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May 3, 2013

Engineers, Pigs and Mud
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

Working in construction these days requires many interactions with engineers. You can’t swing a dead cat on a construction site without hitting an engineer. Though I wouldn’t want to hit an engineer, because they are universally loved and respected on construction sites. So the quote below surprised me.

The image was posted on an Imgur thread and had lots of comments. Most of the comments just agreed with the sentiment, while some razzed lawyers (Why do male attorneys usually wear tight shirt collars and ties? It keeps their foreskins from creeping up and covering their faces).

I liked this comment: Probably because arguments allow us to locate flaws and eliminate them, or come up with superior alternatives.

But thought this one was the truest: It’s not so much that we like arguing… It’s just that we like being right.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend and the satisfaction of being right. Just please look for that satisfaction at work and not with your spouse. Rule to live by: if you have to be a dick, do it at work and not at home.


April 30, 2013

Some Fascinating Construction Info
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

The construction infographic from Rock and Dirt magazine has some fascinating info. Did you know the Great Wall of China is over 31,000 miles long and took over 2,000 years to build? Or that over 30,000 workers died in building the Panama Canal?

I also learned that the most expensive construction project in the world (in recent history) was the US Interstate highway system, coming in at $425B US. The highway consists of over 47,000 miles and 25% of all vehicle miles in the US are on the Interstate highway system.

So take a couple of minutes and follow this link, to see the fun and informative construction infographic.


April 29, 2013

A note on writing from CS Lewis
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

I love reading CS Lewis books and letters. Everything from The Screwtape Letters to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Surprised by Joy to The Pilgrim’s Regress to Mere Christianity simply captivates me. In perhaps my favorite of his writings, The Great Divorce, Lewis describes an afterlife that makes my current life make so much more sense.

All of us need to write to communicate our ideas. Whether it’s a few lines in an email or a letter trying to convince a Code Official of a favorable interpretation, we all need to keep learning to write better. With that in mind, I’m sharing a letter CS Lewis wrote to a young fan of his in 1956. He got thousands of fan letters and tried to write a thoughtful, hand written response to each one. Here’s his response from the wonderful C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children.

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
26 June 1956

Dear Joan–

Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well — but not the thingitself — the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude (you’re bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don’t try it now, or you’ll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing itself is described. If you become a writer you’ll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across.

About amn’t Iaren’t I and am I not, of course there are no right or wrong answers about language in the sense in which there are right and wrong answers in Arithmetic. “Good English” is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another. Amn’t I was good 50 years ago in the North of Ireland where I was brought up, but bad in Southern England. Aren’t I would have been hideously bad in Ireland but very good in England. And of course I just don’t know which (if either) is good in modern Florida. Don’t take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say “more than one passenger was hurt,” although more than one equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were not singular was!

What really matters is:–

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you’ll like your new home.

With love
C.S. Lewis


April 26, 2013

Rule of Thumb for Friday Fun
Filed under: Ned Weirdness — nedpelger

If you are in a crisis situation, say you see a building exploding or a nuclear plant in flames, what should you do?

First, hold out your right arm fully extended and stick up your thumb. Now sight along your thumb to the crisis. If your thumb can’t totally cover the HazMat incident from your vision, YOU ARE TOO FRIGGING CLOSE!

Thanks to Kneal for this valuable insight. Kneal is a good friend who loves nature, despite what it did to him. He’s had some rough times lately, though, as he was recently fired from the M&M factory for throwing out all the Ws.


April 24, 2013

Common Sense and Building Collapse
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

An eight story building collapsed in Bangledesh today, killing at least 87 people. The USA Today story notes that three stories were approved and the rest were likely built without permits. That’s crazy enough, but the quote below amazes me.

Workers said they hesitated to go to work Wednesday because the building had developed such severe cracks the previous day that it had been reported on local news channels.

Abdur Rahim, who worked on the fifth floor, said a factory manager assured them there was no problem, so they went inside.

“We started working. After about an hour or so the building collapsed suddenly,” he said. He next remembered regaining consciousness outside the building.

Can you imagine telling your workers to ignore the big cracks in the building and just get to work? Even though we rarely have failures this egregious in America, it still should remind us to use our common sense for safety. Pay attention to items that could cause failures and accidents. Don’t sacrifice all on the altar of productivity.

Bangladeshi volunteers prepare lengths of textiles to be used as evacuation slides for the injured and dead after a building collapsed in Savar. (Photo: Munir Uz Zaman, AFP/Getty Images)


April 23, 2013

Monticello: A Beautiful, Innovative Failure
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

TBW and I just toured Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, for the first time.  It’s one of the best tours I’ve experienced in years. The architectural beauty combined with the incredible innovation just tickled me.

Yet learning that Jefferson died owing the modern equivalent of $2.5M US and had to sell his slaves at auction was a jarring counterpoint.

Consider that the worst fate in a slave’s life was to be sold at auction. At the auction, families could be separated forever or they could be sold to the dreaded “Down River” to the feared Deep South.  So the somewhat humane treatment of the slaves by Jefferson during his life, allowing families to generally stay together and allowing slaves to learn to read if they desired, seems trumped by this final indignity.

Jefferson had one of the most brilliant minds in history. He provided much of the basic language that made the United States actually work, while  also operating as one of the best scientists and inventors of his day.  Yet he devoted tremendous energy to running his estate of Monticello and died in bankruptcy. What gives?

I found a few interesting take-aways.

  1. Timing always matters…a lot. During the highly complex barter economy of the day, Jefferson made many deals backed by the asset of his land  and estate. When he died, America was in a depression and all asset values were greatly diminished. He died at the wrong time (which is probably the way most people feel).
  2. Jefferson was a victim of his own success. One of the main causes of the asset devaluation was the Louisiana Purchase that Jefferson accomplished as President in 1803. By bringing a huge amount of land into the colonies at one time, the existing value of land dropped immensely. The scarcity factor was disturbed.  So he did good for others and bad for himself.
  3. A brilliant mind doesn’t always make a good businessman. Not that they are mutually exclusive, I’ve worked with some brilliant folks who ran excellent businesses. But many people assume that lots of mental horsepower guarantees business success. I’ve seen over and over that it doesn’t. Brilliance often seems to get in the way of keeping attention on the simple yet essential functions of productivity (profit) and timing (cash flow).

If you get a chance to tour Monticello, take it. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, I encourage you to invest a bit of time and energy to learn something that isn’t your business or everyday life. Take some time to broaden your perspective. But learn from TJ that you still want to stick to your knitting…and don’t die at an inconvient time.


April 18, 2013

Best Liquidated Damages Ever
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

If lanes on the Tappan Zee bridge in NYC aren’t kept open during construction, the liquidated damage fine will be $1,500 per minute. ENR reported that Tappan Zee Constructors, the Fluor-led joint venture team, will replace the $3.9-billion Tappan Zee Bridge. There is also a $120,000 per day fine  for each day after April 3, 2018. Those are some serious fines.

The photo below from Wikepedia gives a sense of the current bridge.

I remember in my early days in construction being terrorized by $500/day liquidated damage threats. I guess they were the good old days.


April 17, 2013

Something Fishy about that Elevator
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

Elevators can do so much more than vertical transport. I love when the building design uses the elevator to create cool. So I’ll do some posts over the next few weeks about the world’s coolest elevators.

The AquaDom in Berlin is a 82′ tall elevator enclosed in a glass aquarium at the Radisson Blu Hotel.

The 12.8M Euro AquaDom project was completed in 2004. The World Geography article describes it well:

The outside cylinder was manufactured on-site from four pieces; the inside cylinder for the elevator was delivered in one piece. The Aquadom is the largest acrylic cylindrical aquarium in the world, with a diameter of about 11 metres (36ft), and it is built on a 9 metre (30ft) tall foundation.

Filled with 1,000,000 litres of water, it contains over 1,500 fish of 50 species. The feeding of the fish and the cleaning of the fish tank is performed daily by 3-4 divers. The fish need 8 kg of fish food.


April 16, 2013

Beware Construction Inflation…And Look for the Opportunities
Filed under: Industry outlook — Tags: — nedpelger

An AP article yesterday warns of residential construction inflation projected for the next six months. Rising demand has driven residential contractors to start more units this month than since 2008.

In the six years since the the housing bubble burst, some things have changed.

  1. 1.4M residential construction jobs vanished
  2. Land development work almost ceased
  3. Suppliers and vendors cut back inventory

So a resurgent market finds trade contractors without skilled workers, a lack of approved lots to build on and material shortages. All these factors will lead to some quick inflation and wild times.

If you price projects in this construction market, beware that things will get bumpy soon. If you’re looking for work, or for a job upgrade, now is the time to evaluate opportunities carefully. Carpe diem, baby.


April 15, 2013

Reputation Monitoring: An Idea to Consider

A fellow I know, Darren Slaughter, does good work helping contractors improve their websites to grow their businesses. Darren just came out with a new service that makes sense to me…Reputation Monitoring.

Now and in the future, many people will be finding you from a search engine. Maybe a satisfied customer tells a friend about your great service. The friend goes home, types some form of your name into a search engine and what comes up?

Hopefully it’s your professional website that helps convert this prospect to a customer. But maybe it’s a Forum where you get blasted or a bad Yelp review or a Facebook shaming.

To begin, do you utilize the free Google Alerts service? Just follow the link and set up several alert links for words and phrases folks may use to search for your company.  If you aren’t yet doing that, you should start today. You get an email for every hit to your selected word or phrase.

So Google Alert is a decent place to start, but many of these reputation killers won’t show up on Google Alerts. Facebook and Yelp postings won’t show up there and could be a problem for you.

Darren offers a $19/month service to provide a more thorough and contractor specific approach to Reputation Monitoring. You should certainly consider this service.

Look into the likely future and what do you see about how you will get work? Personal relationships will continue to be most important, but the internet will gain significance for many years to come. So make sure you aren’t left behind on internet marketing. Make sure you have an excellent web page and that you monitor your reputation.

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