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October 29, 2012

What Mags Do You Read?
Filed under: General Technical Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

When I was a young whippersnapper in this wonderful construction business, I tended to peruse many free construction magazines. I believe it helped me to learn the language of Pre-Engineered Building Contractors

HVAC Contractors

and Residential Builders.

I’d page through the magazines, see the new products and occasionally read the articles about the challenges and rewards of that trade. I learned more about the various trades and made better decisions about what I wanted to do for my work.

As I’ve matured (a nice word for gotten old), I seem to have less free time and more money. So now I read ENR for current construction news and The Economist to help inform my world view. Of course, I also read some triathlon related mags to fuel my hobby.

So what magazines do you read? And why?


June 6, 2011

New Economy Job Growth Goes to the Creative Class
Filed under: General Technical Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

An excellent series of short articles in Wired Magazine titled The Economic Rebound: It Isn’t What You Think makes the case that a new type of job seems to be growing the economy. Not really white collar or blue collar, many of the new jobs could be called creative class jobs.

A 20% to 30% per year job growth has occurred in:

  1. Wireless
  2. Internet
  3. Computer and Network Security
  4. Online Publishing

While Renewable Energy and the Environment jobs have grown at almost 57% per year.

Those in the 10% to 20% growth range are:

  1. Nanotechnology
  2. Professional Training
  3. Computer Networking
  4. Biotechnology
  5. Medical Device Manufacturing
  6. E-Learning
  7. Computer Games

So what does this have to do with you and construction? Am I giving you subtle clues that it’s time to jump into another line of work?

As TBW will attest, I’m rarely subtle. I’ve found that saying it, then saying it again standing a little closer, then saying it one more time with a step back tends to make communication actually happen. So let me say clearly what this trend means to me:  the job growth above just makes me see more opportunities in construction. There are loads of opportunities for folks willing to use their brains and take some risk.

In every trade, in every type of building project, the method of getting things done will change. You have the opportunity to lead that change, follow the leaders or get left behind (complaining about immigrants or merit shops or globalization or whatever else you want to blame).

It doesn’t matter what job you do in this wonderful construction industry, the list above should give you some clues to how your work will be changing. For example, HVAC installers will be getting more focused on internet controllers and building operational security. Project superintendents need to speak the digital language fluently or be much less valuable. Even concrete finishers will be working with different materials (that will work in ways unlike the old materials) due to the oncoming inflation . The changes coming will be explosive compared to the recent changes we’ve endured.

Embrace the change. Put effort into learning (on your own time) and make yourself more valuable. If your present employer doesn’t seem to care, find one that does and get paid accordingly.


March 31, 2011

Efficiency Drives the Dream
Filed under: General Technical Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

I’m reading My Bondage and My Freedom, a book written by brilliant former slave Frederick Douglass. Everyone should read this book to gain a sense of the realities of slavery and the African-American experience. As a newly escaped slave, Douglass writes about the efficiency he sees in New Bedford, MA compared to the slavery system he was born into:

My first afternoon, on reaching New Bedford, was spent in visiting the wharves and viewing the shipping. The sight of the broad brim and the plain, Quaker dress, which met me at every turn, greatly increased my sense of freedom and security. “I am among the Quakers,” thought I, “and am safe.” Lying at the wharves and riding in the stream, were full-rigged ships of finest model, ready to start on whaling voyages. Upon the right and the left, I was walled in by large granite-fronted warehouses, crowded with the good things of this world. On the wharves, I saw industry without bustle, labor without noise, and heavy toil without the whip. There was no loud singing, as in southern ports, where ships are loading or unloading—no loud cursing or[269] swearing—but everything went on as smoothly as the works of a well adjusted machine. How different was all this from the nosily fierce and clumsily absurd manner of labor-life in Baltimore and St. Michael’s! One of the first incidents which illustrated the superior mental character of northern labor over that of the south, was the manner of unloading a ship’s cargo of oil. In a southern port, twenty or thirty hands would have been employed to do what five or six did here, with the aid of a single ox attached to the end of a fall. Main strength, unassisted by skill, is slavery’s method of labor. An old ox, worth eighty dollars, was doing, in New Bedford, what would have required fifteen thousand dollars worth of human bones and muscles to have performed in a southern port. I found that everything was done here with a scrupulous regard to economy, both in regard to men and things, time and strength. The maid servant, instead of spending at least a tenth part of her time in bringing and carrying water, as in Baltimore, had the pump at her elbow. The wood was dry, and snugly piled away for winter. Woodhouses, in-door pumps, sinks, drains, self-shutting gates, washing machines, pounding barrels, were all new things, and told me that I was among a thoughtful and sensible people. To the ship-repairing dock I went, and saw the same wise prudence. The carpenters struck where they aimed, and the calkers wasted no blows in idle flourishes of the mallet. I learned that men went from New Bedford to Baltimore, and bought old ships, and brought them here to repair, and made them better and more valuable than they ever were before. Men talked here of going whaling on a four years’ voyage with more coolness than sailors where I came from talked of going a four months’ voyage.

Those who excel in construction tend to see the efficiencies that Douglass discusses. He writes about the use of the block and fall (pulleys) to multiply the power of labor. We should all understand how basic machines work and the simple science behind them. My son sent me this video with an amazingly simple and helpful explanation of a differential gear. I love seeing complexity explained with clarity.


Efficiency really does drive the dream. Strive to understand the physical word that we inhabit and build.


February 25, 2010

Rediscovering KISSing, again
Filed under: General Technical Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

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.


July 28, 2009

Make Better Spending Decisions with the Stranger Test
Filed under: General Technical Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

In these challenging economic times, you may be feeling more stress about the ends not quite meeting. The Beautiful Wife has a simple concept regarding finances, “Cash in…good, cash out…bad.” While this concept fits her nature, TBW doesn’t always behave that way and I certainly don’t. Many times, we have more control over the “Cash out” side of the equation.

I came across a simple concept that helps control impulse buying.  The “Stranger Test” moves us past what we think we can or cannot afford to another way to view the purchase decision. If you are considering buying a HDTV for $800, think about a stranger walking up and offering you $800 to not buy the HDTV. Would you rather have the $800 of found money or the HDTV?

You may think, “Wow, if someone gave me $800 I’d pay down my credit card.” Then you have your answer. On the other hand, you may conclude you’d rather have that cool new TV. The value of the concept lies in getting out of the purchase only mode for a few moments and seeing the issue from another point of view.

In significant interactions, most of us benefit from a bit of reflection. It’s valuable to look at the issue from another point of view. Of course, those of you who seem to do nothing but consider options and never make a decision don’t need to use the Stranger Test. You need to stop living in fear and start living with some gusto.

For those of us who have no problem grabbing the gusto, though, the Stranger Test may be a helpful tool.


February 2, 2009

The Value of Life Long Learning

I’m in Las Vegas for the World of Concrete Exposition and a few seminars. The Beautiful Wife (TBW) and I will also take a full day tour of the Hoover Dam. I’ve got a nice little business that runs rather smoothly, thank you very much, so why am I out here expanding my horizons? I value life long learning. If I’m living, I want to continue learning, growing and teaching.

My World of Concrete seminars should teach me a few things about training Construction Supervisors. Getting a useful, take home idea makes the trip worthwhile. I’ll also see all the latest concrete products and technology and learn some things I didn’t even know I needed to know. That’s the beauty of keeping a focus on life long learning.

Perhaps you are just getting started in construction and struggling with the most basic concepts. Perhaps you never understood basic arithmetic and now find that you need to do some of it in your job. You’ve bluffed so far because you really don’t want to look stupid. My advice? Commit to Learning, now and for the rest of your life…but start with now.

I came across these great You Tube videos in which a math teacher simply explains basic concepts while giving examples (which is about the only way I can learn).Check it out, let me know what you think.


If you’re reading this blog, I hope you utilize to learn more general technical issues. I’m almost ready to start sending a monthly SuperTips Newsletter which will highlight a few training issues and include videos. As an aside, learning how to produce a decent training video has been a great learning experience for me. My early attempts apparently had the level of quality of terrorist videos.

math videos that are available on my you tube page

Want to Learn Basic Math Better?


August 25, 2008

Building Against the Forces of Nature
Filed under: General Technical Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

When all those schools collapsed in the recent Chinese earthquakes, reports emerged that the construction was sub-standard. The buildings simply weren’t built to withstand the predictable loads. I think it’s a great asset for Construction Supervisors to understand the basics of structural loads and structural design. Many times the Construction Supervisor will be the only person that catches a mistake that could lead to a future building collapse.

A few years ago we had some tornadoes pass though our area, I went to see a relative’s pig farm building in which the roof was completely lifted off the walls. Everyone was talking about an Act of God but I saw that no truss tie-downs were used anywhere on the structure. The framers had only toenailed the roof trusses into the top plate of the wall. A predictable wind load would cause this failure every time. The framers and the Construction Supervisor just didn’t understand the power of wind uplift.

While it’s difficult to see the power of wind, the following video shows some waves in a storm that give a great sense of what wind loads would look like. It’s a great representation of a force of nature.


As you walk around the jobsite, try to remember that this building will see some crazy loads in the next 100 years. Try to learn the basics of structural design and be the last check to make sure things are built right.