Sunday, April 24, 2011


Does something look wrong with this picture?

Why is it that NOBODY in my own country is reading my blog this week???

Wonkie, I think its time for that guest-blog! CARTOON TIME-yaaaaayyyyy!

Smart-grid whiz kids wow DC

Engineer-Chic is going GREEN today.

I absolutely love hearing about young engineers achieving amazing technological advances. Without a doubt, energy is the HOTTEST topic in the engineering world right now and will be for a while to come. With peak oil looming and the remainder of the world's fossil fuels reserves becoming increasingly difficult to extract (and of course the effect of fossil fuels on global warming), developed and developing nations alike have been scrambling for alternate fuel sources to ensure their prosperity into the future.

We've all heard of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy, but simply switching over to these is highly impractical (costly and risky as these depend on weather conditions etc.). Engineers have realised that we will need a combination of these alternate energy sources to supplement our existing energy grid as we gradually (as technology advances), switch over to full renewable energy sources. Also, new technology is able to monitor the energy usage of your home and turn off certain appliances that you never use, channeling it elsewhere in the grid for more efficient usage! The problem comes in controlling all of this.
Enter the smart-grid!

So, remember a few posts back I mentioned the Ecohawks and that AWESOME and super-sexy smart-grid they were building? This group of students from the university of Kansas's  smart-grid (above) has a solar panel, wind turbine and battery pack attached to a popcorn maker. The grid is designed to prioritise the renewable energy-source that is most effective at the time, (wind when its windy, solar when the suns out) and charge the battery when the device is resting. Its incredibly complex system of control is the true heart of this project. The great things is that this device may well be the future of energy for most of us worldwide! (Canada is already using it).

The Ecohawks they presented their project at the P3 (People, Prosperity and Planet) finals in Washington DC last week and got an honourable mention!



Engineer-Chic LIKES Green Initiatives that are 


and most importantly


Don't you just love people who are changing the world? 

Check this out: P3 Video (the 1st guy talking is an EcoHawk)

Note to possible investors: this project needs funding to continue the amazingly advanced research these young engineers are doing. Smart grid is the future of energy usage in developed countries and perhaps the world. Contact me to get in touch with them.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Engineers Without Borders SA is Looking for YOU!

This is going to be a very short post as I need to head out to an EWB conference-planning meeting in a bit. Actually Its a bit of an advert for EWB-SA (don't hate-its a good cause)!

We're organizing EWB-SA's First National Conference, with the theme (to be confirmed) relating to coming together as an organisation for growth. The 3-day conference will serve a few purposes:
  • Skills transfer and development for future student EWB committee members. They will attend workshops relating to setting up and managing EWB chapters and projects.
  • Bring all stakeholders of EWB together to brainstorm and develop EWB-SA vision and identity as an organisation and plan strategically for the next year.
  • Increase awareness of EWB in SA through marketing and exposure.
We're looking for people based in Cape Town and Stellenbosch who will be motivated and committed to the planning and executing of this conference. The conference dates are set for the first week in December, so the committee need to plan to be in Cape Town this entire week (flights will probably be arranged if they are not local).
We want inspired graduates or grad-students who have the time to commit to this project- i.e. not people who could potentially be delegates at the conference.
The following portfolios are open:
  • Program planning and development- someone to plan the student and professional delegate programs and coordinate it on the day.
  • Student delegate administration- someone to coordinate delegate applications and issues on the day
  • Guest Speakers - someone to organise and coordinate professional guest speakers and look after them at the event.
  • Logistics and venue- someone in Cape Town to drive out to the venues and help with selecting one and dealing with venue issues, coordinating transport for delegates
Please contact Michelle  on asap if you want to be involved in growing EWB-SA.

So thats it...PLEASE share this to whoever you think may be interested in the planning committee or on the funding side.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reality Check

I want to take a bit of a break from the serious discussion topic of diversity for a bit of a 'reality-check'. Here's a glimpse into the life of this Engineer-Chic!

I’ve been on the plant now for about 3 months now. I am actually supposed to be in the projects team working on the build of the second phase to this plant (a multi-billion rand project), but my General Works Manager thought it best for me to get some down-and-dirty, real plant experience for a few months and gain some background to the operations. After the initial rat-race of figuring out what to do with me, I was sent here and have been loving it (well mostly loving it). We were in the middle of a major plant re-build, I was running about getting my overalls dirty and climbing (literally climbing) into monstrous kilns, furnaces and ball-mills! (Many many ways to kill you, remember?). I was even getting frustrated with contractors (a clear sign that I was truly settling in to this job).

And of course, out of the blue, everything had to turn on its head!

I get an email from my GWM with a LOOONG list of project management documents I had to compile for us to comply with industry-standard best-practices. Ok, so I have my work cut out, but they cant expect me to work on all of this while busy on the shut down, do they? So I email my boss and ask if I can start working on the documents after my training period is over (I mean come on, when will I EVER get this awesome shut-down experience again?)…and get the shock of my life. We are being audited internally and I need to drop everything and get to work on that immediately. But wait…it gets better…the audit is in A MONTH! What? Yes, one month to (learn about and) compile an exhaustive list of documents, policies, procedures, registers etc. Most of which I’ll have to draw up from scratch?

So after being snowed under a few days trying to piece together bits of data from various places (remotely remember as my office is in the workshop on the plant), I call my boss and ask if I can work out of the consultants' office in Johannesburg. (I had to come up to JHB anyway this weekend for an Engineers Without Borders meeting and to see family). And she says that I'd better just spend the whole of next week there! (Did I mention that I had the most awesome boss ever?) My company also booked me into a really nice guesthouse for next week. Yay! Joy! Fun! I’m really super excited to work with the consultants and the planners - I think I’ll learn a lot.

So it looks like this Engineer-Chic is trading in her safety boots for a pair of heels again! At least for a week. I just LOOOOVE the versatility of this job. I can clip-clop around Melrose Arch Offices, snacking on salads in the AMAZING lunch-room one week, and be covered in dirt and assembling massive mechanical components inside a giant grate the next! (And don’t forget the long hours spent swimming through paper-work. But lets just forget about that for now ;) )

Picasso the Pekingese with his new hair-cut!

The only problem is my little lion-dog pooch…Sigh…well fortunately I found a really sweet lady who has a pet-parlour in the next town and boards dogs. She has these little courtyards so he wont be in a kennel. Wow. Its times like these that I really RESPECT working mums out there. I mean you can’t just dump your 3-year old  at some stranger’s place for a week, can you?  So cheers to all of you!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dinner isn't the only thing women bring to the table

There has been much fuss about this whole diversity thing. Yes, we want women in the workplace now. Yes, women are slowly infiltrating and you see more and more of us wandering around the plant or lab. Yes, its all "PC" and everything. But is there a real benefit to having them around? 

Lets just look at some of the counter-arguments for a second (which I have heard first-hand):

1. Women cant do the heavy lifting or the physical labor men can- fair enough, there are exceptions, but mostly we don't

 2.  A company spends money training an employee and at some point, they all leave to go have babies- true, but thats because of poor flexibility of work times for mothers (and of course the stigmatism)

   3.  There is no real, definitive benefit in diversity. A woman is just as good as a man, so whats the point of pushing women into fields for the sake of having them there?

Now, although I would love to rant on and on about the first two points, this past week I had an interesting conversation with a female engineering colleague KN which really got me thinking about the third!

So KN and I noticed that our section of the plant had a very poor safety training program. This is necessary for all new personnel on the plant. Its an overview of the processes, machinery and all the ways they can kill you (and trust me, there are many!) Its to ensure you are aware of the hazards and work as safely as possible.

So we went to our engineering manager to request that we revise the safety induction. Using our engineering skills and hands-on experience, we started by identifying the major hazards on the plant.  Next, we thought about how we would communicate these dangers to people who had no understanding of the plant, and didn't speak much English either. We used simple, clear words, explanatory pictures and are planning on holding focus groups to figure out where the gaps are. This took a whole bunch of skills that you didn't learn at campus-skills we call 'soft-skills'. Men have soft skills too, but these come more naturally to women.

One male engineer and mentor I knew said that women were inherently charismatic. We have certain gifts, attributed to our caring and nurturing nature, that sometimes make us better listeners.  The time of the aloof and condescending professional engineer has ended. People have realised that to be able to work better, you're gonna have to build relationships with and communicate well with the people on the ground! And in a workplace that can kill you in 100 ways, its absolutely important (for people's lives and well being as well as the company's reputation and legal interests) that everyone work as safely as possible. For these reasons, women are not only as capable, but actually have a slight advantage!

    ASME's Vision 2030 stated something interesting:
"In response to polls showing.. students generally have a poor understanding of what engineers do, [the NAE] identified, tested, and disseminated a small number of messages intended to improve public understanding of engineering.
and guess what they found?

Out of five different messages tested, the survey responses revealed that girls found the following two messages the most appealing: Engineering makes a world of difference (boys also rated this highly), and, Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety (boys did not rate this highly).  [Not considered to be appealing by any of the survey populations was the message “Engineers connect science to the real world.]” 

Andrew Lamb, CEO of Engineers Without Borders UK said in an interview (see link): 
JR – So would you say that female volunteers have a unique role to play in international development?
AL – Definitely... In many cases, even though there are vast differences between cultures, women tend to spend most of their time working in or around the home. As a result, if we were working on a clean water project, it makes sense to talk to the women in the communities, because they have to collect the water every day and will have a far better idea of what the issues are. By simply being a women, we find that female volunteers can often build trust with women in these communities a lot faster than male volunteers, and gain important and accurate information.

I honestly believe that KN and I are making our workplace a safer place due to the fact that we're women. And it looks like women everywhere are realising that engineering is a way to make the world a better, safer and happier place!

 So to all who don't see women bringing any significant benefits to the table, all I can say is that the proof is in the PUDDING!