Posted by: nedpelger | March 2, 2010

Sleeping Around

A good friend, who’s a project coordinator for a local contractor, sent me this photo with the caption:

Sleeping Around

It’s always the kids that suffer.

Another buddy sent me this little gem below.

When you’re from the country ~ you look at things a little differently…

A rancher got in his pickup and drove to a neighboring ranch and knocked at the door. A young boy, about 9, opened the door. “Is your Dad home?” the rancher asked.

“No sir, he isn’t,” the boy replied. “He went into town.”

“Well,” said the rancher, “Is your Mother here?”

“No sir, she’s not here either. She went into town with Dad.”

“How about your brother, Howard? Is he here?”

“No sir, He went with Mom and Dad.”

The rancher stood there for a few minutes, shifting from one foot to the other and mumbling to himself.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” the boy asked politely. “I know where all the tools are, if you want to borrow one. Or maybe I could take a message for Dad.”

“Well,” said the rancher uncomfortably, “I really wanted to talk to your Dad. It’s about your brother Howard getting my daughter, Suzie, pregnant.”‘

The boy considered for a moment. “You would have to talk to Pa about that,” he finally conceded. “If it helps you any, I know that Pa charges $500 for the bull and $50 for the hog, but I really don’t know how much he gets for Howard.”

Posted by: nedpelger | February 25, 2010

Rediscovering KISSing, again

I adore grand, technical solutions. When faced with a problem, I tend to try to figure a solution that will work in many different situations, a solution that will also fix all future problems.

After Einstein conceived the general and special theories of relativity, he spent the rest of his life working on the Unified Field Theory. That theory would tie everything together, would make all things make sense. He knew he was unlikely to solve it, but proceeded anyway.

Recently I’ve been working on large solar photovoltaic installations. One of my customers loves the efficiency and effectiveness of our team in building apartment buildings and wants us to figure out solar PV for many of his properties. It’s a fun technical challenge and business opportunity.

Years ago, I learned the value of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). I know it’s the best way to begin and usually the best way to end. But I get seduced by visions of my own little Unified Field Theory. I decide that I need to develop a spreadsheet that covers all situations and simply outputs wonderful good solutions.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve been dreaming and plotting about this Solar PV spreadsheet, while neglecting the actual work of figuring out what we should build. Finally last night, as I was hip deep in the spreadsheet programming, I remembered my gridded paper. As a young engineer, I solved my technical problems by carefully stating my assumptions than working through solutions with a pen and gridded paper.

As I worked through this simple approach, the real variables started becoming clear. I began to see what options we really need to price, what constructibility concerns we need to discuss. Ah, the joy of KISSing.

Posted by: nedpelger | February 24, 2010

Beauty of Biography

In 1750, Samuel Johnson noted that almost every person that’s lived could be the subject of a useful biography. I love that idea.  He writes, “We are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by the same fallacies, all animated by hope, obstructed by danger, entangled by desire and seduced by pleasure.” The fact that we share so much with other humans means we have much to learn from them.

My Dad taught me to try to treat everyone I meet with dignity and respect (though still having a good time with them) because everyone has something to teach me. I’ve failed at this often, but when I succeed I’m generally rewarded.

I’ve taken to reading a short essay every morning from the Oxford Book of Essays. You can read this morning’s essay by Samuel Johnson titled Dignity and Uses of Biography by following the link. Besides the encouragement to learn from those I meet, the essay also prompted me to start reading more biographies.

Johnson writes, “No species of writing seems more worthy of cultivation than biography, since none can be more delightful or more useful.”

Do you ever read biographies? Whatever topic interests you, find a related biography and give it a try. I’ve been so moved by several biographies over the years, gaining insight into a specific person, humanity and myself.

What’s the favorite biography you’ve read? What might you consider reading? Please consider actually answering these questions in the comment section. This blog will be much more fun if we get some dialogue going.

As for me, I was most moved by the Peter the Great biography by Robert Massie. I think I’ll read The Last American Man next.

What about you?

Posted by: nedpelger | February 23, 2010

Photos to Make You Feel Good about Your Construction Quality

Here are some fun photos that, at the very least, should make you feel more like a quality Construction Professional. I’ve learned long ago that one of the secrets to happiness is not setting the standards too high.

When buildings get designed entirely for efficiency, ugly tends to follow. Here’s a building that should win an ugly award.

I guess the folks below decided to increase the ugly in their building by adding a little prison cell off the back.

The entrance sign to this upscale little entrance reads, “Paradise”. Kind of makes me wonder what’s inside?

I guess the house below was built on the hope that it wouldn’t get too windy.

I don’t want to leave the mechanical trades out of the fun, so I’ve included the wonderfully creative adventure in sewer piping shown below. Take a moment and follow the logic of what drains what.

Finally, I actually like this last addition. Someone decided to chuck the status quo and built themselves a rocking roof-top terrace. It looks like a place where fun happens.

If you want to see more of these sort of photos, they came from a Dark Roasted Blend post on Architectural Horrors.

Posted by: nedpelger | February 22, 2010

A Thoughtful Response about Working with Engineers

I came into work today and found this response about the engineer who flew into the IRS building in TX.

Good Morning Mr. Pelger,

After taking off early Friday and a weekend away from e-mail I’m just catching up on your blog. Which, by the way, I thoroughly enjoy. Your post last Friday had special meaning for those of us living here in Austin. We saw a tragedy unfold that impacted, not only the lives of those in the Echelon Building, but each of us who calls Austin home. We now walk with slightly less confidence in our security and safety while looking slightly more closely at those we think we know as neighbors. It is truly a sad state of affairs. We will rebound; we’re Texans and Americans, we always do.

As a member of the construction community since the age of twelve, I turned sixty last July, a NICET certified Civil Engineering Technician and a holder of a AAS in Architectural and Engineering Computer Aided Drafting from Austin Community College your thoughts regarding the proper care and handing of the “engineering psyche”, were of particular interest. I am employed as a CAD Designer by a local engineering firm so a great deal of my time is spent working with members of the engineering community. If I read your thoughts correctly it sounds as if you are saying those of us who are not engineers should go out of our way to make special concessions to engineers and simply accept that they will not trust, like, or feel any kinship with those of us who are mere mortals.

Mr. Pelger, if in fact that is what your thoughts are, I am highly offended and distressed at your obvious belief that you and all other members of the engineering profession are some sort of God of all knowing and divine power. Engineers are people, Mr. Pelger just like the rest of us. Granted they may have a slightly more focused approach to problem solving and may more readily grasp the nuances of mathematics, still they are people who put their pants on one leg at a time.

Perhaps a more reasonable approach would be for the teachers who early on see the potential for some students to become engineers to immediately begin to stress to those students the importance of developing interpersonal skills. Perhaps those students should be encouraged to see their fellow students, and someday fellow workers and citizens striving to build a better world, as valuable members of a complete design and build team each of whom brings a special set of skills to every project. Perhaps from the EIT to the Registered Professional level the Continuing Education credits required to maintain professional standing should include classes aimed at reinforcing to every engineer that they are people too and must respect the value of their fellow humans.

Sir, as an engineer, you may be able to develop the necessary formulas and analysis to build the largest and most complex of structures yet until every engineer is brought back to earth and firmly grounded in the fact that they owe their very existence to the people around them who provide support and, yes even occasionally point out errors, tragic incidents akin to the one that has so impacted Austin, Texas will continue to occur.

Hopefully, you will see my comments not as “sour grapes” but as genuinely concerned thoughts from a fellow “Construction Professional”. Ours is a wonderful, challenging, rewarding, and yes, often times mind-bogglingly frustrating business/career. We need every construction professional, whether they hold a degree or not, to come together and stress the importance of each individual. As our Founding Fathers so beautifully made clear in our Declaration Of Independence and the most amazing document in the history of mankind, the United States Constitution, no person is above another: We are all equal.I was privileged to serve in our Armed Forces during the Viet Nam Conflict and am a Proud Viet Nam Veteran.

I feel certain that there are a significant number of engineers who read your blog. Perhaps you can start the ball rolling there. How about two new apps? One to help non-engineers relate to engineers and one to help engineers relate to non-engineers.

Heck, just make it one app that address both issues. Lets start taking down the barriers that cause any member of our profession to feel isolated or tossed aside.

I will close by saying how much I enjoy your blog and how often I refer to the CK website for advice and tools. I feel certain that you are the type of engineer who listens to those around him and sees the value of each member of his team. Thanks for providing a valuable service and so many good tools. Keep up the good work.


Gary D. Evans

Austin, Texas

I responded with the following:


I really appreciate your thoughts. I’m afraid I wasn’t clear in my writing, as I certainly don’t think any special concessions should be made to engineers. In fact I hate arrogance. I was trying to articulate why it seems so many engineers are jerks. I should have taken the opportunity to state, what I clearly believe, that this behavior is counter-productive to effective working relationships and should be modified when possible.

Instead, I jumped right to problem solving (as I have a tendency to do) and gave some pointers for dealing with someone of a certain personality type of which many engineers belong. The phone app does indeed give pointers for dealing with 4 different personality types, depending on your own personality type.

As Gary and I exchanged another round of emails, we both decided that we’d made a new friend today. I don’t know about you, but that makes it a good day for me.

Posted by: nedpelger | February 20, 2010

Construction Worker as Hero

Imagine yourself driving to work in the morning and seeing a small plane buzzing around a 7 story glass facade building. As you continue to glance at the plane, wondering what the heck it’s doing, you see it crash through that glass wall. What do you do?

Robin DeHaven, on his way to install glass at a building construction site, saw the situation pictured above and decided to help. He drove right to the firey building, got his ladder off his truck and extended it to the second floor, where people had their heads out the window to avoid the smoke.

He tried to instruct the people how to secure the ladder so they could safely climb down, but they were unable. So he climbed up the unsecured ladder (which slipped a bit as he was ascending) and crawled through the broken window and into the burning building.

With the aid of another man, he broke another window so they could tie off the ladder and have people climb out the window and down. In fact, he climbed down with each of the five people to give them support in case they slipped. They were all successfully rescued and not injured.

De Haven, who has a 3 year old son and served 6 years as a combat engineer for the US Army, acted with great character and courage. He also had the skills and knowledge to act appropriately in the situation.

If you find yourself in a catastrophe, how will you respond? To be effective, one needs courage and knowledge. Many of the topics I cover in will help you gain and expand your basic knowledge of how the physical world works. As for the courage, you’re on your own.

Posted by: nedpelger | February 19, 2010

Why are Engineers Killing People?

The single engine plane that crashed into the 7 story IRS building yesterday in TX had an engineer at the controls. As I read his online suicide note I wondered why so many engineers have recently ended in tragedy. I thought of the engineer in FL who shot 6 of his co-workers because he was laid off and “Left to rot”.

Both these guys are about my age and seemed to be seething with rage. Joe Stack, who flew the plane into the IRS building, wrote that “I’ve had all that I can stand.” So what’s going on?

We all know engineers tend to have poor interpersonal skills. I remember an elementary school teacher saying she spots the future engineer easily, he’s the kid that fixes the zippers on the other kid’s winter coats. He or she tends to like focused problem solving better than playing. Most engineers love solving technical problems and just put up with people.

Society reinforces this behavior, by consistently claiming the need and value of engineers, in order that America can better compete with the rest of the world. Youngsters are told that becoming an engineer is a lucrative career path.  Then the difficulty of engineering school further reinforces the concept that engineers are special and valuable.

The poor people skills coupled with the sense of a promise made but not kept can lead to bitterness. Sometimes an over-blown sense of self emerges, a sense of unappreciated greatness. Most engineers have a touch of this and some are fully self-involved.

So how should you deal with engineers? My soon to be released Construction Phone App: Communicate Better with  Personality Profiles gives a few pointers.

  1. Prepare and plan and then prepare and plan some more. Don’t just shoot from the hip and expect things to go well. Force yourself to provide as many details and as much analysis as you can stomach.
  2. Be prepared for the engineer to not trust you and maybe not like you. Being prepared can help you not take it too personally.
  3. Be on time or even a bit early. Remember, punctuality is a sign of integrity

Wise people learn from tragedy. Work on your people skills. Get better every day at relationships, humility and understanding truth. If you strive thus, life just keeps getting better.

Posted by: nedpelger | February 18, 2010

Row, Row, Row Your Barge

Row, Row, Row your barge

Gently down the stream

Merrily, Merrily, Merrily, Merrily

The backhoe moves you downstream.

Here at TimeWaste Central, we are working hard so you don’t have to.

So I suppose I have to add this Backhoe Ballet video as well. It really is kind of beautiful the way the director gets the machines to move rhythmically and gently.

Last June, I wrote about Why Chinese Buildings are Falling Down? That post showed the some powerful photos of a toppled building.

I later wrote about Contractors Arrested for Lacking Common Sense and tried to explain what actually happened in the collapse. I went on to speculate that the authorities would probably never get to a clear understanding of what occurred.

I was wrong. Today an article announced that 6 people were sentenced in a Shanghai court to prison for 3 to 5 years.

It was interesting to see that the  manager of the building’s real estate developer and the person in charge of construction were both sentenced to five years in jail. While the project manager and safety manager, who were deemed directly responsible for the collapse, received four years in jail.

The on site construction supervisor received a three year sentence, partly for dodging checks by the building inspectors.

To my sensibility, it’s appropriate to hold those with higher authority to a higher level of responsibility, even though they probably weren’t involved in the details. We have the tendency to be lenient on everyone involved in a failure, not wanting to do the unpleasant work of holding people accountable for both their tasks and their management.

Remember, this construction and design work we do has dangers: for the public and for us.

Posted by: nedpelger | February 16, 2010

That’s Not a Snow, This is a Snow!

If you’ve ever seen Crocodile Dundee remember the line, “That’s not a knife, this is a knife!” The clip will refresh your memory.

I laughed when I read about the Russian diplomats poking Americans for shutting down the entire federal government in Washington, DC because of snow. They commented that it wasn’t a hurricane or a tornado, just snow. How could we be so flummoxed by a bit a snow?

The following photos show some serious snows that the rest of the world endures. The Swiss folks in this house can honestly say they are snowed in…

Unlike this dog, who is definitely snowed out.

I’m working on some solar power projects right now, but I don’t think we are considering the contingency below.

The following photos from Norilsk, Russia show why it’s considered the World Capital of Snow.

Thanks to Lex Pelger for passing along this Dark Roasted Blend site of great snow photos.

And finally, we have a public works idea for lowering the unemployment rate.

Hope you have a wonderful day.

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