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Re: Structural Engineering Online Encyclopedia

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These are my concerns, too.  The idea is interesting (Dennis Wish supports it), but the implications and value of its implementation are not so clear. 
As far as the free SE software is concerned - one who uses it really gets what he paid for.  IMHO, the best "free" software is your own Excel spreadsheet (smart people like Bill Allen write their own FEA programs).  Some good and reasonably priced FEA software comes second (I never allow the program to design, only to analyze). 
V. Steve Gordin, SE
Irvine CA
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, October 05, 2009 14:20
Subject: Re: Structural Engineering Online Encyclopedia

On Oct 5, 2009, at 11:01 AM, Jeremy White wrote:

> As far as simplified methods, I totally agree.  If you take a look 
> at the web site you'll see a category called "Rules of Thumb".  I 
> created this category because, for the practicing engineer, 
> simplified methods and rules of thumb are very useful. The category 
> is empty and just waiting for decades of experience to pour onto 
> the pages.
I'm going to rain on the parade a little bit and suggest that when 
you find stuff pouring onto the pages, you make some serious efforts 
to verify everything before you imply that you're creating some sort 
of expert system. Lots of things pour, some nice to have around your 
office, some not so nice. First, you may find yourself responding to 
questions and comments, primarily from newbies who tend to believe a 
good deal more of what they're told than is good for them. Rules of 
thumb always have limits, which may not be easy to grasp. You'll also 
be visited by people looking to act as their own engineer and do 
things they have no business doing. There is also the likelihood that 
you'll be getting rules of thumb with a more or less limited scope, 
that should also be vetted. We've all run into situations where we've 
been presented with the not-very-good approach supported only by the 
assurance that 'we've never had a problem before,' meaning never had 
a problem before the thing was loaded to its design maximums. Or 
never had a problem before it was applied to a different situation 
than originally used. I'm not implying anything about competence or 
malice, only that engineering is a business of specialties--what 
works fine in one office isn't necessarily fine in another office.
> As far as your library of calculations, I have tossed around that 
> idea along with a library of structural details.  One of the most 
> useful things to an engineer is a binder of old calcs they've done 
> in the past.  If you or anybody has some you'd like to share feel 
> free to scan them into an image or pdf and upload them to the 
> site.  A category called "Sample Calculation" can be created for 
> this purpose.  Also, I will create a category called "Standard 
> Details" where structural details can be uploaded (pdf or images).
Another thing that's not such a great idea. First thing is that 
someone's likely to pick this sort of thing up and use it to 
substitute for judgment and experience. We've all run into this. 
Second is that calculations, like drawings, are either your firm's 
property or that of a client, who may not react positively to having 
its numbers posted for all to see. They might even be considered a 
smoking gun.  And putting either on the Internet encourages 
irresponsible use.

Again, although I hate raining on the parade, the Internet is really 
not the place to go posting this kind of advice. My own experience is 
that it's not unlike getting medical or spiritual guidance in a 
neighborhood bar. There's probably a lot of valuable information 
floating around but the problem is knowing what's applicable and how 
much poetic license was taken in communication, regardless of how 
cheerful the company or how great the conversation. When you want 
information, go to a library; afterwards when you feel like a drink, 
then go to a bar.

Christopher Wright P.E. |"They couldn't hit an elephant at
chrisw(--nospam--at)   | this distance" (last words of Gen.
.......................................| John Sedgwick, Spotsylvania 

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