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November 8, 2012

Siri vs Google Voice Search

You should probably be talking to your phone more. Get in the habit of using the voice search function on your phone to quickly get answers to anything you want to know. As you learn to Google questions, you realize the amazingly quick and accurate responses Google provides. By eliminating the need to type on your smart phone keyboard, the process has become so simple. Watch the video below for some inspiration.


If you use an Android phone, just go with the Google Voice search (the microphone icon). I recommend you make sure to put that microphone icon on your home screen, so you can easily perform voice searches.

If you have an iPhone, you have access to Siri. The video above compares Siri and Google Voice Search in a side x side comparison. Spoiler alert: Siri sucks. I’ve seen similar comparisons done on just the iPhone and Siri still performs badly. So I’d recommend iPhone users switch to Google Voice Search.

Get in the habit of searching the internet from your smart phone for everything from directions for which bus to take to sizing a steel beam. You’ll find that many phone apps become obsolete when you can take your question right to a full Google search of the internet. Use the power that’s available. You increase your value and have fun.


August 17, 2011

more on passwords
Filed under: Uncategorized — pelger

In a followup to my old man’s post about passwords, I’d like to share two of my favorite password tricks:


LastPass website
This is a handy little application that installs directly to your web browser in a minute or two. It stores any passwords that you tell it to and can even automatically sign into sites. It’s very handy for your less important websites like Facebook, shopping sites, Netflix and other places that no one would particularly care to hack anyway. I need a lot of accounts for our construction phone app development and I like not having to remember user names or passwords. LastPass fills it all in for me.

This is only to be used on a computer that you consider to be secure and has a password because once somebody is on it, they can log into any sites that you have saved. So even though I keep my computer locked up tight, I memorize my Gmail and bank passwords because they’re just too important to trust to anybody else.

How to create & remember easy passwords:

By looking at the XKCD cartoon from two posts ago (by the way, XKCD is the best and dorkiest comic on the web), you learn that a series of four words is better than a jumble of letters. The easiest way to remember all your passwords is to write them all down in one place right at your desk so you can glance at it when needed. But of course that breaks the first rules of computer security.

Unless you create a code. And who doesn’t take a childlike delight in creating codes that only you know?

So here’s my trick: Create a series of word associations that signify the real word to you. For instance, on the password sheet at your desk, you write:
color vehicle flower love

But you know that really means:
red boat rose sarah

For every new site, change the order of the words so you don’t have the same password for any one site. It often happens that a hacker figures out a password from a data breach somewhere on the web and then can apply it to your other accounts if you reuse passwords.

Some passwords require letters to be capitalized so make sure to write them correctly on your sheet: ie (Flower love Vehicle color). If numbers are required, you could write them just as they are or for an added measure of security, always write the number 1 higher or lower than the real number.

I recently went through and increased my password security for all my important sites and I encourage you to do the same. Especially if you have a bunch of similar passwords that you have never changed. But if you only do this for one site, do it for your email. If someone gets into that, they can reset the passwords for every other site – then hijack your digital life for sending spam, draining bank accounts or sending fake proposals of marriage to ex-girlfriends (true story, don’t ask).


December 28, 2010

Construction Resists National Wussiness Trend
Filed under: Uncategorized — nedpelger

Upon hearing the the National Football League cancelled last Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said, “We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”

I have to agree with our august governor on this one. In general, America continues to make decisions based on fear of lawsuits and fear of inconvenience. We need to get better at making good plans and then executing them well.

The construction industry often does an excellent job at planning, scheduling and execution. Project after project, we complete challenging, one-of-a-kind jobs on time and on budget. Think about how many of your projects hit the on time and on budget criteria.

Nadine Post writes that the newest Frank Gehry building in Miami, Fl will be achieving this distinction in mid-January. The $160-million New World Symphony music academy and performance center has just over 100,000 sf of floor area (that’s right, $1600/sf) full of curves, bends and folds. Yet the 2,500 requests for information have been answered and no claims against the owner or architect have been filed. They resolved the challenges as they occurred. The photos below from ENR give a sense of the project.

As America addresses the challenge of international competitiveness, all Americans get a say in how we proceed. Let’s use the construction industry as a model for toughness, for staying the course in adversity. Other industries certainly surpass us in innovation, safety, etc, but, with the right team, we consistently get it done on time and on budget.


December 24, 2009

Banta Tile: A Cautionary Tale
Filed under: Industry outlook,Uncategorized — nedpelger

Banta Tile and Marble installs some of the best looking stone in our region. They put the granite counters in our home kitchen. I’ve enjoyed working with them since I started in the business in 1981. They started in 1929.They are a good solid company who does excellent work.

Now they are no more. Lancaster Online reported that a US District Judge just signed a writ of execution for $2.9M for Local 5 of the Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers against Banta. The immediate reaction, of course, is for Banta to declare bankruptcy and shut down the company. Their payroll of up to 50 employees now will look for other things to do.

Apparently Banta worked on a couple of union projects years ago and signed contracts without paying too much attention to some of the clauses. Almost anyone who runs a construction company has rushed through contracts at times. These clauses, apparently, required Banta to continue to pay into the Local 5 of the Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers pension program even though their employees weren’t members of the union and would never collect.

Frankly, I wouldn’t have thought that sort of thing was even possible, much less legal. The law, though, need not follow common sense.

I remember working for Cal High of High Construction in my early days as a PM. We were exploding with growth and always promised quick completion schedules. I couldn’t find the construction craftsman to get our commitments met and told Cal we could just get some fellows from the union hall. Quickly he squared me up about that step having many consequences beyond my immediate needs. He told me to figure out another way and I did.  As I read about Banta Tile today, I realized I’d received yet another great lesson from Calvin G. High.

So the take-away on this piece? No matter what you do in construction, don’t rush into contract agreements without understanding the potential consequences.


October 16, 2009

Do You Know How Technology Works?
Filed under: Uncategorized — nedpelger

If you were transported back in time, could you actually help develop some of the technology that you use every day? Do you have a decent understanding of how things really work? This 10 question Technology quiz gives you a score…not that this is a competition.

My son Lex scored 5 out of 10 and I’d characterize him as follows:


Whereas I scored 7 out of 10 and see myself more as follows:


I challenge you to take the quiz and post your results as a comment. We promise not to laugh at you, no, really.


September 7, 2009

Looking for a New Career? Consider Sewer Detective
Filed under: Uncategorized — nedpelger

As Ed Lillywhite Norton on The Honeymooners said, “You see it all in the sewers.” If you are getting concerned about this construction industry career choice you made (or more likely happened into), watch the video below to consider an alternate vocation.


Years ago, when I worked building wastewater treatment plants, the prominent saying was, “It may smell like Sh*t to you, but it smells like money to me.” If you haven’t been smelling much money in building construction these days, maybe you should consider being a sewer detective.


March 23, 2009

A Tea House Treehouse
Filed under: Uncategorized — nedpelger

The Japanese have a tradition of tea houses. The traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony can occur in these personal structures, as well as being just a cool place to hang out. Terunobu Fujimori,  a professor and architect, has observed that a teahouse is “the ultimate personal architecture.” So Fujimori built the tea house pictured below with his own hands.


The access comes from climbing the ladder pictured below. The article in DeZeen Design Magazine provides more photos and info. For example, the two chestnut tree supports were actually cut from a nearby mountain and brought to this site.



When you look at this tea house, what do you think? I wonder where in the world is the lateral stability? I don’t see any cross braces and can’t imagine that moment resisting connections could really be achieved either in the ground or in the tea house. So I think, “A strong wind is going to bring this baby down!” But then, I’m just a conservative old structural engineer.

I posted this partly because I thought the photos were stunning, partly because I was intrigued by the lack of lateral stability and partly to encourage you to consider doing something different if you find yourself with extra free time these days.


Whether you build some fun inexpensive structure, take some time to make some tea and meditate on the beauty of the process or do whatever, don’t let found free time go to waste. A buddy of mine got laid off last week and was telling me about his plans for the Spring. I was just a little jealous of the opportunity to have a chunk of free time.  Life goes fast, if something unexpected comes at you, make the most of it.


March 5, 2009

A Terrorist No More
Filed under: People Skills,Uncategorized — Tags: — nedpelger

As you may recall, my first attempts at producing some instructional videos were described as terrorist quality level…without the exciting parts. Well, with the help from a couple of amazing video guys from the LCBC Church project that we’re building (Thanks Brian and Ryan), the video quality level has skyrocketed.

Please have a look at this video below and give it a YouTube rating (it only takes one second and they don’t hassle you or lead you to any other screens):


Let me know what you think in the comment section below. I’ve got two other videos I’ll finish editing and will also be posting soon. I’m just at the point of putting a big push onto the site, to see if we can get more interaction and benefit. This will be fun…stay tuned.


January 17, 2009

Top 10 Reasons to Pursue a Career in Construction: #1
Filed under: Uncategorized — nedpelger

#1 Family Matters and Construction is Family Friendly

Relationships make life worth living. Family relationships challenge us most and reward us best. To live with joy, we need to focus on family relationships and make them strong. So what’s this got to do with construction?

Kids love construction, mostly. The natural urge to build, whether with Legos or Lincoln Logs or simple wood blocks seems to be in almost all kids I’ve met. Of course, destroying things is an even bigger desire. If you’ve ever built sand castles with kids at the beach, the demolition seems to be the most relished aspect.

When you work in construction, you have a natural connection with your kids. They will be interested in what you do (if presented in small doses) because it’s real and comprehend-able. I hope you take your kids or grand-kids or nieces/nephews to the job site sometimes, to give them a great experience.

For most of us, construction happens locally. Though some workers must stay out of town for weeks and months, most people in construction work on local projects. You are building things in your community.

Finally, family businesses dominate in construction. Since small firms control such a large amount of the construction work (see #3 The Fast Whip the Big), family firms have a great advantage. Most of the firms I’ve worked with in my career have been family owned contractors, with all the thrills and chills that go along with that.

Of course, any job can be consuming and your construction job can easily become the central focus of your life. Just don’t let that happen. (That was easy, wasn’t it?). Use the family friendly nature of the construction business and live a balanced life. In the end, you’ll be glad you chose this amazing industry and that you managed all your relationships well. Good luck and have fun!


December 16, 2008

I Love Tools and Equipment
Filed under: Uncategorized — nedpelger

Like most people working in construction, I love tools and equipment. Whether it’s a backhoe operator digging efficiently for footings or a trim carpenter using a power miter saw to install crown molding, I enjoy experiencing the results of the right tool in skilled hands.

I often talk about expanding your technical and people skills like trades people expand their toolboxes. But today I’m just thinking about the real tools. The photo below shows the tool cabinet of a piano tuner named Studley.


Isn’t that a thing of beauty? Can you imagine working everyday and opening that tool chest to find the exact tool you need? Would you agree it’s a different feeling than reaching into a plastic drywall bucket for your mess of tools?

While most men will smirk at this idea, I’m a fan of surrounding myself with beauty and order. Life goes by fast, I like the idea of pleasant places to work and live.  Most job trailers are completely utilitarian, with not a single piece of personality or visual beauty. If you have to work in a space, why not make it appeal to you? Why not add some flourishes that bring you a bit of joy every time you look at them? Maybe even some odd tools on the wall? Do you do this or know anyone that does?

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