Category Archives: Engineering

When Busyness Leads To Weariness

Sold one of these this week.
Sold one of these this week.

The good news first: I sold 5 books this week.

Two of them were direct sales to someone who buys all my print books when they come out. The other three were on-line at the Kindle store, most likely to a man from church I met with this week. He has a book idea and wanted to discuss the self-publishing process with me. We met for lunch in my office on Tuesday. He mentioned particular interest in two of my books, and those are two that sold. Maybe he bought those, and a third one as well. That puts me at 70 sales for the year. Not great, but certainly better than last year.

Meanwhile, on the engineering front, I’m now up to four problem projects I’m dealing with for this one client. I wrote about this situation before. My wife asked me how long I would be dealing with these. I told her 1 year, 1 month, and 1 day, my (then) countdown to retirement. These are consuming just about all my work time, forcing training issues into the background.

And then, two different people have asked me to work on specifications for their projects. One is a mostly done spec that needs correcting. The other is a spec for a project that’s part of a nation-wide rollout program for which we have standard specs. That will be about a day’s job. The spec to edit may only take a couple of hours.

Put into this mix a trip to St. Louis next week (maybe) to see the site of one of these troubled projects, and you have a real problem as to time to do anything. I’ve written nothing this week. Christmas is coming, and right now it looks like I won’t have any writing time till after that. Maybe, I suppose, I might be able to carve out an hour here and there, but that’s about all.

It’s making me very weary. I had three nights this week where I slept poorly. Last night was better, but I’m not yet caught up. A heavy day of yard work and other chores awaits tomorrow. I sense a very weary Saturday evening, and falling asleep either on the couch or in my chair.

Worn Out

As I mentioned in prior posts, my schedule at my day job has suddenly changed. While still having the title of Corporate Trainer, I’ve been assigned three projects—failing projects—to manage. One of our project managers became overloaded, items weren’t handled well, and the projects moved from construction to crisis. I’ve come up to speed on each of them, one after the other, and am now tackling outstanding issues. Supposedly, two other projects, all for the same client, are waiting for me to deal with, but are not yet assigned.

So, Friday evening rolls around. End of the work day. Time to go home and forget about them, get some writing done, get my weekend work done, worship God and study His word on Sunday, and get some more writing done. I told the wife I was hoping to write 5,000 words over the weekend.

I get home Friday, and I have to prepare supper. I did a simple one, including some frozen and fresh stuff. I decided I would put off writing until Saturday (which is what I usually do), and just sit in my chair, watch television, and read. My current read is Day of Battle by Frank Atkinson, about WW2 in Sicily and Italy. I was now in the section on the invasion of Italy. This was the operation my dad was scheduled to be in when his transfer to the Stars And Stripes came through, and he was plucked off an LSI to go to Algiers, with a very high air priority. But that’s a story for another post. Since Dad soon found himself in Italy, with a mobile edition of the Stars and Stripes, I find this part of the war particularly interesting.

Alas, I fell asleep in my reading chair while watching TV. That’s not unusual. I enjoy my little naps there. It wasn’t a long nap. Soon I was back awake, watching TV. I multi-tasked, however. I took a geotechnical report from the third problem project and re-read it. I had read it earlier in the day, didn’t quite understand it, so printed it with the idea of reviewing it in depth over the weekend. I got that done.

I slept well Friday night, was up early Saturday morning, and got to work with personal filing. I usually let this pile up for a month or so, then do it over a couple of hours. Lately I’ve been doing this Saturday mornings, before anyone else is up. I don’t want to go outside and create noises there that will disturb the others. So I worked on this and got a lot done, including sorting through and marking miscellaneous receipts that I need to enter in the budget. By 9:00 a.m. I was back upstairs, ready to work outside, mainly removing leaves. But…it was now raining, with strong wind. Outside work was impossible. Lynda was to drive to Oklahoma City that day, and my main work was helping her get packed and on the road. I did that, and she got away about 1:00 p.m.

But, before she left, I sat in my chair, intending to catch up on
Facebook and other websites, and promptly fell asleep. Again, this was a short nap. I shouldn’t have been tired as I hadn’t done much physical work that morning: just walk between where I put stuff for filing and where the file cabinet is. Before long I was up and helping Lynda get on the road.

So finally, around 1:30 p.m, I went downstairs to begin writing. I had an hour I figured before heading to Wal-Mart for the weekly grocery trip. I activated the computer, opened Word and my files, opened a browser, and…the computer was barely functioning. The browser kept crashing, Word was crawling. I closed out of everything and headed to Wal-Mart.

That chore done, I went back to the computer around 4:00 p.m. and…same thing. I did a re-start and went upstairs, deciding to just read and/or watch college football. I think the minute my head hit the chair I was asleep, and slept for at least an hour. I woke up later, and couldn’t believe the time.

I pondered all of this. On a day when I had little physical work, I had three naps in my chair, one of them a long one. What was causing me to be so tired? I finally figured it must be just the pent-up emotions of the week, and the physical toll that took on my body. The intense work on the newly assigned projects, trying to keep my training activities going, plus the annual training exercise Tuesday and Wednesday, and, well, I was emotionally and physically drained. Must have been.

Saturday after supper I decided to just read, a most enjoyable activity for me. Sunday was a restful day with Life Group (I didn’t have to teach), church, a two-mile walk, and down to The Dungeon for writing, only to find the computer never did restart and it was still sluggish. I did a couple of hard boots and it still didn’t do anything. The third time it worked, while I was on the phone with Geek Squad. Naturally, as soon as you call for help, it works. Apparently the slowness was related to an update that hadn’t finished updating. Multiple hard boots is somehow the answer for this.

So I sat down to write, having only 30 minutes before I would have to go upstairs and prepare supper. I couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t enough time. I think I completed a paragraph and did a little more, maybe 100 words. Alas.

I don’t know if working with these projects is going to leave me so tired I won’t be able to write. Somehow I’m going to have to figure it out.

The Crunch Continues

Today was an incredibly busy day. This came after two full days of hosting/facilitating an off-site training session, in town, something we do every year. It went well, with fewer glitches than normal.

Still waiting on the paperbacks to be printed and arrive. I have a grand total of 3 ordered.
Still waiting on the paperbacks to be printed and arrive. I have a grand total of 3 ordered.

But, while I was doing that, the troubled projects I took over haven’t advanced any. I should say I’m going to take over. I’m still just the old engineer who’s helping out the youngins with some difficult situations. Three particular projects have gone bad, all for one client. Last week I dealt with one of them, made decisions about remedial work that needs to be done, and gave that to the client. I understand that’s been given to the contractor, who is mulling it over.

The second project I also dealt with last week. Nothing has been decided, but we have to wait on some tests at the site, and a report by a geotechnical engineer. E-mails this week indicate there’s been a slight delay in that, but it’s getting closer. Meanwhile, they aren’t ready to do investigative soil borings on-site, so I won’t be heading to the St. Louis any time soon.

So this week, interspersed with the training, I have been working on the third project. Early in the week I studied a long e-mail chain, and came to a basic understanding of the problem. Today I started looking at our design and construction files to see what we did on the project. Then I had to look at City and Watershed District standards to see what the outstanding issues are. Today the client e-mailed the current project manager to get an update on what we’re doing. I was able to answer it and keep them informed.

By the end of the day, including working almost an hour past time, I think I figured out what needs to be done to correct some problems at the site. The main issue is the client has $290,000 in a financial assurance bond that can’t get closed out. By the end of today I think I figured out how to get half of it released why we keep the rest in place as we deal with the problems. I’ll try to confirm it in the morning, then contact the client—with good news for a change. Only moderately good, but still good. I will still have issues to investigate, and some modifications that will have to be made at the site, but I can see this third one coming together in the next week. Possibly easier than either of the other two.

So a few people want Volume 2. Maybe I should finish it.
So a few people want Volume 2. Maybe I should finish it.

Meanwhile, today, I attended a pre-construction conference in Centerton, functioning as city engineer for that project. I brought another engineer with me, the one who is preparing to take over for me with this client. She sat in on one pre-con already. Since this was her second, I said the next one she would be in charge. She doesn’t seem real anxious to take over that role. But she’ll do fine.

While in Centerton, the head of planning asked if I had brought my next book. She buys everything I have in paperback. I said no, it was ordered, but might not be here for almost two weeks. She also asked when I would have another edition of The Gutter Chronicles. I said I’ve started it, but was only on the fourth chapter.  Several people have asked about this, making me think maybe I’d better get back on it again.

I’m hoping to be able to put in a fair number of hours this weekend on Adam Of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, I’ll spend what time I can at work—breaks, noon hours, before hours—on the other one. Maybe I’ll get one of them done some day.

Be Careful What You Pray For

The time of my retirement from my day job draws closer. As of this morning it’s 1 year, 1 month, and 17 days away. I’m not sure how vacation will play into that. I might actually have my last day a bit earlier.

My problem is, I’ve been having a bad case of senioritis. Yes, many school students get that both at the high school and college level. As the end draws near you no longer care about doing your work, and you slack off.

That’s how I’ve felt at work of late. My position as corporate trainer is one that requires me to be a self-starter. I have to make work for myself: figure out classes to teach; look for classes for others; have the gumption to work on our standard notes, details, and specifications. I’ve found that harder to do lately. It’s so tempting to sit at my desk and just wait for people to come to me with problems. As I am the senior engineer in the company, that happens a lot. People come to me with a design problem they can’t figure out, or a construction problem they’ve not encountered before. It’s quite fulfilling for me, actually, to help the youngin’s through these.

But all that won’t even fill an hour in a day. My work for the City of Centerton is little more than that, though it comes in spurts. Of course, I’m in the process of turning that over to another engineer, and soon she will be taking lead in our work there. That will end my 17 years as city engineer, or substitute city engineer, for that small, nearby city.

So, due to this growing senioritis, and knowing I couldn’t just sit there at my desk and draw a salary. It wouldn’t be right to work on my books during the work day, other than normal break time. I was starting to grow dissatisfied with the work and especially with my performance.

So I made it a matter of personal prayer. I asked God to help me shake off the growing lethargy, and do a good job for my employer. I began to look at the job with a little more concern. I sensed my prayer was being answered.

Then came last Monday. By 8:30 a.m. my boss, the CEO, was in my office. He said he had an urgent situation he needed me to work on. We were having problems with a certain client. The project manager over that work was overloaded, and they needed to reassign some projects to others. He wanted me to take over that client, solve problems on three already constructed projects that can’t seem to get closed out, bird dog two other projects about to go to construction, and see what could be done to improve the engineer-client relationship.

Now, I haven’t actively managed projects in over ten years. I happened to be entering two weeks with some special events in them, or with personal things scheduled (annual physical; eye exam; etc.). The timing wasn’t great, but I was glad for the challenge and the work, even if it would become all-encompassing to me.

The week was full of coming up to speed. I first tackled a project in Ohio with failing pavement. This project seemed to have the most correspondence of late. Then I shifted to a project in the St. Louis area that has a failing environmental pond, and may also have an improperly designed and constructed retaining wall. The third project is in Minnesota. I haven’t had time to even look at it yet. Hopefully I will today, with the other two somewhat in hand and waiting on outside data.

For the St. Louis project, it will likely require me to go there to observe some remedial investigations of the retaining wall. I spoke with a retaining wall expert on Friday, and he hopes to be authorized to do some drilling behind the wall. If so, it will be on a weekend, since the facility is open for business on weekdays.

About three days into this new adventure, I remembered that I’d prayed about my senioritis situation. Now, I was asking God to help me be more faithful in my self-starter work, not to load me up with new work, urgently needed. But that’s exactly what He did. I suspect He’s laughing at the situation. “Oh, so you’re worried you’re not working hard enough, that you’re having troubling getting motivated? I can fix that real easy.”

He sure did. I came home each day this week exhausted and mostly brain dead—but truly fulfilled, knowing I was working hard and making a difference.

A Busy, but Good, Day

This week has been a blur of activity, at home and at work. I won’t say too much about at home, except that the Great Time Crunch is coming to a head, and for a while I’ll have less time than normal, even less than I’ve had the last five months.

Concerning work, I’ve had lots to do. We had two training activities on Tuesday, both involving a guest speaker, which I was responsible for coordinating. One took place off site, an advanced class to a combined group of those I was responsible for and more that another person was responsible for. Then I went back to the main office and the speaker gave a basic class on the same topic, risk management, to a whole other group. Then I rushed back to the other meeting to make a half hour presentation on a topic.

On Wednesday I went back to the offsite meeting (continuing with the smaller group) to hear a particular topic. I’m glad I did, as it was the presentation of a problem  we are having related to one particular group. I listened, helped (I think) by my comments to clarify the problem  as it was being presented and to drill into the proposed solution with three options. No decision was made, but I was glad I went, listened, and contributed, because…

…today I was able to help someone come up with what looks like a good solution to the problem. I was able to contribute in a meaningful way. Will this proposal be the right solution to the problem? Don’t know, but it looks good. But whether it works or not, being part of the problem-solving team felt good. It felt good in part because no one asked me to be on the team. I simply decided I most likely had ideas to share if I knew what the problem was. I went out of my way to try to be part of the solution. And that felt good.

In the brown bag class I taught last week, “How to Recession-Proof Your Career”, I said you do that by increasing your value to the company year over year, even month over month. I think I did that today, this week. Yes, it was exhausting, especially when combined with the busyness at home. But it was satisfying, very satisfying.

The Time Crunch Deepens

Monday morning at work I began tackling my to-do list. It was a written to-do list for a change, since, when I got to work that day I realized just how much I had to do, and knew I wouldn’t get it done if I didn’t have a plan.

The list was long, and I felt a great weight of pressure. This week we were to have training events on four days, Tuesday through Friday. The one on Tuesday was more of a software demonstration, but it was of software I have an interest in, and if the company is to buy it it will be on my recommendation. So it was something I scheduled, planned, and attended. Then, Monday in our Leadership meeting, as we discussed the one day Leadership Development training scheduled for next Tuesday, it became obvious that we would have to have a more focused meeting on the subject. So I scheduled and planned that, adding it to Tuesday.

Then, it seemed, the salesmen came out of the woodwork on Monday, contacting me, saying they would be in the area this week and wanting to meet with me. Late in the day I received an e-mail from one of our department heads, saying a construction specification I wrote last December needed two additions to it due to changes in the project and oh it’s under construction so it’s needed quickly.

In the midst of this, I was thinking of all I have to do at home. Some weeks ago I made a good start on my income taxes, but then let it go by the wayside. So those were due. I had fallen almost two weeks behind on keeping our family finances and budget up to date. That’s not bad compared to past years, but this year I’ve been trying hard to keep them up to date on a weekly basis. Almost a week’s worth of mail had piled up. I have received the book cover art and font work from two people, for Daddy-Daughter Day, and so need to go about putting a book cover together from them—if I even can. This is different from past covers. And, of course, there’s the normal stock trading work I have to do each evening if we are ever going to start making money consistently from it. And, decluttering our house is weighing heavily on my mind right now. I go home from an office that’s a mess to a house that’s mess. The office mess is my own, and I certainly have a share in the house mess.

So at work on Monday I wrote a to-do list for home. It wasn’t real long, but it had each of those items from the previous paragraph, plus a couple more, with days of the week next to them. Stock trading work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Decluttering work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Income taxes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Family finances on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; no, just on Monday for that, as I’m not that far behind. Notably absent is any writing work, including on the poetry book.

And, at home, just as at work, I’ve been working the to-do list. I got finances up to date on Monday, along with some decluttering and stock work. I dusted off the taxes spreadsheet on Tuesday, and made a huge dent in completing them, to the point where I can probably finish the Federal on Wednesday. I did some stock work every day, enough to keep on top of our accounts and current trades and place a couple of new ones.

Today will be another busy day at work, as I try to complete preparation for my presentation tomorrow, do final organization for the vendor lunch and learn today, do some organization on Friday’s lunch and learn, and maybe, perhaps, a little decluttering in my office. One of these days I hope to have enough time to remember what it was like to be a writer.

A Chance to Write—or at Least Edit


As I’ve said in other posts, writing time isn’t just hard to come by: It’s non-existent right now.

Except, that is, for at work. I’m working on two or three essays based on past of future presentations I’ve made. More on those later. This week I’ve had the pleasure of working on a construction specification. The project is a tire shop in Oklahoma. The client is a major tire dealer that we developed the standard specs for. Actually, I’m the one who developed the standard specs for them, a year or so ago, maybe a little longer. They had seen our specs, saw what we did (I do) with internal notes to guide the spec writer, and wanted us to do it for them.

The project manager had already downloaded the specs needed from the client’s website and put them in a project folder on the network. I opened them one by one and saw the notes to specifier in bold red staring at me. On a real project situation I was able to read those notes and do what they suggested. Overall I found them to be pretty good. My attention was directed to where in the spec section it was most needed.

On the project I found four construction items for which we did not prepare a standard spec for this client, so I’m having to create them—not quite from scratch, though. Two of them are similar to sections we already have, so I’m able to pull them up, modify them as needed, and save them as new sections. I’ll do that for the project. Then, hopefully before the end of the year, I’ll expand them, first into a guide spec for our company; second as a standard spec for that client.

I have one new product added to an existing section, one of the new sections done, and a second new spec section started. Next will be the section from scratch. Actually, even that won’t be from scratch as they’re using a proprietary product on the project so I can take the manufacturer’s spec and modify them.

It’s not exactly creative writing, but it is writing. And I need to get back to is.

Writing in October

As I’ve said elsewhere, the Time Crunch has prevented me from working on my different writing projects. Alas, that’s how life is sometimes. That’s how it is now, and for the foreseeable future. I have no expectations of doing much writing for the rest of 2014.

But, yesterday, during my noon hour, I had a few moments to think about things, and decided to see exactly what I had written this month. Pulling things together, checking a few websites, I came up with a long list. It is summarized as follows.

  • 6 posts at this blog
  • 5 posts at my other blog
  • My first devotional, turned in on the 20th
  • 3 comments at the Books & Such blog
  • 2 brief comments at the Passive Voice blog
  • 1 comment at the Absolute Write forums
  • 17 personal e-mails, some of them one-liners
  • 39 work e-mails, some of them one-liners

All of these aren’t publishable writing pieces, but they are writing. It doesn’t include many posts on Facebook, both writing related and personal. Nor does it include a couple of things at work that are started only in outline form. These are “curriculum” type items, cobbling together various classes I’ve taught over the last eight years into eight to ten class courses. So far I haven’t done any original writing on them, but most likely will before the end of the month.

That also doesn’t include three new classes that I’m preparing to teach: one in November, one in December, and one probably next March. Each of these will require quite a bit of prep for a one hour class. At least one of them (the one in March) will have a significant essay as part of it.

So, I have been writing this month; just not publishable things, with one exception. I guess I need to take what writing I can find time to do.

A Different Kind of Writing

Last week at work I found myself in a position I’d waited for for a long time: All major tasks caught up, all training planned and in motion for the next few weeks, and the ability to look for things I’d left hanging or set aside but could not pick up again.

The last of my major tasks was a project audit. I finished that early last week, and shot off e-mails to the Dept. Head, requesting a meeting to discuss the results. I knew his key man on the project was out last week, so the meeting about the audit results would be delayed. With that done (on Tuesday, I think), and with me not having to teach a class all week, I sat back and said, “What to do next?” Almost immediately I answered, “Work on the spec for stormwater underground detention.”

One of my jobs at CEI is “keeper of the standards”. It’s up to me, working with our corporate CADD trainer, to make sure whatever standards we have for engineering work are up to date and being followed. The project audits are to see how well the standards were followed on a project. Construction specifications are part of that. I maintain our database of guide specification sections. Construction specs has been a passion of mine through the years. I enjoy that part of a project more than any other.

I guess I enjoy them because it’s word-smithing. You try, in a few pages, to tell the contractor in words what you can’t easily show in pictures. When lines on a drawing fail you, you use words. But the language is different. You are terse. You don’t worry about complete sentences. You use lists when you can. You leave out many definite and indefinite articles. You talk directly to the contractor, so can leave off a lot of unnecessary words. I love it. So different from creative writing, but I love it. When I teach classes on spec writing, I always say “You aren’t writing literature.”

An example of best practice in specifications language can be seen in the following three ways to say a thing.

  • The Contractor shall construct a underground detention basin.
  • An underground detention basin shall be construction.
  • Construct an underground detention basin.

Eight words, seven word, and five words in those three examples. The third one is considered best practice, and the way I do it.

In this particular spec section, I had set it aside almost a year ago because I couldn’t pull it all together. We have a choice between many available systems: plastic, metal, concrete, manufactured, built-in-place, half concrete half earthen, arch structures, pipe structures, etc. Each one has advantages. Our office tends to use one specific type more than others, though others can be considered. I started out writing a spec section that would include all types of systems, but found it impossible to do so in less than 10 to 14 pages. A spec section that size is too long. So I decided to break it into two of three sections, and concentrate first on the plastic structures. Once I did that, it started to come together quickly.

But, when I laid it aside, it still wasn’t quite done. I had taken out all the extraneous language on concrete and metal systems, but hadn’t really described the different plastic systems available. It was Wednesday last week, I think, that time became available. I picked up the spec section and began properly describing the different plastic systems available. I had to name a couple of categories of systems. I had to research ASTM standards (mostly done before). I had to fit everything into the pigeonholes established by the construction specifications standard-setting organization.

One big thing I had to do was write a section on the actual construction. This was difficult because the differing systems available require different construction sequences. We generally don’t like to give the contractor a lot of restrictions on the “how” part of construction, or the sequence. But we do have to say a few things. I managed to put something together, and I had a completed spec. That was mid-day on Friday.

The next thing I did was e-mail it to each of the manufacturers mentioned, to make sure I have it right for their system. I did so on Friday, with one straggler going out yesterday. Slowly, responses are coming in. Today I’ll start taking a look at those, and tweaking the spec based on the comments.

Spec writing is as far away from creative writing as you can get. Except for making every word count. And using active voice as much as possible. And making sure you are communicating to your intended audience in a way that will be understood. I hope the next few months provide me with much more time to work on specs. It will make me a better writer.

Three Main Writing Paths

That’s  what I’m following right now: three main writing paths.

First is the technical paper I wrote about in my last post here. Last Thursday-Friday I made good progress on it, though I didn’t finish it. I hope to get it in today. I worked on the paper over this past weekend, adding a good amount of text to what I already had. Yesterday I found the couple of missing data points, added them to the mix, and recalculated my results. I’m pleased with the way it turned out. Hopefully IECA will give me grace, and not kick me off the conference schedule.

The second path is my next non-fiction book, Documenting America – Civil War Edition. Last weekend I completed three chapters. Two of these I had started late last week, but they were in an unfinished state as I approached the weekend. I was able to finish those two, start a third, and finish it. I now have nine chapters complete (subject to editing, of course).  That’s between 1/3 and 1/4 of the book. My next step in it is research into the Battle of Battle of Shiloh, which takes me up to April 1862. The three chapters after that already have research started, though not far along. I hope to complete three chapters a week for this, which will see it done in seven to eight weeks, and thus published before the year is out.

However, I may slow down on that briefly, as I pick up Headshots again. I have received feedback on the full book from two beta readers, and on part of the book from another. This is plenty to allow me to look closely at those comments and see what edits are needed. One I already know, expressed by all three, is that the reader gets hit with too many characters in the first 14 pages or so. Somehow I need to either add other scenes without characters, which delay character introduction, or in some other way reduce/delay names. It will be a challenge.

One beta reader said a couple of things were incongruous. Too many murders, and them being unsolved makes the police/FBI look incompetent; and not enough media attention to a couple of items. Adding scenes of media attention won’t be too difficult. I’m not sure what to do about the murders. I don’t mean to make the police look incompetent. It’s just that the Mafia is good at hiding their tracks. Still, I can have some shooters picked up and be kept in lock-up. That I can do.

So, this week will be a mix of 1) completing my paper, 2) trying to continue with progress on DA-CWE, and 3) making major progress on Headshots edits, which I hope will be final edits. Then, since one beta reader said there were numerous typos, despite my two rounds of editing that included proofreading, I obviously have to do another.

Fun times ahead.