part of, that knowledge will be dispersed so that other people will consider the possibilities.

In the US, "ignorance of the fact that earthquake resistant structures can be built" is not a problem we have. It is a completely imaginary problem that you have invented. Civil engineers in the US know how to design earthquake resistant structures. They generally don't do so because that costs money and Americans have concluded that given the liklihood of earthquakes in most American cities, the massive costs would exceed the benefits. By Americans I mean major city and state governments, large property owners, large developers, and insurance companies.

To put it another way: we have a national electrical code in the US that gets updated every few years. Its design is essentially driven by insurance companies that pay for the damage caused by electrical fires. If those same companies ever decided that earthquake resistance was a big problem, they'd start pushing out stronger earthquake resistance standards for design and start charging higher premiums for buildings that couldn't meet them. They haven't done that because earthquakes are much less likely in the US than in Japan.

Now, it is certainly possible that all those people are just wrong and that you, liberal japonicus, a guy who teaches english to secondary school students in Japan knows better than all of them. But that's not a problem you can fix with information dispersal through vague fuzzy networks of people associated with a handful of aid workers. People who buy large buildings are going to need a hell of a lot more than that before they pay tens of millions of dollars more for a large commercial building.

Turb argues that the model of sharing information is that Japanese engineers publish books(!) and then engineers in other countries evaluate those books and address the problem as experts.

Wow. Just wow.

Let me explain to you how this works LJ. Every large building in the US must have its design signed off by at least one licensed civil engineer. Once that engineer puts his signature on the design, he becomes legally responsible for it. If that building collapses, even 30 years later, the licensed engineer who signed off on its design will probably go to prison. When large structures collapse, they can kill 10,000 people easily.

Consequently, licensed civil engineers tend to be a very conservative bunch. They don't incorporate new-fangled ideas into their building designs just because some guy in Japan said those ideas are awesome, as related to him 18th-hand through a diffuse social network. They require extensive models, simulations, experiments, and tests before they adopt new structural technologies. So yeah, I don't expect that Japanese civil engineering innovations will ever be adopted in the US unless those innovators are writing books or publishing journal articles or attending technical conferences.

This seems like a very traditional model of information dissemination and subject to all the bottlenecks and constraints. Also, it assumes that Japanese engineers are as likely to present to their overseas counterparts as anyone else.

The mind boggles. Yes, it is very traditional. People tend to get conservative in their practice when the consequences of not being conservative are "I will kill 10,000 people" and "I will spend the rest of my life in prison".

Look, there is no shortage of new ideas in the world. Every engineer on Earth has lots of new ideas for how to do awesome things. Having ideas is the easy part. You know what's the hard part? Testing those ideas, working out formal models so that you can reason about their properties and how they'll react to stress, running simulations, validating those simulations and the new simulators you had to make, building physical models, testing them, convincing other people that your analysis and experiments are correct, etc. Those are all extremely time consuming. But until someone does that work, civil engineers are not going to risk lives and careers on a new idea.

The fact that you're inventing fictional problems and then proposing highly unlikely information transfers through poorly specified networks as a solution to those "problems" raises all manner of questions about the rest of your analysis.

1. I'm very sorry, but this post is far too long to consume. You need to write more succinctly. Or, failing that, organize your post in sections to make it easier to understand your main point and follow along. I feel like I'm reading one tangent after another with no overarching structure. Where's a thesis statement when I need one.

2. I pointed this out yesterday in the first comment, but again, the response to your suggestion that people SHOULD restrict where there aid goes, is this: https://lavidaidloca.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/the-asterisk-is-everything/

I don't think it takes a structural engineer or a seismologist at a conference to evaluate this and then determine if it is workable.

LJ, my comments were specifically focused on your earlier post where you wrote (and I quoted):

People who work with aid will learn a lot about how Japanese design earthquake resistant structures

So yeah, designing a building actually does require a structural engineer. And convincing a structural engineer that a new design is good usually does require a conference paper or a book or an equivalent amount of work.

Maybe the earthquake-resistant building-design thing was just a bad example for the general concept LJ was putting forth. In any case, it seems a bit tangential to how people should donate to aid organizations in response to the current Japanese crisis.

But there is the group Engineers without Borders. It is really that controversial to suggest that someone might learn something useful by seeing first-hand what people on the other side of the world do, even if it doesn't revolutionize the field of structural engineering? Even if it's only a matter of gaining the impetus to try (or simply further investigate) some particular design option that was previously considered, but that was superceded by something more familiar to US engineers?

Maybe it's a bit fuzzy and vague, but I don't think it's asinine.

Maybe the earthquake-resistant building-design thing was just a bad example for the general concept LJ was putting forth. In any case, it seems a bit tangential to how people should donate to aid organizations in response to the current Japanese crisis.

If LJ wants to withdraw that claim I'm happy to drop the matter. I do think it speaks to a larger issue though: LJ is desperately grabbing for any possible benefit, whether or not it makes sense. Which should give us pause regarding the rest of his arguments.

But there is the group Engineers without Borders.

I don't see how they're relevant to the discussion. They don't seem focused on disaster relief in developed countries as far as I can tell. Can you explain why you thought they're relevant?

It is really that controversial to suggest that someone might learn something useful by seeing first-hand what people on the other side of the world do, even if it doesn't revolutionize the field of structural engineering? Even if it's only a matter of gaining the impetus to try (or simply further investigate) some particular design option that was previously considered, but that was superceded by something more familiar to US engineers?

That's a radically weaker claim than what LJ originally wrote. It is so weak in fact that I'm having trouble seeing why it is necessary or why anyone should care. I mean, there is a lot of travel between the US and Japan right now...if the benefit here is that someone, somewhere will notice something and take that notion back to their home country...well, forgive me for not being blown away.

What's more, "seeing what people do" doesn't make sense here. "What people do" in this context is design large structures. That's not something that random relief workers are going to be exposed to. American relief workers are not going to be working closely with Japanese civil engineers who are designing new structures. And again, even if they were, they won't be able to transmit much knowledge unless they themselves are civil engineers.

Finally, this is all in service to a non-existent problem that LJ conjured out of thin air. We know how to build earthquake resistant structures. Ignorance is not a problem here.

Maybe it's a bit fuzzy and vague, but I don't think it's asinine.

You don't think that the statement people who work with aid will learn a lot about how Japanese design earthquake resistant structures is absurd?

I'm sorry Turb, but I didn't say this

In the US, "ignorance of the fact that earthquake resistant structures can be built" is not a problem we have.

It is not something I wrote, and it is not something I believe. If you think that is an adequate summary of what I said, I'm not sure how to communicate that it is not. I'm left with the impression that you don't want to understand my point, so I will leave you to quoting things I didn't say, I have better things to do with my time.

D, to make things shorter for you to read, I linked to a page that lists some major charities and whether or not they restrict their donations. I urge people to investigate and support a charity that appeals to them and unlike Salmon, I feel that charities can do good work even if they ask to restrict their donations.

It is not something I wrote

It is clearly not and I apologize for giving the impression that I was quoting you.

and it is not something I believe.

OK...If that's true, then I don't understand why you wrote that "people who work with aid will learn a lot about how Japanese design earthquake resistant structures" and why you think it would be a benefit. I mean, if you don't think that Japanese structural engineers have lots of knowledge about earthquake resistant design that their American counterparts lack, what precisely is the benefit of having "people who work with aid" go to Japan and "learn about how Japanese design earthquake resistant structures"?

...well, forgive me for not being blown away.

You are forgiven. My point was not to blow you away, but to suggest simply that LJ's point, as I understood or interpreted it, wasn't asinine. And my interpretation may have been weak, though I didn't suggest otherwise.

In fact, I prefaced it with this:

In any case, it seems a bit tangential to how people should donate to aid organizations in response to the current Japanese crisis.

I could go further and say that it's not a significant enough factor to consider in formulating a scheme for donating.

[meta]Thinking about it more, maybe I just felt like defending LJ because your tone struck me as being overly combative, Turb. I probably wouldn't have bothered if you had approached it more along the lines of "I think you have some misconceptions about A, B and C" and less along the lines of "WTF?! Can you be more ridiculous?!"[/meta]

Bah this is pretty clearly just a continuation of the Emerson fight.

Disgusting.

Turbulence,
As I said, this is the first time such a natural disaster has struck a developed nation. As it turns out, it is a developed nation that has a number of base notions that are quite different from the US and the West. How Japanese manage, how aid is deployed, how different attitudes lead to different outcomes are all things that people have a potential to learn from. Otherwise, what hsh said.

LJ, while I appreciate your response, you didn't answer the question I raised at all. To wit:

I don't understand why you wrote that "people who work with aid will learn a lot about how Japanese design earthquake resistant structures" and why you think it would be a benefit. I mean, if you don't think that Japanese structural engineers have lots of knowledge about earthquake resistant design that their American counterparts lack, what precisely is the benefit of having "people who work with aid" go to Japan and "learn about how Japanese design earthquake resistant structures"?

I mean, Japanese "management" and "aid deployment" and "attitudes" don't have anything to do with your original claim about the "design of earthquake resistant structures". I hope you can explain the discrepancy.

I said that this was a listing of points. I wasn't making a specific comment on structural engineering or building design or any of the numerous things you have repeatedly mentioned, but suggesting some things that might be learned. But if you believe that American structural engineers can learn nothing from Japan at this point in time, you are mistaken.

I noted in an earlier post that this is actually 3 separate disasters. There is the nuclear plant where structural engineers will be examining the construction of the spent fuel rod pools and trying to ascertain it was simply the tsunami that caused the problems, or if the earthquake had a contributory effect. The tsunami was triggered by an offshore earthquake which effected a 5 km strip of land on the coast. I imagine that structural engineers will be looking at how to design towns that can provide people with a better opportunity to escape, since one of the worst hit towns, Minami Sanriku, where half the population are missing, because the roads out of town were clogged with cars and there was poor access to higher ground. The earthquake, the 4th largest recorded in history was accompanied by two other earthquakes, one in Kurikoma, Miyagi and the other in Nagano, which is an area which has been struck by 3 major earthquakes In Japan, structures that are not housing people, such as universities and public buildings, must be inspected and deemed safe. Some structures that people are residing in have been condemned. Are you telling me that structural engineers can find no lessons, not a glimmer of information, in seeing how this process unfolds?
Here's what the Architecture for Humanity site says

Architecture for Humanity is working with a number of local professionals in Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka to provide support and design services to those impacted by the earthquake and tsunami. We are raising funds and laying the groundwork to support local design professionals in the rebuilding of safe, sustainable housing and civic structures.

Structural engineering, like any profession that deals with how people work and live, does not reside in a vacuum. There will be no perfect building, because the buildings have to meet the needs of the people and culture they are embedded in. But that doesn't mean that features, ideas and notions can't be brought in. I feel relatively certain that the rubrics that Japanese code and American code in terms of building safety and inspections are not identical. While I am sure that a structural engineer in America can know what aspects are valued and what aspects are not through a conference presentation or a proceedings paper, I would think that the best way to learn about this would be to see the process unfolding. Or as hsh says

It is really that controversial to suggest that someone might learn something useful by seeing first-hand what people on the other side of the world do, even if it doesn't revolutionize the field of structural engineering?

I don't believe that what I stated was incredibly stronger than that claim and I'm sorry if you read it as such. So I believe the discrepancy seems to lie in the fact that you want to define structural engineering as a narrow field whereas I listed structural engineering as one of a number of examples where insights may be found.

And as you have worked to define precisely the basis and knowledge base of structural engineering, I'd note that you didn't answer the questions I put to concerning the Red Cross volunteers you met. My apologies if it was not clear that they were questions. For example, you said that you met 2 Red Cross volunteers, but you did not say if they were American or Japanese. You also asserted that people who do this kind of counselling need to be fluent in both Japanese language and culture. Given the numbers I presented, do you still believe that to be the case?

I'd also note that you have not commented on the fact that one of Salmon's key points, that the Japanese Red Cross does not want donations, is mistaken. I would be interested in having you explain what effect you think this has on Salmon's argument. Given that this post was an attempt to lay out a case that you specifically requested against Salmon, it would be nice if rather than waiting for me to play 20 questions with you, you could preemptively address some points.

I'd also invite you and anyone else to tell us where they are donating and the reasons why they chose that particular charity. I feel certain that we can learn from that.

I said that this was a listing of points.

I don't understand why you think that helps. I mean, writing absurd statements as part of a list of points is still wrong. Do you believe that most of your post was intended as truthful, but the "listing of points" was just lies and disinformation that we shouldn't pay attention to? Or what?

I wasn't making a specific comment on structural engineering or building design or any of the numerous things you have repeatedly mentioned, but suggesting some things that might be learned.

Let's look at what you wrote:


People who work with aid will learn a lot about how Japanese design earthquake resistant structures

I'm sorry, but I'm not familiar with any definition of the phrase "earthquake resistant structures" (which again, are your exact words) that does not include buildings. Which means you were in fact "making a specific comment on building design". Maybe that's not what you meant. Which is fine; we all make mistakes. But if that's the case, you need to acknowledge that you meant something else.

You seem to have tremendous difficulty acknowledging when you make a mistake. That really hurts your credibility as a writer.

But if you believe that American structural engineers can learn nothing from Japan at this point in time, you are mistaken.

I believe:
(1) That Japanese structural engineers probably could teach their American counterparts some things
(2) That such teaching cannot take place 18th hand through vague amorphous social networks but must take place through direct interactions between experts
(3) Despite (1), American structural engineers already know a very great deal about how to build earthquake resistant structures
(4) There is no serious problem to be solved here.

Again, none of this is in any way connected to what you wrote, which was about aid workers learning things about Japanese earthquake resistant building design. Presumably, this learning would occur by osmosis through proximity to buildings. Or something.


structural engineers will be examining the construction of the spent fuel rod pools...structural engineers will be looking at how to design towns that can provide people with a better opportunity to escape...Some structures that people are residing in have been condemned. Are you telling me that structural engineers can find no lessons, not a glimmer of information, in seeing how this process unfolds?

No. I don't know where you'd get such an absurd notion from.

Yes, Japanese civil engineers will be inspecting and analyzing lots of things. Some of that analysis will be useful to engineers in other countries if it is published properly. But that's my point: experts will be doing stuff, the stuff that they're doing will only make sense to other experts, and will only be useful if shared in a professional setting.

Random aid workers who know nothing about civil engineering are not going to learn great insights about structural engineering from passing Japanese building inspectors and then pass those insights on to American engineers. That's what you claimed would happen (recall: "People who work with aid will learn a lot about how Japanese design earthquake resistant structures"). And it has nothing to do with a bunch of expert inspections.

I don't believe that what I stated was incredibly stronger than that claim and I'm sorry if you read it as such.

LJ, you wrote about aid workers learning about how to design "earthquake resistant structures". Have you ever seen an earthquake resistant chair? Or an earthquake resistant rice cooker? No? I guess we're talking about buildings then.


It is true that I haven't answered questions that you've raised. After the last thread with its sprawling comments, I thought it would be better to focus on one set of issues at a time. I also wanted to see if I could get you to either give a reasonable explanation of your absurd comments or have you retract them. You wrote something that is absurd and wrong. But you refuse to acknowledge that. Instead you keep digging, trying to find increasingly ridiculous post-hoc rationalizations. And that makes it hard for me to continue the conversation. I mean, if you lack the moral or intellectual fiber to recognize and acknowledge a mistake, how can I take anything you write seriously? What would be the point of such a discussion?

I'm sorry, but I believe I have answered the questions as best as I can and I don't think what I have suggested is absurd. If you think that this relates to moral or intellectual fiber, that's your concern and I urge you to readjust your opinion of me based on that.

But even if it is absurd, I think this focus on what structural engineering is only a tiny point in the larger issue which is, as I wrote about, that this is the first natural disaster of this scale to hit a developed country and we should consider what we can learn. If that doesn't satisfy you, I hope you can live with it.

LJ, I appreciate the post. I've had mixed feelings about organizations that earmark their funds and while this doesn't resolve those feelings it does lend some clarity.

I do think it is a fundamental problem with aid that very frequently we have very little idea of what we are paying for, how effective it is, and what the results are in a year or ten. On a small personal scale, getting to know an organization like PP or ASPA can help with that or a shelter that you actually visit but on an international scale we're stuck with research we might not know how to do effectively and which takes significant time and simple faith.

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