Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I finally got thru to corporate headquarters and talked to an actual representative of the company about the design deficiencies of my espresso machine. I just wanted to give them some follow up regarding their machine I had just purchased, although superior in some ways to my now abandoned Krups Espresso machine. It was really helpful that they said the conversation was being recorded, I said I didn’t give a shit about that. First of all, their two handles to operate the thing are shaped in such a peculiar, non-ergonomic way that I found it impossible to use. (See my previous Blog where I showed “There, I’ve fixed it”). I also wanted to point out that the water filler hole is mostly blocked be the valve mechanism resulting in water splashing all over when filling. (Although if I was left handed it could work fairly well). Another improvement would be to round off the left hand portion of the machine over the coffee cup to reflect the movement required to tighten the cup handle (left to right). Do these people really use industrial designers or just get some kid out of college to cobble a design together? Anyway, when I finally did talk to Mrs. Coffee about some feedback from an actual user, she said they did not have that capability. How in hell do they know about any design problems? When people stop buying the damn things due to some really stupid features? What is happening? First Krups wasn’t interest and I had the same thing with even Subaru. I’m just going to give up trying to help these companies.


EUROPE ENGINEERING WORKS - When Joy & I get to Europe, we try to visit some outstanding engineering project. Here is a partial list of some of our favorite spots.

On one of our trips to France, we discovered a pretty far out and progressive electrical generating system that uses tidal movements for generation. This is situated in a large estuary near Dinard and St. Malo, just South of Mont St. Michael. As the tides flow in or out, it passes thru a long series of turbines that lie beneath the road bridge. All this is incorporated in a bridge which runs on top of it. When the tide changes, letting the water in or out of the estuary, the turbine blades rotate and generate electricity. Each turbine is about 8' in diameter, one of the few drawbacks is the corrosive salt water on the equipment.,
I had some great photos of this but my camera was ripped off in Antwerp.. The turbines are reversible, of course, to take advantage of in and out tides. This has been in operation for about 30 years, the only drawbacks are the salt water on all the equipment. There is one lock that allows all the small water craft access thru the dam & roadway.

This was the first canal built in the 1600's to link the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
The Architect Pierre Riquet solved the main problem of how to replenish the locks as they were emptied to let the barges pass. He built a huge reservoirs at the highest places as rains (even in summer) would keep them full. There are a about a hundred locks from near the top down to sea level. Joy & I rented this small “Barge” with just the two of us and it was a lot of work navigating all the locks by ourselves (We prefer another couple to help). That’s probably why I fell in a lock for the first time. At one point there are a series of seven locks, like a staircase. It takes a while to get everyone up and down these but sometime after the War (II) a side lock was built to accommodate the 120' long canal barges. This is a tilted channel with a sliding gate that is high enough for the barge. It is operated by this monestrous moveable machine pictured..

ROTTERDAM BARRIER Rotterdam, Holland
The largest man made moveable object on earth, the Maastracht Barrier is a mind boggling structure. It consists of two floating gates, anchored to at ball joint about 30' in diameter (Ten meters to you). The struts are about 12' diameter and each gate is as long as the Eiffel Tower is high (About a thousand feet). This allows the Dutch to close off the Rhine River when the North Sea gets too high and can protect the harbor from flooding. The barrier can hold back about 9 feet of the north sea, but then they have to be able to let the river water out too, so you figure out the math, I can’t

FIRTH OF FORTH BRIDGE Edinburgh, Scotland
This is an oldie but a goodie. Built after the previous rail bridge was lost with an entire train in 1860, this bridge is going nowhere. The main support tubes consist of bent iron plates riveted together to form about 12' diameter. This was built about the same time as Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge and is slightly shorter in span but has to withstand winds much higher than the Roeblings. This bridge has so much iron to paint that entire families spend their lives on it. The term “Like Painting the Forth Bridge” means it will never get done.

FALKIRK WHEEL Near Edinburgh, Scotland
Proving that the Scots haven’t lost their genius for engineering and everything else, this contrivance replaces 10 locks joining two canal systems. It operates like a Ferris wheel with two buckets of water. Four boats enter the upper bucket while four more load in the lower one. Some ingenious gates are close and the whole thing rotates around till the upper tubs are on bottom to unload. Always a balanced load, a 13 HP motor moves it all. There is a swell restaurant below where we had a sandwich and a glass of Gallo wine, while we watched the rovolutions thru the glass roof.

HOLLAND INFLATABLE DAM Somewhere along our canal route from Sneek to Amsterdam, Holland
On our Dutch canal trip we approached a very peculiar structure. Wonderful in design, we finally realized it was two ends of a very large inflatable dike. Each end was a four story building where control rooms operated the whole thing. This probably doesn’t get used but every few months or years, meanwhile the tube rests on the bottom of the canal, which at this point is really a river. Before we embarked on our boat, I explained in detail to our new boat mates the intricacies of negotiating locks that were 15 feet deep. In actuality, the deepest lock we went thru in Holland was only 18 inches drop!

EIFFEL VIADUCT - Brier, France
Canals once in a while have to cross over a road or another canal and in few cases, a river. Such is the case with the canal that crosses the Loire River just before it enters Brier. Constructed in 1897, it features the longest such viaduct in France, 663 meters. Gustav Eiffel was the engineer on the piers but strangely, not the steel members that span between them. These canals are only about six feet deep and of course, you all remember your physics class that any boat will displace an equal amount of water.

This building is so spectacular that we have to repeatedly visit it. Paris is a city that has a certain height limit for any buildings due to an unfortunate high rise called the Black Tower. Everyone was so incensed about it that they outlawed anything more that about seven stories, the usual old Paris building height. This was due to the fact that no one would walk up more than seven stories. Most elevators have been retro-fitted in all the buildings after it was invented in about 1850. However, in their infinite wisdom, Parisian planners designed new city areas on the outskirts of Paris so you can build really tall skyscrapers. La Defense, amazingly, is a government building, with its huge hole in the middle, giant monumental stairway (No handrails, please), glass external elevators and the “Clouds” designed by an artist to kind of fill the hole.

PONT DU GARD Somewhere near Avignon, France
Back to the good old days when you had lots of slaves, the Romans designed a water system for their camps in Southern France(Gaul). This viaduct, one of the largest and best preserved, still could serve the use it was for which it was originally conceived. Just to get water from one side of a small river to the other sometimes stressed the Roman engineers, but did not deter them. It was a combination roadway, and waterway, and the size of the stones are impressive, hard enough to weather only little in the last two millenniums.

Back to the 21st century, here is the world’s most beautiful bridge. Recently completed, designed by Richard Rogers (Of Pompidue Center in Paris), a truly awesome achievement. Perched on several towers span a deep gorge, it replaced a treacherous and very dangerous highway portion of a highway from Paris to the South of France. The highest concrete tower is as high as the Eiffel tower, 1,000 feet. Amazingly, it was designed & constructed in about four years, For a cost of only 600 million Euros. The French, being a socialist country, Bids project out like this to private companies (we do it with our socialistic CalTrans), who in turn hire the architect as part of the team. The winner then builds it (with his financing) and owns it and runs it for seventy years, when they turn it over to the government. The steel roadway was built in the Ukraine, and trucked to the site, erected by pushing it out to the towers.