Category Archives: bridge

Minneapolis update

I was going to write a post about the bittersweet nature of being home in Minnesota, but then I realized I had written it already–last year at this time, when I experienced the same sorts of ups and downs about being here. Read it here. So that’s the emotional update, that made it much easier than trying to write the words fresh. I guess in some ways that is why I don’t spend much time here anymore, much to the chagrin of my family. It’s just a bit too much.

So that said, what have I actually been doing?

  • Staying with my best friend in her awesome new digs near uptown but in the part where grown-ups actually live.

  • Bought an amazing photo of the old Uptown theater, at the Uptown Art Fair last weekend. Seemed appropriate. And it’s one of those photos that, if you know what it is, it’s awesome, and otherwise it just looks nice.
  • Took what must sound like a totally random brief road trip to Madison with my sister. Had a three hour work meeting and then sis and I went on the town, stayed overnight and came right back. If you’re in Madison, check out Harvest Restaurant, it rocked.
  • Played lots of Scrabble with my nonagenarian grandmother and her caretaker, who happens to be my dad’s older sister. When my sister’s not playing too, I can win occasionally. When the sis is there, I get crushed every time. Grandma does the scorekeeping and you have to keep a close eye on her or she’ll deprive herself of deserved points 🙂
  • Had dinner with another good friend and her little girl, now almost 4. There are still a few very good friends here (as well as a large number of facebook friends!) and I don’t do a perfect job of catching everyone when I’m in town, but I try my best. This particular friend has an edge since she lives six blocks from Grandma, so I’m always lurking about her neighborhood!
  • Drove over the new 35W bridge, tried to view it from the side from the Stone Arch bridge and decided it is so undistinguished and indistinguishable that you cannot even clearly see it in the photographs, it just blends into the scenery. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
  • Bought a few random toiletries at Target

Off to spend my last full day here with the parents and sister, with perhaps one more stop off at Grandma’s. Going to walk around Lake Calhoun in the sunshine, meet my parents’ new dog, and probably eat just a bit too much at newer restaurants in the area. And try to stay busy so as not to dwell on the melancholy or bittersweet feelings, but just enjoy the sunshine.

And so it goes

Came home from Australia Sunday in part because I had a workshop to attend Tuesday-Wednesday, which means I once again did the “give three talks in three weeks on three continents” thing, which I had done once before–in fact, the last time I went to Singapore, two years ago. That time it was US-UK-Singapore, this time it was Singapore-Australia-UK. In either case, giving the third talk on that much jet lag is a b*tch. But it went okay and it’s over now and today I spent the day holed up in my flat editing the last half of my soon-to-be-released book. I had gotten quite a bit of it done while on the road, and sent in the first few sets of corrections from Singapore, but then my fun times in Oz interrupted me and I did not get back to it until now. So I told myself that if I cancelled the few meetings I had today and did nothing but that, it would be a day well spent. Hooray. Done. At 9 something pm with breaks during the day to check the cricket scores.

Most amusing thing about the workshop here at “home” was the delightful woman I met. She was a retired researcher in her 90s (!) who had spent time at Yale in the 40s and 50s (!) and then made her research career here in the UK. Anyone who knows me well at all will know that OF COURSE this was the person I would end up talking to. I am soooooo much about the chatting with older ladies. (In fact, it inspired me to call my own nonagenarian grandmother today in one of my editing breaks.) And she was delightful in the way that I find older ladies to be delightful. Full of stories about being a young and female researcher in the days when that was not so very common. Full of sympathy when I confessed that I’d had a tough time socially (bloggers aside, although I did not tell her that) since coming to the UK. She actually said, “I apologise to you on behalf of my country” which was so very sweet.

The funniest thing was when she all the sudden looked at me and said, “I cannot believe the way these girls today dress for a professional meeting.” I giggled, and said something about how I hoped she did not mean me. (I was in a black trouser suit with a demure top.) She said, “Yes, I knew I could say that to you because you were not one of them.” I cracked up. Yes, it’s summer, and as such, there was a fair bit of flesh on display by the females in the audience, even those presenting at the workshop. I told her that I didn’t think it would fly in the states, that it seemed to me to be a uniquely British thing. I was, of course, secretly delighted at having my opinions on the subject confirmed by a local.

Normal day in the office tomorrow, then the weekend to catch up on the rest of the laundry and other domestic chores. I’ve been so bad lately about getting groceries that I’ve even been getting used to drinking black coffee when I’m out of milk. This has GOT to stop. But, as usual, I cannot complain about my adventures, both here and abroad.

Fickle me…

I changed my mind, my last Sydney photo was not so bad when downloaded:


Amazingly, if you look closely you can see at least two groups doing the bridge climb. I had no idea it was so popular…

Final Aussie Update

Yes, that’s right, I have to head back to reality tomorrow. Reality meaning England, a full-time job, all of that. I did actually work most of this two week trip, but the last two days in Sydney have been almost pure goofing off. And I’m having a hard time remembering when, if ever, I’ve been on a solo, purely tourist adventure in the 8 years since my divorce. Sure, I have a day here and there to amuse myself when I’m on work travel, but this little 3-night stay in Sydney was different. And so I decided to make the most of it.

First stop, the Museum of Contemporary Art, located right by my hotel at Circular Quay, Sydney. The MCA is free, and as an added bonus I was the only person who wanted a guided tour (also free) when it was offered, so I had a fantastic, personal experience looking at the extremely powerful (and sometimes disturbing) photographs of Ricky Maynard.

mca from ferry

Next, I took a ferry over to Darling Harbour to go to the world-renowned Sydney aquarium. You get pretty nice views from the ferry, and the harbour-front was lovely. I was not, however, one of the people trying to take photos of the fish and associated aquatic animals through the glass/plastic. So no fishy photos for me.


bridge opera from ferry

darling harbour

town side from Darling

After grabbing some food post-aquarium (is no one else disturbed by the fact that they serve fish and chips in the aquarium cafe?) I then caught the Sydney tower at dusk.


from tower

Today, I had big plans, a reservation to do the “Bridge Climb” up to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. See the tiny people in this photo? Basically just little bumps on the top of the bridge?


Yeah, it’s not something you would even notice if you weren’t told to look, but both day and night, groups of 14 with a guide leave every 10 minutes to climb to the top of the bridge. Once you know to look, they are even easier to see at night, since they wear hats with lights on them. Little groups of lights moving up and down the bridge arches appear after dark. Regardless of whether you can make them out in this photo, it’s still how I spent the better part of my last day in Australia.

They ask you to set aside 3.5 hours for the trip, plus getting there well in advance. So it really did take up the majority of my day. I went for an early lunch, carbo-loaded, and then arrived at the base about 30 minutes before my 2 pm booking. It’s a remarkably efficient operation, as one would guess from the fact that literally millions of people have done the climb in the last decade or so. Your group is called in, you fill out information sheets and sign the waiver to let you go. In my case, your shoes are inspected and deemed unsuitable (I did not have my trainers with me, just my Keens, so I was issued a pair of trainers for the trip). You have to blow a breathalyzer test to prove you are sober. Then you get issued a jumpsuit for the climb, and start to suit up with a whole range of other gear. The jumpsuit has tons of metal loops on which to hook things. For example, since I wear glasses, I had to put them on a lanyard and attach them to my suit. It makes sense, you’re above 8 lanes of car traffic plus two train lines, so it’s of the utmost importance that nothing gets dropped! You have to wear a climbing belt, which attaches you to a wire line for the entire climb. But you also carry so much other stuff, extra jackets (fleece for warmth, and a shell for rain) in pouches, a radio and headset to hear the climb leader, hats, mittens, a hankie, a whole get-up. What you’re not allowed to bring comprises a long list, though. You can’t take your camera, but they take photos of you at various points on the climb (I bought two!). No watches. Soft hair binders recommended for girls but no bobby pins or barettes. In fact, you have to go through a metal detector to prove you’re not smuggling anything to the top. You leave your personal stuff in a locker, with a key (as you might expect) on a lanyard around your neck for the climb.

After getting all the gear on, you practice climbing with all the gear, on a little mock-up of the sorts of catwalks that you’ll be climbing on. Then you’re off. The actual climb was mostly stairs and ramps, and in most places it was designed to be not too steep. There were also frequent breaks for commentary and information from the tour guide, such that it was not so difficult or physically taxing that it would have required someone to be very athletic, although being generally fit and healthy is a definite advantage. I learned lots of great stuff and my geeky engineering self was in heaven. We were also particularly lucky, in that there were some extremely scattered showers in the area, which meant that our view from the top included a fabulous rainbow, arching over the Opera House.

I don’t know what more to say. There are two different routes to the top, and my big plan is now to come back and do the other climb, at night, next time fate takes me to Sydney. So that maybe I can see more of this.
opera night

Road construction can be quick…

…but only when it needs to be. A mere 13.5 months after the 35W bridge sank into the Mississippi river in Minneapolis, claiming 13 lives and raising much discussion (engineering and otherwise) about the causes and realities of maintenance, the new bridge is about to open in Minneapolis, a full three months ahead of schedule. The debris of the old bridge was not even removed last year when I was in town late August for the State Fair, but the new bridge is already in place. The construction crew had a financial incentive to open the bridge early, and they have come through. It makes you wonder, however, why the rest of projects going on in an average construction year can take so long. The crosstown project? Need not be dragging out for all of this time. You need something done fast? Show me the money!

Photos of gusset plates

Last summer when there was the Minneapolis bridge collapse, I was thoroughly annoyed because I knew I had some really good photos of the bridge intact from underneath, with a focus on the steel, and I simply could not find them.  Today I randomly stumbled across them, so here we go.  From underneath, taken on the side where St. Anthony main is (and where I used to live just a few blocks from here!) and dated 24 March, 2003.

Examples of gusset plates, which have been blamed for the collapse, are clearly shown in all three images.  I’m struck by how narrow the beams look for their length compared to something like a sturdy rail bridge, and how thin the gusset plates are at all such that I’m still having a hard time accepting that as the answer to “why the bridge fell down”… but at least I know now I was not crazy, I really did have these photos somewhere.  And I want to see the finite element analysis that demonstrates the gusset plates as the culprit.

Structural Engineering Oops!

It’s been quite a while now since my posts about the Minneapolis bridge collapse last summer, but my closet interest in structural engineering has not gone away.  Today Mental Floss had a great list of the biggest recent “oops” moments in Structural Engineering and it’s a lot of fun.  London’s infamous wobbly bridge made the list, as did other classics like the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

As long as I’m on the subject so near to my heart, Prism recently had a feature on what is wrong with Engineering in Britain.  It’s a fascinating profile and one I would say I find rings true.  There is simply not a positive perception associated with the word “Engineer” in Britain compared with in the US.  I remember as a geeky child having things with the slogan “Engineers don’t drive trains!” and frankly there needs to be a PR campaign in Britain to forward this same message.  The Brits are missing the sexiest parts of engineering right now, they don’t even list bioengineering on the subjects ranked in the Guardian Higher Education rankings.  This all caused a colleague of mine (in the states of course) to note “They’re so far behind they don’t even realize they’ve missed the boat” and sadly I find this to be true.  We have a lot of work to do to up the profile of engineering in the UK.