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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.


March 18, 2013

Miami Condo Boom
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

Miami, FL isn’t just slowly recovering from the construction depression, it’s Number One with a bullet.  The demand for high-end residential properties has been outstripping supply, so building booms. Since banks remain stingy with financing, a new funding model evolved. Thomas P. Murphy Jr., chairman and CEO of Miami-based Coastal Construction Group says:

“Nobody’s depending on the banks right now,” Murphy says. “Miami is really attracting rich (South Americans), and so many of them are used to not financing their second homes. So nobody’s primarily financing these projects with bank loans. They’re basically being paid as they go, and most of them have their buildings 50-70 percent sold before they start.”

One project, the Porsche Design Tower Miami, plans a car elevator that lets you drive your car right into your upper floor apartment. The video is worth checking out.

It’s good to see some markets heating up with construction work. We all know construction is a local business, but the rebounding economy and the pent up demand should make 2013 look good all over.


March 15, 2013

All the Firms Lost in the Flood
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

When I was a young teenager, I loved Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park. It was a great joy to then be a sound roadie on his 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. I remember a show in a little theater in Pittsburgh. Bruce got a note from a fan before the show about the fan’s buddy just dying in a motorcycle accident.

Bruce decided he was going to play Lost in the Flood, which he hadn’t played in years. I remembering him saying to the sound mixer and me that he was embarrassed about some of the lyrics (“Nuns running bald through Vatican halls pregnant, pleading immaculate conception”) and that he’d just mumble through that line.

His performance of that song that night moved me to heaving sobs. Great art can do that.  Here’s a video of a later performance of the song, also amazing.


What made me think about this song, though, was a project we’re pricing near Philadelphia. The developer/contractor built four of the six approved large condo multi-family housing buildings. Then came the the financial crisis of 2008 and everything just stopped.

The developer/contractor went bankrupt as did many of the firms who were working on the project. As I call though the contractor roster to get bids from the firms that built the previous buildings, I get lots of “Phone no longer in service” messages.

Those firms were lost in the flood. It makes me think about the close brushes I’ve had with financial catastrophe over the years. I know I’ve been blessed to not have to go through that painful process of bankruptcy. Today I’m going to remember in all my busyness just how blessed I continue to be.

As we all work in this economic recovery, getting busier and more stressed, let’s remember to keep our perspective. Do some things every day that truly matter the most to you. Move that ball down the field.


March 13, 2013

Solar Canals
Filed under: Design — Tags: — nedpelger

My buddy Kneal sent me this photo about some creative building occurring in India.

I don’t know where the photo came from, so I can’t credit it, but I’m intrigued by the idea. While I’m not a big fan of solar photo-voltaic panels, this application seems to be one of the best for them.

The canals aesthetics improve with the panels, the land value doesn’t decrease and water evaporation reduces. I love to see design solutions that solve several problems in an elegant way.

TBW has been tormented by a series of vacuum cleaners that don’t suck. She finally stumbled upon the Dyson, which James Dyson engineered amazingly well. The James Dyson Foundation exists to encourage young people into the STEM fields. They produce great videos that strive to explain the excitement in design engineering. Check this one out.


I love encouraging young folks to move into the STEM fields. I get to solve tricky design problems every day and understand I’m blessed to have work that I so enjoy.


March 12, 2013

Twisted Masonry
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

I got a comment posted from a blog reader,  JAG Exteriors in England, about the mesmerizing video of block laying I posted a few months ago. They included this fascinating masonry photo.

Now that’s a fun day at work! Hope you have the same.


March 11, 2013

Opportunities Abound in the Changing Fossil Fuel World
Filed under: Energy — Tags: — nedpelger

Did you know that within a decade, the US should overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to regain its title as the world’s top energy producer? A delightful article titled, “The Deluge” from Pacific Standard magazine details how America became the fossil fuel giant with Texas and California oil fields.

The article goes on to outline where we are headed with all the fracking gas and deepwater oil. It truly is a brave new energy world out there, folks. You need to be aware of the changes and work them into your plan.

I recall the heady days of the late 1970s when oil was all but guaranteed to be gone by the mid 1980s and alternative energy was the rage. I studied farm based ethanol production. It was clear to me then, and remains so now, that using a food crop feedstock, such as corn, was a terrible idea. The price would almost always be too high.

The promise of using agricultural waste products like corn stalks and cobs had great promise but was technically difficult due to the enzyme needed to break down the cellulose cell to starch. I recall writing in my senior thesis in 1980 that we were only a short time from this becoming viable. 33 years later, we are still supposedly only a short time from this becoming viable.

The construction opportunities that flow from this major shift in fossil fuel production are huge. Where could you fit in?


March 8, 2013

Funniest Words: A Friday Fun List
Filed under: Ned Weirdness — Tags: — nedpelger

AlphaDictionary produces lots of great word lists. I’ve included my favorites from the “100 Funniest Words in English” list that my daughter Tessa sent me. She’s committed to learning one of these words each day and using it in her speech…generally to for purposes of insult.

Allegator – Some who alleges.
Anencephalous – Lacking a brain.
Argle-bargle – A loud row or quarrel.
Batrachomyomachy – Making a mountain out of a molehill.
Billingsgate – Loud, raucous profanity.
Bloviate – To speak pompously or brag.
Blunderbuss – A gun with a flared muzzle or disorganized activity.
Borborygm – A rumbling of the stomach.
Bowyang – A strap that holds the pants legs in place.
Brouhaha – An uproar.
Bumbershoot – An umbrella.
Callipygian – Having an attractive rear end or nice buns.
Canoodle – To hug and kiss.
Cockalorum – A small, haughty man.
Cockamamie – Absurd, outlandish.
Codswallop – Nonsense, balderdash.
Collywobbles – Butterflies in the stomach.
Crapulence – Discomfort from eating or drinking too much.
Crudivore – An eater of raw food.
Discombobulate – To confuse.
Donnybrook – An melee, a riot.
Ecdysiast – An exotic dancer, a stripper.
Eructation – A burp, belch.
Fard – Face-paint, makeup.
Flibbertigibbet – Nonsense, balderdash.
Flummox – To exasperate.
Folderol – Nonsense.
Formication – The sense of ants crawling on your skin.
Fuddy-duddy – An old-fashioned, mild-mannered person.
Furbelow – A fringe or ruffle.
Gaberlunzie – A wandering beggar.
Gardyloo! – A warning shouted before throwing water from above.
Gastromancy – Telling fortune from the rumblings of the stomach.
Gazump – To buy something already promised to someone else.
Gobbledygook – Nonsense, balderdash.
Gobemouche – A highly gullible person.
Godwottery – Nonsense, balderdash.
Gongoozle – To stare at, kibitz.
Goombah – An older friend who protects you.
Hobbledehoy – An awkward or ill-mannered young boy.
Hocus-pocus – Deceitful sleight of hand.
Hoosegow – A jail or prison.
Hootenanny – A country or folk music get-together.
Jackanapes – A rapscallion, hooligan.
Kerfuffle – Nonsense, balderdash.
Klutz – An awkward, stupid person.
La-di-da – An interjection indicating that something is pretentious.
Lickety-split – As fast as possible.
Lickspittle – A servile person, a toady.
Logorrhea – Loquaciousness, talkativeness.
Lollygag – To move slowly, fall behind.
Malarkey – Nonsense, balderdash.
Mollycoddle – To treat too leniently.
Mugwump – An independent politician who does not follow any party.
Mumpsimus – An outdated and unreasonable position on an issue.
Namby-pamby – Weak, with no backbone.
Nincompoop – A foolish person.
Oocephalus – An egghead.
Ornery – Mean, nasty, grumpy.
Pandiculation – A full body stretch.
Panjandrum – Someone who thinks himself high and mighty.
Pettifogger – A person who tries to befuddle others with his speech.
Pratfall – A fall on one’s rear.
Ranivorous – Frog-eating
Rigmarole – Nonsense, unnecessary complexity.
Shenanigan – A prank, mischief.
Sialoquent – Spitting while speaking.
Skedaddle – To hurry somewhere.
Skullduggery – No good, underhanded dealing.
Slangwhanger – A loud abusive speaker or obnoxious writer.
Smellfungus – A perpetual pessimist.
Snickersnee – A long knife.
Snollygoster – A person who can’t be trusted.
Snool – A servile person.
Tatterdemalion – A child in rags.
Troglodyte – Someone or something that lives in a cave.
Vomitory – An exit or outlet.
Wabbit – Exhausted, tired, worn out.
Widdershins – In a contrary or counterclockwise direction.
Yahoo – A rube, a country bumpkin.

I challenge you to use at least one of these words today. Have some fun…life passes quickly.


March 6, 2013

Natural Gas Vehicles a Rising Trend
Filed under: Innovation in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

I like to share trends with you when I spot them. Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) look like a winner in the upcoming years. Ford announced that they tripled their sales of NGVs from 2010 to 2012. Natural gas is becoming the fuel of choice for truck fleets, buses and taxis.

Due to a lack of re-fueling stations, and the relatively long time needed to re-fuel, consumer NGVs don’t look to be over-taking the market any time soon. Bifuel (gasoline and natural gas) vehicles could become popular, but hybrid technologies rarely end up being major game changers.

For commercial fleets that come back to a yard each night, though, the NGVs outlook looks strong. The functional fuel cost of natural gas is about half of that for gasoline or diesel. The pollution and greenhouse gas issues are better for NGVs. With the wide spread fracking technology improving dramatically, the long term cost outlook for natural gas should be much lower (and more stable) than in the past. notes in an article about the pros and cons of NGVs that:

Today, 40 percent of new garbage trucks and 25 percent of new buses in the U.S. can run on natural gas, Kolodziej says. “In the city of Los Angeles, all the buses are now running on natural gas,” he says.

For consumer vehicles, my bet remains on electric cars. They are zero emissions at that hard to get efficient individual car level. Then the natural gas can be efficiently burned at the power plant (replacing more problematic coal generation). That’s where I think the car trend will go.

But if you run a construction fleet, look hard at NGVs. The return on investment will push you toward an immediate decision.


March 4, 2013

Poor Project Management on GA Nuke Plant
Filed under: Industry outlook — Tags: — nedpelger

Once again, the construction industry fails to estimate costs on large projects. Plant Vogtle a nuclear power plant in eastern Georgia must increase budget by $737M US to become a $6,850M project.  The legislators that must approve the cost increase want to penalize Georgia Power for missing the mark.

“The price tag keeps going up. The timeframe they are going to build it has been extended year after year after year,” said state Rep. Mike Fasano, a Republican and nuclear power supporter.

Construction schedule for the project is shown here, but the costs keep increasing. The photo below shows the complexity and scale of the work.

Coupled with the low cost of natural gas, the project looks like a poor investment for the stake-holders.

Why has the construction industry continued to fail at effectively managing large projects? We continue to punish conservative projections, on the one hand. Managers and executive often won’t deal with bad news and demand better costs without making technical changes.

On the other hand, the design management seems likely to be failing. I don’t know enough about nuclear project design to be sure, but I’d bet that either the rules are changing or the someone isn’t properly managing the design process. Either way, a great opportunity exists for folks in construction to improve on the current state.

Think about how you manage the challenges and changes in your business. Do you keep focused on controlling the most important elements? That’s a secret to success in these volatile times. In a nutshell:

  1. Fiercely control the design (pay attention and conflict now, not later)
  2. Budget conservatively (things rarely go much better than expected)
  3. Develop a monthly cost review system that actually works


March 1, 2013

Friday Musings
Filed under: Industry outlook — Tags: — nedpelger

I continue to be optimistic about the trend in construction work in America. I believe in the sustainability of growth because I hear good stories all around me. Hopefully, the politicians will get some minimal agreements done that succeeds in not destroying the recovery.

Yesterday I got a call from someone who wants two 90,000 sf buildings built quickly. That’s a nice call to receive, but the logic behind the call tells the rest of the story. The project was previously approved, permitted and several similar buildings constructed. The 2008 financial collapse drove the project into default. As it’s ready to resurrect, another large contractor had the project but called the owner and stated they are just too busy to take on another project.

When was the last time you heard about contractors being too busy to take on new work? Generally, it’s been a while. Many of us have stayed fairly busy, but not swamped.

I have a couple of projects moving forward that were approved and permitted a few years ago. These projects don’t have to wait the normal six to nine months till construction starts…they go right to the front of the line. That’s another way this construction recovery can ramp up quicker than the experts predict.

On the other side, I spoke with a trade contractor friend yesterday who hasn’t made any money in a few years. He’s just barely hanging on. My last projects with his firm, though, weren’t too satisfying. His guys bitch and don’t work hard. He has a tendency to annoy my customers. So, while I like this guy, his business prospect don’t look so good even in the recovery.

It’s important to remember that we have no work by right. Every project, every opportunity that comes before us, should be treated with respect. I love to have fun with everyone I work with (including poking at my customers), but I don’t forget that they can easily choose someone else. I strive to keep over-delivering in every meaningful measure.

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