Posted by: nedpelger | February 12, 2010

World’s Most Phallic Buildings?

A contest was held in Cabinet magazine for the world’s most phallic looking building. The water tower in Ypsilanti, Michigan, named “The Brick Dick” by locals, won. The photo below shows the tower in all it’s phallic beauty. I mean seriously, what were the engineers thinking?

The Torre Agbar in Barcelona, Spain is a 32 story tower that also evokes the phallus image.

The photo below shows the Torre Agbar with a nocturnal emission of LED light.

We live in a wacky and wonderful world.

Posted by: nedpelger | February 10, 2010

Useful Facts when Converting Construction Units

I’m finalizing the first four construction phone apps and want to add some helpful facts to the Converting Units for Construction program. While it’s helpful to have all the units available to convert weights, volumes and densities, it’s even more helpful to have a few sample densities listed that keeps the process in perspective. For example, finding that steel weighs 480 pounds per cubic foot (pcf) while aluminum weighs 165 pcf and wood about 35 pcf may help you solve some real problems on the jobsite. I have a list of densities below (do you think more would be helpful? Anything specific you’d suggest?):

Density of Common Units in pounds per cubic foot (pcf):

Aluminum: 165 pcf

Brick: 120 pcf

Concrete: 145 pcf

Copper: 560pcf

Corn: 45 pcf

Crushed Stone: 100 pcf

Fresh Snow: 8 pcf

Glass: 162 pcf

Lead: 710 pcf

Paper 58 pcf

Steel: 480 pcf

Water: 62 pcf

Wood: 25-45 pcf

I’m also considering other useful facts to add into the phone app. For example, the various values of energy and power listed below are occasionally useful. Do you have any other ones you would add?

Energy (work done, think kw-hrs or BTUs)

Gasoline (mid grade) 1 gallon = 125,000 BTUs

#1 Kerosene 1 gallon = 135,000 BTUs

#2 Fuel Oil 1 gallon = 138,000 BTUs

#6 Fuel Oil 1 gallon = 150,000 BTUs

Ethanol 1 gallon = 76,000 BTUs

Propane 1 gallon = 91,600 BTUs

Propane 1 cubic foot = 2,500 BTUs

Natural gas 1 cubic foot = 1,030 BTUs

Wood (air dried) 1 cord = 20,000,000 BTUs (chord = 4’ x 8’ x 4’)

Wood (air dried) 1 pound = 8,000 BTUs

1,000,000 BTUs of Energy =

10 therms or 1,000 cubic feet of Natural Gas

46 pounds or 11 gallons of Propane Gas

8 gallons of Gasoline

7 gallons of No. 2 Fuel Oil (diesel fuel)

293 KW of electricity

125 pounds of air dried wood

71 pounds of coal

Power (capacity, think KW or HP or BTUs/hr)

1 Kilowatt = 3,413 Btu/hour

1 ton of air conditioning = 12,000 Btu/hour

1 person in a room adds about 250 Btu/hour or the equivalent of a 75 watt light bulb

1 HP (motor) = 746 watts (operating energy)

A Formula One racecar is 1000 HP and would use 20 gal/hour of gasoline (if it used gasoline)

A Ford Pinto is 88 HP and uses 2 gal/hour of gasoline

If you can think of any other useful facts that belong in a phone app for converting construction units, please post a comment and let me know.

Posted by: nedpelger | February 9, 2010

Unemployment Drops under 10% but nears 25% in Construction

A recovery of sorts seems to be happening in America. With unemployment dipping below 10% for the first time in months and factory orders increasing at a faster than expected rate, we have some reasons for cheer. This surge in factory orders bodes well for an economic turnaround.

Construction, on the other hand, acts as a lagging indicator and the pain we now feel doesn’t seem likely to get better in the short term. ENR noted that the construction industry unemployment rate hit 24.7% in January, the highest since February 1983.

I was standing in an unemployment line for a couple of weeks just about exactly 26 years ago and it was unpleasant. For those of you in that situation, I offer some of the best wisdom about construction industry trends I’ve ever heard:

“When things are good, they aren’t nearly as good as they seem and when things are bad, they aren’t nearly as bad as they seem.”

Finally, keep in mind that everything is relative and depends on your attitude. This Russian proverb sums it up:

“The church is near,
but the road is icy.
The bar is far away,
but I will walk carefully.”

Posted by: nedpelger | February 8, 2010

Building an Igloo

My son-in-law, grandson and I built a fine igloo this weekend. Since the plowing of our driveway left a big pile of snow, we decided to tunnel.

Actually, we began by trying to make snow blocks to lay in place to form an igloo. That didn’t work. The snow simply doesn’t pack well enough to be stable.

So we started with this big pile of snow and took our shovels to shape and tamp. We tried to create some increased density in the snow. Then we started to tunnel.

After about 4′ of tunnel, we made the room more expansive. I had some significant concerns about the stability of the snow, but it seemed to be holding up well.The photo below shows my grandson Clay checking out the progress.

We eventually got ourselves into the igloo. The photo shows the dog barking at us from the outside. For some reason, she would only come in for a few seconds, then run right back out. Maybe she was a bit smarter than us?

As we built the igloo, I kept thinking about the relative dangers. Snow only weighs 18 pounds per cubic foot, about 6 times less than soil. So that made me feel a little better. Also, I kept tamping the cut areas, trying to make sure the snow would act as an arch and transfer the gravity loads around the opening. In the end, I’m still not sure if it’s a stupid thing to have built and occupied this thing (photo of the 3 of us in the igloo).

So what do you think? Was it a stupid risk or just some reasonable fun to build the igloo?

Posted by: nedpelger | February 5, 2010

Beware Permanent Problems

In 2010, I’m starting my prayer time each morning by reading an essay from the Oxford Book of Essays. These short essays give wisdom from a variety of authors through the ages. It’s a nice way to stretch my mind.

I’ll occasionally share some passage that moves me. For example, in 1642 Thomas Fuller wrote “Of Anger” which has the following passage:

“Take heed of doing irrevocable acts in thy passion. As the revealing of secrets, which makes thee a bankrupt for society ever after: neither do such things which done once are done for ever, so that no bemoaning can amend them. Samson’s hair grew again, but not his eyes: time may restore some losses, others are never to be repaired.”

We all create problems for ourselves with some of our decisions. We need to be careful to avoid those problems that could turn permanent. When I was a young PM, we were placing a concrete floor on an office building. I happened to be on the jobsite when high winds started flexing the steel joists in the roof and moving the concrete block walls. I remember running down to the guys finishing the concrete and yelling, “Get out of the building now! I think it’s going to collapse!” I was only 27 years old and I’m not sure why they listened to me, but they did and the walls and steel collapsed about 30 seconds later, right where they were working.

It was a great lesson for me to take the risk of appearing foolish and do what seems to be right. In the case above, it worked great. Of course, I also remember almost being thrown off a bridge by a truck driver I’d just accused of cheating on his hauling runs, only to later realize I’d made a math mistake in calculating the run cycle. Man was that guy mad!

Wisdom in this business involves a mix of trying to do the right thing while considering the long term result of our actions. It’s not easy, but worth the effort. In a nutshell, live the examined life.

Posted by: nedpelger | February 1, 2010

Snot Stalactite

I believe in trying to keep my body reasonably fit and strong as I age. To that end, I ride bike with some buddies early Sunday mornings. Yesterday was cold (10 degrees F at Curt’s house) but we don’t let that stop us. After being out about an hour, I got a flat tire. As I began to replace the tube, I looked at Curt and saw this 1 1/4″ mucus-icle hanging from his nose. He had no idea it was there. So of course I needed to capture this disgusting Snot Stalactite on my phone camera and share it with you.

With a friend like me, Curt has no need to worry about his enemies. For those of you interested in justice, though, you’ll be pleased to know that he did thoroughly kick my butt on the ride.

Posted by: nedpelger | January 30, 2010

Trackhoe Waterskiing

You may think you’ve seen it all, but not if you haven’t seen trackhoe waterskiing.

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

Posted by: nedpelger | January 29, 2010

The 10 Cal-mandmants

When I was in my late 20s, after working in a few construction and engineering jobs, Calvin G. High hired me to be the first project manager for High Construction. I’d never been a PM, but he liked my local background and my work ethic. He thought he saw some potential in me.

High Construction was building $8M of work a year when I was hired and we grew to almost $40M in 3 years.  I learned to be a PM by just doing it, figuring things out as I went. We had a great team of field supers and trade contractors and we worked together to build lots of fine looking buildings quickly.

Cal was a wonderful mentor for me. He wasn’t prone to much praise, but I knew when I did something right…and when I screwed up.  As a devout Mennonite, Cal was committed to giving “Good Measure”. Yet he once asked me if I knew how copper wire was invented? Apparently it was two Mennonites fighting over a penny.

I developed the 10 Calmandmants, in honor of Calvin G. High and have considered them important guidelines to remember throughout my career.

1. Thou shalt never joke about money.
2. Thou shalt shudder when any price is given and ask if that’s their best offer.
3. Thou shalt never go time and materials.
4. Thou shalt pay attention to the details.
5. Thou shalt never say an item is “Not on the Critical Path”.
6. Thou shalt be frugal in all design decision, except for a few that are very visual.
7. Thou shalt landscape lushly.
8. Thou shalt wander around and look at things.
9. Thou shalt not mess thy jobsite, thy truck or thy neighbor’s tools.
10. Thou shalt obtain three prices on everything.

Transcribed by Ned Pelger in 1986 A.D.

Posted by: nedpelger | January 28, 2010

He Was Breathing, Until He Wasn’t

For the last eight hours, I sat with a dying friend and neighbor. I was there to comfort, to pray and just to be. Up until a few minutes ago, he was breathing, until he wasn’t.

Tom Houck was one of the toughest men I’ve ever met. Over and over his threshold for enduring discomfort amazed people. Whether it was steel chips in his eye, chopped off fingers, third degree burns, 7 cops to subdue him (younger days) or finally this lung cancer, Tom just took the pain and kept going.

The doctors treating his cancer would examine his MRI and wonder to his wife how he could still be up walking around with such limited capacity to breathe. “He’s not just walking around, she’d say, “He’s still working full-time as a heavy machinery mechanic in a factory.” Tom was a man’s man. Every year he’d tell me about how he shot this year’s buck and probably couldn’t quite understand how my success rate was about 10% of his.

I was on a jobsite late morning and got a call from TBW that the Hospice people thought he might pass in the next 30 minutes. Tom’ wife, Donna, requested I come. As I drove home, I thought, “There’s no way he is going to die on someone else’s schedule. Tom does things Tom’s way and he’ll still be there when I get there.” He was.

The next eight hours weren’t like any other eight hours of my life. We were focused on helping Tom be comfortable to die…and to provide some peace to those who would remain. We sat quietly, we prayed out loud, we told Tom our favorite memories of him, we prayed silently. Then a woman with a harp came into the room. She seemed to surprise everyone.

She played beautifully simple songs and sang like an angel. The songs didn’t seem tied to a particular religion, they just felt right. She was from Songs4theJourney.org they play to help folks pass from this world to the next.

Now I’ve known Tom for 25 years and I thought, “There’s no way he’s going to respond to this music by choosing that time to die.” As usual, I was wrong. As the harpist played and sang, Tom’s breathing eventually got slower and slower. Finally, he let himself go.

I guess I’m writing this to sort out my feelings, to get a sense of what I think about this particular day of living and dying. If you’ve read this far, you’ve realized this post doesn’t really touch on construction. And I can’t bring myself to neatly summarize my feelings with some aphorism about living each day to the fullest.

Maybe tomorrow will bring clarity.

Posted by: nedpelger | January 27, 2010

Haiti: A Saga of Building Codes Ignored

I’ve worked in Haiti a couple of times and been broadened by the experience. The first time I saw children playing in the raw sewage stream running down the street, I was nauseated. After a while, I barely noticed. Yet the sights of the brightly colored culture and the roughly built structures stayed with me. Here are a few photos I took to provide a sense of place:

Haiti is poor, but functions. People work, figure ways to buy food for their families, build buildings and enjoy times of celebration. Of course, I have a particular interest in the build buildings part of the society.

It’s not that Haiti has no building code, but the code doesn’t get enforced. An earthquake won’t kill 150,000 to 200,000 people unless lots of buildings are falling down. It wasn’t just the shacks of the poor; the schools, hospitals, churches, hotels and government buildings collapsed like houses of cards. An ENR article explains the Haiti codes and lack of enforcement.

Let me make you a challenge. The next time you work with a Code Enforcement Officer. Take a moment to thank him or her for the job he or she does. Bring up Haiti and what happens when everyone just builds as they see fit.  We can become frustrated with building inspectors, but they protect the public, and us, when they do their jobs. So let the next inspectors you work with know that you are glad we aren’t in the free-for-all world of no inspections. Let them know you appreciate the work they do.

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