Saturday, April 25, 2015

Earthquakes Highlight Need To Review Masonry Practices In Developing Countries


Dharahara or Bhimsen Tower, a famous 62m high historical structure in Kathmandu, has been toppled today by a 7.9 Magnitude Earthquake. For an average fee of a dollar, visitors could climb its spiral staircase and view the skies over Kathmandu. Given it's popularity, tourists from several countries might have been there today. Any number of guesses can be taken at the casualties from the disaster. 

I borrowed a pic floating on Twitter taken in the aftermath of the quake which show nothing much but 1/8th of the Tower left and a diagonal cut terminating at its end.

Masonry is poor in tensile strength but great in compression. The diagonal cut is characteristic of masonry when the earth suddenly moves sideways but the inertia of the structure has no "give" to react. This causes the upper parts of the structure to slide over lower ones, and the shearing force eventually cuts a crack at this interface. Repeated shaking of the earth back and forth opens up the diagonal crack in both directions, somewhat like an X and the structure eventually crumbles. 

An example of X shaped crack formation can be seen below from another residential building in Kathmandu. The pic was posted by CNN-IBN.

How could masonry structures be improved in developing parts of the world?

This paper published in Future Trends in Structural, Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering, estimated in a lab test that for a mortar thickness of 3/4 inch and shear loading rate of 1/2 ton, an average deformation of 0.140 inch was noticed before the sample failed in shear.  The corresponding shear force was around 14000 lbs and the failure strain was 0.375 inch/inch. Another sample, with only 1/2 inch of mortar in between the bricks showed slightly more deflection but failed at approximately 13000 lbs of shear force at something like 570 inch/inch of strain. In general, the study shows that bricks with higher mortar thickness and higher cement ratios in the mortar show lower tensile stress on loading.

Certainly this sets stage for several questions. Might studies like the above indicate a need to review and control these parameters in masonry? Are more standards required for contractors to meet exacting specifications so structures could be more resilient?  Should renovation of heritage masonry structures be the perfect time to revise the underlying structural makeup?

Indeed it is surprising to learn that the Bhimen Tower is no stranger to earthquakes, having been extensively damaged in an earlier quake and rebuilt in the 1930's. I have no technical details of the structure since the renovation, however one wonders if improved construction practices may have changed the outcome of today?

Interestingly, there's a story of Bristish naturalist Brian Houghton Hodgson, who on horse ride ride with Bhimsen Thapa past a rebuilt 9 story Bhimsen Tower, was to remark on the "necessity of applying either practical knowledge or improved scientific practices in the constructions of this type". I hate to take that out of context but it may offer some clues as to what Hodgson thought of structural practices followed by the Nepalese.

Let me know if you know anything more. Meanwhile I'll update as I see technically relevant things.

Bhimsen Tower after the 1934 Earthquake

View from the 8th floor of the Bhimsen Tower, pic taken by Emily Sharples on Nov 22, 2009

The Tower after the 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Nepal on April 25, 2015. Notice the diagonal cut in the structure roughly 1/8th of the way up from the base.

 Another angle of the destruction, from the Washington Post.  It indicates lot of brickwork in the debris. 


An interesting video shown below is from a 2011 upload by Al-Jazeera, where the Joint Secretary of the Home Ministry is seen decrying the local non-compliance with building codes.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Programming Yourself in an Engineering Career

Below are a few topics I feel needs addressed, some areas where you can go wrong very easily in the engineering workplace. Unfortunately for me, it has come from some of my worst observations working at different companies. Fortunately for you, you can take home some lessons or get you at-least thinking about issues discussed below.

1. Female engineers : Unfortunately the engineering world is male dominated, and in 9 out of 10 cases, the engineering offices you're dwelling in has one female , and she happens to be the receptionist! In 1 out of 10 cases, you might land in an exceptional company with a diverse workforce where a pool of bright women are leading project meetings or pioneering Six Sigma projects. And then you wonder what is wrong with the other 9 companies where approximately one half of our other population is missing in action? This is an extremely important HR issue that companies have to address not later, but NOW.

For those companies that do have a few females in the junior ranks, you'd be plenty surprised by the questions they ask, the speed with which they execute and how quickly they learn. In my experience, they have an equal penchant for technical matters and getting hands dirty. Therefore, as a male engineer, there really should be no place for sexist attitudes and indifferences towards women. 

As an engineering manager, or as a senior engineering colleague, you must take some time off on a weekly basis to sit with a female and encourage them to explore the different areas of interest within the company. Answer their persistent questions. If they are ambitious, show them where they could go forward in their careers in a few year's time. With time, start empowering them with tasks where they take the lead in chasing down engineering issues and closing out action items. 

Chances are, this female engineer is going to like working there and will most likely be successful at some point after learning the ropes. The is a potential that some of her juniors in college or just friends or cousins are going to see her enjoy this career choice and follow suit. This could bring in more women into the field and turn around the void in gender diversity that engineering is sadly notorious for.

2. Engineering Documentation, Reporting and Recommending Actions : Smaller companies, where you maybe working, perhaps don't have a culture of documenting work and storing it in a safe repository. Bigger companies tend to have excellent systems in this respect, where they believe that accurately capturing the "what was done" becomes not only a learning tool for those wishing to replicate the same successes in future, but also a tool to use in times when crap hits the ceiling. When hundreds of events happen every week, memory is a previous resource. People tend to quickly forget what they had done, what they stated, whom they talked to. Some will also tend to show selective amnesia. Therefore, my advice is to maintain a personal work diary at the minimum where work progress is documented by date and key findings are underlined. It comes to aid when you least expect it!

Something also has to be said about reading reports, especially test reports, which conveniently skip giving conclusions or recommendations based on the analyses. It often feel like the writer has led you down a road giving horror stories along the way and then traps you at a dead end. The difference between a good analyst and a mediocre one is made here, where the good analyst can use experience and expertise to provide a reader with strategies to minimize risks. A mediocre analyst knows how to use a software. And that's it.

3. Design Reviewing : One of the really cool things about engineering is this existential element of designing a variety of things while spending loads and loads of someone else's money. But no one said you should run away with that idea.

If you have ever heard history repeats itself, it couldn't ring more true in the engineering office where over and over again, the same mistakes get repeated and exorbitant amounts of money are spent correcting these issues. And then comes in the meetings, where they discuss the need for more checklists, more design reviews, more standards. Unfortunately, it's all talk and months later, there is still none of these in place.

When projects are in a financial or scheduling mess, the engineering office becomes an easy target for others to hurl blame at. As an engineer, you could be between a rock and a hard place if your name was on a drawing that you said you had checked before it got fabricated but the drawing was later found to contain multiple errors. 

What I would like to highlight is the fact that as an inhabitant of the engineering office, it is your duty to respect your company's finances. At the same time, proudly uphold the values of your profession and let no one else talk dirty about it. 

One way to ensure this happens is total quality control. Before something leaves your desk, you need to check it. How are you going to check it? Either you have a list of things to tick off against or you have a standard to compare a drawing or datasheet against. Don't hesitate to call a few experienced engineers in the room into a meeting and show "the plan" before you make the plan. Take some time off to do this immediately in some of the most common tasks and you'll thank yourself for the extra effort, especially when you see you've been personally responsible for saving lots of company money.

However, a more robust engineering situation is created when the design review gate is directly implemented into the department's engineering plan. This is a philosophy of Systems Engineering. Why engineering managers hold onto the old and tired ways, while failing to introduce this very simple step into departmental procedures, something that can have both time and cost benefits, is beyond me. If someone else likes to answer, please do.

4. In-house softwares : We all have, at some point, created some spreadsheet for personal calculations. Sometimes, we create them for someone else to use it. Years later, when you're long dead, some junior engineer will continue using this spreadsheet that sits loosely in a disorganized folder on the company's network drive.

There's a hornest's nest waiting to be stirred here. You can be extremely pleased with the results of your software without hardly taking the time to validate it. How can you ever be certain your program runs on a stream of inputs correctly at all times? The problem starts with this attitude of "machine complacency", that the computer is smart and knows what its doing, therefore it must be right.

Machine complacency pays negative results when the ISO auditor visits the office and asks the engineering manager to prove that these in house softwares are validated. If there's little in terms of an answer, the auditor smirks and marks you a point of "non compliance".

The point of this story is not to highlight the importance of scoring on audits. It is to highlight a very basic fact that engineers continue to neglect wherever I go. If its a spreadsheet you're developing, take the time to title the sheet and atleast provide the name and email of the author. Check to make sure cells are referenced correctly. Look out for division by zero possibilities. Run a range of values and see if the results you get agree with either theory or simple intuition. If it's a software that you're developing for others, ask those others if it's okay to try your program on their laptops in a meeting room. Observe them using it for sometime. You'd be surprised in getting back some of the areas you'd missed when developing the software. At the very least, you can learn something about what a proper user interface is!

5. Relationship with suppliers : If you've ever worked for a large OEM like I have, chances are that on more than a few occasions a month, a supplier wants to lunch with you while talking about their products and about your business.  

As a rule I like to follow, do not ever agree to consume alcohol during this lunch meeting, for which the worst consequence could be you running your mouth loose and letting out some facts about the company your supplier shouldn't really be knowing about.  On the same token, do not ever agree to accept cash gifts of any kind as an invitation to do more business. In the U.S, if you're caught doing something like this, you're committing an FCPA violation and you risk losing your job. If you don't know what FCPA is, do yourself a favor and look it up. 

In smaller companies where rules of supplier interaction maybe a little more loose, always keep in mind that it is no business of yours as an engineer to be initiating commercial discussions with any supplier. More often than not, this will tend to land you in unintended trouble. Talk strictly technical issues, those of specifications or drawings or how to solve a particular issue. Please leave commercial topics to the proper departments in your company. 

On the same note, whether you're at an expo meetup or in the meeting room of another company, you're first and foremost a representative of your employer. Second, you are part of the wider engineering body that has clear codes of professionalism. Therefore, always be ethical and sound in judgment and action towards your suppliers. This really means avoid the gamut of actions from kissing to threatening someone else's life!

6. English, Please! : I end with this serious note : The engineering office is not a place where you should feel free to exercise knowledge of different languages. Stick to English, please! The old and established senior engineer who refuses to address your concerns in English should basically be made to take a trip to the HR department and sort out his linguistic deficiencies. I have this funny feeling that it's only a matter of time before somewhere in the world, in an industrial plant, an HSE related concern is conveyed by one engineer to another another in a foreign language [insert favorite choice here] , but the intent wasn't captured, ending up in something critical not being done while something else was done instead and shortly thereafter ---> BOOM. 


There are lots of additional things I can add about programming yourself in an engineering career, but I will choose to devote another post to those. Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Thoughts from "Meet D3" Opening Night for Dubai Design District

Dubai has had a slight love affair with zoning up the city into a myriad purpose built pieces. Those who like to do business, you can go there. Those who like academics, go here. Those who like IT and media, way over there. Perhaps fashion was the only genre left alone so far, with it's elements still spread among the 70 or so malls in the city and dotted into the landscape along Jumeirah Road, Bur Dubai and holes in the walls of Deira.

The noble idea behind Dubai's latest project, the Dubai Design District, is perhaps to change all that by providing a purpose built community dedicated to local design talent offering retail, office and residential spaces to those who are a little more art centric than the rest of the crowd. 

My wife and I happened to visit the opening day, or opening night rather, rightly termed Meet D3, setup in a cozy area nestled between Al-Khail and Oud Metha roads with a not so bad choice of Burj Khalifa looking over in the backyard. The parking was problem free, so we were able to walk into the festivities quite quickly. 

First sights and smells were these interesting half finished buildings with bold and unique facades. Down below, tents and stalls had been set up with music and street art with a generous provision for selfie cameras. We didn't have the time to check out the Chewing Gum factory but surely it was one of the biggest items of curiosity there. 

A quick visit to a music tent introduced me to Speed Caravan's electric Oud playing Mehdi Haddab who pretty much knocked my socks off. After an hour of walking around braving the sandy winds, we got some moderately priced Mexican food and sat down to have a talk with the owners of Not Just a Label, an interesting platform set up to nurture and showcase the work of promising contemporary fashion designers from all over the world. Mashrou Leila, a contemporary Lebanese rock band played along on the big stage ahead of us.


One of the things that came out of the conversation with the NJAL folks was our disappointment with the lack of sufficient job creators on the fashion scene in Dubai. It comes down to questions like what is a novice fashion designer to do when there's few design houses with the oomph and capacity to hire them?Not everyone can start off with a boutique right after school and those early years working under an experienced fashion designer is, I would argue, a crucial point in any designer's training.

The impression of Dubai as a fashion hub may certainly be correct, but the frustration to me comes when knowing that over 80% of the time, the hub is but a place for trading, i.e shipping product designed or made somewhere else out the door. And some of these clothes, because of brand names and import duties, are clearly for people with deep pockets. When you visit a store in Sunset Mall or a Design Shop in Jumeirah, you don't get the impression that much of the stuff being displayed is made in the Emirates, leave alone the fact that they aren't even selling that quickly.


What we would like to see more of is real industries coming up in Dubai that caters to the entire spectrum of activities in fashion - design, fabrication, marketing and selling with emphasis on design and fabrication. If Dubai can encourage local talent to setup such industries, prices can go down, more people will get to see and experience those creations and the younger design community will have something to aspire to for jobs and career networking. 

Its my opinion that the fashion ecosystem needs some kind of a balance. Let's step a bit away from this luxury boutique business culture which is a low volume business (might I add it even sounds ephemeral) to something that has more power and mass to it. We need more design firms set up in the Emirate which have good balance sheets and sufficient capacity to create new jobs. It'd be great if the Fashion houses and fashion consultancies can address these real issues. 

We left the opening night after a few pieces from the John Newman gig but I left with a little void in my head not knowing exactly what the big plans are for D3 in the upcoming years and who might occupy the space in this zone. And how exactly are they going to reach out to the community of designers? I imagine the dream is a promising new landscape for local design and local fabrication and that this is not just another business park venture.  What D3 could possibly flower into in 2017 or 2018 is something we'd just have to wait and see.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Drones : New Technology Brings New Challenges


The other day, I went to the running track at Nad Al Sheba cycle park where I always go twice every week to do my workouts. Much to my dismay and surprise, a man stood at one end of the track nonchalantly flying a bloody big bugger of a hexacopter.  It was extremely noisy, and had a camera on it.

Given the fact that an RC airfield was right next door, I didnt understand why this man would be flying in a public park. At one point, this machine was directly above my head and if I were in a mood to have a chat, I'd have cut short my run, gone upto him and made him aware of the unpleasant safety (and privacy) situation he was creating.

To put it short, I had absolutely no knowledge of him nor his flying skills. The park itself had no instructions posted banning the practice of flying drones. With no system in place, who was responsible if I got hurt? Would it be the drone pilot? Would it be me for venturing under the drone? Or would it be the park authorities?

What I just described to you is most probably the tip of the ice-berg. If media pundits have called 2014 the year of the Drone, 2015 must be the year of drone mischief and it surely is gathering critical mass.

Here last week, the busiest airport in the world came to a halt for almost an hour until authorities could figure out how to control the situation of a drone flying into the Dubai airport's airspace. Yesterday, some guy crashed his into the White House property provoking Obama to step up and issue a statement.

I'm not entirely foreign to drones, as I lived the hype cycle a bit myself last year when I joined a small group of individuals to take part in the UAE Government sponsored Drones For Good competition. Participants were asked to come up with ideas on how drones could positively change the lives of people and communities.

We submitted entries for a pollution controlling drone and a Drone Center, a less complex way of stating the obvious , that there was a big void in an air traffic control system for these new vehicles. We worked hard night and day to prepare and submit proposals. None however made the cut into the semi-finals.

Judging from the newly released statement by the competition committee that over 800 entries were received from both national and international entities, a lot of people seem to be busy poking at the cash cow. Incentive based competitions are just that. They bring in a great pool of thinkers vouching for a chance to prove a concept and if they make some money with it, all the better.

Now a number of these drone ideas are frankly solutions looking for a problem. For example, there's arguably little commercially competitive need for window cleaning drones, especially if there's little assurance of safety compared to present systems.

And that idea of delivering books to your door step, good luck if you haven't considered how you're going to go from Point A 80ft high in the air through point B a row of houses, point C a gate, point D a tree, point E a dog house and point F, the front doorstep of someone's house.

Some "innovators" though have posted interesting thoughts, ranging from forest building, fire control to crop surveillance for farmers.

If you, as I did, sat through a Youtube replay of the Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Business Symposium held in the US last year, you'd learn that things like crop surveillance, construction inventory management, fire fighting etc are all being tackled and quite smartly by people who have in-depth knowledge in these systems. Some, like Gene Robertson from Texas, has been cutting his teeth on RC aircraft based search and rescue for over a decade. So the pioneers in this business didn't just pop up yesterday.

Standards and regulations often come up in the US, and other parts of the world either make their own version of it or choose to adopt those standards entirely. An example would be the ASME Pressure Vessel Code which took many accidents to bring about but today just about any vessel manufacturer worth their salt follow the "Code", no matter where they are in the world. Standards assuredly leads to engineering safe systems.

Right now, the mother of drone invention is pregnant and can't deliver because there is no equivalent of a "drone Code" in United States which integrates drones into the airspace, clearly outlines what is accepted and what isn't.

Currently, the total number of entities authorized to fly commercial drones in US airspace is less than 10. That's probably why Matternet, a Singularity University shoot-off going on the promise to build aid carrying transportation networks using drones are flying around in places like Bhutan. They couldn't test an idea in the United States.

It will take some real work for the aviation authorities to come up with regulations that do the regulating without cutting the innovation. Any fool will know that the process can be extremely conservative when it has to do with the Air Traffic Control adopting a new change.

Drones may be out to set an entirely new paradigm in innovation and it's an exciting time to join the band. It is wise for the innovators to be patient and to understand the implications of their solutions. They must consider all stakeholders in the innovation process, not the least of which is a Joe Blow who isn't just a mere externality, but a living breathing person with safety and privacy concerns and he's right there at your system boundary diagram.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Ins of a Duathlon

I'm not new to long format multisports. In 2010 I finished a 130 mile bike ride followed by a full fledged marathon in the Finger Lakes region and I thought that was fun. But it wasn't until 2013 that I took part in my first Duathlon in Dubai.

Duathlons attract me because I can't swim for nuts but I'm a fairly decent runner and cyclist. It is also a fascinating optimization problem for a guy who likes numbers.

Below is a plot from one of my actual races, a Sprint distance duathlon featuring a 3K run 20K bike 3K run format. The flat plateau's in the beginning and at the end are Run#1 and Run#2 and the middle is my biking leg.


My goal over the course of several races is to make this plot look more even. If I overlayed a red line over the blue, it would look like :


However, goals should be specific. In this respect, it's nice to know a little about the competition I'm against.

I've crunched the numbers and realize that to be competitive in my age group category, I've got to be able to do Run#1 at around 6:10 min/mile, the biking at about 23mph average and the Run#2 at about 6:30 to 6:40 min/mile. Each transition should be limited to sub 50 seconds.

So if I placed those benchmarked figures over the previous plot, I get a perfect race :


Theoretical things aside , what does it take me to achieve it?

1) The first and major challenge was coming to grips with a dirty reality that my flexibility was shabby on the bike. To move at 23 mph from what is currently around 21mph ave (no super skin suit, no TT bike, no super helmet), power is forward velocity cubed which means I have to get more aerodynamic to beat drag. Unfortunately, my hamstrings limit the ability to tuck in and produce power from the glutes and I'm working hard on changing this.

2) Secondly, short duathlons demand energy from predominately from carbohydrates.

Years of sporting activity has taught me that I'm naturally inclined to high heart rates. My internal engine can rev up quite high when racing. In 2012, my heart rate was at 94% throughout the Mount Washington Hill climb in New Hampshire and I was just minutes short of placing Top Notch category. This was one of the most difficult things I have ever attempted but I was also in peak shape for it.

Some years ago, a laboratory testing when I was in an untrained state showed that my natural state of affairs is to rely on anaerobic energy production to run anything less than 8 min/mi and a caloric intake upwards of 700 kcal/hr. I don't know how this may have improved over the course of training, however the message was telling in two ways.


One, I needed more energy stores for shorter races.  Secondly, perhaps my body was more inclined towards shorter bursts of high intensity exercise than longer endurance formats, where I could use the natural ability of my body to kick into anaerobic mode and be comfortable there for periods of up to an hour.

Currently, I'm fixing up the flexibility and nutrition issues. My marriage to a loving and supporting wife has been a blessing. She teaches me yoga and fixes up some good meals where I try to get upto 3000 calories while training.

Our idea is to try and achieve a daily energy balance that looks like the following figure (courtesy Advanced Sports Nutrition Table 17.4) where I can get 2800 calories and hit a anabolic:catabolic ratio of 1.4. In layman's terms, eat small meals more often and when it matters most. Growing up in a culture where eating 3 big meals a day is the modus operandi, it's been a challenge to fight it but if you want something, you go get it.


3) The most challenging task I suppose has been dodging the day job with the requirements of training and a part time on going college education. Time management is so essential in this business. That's why I love the short workouts necessitated by the Sprint Duathlon. No longer do I have to tool around on my bike for 4 hours pretending I'm training myself. Time is a luxury.  People ask me why I can't sleep till 11am on a Friday in Dubai. Brother, it's because I've got some goals in life and I'm bent on achieving them. How about you?

4) Finally, one important word. Over-training. It happens with me every so often, and like everyone else dabbling in this sport, I have learned a lot about when to rest. Schedules are just that, goals. But trying to become a slave to them is a surefire way to failure. I've been there, done that.

Anyway, that wraps up my short Duathlon career. I've a few more races to go and if I really like doing this, I'll look into a TT bike. But before that, its the Indian and not the bow.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Charlie Hebdo : A Systems Failure


It isn't my intention to lay polemics in this post. But somethings have to be said.

The Charlie Hebdo incident points to an inability on the part of our civilization to think in terms of "systems". People keep talking about how complex and interconnected our world is but it is to no effect, people truly don't get it.

At the top of this mess is a seemingly confusing set of antiquated French laws that treat the publishing of a prophet's cartoons as okay, i.e blasphemy is fine, but on the other hand it is considered a crime to publish material provoking hatred among his followers.

You must be a toddler to not understand that the two could be interrelated, especially when we talk about the Islamic religion. Messing around with one could automatically trigger the other and often the consequences in our post 9/11 world are on a macro level, not just restricted to France.

Faith is old as the earth. It's complex. It's super sensitive. If you don't understand it, leave it alone. You don't know the unknowns.

Unfortunately the editorial team at Charlie Hebdo did not exercise broad based thinking. This could have easily been done in a review meeting some days before publishing, where each member weighed the pros and cons of what they were about to attempt. They could have had a PR guy who had expertise in foreign relations chime in with inputs. 'Hundreds of French people live and work in Middle Eastern countries. Could this at a very minimum risk their lives? Many Muslims live in our own country but aren't well integrated. Could this create more friction in society?' 

Given the attrition rate in newspaper readership these days, I'm not surprised that the desire to be ever more edgier takes predominance over the need to exercise control. A national tragedy could only have been prevented if the decision making went correctly or if a system of laws were crisp and clear of what is allowed and what isn't allowed. I'm quite sorry for the French. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Enchanted Objects : A Review

A few months ago, I imagined that the time might be ripe to read a book on the Internet of Things. So with a degree of satisfaction I just put down an interesting book called Enchanted Objects : Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things. 

David Rose, the author, is a product of  MIT's Media Lab, long known for its research initiatives into innovative human machine interfaces, advanced sensor networks and sociable robots. He is an expert in tangible human interfaces which holds the promise that everyday objects that we take for granted can be designed with an engaging interface to digital information in a way that emotionally resonates with users. 

Shown on the cover of the book is an image that stroked my imagination, the possibility that an ordinary umbrella can be "enchanted" to where it would be able to weigh the chances of a rain and notify its user whether it was needed that day.

Rose starts the book with what he calls his recurring nightmare where years into the future, all our interactions with mundane objects are digitized and reduced into a thin black slab of glass. He then explores the user experience challenges in wearable and prosthetic "computers" and animistic robots that fail to captivate and are dull to interact with.

Moving in a counter trajectory to a screen based world where tablets and clunky wearable heads up displays clutter our world, Rose unravels his career fascination with the most natural, desirable, even invisible ways for human to interact with tools and objects without having to learn a new set of skills. His answer is essentially to take ordinary objects and augment them with a link to the internet and a bit of computation power to enrich the experience of using that object.

The book is littered with numerous imaginative ideas and prototypes which tugs at the heart of the human interface problem. Rose describes an alternative world that range from Ambient orbs, Energy Joules, Live Scribe pens to glowing medicine bottle caps , smart wallets and modular cloud connected cars with over-the-air updating. Designers might like the in-depth instruction that follows in how to design enchanted objects that targets fundamental human desires - six of them - omniscience, telepathy, safe keeping, immortality, teleportation and expression. The rest of the book is a guide on designing enchantment for human senses, human centered homes and human centered cities. 

To be the devil's advocate, I can't but wonder how much true progress will mankind make in a world full of enchantment? Will the promise deliver in solving our most fundamental problems? In a world where a billion people are starving and climate related changes threaten to havoc our peace of mind, the problem of designing better human interfaces don't show up high on the list of our priorities.

However, pressing questions make me sympathetic to some of Rose's appeals, particularly those crying for a dose of reality to the inevitability of smart phones.

For instance, just the other day, I discovered an app for a digital stethoscope on my friend's iPhone. The price of computation might be peanuts these days but it sounded a bit ludicrous to me that you could rely on a phone to reliably monitor your heart beat among the multiplicity of other tasks and background processes the iPhone could have been running at that time. 

The larger question is whether the technology in phones can displace our tools, purpose built artifacts that are designed to do one task and do it right. And who monitors the standards by which these apps are created? How are users informed about for example, the accuracy, precision and reproducibility about readings taken by digital apps? What are the credentials of these app makers? And who watches what users do with these apps? 

The book may have its faults but without visions like those of Rose, we miss asking and debating those vital questions that could potentially enhance and enliven our interactions with the world around us. There is hope that our tools can be made better in such a way that the tool itself can change our behavior to achieve greater goals.