Friday, May 28, 2010

A Construction Project Completed (sort of)

Yes, yesterday, at long last, the church parking lot improvements were "completed". I put that in quotes, because just like the flood study I just posted about, the project is not really done. Yesterday the sub-contractor completed the corrections for two areas that were non-draining. We put the hose on them, and they both seemed to drain. The larger one, however, drains to another area that doesn't drain. That, however, can be corrected by a little bit of grinding in the gutter to get the water into the east rain garden.

The contractor actually had a couple of more things to do when I left the site yesterday. He had concrete coming to pour two short sections of sidewalks where we cut in the entrance. I'm assuming that happened as scheduled. Also, the contractor yesterday noticed a short concrete apron that he poured earlier that wasn't draining. He saw it just too late to order concrete for it, so said he would take it out today and re-pour it. I didn't go to the church to see. This is a vindication of sorts. When the apron was being poured, I warned the contractor twice that it didn't look right and that he ought to put a level on it. He said he would, but never it. It turns out I was right.

Then he also has to finish the striping. He held back some of it where the corrective patches were to be made. Today is a beautiful day, and I thought he would come do it. But he says no, he'll come tomorrow, Saturday, when there's no one at church using the parking lot, and do it then. So I assume when I arrive at church on Sunday the lot will be fully striped. I'm not actually holding my breath on that.

Then there will be the contractor's final bill to haggle over, then the church's own work to put a light pole and lights on an existing base, and to finish out the rain gardens with bedding soil and plants. But hey, the end is in sight, and I don't need to be making daily trips to the church to watch the contractors. I have close to 30 hours to make up for time siphoned off from my employer.

And yesterday was a good wrap-up, being on site and smelling fresh asphalt being laid. It's one of my favorite smells. I guess you'd have to have been on a lot of construction sites to enjoy the smell of asphalt.

A Deadline Met (sort of)

Monday, the federal Memorial Day holiday, is the deadline to have a re-submittal in to FEMA's consultant for the floodplain project I'm currently working on. That means that Tuesday is the day it would have to be turned in. Just today, about 10 AM, I made all corrections to the computer model and had successful runs of the conditions that must be checked.

That's just the computer model, however, is not the full submittal. We now have to take the computer results and re-map the floodplain, creating a revised work map at a large scale and a revised floodplain map at a smaller scale. For this I will be at the mercy of the CADD people. I have a tech assigned to it, and may have him do some of it this afternoon--or I may wait until Tuesday. For I called FEMA--actually the consulting firm that reviews map change requests turned in to FEMA, and the assigned reviewer said as long as the computer models are turned in on Tuesday, he would consider the deadline met and we would have a few more days to get the paper submittals in.

Hooray for that! In the second half of the morning I spent my time "cleaning-up" the model. As I do one of these, lots of extraneous information is added, as I try out this or that to see how the model can be made more accurate. All of those can be confusing to the reviewer. He just needs to see the files that we actually want him to check, the correct ones. I'm almost done with the clean-up; maybe another 30 minutes or so. I'll get the e-mail fired off (remembering to attached the files, of course), and that part of the project will be done. I'll begin printing the paper files, and as I said above maybe get to some of the modeling. Or not. I have another project on my desk for QC review that I really ought to get to today.

So the "I" Street CLOMR is almost done. Hopefully Wednesday it will be. Then I get to work on the Perry Road CLOMR, then the McKisic Creek LOMR (complete with hydrology work), then a re-do of the Crystal Bridges CLOMR (to correct the labyrinth weirs). Then I hear we might have a CLOMR or LOMR in Terrell, Texas. I'm supposed to coach a young engineer in that, rather than do it myself.

At this rate, I might become an expert in floodplain modeling. Which doesn't really further my writing career, but helps with the job security that I need for another 7 years, 7 months, and 3 days.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"How Now Shall We Live?" and Christian Worldview

Some time ago I reviewed Chuck Colson's book How Now Shall We Live? This 1999 non-fiction writing is for the purpose of convincing Christians to have a "Christian" worldview. Colson and co-author Nancy Pearcey define worldview as "the sum total of our beliefs about the world, the 'big picture' that directs our daily decisions and actions." For a Christian worldview, that would mean that the person and message of Jesus Christ should order and direct those decisions and actions.

I intended to write a second installment of the book, which is large. It's been so long ago that I read it and wrote the first part of the review, all those good tidbits floating around in my gray cells have no sunk into the sludge at the bottom. So now I'll have to improvise.

I remember that the best section of the book--that is the part that held my interest best--was the discussions of laws, law-making, court decisions, etc. We would expect Colson, an ex-lawyer and government official, to do well with that section. It is comprehensive and clear, well documented and foot-noted. The basic premise of the section is that Christians should be involved in the law-making/legal process, and that their Christian worldview should govern not only their actions but, hopeful, also the land in which the Christian lives. This is a gross over-simplification, but I think I have it correct.

Yet, this section of the book troubles me, causing me to pause and think. My thoughts are concerning if our Christian worldview should translate into laws governing Christian and non-Christian alike. In assessing this, I think of those with Moslem worldviews. If they do what Colson suggests and seek to influence the law and public policy, we will all soon be listening to the call to prayer broadcast throughout the neighborhood before dawn and four other times a day. We'll be under sharia law, with hands and heads severed for the specified crimes. Businesses would have to close from sundown Thursday to sundown Friday. And we'll have our major holidays around the hajj, not Christmas.

Is the cause of Christ furthered when Christians attempt to make non-Christians behave like Christians through the force of the law? Or is it furthered when the difference between Christian and non-Christian is greater? When Christians do what they do because of Christ, not because of the law? How great is the example of Chick-fil-A, which closes all their stores on the Lord's day? Or the example of Sarah Palin, who had the Down Syndrome baby rather than have an abortion? Or the Christian who is audited by the IRS and is found to have correctly reported income for taxes? Much greater, methinks, than if we try to force non-Christians to behave according to Christian ethics built into laws.

I'm still thinking this over. Much of our code of laws is based on the principles of Judaism and Christianity. I wouldn't want to do away with that. But it just seems that Christians may hurt the cause of Christ more by being over-zealous on shaping the law than by behaving as He wants us to regardless of the law.

Still thinking.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Will It Never End?

You can't say "will it never end" about "Lost". That ended last night. I didn't watch it because we haven't seen seasons 4, 5, 6, and 7 yet. At least, I think it was season 3 where we ended. Maybe it was 4, but I don't think so. Anyway, some day we'll catch up and see those other seasons, but without that we weren't about to watch the grand-finale. There would be some better things to do with 2 1/2 hours on a Sunday evening.

But what there never seems to be any end to is work to do, and things that interfere with writing. Today I'm working on the next flood study, and have found it to probably require more work than I thought it would. This won't keep me away from writing--unless overtime is needed to get this thing out the door by early next week--but it will mean I won't be able to move on to the next work task as soon as I'd like. And it means this week will be pressure-packed, just like last week.

Company arrives on Saturday to spend two or three days with us. We'll have five guests staying at the house. That's okay. We'll have a lot of clean-up needed over the next few days, and there's plenty of yard work to do. The checkbook is balanced, and I'll pay bills tonight. The parking lot project is winding down, but this week there are still things to be done for it.

What little writing I managed over the weekend was on the Harmony of the Gospels and on the next Bible study I'll be teaching, beginning June 6. I guess that qualifies as writing, but it may never progress to something publishable, so I can't really count on it.

So it looks like another week without being able to jump back into writing as I want to. I've got a couple of blog posts I'm planning for this week, so check back in every couple of days for new material.

Friday, May 21, 2010

One Flood Study Down (again); Three to Go

Yesterday, after I thoughtI had done everything needed to get my Little Osage Creek flood map changes out the door and FedEx-ing back to FEMA, as I was trying to resolve why a 50 foot long section of the creek was not behaving (i.e. I couldn't get the spread of the flood waters to make sense between the model and the map for three cross-sections), I saw an elevation error in the model. At least I thought that's what it was. All my paper copies of the map had markings in that area, and I couldn't read them to resolve whether I had an elevation error or not. What to do? I was shooting to get this out the door the next day, now today. It was 5 PM.

I can't do AutoCAD, or any other type of computer aided design/drafting program, but IT has installed a viewer for these drawings on my computer. So I went searching for the original survey drawings on our network, found them (or I guess it), and opened it using the viewer. There I was able to pan, enlarge, and focus in on the problem area. There was a bust. I showed the ground elevations almost 3 feet higher than they really were at the problem cross-section. For the first 200 feet south of the ditch, the flood waters would certainly spread farther up the side street than I was showing.

So I changed the elevations in the cross-section, re-ran the basic flood model, and had good results. I then pulled up the encroachment model and ran it, and had good results. Actually, I was able to tweak the encroachment limits to something much more reasonable and not exceed allowable encroachment elevation rises. I printed the documents I needed--and the program crashed. That was 6:30 PM last night. I finished tweaking the map and put it on the CAD tech's desk for today's work.

But the pages did print. So this morning I opened the program and found that I had saved often enough that I only had to re-enter a handful of numbers. Of course I had to re-print some pages so that the dates on the printout would match the date on the model, but I had that done. One table changed in the flood insurance study book, a request to I.T. to burn three copies of the model onto CDs, and some collating, and the report was on the admin assistant's desk. So I was at the mercy of I.T. and Admin, as of 9:30 AM this morning.

But all three support people came through. I had the corrected work map and flood map on my desk by 10:00 AM, the CDs by 10:45, and the bound volumes by 11:30. I'll put one in FedEx this afternoon, and deliver one to the City about 1:30 PM, and consider this project done. At least until FEMA comes back with other comments.

I'd like to coast a bit, but now I have to jump on the "I" Street flood study revision, then the McKisic Creek flood study, then the Crystal Bridges flood study revision. Except for that Federal law back in 1968 I might not have a job now.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Site Work

The contractors are at the church, working on the last few tasks of the parking lot. Yea! It's something to cheer about because yesterday they could have worked some, prep work for today. Actually, if they had worked yesterday, they would be able to finish it today except for final clean-up. So yesterday was frustrating, but at least they are working today. The striper was there, and in just a few hours he will be able to do all the striping except where they are doing some repairs. The general contractor is there, digging out the sacrificial asphalt at the rain gardens and preparing the areas for curb & gutter around the rain gardens. The concrete crew is there, following right behind the general contractor.

If the weather holds, which it probably won't, as rain is forecast for early tomorrow morning, it will all be over except for the paperwork this week. I'm glad, because I'm weary of it. This has taken a lot more out of me than did the much larger and longer family life center project a decade ago.

But I do love being on construction sites, watching things get built, facilitating the work, solving problems, and just getting things done. I love the big picture aspects of construction and the minutia of details. I don't get on site much any more for CEI. Sometimes I have to help solve a problem on site, but not often. Those days of my career are over, perhaps forever. But I transition, as I wrote about yesterday, and keep hanging on. Right now I have to hang on for another 7 years, 7 months, and 13 days. Or maybe a little more, depending on how my funds shape up.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Yesterday was a special day at church: our pastor's last Sunday. Their good were packed on Saturday, all but the furniture, which ten of the younger men were going to load up Sunday afternoon and so they are off. To Columbia Tennessee, an outer suburb of Nashville. To a larger church in our denomination.

We had Mark and Kelly for almost seven years, and little Ivan for less than two. No one suspected this was coming, as everyone was happy with Mark and hoped he would be our pastor for years to come. Unlike past pastoral changes, I had no inkling of this coming. Previously I've been able to sense that a pastor's ministry was drawing to a close in the congregations I attended. This time, not so. The transition was abrupt.

Transitions happen in life all the time. Not always as momentous as a pastoral change, but they happen. I wrote once before in this blog about this, using the words of Pamela Tudsbury, a character in Herman Wouk's Winds of War and War and Remembrance: "Some moments weigh against a lifetime." I've had a few such moments in my life, but it seems to me that transitions often happen gradually. Condition A changes to Condition B. You've been in Condition A for a long time. Then one day you wake up and realize you're in Condition B. How did it happen?

I'm in the midst of two such transitions right now. At CEI, it appears my time as a corporate trainer is drawing to a close, and I'm transitioning back to being a project manager. I have no official word of that; in fact, my supervisor hasn't talked to me about my status since the last round of layoff last month. With those staff cutbacks we are no longer large enough to either need or support a full-time trainer. Every week I find my time more and more consumed with managing project, less with training issues. Is this a permanent situation? Stay tuned.

The other transition is in my writing "career". But this transition is confusing at the moment, the ultimate direction not yet clear. I haven't worked on a novel for about three months. I wrote only one Suite 101 article in April, three so far in May, with one more in draft status, one other in research status. I've written no other freelance articles during that time, nor submitted anything. Poetry no longer comes to me either by inspiration or perspiration. I continue to monitor writing blogs and forums, and of course keep up this blog. In the last month I've critiqued only one poem at Absolute Write, doing it last Friday.

So what's going on with my writing? Am I losing my desire to write? Ideas still come to me, and I capture some of them. Ideas for improving works I've already written but not yet published still come. I'm still spending a little time researching markets and marketing methods, as well as studying the craft. But as to actual writing, very little accomplishment.

The problem with transitions in progress is recognizing the start, middle and end. It's kind of like a stock chart. After the price movement is over, the signals that it was going to make that move are obvious, but as the movement is in progress, one doesn't see it, or refuses to believe that's what's happening.

With this writing transition, all signs seem to be pointing to this as the cause: The dream is dead. I don't want to believe that. I'd rather believe it's just the busyness of life in these couple of terribly busy months. But I'm afraid it's the other. The key piece of evidence, of course, is that I haven't submitted anything to potential markets. I have enough things written that I could be submitting constantly. But it seems the work of making the final selection of the market(s) and actually going through the motions of making the submittal, just don't excite me, and so I don't do it.

So where is this transition taking me? I don't know. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rain and Progress

As I drove to work today the rain began, about halfway from Bella Vista to Bentonville. By the time I reached the office, about 6:50 AM, a downpour had passed and light rain was falling. The winds were really gusting, however. This cheered me up. Although I knew the rain meant no work would be done on the parking lot project, it also meant I could spend the day in the office, getting things done. Plus, rain usually perks me up.

So I stayed in the office, and I got stuff done. My Centerton flood map revision is fully recalculated, and the revised map further revised, and ready for the CAD tech to do when he gets back on Monday. Tomorrow I'll print the report, then start on the next flood study project.

Several items on the big street construction project I'm watching in substitution for our out-of-the-country department head had a few things go right today (paperwork, of course, since the rain prohibited site work). I answered a couple of e-mails that had sat in my in-box for several days. By the end of the day a load had been lifted from my shoulders. Part of that was making a difficult report to the church trustees on Wednesday. With that behind, and a number of major office tasks completed, the load finally lifted. I left the office about 5:20 PM, and for the first day in over a week I was not the first man in and last man out.

Today I went through a stack of mail, much of it junk but some of it keepers. I read a newsletter, slightly reducing my periodical reading pile. And I filed, in my filing cabinet, this year's taxes that had been sitting around on the work table in the Dungeon.

I still have a killer workload, but it feels better. I'm going to write a passage note for the Harmony of the gospels before I look at stocks. That will be the first writing I've done (well, except for this blog) in about two weeks.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The End is not Yet

I can't believe how busy I am. Even while in Oklahoma City this last weekend to celebrate my grandson's birthday, and Mother's Day, I had much to do with the church parking lot--e-mails and figuring. By Saturday evening I was mentally exhausted, and sat down to watch Saturday Night Live, something I haven't done since 1974. And something I won't do again for perhaps another 36 years. What a disgusting show.

Work is very busy. I have no time to write, no time to read for pleasure. No time to exercise. No time to keep up this blog. I'll keep trying. The first glimmer of light should pop up around the 19th.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Conversation With the Publishing Industry

Me: Self-explanatory

PI: the publishing industry

Me: I'm an unpublished author. May I submit my manuscript?

PI: Whoa! Maybe a proposal. But only if you're willing to do the lion's share of marketing for the book.

Me: Me do that marketing? Well, okay. When the time comes tell me what to do and I'll do it. Now may I submit my manuscript--I mean a proposal for my book?

PI: Not so fast. As an unpublished author, you'd better have a darn good platform if you want to be taken seriously by our industry.

Me: Um, okay, I'll go off for a while and build a platform.


Me: I've got a blog.

PI: Not good enough, unless you've got thousands of unique visitors a week.

Me: I've had a little freelance success.

PI: Ha! Come back when you've got fifty to 100 articles in print magazines.

Me: Well, I've got close to 100 articles published with an on-line, royalty paying publisher, getting read at the rate of 95,000 times per year.

PI: On-line? Ha! Don't waste our time.

Me: How about a query? May I submit a query letter?

PI: Do you have a marketing plan?

Me: I've put a lot of thought into audience and how to reach them.

PI: A WRITTEN marketing plan?

Me: No.

PI: Have you been to marketing classes? Especially targeted to book marketing--no, actually to marketing your type of book?

Me: No.

PI: Don't waste your postage, or our bandwidth.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May the Fourth Be With You

My attitude is definitely better today. The parking lot is paved! I spent about 5 hours there at the church, watching the work, keeping the contractor honest, and participating in the few decisions that needed to be made. Around the corner and across the street, the old derelict house is down! My chasing down the last permit yesterday provided some fruit. It should all be hauled off tomorrow, and hopefully the lot dressed up.

Back at the parking lot, the next three days will be quite busy and eventful, as they clean and seal-coat the south part of the lot, then maybe on Friday they can stripe the whole thing, weather permitting. Also tomorrow they should pour the new concrete entrance, replace some sidewalk, and maybe even replace the old exit with new concrete. It's a lot to do, but they might just make it.

I was supposed to spend some time tonight working on the contractor's pay application, but a large chunk of my available time was taken up with a call from our son. I hadn't spoken with him for quite some time (a month perhaps?), so there was much to get caught up on. So my writing time and contractor pay application time for tonight are gone.

My work in general is fixin' (as the locals say) to get really busy, as our Transportation Dept. head goes on an 11 day foreign mission trip and I pick up his work. So writing time will be virtually non-existent for the next two weeks, except maybe for working on my new Life Group lesson series. I'll try to keep up on blog posts, maybe even increase them, but no promises.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I'm Still Tired

Today was an emotionally draining day. The contractors won't show up for work either at a decent hour or at all, and the church parking lot remains a patchwork of asphalt strips and gravel base course that now needs to be re-graded and re-rolled. The City shut down our house demolition project for lack of a $50 tax--I mean permit. We had our State permit, but I didn't know a city permit was needed as well.

Those two things threw me for a loop, even as I got back on one of my three flood studies and found out it may not be as bad as I thought it was. Perhaps less work, although I will have to have a CADD technician help me with the mapping. How nice it would be to know AutoCAD.

So I'm still not able to write much, here or anywhere. Be patient with me, and I'll be back.

Although, the dream has taken several steps closer to the graveyard.