Engineering Communication and DSM

How does it work and how do I tell people? This guy knows. He wants to tell you. Bill Hammack wrote a pretty killer (and free) 68-pager on effectively communicating as an engineer, particularly using new media.

I stumbled over this book after getting back from a party where someone asked, "How does that work?" This was in reference to the all too familiar force we all know and love: Gravity. I find that people in the scientific/technological community are at a loss for words when it comes to effectively communicating scientific and technological principles. After that encounter, which resulted in a mediocre attempted at explaining classical Newtonian physics and general relativity, this book was well-received.

Why Engineers Need to Grow a Long Tail also hit home for me because I'm very interested in demand side management. In a nutshell, it's the idea that energy demand can be lessened through efficiency measures and public education. The fifth chapter gave two hypothetical case studies, one of which was centered around the electricity grid. Interfacing with the electricity grid is one of the main challenges associated with incorporating renewable energy into our lives. It's also one of the main communication challenges an engineer faces when asked why the intermittent nature of renewables is a problem.

Hammack describes the concept of Citizen Engineering as a useful educational tool for the public and an effective information gathering tool for power engineers. The idea is analogous to programs which monitor ecological activities through collecting data contributed by volunteers. Just this summer I took part in a workshop which educated volunteers so that they could collect samples, identify specimens, and contribute to the maritime butterfly atlas. The same principle which is already applied to variety of ecological studies can be employed by engineers. In the power grid scenario, the end-user has the ability to monitor their own power usage and strain on the grid. With the rising popularity of Feed-in Tariffs resulting in more local, small scale renewable power projects, this sort of data is very beneficial for the engineers who need to accommodate these sources (Which they do need to do.) Also, something that's just as important (if not more) is the sense of knowing that is afforded to the people participating in such a project. Monitoring one's own strain on the grid gives the user a much better idea of how their lifestyle affects it.

Hammock's comments on engineering in society and youth involvement are very refreshing! He also makes makes Bill-Nye-esque youtube videos which are definitely worth a watch.

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