Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Curve Balls of Life

This has been a bad week for personal time. It's been a good week, I suppose, for my engineering career. Monday afternoon the double presentation I made to the site tours of the Arkansas Floodplain Managers Association convention went well. I received many comments on it. This was despite the fact that, at the construction site below the viewing platform, they had decided to jack-hammer out some rock that day, and I had to just about shout my talk.

Then I went to the last day and a half of the AFMA convention in nearby Springdale, arriving back in the office just a few minutes ago. That convention went okay, but I found much of the discussion was over my head. Not the basic floodplain issues; in fact I knew those quite well. But today it was all about digital flood maps and tying them in with various GIS tools, about raster and tif and png, about layers and changing characteristics. It was all more than I could listen to.

Then, as the convention ended, my main client asked me to attend a follow-up session this afternoon and tomorrow here in Bentonville, a session about cities joining/qualifying for the Community Rating System, a relatively new FEMA program designed to reward cities that do a good job at managing floodplains within their jurisdiction.

That's the curve ball today. I had hoped to spend two glorious hours this afternoon archiving projects. Then I hoped to spend another two hours writing some difficult specifications. I guess the best I can do on those is to tackle them on Friday. But, I may be leaving the office early on Friday to go to a family wedding on Saturday in Pratt, Kansas--a little too far to make it a long day trip.

And I need to write only one more article at to begin earning a 10 percent bonus. Instead of averaging 30 cents a day I'll earn 33 cents a day. The good part of being unable to write that 50th article is I don't have to decide where to spend the money.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Little Progress

This was a strange weekend. First off, I ate too much, almost all on Sunday. We went out to eat after church with good friends, and had way too many chips and salsa. I actually ate a smaller entree than I normally do at this place, but the chips were too much. Then we had an evening gathering at church last night, a soup dinner. The event was our Alabaster offering, a twice a year offering for missions building projects. The soup was good (both bowls), the dessert was good, and the fellowship was good.

By the time I got home I felt bloated. I didn't feel like doing much of anything. We were having Internet connection troubles, and I re-booted the modem and router twice. While doing that, I started a virus scan on my computer. It's an ancient computer, and it wasn't done scanning an hour later. I took the time, after playing some mindless computer games, to file papers. I tend to let this go then file a bunch in a flurry of activity. I filed a few, then was down to those that defy being put in a preset category. By evening's end I had a bunch of those done.

But the big thing to report is that I got back to writing for I posted two articles: one examining Robert Frost's poem "The Mountain"; and one talking about British loyalists in the period before the American Revolution. These two articles actually did fairly well with page views over the last three days. I had intended to write the second article about "The Mountain" on Sunday, but after eating so much wasn't up to it.

So, what's on for today? In the office I'll be archiving projects and copying time sheets. At noon I'll head out to the Crystal Bridges Museum construction site, where I'll be giving two talks this afternoon, to the Arkansas Floodplain Managers Association, about the floodplain issues we faced in designing the museum. Then tomorrow and Wednesday I'll attend the convention. I'll miss this morning's activities at the convention, but I have to get ready for my presentation.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm Still Not Writing---but I'm Making Progress

Well, last night once again I didn't feel like writing. I spent a little more time in Father Daughter Day, finding most of the tweaks I had wanted to make and maybe an extra one or two. I read a couple of writing blogs I follow. But otherwise I just read and did crosswords and wasted time.

Today, on my to do list was writing that article for on preparing to give a deposition. I started it, but have mostly the outline and first paragraph or two done. I reserved the noon hour for that, but do you think I got it done? No, I read writing blogs and critiqued a poem at the Absolute Write Water Cooler. And, I found one more place to tweak in FDD. And I got all the edits made to my FDD master file.

In a way, I suppose that's progress. At least some of my time is still spent in writing activities. Along with what I said above, I shared a strategy for publication of FDD with an agent whose blog I read and comment on. He agreed with what I'm thinking of doing. No I just have to do it and see if it will work.

Meanwhile, my 47 articles at Suite 101 had 1559 page views in the last seven days (ending yesterday). That's over a rate of 81,000 page views a year. That may not be enough platform to convince an editor or agent to take a chance on my books, but it feels pretty good. I'm sure some of those page views, with come mostly from people searching for some topic using a search engine, may be nothing more than a quick look at the opening paragraph and going on to something else, but it still feels good.

Today, in my working hours, I completed two major tasks, and set about archiving my files for the period when I served as Centerton's city engineer (by contract with CEI). About four projects are unfinished and I can't archive them yet. Another six I have to keep here until I extract information from them for the second Centerton flood study, which I began work on this week. They they will go off to archive with their brethren. All these files consume about 25 feet of shelf space. When I'm finished archiving them, which will be late next week or the week after, I should be down to no more than 8 shelf-feet of files. That will feel good, and I'll be able to do without two book cased in my new, smaller office when we move in late October.

Time to prepare for the weekend. On Monday I give a presentation on the Crystal Bridges Museum flood plain work, to the Arkansas Floodplain Managers Association annual convention. It's being held locally, and the presentation is at the overlook of the construction site. Then Tuesday-Wednesday I'll attend the convention in nearby Springdale. Another chopped-up week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Should Be Writing

Back from the funeral, no major household projects going on, reasonable workload at the office, no upcoming trip to prepare for, the checkbook mostly up to date, household finances needing only 30 minutes to bring them up to date. I should be writing. But I'm not.

Yesterday I posted one of my older poems for critique at the Absolute Write poetry forum. Three crits later it's sinking and will hit the oblivion of page 2 today. That caused me to pull out Father Daughter Day yesterday and go through it last night and mark edits that had either accumulated in my mind or that I saw as I read. That's done, and I'll type those edits today sometime. And I did a very minor critique of another person's poem yesterday.

More than a week ago I began a new article for, about preparing for a deposition. Since I had just done that, I thought it would make for a good article, quickly written. Then the funeral trip interrupted me, and I haven't felt like getting back to it. I even did some key word research using some Google tools, and it looks as if it will be a profitable article. Yet, I just don't feel like writing it.

I suppose I'll snap out of it soon. Maybe if I get those few entries made in my financial spreadsheet I'll feel freed-up to write again. I think what's holding me back is the utter futility of it all. And the realization I'm trying to build a platform that may or may not grow to the size I need. My articles on Suite 101 are getting page views at a current rate of 80,000 per year. That's good! Eighty-thousand people a year are reading my stuff. But almost none of those people are looking for my writing. They are looking for information on something, and happen to find mine by a search engine. So will an editor see all those hits and all those people reading my writing as evidence of a platform and quality writing, or as an accident?

Still, I've nothing else to do but plunge back in and get some more articles up. Three more and I begin earning a ten percent bonus. I could have three articles up in three days. I'll do it. I'll probably get that one article finished and post it tonight, and shoot for having two more up by Sunday. During our weekend trip I worked on the analysis of another Robert Frost poem. That will give me at least three articles.

I still need to articulate steps two and three of my platform-building plan. Maybe I'll make that my next post.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Absent, but Back Now

I was away for a few days for the Paul Jackson funeral and for visiting with family, but am home now. Will post again to the blog soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Paul Jackson, R.I.P.

Paul Jackson, a song evangelist in the Church of the Nazarene for almost forty years, died today after a two year battle with cancer. Paul and his wife, Trish (Pohl) Jackson--my wife's cousin--were the evangelistic team known at Jetstream Ministries, or simply Jetstream. They spent those years traveling from church to church, setting up and tearing down their equipment sometimes twice a day for services. They did puppets, drama, songs, preaching, recitations, instrumentals, the works. Parts of their ministry included the Country Gospel Music Association, at which they both and together won multiple awards, and the Christian Motorcycle Association.

Paul is survived by his wife, his parents, a niece, and numerous friends. Services have not yet been announced, but will be in Meade, Kansas, surely at the Church of the Nazarene there (unless moved for a larger venue). I do not have an electronic picture of Paul, but will find something to scan and add to this. And I'll try to offer a few rememberances of Paul in a subsequent post. I realize few readers of this blog knew Paul (and I realize few people will read this), but I want to celebrate the life of this man of God in the way I can.

Of Public Meetings and Private Depositions

Yesterday I prepared to conduct that evening meeting at the City of Centerton. The flood study that I had completed for the headwaters of Little Osage Creek will result in 66 structures--primary residences, commercial buildings, and church buildings--out of the flood plain, but will add 23 new properties to the floodplain. Unfortunate, but my best judgment is that those 23 properties are in a flood hazard area and should be so designated. I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

For the public meeting, we expected none of the 66 people coming out to attend and most of the 23 going in to attend. It wasn't quite that bad, but close to is. No one wants to learn they need to buy another insurance policy for between $500 and $1000 a year. Everyone says their house never flooded and never will flood so how can they possibly be in the flood plain? Everyone says their house is higher than their neighbors so how can their house be in and their neighbor's house be out? All valid questions, all fielded well, I hope.

Also at the meeting was an official from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, who is an expert on both the engineering aspects of flooding and the flood insurance issues themselves. I don't know insurance, and learned quite a bit from what he said. He also backed me up on everything I said concerning flood waters and how a study like this is conducted and why some properties are in the flood hazard zone and some are out.

Now that this is over and the application for a map change is at FEMA, I get to rest on this for a couple of months. I have another flood study to do for this same city, and will begin that in perhaps a week or so. Now I turn to this deposition I am called to give. One of our former clients is suing the company, saying we are a bunch of screw-ups who cost them a lot of money. We did six or seven projects for them; they sued us over most of them; the judge threw out all but one of the lawsuits.

That one project is the one for this client that I had the least involvement with. I'm not quite sure why. On the others I was the engineer of record and did extensive checks of the drawings, drainage reports, and other documents. I reviewed them multiple times from preliminary drawings to construction drawings. I met with city utility departments to find out what the utility requirements were. I talked with city planners and city engineers to find out what the street issues were. I signed and sealed the final drawings. I was involved with some of the construction issues. But on this project, I checked only one set of 5 drawings, which were considered a preliminary plat submittal to the City. I had no involvement with the project before or after that.

Because I reviewed that one set, and that set was in the file when the opposing attorney conducted his discovery, I must testify. I don't mind testifying. I've done it about a dozen times in my career, all but one time on civil law or administrative law issues. You're always a little bit apprehensive, however. The attorney across the table from you will not actually be interested in the facts. His sole purpose is to be an advocate for his client. If he can catch you in a false statement, great. If he senses you are hesitant at some point, he will hone in on that and then make it an issue during the trial. He will be looking for where you disagreed with your colleagues and will point that out in the trial.

And, he will take that deposition with him to the trial, months and months from now, and will hope to use it against you if anything you say during the trial is different from what you said in your deposition. So this is matter of concern.

My deposition is scheduled for Thursday the 17th, but they thought they might have time for it yesterday afternoon. They only had one scheduled, the department head, and thought if that didn't go terribly long they would call me and take mine yesterday. But they "grilled" the department head for four hours or more, and decided to call it quits for the day. Mine will be Thursday as scheduled. This gives me a chance to do a little more preparation.

And, I think I'll write an article for How to Prepare to Give a Deposition. I might even qualify as my own expert on that one.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Siege has Lifted

I arrived at work today and checked on the status of the siege project. Seems the project team worked through the weekend and took care of the drawings, and most of the spec items. I asked if I could do anything further on the specs, and the project manager said yes, could I do something about three items he wasn't sure how to handle.

So I spent the morning writing a specification section from scratch. Well, in the Google era there's really no such thing as from scratch any more. Just pop the magic words in the little toolbar at the upper left and find the answer to all your questions. Of course, that brought up a manufacturer's website and I had to take their words and make them generic to any manufacturer, but that was fairly easy. Somewhere around 11:30 AM put it on the project manager's keyboard. The siege was lifted.

Now I get to prepare for two other unusual things. One, a public meeting tomorrow night in Centerton concerning the flood study I prepared. Just what the sleep-deprived engineer needs: two dozen citizens angry about their property being added to the floodplain. The three dozen whose properties are coming out of the floodplain won't bother to show up; they are happy. And then either tomorrow or Thursday I get to give a deposition in a lawsuit against the company. Some client was not happy with our performance and is suing us. I had a bit part in that particular project, but since I had that part and am still alive and with CEI I'm called to testify and thus must give a deposition. The man who was our project manager left CEI to work for a city planning department and then died less than a year later from cancer. The opposing attorney will no doubt try to say he was incompetent

The work I did consisted of checking a preliminary set of plans for an hour of so on one day. That's it. And for this I get to take an oath to tell the truth and then tell it. I've done it close to a dozen times in my career, either a deposition or actual testimony. Once it was a criminal trial when the mayor was charged with stealing from the city. Twice it was in administrative law hearings over landfill projects. The other times it was disputes between our clients and a city or contractor. I think this is the first time for me to give where CEI was a party to the suit, in this case defendant.

So, the business day winds down. Now to go home to my second job, and see what works of greatness I can produce today to offset dwelling in mediocrity the last ten hours.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Under Siege

My writing schedule called for me to make a blog post last Thursday. But on Wednesday, while I was preparing to teach a noon-hour brown bag class on a computer program for hydrology studies, the chairman of the board came to see me and said they would need my help on a certain project. It was to be advertised in the paper on Sunday, but he was concerned certain things were not being done correctly. He was mostly concerned about the drainage design and whether the calculations had been done correctly. I was able to go through the drainage report Wednesday after the class, but there was much more to do to check the drawings and specifications to see if they were in good shape. So I cleared my day Thursday to hit it hard.

On Thursday, I learned that the project was far along, but no engineer had yet looked at it, except for the drainage report. Thus began a two-day siege of intense quality control checking of the project on my part. I won't go into details, but it included work all evening Thursday at home. I got to bed about 1:30 AM on Friday, then was up at normal time on Friday and to work at 7:00 AM to continue. I completed what I could by 4:00 PM, and gave it to the design team in bits and pieces during the day. They had three people working on the drawings and one (an admin assistant) working on the specs.

It's good to work hard, but that was more taxing than it was when I was a younger man. I was exhausted by Friday evening, and did next to nothing. Well, that's not true. I did some crossword puzzles and watched the 9-11 programs on the History Channel. They had some excellent programs, of footage I hadn't seen and of people and situations I hadn't heard of. Saturday I did the usual work around the yard, and some work with Lynda on stock trading, but otherwise did nothing but study to teach adult life group this morning at church.

I tried to take a nap early this afternoon, but made the mistake of turning on the television and watching the Dallas Cowboys not do so well against Tampa Bay. So got up, came to the computer, finished my latest article at, and played a bunch of mind-numbing computer games. Then came here.

The siege will continue Monday morning, as I left the specs with about eight items to be resolved that I should look at some more. But right now I'm going upstairs to read. I haven't read for pleasure in about a week, and it's time to. Hopefully I'll have a more meaningful post tomorrow or the next day.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Happy New Year!

The month of September has always been considered the start of the "program year" for many organizations. This was probably tied to the beginning of the school year, which happens between the third week in August and just after Labor Day depending on where you are in the country. The calendar year may begin January 1, with all its celebrations and resolutions, but the true new year is just after Labor Day.

So, do I have any new program year resolutions?

I wish I did. At the moment my writing is rather dull. Adding articles to Suite 101 is not really adding much to the bank account, though the veterans there say to be patient, the revenue per article builds with time. I hope they are right. As I feared, this has taken up almost all the creative writing time I have available. I made my August goals and September goals, hoping to somehow keep my mind and hands working on other things, but have struggled with that.

So, I really have no new program year resolutions, except to keep on keeping on. I'll try to get to 100 articles on Suite 101 by sometime in early 2010, and see how things stand. If by then I've learned to divide my time, keeping a portion hoarded for other writing endeavors, then I'll continue at Suite 101. If I haven't learned that, then I'll assess my options at that point.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Still Waiting on Freelance Payment and Payoff

Okay, I'm not holding my breath about freelance writing paying off, by which I mean paving the way for me to break into book publishing with a royalty publisher. I anticipate that will take at least three years--if it works at all. I'm following that path, but I have zero confidence that I will be successful.

So why do I do it? Well, I just can't sit there. It seems silly to write books, go to conferences and pitch them to editors and agents when the first question back to me will be, "What kind of platform do you have?" Or even to try it through the mails. The same results are most likely: no platform, no book deal. So I hope through freelancing to generate a little bit of a platform, hopefully just enough so that my books will be judged on merit alone, with lack of platform not clouding the issue.

I'm waiting on payout from As I believe I mentioned before, I just barely had accumulated enough revenue at the end of August to receive payment in September. That should come via PayPal sometime early next week. It is enough to put a couple of fast food meals on the table. I hope for more in the future, but I'll take this now and be glad for it.

I'm also waiting on payment for my article that was published in Internet Genealogy. That should have come the end of July or in early August. I finally was able to reach the editor and make arrangements for payment, though I have not seen it yet. It was delayed, the editor said, due to summer absences and some cash flow issues. Hmmm, does not bode well for future association.

So far this year I have the following submission record:
  • Submissions made: 14
  • Acceptances: 3
  • Rejections: 4 (Edited on 8 Sept 09; guess I can't do the math)
  • Not heard: 7
  • Withdrawn: 0
Two of those are actually for non-paying gigs, but I'm still counting them. By the end of September I'd like to have a few more added, perhaps six to get the total submissions up to twenty. I have plenty of poems ready to go; it's all a matter of market research and willingness to risk the time, and in some cases the postage, to submit.

Even with my limited goals, September should be a busy month.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September Goals

I wasn't real pleased with how I did on my August goals, so I think I will back off a bit this month. I can always come back and edit this if I want to.

  1. Blog at least 12 times.
  2. Post at least 12 articles to
  3. Finish chapter 7 in In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People; start chapter 8
  4. Complete one appendix in the Harmony of the gospels
  5. Plan at least six lessons in Good King, Bad King series. By plan I mean something more than just a lesson title, something about the king and his life.

More later, if I think of anything.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The August Report

Okay, time to see how I did relative to the goals I set August 1st.

  1. Write 10 articles for I did this. Actually published 16 articles in August.
    Blog 12 to 15 times. Did this. Had 16 blog posts if I'm not mistaken.
    Study: search engine optimization; sources for royalty free pictures; and picture types for digital photos. Well, I did some of this, enough to get by. But I have much, much more to do.
    Finish chapter 7 in In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People; Begin chapter 8. Fell short on this one. I got some of chapter 7 done, perhaps 2/3, maybe just a half, but didn't work on chapter 8 at all except for a little brainstorming.
    Finish one appendix in a Harmony of the gospels; also one passage notes section. I did a little better than expected. I completed two appendixes, and I think one set of passage notes. I'm not sure about the passage notes. That's all on my computer at home, and I'd have to look at it, but I think I got one set done.
    Complete the engineering article on storm water detention that is due Sept. 1. Started, but not done. I found out the deadline is not until Sept 14, so I slacked off a bit. Since this is a non-paying gig, and since CEI can benefit from it, I'm doing it on company time. It's on today's to-do list, and I have a fair chance of actually getting to it.
    More work on Good King, Bad King. Try to identify and outline at least four more lessons. I can't say that I completed this, though I did brainstorm it and write a few notes. I'll add it again for September.
    Work on The Strongest of All study from the apocrypha. I have the five lessons prepared, but need to add some lead-in and conclusion discussions. Completed, and four of the five lessons taught. This actually didn't take much time, and probably was not a big enough thing to be considered a goal.
    And, based on my incomplete goals from July, get some more work done on Life on a Yo Yo, in an attempt to make it a publishable study. No, I didn't even think about Life on a Yo Yo this month. As I feared, writing for has taken up almost all of my creative writing time.