Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An engineer and a manager

Yesterday I went to Tekla’s annual managers’ day, held in Dubai.

 As expected, the event was discreet, smooth and professional, good tea on offer in all of the breaks.
The presenters kept themselves to their topics, the timekeepers rang their bells in their allocated times, more or less;
Beyond the usual technical news and client presentations, half way through the proceedings a bunch of unanticipated little gems were given to the audience.

Just the right things for me to mull over on the long-drive back to Abu Dhabi.
Mick Hodgson from Tekla’s HQ was charged with providing global examples from real-life use of the Tekla-tools. I was pleased not to see ‘our’ HQ building showcased this time – while the little movie they made of it some time ago is sleek and impressive it is painful to watch at the time I’m banned from the real building.****

So, Mick had three wonderful new examples to show –

·         The first one was related to the Panama Canal’s expansion.  The current plan is for two new flights of locks to be built parallel to, and operated in addition to, the old locks; *

·         The second was on the structure intended to further secure the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine, part of which was destroyed by the disaster in 1986. It is being built adjacent to the existing shelter and will be slid into place on rails. **

·         The third was to do with the re-floating of the trouble Costa Concordia that ran aground over a year ago. In order to raise the ship, I understand the contractors will install underwater platforms under the submerged side of it and use huge cranes to pull the ship upright. ***

Somehow, driving towards the sunset and pondering these wonders of engineering still happening around the world I thought of my father.

He was a mechanical engineer. Was and still is.

At the age of 82 and seriously ill, he no longer works unfortunately, is barely alive most of the time, but has spent every waking minute of his conscious life being an engineer.
Even these days when he comes out of his hazy world of diminishing thoughts, what he utters almost always has something to do with ‘engineering’.

He never worked on projects as important as the gates of the Canal, never got involved with anything remotely as risky as securing a nuclear reactor and never had the chance to contemplate the logistics of flipping the stranded monster ship back onto the surface of the ocean, still an engineer with every bit of his being.

Then, just as I passed between the boundaries of the two emirates (you know, where trees appear along the motorway ready to escort me all the way home) - somehow my thoughts slipped onto the CV’s of most of the engineers/managers my company employs these days – it was bound to happen, considering how much time I spend researching them and trying to figure out what on earth has gone wrong with this ship I’m on.

Consequently, I got entangled in questions like this one:

Is it not interesting how most of my company’s top managers’ CV’s start along the line of
“XY has earned his civil engineering degree (insert number – usually 20+) years ago then”…
Steadily climbed the corporate ladder never again remembering what being an engineer really means? Or should mean?

Thankfully I arrived home – to my ‘physicist/scientist for life’ husband and the ‘true to the core – whatever they choose to be in the future’ – daughters chattering at the dinner-table.

Life is good.

****http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrLtsqYpGf4 (could not find the full length one)

Picture from here:
(So many beautiful analogies to life, engineering and other bits of life are in it!
May be a bit too cheesy too)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I’m onto some rose-coloured BIM issues…and here is a tip for ArchiCAD users as a bonus

Having recently stepped onto one-too-many toe – I’ve been warned to tone my blog down a bit…
I’m not in a huge hurry to oblige; it would cramp my style a lot.
On the other hand, the ‘cat & mouse game’ that rules my work-life these days must be a bit tedious to endure by those that come here to read on ‘pure’ BIM topics.

So let’s talk BIM, the rosy, and pink, and lemon-yellow and forest-green…
For a long time I’ve been a strong advocate of proactively using colours in construction information management, often provoking condescending comments from ‘architects that wear only black’.
Applying a range of bold colours to represent different types of concrete (grey!) structures rarely made sense to people that happily documented everything in black on white.

Still, that has not deterred me to consistently use the colour ‘red’ on my construction models as a warning sign, highlighting that an element is either under-defined or wrongly defined by the design consultants or others in charge of it.

One of my colleagues once got quite upset and accused me of being environmentally irresponsible by promoting this rainbow-theory, yet I never did suggest (what he accused me of) that the fluffed-up drawing-sets they still produced in black-ink (and measured in tons) should be printed in full colour.
I said, that colours could play a large part in demystifying AEC documentations for clients, contractors and everyone else involved. Model based communication supports this idea splendidly.

Unfortunately, there still is very little interest in demystifying AEC information, not even on the lowest of, day-to-day levels of project communication so we’ll still experience quite a bit of the flawed approach:
2D draw everything as vague as possible with lots of fills/hatches and useless text on it;
Then reduce A0 sheets to A3s and make numerous copies of them before they get to the construction-site so someone with a ‘really high level of IQ’ can work out from a pile of blurry fluff where to put the wall, window, tea towel hook.

Prior to anyone get worried about me again airing controversial in-house work-practices I should not – let me share with you a little feature I discovered today:

In ArchiCAD, you can save different background colours with your 3D views;
I use ‘saved-3D views’ a lot while I work on my models – so this attribute of the view-manager is going to be very handy in performing my daily tasks in the future.
For example, I could have soothing green backgrounds saved on problematic jobs just to balance out all the red in the undefined elements incorporated in most of the views.
And to keep the options for improvement open, the green can then fade into something more neutral in pre-set views where things are coming together nicely.
Or I could have different backgrounds allotted to the views I work on morning time and the ones I deal with afternoons.
Or rose-colour them all, when I present to superiors unwilling to accept the reality we’re in…

The opportunities are endless! 
And all of the colours of the rainbow pretty much with a press of a button…

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Let me spell this out for you… (a footnote to my ‘Qatarlist’ BIM-blogpost)

I wrote a post on a real and possibly ground-breaking BIM/AEC project some time ago (links below)
It turned out to be one of the most visited posts of mine (so far) and has ignited some lively discussions on various BIM forums.
My success to enlighten relevant people within my own organisation on the nuances of this phenomenon and possible implications on us not appreciating its weight has been (unfortunately) much less successful.

So, with the idea that one should never let a ‘good argument’ go to waste, here is my thinking behind the ‘why the client would have asked for this?’
and the corresponding
‘how a requirement like this should be treated’
for those that occasionally DO read-or-listen to me (i.e. visitors to this blog):

This AEC client on this particular project has asked for an unusually ambitious and highly demanding BIM approach to be employed on its information project management due to one of the following two reasons:

Because it is very well aware that a project of this size, complexity and targeted timeframe can only be delivered through a genuine BIM;
Because it does not trust the AEC project information management processes that current ‘mainstream’ and ‘traditionally minded’ consultants and contractors use, misuse and abuse.
Because it wants to know what is going on its project at any time and manipulate the others as opposed to being manipulated.
Because it wants to carry on changing its mind about the design till the last minute but have someone else carry the can for it without jeopardising project success.
Because it wants the project to be finished on time.
Because it wants to know how much it is really going to cost at any time.
Because it wants the level of sophistication of the IM/PM of the construction to match that of the trains it will run.
Because it is a gold-plated client in a troubled market and CAN ask for whatever it wants.

It was the next step on some aspiring BIM expert’s career progression plan.

Anyone bidding for this project should ascertain what the REAL reason was behind the BIM brief (ONE or TWO) and respond by:

For ONE – design and propose a robust, practical, working – possibly ground-breaking and smart BIM system  that will comply with the requirements of the brief; (very few people can do this, in the world)

For TWO – bluff through the process with whatever BIM-fluff you can get from the internet;
possibly outsource the entire problem to the cheapest bidder; (anyone can do this)

image from here:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year everyone.... Let’s start this year with a blog on a positive note!

For the first day of this new year, I offer a sort of a pledge coupled with a request for all of my connections:
Please do not endorse me on LinkedIn for anything and I’ll do the same for you!

For at least two reasons:

One, a ‘rating’ system that only has ‘likes’ but no other option available to choose from to express one’s opinion on someone or something is not really a rating system. It’s collecting stamps.

Two, look at the ‘endorsement categories’ the thing will offer you to ‘pat someone on the back with’;
LinkedIn may have done spectacularly well in becoming the first ‘serious’ business-flavoured social networking site, but when it comes to learning the buzz words and specific fields I operate in (and am possibly good at) – it still has a way to go.
Admittedly, it is trying hard to catch up and is forever giving me new opportunities to stuff some more data about myself into their bottomless bucket of information.
Likely to regurgitate it and through endless analysis and data crunching make some dosh by selling it to someone else at the other end.

I have no problem with these practices in principle – I wrote on the subject before.
It is their right to try to manipulate me and the info I willingly share on the www, it is my right to say ‘no’ to certain offers they make.
Remember it is mostly ‘free’ and with that there is a price to pay.

Problems start when this system becomes so entrenched in the industry, that HR people will not look at you if you do not have (let’s say) 50 endorsements for BIM on LinkedIn.
Not that HR people bother me that much, really – yet to find one that is clued up on BIM to even intermediate level.

I’m always happy to give references for people I worked with on areas I know their capabilities in, work ethics, personalities and other stuff that makes them a possible asset to a new employer.
I do occasionally ask others to do the same for me and am grateful for anyone that has refereed for me at any time in the past.
I will never confuse these acts with clicking the ‘endorse x for y’ button, even if this will make me look heartless (for not doing it for others) or ungrateful (for frowning when others do it for me);

With that declared publically, I’ll take the risk of being unendorsed on LinkedIn for anything and everything.