Jonathan Waldman’s “Rust: The Longest War”: Book Review, Notes + Analysis

Poor Ash’s Almanack > Book Reviews > STEM

Rust: The Longest War (by Jonathan Waldman)Overall Rating: ★★★★★★ (6/7) (standout for its category)

Learning Potential / Utility: ★★★★★★ (6/7)

Readability: ★★★★★★★ (7/7)

Challenge Level: 2/5 (Easy) | ~275 pages ex-notes (304 officially)

Blurb/Description: You, like many people, might think that rust is as sexy as mold – but debut author Jonathan Waldman crafts a beautifully-written, extremely engaging, yet superlatively informative journey through mankind’s everlasting fight against an enemy that slowly destroys everything we build.

Summary: Rust: The Longest War is a hidden gem that I can’t believe sat on my bookshelf for so long.  I originally bought it a few years ago after seeing it mentioned in an investor day transcript by an executive with some industrial company (my guess is Valmont, but I can’t find the reference anymore.)  I started reading it once but got distracted by life, and now that I’ve read it cover to cover, I come away enthused and impressed.

It can’t be overstated how exceptional the quality of Waldman’s writing is.  A novice writer looking to improve their style – or even an expert writer looking to internalize some really good prose technique – could do worse than using this book as a bible.  On a sentence-to-sentence level, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a better book than this one.

The book covers not only a lot of interesting science and engineering, ranging from the reactions that create and accelerate rusting and our various ways of detecting, attacking, or preventing rust, but also goes into many of the human factors that lead to adoption (or lack thereof) of rust-fighting technology.   

Jonathan Waldman is one of the most engaging nonfiction writers I’ve ever come across. I’d go so far as to call him the best writer at the sentence level – Rust is an absolute joy to read.

Highlights: Even if you have de minimis interest in the content, Rust is a clinic on snappy, engaging, effective writing – particularly the beginning.  I also think that Rust generally does a good job of being wide-ranging; other than, in my opinion, Waldman going way too deep on the “pigging” of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and not going nearly deep enough on galvanizing and other alternative, non-paint corrosion protection techniques, he does a great job of presenting, in an accessible/engaging way, a ton of interesting facts and factors relating to rust.

Lowlights: As discussed above, I thought that the chapter on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was way too long and I lost interest / started skimming it.  I also felt like he’d made up his mind that BPAs in aluminum can internal coatings were dangerous to human health and presented the evidence in such a way that it slanted toward the Silent Spring crowd and didn’t give more than nominal airtime to less-alarmist views from chemists at the FDA and so on.  However, these minor flaws were more than offset by the overall brilliance of the writing.

Mental Model / ART Thinking Points:  Vividnessscientific thinkingculture / status quo bias,incentiveslocal vs. global optimizationdiscrete vs. recurring payoffsempathyhumans vs. econs,return on investmentsample sizenonlinearity ( critical thresholds), tradeoffshyperbolic discountinginversion

You should buy a copy of Rust, The Longest War if: you enjoy really well-written books, and you’re interested in a practical, useful journey through really important modern and historical engineering problems and solutions.

Reading Tips: as discussed, skim the chapter on the Trans-Atlantic Pipeline… other than that, just read this one when you can set aside some time to take it slowly and enjoy the beautiful writing in addition to the interesting journey.

Pairs Well With:

this interview with author Jonathan Waldman,

To Engineer is Human” by Henry Petroski (TEIH review + notes) – a classic book on  margin of safety bottlenecks critical thresholds, and other engineering concepts.

Nudge” by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler (ndge review + notes).

Waldman discusses  culture /status quo bias here; S/T have great points on how to “ Nudge” people in the right direction.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes (TMAB review + notes).  The bomb was an engineering challenge as much as a science challenge; I particularly enjoyed the discussion of how difficult canning was…

Deadly Choices” by Dr. Paul Offit (VAX review + notes).  Perhaps it seems like an odd pairing, but one of the big takeaways from Rust is salience – if you can’t see a problem, it might as well not exist for all you care about it.

Given how effective vaccines are at making previously-feared diseases totally vanish, an  n-order impact is that – by working so well – they’ve created the conditions for people to start thinking they’re not needed anymore, as Offit explores.

Reread Value: 3/5 (Medium)

More Detailed Notes (SPOILERS BELOW):

IMPORTANT: the below commentary DOES NOT SUBSTITUTE for READING THE BOOK.  Full stop. This commentary is NOT a comprehensive summary of the lessons of the book, or intended to be comprehensive.  It was primarily created for my own personal reference.

Much of the below will be utterly incomprehensible if you have not read the book, or if you do not have the book on hand to reference.  Even if it was comprehensive, you would be depriving yourself of the vast majority of the learning opportunity by only reading the “Cliff Notes.”  Do so at your own peril.

I provide these notes and analysis for five use cases.  First, they may help you decide which books you should put on your shelf, based on a quick review of some of the ideas discussed.  

Second, as I discuss in the memory mental model, time-delayed re-encoding strengthens memory, and notes can also serve as a “cue” to enhance recall.  However, taking notes is a time consuming process that many busy students and professionals opt out of, so hopefully these notes can serve as a starting point to which you can append your own thoughts, marginalia, insights, etc.

Third, perhaps most importantly of all, I contextualize authors’ points with points from other books that either serve to strengthen, or weaken, the arguments made.  I also point out how specific examples tie in to specific mental models, which you are encouraged to read, thereby enriching your understanding and accelerating your learning.  Combining two and three, I recommend that you read these notes while the book’s still fresh in your mind – after a few days, perhaps.

Fourth, they will hopefully serve as a “discovery mechanism” for further related reading.

Fifth and finally, they will hopefully serve as an index for you to return to at a future point in time, to identify sections of the book worth rereading to help you better address current challenges and opportunities in your life – or to reinterpret and reimagine elements of the book in a light you didn’t see previously because you weren’t familiar with all the other models or books discussed in the third use case.

Page xii – xiv, Pages 1 – 2: Right from the get-go, this book is special beyond its subject matter, because it’s a gosh-darn clinic on engaging, effective, snappy writing.  Most of the book is great, but the preface, introduction, and first couple chapters are especially awesome.  Waldman manages to take a subject (corrosion) that most people would probably regard as mildly interesting at best, and make it highly compelling.   

Pages 4 -5: beyond the interesting statistics about salting (and how it accelerates corrosion because of chlorine’s high reactivity), a few perfect examples of effective writing and punchlines:

“[…] chloride ions were embedded like trillions of ticks [in America’s bridges.]”

If you really want your car to last, drive exclusively on runways.

“Relying on corrosion tests (developed by Baboian), the US Mint designed new pennies and dollar coins.  The government does not want, literally, to lose money.”

Also, apparently hard water is hard because municipalities add lime to make it less corrosive.

Pages 7-9: more beautiful writing; I’m going to stop noting it because otherwise this will just turn into seventy pages of block quotes.  A few standouts, though:

“Metals, just like us, are mortal.”

“The [rust-fighting] products suggest that in our reaction we’re putting up a good fight.  But flight also works.”

More importantly, a good example of the vividness heuristic at work. Rust is a big problem, but nobody cares because:

“[R]ust sneaks below the radar.  Because it’s more sluggish than hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, blizzards, and floods, rust ranks dead last in drama.  There’s no rust channel.  But rust is costlier than all other natural disasters combined, amounting to 3 percent of GDP, or $437 billion annually, more than the GDP of Sweden.  […] rust is glossed over more than it’s taught, because […] it’s just not sexy.”

From a writing standpoint, note the contextualization a-la Feynman (helping someone visualize what $437 billion in GDP actually means).  Anyway, here and elsewhere, I was reminded of John Oliver’s witty segment on infrastructure, which made some similar points about a lack of drama contributing to the country’s general sense of ennui about what is a real problem.

Page 11: without human intervention, most human structures would last for anywhere from a few decades to a few millennia, depending on various factors.  Effective communication once again:

“Like radioactive elements, most metals – the ones we rely on – have a half-life.  But we don’t recognize it.”

Also, embarrassing admission: I thought “the Great Pyramid of Cholula” was, like, some fictitious marketing-stunt pyramid of hot sauce bottles that Waldman threw in to see if anyone was paying attention.  Oops.  Apparently my knowledge of mesoamerican history needs some work…

Page 20: rust is chock-full of the sort of useful, accessible scientific knowledge that I was hoping to encounter (but unfortunately didn’t) in Seven Brief Lessons from Physics.  Waldman explains how batteries work:

“Electrons travel from the weaker, more electronegative, metal, to the stronger one – and in the process the weaker one is destroyed, which is why batteries don’t last forever.”  

Thus, when you put two different metals in contact, they corrode.  

This is actually a good place to stop and discuss, for my own future knowledge, the chemical process behind the formation of rust, the galvanic corrosion process, and how (via inversion) that actually leads to us using “sacrificial anodes” to protect metals (via galvanizing or otherwise).  I learned redox reactions in chemistry long ago, and I aced it then, but… I forgot.  

Resources consulted: Wikipedia pages on rust, redox, and galvanic anodes, and this paper from a UK lab on bimetallic corrosion.

To start with, an oxidation state can be remembered as the little plus/minus in superscript to the right of an atom.  Well beyond the formatting capabilities here, I’ll just refer to it as, for example, O2- or Fe2+.  The 2- or 2+ is the “oxidation state.”

Oxidation refers to the process of losing electrons, which results in a higher oxidation state (fewer electrons = more positive.)

Reduction refers to the process of gaining electrons, which results in a lower oxidation state (more electrons = less positive.)

So, we could say iron is “oxidized” from Fe to Fe2+ + 2e-, while oxygen could be “reduced” from O to O2- (ignore, for now, that oxygen typically occurs as O2 in nature.)  

Without getting into compounds now, and focusing just on individual atoms, you can have stuff that is very electropositive like lithium, sodium magnesium, etc – they like to donate / give away electrons and become Li+ or Na2+ to complete their valence shells – and these are thus reducing agents that give away their electrons and thereby reduce the oxidation state of other atoms.  

Contrarily, highly electronegative stuff, like chlorine/oxygen, is very greedy and wants to steal electrons, thereby oxidizing (making more positive) other atoms.  So atoms like chlorine and oxygen are oxidizing agents.

Now we can talk about rust.  Without getting into the more detailed chemistry, iron likes to be a reducing agent, be oxidized, and give up its electrons to oxygen, which loves to be an oxidizing agent and accept those electrons (be reduced).

This is accelerated by moisture and electrolytes (i.e. salt, or more technically the chlorine ions from salt).  The oxidized positive ions of iron recombine with hydroxides or oxygens to form oxides of iron, which are what we know as rust.

Now let’s talk about galvanic corrosion, which occurs when two metals are in contact (or linked by an electrolyte-containing solution).  Verbiage in Waldman’s book as well as the linked articles regarding “electronegativity” is confusing because we just learned that zinc is very electropositive and now it’s considered very electronegative.  So I’m going to omit this discussion entirely and just focus on the fact that zinc likes to donate electrons more than iron likes to donate electrons.  Therefore, when you put zinc and iron together, zinc will donate its electrons to to the environment, while positive current will flow from the anode (zinc) to the cathode (iron).  

Thus, not only will the zinc coating corrode first, without causing the iron to corrode (because it donates electrons more freely), but it can also be used as a “sacrificial anode” in case it’s scratched through and the underlying metal is exposed – for example, Wikipedia has a picture of some zinc (or something related) bolted to a ship’s hull to serve as the sacrificial anode.

Pages 23 – 26: during the restoration of the Statue of Liberty, apparently (!) it was cheaper to build a 1,200 foot bridge from New Jersey than it was to transport supplies via barges.  Not clear why.  The project was overseen by Lee Iacocca of Chrysler fame, and it eventually raised $277 million ($1.4 billion in current dollars.)  To remove the paint, a company invented something that amounted to “a standard blasting nozzle inside a vacuum cleaner head.”  High-tech.

Page 33: more pretty writing – planned oxidation, commemorating defeated oxidation.  Waldman is awesome.

Page 35: the only metals that don’t corrode under some conditions are tantalum, niobium, iridium, and osmium.  Others, however, form a protective layer of metal oxide – aluminum, chrome, nickel, and titanium – and then don’t corrode any more.  

Page 36: oxygen, as discussed earlier, is both life-giving and metal-destroying.  See also the discussion in The Disappearing Spoon.

Page 39: Waldman presents a slightly less technical (but more elegant) version of my discussion above:

 

The corollary to this discussion is that if you run electricity through something, it prevents corrosion.

Page 44: Harry Brearley, a poor kid from Sheffield, UK who didn’t really put much effort into school, wasn’t really the “inventor” of stainless steel but gets a lot of credit.

Pages 48 – 50: Brearley was an autodidact: notwithstanding his lack of interest in school earlier, he spent six years “carefully, procedurally, accumulating as much [knowledge] as he could about steel.  

In an era when steelworkers didn’t have a lot of science to their approach, he took a more scientific approach (see scientific thinking).  For example, he figured out the right temperatures for certain kinds of steel, and – in the absence of thermometers – made his own: he created three alloys which melted at various temperatures and made little cylinders/cones out of them.

They basically worked as signals: you’re getting close, you’re right there, you’re too far and the steel won’t be good.

Pages 53-54: discusses the evolution of steel, which = iron plus ~0.1 – 2% carbon.  Originally, iron was baked with charcoal to absorb carbon; then it was the crucible process, then the Bessemer process (in which cold air oxidized away impurities in the iron prior to addition of carbon).  However, the Bessemer process couldn’t deal with phosphorus, and the Basic process precipitated it out.

Page 56 (top): a nice note, though not particularly unique, about engineering vs. business

Pages 56 – 58: Brearley noticed that steel with chromium and a bit of manganese/silicon didn’t etch very much, and remained shiny.  He found a way to get it to market. 

Page 61: a better example of the note from page 58 – a lot of solid new steel technologies took quite a while to make it to market.  A manganese steel in the 1880s that was 50x more durable than carbon steel took ten years to end up becoming the standard for railroad tracks, for example.  Culture / status quo bias.

Page 76: chapter 4, Coating the Can, is my favorite in the book.  Canning turns out to be a surprisingly hard process; cross-reference (in addition to some stuff in For God, Country, and Coca Cola, or the story about potential tin pest eating cans on the south pole expedition) page 557 of The Making of the Atomic Bomb – TMAB review + notes, where after two years of trying to develop a suitable can to contain uranium slugs, the scientists (who, by the way, managed to split the atom and build an atomic bomb) gave up and canned uranium slugs dipped in molten solder, such that the solder would solidify to airtightness…

Anyway, one would think that Mountain Dew is a little less finicky than, you know, enriched uranium, but it turns out that’s not the case, with Eric Randall of the Atlantic summarizing a lawsuit involving a mouse supposedly found in a can by noting that the main argument for the defense was

“that Pepsi’s product is essentially a can of bright green/yellow battery acid.”  

Waldman proceeds to go through a lot of interesting details regarding the science of cans; he went to “Can School” at Ball Corp (publicly traded – BLL).  

Pages 77 – 79: 180 billion beverage cans are produced per year; Ball makes about a quarter of those.  Waldman states (I haven’t verified and don’t necessarily trust journalists’ understanding of finance) that they sell them at a dime apiece and make two-thirds of a penny on each.

It took 125 years to figure out how to create steel cans and another 25 years to use aluminum.  We don’t think about it often, but Waldman notes that the extraordinarily infrequent failure rate of cans packed with Coca-Cola – a highly pressurized, higly acidic solution – is “an unheralded corrosion miracle.”  Again, a nice example of salience.   This is mainly due to an internal coating (“IC”) made of epoxy; without it, “a can of Coke would corrode in three days.”

Page 80: some good engineering insight here.  Ed Laperle, one of the chief engineers in the test lab at Ball, discusses how customers wanted to speed up the testing process by relying on “similar” previous beverages; he disliked the shortcut method.

Page 84-85: while touring the cupping lab of a coffee producer, I asked the CEO if anyone had done any work matching up human tasting notes like “blueberry” to peaks via analytical techniques like IR spectroscopy, HPLC, or gas chromatography.  An intresting note here from Laperle: flavor testers at Ball (who see if the can makes the beverage taste “off”) are capable of detecting parts-per-trillion flaws, and: 

“bad notes are always hidden on the gas chromatograph behind other bumps.”  

Page 88: contextualization of the cans in the world: each year’s cans would make 55 towers reaching the moon.

Page 89: to tour Ball’s plant, you need safety glasses, bright vests, and headsets; additionally, the floors are a uniform gray, with moving parts and safety marks on the floor painted yellow, and all the machines green.  

Page 92: a nice anecdote about canning in the late 1800s:

“a Wisconsin canner of peas, who quartered in the second floor of his warehouse, lost sleep on account of all the cans of peas exploding below him.”  

Always made me laugh.

Pages 94 – 95: getting the “headspace” right (small gas bubble on top of the liquid) is important; interestingly, cans actually aren’t supposed to be stored sideways or exposed to moisture from the outside.  Top of page 95 also points out how small changes in the beverage-making process (boiling lemon-lime extract in a copper kettle, for example) can mess up the process.  

Page 97 – 98: another feat of engineering: we think of 14nm computer chips as highly engineered, but the score line that allows kids and adults alike to pop open a can of Coke are also very precise: cans are “manufactured with much tighter tolerances than aerospace parts.”  Apparently the difference between a can opening and not is two or three millionths of an inch.

Pages 114 – 115: there’s a lot of discussion in this chapter of the BPA (a xenoestrogen) in the can epoxy; it’s difficult for me to evaluate the science from the book.  Frequent readers are likely aware of how much I like Dr. Jerome Groopman, the author of the excellent “How Doctors Think” (HDT review + notes).

For anyone seeking what I found to be a more balanced and thoughtful perspective on BPAs (that still ends up negative), I’d recommend reading Groopman’s 2010 article in the New Yorker, ‘The Plastic Panic,‘ as well as a related Q&A on chemical regulation.

Page 120: in another really enjoyable chapter (although for different reasons), Waldman takes a break from science and explores the aesthetic side of rust, going on an (illicit) tour of the shuttered, extremely rusty Bethlehem Steel Works with photographer Alysha Eve Csuk.

Pages 140 – 144: Researching rust for the government, analyst Maren Leed became:

“convinced that incentives at the department were set up wrong, that institutional biases made fixing the problem nearly impossible, and that the issue wasn’t getting appropriate attention.”  

See incentives salience local vs. global optimization, etc.  Corrosion was causing massive damage (over ten billion in total) to ships, facilities, vehicles, and aircraft.  Dan Dunmire headed up a new corrosion-fighting department.  Abstracting some of the details, here’s a less elegant but briefer version for memory:

“Engineers in Dunmire’s office cite competing incentives as a cause of much of their rust troubles.  [DoD personnel…] get graded on performance, schedule, and cost. […] if the missile [fired to Mars this year] rusts to hell [a year later], that’s not his problem.  […]  To save money, they use cheap fasteners.  

They use cheap paints […] by the time the maintenance bill comes through, they figure, I’ll be gone.  It’s not hard to race rust and win.  Officers get their stars, and assets get treated like orphans.”

While this seems counterintuitive, it’s actually fairly common organizational behavior.  It reminds me of some stuff I saw in the oilfield supply chain circa 2016.  I’ve followed a couple companies that sold products that were technically superior to competing alternatives and resulted in meaningful (often massive) total-cost-of-ownership savings, thereby reducing breakeven costs, which I initially thought would be a compelling value proposition in a challenging oil-price environment where efficiency mattered.  

However, these products, as a result of higher engineering, carried a nominal price premium to generic/commodity products, and many exploration and production (E&P) companies, as well as the supply chain (big service companies like Schlumberger, etc) had top-down mandates to reduce costs.  Some of this may have been rational organizational behavior in the sense that if you face a liquidity crunch (or are worried about one), you may not have the cash flexibility to invest a dollar this year to save fifty cents a year for the next five years – but most of the industry wasn’t in that dire straits, and particularly at the big companies with cleaner balance sheets, much more of the problem was a local vs global optimization, incentives-driven problem.

What was happening was that in response to this top-down mandate to reduce costs, there was some guy (or team) in the purchasing department whose compensation (or maybe even job) literally depended on: here’s what we spent on part X last year; we want to spend 5, 10, 20% less on that part this year.  You can see how it’s hard to sell a higher-priced product in that kind of environment even if it is ultimately the right decision – Munger, I think, has a quote about being pessimistic about the odds of convincing someone of something when their job depends on them not understanding that something…

So, I thought this was a nice real-world example of a fairly obvious and durable problem (metal things rust, and the DoD has a lot of metal things) with a fairly obvious and durable solution (invest in products that won’t rust, or do preventative maintenance to prevent rust), and yet it was surprisingly difficult and took a lot of heavy lifting to match the easy solution with the easy problem because the system was not set up to incentivize it.  Elsewhere in the chapter, Waldman discusses how a “ cultural change” was necessary to effect this.

Page 146: back to what I mentioned at the opening, and my John Oliver “infrastructure” reference – rust is a big deal but, as Waldman so pithily said, it’s not hard to win a race against it…

Page 147: and again on incentives, Dunmire:

“Manufacturers want stuff to break.  They design stuff to break.”  

Hey, it’s called recurring revenue… one-off vs. recurring payoffs.

Page 148: and here’s some stuff on the culture change; Rear Admiral John Orzalli on the dangers of status quo bias:

“Just doing it the way we’ve always done it won’t work.  We need to be developing a questioning attitude.”  

Waldman editorializes that as “provocative” for the “rigid, top-down command structure” typically associated with the military.  But it seems like progress has been made.

Page 149: money quote from Dunmire embedded in some more witty commentary from Waldman:

“Actually, it’s dealing with human beings that require even more patience than dealing with aircraft and ships and bases.  Physics, [Dunmire] calls black and white.  People he calls “quasi scientific at best.”  They have more momentum than a carrier and require as much space for making turns.”  

See empathy and  humans vs econs as well as Megan McArdle in The Up Side of Down (UpD review + notes) on how seemingly “easy” problems like patient compliance are hard (people don’t take their pills!) and seemingly “hard” problems like aerodynamics aren’t so hard (planes tend to stay in the air).

Page 166: perhaps akin to Munger’s emphasis on “numeracy,” at a more basic level, one of the challenges faced was the lack of basic mathematical skills on the part of military painters:

At shipyards and hangars, fewer than half of the military’s painters possess high school diplomas.  Many can’t add or multiply.  When mixing paint, they use a ladle of this and a ladle of that, to avoid math.”  

Ouch.

Page 167: now here’s an incentive:

“all military weapon requests for proposals (RFPs) now stipulate corrosion prevention and control assessments […] companies must address corrosion before [submitting new products to the military].”  

Dunmire has been working on extending that to all federal contracts.

Pages 174 – 175: Waldman provides some nice stats quantifying anywhere from 2:1 to 126:1 paybacks on new paints, sealants, rinses, covers, gaskets, etc (all designed to prevent corrosion).  Return on investment.  The GAO estimated an overall 50:1 (not a typo) return on Dunmire’s projects.  And little of this would have happened without realigning incentives

Page 178 – 180, Page 182: a fun discussion of galvanizing; two of the big galvanizers are subsidiaries of publicly traded AZZ and Valmont Industries.  The galvanizing industry, obviously, evangelizes its product and believes it’s better than paint (which it appears to be in many cases, although paint ON galvanized material is best of all.)  Waldman cites some numbers about maintenance costs which I’m pretty sure are in AZZ’s investor deck… or maybe it’s Valmont’s.  One or the other.

Pages 183-184: some technicals on how galvanizing works – steel is dipped in molten, 840-degree zinc.  For more, see the AZZ website, 10-K, etc.  (I love the ticker AZZ, by the way.  Just think of the potential vanity license plates.  Yes, I’m basically twelve.)  Galvanizing is also the reason cars don’t rust anymore.

Page 186, Pages 190 – 191: a great story about the ideal insurance client (engineer Rusty Strong, who also has an awesome name), as well as some stats on the breakdown of the 15k corrosion engineers in the U.S.  Not surprisingly, about 50% work in energy; surprisingly, many don’t have a lot of formal education (only a third have a bachelor’s, only a tenth a master’s.)

Pages 201 – 202: this chapter is way too long, even though I’m interested because I’ve worked on Mistras and Team, one or the other of which used the curious phrase “unpiggable pipe” in some presentation or 10-K or other.  Anyway, there are a few interesting observations here, including one vicious cycle – the lower the flow in the trans-alaskan pipeline, the more wax builds up, which impedes flow and lowers throughput… at some point before the oil runs out, the pipeline will no longer be able to transport it effectively.

Also, pigs are pretty big and heavy and dangerous and, sort of like those stupid bobsed roller coasters in the original Roller Coaster Tycoon that would go flying off hills, will occasionally go flying through the wall of a pipeline that curves and kill people in the process.

Page 203: I found the description of companies evaluating literally all aternatives besides a pipeline funny… including nuclear subs.  As for air freight and trucks, they would, respectively, need to use 10x more than, or almost as much as, the entire U.S. fleet.  No dice.

Page 204: corrosion protection includes buried magnesium and zinc sacrificial anodes, paint, and a low voltage electric charge.  But it still doesn’t fix everything, hence the need to “pig” the pipe to find corrosion.

Page 206: Waldman discusses that one of the issues is that corrosion doesn’t distribute evenly, which is a problem –

“after a thousand years, 99.999% of the pipe would still be there, sans weak spots.  But rust doesn’t work like that.  It concentrates in relatively few places, begetting more rust.  [… the company] looks at spots where 35% of more of the pipe’s wall thickness is gone, and where metal loss leaves the pipe at risk of bursting…”  

See sample size and averages, also  margin of safety bottlenecks, etc.  Reminds me of the quip about a six-foot man drowning in a stream that was six inches on average.

Page 211: despite the engineering challenges associated with just getting the pig into and through the pipe (it’s in a harsh environment going really fast, which tends to break stuff and so on), one of the major limitations was apparently data storage – magnetic tape and paper charts just couldn’t record the billions of measurements necessary to do what they do now.  Today, that isn’t a problem; the Baker Hughes pig they were using can hold hundreds of gigabytes.

Page 215: some pig stories, including some almost as strange as polonium migrating against currents of wind…

Pages 234-235: nice example of a critical threshold / breakpoint ( nonlinearity): North Slope oil gels at 15 degrees, and if the pipeline ever gets to that temperature, then it’s more or less good night forever for the pipeline.

Page 254: interesting cultural difference in dealing with rust between the North and South per Home Depot’s former head of rust products – northerners paint over it; southerners remove and clean.  I want to make completely unsubstantiated armchair-shrink cultural observations based off this one anecdotal data point, but I’ll be a good rational boy and restrain myself.

Page 263: nice discussion of a couple things.   Tradeoffs lower on the page (reminds me a bit of some Don Norman Design of Everyday Things type stuff) and higher on the page, the problem of corrosion being an interdisciplinary field: most engineers don’t (or can’t) keep up with all the relevant developments and don’t know what they don’t know.

 

Last Read: February 2018

Number of Times Read: 1

 

Review Date: February 2018

Notes Date: February 2018