Posted by: nedpelger | December 3, 2009

The Times They Are A Changing

We all need occasional motivation to do the best things. Take five minutes and watch this video. You will be challenged to really think about the future and where you may fit into it. Remember the Secret of Success: A Successful Person does those things that an Unsuccessful Person doesn’t want to do and won’t do. Take a few minutes and watch the video.

If you watched it, you should be challenged to get out of your comfort zone, to realize that life next year isn’t going to be like life last year. You can either be a victim of the changes or get involved in planning your direction.

Hearing that the Top 10 jobs in demand in 2010 didn’t even exist in 2004 was sobering. So was the 31 billion Google searches every month. As the world changes, please take the time to ponder where you could best fit. Read, think and plan. Don’t expect things to continue as they have in the past.

Life amazes when you seize the initiative.

Conversely, to quote the wonderful WC Fields, “Don’t be a moon calf, don’t be a fuddy duddy, don’t be a jabbernow. You wouldn’t want to be any of those things, would you Og?”

Posted by: nedpelger | November 27, 2009

Construction Thanksgiving

Bob Sherrard, a wise contractor I worked with, told me, “In Construction, you can make decent money in the good times, on the occasional project real good money, but in the tough times you just survive.” Maybe you found this to be true this past year or perhaps you found that the work keeps coming in the door (it has for us).

Regardless of whether you’ve been busy or slow, thriving or struggling, give thanks for being in this fantastic business. We get to conceive of projects, solve all sorts of challenging problems, work with a cast of characters right out of Characterville and see the results of our labors rise out of the ground and be inhabited. Most of us in construction get to experience a level of job satisfaction that few other industries provide.

So even in the challenging times, take time to consider how lucky you are to do good work you enjoy with good people.

You know, you could have a job inspecting train tracks, like the 30 second video below. It’s worth watching, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. Thanks for sending it to me, Kneal.

Aren’t you thankful that’s not your job?

Posted by: nedpelger | November 21, 2009

The Tale of St. Onge: or Don’t Bet Against America

I love logistics. Back in 1990 Harvey Miller of Quill Corp hired me to design and build a 173,000 sf high-tech warehouse operation in Lebanon, PA. Harvey cared about every detail of efficiency. He and his two brothers revolutionized the office products delivery system by offering next day delivery of almost everything. They helped pioneer the efficient mail order concept that we all use today.

When a customer called Quill Corp, they measured and tracked how many rings till it was answered. Customers are happier if they don’t have to hear a few rings. They eventually got to about 95% answered on or before the first ring. When we walked their distribution facility in IL, Harvey knew everyone, but also stopped to pick up a piece of litter.

As we labored over every detail of the design, they taught me that the building was just a shell for the really important material handling system. I learned more from Harvey than he’ll ever know. His constant integrity also made an indelible impression on me. Integrity works, not just because it’s morally right, it’s simply the most effective way to deal with people. Integrity requires us to sometimes look past apparent short-term losses and understand the long-term gains of a consistent life. Harvey lived that life and reaped those benefits.

So what does Harvey Miller and Quill Corp have to do with the tale of St. Onge? I had the priviledge yesterday of getting a tour of the world class logistics consulting company, St. Onge Company. Located in York, PA, they help businesses manage the details of their operations, whether warehousing, manufacturing or operating room efficiency. This less than 100 person firm consistently ranks among the best in the world at optimizing solutions.

Mike Jones, the president of St. Onge and who recently hired me to help renovate his church, gave me the tour and showed me some of their amazing optimizations. For example, they completed a project with an online pharmacy that ships 1,000,000 orders per day with only 1 mistake per year. That’s a Sigma 7 level of efficiency, which is almost unheard of.

Mike talked about the founders of the firm and how they operated with such high integrity, selling the next generation of owners the firm at a price much lower than they could have gotten on the open market. The founders respected the contributions of the upcoming team and showed it. When you experience that kind of integrity, you never forget it. You want more of it and you want to act that way yourself. It’s a marvelously upbeat cycle.

No place on Earth better combines the love of efficiency and integrity than America. Frankly, I’m excited to see China and India push forward with their economies. Their populations are every bit as human as I am and I celebrate in the moving from poverty to wealth. They will do some things better, cheaper and faster than we do in America. Good.

The handwringers, though, seem to think that China and India and other Asian countries will do everything better than America. That’s where they are wrong. This American combination of efficiency and integrity will continue to produce more innovation and more stable social institutions (courts, legislature, places to worship, etc) than anyplace else in the world.

The world game is changing, no doubt. After my tour of St. Onge yesterday, though, I’m feeling pretty good about America.

Posted by: nedpelger | November 20, 2009

The Hole Story: A Great Resource for Perforated Products

I stumbled onto a free catalog and website that many of you will find useful. The McNichols Company sells perforated metals, gratings and meshes in metal and fiberglass. That seems like a big “Who Cares?” until you look at their website or catalog.

They offer industrial products that can be used in refreshingly different ways…and at affordable prices.

As I struggle to get a good look on a project without spending a fortune, I’m definitely coming back to this catalog for ideas.  A cool industrial product, used creatively, makes a strong aesthetic statement.

The fact that the founder was WWII bombadier who survived a crash and POW camp also made for a good quick read.

Check out this site and get the catalog, you’ll find it useful.

Posted by: nedpelger | November 17, 2009

Learn to Calculate Loads…Or Face the Consequences

I think everyone in construction should be able to roughly find the volume of things, have a sense of their density and be able to make a decent calculation of what they weigh. For example, a tree being removed next to a house. Say the tree is about 3′ diameter with 15′ of main trunk and branches that go another 25′.

Just to keep it simple, assume a 3′ x 3′ x 40′ volume x 40 pounds per cubic foot = 14,400 pounds. Everyone involved in this industry that faces us with all sorts of odd challenges should be able to do a similar calculation. We should all know that wood = 40 lbs/cf, soil = 100 lbs/cf, concrete 150 lbs/cf and steel = 500 lbs/cf.


Yesterday in Santa Rosa CA, a crew worked to remove a tree and ended up using the crane boom like a knife to slice the house in half. As in normal in these situations, the workers claimed it was a freak accident. Fortunately no one was hurt. The crane boom missed the worker in the tree by about 4′ and the homeowners were dealing with a car accident they had earlier in the day. A day they won’t forget.

As you work through your day, think about what things weigh. Get adept at volumes, densities and weights and avoid injuries to yourself and others.



Posted by: nedpelger | November 14, 2009

A Swaying View from Burj Dubai

Since my last post showed Holmes’s photo of Burj Dubai from the bottom, I thought you may want to see some video from the highest man-made height on Earth. It reminds me when I used to climb the highest hemlock tree in the woods and  swayed around above all the other trees.

The first 30 seconds shows you all you need to see.

Posted by: nedpelger | November 13, 2009

Bubble Buildings in Dubai

My good friend Holmes just visited Dubai on business. He and I have been friends since we met on the school bus in 7th grade and it’s always great to catch up with him. From him I developed the theory of “The Scent”. There was a pretty eighth grade girl with big brown eyes and built, as we said in those days, like a brick shithouse. I couldn’t understand how this girl liked Holmes and not me. In fact, lots of the girls seemed to have a special place for Holmes. I determined that he had “The Scent”.

He put off some sort of charming chemical that weakened knees. Since he still manages to charm his way through crazy situations all over the world, I believe even more strongly in my Scent theory. His wife of about 30 years grudgingly agrees. He and I were in each other’s weddings and have stayed friends through the good, the bad and the not so pretty.

But I digress. Dubai continues to fascinate me. The biggest construction boom in history has just ended there as it appears the bubble has burst. Holmes sent me a couple of photos.


This was the view Holmes had as he walked out of his hotel. Wow! I really can’t imagine what it would be like to work on a project of that scale.

The photo below he captioned with, “More hotels, not sure who’s going to stay in them, though.”


Right now, I’m liking my nice little business that keeps me busy building fun projects with great people. Life is good.

Posted by: nedpelger | November 9, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wright on Choosing a Contractor

TBW and I were at a family reunion this weekend in Western PA. We had a great time as we walked around the historical small town of Ligonier. Here’s a fun birdhouse that caught my eye.


I found some fascinating old books, particularly one by Frank Lloyd Wright. As I paged, I found him pontificating on all things architectural, then I came across a small section on choosing a Contractor. He wrote, “I’d rather hire a crook who knows how to build than an honest man who doesn’t. I can police a crook but I can’t get something out of an honest man who doesn’t have it in him. I can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”

Biblical analogy aside, I was intrigued by this quote. In a back-handed way, Wright indicated how much of a role the Contractor played on his projects. From the Wright drawings I’ve seen, he was mostly a concept guy, not strong on details. Basically he needed a clever Contractor to work out his details. I’m sure his arrogance would never let him admit that, but so many architects give so little thought to how things get built.

I took a photo of a hinge on a church door in Ligonier that helps prove the point. Perhaps the architect selected the look of the hinges, but consider all the details the contractor probably needed to resolve to actually make the doors work. And not just work for a year, but for decades.



I love helping work out those details and love working with folks who are creative and experienced in providing solutions. We are a bunch of problem solvers. As the old saying goes, “Life is short and full of blisters.” Make sure you get yours doing things you enjoy.


Posted by: nedpelger | November 3, 2009

Oui Vey! My Daughter’s Wedding and the Flu

I’m not a big fan of excuses. Have you ever sat in a meeting waiting for one person to arrive? Then he comes rushing in the door, talking about the traffic or some other thing outside of his control. I much prefer, “I’m sorry I’m late, I should have left earlier.” As the old saying sort of goes, “Excuses are like anuses, everybody’s got one.”

Nevertheless, I’m about to start pitching a couple of excuses for my lack of posts. First, we had the wedding of our daughter Anna last weekend at our house. People started parking in our yard just as the clouds dropped rain like it was coming out a faucet. I knew that a party for 150 was a bit of a logistics stretch for us. I learned that a wedding involves way more everything than a party. So it goes.

I couldn’t understand why I felt so bad right after the wedding. The ceremony was beautiful and we love our new son and grandson. I thought the stress must have gotten me, but I generally handle stress well. Turns out some little virus (or as my scientist son calls viruses, “Pure malevolence with a hard shell”) started to play with my systems. Eight days later I’m coming out the other end. I don’t know if it was swine flu, but I haven’t been that sick in nearly 20 years.

As for the Oui Vey, I re-read one of my favorite books as I was starting to feel better. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History/Here My Troubles Began just amazes me with its depth and accessibility. It’s a graphic novel (a comic book) about a Holocaust survivor and his story. If you’re going to read one book this year, make it a Pulitzer Prize winning comic book. Among other things, it’s a testimony to the value of competence.


Posted by: nedpelger | October 21, 2009

Power Tools and Pumpkin Carving

You have to love a website that recommends using a Sawz-All for decapitating a pumpkin (i.e. cutting the hole in top to remove the guts). This website starts with a great video using the professional wrestlers “The Bumping Uglies” to introduce the concepts.

Since we all love to build things, I challenge you to have some fun with your kids, grand-kids, neices and nephew or even just for yourself and carve some kickass pumpkins this year. Here’s a short list of helpful guidelines from the site.

  1. Use a power washer to clean the pumpkin, it’s quick and fun.
  2. Sawz-All the hole in the top, tilting the blade so the lid doesn’t fall through and cutting a little notch in the lid so you can easily fit it back into place each time.
  3. An ice cream scooper gets the seeds and goo out easily.
  4. Use a jig saw or scroll saw to cut the various openings.

If you want a few ideas of what to carve, the following video should help. So have some fun, Halloween only comes one time a year.

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