Panama Canal modifications affect U.S. logisitcs

Sitting watching a huge container ship in the glide up the Savannah River toward the Port of Savannah, Georgia, gave me a new perspective on container ships… They are HUGE. They make shipping containers look like Legos.

Container Ship

Container Ship

A friendly visitor seated next to me talked about how the Corps of Engineers was dredging the river to accommodate the new super containers ships that would soon be able to pass through the widened Panama Canal.

A little research made me again marvel the inter-connectivity of our world. Currently, most of the goods shipped to the US from Asia go to a West Cost port. They are then offloaded and moved inland via truck or rail. Once the Panama Canal is widened shipping rates to the East Coast will be reduced because the new ships can carry about twice as many containers. This will mean that containers destined for Memphis or Chicago may actually transit Panama and make port in Savannah or Charleston.

Wow… a “little” change about 1600 miles away can have a major effect on business activity here.

Big Boy Toys Go Big Time

A few years ago, I was one of the original members of LVL1, Louisville’s hackerspace/makerspace. One of our first prize acquisitions was a MakerBot, which was a 3-D printer for hobbyists. I don’t remember the cost, but I do remember a couple of guys dedicating at least one, if not more, all night building session to assemble it.

The University of Louisville has had a Rapid Prototyping Center (RPC) for many years, but it was generally used for research. The RPC had several more sophisticated 3D printers, some of which could fabricate parts out of metals, most notably titanium.

Beginning in about 2012, the Department of Industrial Engineering acquired some slightly more sophisticated 3-d printers for student use. These were still “hobbyist” level printers. Students were able to design and build small parts as part of their manufacturing courses.

Now it seems the technology is about to go full circle. The hobbyist level printers are getting more sophisticated. The commercial machine are getting more competitive in price, and the line between the two is becoming more fuzzy all the time.

In July of 2015, The University of Louisville, along with Underwriters Laboratories announced the creation of a training center to teach the next generation of engineers and technicians in the use of state of the art additive manufacturing technology tools.

Artist's sketch

Artist’s concept the new UofL and Underwriters Laboratories Additive Manufacturing training center.

At the time that we got our first 3D printer at LVL1, many of us hypothesized the commercialization and industrial uses of 3D printing, but I am not sure we expected the technology to improve so fast.

Yet another lesson learned… better not blink or you will be left behind.

Military student “drops in” to visit Louisville

In December 2014, I got a text message from one of our military students, a U.S. Army pilot stationed in Korea, that he was ferrying a plane from Korea to the East Coast, and had scheduled an overnight rest stop over in Louisville. He knew that I had an interest in aviation and invited me to Louisville International airport to tour the plane. (I must confess that I suspected the he had the ulterior motive of confirming that I was a really person, not just a bot teaching his online courses.)

Come to find out, the plane was a decommissioned Beechcraft King Air, known to the Army as an RC-12H. Before he arrived, I did some online research to find out more about the plane and found some pictures of this King Air with about a ‘gazillion’ antennae protruding from every surface… clearly this plane had a mission to “listen” to something.


RC-12H in military configuration

The plane that I got to tour had all of the electronic eavesdropping device and antennae removed. The primary content inside the plane were the standard cockpit instruments and auxiliary fuel tanks.

Decommissioned RC-12H

Decommissioned RC-12H

Come to find out, that very plane made the news when it was airlifted to an Army Depot located in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. Here is the story of the final flight of this plane: To view the news story, click this link.

Video link

Video of Airlift of RC-12H to its final destination.


I wanted to thank our student for including me in this adventure.

I also want to thank all of our military students for their service to this great country of ours!


Online Engineering Management Begins…

We begin a new chapter in the Engineering Management program. The Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Louisville has offered the M.Eng.E.M. degree on campus in Louisville and in Panama for many years.

Beginning today (8/26/2013) this degree will be available as a fully online program. Our goal for the first semester was to have 20 students enrolled. As of this writing, there are 35 students registered for courses, with a few last minute applications pending.

Several of our students are recent grads of the various undergraduate degrees offered by Speed School. Most of our students are new to UofL as well as new to online education. The bulk of our students are in the general Louisville area, but we have students scattered around the U.S. and military students deployed internationally.

This a strong start to an exciting new program.

If you would like more information, please click this link.

Teachers, Coaches and Mentors

I recently attended a seminar on teaching critical thinking hosted by the University of Louisville.

There were several “table exercises” which were brief discussions on various topics. I found myself at a table with people from Dental Hygiene, School of Medicine, and School of Engineering. I don’t even remember how the topic arose, but the question was, “What is the difference between teaching and coaching, and which do we do?” That question has haunted me since. Maybe I should tone that down some and say that the question has been on my mind since.

When I was looking for the link to Steve Blank’s article for my previous posting, I found this article:

Steve Blank: Teachers, Coaches and Mentors.

Mr. Blank carries my original question step further and includes mentoring. He provides some guidance as to the difference. However, he does not provide the answer as to which do I do.

In a classroom or online setting, I mostly teach. As Mr. Blank puts it, “At worst I deliver knowledge to them. At best, I try to help my students to discover and acquire knowledge themselves.” It is the last part of his quote that I strive for, but I am never satisfied with my attainment.

In a small lab setting, I hope I do a mixture of coaching and teaching. Sometimes, I am coaching undergrads in a specific skill that might be needed in upcoming job coop rotations.

It is the mentoring that perplexes me. Mr. Blank refers to mentoring as a “back and forth dialogue.” I am very fortunate to have a colleague that has been a mentor when it comes to teaching and navigating academia. Having had 30+ years out in industry before coming to academia, I would like to think that I provide some mentoring to some students, but I never thought about it as a two-way street.

Hmmmm…. mentoring as a two-way street… that might haunt me for a while.

MBA versus Engineering Management

I am being asked more frequently a question such as, “What is the difference between and MBA and a Master’s in Engineering Management?” The follow up question is, “Which one is right for me?”

Here are two recent articles that should provide some food for thought.

Vivek Wadhwa: Why I No Longer Advise Startups to Hire M.B.A’s

Steve Blank: Should I Get an M.B.A.?

I readily admit that Prof. Wadhwa teaches in an engineering school, and that might affect his point of view. However, between these two articles, there are some worthwhile thoughts that might help a prospective student with an important education decision.

Sad note out of the past


As I was watching the tornado coverage (see previous post), I was following the coverage using GoogleMaps. I was needing to refresh my memory of the area. During the Google-ing my mind wandered to one of the fonder memories of growing up in Oklahoma City. That memory was my time as a “pit man” for a guy that raced a car on the dirt track circuit around Oklahoma and southern Kansas. By “pit man,” I mean general flunkie.

I was a junior in high school and went to the races at the OKC fairgrounds every Friday night. Somehow, I don’t remember the exact moment, I decided that I wanted to be part of that scene. A friend of a friend knew this racer name Dutch ter Steege. I hung around his garage for a few weeks and finally worked up nerve to ask if I could help him.


I was Dutch’s only pit man. I helped him change the oil, scrape the mud off the car, change the tires… stuff that i knew very little about. Once in a while, he let my drive some slow laps to warm up the engine. As time went along, I learned how to disassemble and help reassemble the engine. I learned how to repair the fiberglass body.

One Thursday night we were reassembling the engine, and I broke off a bolt in the cylinder block. Dutch was known as a man with a temper, and I was expecting an explosion. He gave me a look, but never said a thing. As a machinist, he just picked up tools and went about digging out the broken stub.

As I began engineering school, I even helped do some calculations with gear ratios and tire sizes. This was stuff that he was estimating, and I could quantify the numbers.

He raced in OKC on Friday nights. On Saturday nights, we (Dutch, his wife and various of his kids) drove to Enid or Lawton, Oklahoma, to race. Some nights, he was sleepy driving home, so I ‘got’ to drive the truck.

One night in OKC, Dutch had a pretty hard wreck on the track. He didn’t seem hurt, and would not let the ambulance crew take him to hospital. His wife and I noticed that he was acting goofy, and finally, he let me take him to the hospital. One of the first questions the doctor asked was, “Are you seeing double?” His response was, “Yes, I see two policemen.” We looked down the hall, and sure enough, there were two policemen. So very typical Dutch. He had a cracked rib, and what would today probably be classified as a concussion. He raced the next week, but had to have some help getting in and out of the car.

As I got more involved in college life, I spent less time with Dutch and eventually lost touch when I graduate and moved away.

So, why all this reminiscence? I Googled his name and found his obituary. He died in in 2012 at the age of 77. He apparently continued to race for nearly 30 years after I last saw him.

If you want to read about a true character… read the obituary here or here.

Thanks for the memories, Dutch.