Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Mind is Still Full

As often happens after a long conference, the realities of work and life don't allow for as much translation of mind fullness to practical results. As I wrote last Sunday, I returned from the IECA conference with a full mind. So many things to do at work about erosion control. And, from my continued reading in Chuck Colson's How Now Shall We Live with many things to do and think about with my spiritual life.

But the after-conference realities of work hit me this week. I began by organizing the stuff I brought back from the conference: business cards, magazines, copies of technical papers, manufacturer's materials. That lasted 15 minutes before I was summoned to a meeting involving possible warranty work on two subdivisions, one I worked on and one I didn't. That lasted 90 minutes and required follow-ups with e-mails and several long discussions. It culminated in a 2 1/2 hour meeting today with the City of Rogers. They claim we did some things wrong in the design, but we don't think so. The meeting went well.

Then on Tuesday there as an hour usurped to attend a webinar about the new MUTCD manual and regulations (traffic signage, striping, and signalization). Then there was the project in Lone Tree, CO that one of our young engineers designed, which was given to me to review because the City's stormwater regulations were tricky and others who might have been able to review it were unavailable. That took close to eight hours between a detailed review of the drainage report and then understanding some difficult City standard details (items that go on construction drawings). Oh, yes, also the third review of a flood study in Rogers, of a lake dammed up on a creek.

In the two reviews, I found much needing to be changed. I struggled with the reviews, for fear that the large number of comments I had to give would crush the spirit of these two young engineers. But both took it well, and seemed pleased with the time I took to explain to them what the basis of my comments was. For the Lone Tree project, the misinterpretation of the City's details might have been disastrous if I hadn't reviewed it.

All this work, including bringing some things home tonight, is cutting into my writing time. Even tonight I brought some papers home, and an erosion magazine, to finish re-reading an important article and begin crafting a rebuttal for it. I may never turn the rebuttal into a publishable article, but I'll enjoy writing it. I also made some more notes for the paper I'm going to give March 31 at the Muddy Waters Blues conference in Bentonville. I'm supposed to have my PowerPoint presentation turned in on Monday, but no way will I be ready. I might--I say might--have the paper written by then, but I can't pull a PowerPoint together until I know what I'm going to say.

Plus, at work they have blocked blogspot, so I can't even access An Arrow Through the Air from there. Nor can I access many of the writing blogs I read. So I'll have to do almost all my blog work at home now, in crowded evenings and on weekends. That has put a cramp in my writing other things. I intended to work an hour or so on an article for Suite101, preparing to post it tomorrow. But after cooking supper and doing some dishes and adding the checkbook and working on that work stuff, it's already 10:10 and I'm exhausted. Yet the end is not yet. I wanted to read twenty pages tonight in Colson, and I have a stack of junk mail to go through. So Suite will have to wait till tomorrow, if then.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Flattery Continues

Well, that short piece (real short piece, had to be under 50 words) I wrote back in 2004 for American Profile magazine continues to have legs. I wrote about this before. Yesterday, on a whim I decided to check for it again, so I searched for the phrases "ethics before law" and "law before gain".

On the former I got over 4,500 Google hits. However, these reduced to just three pages upon clicking through them. The latter had 567 hits, which reduced to seven unique ones upon clicking through. A good number of these were to my quote, or rather to my quote unattributed.

One of those is a discussion on a Yahoo message board (second reply, discussed more several posts down, and the bad language is not my fault). Interesting that this was quoted in a discussion on Islam and whether Moslems can be good citizens.

So the flattery continues, sort of. I seem to have crafted a good phrase. I thought it was good at the time of writing; the legs prove it is.

Now, to be a successful, published writer, I just have to duplicate the quality of this a few tens of thousands of times. Piece of cake.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hobnobbing Over - Now on Information Overload

I arrived back in Bella Vista about 10:30 PM Friday night. Grandson Ephraim (visiting us with our daughter, the young business woman) was in bed and daughter Sara was out. I unpacked quickly and went to my reading chair beside Lynda's reading chair. It was as if I never left.

Except my mind was, and still is, full of things to do at work as a result of the conference. I attended a full schedule of technical sessions. Most of them were good, though, as with any conference, a few did not live up to the publicized expectations. I ducked one technical session to attend a meeting of the Professional Development Committee. As I told them, if I were a member of the organization, and if I were active at the committee level, this is the committee I would gravitate towards. It was quite interesting to see them at work. I learned they have a program to review abstracts and papers for the next conference (Feb 2011), and it appears I can join this program, even as a non-member, and get free conference registration next year.

My mind is full of things CEI needs to do better with our designs to prevent erosion and control sediment. We do some things well, but have large areas for improvements. This is especially true in our construction specifications. We have very poor construction specs as far as erosion and sediment control are concerned. We rely on the State construction general permit, which is not a construction spec. It hasn't bitten us so far, but that is probably because enforcement is so lax.

My mind is full of papers I would like to write and present at the next conference. I began, evenings in the hotel, making some notes. I'm up to four papers I think I could write, although two of those probably need to be combined into one. Three abstracts to submit would be enough, I think. If they were all accepted, that would almost be too much to present at one conference. Still, I should probably pursue that many and see if I could spread them out over a couple of conferences.

My mind is also full of articles I would like to write about some of this stuff. So much of it is of general interest that I think I could translate the knowledge I have and expanded during the conference and crank out ten to fifteen articles in three weeks. Whether they'd be money-making articles I don't know, but they would at least fulfill dual roles as writing credits and professional credits. Among the exhibitors at the conference were five magazines or publishers. I was able to speak to four of them. None of them pay freelancers, relying instead on the writers' desires to obtain professional credits to submit work. Bummer; I don't know if I want to pursue professional credits like that.

Well, on to other things for the evening. Coulson's book awaits me, as do the Carlyle-Emerson letters and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. If I can't make any money writing at least I can enjoy reading.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Limited First Day Hob-nobbing

Well, I made it to the conference fine. Driving down yesterday afternoon and evening I must have been daydreaming, for I missed my preferred exit from I-40. Went to another one, and it was an inferior road. Probably delayed me 10 to 15 minutes. Then, when I got close to downtown Dallas, I missed the road I wanted to take. So I wound up on downtown streets. Fortunately I had studied the map just enough, and have a good enough sense of direction, that I made all the right turns and ended up where I wanted to go.

I turned on to Elm Street, which I thought was one of the streets that went through Dealy Plaza. Sure enough it was, and shortly I bust on to the JFK assassination site, the grassy knoll to my right. It was dark, and I was in traffic, so couldn't really slow down to see much. But to just be there was enough. I've read so much on the assassination, and formed opinions on it. This is my eighth trip to Dallas (not including plane changes at DFW) but it's the first time I've gotten to Dealy Plaza. Friday, after the conference, I hope to get there and maybe park and walk around.

I got the error in my class registration worked out today, and sat through a well-taught class on LID: Low Impact Development (or Design, I keep forgetting). This was exactly the right class for me and for CEI. I'll take this info back and teach our folks five or six classes on it the rest of the year. Now I have to head up to my room and prepare for tomorrow, figure out which of the concurrent sessions I'll go to.

And I hope to get 30 pages read in How Now Shall We Live?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Off to Hob-nob

I haven't taken a business trip since March 2009. That was an overnight trip to Phoenix with the CEO, to market something that looked promising but then fizzled. Before that it was July-August 2008, when Lynda and I drove to Orlando where I presented a paper at a stormwater conference. That was sort of vacation-like, as we visited relatives on the way, and had a leisurely time on the drives going and returning. Before that, I guess it was a conference in Phoenix in August 2007. That's a long time.

This afternoon I head to Dallas, Texas to attend the annual convention of the International Erosion Control Association. I've never attended this convention before, but last November I put in a request to attend it, as it looked promising: lots of clients and fellow engineers, lots of technical sessions, many choices of pre-convention all-day classes. A chance to hob-nob with like-minded people. The bad part of this trip: Sara and Ephraim are coming in sometime during the week, and I'll either miss some days with them or possibly miss them completely, depending on their schedule. I don't much like that.

So I'll be off in a couple of hours. I take no lap-top with me, so I don't know what kind of access I'll have. Previous conventions have had a courtesy Internet lounge set up, so I might have all the access I want or need. So you may hear from me during the week, or it may be Saturday. Meanwhile, I'll be soaking up stuff that will serve CEI well for in-house training down the road, and hopefully some articles that will earn something on the side.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Little Bit of Light - on the Federal Regulations

Back in November of last year--or was it early December--I became aware the the US EPA was issuing regulations on December 1 that would affect storm water discharges from construction sites. Being the good trainer that I am, and hopefully still a good engineer, I began doing research, put together a brown bag presentation, and taught it one Wednesday in December.

I did so, however, a little uncomfortable at my understanding of the regulation. The Federal Register entry was about 80 pages, of which the actual regulation was not quite two full pages. All the rest was explanation of the regulation and the process EPA went through to get from the draft regulation of Nov. 2008 to the final regulation of Dec. 1, 2009. Eighty pages of government speak. About twenty pages in my head was ready to implode from the sheer effort to stay awake.

How strange. Usually I enjoy reading things like this, but I was drowning in alphabet soup in the explanations. And, the wording of the actual regulation seemed backwards. And, it seemed the regulation did little more than codify what we are already doing to prevent stormwater pollution from construction sites, in compliance with various State regulations promulgated to comply with earlier Federal regulations. I put my brown bag training class together and taught it, but I told those who attended that I wasn't real confident that I was giving them everything they needed to know.

Last weekend I brought home the notebook I put together to study this whole thing. It contains the draft reg, the final reg, all the Federal Register explanations, a few of the supporting documents in the Docket for this rule making, and a printout of the 250 page "Development Document" of the regulation. My goal was to read the Development Document over the weekend and at least crawl out of the acronym soup.

How much to explain? When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, and in amendments passed since, several categories of "non-numeric effluent limitations" were established, not based on what harm pollution would do to the water course, but based on what types of treatment technologies were available. So rather than effluent limits for suspended solids and turbidity, we had BAT, BADT, BPT, BCT, and NSPS, each describing a technology-based approach.

It was these acronyms that were bothering me. Oh, I was able to figure the names out and keep them somewhat straight, but I was not able to place those levels of treatment with what type of construction site or what type of discharge. I read over the weekend; I read Tuesday night (when writers guild was cancelled due to weather); I read Wednesday night; I read at work on Thursday; I read Thursday night. Slowly various aspects of the regs became clearer.

Today I was able to get back to them after lunch. I went to the Development Document and learned what EPA meant by active treatment systems (as opposed to passive treatment systems). But the DevDoc was not helping me with the acronym soup. So I switched back to the beginning of the eighty FedReg pages, and alternately going back to the regulation itself. The backwards wording was what troubled me. As EPA explained it: Regulation Option 1 is chosen as the basis of BPT for facilities covered by that sub-part. It seemed backwards; should be: BPT is chosen as the basis of treatment for facilities covered by that sub-part. Government-speak. And, the litany of treatment techniques listed in option 1 were actually the same for the other options, with the exception the other options had an extra requirement: turbidity limits and monitoring therefore.

Finally, about 3:00 PM, I realized that what EPA was saying was: The litany of treatment techniques listed in Option 1 qualify as BPT (best practicable control technology) and should be used for all facilities for which BPT is the standard. I suppose I should have realized that with the first reading. Maybe I did, and was making it all too complicated.

So, tonight I feel somewhat released from the burden of regulatory understanding, and am ready for something lighter. I read fifteen pages in Chuck Colson's How Now Shall We Live, a 1999 book about Christian world view. And, when I finish this post and check my stats, I'll go upstairs and read a few pages in the Carlyle-Emerson letters. I'm not sure that will qualify as "lighter" than FedReg and DevDoc and BPT/BCT/BAT/BADT/NSPS, but I think it will be more enjoyable.

From the Dungeon, over and out for tonight.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Roller-Coaster Ride Continues

...I feel as of old that the only true enemy I have to struggle with is the unreason within myself. If I have given s[uch] things harbour within me I must with pain cast them out again.

Thus wrote Thomas Carlyle on August 27, 1833 in a letter to his brother John. I read this today, not for the first time, as I was doing some more research into the relationship of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle. The article I wrote and recently submitted to BiblioBuffet (now word yet, BTW) dealt with Emerson's first letter to Carlyle after they met. I wanted to research more about their meeting, as background for the next of these articles or to perhaps expand and re-market the article already written. But I prate.

I found Carlyle's words to be exactly what I needed today, for again I'm on the writing roller-coaster ride. Despite adding several new articles to as of late, page views are not really growing (just a little, perhaps), and revenues have quit growing and are regressing. For Feb 7-9 I earned 10 lousy cents. For all my 64,800 or so words posted there in a little less than ten months, I've earned just over $60 dollars, not including the one contest I won. That's less than 1/10th of a cent per word, and less than $1.00 per article in total. The Suite gurus say $1.00 per article per month is the site average. I'm sure skewing the curve on the low side.

On days like this it doesn't seem that I should continue to write there, if at all. Why bother? Fiction is too difficult to break in. Bible studies are saturated. Non-fiction requires credentials. Poetry is a non-starter. Political essays are fun but where's the money in that? And freelancing requires so much work and so much patience and such a long lead time to earn any money or build any platform that it doesn't seem worth it.

The only thing that recommends writing to me is that I enjoy doing it. Is that enough?

Carlyle seems to have ridden the same roller-coaster I have, or should I say I'm on the same one he rode almost 180 years ago. That wasn't his first time. But is it "unreason within myself" to question whether this writing thing I so enjoy is something I should pursue for economic gain, or for ministry? I don't know. I guess I'll spend a couple of weeks considering this.

Meanwhile I will still write articles for Suite, so long as I have subjects to write on. This afternoon I wrote and published one about construction engineering; this evening I wrote and published one about pollution prevention at construction sites. I have perhaps twenty more articles cued up, some of the research already begun or done from my regular course of vocational duties. I don't know how long I'll keep it up, but I will for a while.

Although my novel in progress is open on my computer. I have a new poem rolling around somewhere inside my skull, waiting to land for a while at the correct side of my brain and in the correct lobe. A friend is reviewing one of my incomplete Bible studies, and I just borrowed a book from the pastor for research for another. So Suite better start making economic sense, if it wants me to continue.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Review: The Short Stories of Mark Twain

This one I picked up somewhere--a used book store or thrift store, I think--because of Twain's fame. As a writer, I should read what was successful, even if long ago, and see if I can learn from it.

I put this one in the reading pile somewhat arbitrarily, after Foxes Book of Martyrs and before Coulson's How Now Shall We Live, trying to mix up new and old, fiction and non-fiction. This was a good place for it. Twain's humor comes through in every short story, and I needed some humor. Some of it cause me to laugh out loud.

But, being a little less than half way through, I am laying it aside. Why? It's just too much all at once. So far the forty stories I've read have all been humorous, none dramatic. Oh, the humor has its dramatic moments, such as encounters with thieves in "The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm", though the drama quickly turns to humor.

They have all been excellently written in the first person, which gets tiring. Even when Twain uses a third person narrator, the narrator talks to the reader and finds a reason to switch to the first person point of view of the one he is narrating about. Writing gurus caution against too much use of the first person. Twain does it well, but it's all too much and I'm laying it aside.

The stories vary in length, which is good. While more deal with western USA setting than other regions, Twain does situate some stories in other places, which is good. One tires of all western venues; it becomes too much.

Twain does not spoon feed his readers. He lets us think for ourselves and find the humor in his subtleties. And Twain is certainly subtle. His humor is that of the straight man in a comedy duo--Abbot rather than Costello, Laurel rather than Hardy, Rowen rather than Martin. Occasionally, however, Twain takes the voice of a vaudevillian story teller or a California tall tale teller. All this is good.

Tonight I finished "The Diary of Adam and Eve," its twenty-two pages a two-night read. I knew it would be a hoot when it started: "Monday. This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way." And it was a hoot.

But its all too much and I am laying it aside, placing it somewhere lower in my reading pile. I'll come back to it. Twain wrote these over fifty years, and designed each to be a complete read in itself, not to be read collectively. Perhaps that's why it's all too much. But come back to it I shall, at its next appointed time in the reading pile.

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's Snowing - Again

Why does a snowstorm seem to be so distracting? We've had snow showers forecast for today for several days. Only Saturday night did that change to a winter storm warning, with 4 to 8 inches expected in our parts. For some reason, this storm has not had the media build-up that the last one did. The press has barely mentioned this one. Still, third snowstorm in 40 days makes this the snowiest winter since 2002-03. My mind today is too much on snow and not enough on engineering.

For the month of February, so far, I have been a good boy about my writing career. Just a few moments ago I fired off a freelance submittal that I had been working on for a couple of weeks, and which I ran by the writers guild last Tuesday. I have written and published four new articles at in February, including two over the weekend. I haven't posted four in one week since--what was it, August? I would love to be able to post four new ones every week, and see if I can get un-stuck as far as revenue and page view growth is concerned. Actually, beginning in January I did see an uptick in revenue, both total revenue and revenue per article per month. It's still pretty small, but at least it's heading in the right direction.

Over the weekend I read an old Writers Digest magazine that I picked up somewhere. And I subscribed to Poets and Writers magazine, with an incredible one-year deal. I normally look at this mag at Barnes & Noble, it's so expensive. But it's about my favorite writers magazine. Of course, the checkbook is so low right now I probably shouldn't have. I'll get a $25 payout from Suite101 tomorrow, so I guess I earned it.

Some other ideas have begun to gel. I have about twenty Suite101 articles beginning to cue up, with six or so having some research already done. A Bible study that's been on my mind for a few months has found its way to paper lately. I'm about to work on my novel in progress, which will make me feel incredibly good. And almost all my chores around the house are up to date.

The last three paragraphs have nothing to do with the snowstorm. I tried to find a master metaphor between snow and engineering and writing, but alas I've failed. So I'll simply say: Let it snow! I'll bring home some work tonight, some studying I need to do for in-house classes to teach, and spend a joyous eight hours at the kitchen table tomorrow, planning and writing three or four classes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The HEED-onist Rises

I'm thinking of applying for a Feature Writer position at Right now I'm a Contributing Writer there. The CW earns money when people click on ads, and when they get to fifty articles they earn a 10 percent bonus on those clicks. If one is a FW, the bonus changes to 20 percent and, when you get to 100 articles, it changes to 30 percent. A FW has a slightly higher commitment for writing articles, and must write so many articles in the category they are FW of. I would like to be FW of engineering, but that's taken and I don't know if I want to wait around and hope it is relinquished.

Yesterday, I learned the the FW position for Environmentalism is open. I learned that somewhat by accident. I had been planning to write some articles on Earth Day, this being the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Yesterday I was researching ED for some in-house CEI purposes, and decided to make an article out of it. Hopefully I'll be able to write four or five related articles.

Why now, you ask, when ED is not until April 22? Well, just as in print publishing, articles in on-line publishing need some lead time. The problem is how Google and other search engines index articles, which includes some of how Suite101 pages are organized. Google, I take it, is not constantly crawling the web to find every new article. The web is too big, and just as a city will plow the snow off the main roads first and the side roads second, the search engines must prioritize. Some areas of the web they crawl regularly, some less frequently. Suite101 has a home page for each category of articles, and on each of those home pages is a list of latest articles. Google crawls those pages multiple times a day, and the new articles get picked up right away and indexed. However, once the article falls off that page, as newer articles are added, Google somehow de-indexes the article.

Also, I understand that Google et. al. gives a page rank boost to new content. So in the first few days of a web page's appearance, Google gives it a boost. However, once the new page boost ends, a page sinks to lower ranking in the search. It then has to sink or swim on its own based on quality, back-links, and whatever other factors the search engines put in their search algorithms.
So that all means that if I want my articles to stand out from the Internet crowd as much as possible as April 22 draws near, I have to write them and get them posted now. The lead time in on-line publishing is much shorter than for print, but there's still a lead time.

So I posted the article, then went to the home page for Environmentalism to see how it looked among the new ones. When I got there, I didn't see the picture of the FW for Environmentalism. A light bulb flashed. Ah ha! There is no FW for Environmentalism. Why, that's something I could probably do. I was one once--an environmentalist--and still believe in much of what the movement stands for, though not what I consider the excesses. Perhaps I could apply for and get this position and add some balance to the environmental debate on the WWW. I'm thinking about it. The time and creativity commitment is really minimal. I would probably change my article mix at Suite101, but that's no problem. I'm taking a day or so to ponder and pray about it, but will probably make the application.

Those of you who didn't know me in college are probably wondering about the title of this post. The student environmental club at the University of Rhode Island was H.E.E.D.--Humans to End Environmental Deterioration. I joined right away freshman year (fall 1970) and became active. I never was an officer in the club, but made some significant contributions. Some one of my friends at college (not sure which one, though I think it was CJN) started calling me the Hedonist, getting a chuckle out of the play on words but not really getting the spelling right. So that became one of my college nicknames, and continues to this day among the (un)informed.

I suppose, if I get that FW position, I will once again be the HEED-onist.

February Goals

I'm finding it difficult to set goals this month, as illustrated by the fact that I didn't get to my goal setting till the 3rd. I'm still feeling the effects of the cold I picked up early last week. Consequently my mind is more on seeing that cured than seeing my words on paper.

Still, without some goals, I won't make any writing progress. So here's some to start; perhaps I'll edit them later (yeah, I always say that).

1. Blog 12 times or more.

2. Write and publish at least 8 articles at

3. Consider applying for a feature writer position at Suite101; more on that in a post later today.

4. Complete an article I'm writing for and submit it. Ran it through critique group last night, so it's down to final editing.

5. Make at least three freelance submittals (including BiblioBuffet).

6. Write at least 1000 words in In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People.

7. Read at least 50 pages in a book about writing better. I have four or five at my disposal right now.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The January Report

January was not a productive month. I can blame pneumonia, and the stomach flu, and then the cold I had. I could blame the two snowstorms. I could blame a heavy workload at work, after missing almost three weeks and having a must-make deadline on a floodplain project. I could blame having my wife gone much of the month (including my worst sick time), tending to grandson and daughter. And I could blame having the grandson stay with us for over a week and not feeling like writing when I could play with him or rock him to sleep.

For sure the pneumonia kept me from being productive. I never ran a fever, never felt poorly. I just coughed, from deep within, and then had to sit and be quiet to recover. That coughing takes a lot out of you--or me. I had little desire to work at writing after trying to hack my lungs up every five or ten minutes.

So, I think I did poorly on my goals. I'll paste them in and we'll see.

1. Blog 12 times. Made this, blogging 14 times.

2. Write and publish 8 articles at I wrote only two articles at Suite in January. I did some research on two more, but they don't count.

3. Make at least one freelance submission. I sort of did this, although it's not really what I intended. I submitted a poem to a poetry contest at Absolute Write. Came in tied for 7th in a vote of forum members, so no prize. No entry fee either.

4. Write 1000 words in In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I did nothing on this novel. Maybe February.

5. Begin work with Demand Studios. I looked at their stuff once, including the list of articles I could claim, but didn't begin writing for them. Maybe February.

One thing I accomplished that wasn't on the list was writing an article for the Bibliobuffet web site. I'll show it to critique group tonight, and hopefully submit it tomorrow. It will be a guest column, and I've no guarantee they will accept it. If they do, it's a (small) paying gig.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

I went home on Sunday. Several people who came to church from out my way said the roads weren't too bad. Then I called out neighbors. They said they had been getting around just fine, although our circle and the road leading to it had not been plowed. They said I would have to park up the hill, near their house.

I went home about 2 in the afternoon. All roads were clear until the collector road leading to our neighborhood. It was awful, though drivable with caution. But the two streets my neighbor said weren't plowed had been plowed between our phone call and the time I got there, plowed very thoroughly, in fact, down to blacktop in most places. So I parked on the street near the house. The sun was just beginning to show through the clouds, so I shoveled half the width of the drive, gave it a couple of hours of sunshine, and pulled the pick-up in, knowing I could back up the slope in the morning.

Since then, all roads are good, except for that collector street and the road leading to our office. But yesterday we saw improvement in limited sunshine, and today we should see good melting in sun and 42 degrees. Tonight should be a cinch, and hopefully we will have writing critique group.

It's the second of the month. How did that creep up on me. Time to see how I did on January's goals and set some for February.