Then It Hit Me!


Jobsite safety is no laughing matter, and situational awareness at all times is critical.  This guy needs to up his game.  

Reminds me of one day during construction of the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas.  I was called to the jobsite to devise a repair for an improperly installed embed plate that supported the climbing tower crane on the inside of the tower core.  I climbed 150 feet up the tower crane, shimmied out to the end of the steel beam, came up with a fix, and then shimmied back and held tight to the crane while an iron worker torch-cut two new holes in the steel plate.  A stream of molten steel cascaded down and then splattered as it hit another steel beam 50 feet directly below.  It was a spectacular sight in the dimly lit tower shaft.  Then I noticed the people shouting below.  The crane's live 480 volt power cable that had been draped over the steel beam below was on fire, ignited by the molten steel drops from above.  Fortunately, they got the iron worker's attention and put out the fire before it burned through the insulation and fried all of us.


What are the odds of a family with an engineer, an architect, a contractor and a developer?  Surely such a family exists.  What would their Christmas stockings look like if each could custom design their own, and what would they be filled with?  I thought I'd give it my best guess.  At least I feel pretty confident in the glasses and calculator for the engineer.  

Can You Get it Done Even Sooner?


We know that meeting our client's deadlines is critical, and doing what we said we'd do when we said we'd do it is a top priority for us--we'll do whatever it takes.  But even with every effort we can muster, we may find ourselves up against a deadline that's near impossible.  Take this actual email string between an engineer and a client, for example:

Client: "When will you be done with the project?"

Engineer: "I worked on it all night and emailed it to you early this morning."

Client: "Well, is there anything you can do to get it to me sooner?" 


Poor Communication Skills

 

It doesn't matter how smart you are if you don't communicate well.  This also includes simply being accessible and responsive to clients and co-workers.

This guy at his next job interview: 

        HR:  I see you majored in communication. 
 
        This guy: No, miscommunication.  

        HR:  But it says on your resume, "Communication".  

        This guy:  See?

Introvert's Misery

We introverts need to stick together (separately)!

Sure, we may avoid social situations, but we're not all nerds.  Most of us function just fine socially, though it takes effort and leaves us feeling exhausted.  We're often quiet, reserved, thoughtful.  We don't seek attention.  We're not shy, we just need a reason to interact.  We're not rude, we'd just rather get to the point.  Without us, the world would have fewer scientists, engineers, musicians, artists, poets, doctors, philosophers, and writers.

And, we're more than two thirds of the population, so we're far from alone.  

If you are not an introvert, don't feel bad.  Nobody's perfect.


Drive-by Inspection


Some things just have to be done up close.  This is one of them.

On the other hand, it's surprising how we've learned to do so many things remotely that were previously thought to require in-person attention.

Will jobs like hair stylist or flight attendant ever be done remotely?  You never know.

It's Absolutely Perfect! ...but



When it comes to the structural engineering of buildings where even a small error can result in catastrophe, the more nitpicking the better.  As Jim Collins famously said, "Good is the enemy of great".  No one ever achieved excellence by settling for good enough.

To watch a short time-lapse video of this cartoon being created, click here.



Ask The Experts: Social Distancing Tip #26



I've never understood the appeal of "pulling an all-nighter".  For some caffeine-saturated schmoes, it's like a badge of honor.  "...pulled another all-nighter last night! Third one this week," he'll gloat.  If you've ever been secretly envious of that guy, now's your chance to one-up him.  Move your home office to your bedroom and pull an all-nighter every night!

The Unsung Hero


Here's to all the unsung heroes who keep this great country going - the farmers, ranchers, truckers, delivery drivers, fast food workers, grocery store clerks, warehouse workers, and many, many more.

(...and, of course, here's to the builders, developers, bankers, building officials, inspectors, architects, engineers and many others who do their part to make our cities and buildings safe and beautiful.)

[Credit for this idea goes to Scott Jones who runs our Irvine office]

Ask The Experts: Social Distancing Tip #37



There is going to be a lot of less-than-well-groomed people by the time we all emerge from this social distancing  ...for a few of us engineers, that may not be much of a noticeable difference.

[Credit for this one goes to Tye Havey, VP and Director of Wright Engineers' Arizona Operations]


Ask The Experts: Social Distancing Tip #45


I think there's some truth to the stereotype of the glasses-wearing engineer.  Research shows that the number of years of study is more important than genetics in determining whether or not a person becomes nearsighted.  If that's the case, then it stands to reason that the harder the study, the thicker the glasses.

My eyes were fine right after college, so perhaps it's not the studies but engineering work that damages your eyes.  After just a few years staring all day at a computer screen in the office, boom - I needed glasses.

While this stereotype may be based in some truth, I've not seen any research yet that correlates years of study to the increased chance of being a nerd.



[Credit for this one goes to David Winn.  His email to me said, "I was on the phone with a client yesterday and he commented that we should put out a list of social distancing tips from engineers since we are so good at it."  He then gave me a list of brilliant cartoon ideas that I've attempted to recreate here.]

Ask The Experts: Social Distancing Tip # 44

They say you can tell an engineer is an extrovert if he looks at your shoes instead of his own when he talks to you.

Introverted and socially awkward may be the stereotype, but most engineers I know do just fine in social situations - whether or not they enjoy it.  Just get a bunch of us engineers together and we'll all insist that we have exemplary interpersonal skills (as we hardly glance at our shoes).

Early in my engineering career at a white elephant Christmas gift exchange, the most stereotypical-looking engineer in the room suddenly mounted a broom and began slapping his rear and galloping around the table.  This inspired a spontaneous chain reaction of engineers all mounting imaginary brooms and following suit. I about fell off my chair with surprise.  This was no result of over-indulgence in spiked eggnog as no alcohol had been served. It confirmed to me then what I already felt: that beneath that introverted mild-mannered engineer exterior just might be a wild party animal yearning to break free.


[Credit for this one goes to David Winn.  His email to me said, "I was on the phone with a client yesterday and he commented that we should put out a list of social distancing tips from engineers since we are so good at it."  He then gave me a list of brilliant cartoon ideas that I've attempted to recreate here.]

Ask The Experts: Social Distancing Tip #43


Hey, every engineer slaps on a big factor of safety to cover his rear, right?  It's not uncommon to hear an "armchair" engineer confidently ask, "So... how much factor of safety did you add?" as if it's the world's most obvious fact that all engineers throw in a bunch of fat and over-design the heck out of everything. 

I actually don't know any structural engineer that does that, though there's probably a Schmoe or two out there.  Safety factors that have been refined over decades of practice and experience are already built into the Building Code, so there's no need for a good engineer to slap on an additional "factor of ignorance".

I have my theory about the origins of this misconception.  Most people have at least a "feel" for the weight of things, but they have little concept of the magnitude of design wind or earthquake forces.  That's partly because lateral loads are more complicated and harder to visualize, and partly because design wind and earthquake loads occur so infrequently they may never happen in a person's lifetime.

Now, when it comes to the minimum separation for proper social distancing, that's a different story. 

[Credit for this one goes to David Winn.  His email to me said, "I was on the phone with a client yesterday and he commented that we should put out a list of social distancing tips from engineers since we are so good at it."  He then gave me a list of brilliant cartoon ideas that I've attempted to recreate here.]

Ask the Experts: Social Distancing Tip #42


No doubt more than one basement-bound 30-something nerd is pointing to the COVID-19 Stay at Home order as another excuse to extend his stay in his parent's basement.  I know - there are legitimate reasons why some adults live with their parents.  But this guy's an engineer, so a lack of sufficient income is probably not the reason.  Maybe it's the fully stocked fridge, his mom's home cooking, or the free unlimited high-speed internet for his video games?  I recommend his mom swaps those fluffy slippers for some steel-toed shoes and gives him the boot.

[Credit for this one goes to David Winn.  His email to me said, "I was on the phone with a client yesterday and he commented that we should put out a list of social distancing tips from engineers since we are so good at it."  He then gave me a list of brilliant cartoon ideas that I've attempted to recreate here.]

Ask the Experts: Social Distancing Tip #41


Wright Engineers has had more than one engineer over the years who has had a full-on Star Wars shrine at his cubical.  Amazing technology, lasers, spaceships, average guy saves the beautiful princess, epic battles between good and evil - no wonder engineers love this stuff!

[Credit for this one goes to David Winn.  His email to me said, "I was on the phone with a client yesterday and he commented that we should put out a list of social distancing tips from engineers since we are so good at it."  He then gave me a list of brilliant cartoon ideas that I've attempted to create here.]

Social Distancing

The COVID-19 pandemic is no laughing matter, and we're taking it very seriously - as we all should.  But in the midst of the resulting stress and worry, some of our engineers have been unable to resist making wise cracks about our social distancing policy, like"It's an engineer's dream!" or "What's the big deal?  I've been doing this my whole life."  We can take the current pandemic very seriously, but it's still okay to laugh a little.  Smile and be safe.


Your Call is Very Important to Us

"I just love your automated phone answering system!", said no one ever.

Long menus that don't have an option that matches your problem, put on hold forever, being asked for the same information over and over, and dropped calls before you ever speak to an actual human...everyone hates them.

I know - businesses use it to save money.  But unless people have no other option, I wonder how many frustrated, angry, lost potential customers it takes to more than pay for the cost of a receptionist.

...the Revised Program


Good design requires the right people to do it, along with adequate time and budget.  A low-budget or rush design may still "work", but all too often problems during construction, change orders, and delays can make the final cost of the project many times greater than any up-front savings in design fee.

I've seen many well-intentioned but misguided souls willing to invest millions in their project, who believe they're saving money by skimping on the design phase.  It's a lesson that usually only has to be learned once - the hard way - but eventually everyone discovers that the bitterness of poor design remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.

Work, Work, Work and Sacrifice Now...

Ah, retirement!  That magical time of life when you can finally kick back and do everything you've always wanted to do. Your lifetime of hard work and sacrifice have paid off, except...

...now you or your spouse are too frail, too unhealthy, opportunities have passed, the ship has sailed.

Many might live to regret that they haven't prepared enough for their golden years, but far worse is to have squandered life preoccupied with making a living while missing out on actually living.  No one on their deathbed ever wishes they had focused more on work.  What they regret is that they worked too much, let fear keep them from going after what they really wanted, or worried too much about what others think.

It's a difficult balancing act, but when in doubt I recommend the advice of the late actor Michael Landon who died from pancreatic cancer at age 54: "Whatever you want to do, do it now.  There are only so many tomorrows."

The Needles Are Gone - It's Perfect!

Just another typical trip to pick out the perfect Christmas tree.  I learned long ago to leave this job to my wife.

There are endless jokes online mocking the quirks of us humble engineers.  But in our defense, we can't help it - it's how we're wired.  When we walk into a building, you'll see us admiring the roof structure, not the decor.  We don't see a glass as half empty - it's just twice as large as it needs to be. 

Then there's the story about the engineer who was admiring another engineer's new bike.  "Where did you get it?" he asked.  The other engineer replied, "I was just sitting there minding my own business when this woman rode up, threw down the bike, took off her clothes, and said, 'take what you want'".  The first engineer nodded in approval. "Good choice!," he said, "The clothes probably wouldn't have fit."