Engineering involves the application of mathematics, physics, and chemistry, but “the heart of engineering isn’t calculation; it’s problem solving,” writes John Kuprenas, a civil engineer. Here is a sampling of his insights.
“Accuracy is the absence of error; precision is the level of detail. Effective problem solving requires always be accurate, but being only as precise as is helpful at a given stage of problem solving. Early in the problem solving process, accurate but imprecise methods, rather than very exact methods, will allow consideration of all reasonable approaches and minimize the tracking of needlessly detailed data.”
“There’s always a trade-off. Lightness versus strength, response time versus noise, quality versus cost, responsive handling versus soft ride, speed of measurement versus accuracy of measurement, design time versus design quality… It is impossible to maximize the response to every design consideration. Good design is not maximization of every response nor even compromise among them; it’s optimization among alternatives.”
Chance: A Guide to Gambling, Love, The Stock Market, and Just About Everything Else
By Amir D. Aczel (1950-2015)
This is a book about probability, the “quantitative measure of the likelihood of a given event.” The author applies probability theory in numerous scenarios.
Assuming a World War II pilot had a 2% chance of being shot down on each mission, what are the chances of a pilot being shot down in 50 missions? Nope—it is not 50 x 0.02. Using the law of unions of independent events, the answer is 1 – 0.9850 = 64%. In another example, there are three overnight couriers with an on-time record of 90%, 88%, and 92% respectively. If someone sent an important document using all three services, what is the probability of at least one of them delivering on time? The answer is 1 – (0.10 x 0.12 x 0.08) = 99.904%.
Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences
by John Allen Paulos
Innumeracy refers to mathematical incompetence. Given the frequency of misleading social media memes that simply don’t add up, I’d say the book is as relevant today as it was when published in 1988.
“If the headline reads that unemployment declined from 7.1 percent to 6.8 percent and doesn’t say that the confidence interval is plus or minus 1 percent, one might get the mistaken impression that something good happened. Given the sampling error, however, the ‘decline’ may be nonexistent, or there may even be an increase.” Continue reading →
Water 4.0: The Past, Present, and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource
by David Sedlak
David Sedlak is a professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. In this book he explains the history, science, engineering, and political aspects of water and sewer systems. First, it may be helpful to decode the title:
Water 1.0—a system of importing and distributing water.
Water 2.0—drinking water treatment including filtration and chlorination.