In Case You've Wondered

My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.

If you're here for the stories, I started another blog:

One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.

I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Philosophical Navel Gazing

 I watched the Trump Rally. That, and watched how the huge crowd was being panned before the speech. Considering the tens of thousands there, the 30 mile traffic jam trying to go to the rally, and the reaction to his speech, the navel gazing by so many shows an inability to realize how fast crap can hit the fan.

 People are furious, are gathering to show their disdain, and it won't take much before all efforts to stop them from their goal will be impossible. To make things worse for the detractors, they're far outnumbered, and completely dependent on those they try to ignore.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Real Estate Bubbling

I'm amazed what people will pay for real estate. Some of it, and this is only my opinion, is the market allowing inflated prices to accommodate those fleeing from areas that aren't economical, or crime ridden. Many of those areas had real estate already over priced. If the seller could get out before the prices fell, they had more than enough money to places with a more realistic market. Agents with opportunities took advantage, bargained for higher prices, and laughed on their way to the bank.

Another thing that created the bubble in real estate is the extremely low interest rates on mortgages. Spread it out enough, and a homeowner can squeeze the cost into their budget. With some, it's a gamble, and a burp in their finances can lead to foreclosure. 

The high prices led to many new apartment complexes in my area. Many apartments are below mortgage costs, and some people are forced to lease, or rent. To an investor, and some are foreign investors, a good amount of renters can lead to equity that amounts to a long term profit. Even if the investment doesn't reap a big profit, the real estate selling price will probably stay above inflation. With other investment opportunities, and a buyer, moving the money into a less maintenance investment is a win. Without a buyer, to cut costs, maintenance may be where the cuts are, and those renting may have problems that take a long time to be resolved.  

Regardless of what's driving the market, the current drops in the market may be the harbinger of a bursting bubble. There are only so many people willing to buy high real estate prices, and any rise in prime lending rates may nearly shut the market down. Some, if not many, may find their home well below the new market value, and if they have to sell, they may not only be underwater in equity, they may have a white-elephant that will never again reach the price they paid. 

I think many don't realize the effect of over priced real estate. In areas with smaller banks, foolish bankers can lead to economic hardship for the banks, which affects those that use the bank. That, and if the bank is sold, they may find their money is now controlled by those that can give a rodent's fanny about the personal finances of small town Americans. Larger banks have employees that have no authority but to follow the rules, and ignore the inconveniences they cause. Where there was once a banker willing to lend money due to their knowledge of that person, that person is now only a number, and inconsequential in the big picture of large banks.

I've seen this before. The sub-prime fiasco was probably the best example of how ridiculous the real estate market can become. How this one turns out is to be seen, but with the current economy, it could be really bad. I hope not, but in my opinion, it's unsustainable.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

It's Been Two Years

In two years, I don't know anyone that had the flu, or a cold. I do know people that tested positive for Covid, had symptoms of the flu, and the common cold, but nobody that was diagnosed with either. While I believe there can be coincidences,  the odds say such an event is as isolated as being hit in the head with a bolt from a satellite. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

So, What's Really Going On?

The media is bouncing around different perspectives/narratives about the current buildup of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine. Regardless of the opinions, it seems the fact Biden once threatened to withhold funds from Ukraine to prevent  investigation into his son's business ties is forgotten. Why is this being ignored? Where are the investigative reporters that should be looking into the reasons Russia is flexing its muscles? Is Russia protecting itself from corrupt influences on their economy? Are foreign agents using Ukraine to cause problems with Russia? Are the current President's hands tied because of his past criminal actions?

All governments have some level of corruption, and it appears the current administration has corrupt ties to the Ukraine. Even if the ties aren't current, the leverage of exposing past ties for favor can influence policy decisions. That, and drag us into a conflict we have no business becoming involved with. 

Time will tell how this all works out, but if we had a real media, all of this would have been exposed years ago, when Biden was running for office. His past actions, and those of his son, would have made excluding him from seeking office an easy task. Instead, the fawning media is now complicit in placing the United States in a dangerous position, and the current President appears to have sacrificed national security for wealth. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Building a Bridge - Construction Part Two - Earthwork

On most projects, some type of earthwork is being performed during much of the project. Approaches may need embankment to reach the grade required for the abutments, or the subgrade may need the vegetation stripped, drainage concerns addressed, or something as exotic as a wick drain. It requires a foreman, or superintendent with a good knowledge of manipulating soil, and building a strong roadbed.

 If a wick drain is required, an excavator vibrates tubes into the ground to a target depth to allow water to be forced up when embankment is placed. A suitable drain strata is necessary to allow the water to escape, geotextile fabric may be placed before the embankment is placed and the embankment is placed in lifts over the area with wick drains. Eventually the heavy fill displaces the water. This allows the fill to not be compromised by excess water. On really swampy ground, the hydraulic fill may be placed above the final grade, the ground may sit for years, and the settling embankment eventually becomes stable. On one large project I watched, much of the saturated soil under the new embankment heaved outside the roadbed, and was eventually removed. The settlement was in feet. Although the embankment was placed decades ago, the roadbed is still sound, and thousands of vehicles travel the roadway daily. Even a direct hit from a hurricane didn't disturb the road.

The placing of embankment is more complex than just dumping dirt, and grading. Embankment is first tested for suitability. The testing involves determining the plasticity, optimum moisture, and thickness required to support the paving. Also, existing embankment is tested to determine if it can remain under the proposed fill. On some projects, grade profiles, with testing,  might indicate the embankment is all on site, and all that needs to be done is to place it in the correct position. This may require earthmovers, or excavators with dump trucks. Regardless of how the embankment is manipulated, fill requires placing the material in lifts, which usually is 12 inches or less. Eight inches is the usual rule of thumb, and exceeding the depth may cause a failure in compaction, scarifying the material, and re-compaction. On one project I was working, the material lifts weren't tested, the contractor continued their operation, and three feet later, when the inspector ran densities into the lower lifts, the material failed. The solution was pushing all the covering fill to the side, reworking all the material, and egg on the face of the contractor. At the time, I had the feeling the contractor was trying to pull a fast one, and was caught. I never knew, but the correction was obviously expensive.

All vegetation is required to be moved before any embankment is placed. The stripped material (usually 4 to 6 inches)may be hauled away, or stockpiled, for the final finish at the end of the project. The exposed subgrade is scarified to insure a good bond between the materials. Not performing this part of the requirement will lead to a layer of material that will never compact, delamination, or both. Delaminated embankment will slip and cause cracks, voids, or both. That, and if it's discovered, the new material will be removed at the expense of the contractor.

On some projects, the embankment is mixed with lime to consolidate and dry the material. For projects in urban areas, the lime is placed as a slurry. In open areas, the lime may be placed dry as a powder, or in a pellet form. Regardless of how it's placed, the usual percentage of lime is around 6% by volume, and requires large mixers (Like a large self-propelled garden tiller) water trucks, earthmoving equipment, and compactors. Mixing is to a depth two inches below the projected subgrade elevation. The material is checked for the lime content before the operation is complete. Failing to introduce the right amount of lime will lead to repeating the operation until successful. On a project, failing to place the correct amount is frowned upon. Continued failures lead to new supervisors. 

Placing lime with a slurry is probably the best method, since yield isn't affected by loss by wind, and removes the nuisance factor of lime dust. It can be delivered by transports in a slurry, or dry to be mixed in smaller trucks on site. A slurry pump is usually hooked to a fire hydrant, or a water pump for mixing on site. I doubt there are a few dozen of people in any state that have the experience to mix slurry on a project , and my near past experience shows transports of slurry being dumped on site. I've never figured the cost difference, but feel the difference isn't worth the problems.

Transports are great, until an exuberant dozer operator yanks the axle from under the truck hauling the lime. The operation comes to a halt, someone will probably get lime burns trying to the fix the truck, and finger pointing starts for the charges. A good operation has a basically firm bed to start with, so the transports only need a little help to pull through the subgrade  to prevent tire slippage. Spreading the slurry at the right speed removes the need to make another pass in the same location. Dragging lime transports is a delicate operation, and damaging one can be expensive.

Mixing is required to consolidate the material. Over days, the mixers eventually turn the mixed soil to a fine grain, the dozer, or motor graders, shape it to grade, and the compactors make continuous passes to compact the embankment. After compaction is reached, water trucks keep the embankment wet for three days. 

Embankment rarely has the optimum moisture content. If it's too wet, it will track, pump and fail the compaction test. If it's too dry, it will not reach compaction. To remove moisture, only blade mixing with a road grader may be all that's needed. Blade mixing is grading up a windrow on the edge, blading the windrow back and forth, and hoping the material becomes dry enough to be compacted to specifications. After two days of frustration one project, I was forced to rent a mixer to break a heavy clay small enough to dry. My boss didn't like it, but realized it was the necessary solution.

 Too dry of material is windrowed, sprinkled with water from a water truck, and either blade mixed, or mixed with a mixer. When the moisture is correct, compacters pack the material, and the motor graders fine tune the grade. Good crews make the process look easy. Bad crew make a mess, when they get some sections too wet, and others too dry. The goal is to get the material equally hydrated, and a good water truck driver can distribute the right amount of water in one pass. 

Compacters for embankment usually have pads, or sheepfoot studs. When optimum moisture is reached, the pads eventually "walk" out of the material, while motor graders sweep enough material across the roadbed to keep the indentions filled. When complete, the pads don't sink, and only leave a surface mark on the material. At this point, it's imperative to get the grade to the correct elevations. Failing to do so, might lead to the necessity of scarifying the material again, re-grading, and compaction. Good clays get as hard as concrete when compacted at the correct moisture. Trying to just cut enough material to make grade can lead to the blade only skidding on the surface, a loud squalling, and a frustrated operator.

Embankment may be needed to form a subgrade for construction activities, or to fill to an elevation ready for pile driving. I worked on one project where the embankment supervisor crossed up up with the bridge supervisor. The embankment supervisor wanted to continue his operation into the work area of the bridge supervisor, which the bridge supervisor had "homesteaded". His laydown area was to his liking, and access was good from a nearby road. The embankment would ruin the arrangement, and the bridge supervisor would need to stop production for a day to rearrange the area. The embankment supervisor go his wish. The bridge supervisor was far from happy, which he showed with expletives, threats, and some stomping around. In the end, I felt the embankment supervisor was over his head. Allowing a few hundred feet of space from the edge of a bridge at grade offers the opportunity to adjust the final grade of the road to compensate for minor errors in the bridge elevations. How do I know? I saw it happen before, and manipulating dirt is much cheaper than trying to adjust grade with an asphalt bond breaker, or concrete. The same embankment foreman showed his ignorance many times during the project, and was eventually let go, when the project was finished. If I hadn't been the subcontractor, and was the supervisor for the prime contractor, I wouldn't have hired him. I had experience with him before, and had no confidence with his work.

With the embankment operation in progress, pile driving is more than necessary to complete. That requires another post. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Dementia, and a Personal Observation

My mother had dementia. Although the term is misused, and sometimes used as a derogatory description, it's a natural part of aging. Some have symptoms that require close observation, and help, while others are only marginally affected. Still, everyone is affected as they age. 

I had no idea my mother was starting to struggle with dementia, until I spent a long time with her. I moved in, after separating with my soon to be ex-wife. My mother wasn't eating enough, and after watching her, I realized much of her apparent cognizance was due to her rigid schedule. Operating on auto-pilot is the best description. Her day was set, her travels were set, and variances from either were stressful. 

Over time, I realized our conversations were rich in past events. She remembered things of her youth with clarity, but after answering the same questions over a few short minutes, I realized I had to throw away my impatience. She was unaware of her loss of short term memory, and if I had said anything, it would have only caused anxiety. She didn't need anymore stress. Life was getting short, and she needed to have the most dignity allowed. 

My mother became dehydrated. A trip to the doctor for her dizziness led to immediate hospitalization. My brother notified me at work, so I went to the hospital to check on her. She was sleeping comfortably, so I left her, and returned to see her the next morning. She was up, cheerful, and her doctor was in the room with her. they joked with each other, he left, she looked at me, and asked where I was. Either she had her names confused, or she was unaware of who I was. I immediately found her doctor, explained what happened, and he set up an appointment with a neurologist. A minor stoke was suspected. Months later, while talking to her cardiologist, he told me he didn't think she had a minor stroke, and the dehydration only increased he dementia.

Long story short, the neurologist was a waste of time. He couldn't perform the necessary tests, since my mother had a pacemaker. His fumbling around, and wanting to stretch out the visits only made me think he had a good insurance patient, and some cash flow. That, and my mother couldn't stand him. Her hearing loss, his soft voice, and basically ignoring her while talking to me, was infuriating. To make things worse, on our next to the last visit, we waited for two hours, only to have the nurse inform us the doctor was handling an emergency, and we would have to reschedule. The last visit revealed he really didn't have clue, but he wanted us to return in six months to assess whether she had any improvement. A first year resident could have seen her improvements, so we decided enough was enough. 

Over about a year, my mother stopped going to her Wednesday bridge group. I didn't ask why, but knew it became too much of a metal challenge. I would do most of her grocery shopping, and cook for her. After a minor car wreck, I realized it might be time to stop her from driving. Before that was necessary, she broke her hip. I was appalled, since I was standing next to her, when she went to pull her chair up at the table. In the emergency room, after I explaining to a nurse how my mother fell, she said "She didn't fall and break her hip; her hip broke, and she fell." It was reassuring, but I still felt guilt. After all the times I worried about such a thing happening, I was right there when it happened. 

A doctor explained to my mother, and I, there were only two options. One was doing nothing, but my mother would spend the rest of her life basically bedridden. The other was a hip replacement, which had a good prognosis, since it would allow her mobility after therapy. The decision was the replacement. 

An anesthesiologist approached me before the surgery to explain anesthesia can cause a worsening of dementia, and the increased dementia wouldn't become better. At that time, with few options, I crossed my fingers and prayed for the best. 

The surgery went well, but the dementia was worse, and my mother needed more care than I could offer. I had a job, and all the relatives that helped were in the same situation. After therapy at the hospital, she was released, and I moved her to a retirement home. 

My mother had volunteered at the retirement home for years. Everyone knew her, the director was more than reassuring, and my concerns left after a few days of her being there. She had her meals, the staff were friends, and she seemed happy. That was a relief. Her dementia was increasing, and knowing she wouldn't be neglected, and between my cousin, and I, she had a family member closely monitoring her care. Her therapy was taken care of daily, and I had the hope she would one day be able to regain her mobility, and could go home.

After about two weeks, a consultant with the group performing therapy approached me to talk. She suggested hospice, since she too had seen how my mother had no idea why those people were coming in every day to cause her pain. An explanation of how she had broken her hip led to her surprise and and a question: "I broke my hip?" This was on a Friday, and the consultant told me she would start the arrangements for hospice care at her room. 

On Saturday evening, my mother didn't seem to be hungry. She had only had a bottle of Ensure in the morning, and wouldn't eat her lunch. She wouldn't open her eyes during our limited conversation, and an effort to give her a spoon of her meal ended when she fell asleep. I used a napkin to remove the food from her mouth, and stayed with her most of the night. My cousin stayed with her the next day so I could work that night. I had a crew to run on a night project, and my days, and nights, were soon to be a little crazy. 

Monday morning arrived, and I arrived to check on my mother. She still wouldn't eat, and only briefly awoke to speak with me. I stayed as long as I could, but had to get some sleep for work that night. It wasn't enough, and the long night at work left me exhausted. I had talked to my cousin, and the report my mother was still mostly sleeping, and not eating, led to more concern. 

I arrived home after seven Tuesday morning, took a shower, set my clock for 11:00 am, and tried to catch a few hours of sleep before I went to see my mother. At 10:00 am, I was awakened by a phone call. It was a caretaker at the home. My mother had passed. It was over. and I was relieved she had some dignity during her last few days.

I've written a long post, and somewhat wandered away from the original inspiration for writing. I was thinking about the President, his obvious dementia, and delving into my experience to solidify my opinion. While I'm not a professional in the medical field, my experience with my mother left me with a perspective on those with dementia. The subtle signs can easily be missed, but the fumbling of words, forgetting of names, confusion, and dependence on others is far more than subtle. How the medical profession doesn't become vocal about the condition of the man that is not mentally capable to run a country is beyond me. That, and even an in-patient procedure requiring anesthesia may leave him in a condition where the Vice President will be in charge. 

So, here we are. How history reports this era is yet to be seen, but even before the election, Biden was showing signs of dementia. That, and he was hidden from those that needed to know his positions. Regardless of how this is all perceived, I can't begin to believe there was an honest election, or that Biden had anything more than a small minority of people to support him.

I can only do what I can, hope for the best, and pray those so willing to sacrifice a country for tyrannical power are severely punished for their actions. Hopefully, enough feel the same, and the efforts to destroy the United States will end.  

Building a Bridge - Construction Part 1 - Getting Started

After a contractor is notified they won a bid, a few things happen over the month, or longer, period before the ground is broken. First is the getting all the submittals for materials, subcontractors, EEO paperwork, insurance certificates, and any special designs, such as a falsework plans. I have no idea how many in a large company are delegated to this task, but know smaller companies may have only a few. During my career, it could be a daunting task, since I worked for a small company, and had other things to do, but it was part of my job description. Bidding was too, but it wasn't full time. There were way too many pieces of paper to be accumulated, and too much of it was bureaucratic make work. My supervisors/owners and office staff helped, and we scrambled to complete everything before the pre-construction meetings. Large bridges were beyond our bonding capacity. We did build some small bridges, but work on larger bridges was as a subcontractor for various. 

One task that was very important after winning a bid was creating a spreadsheet with all the bid items. Included were the anticipated labor costs, material costs, subcontractor costs, overhead items, profit, TIBS (taxes, insurance, BS/miscellaneous) and time. There were dozens of bid items included, and the information was needed to load the project into the accounting program. I know there are canned software applications out there for construction project management, but we never really had the need for the expenditure. We all came from the old school where we originally worked with columnar tablets, and the accounting was done the same. Years of building spreadsheets developed a method to take care of all we needed, and the canned accounting software was the only one that could handle the bid items when we first bought it. Over time, the software was upgraded, and we stuck with it. Manipulating spreadsheets became second nature. 

With TxDot work, and I imagine most other states, and municipalities, the placing of barricades is the first task. This may only be a handful of temporary advanced warning signs, but may include temporary striping, barriers, and message boards. Without these things, and SW3P items (storm water prevention) the project is not allowed to start. Storm water runoff items can a few feet of silt fence, or a elaborate configuration of silt fence, soil erosion logs, and rock filter dams. 

After the barricading is completed, field survey crews station the project, place temporary controls, and are usually available during the project for surveying tasks. Their efforts require a good understanding of the plans, and the instruments they use. While some of the surveying is completed by GPS, accurate measurements require a total station. 

Total stations aren't affected by the weather, shade, or the failure to allow the GPS instrument the time required to be as accurate as possible. Some, called robot guns, can be controlled by the controls on the rod, which can make accurate measurements easily performed by one person. It removes the job of one person, but they're tens of thousands to purchase. During my career, it was one of those items I knew I would never see. It was far beyond what a small company could justify for what little use it would have. Mine required someone to hold the rod, and I was happy to have it.

Once a total station is set up, known coordinates are shot to determine the current location of the total station, the height of the total station above a point, or the ground, is entered, the station can be used to either record, or find locations. Elaborate software allows placing offsets, the points in a curve, and does so with accuracies within a fraction of an inch. Coordinates can be downloaded into the instrument, and when set up correctly with a good rodman, be more accurate than any measuring tape over long distances. Wood stakes, with nails, are used to set temporary controls. These are surrounded with lathes covered in barricade tape. Lathes, with information written with a sharpie, are used to show stations. These are holy objects on a construction site, and disturbing any is frowned upon; especially temporary benchmarks. 

Paint may show stationing, or known underground utilities. With stationing, the paint is a reference for a location. The stationing is a good reference for determining the big picture of the project, and for a quantity reference in the future. The stationing on the ground may show a discrepancy in the plans, or help with determining access to parts of the project. Regardless of how accurate plans can be, plans don't indicate ground condition, or the fact the local rancher has a little drive he uses daily. With ground conditions, the planned storing of materials in a boggy area is usually a bad idea. With the rancher, he probably owns half the county and hob nobs with state officials a few times each year. Both are problems that need to be handled before the crews arrive, and a good superintendent takes care of both contingencies way before that happens.

Paint for utility marking is color coded. White is for the contractor, orange for communication cables, red is for electrical, green is for sewer, blue is for water, yellow is for gas, and none can be assumed to be marked correctly. Some markings may match the plans, but others may indicate an underground utility missed by the initial survey, and cause problems. One of my worst situations was water line running right through the center of a large proposed junction box. We had paving to break, a large hole to excavate, and the project was shut down. My calls to the engineer I knew were wasted on voicemail messages, but I was lucky when a supervisor of the water utility happened to arrive on the site. With a few minutes conversation, and cutting off the water main, we broke the paving, excavated for access, and his crew relocated the main in a few hours. 

With enough surveying completed, and required items handled, the next part of the project is embankment, piling, or both. That requires another post.

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Four Weeks are Over

I had a ganglion cyst removed from my wrist four weeks ago. It was a simple surgery, which is probably never really simple. The surgery was removing the cyst, suturing the tendon that was leaking, and four weeks of wearing an arm brace. The arm brace was the hard part, since it is really a pain in the butt, but much better than a cast. At least I could remove it while showering. I tried a bath, but getting out of the tub was pretty much a lesson in futility using only one hand. Cautions about the glue they used mandated never submerging the wound in water. Flopping around the bathtub proved it was a strong possibility.

On my two week follow up, I asked the doctor if there was any chance of the cyst reappearing. He said if I follow his directions, it's less than one percent. That, and unless I had any problems, that was my last visit, and in two weeks, I could remove the wrist brace. 

So today was the day. I realized much of my movements were dictated by the brace, and found I was still trying to navigate the use of the arm as though the brace was still there. I did find some movements cause a sharp pain. I figure that's a little due to atrophy, and the need to slowly start using the hand again. Time will tell, but it's good to have the large, painful lump off my wrist. I reached the point I couldn't ignore it, and putting the surgery off was just procrastination.

The doctor that performed the surgery performed my two carpal tunnel releases. After those episodes, choosing a doctor for the surgery was a simple task. It's good to have a doctor you trust, and the fact he didn't seem the least bit concerned about Covid only made it better.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Winter Shenanigans

Yesterday, the power went off for about four hours. The high winds, and the colder air can cause problems with the power lines, and if it's a big enough problem, restoring power is a multi-step  process to keep the large breakers from throwing. Four hours is understandable, but a little inconvenient for my all electric home. 

Last night, at about 11:00, the power went out again. This time, the problem was from the big company power supplier, which turned out to be the original problem. The big difference was it was 16 hours before it came back on. 

So, the power is back on, the house is a toasty 67 degrees, and I had a chance to run my generator to keep it well maintained. Tomorrow I'll change the oil, put some fresh gasoline, cover it back up, and hope I won't have to use it again tonight. If I do, I won't wait long to fire it up. It's supposed to drop to about freezing, and the wind is still high.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Building a Bridge - Engineering Part 3

 Altogether, the posts on building a bridge will be numerous posts. I'm doing this to keep from a large volume, and hopefully, keep those interested from being bored. 

The next phase in engineering the building a bridge involves the drawing of plans, final funding, and the specifications for construction. How much goes on in the background is beyond my experience, but I have a feeling many projects are shot down before construction due to politics, and lack of funding. 

The plans are drawn by draftsmen using CAD programs. In the past, there drafting was done with pencils, and the drafting tools used for the craft. In my experience, AutoCad is the leading software package. It's expensive, especially when many of the plug-ins are purchased. Those proficient in the use of the software have my admiration. I base my opinion on what little experience I've had with simple two dimensional CAD programs. AutoCad is much more robust, more complicated, and can be used for some amazing, scaled three dimensional drawings. Considering the complexities, many of the drawings I've seen for construction projects are probably simple drawings for the more experienced draftsman.

With most bridge projects plans I've dealt with, the centerline proposed for the construction is the main control. Regardless of service roads, or surrounding structures, the centerline is the best baseline, since it eliminates any crossover stationing. I ,once, bid on parts of a project designed by a consulting firm, which had a very confusing conglomeration of stationing. Since the project involved many sections of highways with existing stationing, including the stationing was probably their solution to the complex problem of converting all stationing to one baseline. Their job was probably easier, but to the contractor, examining the plans was tedious. 

With a baseline, there is a starting point, which on a new project will be station 0+00. With tie-ins, or renovations of an existing road, the stationing for the project may start at some station as 256+58.5 which would be part, or a continuation, of a project point that had 256 one hundred feet stations, plus 58 feet 6  inches, which is 6/12 or .50 feet. I have worked with metric, when TxDot dabbled in metrics, and found the English units too entrenched to stay at metrics. Metrics are easier to use for calculations, but many manufacturers have English dimensioning, and these dimensions don't quite match the metric dimensions. Soft metrics can be used, but in reality, manufacturers aren't going to spend millions to convert, and in engineering, the calculations don't quite match. Since materials strengths, and dimensions require accurate calculations, errors in converting data can lead to problems. 

In stationing, and the centerline is used for the baseline, offsets are used to indicate future, or existing sections. With a 60 feet wide road, the edges would be defined by left and right offsets. At station 100+00, the far right edge would be station 100+00 - 30 feet right (100 feet from the starting point, and 30 feet perpendicular from that point). The left edge 100+00 - 30 feet left. It's an easy method to determine locations, and when it comes down to existing utilities, it's important to the owners to understand where, and how far to move any obstructing utilities. Utilities are usually moved before projects are let, since the operation can take a long time. Contractors charge for downtime, and justifiably so. Equipment, labor, and time add costs, which a contractor must learn how to handle. Failing to fall procedures outlined in the specifications, which are part of the contract, can lead to monetary losses by the contractor, and a bad working relationship between the engineers and contractor.

The plans are not just drawings of the future bridge. With TxDot, and most Texas municipal drawings that usually follow TxDot standards, included are a multitude of pages with standard drawings, paving designs, drainage structures, elevations views, existing utilities, typical design sheets, phasing, traffic control, environmental protection requirements, quantities, typical sections, and any special design features. There are more, but to really understand the requirements, you would have to examine the TxDot website that details the necessary requirements. Last, but not least, are the specifications for the project, which reference what is commonly called the "Bible". Txdot occasionally updates their standard specification book, which has all the standard construction, and material requirements. An important reference is always available for approved material suppliers. These suppliers provide materials that were tested by TxDot, and in some situations, a contractor can have a problem by bidding using a material not supplied by an approved supplier. The cost difference may be substantial, and lead to financial woes for the contractor.

Usually, there's a pre-bid meeting. The bidders may just meet at the office of the owner, an onsite meeting may be all that's required, or both may occur at the pre-bid. It's at this point questions are asked, answers are produced, or the engineer will answer the questions in writing before the bid date. If an addendum is required, it will be issued before the bid date. Acknowledging the receipt of addendums is usually part of the bid documents, and failing to acknowledge the addendum will lead to a bid being thrown out.

When all is compiled, checked, and approved, the project is released for bids. This leads to the contractor to examine the plans, and specifications, figure out the costs associated to perform the work, add a profit, fill out all the blanks correctly, notify the bonding company, and cross their fingers.

Bidding is once a month for TxDot projects, and at council meetings for cities. The bids are checked for following the rules of bidding, and any numerical irregularities. Whether the bid is local, or let in a multiple bid letting, some allow electronic bidding. It's at this point the contractor finds out if they won the bid, and can now start worrying about what they left out. Some are so far out of balance, the contractor is consulted, and allowed to remove their bid. This can come at a price, if the project requires a bid bond. The contractor forfeits the bond, and the bonding company frowns upon such things. 

The engineers might find they substantially underpriced the project, and wonder why. That, and if their track record with the contractor usually ends up with change orders for all their mistakes, they may wonder what their exposure will be, and how much it will cost. It's now their job to go through all the paperwork of the bid, and the contractor  will eventually be given a contract to sign. After signing, the contractor has to start submitting material sources, subcontractors, schedules, and have all prepared before the pre-construction meeting. When the start construction date is set, time is started on the project. Whether its a few months, or a few days, the contractor submitted schedule is used as a club, when the project falls behind.

Now it's time to start the project, and a new post.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Building a Bridge - Engineering Part 2

 I've worked on, or built, a few bridges during my career. Most were beam and girder, with one being a large cable stay bridge. When looking at the design, the fact they were built is a testament to wonders of modern engineering. The fact they stand for so long shows the design wasn't a foolish whim of a demented person, and after working on some older structures, the fine tuning of the design of newer bridges indicates some designs are now obsolete; even though the less desirable designs are still in use and safe. 

Not all bridges make it to the construction phase. We had a local bridge designed to the point a three dimensional model was made to scale. A historical society, and government officials, became involved with preserving the existing swing bridge, and the new bridge was cancelled. The old bridge was refurbished at a tremendous cost, was still an old, untenable, high maintenance bridge, and regardless of how ridiculous the effort was, remains as something that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay to maintain. 

The final design of a bridge requires knowledge of materials, the distances to be spanned, and the cost. Steel is one of the best materials, but requires coatings, which can be expensive over time. There is a steel that corrodes on the outside, but will not have deep corrosion. It's substantially more expensive than regular structural steel, but I have seen it used on overpasses. It's uglier than homemade soap, when the rust "bleeds" onto the concrete caps, and columns, supporting the girders made from the steel. Still, steel is the best material for the type of design, and the long spans required for flyovers, and other long spans in urban freeway congestion. 

Steel can be designed to span long distances, where concrete can't without overhead supports. What girders are used depends on the span distance, whether there is a typical wider flange beam that can handle the load, or specially fabricated girders with camber to offset deflection of the weight of the deck. On larger spans, the design can be a multitude of different steel configurations, including trusses, arches, and box beams. Regardless of the bridge design, steel will be used somewhere in the construction.

Concrete usually requires less maintenance, but concrete has limitations. The biggest limitation is how brittle it is. If a span has nothing but concrete, it will stay together for awhile, but the expansion and contraction will eventually cause large sections to crack, and fail. That's where reinforcing steel is necessary, and planned joints needed for temperature changes in the concrete. 

The "rebar" holds the concrete together, and distributes the load evenly. The more rebar, the more strength. This allows some of a bridge decks to be as thin as 8 inches, and still handle the weight of a full loaded semi at highway speeds. Concrete can be used for long span girders, but the only application I've seen is box girders with substantial dowels, or stay cables. What makes this design convenient is that huge sections can be precast, hauled to the site, and placed by cranes. Still, the concrete has to be reinforced, and maintenance requires constant monitoring of the concrete for corrosion of the reinforcement. Concrete always has cracks, and water will migrate to, and along, the reinforcement steel. Over time, the rust will expand, concrete will spall, and eventually a major section will fail.

For shorter spans, concrete girders can be used. These are prestressed before the concrete is poured with steel cable tendons. Camber is also cast in the girders. The camber required for the deck deflection is predetermined by years of testing, and even with the best of designs, the deflection may not be as wanted. I've driven over bridges that have a "lope" between spans, where the girders didn't deflect as designed. On one bridge, the inspector was constantly harassed about "his" bridge, which had this problem. Subsequent examination showed all elevations before the deck pour were accurate. The girders just didn't deflect as designed. 

With the design finally determined, the next phase is plans, specifications, final anticipated costs, and the approval of the highest powers involved. This can be very time consuming, but if many standard designs are involved, and the project is relatively small, the time can be very short. That requires another post.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Feeding the Mushrooms

 After reports of the Supreme Court hearing on jab mandates, I realized they are like mushrooms: Kept in the dark and fed crap. It's no wonder the nation is in such terrible shape, if the highest court in the land is full of what can only be described as functional idiots.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Building a Bridge - Engineering Part 1

 I've worked with many engineers during my career. Like all professions, engineers have years of school under their belt, and before they can officially stamp a set of plans, they have to become licensed. Licensing requires years of working under those that already secured their license, and tests specific to the branch of engineering they pursue. Not all engineers pass the test, and some spend their careers performing the tasks required to design, or build, but never have the legal authority to place a stamp signifying they take full responsibility for the design. Regardless of licensing, I worked with a brilliant engineer without a license that not only designed offshore semi-submersible platforms, he sailed with them on their maiden voyage to insure the "bugs" were shaken out of the platform, and the function was as required. He was an exception, and even some with licenses were far over their heads, and to make things worse, oblivious of the fact their efforts were not only sometimes foolish, they were dangerous as well.

Engineers that design bridges are usually civil engineers. In my circumstances, most of those I worked with were employed by the state of Texas. The hierarchy of responsibility has a small board in charge of the entire state, statewide engineers, with staff in Austin, districts with a chief engineer, and subordinate engineers on staff to support the workload. Some are more than qualified, and some are (to me) functional idiots. All usually are hired as graduate engineers, and some are contractually bonded to five years of service to the state for financial help while going to college. 

With a bridge, and the basic needs understood, rough design drawings start the process. The amount of lanes, the maximum span needed, and approaches are drawn to start the process from conception to completion. This determines the final weight, how the environment will affect the structure, and since it requires access, how existing roads will be modified for use. It's a start, but there's a long way to go.

In the past, airplanes were used to take aerial photographs of certain areas. Photos were used to build a collage of photos, which were used to create larger photos that could be shrunk to a size for ease of use. Surveyed marks were placed on paving for matching photos. You probably have seen these. They are large crosses, and circles, painted on paving painted white. Today GPS is used. It's very handy, but has some inherent problems. One being that an overhead view doesn't scale correctly to actual ground measurements. Changes in elevations, and the curvature of the Earth over a large distance, add up to differing quantities during actual construction. That, and locations shown on plans don't match-up in the field. Regardless of what is used, accurate plans require field surveys to have an accurate scale for measurement. 

During the initial design survey, samples of the existing soil are taken, and bore holes are made to acquire cores for analysis of the substrate. The cores are analyzed by a soils engineer, who specializes in determining the bearing of the existing soil, and what is underneath suitable for bearing the proposed structure. Sometimes, there is available data for some of the area, but bore holes are necessary (when possible) where bearing structures will be placed. Bedrock is the best for bearing, but even bedrock needs analyzing to determine the strength. When there is no bedrock, the soil needs analyzing to determine the length, and type of piling for construction. 

In my experience, which was mostly locally, the substrate is a mixture of clay and sand. The soil is analyzed to determine what bearing a driven, or drilled pile, will provide with friction. With the right diameter, number, and length, the piles can carry a tremendous amount of weight, and provide a firm base for a bridge designed to move. While movement can be small, it's necessary to handle the dynamic load of what the bridge will be used for. On some bridges I worked on , the movement was very noticeable, and while inside a cable stay bridge, I had a few moments of vertigo as heavy traffic passed overhead. 

With the information for the subgrade, the depth of a channel -if any- is now used for determining any construction to take place under the existing water, or the necessary span to satisfy the requirements. Determining the depth may be as easy as using a grade rod, or soundings from a small boat, to a marine survey using sonar mapping. I've never seen an attempt for soil bores in a channel, but have seen soil bores as near to the channel as the drilling rig allowed. Usually, the channel is designed to be free of obstructions to allow water traffic, or to maximize the drainage. If underwater construction is required, the design of a cofferdam is a necessary step. Cofferdams can be anything from dirt piles to allow pumping to the bottom, to elaborate sheet pile configurations to contain the water at deep depths. Whether they still use caissons is out of my knowledge, but they were used successfully in the past.

I have to add that all the efforts to determine underground conditions are not always successful. Years ago, I bid, but didn't win, the emergency repairs for a small bridge. One of the interior spans fell a few feet after a one hundred year flood. Long story short, piling driven for the pile cap reached refusal before the depth required. All involved theorized the sand was much stiffer at the interior bent, so when refusal (I'll explain "refusal" later) was reached, the driving was stopped, and the pile was cut off to grade. After a high volume of water eroded the bottom to a depth below the bottom of the piling, the piling settled, and the pile cap went down. Underwater examination at the now exposed bottom found a sandstone. The piling, which compacted the few feet of sand above the sandstone, successfully supported the bridge for decades, but when the and washed away during the flood, there was nothing under the piling for a few feet. I don't know how the successful contractor performed their repair, but my bid included a drilling rig to drill into the sandstone, and cased piling.  

The soil engineer passes the information to other engineers, including the paving engineer. The paving engineer is responsible for designing a paving to handle the dynamic load of future traffic. Many things are considered, including materials for the paving, the bearing of the existing soil, and the requirement for any fill to bring the subgrade to the elevation needed for the final paving structure. 

The design of the bridge is now well on the way, but there are multiple tasks required to finally get the project to the bidding process. I'll write about that next.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Building a Bridge - Introduction and Getting Started

 I'm starting this series of posts because the years I spent in construction were a valuable education, and from personal experience, many are interested in the construction of a bridge. It's a fascinating, tedious process, with many involved. The process is multi-faceted, with many involved never even seeing the finished bridge; much less driving over the structure.

The process starts with the design. The design is never contemplated, unless there is a specific need. That's where engineers become involved, and regardless of opinion, they have a huge responsibility to get it right. Errors are not only expensive, they can be dangerous. 

It all starts with a survey. Property surveys are first. If the right-of-way is not secured, property owners are notified of the future construction, and the negotiations begin. The surveyor determines all corners, who is affected, officials contact the property owners, and an equitable value is determined for the land needed. This can be a daunting task, since many are happy with the metes and bounds of their land, have concerns about how the bridge will affect their lives, and may start a process of using the courts to stop the project. The time required may be years, and numerous legal challenges needing addressing. If all is taken care of, and the land is now the property of those wanting the bridge built, the next process is to make a detailed survey to determine elevations, obstructions, any utilities, and surrounding areas. 

A detailed survey is a time consuming process. Utility owners are contacted for locations of their utilities, adjoining property is examined for problems that may develop, such as height problems, noise, or vibration issues during the construction. Vibration? Yes. Some industrial facilities have vibration devices that prevent damage, or releases. If they are close to where heavy equipment, or pile driving, is in the future, the effects have to be considered. Shutting down an operation that makes millions each day is not something to be taken lightly. 

The start of the survey is determining known property bounds, marking corners, and then making a detailed survey of the land. Elevations need to be known, any obstructions noted, clearances known, access known, and finally, what's underground. 

Generally, the elevations are determined by creating a grid with a determined length for stationing, and offsets to baselines. The controlling baseline is usually the centerline of the proposed structure, which may already have stationing from previous projects. The stationing in the U.S. is on one hundred foot increments, and feet are broken into tenths of feet. There are no inches, since they are not only cumbersome to deal with, using a decimal system makes calculations much easier. In the construction phase, if inches are required, the decimal equivalents can be calculated by multiplying, or dividing by twelve.  Those in bridge construction become accustomed to the calculations, and do so without a calculator for even inches. Fractions are seldom used, since such precision isn't usually required. 

What's used for surveying? In the past, it was with transits and chains. A transit is a telescope, with a compass, and the telescope can be tilted 180 degrees for determining angles, or back sights. The compass is so well made, a magnifying glass is needed for the smaller increments of the azimuth angles. A chain is a strip of metal, with babbit at every foot. The babbit is punched, when the chain is stretched to a determined tension, at a certain temperature for the material of the chain. The chain is stretched horizontally from one known point, which is under the transit when beginning. The point is either a witness monument, steel rod, or wood stake with a nail driven at the correct point. Since the chain might be pulled at an angle, the transit operator sights the target, notes the degrees to the target, and calculations are performed with trigonometry to determine the actual horizontal distance. The height of the target held by the rodman is known, and the height of the transit telescope (HI) is known. The calculations use these corrections for accurate results. Since the actual elevation under the transit is a known elevation, calculations determine the elevation of the point sighted. It's time consuming, tedious, and not performed much any longer. New surveys use GPS. total stations, and computer software. This eliminates much of the time required, and errors in handwritten calculations. That, and many instruments don't require a second person to hold a rod. The savings can be tremendous over time, and the process can be much safer than wandering through the brush with a machete to clear a line of sight. Old timers have horror tales about snakes, alligators and other critters that they encountered during a survey.

After the survey is completed, the data is used in a CAD (computer aided drafting) program to start the drawings required for the project. It's a good start, but there's a lot of engineering yet to be performed. That I'll save for another post. 

Monday, January 3, 2022

Covid and Insurance

 Actuaries crunch numbers, assess risk, and insurance companies adjust their rates to compensate for increased risk. It's how they stay in business, and regardless of opinion, the numbers they use are based on math that is statistically accurate. 

So, with the increase of life insurance payments for low risk individuals that were given the jab, when will that be a critical question for those seeking life insurance? How will this affect their rates, since they became a high risk group? What about health insurance? When will the lying start to prevent increased rates due to a Covid inoculation? Cold, hard facts will be presented, when the demand for increased premiums is presented. Will the government try to cover the losses to save their ass? Time will tell.

Manslaughter, and Betty White

 According to this article, Betty White received a jab three days before she died.  A spokesman denied this had anything to do with her death, and she died of natural causes. 

I don't believe this. Any doctor with more sense than a bag of hammers would know the introduction of an inoculation known to cause serious side effects is dangerous, and would avoid doing so on a 99 year old patient. I call it manslaughter, and whoever injected her should be charged.

How about that Fauci, you degenerate scourge to mankind? Your participation helped kill America's Sweetheart, and you too should be punished. 

A new article states she didn't receive an injection three days before her death. Who knows, but I bet a coroner could determine the exact cause of death. I have a feeling that won't happen, so it will always be conjecture.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Quick Weather Change

 At midnight, I went out on the porch to check the weather. The wizards forecast the arrival of a cold air mass, which would lower the temperature considerably. At that time, the damp warm weather we'd been experiencing hadn't changed.

There was a light fog, and not a breath of air stirring. The temperature was 72, the air smelled of a fire that burned out hours ago, and the heavy, dank air was almost oppressing. After a few minutes, there was a light stirring from the north, and the fog started disappearing. After thirty minutes, the wind was higher, the air was clear, and the temperature already had fallen to 68 degrees. 

Now, at 2:00 am, the wind is strong from the north, temperature is 62, falling, and a local weather station is reporting temperatures in the mid fifties only 30 miles to the north. Radar shows a band of showers far to the west, and these will probably lead to some freezing precipitation in some counties further north. These areas are already in the thirties, with a forecast for below freezing temperatures by morning. 

We, according to the experts, should be around 36 by daybreak. That's a huge change, and welcome. The cold won't last, but the cold, dry air will give us some relief from the humidity that's been causing so many sinus problems.

I have to add that at 10:00 am, it's 35, cloudy, and it might reach 40 degrees today. For my neck of the woods, this is brutal winter. This gives me a strong admiration for those that brave much worse and only enjoy a few weeks of warm weather.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Happy New Year

We start another one. It's like someone dropped a gallon milk, it broke, the milk found its way to all corners of the room, and  the mess is daunting. How it's cleaned up is to be seen, but even the blind will realize they're in the middle of a mess, and it needs to be cleaned up.