Thursday, November 19, 2009

Back On-Site, and a Writing Lesson Learned

This morning the street superintendent of Centerton called. He needed me at a construction site. He was modifying something I "designed" a year ago and he wanted me to look at it. I put designed in quotes because this wasn't a rigorous engineering design. A culvert wasn't draining properly; erosion downstream had exposed a water line; wingwalls obstructed proper flow of water; he was tired of waiting for the highway department to fix it. So he and I met on site and I drew a sketch of what needed to be done. He hired a contractor and had it constructed. It has worked fine.

Well, sort of fine. The erosion control measures worked like a charm, save in one location they didn't complete. The culvert drains as it should now. But a problem he has noticed since is that the flow entering the culvert, from the east and west and which turn and flows south, don't work well together. The flow from the west is so much more than from the east that it overwhelms the smaller flow and creates backflow in that direction, over-topping the highway three hundred feet east. He wanted to put in a diversion wall and let the two flows get into the culvert with less co-mingling. I helped them lay it out, and hopefully it will accomplish what he wants.

I say hopefully, because once again this is not rigorous engineering. I get to do that this afternoon as I re-evaluate a flood study and respond to FEMA comments. But this approximate engineering is something I'm not as comfortable with. There's no way to know if this will work until the next rain storm allows us to watch it in operation--and it needs to be enough rain to have the ditch flow at lest two feet deep. One of these half-inch rainfalls won't do that. Much better to engineer something that works according to the laws of science and mathematics. Something I can reasonably predict how it is going to perform. Oh well, billable hours are billable hours. I shouldn't complain.

It's sort of like the difference of writing for a residual income website and a pay up-front website. On the latter I know exactly what I'm getting for what I have to write. For Suite101 and its residual income payment model, what I get paid is totally dependent on how many ads are clicked, which is somewhat dependent on what subjects I write about. It's also dependent on how well I optimize the article for search engines. Maybe, over several years, it will amount to more than I would make writing for up-front pay; maybe not.

I'm working on my SEO abilities, but frequently find that butting up against what I consider to be good writing. So far, with one exception insisted on by an editor, I have always come down on the side of good writing. I hope I always will.

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