22 June 2007

I am a gigantic idiot

In that my recent idiocy is quite spectacular, rather than me being an idiot and also being very large. I assure you that I am of reasonable height and weight.

So why am I a gigantic idiot? Probably because yesterday was one long stream of stupid actions by me. You see, yesterday I had to visit a job site - actually a giant excavation where the shoring system was designed by me. Shoring in this case comprises steel piles with timber lagging in between forming a wall. The wall stays upright because each pile is held to the backill via a very long soil anchor. The soil anchor itself is a steel tendon with a cast-in-place concrete end. Here's a picture of a shoring system. Mine isn't quite so large. When I went yesterday, mine was about 1/4 the height of this one; when done, it will be about 3/4. Note also that this was the first time I had ever been in/on/otherwise endangered by a structure that I had designed. It was frightening. VERY frightening.

The project leader wanted me to go out to the site as the contractor was stressing the soil anchors a) because I designed them and could make sure they were doing things right, and b) because I've never seen such things before in real life and could learn a thing or two about the industry. Fair enough.

I had to get to the job site by 8:30, and given the traffic in the greater Toronto area in the morning, I had to leave by 7:30 - very early by my standards. So I go straight from home to the job site, barely making it on time, walking into the construction supervisor's trailer and immediately realizing that I forgot my safety boots, vest, and hardhat in my cubicle at work. I said "hello" and promptly turned around and drove back to the office. An hour and a half later, I finally returned to the job site and installation could proceed.

By this time, the contractor and the geotechnical consultant were at each other's throats regarding testing procedures for stressing the soil anchors. This was not my fault directly; turns out we did not send the installation specifications to the contractor but that was the project manager's responsibility. Unfortunately, he wasn't there; I was. So the result was much heated discussion directed at me.

Additionally, there was more confusion about the anchor installation that due to me. The most recent set of drawings based on my designs had certain anchor stress levels shown. However, the contractor's team was referring to a shop drawing produced by their supervisors to determine the anchor stresses. My company had reviewed and okayed their shop drawing several weeks ago; however, in the meantime the design had changed somewhat and the stress values were now different. For some reason, these changes, which were communicated to everyone else, did not reach the anchor contractors. So there I am, the designer of the structure, holding an official stamped drawing saying what the stresses should be, and the contractor is arguing back saying that the stresses should be something else, using as evidence a different drawing that is signed by me. So I'm basically conflicting with myself. In short order it's decided that present me is correct and past me is wrong and we go with the proper stresses. Nonetheless, it reflects really poorly on me that I couldn't keep track of my own design stresses.

I eventually solved the testing procedures thing by sacrificing my lunch, using the hour to contact other people at my company, eventually getting the project manager to send me an email with the new procedure on it. This enabled the now happy geotech consultant and the contractor to get down to work at 1:00. Regardless, it still meant a critical two morning hours down the toilet.

Anyway, after a good half-day's work for them and many hours standing in a dusty hole for me, I start to leave at 3:00. When I got to my car, I realized that my keys are gone. In a panic, I ran back to the hole and got all the contractor and geotech people to help me look for my keys. Nada. I then retraced my steps and realized that it's highly likely that I was really, really stupid and locked my keys in the trunk of my car. I ended up calling CAA and one of their service guys came and broke into my car for me (impressively and frighteningly able to do so within 5-10 seconds); however, this did not have the desired effect, at least not right away. The plan was that he'd open the door to the car, then I could us the internal mounted trunk switch located on the driver's door to open the trunk get and my keys. In reality, my car's alarm system went off, not only producing an incredible honking, but disabling the internal trunk switch as well. I still could not get in. The one saving grace here was that my car has pass-through rear seats, which I fortunately never bother to lock. I was able to crawl into the trunk that way and use the emergency interior latch to open the trunk. And behold! my keys were there and not at the bottom of a dirty pit. Huzzah!

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At June 24, 2007 6:53 p.m., Blogger TheBrummell said...

I am amused and entertained. Well done, sir!

Also, I think one of the most appealing things about a job such as yours must be the prospect of actually getting to go see in reality something you've designed and been imagining for some time. Also, dusty pits can be fun, I'm certain, on some occassions.

funfact: the word verification here is "dozolen", which sounds to me like a geological term for some kind of soil.

At June 25, 2007 12:47 p.m., Blogger Necator said...

Yikes. My dad is a mechanical engineer for a small special purpose aquatic machine company. A few years ago he was being sued because a barge capsized rsutling in the dismemberment of the operator. It turned out that the operators had overloaded the barge past height/capacity resulting in said accident.

Anyway, I'm glad I'm not in a position of responsibility where things can collapse and kill people. You must have a steel stomach Aardvark! Hope your next days/weeks go more smoothly.

At June 25, 2007 1:36 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Yeah, necator, the constant threat of lawsuits is daunting. Or, rather, it would be daunting if I was a P. Eng and had to stamp drawings. As it stands right now, my junior status protects me from taking the full brunt of the legal responsibility, but it still sucks and is worrisome.

Your scenario there is a tricky one. Hell, often the engineers can still be held partially accountible if instructions as to the capacity aren't deemed to be clear enough and it was their responsibility to pass this info along.

It's stressful knowing that when you screw up, many many people can die. I should have stayed in school.

Brummell: dusty pits cease to be fun after you've spent 5 hours standing in them alternatively standing around doing nothing or being yelled at.

That said, it certainly is cool to see something that I've designed in person. Very rewarding: it almost makes up for spending ~95% of my time in a cubicle.

At June 25, 2007 2:17 p.m., Blogger Berlzebub said...

Take it from someone who's been there, almost identically. You are not a gigantic idiot. You were just having a bad day.

I've been in engineering for seventeen years, and about fifteen of it has been mechanical. The good days outnumber the bad, and grading good sometimes requires a steep curve, but the bad can seem much worse than they actually are.

The key things are to figure out what is wrong, and how to correct them. You not only did both, but you did it in a reasonable time. I know that span of time probably stretched out for you, though. There's almost nothing like irrate contractors to prove the Theory of Relativity.

At June 25, 2007 6:54 p.m., Anonymous mel said...

That was one helluva day. I've seen those walls being contructed in sites around Bellevue, WA and always found them fascinating and impressive. I wondered how they were done ... and you earth anchor reference answered a big question for me. This does seem like hazardous work and from outward appearance looks very precarious. It's good to know that so much effort and oversigt goes into the process.

... and at least it's not the construction crane, one of which toppled over in Bellevue earlier this year, doing major damage to two other buildings and killing a dude in his apartment.

At June 26, 2007 12:38 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Berlzebub, thanks for saying that I'm not an idiot. It's true that I'm not (at least, I hope you're correct about this), but rather that I had a day befitting of a gigantic idiot. It's one of those days that warns you that stupdity is only a very fine line away.

Thankfully, I haven't been quite so stupid in the days since then. Lazy, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

Contractors, oy, now that's a topic. Thankfully my job does not require me to work with them much, so that's part of the reason why the stupid day was such a shock. First time they'd ever been in my face like that.

Mel, honestly, before I actually designed one of these walls last year, I had no idea how they were done either. It's not something that's common knowledge. Hell, they don't even mention temporary shoring in university.

Thankfully, the one I designed doesn't look precarious. In fact, it looks horribly overdesigned. It will probably look precarious once it reaches its full depth.

At January 24, 2012 11:18 a.m., Anonymous Billy McCormick said...

I feel your pain!

The secret is put EVERYTHING on the drawing. Anything important highlight it. Make sure the drawing gets to the guy doing the work. We sometimes do handovers to ensure this.

Good luck,



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