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May 8, 2013

Google +: Don’t Fight the Trend
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

The Publicity Hound wrote an interesting piece about the dominance of Google +. I was an early supporter and have logged lots of connections, but haven’t really used it too much. I was thinking it may be a G-Failure but the reasons below tell me otherwise.

  1. Google + has become the backbone of the Google search engine experience. While Facebook hides all it’s info from Google searches, the Google + info gets included.
  2. Google + has over 400M  members, less than half of Facebook but way more than any other social networking site. Over 90M of those members are active and that number keeps growing.
  3. The Google + hangouts are becoming more and more used in business and social settings. As this trend of simple video chatting continues, you will want to be using Hangouts.

So the takeaway here is to get you business and your self on Google +. You still have time to get the advantage of being an early adopter. Don’t miss this wave, dude.


March 19, 2013

3D Printing Hoopla
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

Have you wondered about the hoopla surrounding 3D printing? I’ve struggled to understand how this process will change the world. The video below does a good job of explaining.

When considering the effect on construction, we need to consider how we currently design and manufacture items. We build offices and labs for designers and factories for manufacture. Is all that going away with 3D printing? No, because the scale advantages of industrial manufacturing will remain.

What seems likely to change, though, is the the office and lab environment. Lots more working from home with a 3D printer will be on the horizon. And lots more ideas coming from customers and end users.

The way social media has changed communication seems a good model when considering how 3D printing will change design. The linear approach will morph into a networked system. Lots of pent-up creativity will be released.

So I don’t think the day to day effect on construction will be significant, but what we build and how our tools and materials get designed will change. If you want to get a sense, check out Shapeways. And take a moment to be thankful for the amazing times in which we live.


December 11, 2012

Free WiFi on the Jobsite for your Tablet
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

My good friend and tech guru Kneal sent me a work-around for the jobsite WiFi issue I discussed yesterday. If you have a smart phone, you probably don’t pay the expensive extra charge ($20/mo) to use the phone as a WiFi hotspot. I know I don’t.

I use my laptop anywhere I have phone service by utilizing the PDAnet Android app that tethers the phone to the laptop and gives internet service. That works great for me on vacation or anytime I’m away from free Wifi.

Unfortunately, tablet computers don’t have the USB port to tether the phone to the tablet. Kneal told me about FoxFi, which allows most Android phones to become a wireless hotspot without paying the outlandish phone company fees.

So I downloaded the FoxFi app from the Play Store, but it doesn’t support my stupid HTC phone. Though the app does support most other phones. So hopefully you can benefit from this tidbit.

By the way, the free version of FoxFi gives you 10 to 30 minutes of WiFi, then forces you to reconnect. They really give it to you just to make sure it works on your phone. If it does, then pay the $8 one time charge for the app and get the full version. Sprint and AT&T block you from downloading FoxFi from the Play store, so go directly to the website from your phone’s internet browser. You can easily load it onto your phone from there.

As an aside, if you’re in the market for an Android phone, avoid HTC. I have the Rezound and it drops calls daily and has poor battery life (even with the extended battery). I’m still a big Verizon fan, but will soon trash my HTC and go with another phone. Any suggestions?


December 10, 2012

The Christmas of the Tablet
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

The gadget of the year certainly looks to be the iPad or tablet computer. It’s amazing to remember that iPads were  only introduced in 2010. What a steep adoption curve these oversized smart phones have experienced!

Yet, I still struggle to force myself to use the Motorola Xoom with Wi-Fi 10.1″ Android I purchased a year ago. I set up a wireless router at home so I’d have Wi-Fi signal, which does come in handy for visitors. But I really don’t use the tablet for anything except checking email or doing Google searches when I’m sitting on the couch (instead of in  front of the desktop computer).

I can see the future in construction certainly involves having all drawings, schedules, meeting minutes and everything else job related on the cloud and accessible to all stake-holders. I’m doing that, yet don’t really access it myself that much.

The fact that we don’t currently set up Wi-Fi on our jobsites probably contributes to the lack of construction use for me. If I started to always provide a jobsite Wi-Fi, the tablets would become much more useful.

The scrolling and zooming capabilities of the tablet certainly make it more useful than a regular laptop for viewing drawings. We’ve found that trying to look at drawings on a smart phone screen seems almost useless. It’s just too small.

So, even though I’m still not utilizing my tablet enough, I still encourage you to consider putting it on your Christmas list. The construction changes will come fast in the next year or two. The tablet will become a crucial jobsite tool.

This Brittish review link provides a good understanding of the various options. The market seems mature enough that the “You get what you pay for adage” seems true. So decide how much you want to spend, whether you love or hate Apple, and then dive in.


October 17, 2012

Why Change is Hard
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

I’ve been writing about cloud computing for construction for a year or two, but have only pushed the easy parts of my construction management business into the cloud. I use DropBox to sync all my desktop computer files, so I have access to current files wherever I am. That works well and makes my Android phone much more useful.

I also really rely on PDF documents shared on with Owners, Architects, Trade Contractors, Code Officials, etc. We print many less sets of drawings and mail almost nothing. Both DropBox and cost a few bucks a month, but I save more than that in supplies.

So those two are the fruit that goes first into your bucket. They are easy, cheap and take almost no effort to set up. If you haven’t done them yet, get going.

I’m finding this next step more challenging. Moving my estimating, job costing and invoice approval system to a paperless, cloud accessed system seemed easy. Most bids come in as email attachments and lots of invoices do. But both also sometimes come as faxes and sometimes in the mail. So my system needs to handle all those formats, but I’d also like it to really not require me or my customers to have to print each document.

So I had to set up a coding system that uses numbers for sorting and I had to keep the number system from 0 to 9 because various computers sort the double digits differently. That’s just one of the challenges I’ve encountered as I’ve been moving through this process. I’ve been at it for two months and think I’ve just about got it.  When I’m comfortable it all works, I’ll post the process.

So why is change hard? Well, some is and some isn’t. I found the DropBox and changes easy. I’m finding the cost processing change more challenging. We humans are wired for routine tasks and our brains rebel against change. We need to utilize our will to get beyond what feels right and normal and set-up new processes. These new processes will eventually become habits, but it takes time and effort.

I’m willing to put in that time and effort because I believe a small business succeeds by the following:

  1. Amazing customer service
  2. Keeping current with technology
  3. Controlling overhead costs

So there’s my challenge for you. Fight the tendency to just keep doing the same thing. Because if you don’t, the game will change anyway and you’re probably not going to like the outcome.


October 12, 2012

A Day Made of Glass: Scenes that will Change Construction
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

Here’s a video that you really should take a few minutes to watch. You’ll be inspired to see the future and hopefully moved to make some changes to better accommodate.


Can you imagine a job site with several large glass screens which can show all the building plans? Imagine the designers thinking through how to best show the information that the guys need on site to build.

The current standard (generally badly drawn 2D architectural plans) is so poor, I don’t see it incrementally improving. When these new changes come, the firms that utilize them will thrive and the firms that don’t will die.

I know where I want to be on that continuum and am making steps to get there. Hope you’re the same.


October 10, 2012

Peeking into the Future of Construction Data
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

Meeting with one of my customers yesterday, he started telling me about the phone app he uses for bike riding. We both previously tried MapMyRide, which created some nice maps and ride info. The newest best thing, he told me, was, which does the following:

  1. Uses your smartphone GPS to make a map of where you rode or ran.
  2. Creates a workout log that shows all your distances, height variations, speeds, etc.
  3. Sends that workout report to you and any of your riding buddies.
  4. Creates sprint zones where the fastest riders are tracked.
  5. Oh, and it’s completely free.

So when will we all be using smartphones to track construction production? Imagine having perfect data from every employee on a job site. The technology exists, we’re just not bothering to use it yet. The upside is huge for the firms that get this right.

If thinking big intrigues you, read this amazing Wired article about A/B testing. Google and Amazon, two of my favorite companies, no longer sit around debating changes. Everything gets live tested with an A option vs a B option. They’ve been A/B Test fanatics for the past decade. What they discover is their best instincts are never nearly as good as what the market data provides.

They deride the old decision making process: HiPPO—”highest-paid person’s opinion.” The HiPPO decisions put ego first instead of data and rarely are great.

Think about all the decisions you’ve seen made in building design, most are fair to poor. I’m not sure how the A/B Test model will help that, but I think there will be a way.

At the very least, start thinking about data and testing in your day to day operations. Don’t let the future get too far ahead of your business.


September 12, 2012

Paperless Invoices and Job Costing

If you’re old enough to remember the introduction of computers to business in the 1980s, you also may recall the many promises for a paperless society. Of course, as computer use exploded, we used more paper than anyone ever imagined. Since more things could be tracked and charted, they were…and printed on paper.

With the recent and almost universal acceptance of the Portable Document File (PDF) from Adobe, we are now actually getting to a place where paperless could work. I look at the reams of paper I use each month (and then have to store forever) and think I could do better.

So I’ve begun. Starting in August, I’ve stored all the project invoices that get emailed to me in separate project computer files as soon as they arrive. I stopped printing out hard copies. I will mark up the invoices with Adobe Acrobat using:

  1. Dynamic Stamp tool (to indicate my approval to pay and the date)
  2. Cloud tool (to clarify the amount to pay)
  3. Text Box (to note any special circumstances or issues on the invoice)

I’ll also begin asking the contractors and vendors I work with to email me their invoices instead of mailing or faxing. I’ll agree to send back a response to every received invoice to let the sender know it’s in my system (which is more info than they would have had under the old system).

If folks still want to mail their invoices out of habit or concern that I get them, that will be fine too. I’ll just match the mailed invoice to the PDF, then throw away the paper copy.

I’m planning other technology improvements that I’ll be sharing with the contractors that I work with most often. Together we can get more efficient and improve our bottomlines.


September 10, 2012

Make Your Small Construction Co More Profitable and Efficient

I’m going to slightly change the direction of this blog. When I started writing over four years ago (wow, sure seems longer than that), I wrote for an intended audience of Construction Supervisors. I thought there was a real need for Construction Supervisors to learn, communicate with each other and grow. I still do, but found that few Construction Supervisors ever found their way to my musings. And if they did, they didn’t return.

What I did get, though, was a growing audience of folks involved in different aspects of the construction industry. I get about 5,000 unique visitors a month to the blog, but since so few leave comments, I’m not sure who does what.

I do know, though, that lots of my readers run small construction companies. Since I work with small construction companies everyday (concreters, masons, drywallers, plumbers, etc) I have a sense of what they need to do to survive and improve. With today’s construction related economy, many firms struggle to survive.

The current standard, I think, has small firms with much less overhead cost than large competitors, but also lacking in effective management processes. For example, few small construction companies do effective job costing, knowing how the costs are working during the project. Most simply wait till the end of the project and hope they didn’t lose money.

Most small firms don’t effectively manage contracts, change orders, submittals or keeping the drawings current to the field staff. Each of these items carries a substantial risk when managed poorly and reward when done well.

We live in fascinating times. With the smart phone and tablet computers, small construction companies could become better managed than large firms without increasing overhead. The time to embrace these possible efficiencies is now. The time to grow market share and profits is now.

So I’m going to write more about how to those things. I’m going to work with several of the small construction companies that I often use on my projects and see if we can increase our management efficiency (which gives the best information to the person in the field that’s doing the actual work).


July 27, 2012

What I Learned About My Smart Phone (and Tablet) on Vacation
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

I promise I won’t start every post with, “When I was in Europe…”. But I did want to give a few more observations I found useful. When I was looking into phone service over there, I found that Verizon would send me another phone that worked on the European system at no cost. Looking deeper, though, the phone time charges, and especially the data charges, could have added up to hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Of course, if I was especially careful, I could have kept those charges minimal. My past experience with phone charges on vacation, though, indicated that I wouldn’t be careful. Lex told me that I could take my Android smart phone and just use it as a tablet computer when I had free wifi service. I knew I’d have wifi at hotels (which proved true) and at lots of coffee shops (which proved partly true).

I opted to not take a working phone and to just use wifi. It’s interesting to think of these smart phones as computers with touch screens. As I used my Android tablet, I more fully realized that it really is just a big version of my Android phone.

In fact, my son-in-law decided after a few weeks of using his phone only with wifi, that he could save the $40/month for data charges at home. He will use his smart phone only as a phone through his wireless provider, then turn on the wifi when available to accomplish his data needs. Since he has wifi at home, at school, at work and at Starbucks, he shouldn’t be sacrificing much. So that may be a path you want to consider for cost savings.

As I was preparing to leave on the trip, my phone crashed and needed to be reset…so I lost all the programs on the phone. The data was still on the cloud and the programs were available free to me at the Google Play store, but I needed to download them each again. Since I didn’t really have time to get that done, it’s interesting what I missed:

  1. The flashlight program is so helpful when needed.
  2. The Box and Dropbox programs are essential.
  3. The good voice dialing (Vlingo) as opposed to the included program.
  4. Gmail, Calendar and Contacts that are all set-up correctly.

I also discovered that it’s simple to have your photos and videos upload instantly (or whenever you get wifi access) to Dropbox, Box or Google +. Make sure to take advantage of one of these services. If you lose your phone, you lose all those photos and videos, unless you have the cloud backup, or remember to do it yourself. Who needs anything else to remember. By the way, iPhones do a great job of sending your photos and videos immediately to the iStore backup.

Finally, understand that some of these programs still don’t quite work. The YouTube app doesn’t really upload correctly. So don’t get to freaked if you’re not quite getting an app to work properly, the sands they are a shifting.

Here’s a phone photo from the Doune Castle (where they made Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

And here’s some Friday Fun (if you’ve suffered through my smart phone rantings) to start your week-end off in a wacky way. They mentioned in the audio tour that the extras in this scene were just folks visiting the castle that day. And the man who fell off the stairs onto the barrels was just a college kid who didn’t mind getting hurt. So many times, great things get done because folks just give it a go.


Along those lines, I missed the Princeton Reunions this year, but the following video, made by a recent graduate, was quite popular there. The woman who wrote and starred in the video is trying to make it as a writer in Hollywood. She’s just giving it a go as well. It makes me laugh out loud. Sorry for the language and the arrogance, but hey…


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