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Just a synopsis of the recent structure debacle.

About three weeks ago, Simon called me up and informed me that I would be doing the structural design for the superstructure of the residential project that I was working on, and Hassan would be designing the foundation. I dug my heels in, and the issue ultimately culminated into an argument. 

I dug my heels in because structural design is complex. If you're working on a typical house, with typical spans, and a typical foundation, it's not so complex. They're all pretty much built the same way and you can pick your structural elements form a table.

But the house that we are doing is being built on a steep slope with a high water table, and it has open, unsupported spans of 30'. So, we need a massive retaining wall, and steel beams or glulams for the open span of the superstructure. 

The retaining wall must be engineered. But it is possible for me to size the beams for the superstructure. HOWEVER, as I explained to Simon, I haven't done it in 10+ years, and I need someone to help me. Simon gave me one extra day to get the design done, which is absolutely absurd given the complexity of the process.

The formulas are not terribly complex in and of themselves. But the order in which you apply the formulas is important, and you have to go through several calculation iterations to optimize your selection. On top of that, you have to be very knowledgeable about the structural properties of each material (concrete, steel, wood, engineered wood)--which applications are best for them, which aren't so good, etc.

I didn't even remember which formulas I need to use, let alone the order. I was pretty sure I need formulas for strength, deflection, shear.... But even if these were the only formulas that I needed, there were still nuances to the evaluation process that I didn't remember. Like, where to test for shear failure. Plus, I haven't really thought about structural materials in a long time--I could use a refresher course. A course, not an hour.

So, the first thing I did was scan a couple pages of formulas and email them to Alan. I asked him if he could help me: 



Hi Alan,

Simon asked me to do the above-foundation structure for this home. Is this something that you can give me guidance for? I have not done structure outside of school, and that class was at least 12 years ago.... But I did get an A in that class, which is a good start. I just need guidance. For example, How do I begin?

I dug up these formulas. But I'm not sure which are the best to use, what order to use them, and what to do about the openings in the walls..... I guess start with the openings? Then there's the issue of connections...


Alan's response, during our morning meeting, was to ask me to do some framing plans and send them to him. So, that's what I did.

At the next day's morning meeting, Alan presented his solution: A W10 (steel beam) of some sort at the basement level and the first floor. Hassan (structural engineer) was on the call too, and practically had a conniption fit, saying that it would deflect 6" and that nobody would be able to walk across the house without feeling like they were walking across a trampoline. After the call, Hassan called me up and vented to me for about an hour.

Hassan and I came up with another solution that used two W10 beams at both levels, and sent it to Alan and Kasey. No response (no surprise). At the next morning meeting, Alan instructed us to use two beams at the basement level and a W18 (deeper beam) at the first floor level. After the meeting, Hassan called me up in a state of near-apoplexy over the inadequacy of Alan's new 'solution.' According to Hassan, the eccentric placement of the first floor beam would create torsion in the structure.

Finally, Alan presented a new solution: Parallams. Two parallams at the first floor, one at the basement level. He eliminated the wide footing at the retaining wall and changed the retaining wall from 14" concrete to 12" cmu. At the next morning meeting, both Kasey and Simon were in attendance. Alan said, "I have 35 years doing this and you guys should trust me."

Kasey and Simon somehow failed to notice Alan's two absurdly failed solutions, and both expressed their agreement with Alan. Simon even expressed his approval of Alan's foolhardy modification of the retaining wall. So, Hassan and I stopped arguing, and I made the changes that Alan stipulated. 

It's interesting to note that through this entire period of time, Alan never provided calculations for anything he came up with. Furthermore, he never responded with any direction about which formulas I should use, and in fact didn't provide any actual guidance to me at any point.

After seeing all three of his 'solutions,' I realize that Alan had no idea what to do, either. What I think eventually happened is that Alan struggled through the problem himself, in private, and, after two failed solutions, realized he was not up to the task. So, he contacted an engineer-friend to help him out. I have no proof for this, but based on the sequence of events and the timing, I think this is what likely happened. Also, Alan's parallam solution was completely unlike his other solutions--which didn't even include columns, now that I think about it!!

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I honestly don't know. Alan hasn't provided his rationale. I could at least follow the calculations if he had. Hassan has begged off of the matter altogether.

I think the beams are probably ok--although I don't understand why Alan is using the heavier support at the upper level.

My real worry is the retaining wall. I forgot to mention--Alan actually had me change it back to concrete after I did the whole detail for CMU (big time waster there). But he had me reduce the thickness from 14" to 12"--so arbitrary! He also had me fudge some dimensions for it, which is Stupid with a capital S. 

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I had a dream a couple of days ago. I had come to the last page in the notebook that I keep for work. There were other pages after the one that I was on, but I could see through the current page that the text on them was upside down--meaning, they had already been used (sometimes, I keep two notebooks in one by using it upside down from the back. If that makes any sense).

The same night, I also had an uneasy dream about going from house to house talking to people. Friends. And eventually, at some point, handling a gun in my own house. I was trying to load a bullet into it, not because I wanted to, but because it was necessary. However, the bullet kept falling out into my hand. I finally took the gun apart and discovered that it had no real barrel, and no place for a bullet to fully fit. I felt relieved that it wouldn't be deadly.

Last night, I dreamt that someone shot Arnold. And while I sobbed hysterically over him, Arnold (yes, same Arnold--although he did look different) came down from a nearby stairwell, took my hand, and led me up the stairs, out onto the roof of the building we were in. He comforted me, and told me to stop crying. Then, he gestured to the buildings and landscape around us and said, "Look at all of this. It's yours." "I don't want it," I said. "I hate this fricking place." But it was still a peaceful feeling. And there was still hope, for some reason. I just don't like that they killed Arnold. 

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A lady from my last job passed away. One of the people who had been laid off with COVID.

She was battling cancer for years. She had a rough bout with it in 2019.

I really liked her. She was great to work with. Really down to earth, really kind. 

When she heard that I was laid off, her response was, "Know that they laid me off twice." 

I thought that was such an odd response! But very positive! 

Anyway, I'm sad that she's gone now.

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I'm really enjoying Clan of the Cave Bear. It's so interesting. And even though Jean M. Auel has a heavy narrative hand, it somehow avoids being dry or boring.

I got to a part where some of the clan were acting out against the main protagonist in an effort to ingratiate themselves with one of the leaders, and it fired me up a little. I think it reminded me of my last job lol.

That reminds me of another time, probably 7 years ago (jesus!), when I was frustrated at my job. I was watching Spaceballs, which I usually think is hilarious. But this time, Dark Helmet was reminding me of my boss, and the Spaceballs were reminding me of some of my coworkers.... suddenly the movie seemed like more of a true story than a comedy!!

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My chiropractor sends out a monthly newsletter. In this month's issue, he included a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four hours sharpening the ax”

I have a similar philosophy, which is why I'm so dead set on getting good mentorship in my career. I don't want it to be a harrowing struggle when I go into business for myself. I want it to fall into place with as little nonsense as possible. 

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