Plaidneck

Tag: Retired Engineer (page 2 of 3)

Entitlement – Part 2

Too often lately we’ve heard something like – I take obscene amounts of money from those who choose to trust the corporation that hired me because I have a “position” and am entitled – from people in positions of privilege.

Is this statement just greed or is it an inherent feeling of entitlement?

Not too long ago, I listened to a discussion of recently published research; “How Wealth Reduces Compassion” from Scientific American. It appears that the richer one is the less s/he cares about others (and when there is care, it’s a self aggrandising type of caring – buildings named after the donor, foundations carrying the donor’s name etc.). That the wealth is inherited or earned seems to make no difference.

The more the wealth the less the compassion.

At a seminar a few years back, a university professor said he once had a mixed class of engineering and business students. He held a discussion about ethics. The engineers debated what ethics should govern and when; the business students wondered what the fuss was all about. It seems that those who become successful in business don’t pick up compassionate ethics along the way

It has been recently reported that North American Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) earn 200 – 300 times the average worker’s pay. This has increased from about 25 times in 1964 with most of the increases occurring since 1990.

In the early 2000s I read a book “Barbarians at the Gate”. It dealt with the take over of Nabisco. Banks, lawyers and financiers lined up to make money from the take over. Greed by way of fees was taking over.

The value of the company changed not because of what they produced, but because of the competition to purchase it. In the end, probably the only person who came out with a bag of cash was the CEO – someone who was really only hired help.

During the recent Banking crisis in the US, CEOs used the fact that their bank got bail out money as reason to qualify themselves for bonuses basically saying “there’s money there and I’m entitled to a chunk of it.”.

A number of charities pay their CEOs well over $350,000. (One reported their compensation package 5 years ago was $2.7 million). People give to many of these charities to help those less fortunate, not to assist those who feel “entitled” because of a position.

CEOs are hired help. They are compensated in cash and stock (including options). The intent of stock options is to tie the CEOs compensation to performance. However, it has been argued (and I believe successfully) that they encourage short term blips vs long term company health.

Granted CEOs are highly intelligent people who exhibit wisdom in their decisions. They should be compensated. In Japan, the ratio is 16 time the average wage. It is probable that the 25-time ratio as in 1965 was and still is reasonable.

We probably all feel entitled to something, but should not that entitlement be tempered by compassion?

CEOs have benefited from education and wisdom collected and created by the many who came before. Although they work hard, it’s only work. Many below them in the corporate ladder work equally as hard. Earnings should be reasonable, not an entitlement because of position.

There are people who deserve to be better off than others. Basing a society on taking from those who perform and giving to those who don’t has been tried and did not succeed. However, entrusting our future to “entitled” “uncompassionate” people also is not a platform for success.

Surely, without selling the farm, modern society can devise a system of management that can assist those who need assistance and reward those who have earned the reward yet still maintain the harmony and compassion required for a functioning society. Maybe maybe ethics with less entitlement can be worked into the system again.

The Plaidneck

Low Cost Engineering.

I’m a Civil Engineer. We Civils design major works that are used by society to survive.

Transportation facilities (railways, roads, terminal buildings, bridges); environmental facilities (water treatment plants, water distribution systems, storm sewers, storm management facilities, sanitary sewers, sewage treatment plants); Buildings (heating, lighting, air conditioning, structural capacity) etc, etc, etc.

In the public sphere, the demands for open, transparent and equitable our governments insist on requiring Engineers to bid for work. The intent is to save money. That’s a false premise.

Say an Engineering firm is selected by competitive bids to design a $1,000,000 bridge. The various firms submitting prices varied from $40,000 to $60,000 for design and $45,000 to $70,000 for field supervision of the construction. The maximum difference in Engineering fees would be $45,000 or about 53% (using the lowest fee as the base). Forty- five percent sounds like a huge amount to save. But is it a savings.

Engineering fees are largely determined by time spent designing. A low fee thus means fewer hours spent thinking about the problem and designing or on less skilled personnel.

Construction costs make up a major part of the cost of the bridge. $45,000 is 4.5% of the construction cost. A skilled Engineer has more experience in designing structures that are simpler to construct and utilize materials more efficiently. They would be more up to date on advances in materials and methods. A good design can easily save 4.5% over a less efficient design.

After the contractor is selected to build the bridge, the Engineering firm then supervises the work. Skilled knowledgeable field staff can anticipate problems, take appropriate action if changes are required and assure the owner that the structure has been built properly. Again experienced, capable field staff are most often paid more. They; however, can easily save money by timely decisions and proper oversight.

Choosing a skilled properly paid Engineering firm can easily save any extra money paid them compared to retaining a just adequate company at a reduced cost just in construction costs.

A large cost of many public works is the ongoing maintenance costs. A design that considers ongoing maintenance can save the owner much more cash than the amount paid the designer and possibly by designing for optimal performance significantly more money than any increase in fees.

Recent evidence given by an Engineer from the Gatineau in Quebec brought this dilemma to public light. Firms in that area got together to at least maintain the fees being paid at a level where the companies could provide adequate Engineering.

Engineers are required by their enabling legislation to protect the public. We protect the public from our employers (who don’t always like spending enough money). There is a cost for the proper Engineering required to provide this protection.

A bit of a story.

I need a bit of dental work. I went on line, did a search and figured out what needed to be done. I then took out my yellow pages and got a list of dentists. These dentists were sent a request for a price to do the work. I chose the one who submitted the lowest price. Yeah right.

Why do governments insist on choosing Engineering services with low bid methods.

The Plaidneck

Reporting on “infrastructure”

My career was in civil engineering. I worked at the municipal level. I’m sure my profession tinged how I see the world, but I believe it’s a considered view that is poorly served by popular media.

From the number of people who contribute to municipal public works, I know there many many others who have a similar outlook on how things fit together.

Recent reporting on a number of newsworthy failures leaves a lot to be desired.

1. The recent collapse of a bridge over the Skagit River in Washington state was one.

Onsite pictures mainly showed cars on the downed span deck and orange dressed “first responders” working to get the three people off and milling about

Pictures of the downed structure were limited to long shots of the truss and the first pier.

It wasn’t until days later that someone decided to show the cross member that was apparently struck.

2. The coverage recent Alberta flooding (a personal tragedy to be sure) was lacking in technical substance.

Most of the pictures were of inundated land with little context as to how far from the river and where within the floodplane.

As the water started to come down we were finally favoured with a picture that put some of the flooding in perspective. A small hamlet resident was standing on high ground viewing his former settlement surrounded by water and wetland. His comment was basically “I’m not going to live down there any more, I think I’ll build up here on the high ground. How much of the flooded areas are identified in floodplane?

An asside Many of the homes shown looked relatively new (size, appearance, chimneys of framed in stainless steel chimney sections). Why were those new residences even built in the floodplane?

3. The failure of the CPR Bridge in Calgary

The pictures again show close ups of the pier, the failed span end and rail cars plus the usual first responders reacting to things.

A simple pan across the structure to show the height of adjacent piers compared to the one that settled would illustrate the suspected problem much better.

4. Water, sewage plants and electric generating stations. We rarely see the municipal crews working to keep their particular infrastructure plant dry and functioning.

Its good background to show boats, trucks and first responders carrying people from flooded areas (usually areas that are mostly still backwater), citizens working sandbagging but not the work around critical infrastructure. This work is vital but seems to be an afterthought for popular news reporting.

5. This one’s a bit older – the La Baie landslide that killed people.

Most of the coverage showed a building (an old mill??) surrounded by rushing water. However, there were landslides and people were caught in the slides. The slide took place in July 1996.

It wasn’t until a year later did a magazine doing in depth investigating was the following reported.
– There was a landslide mapping done by the Province in 1978
– The local Official Plan (which guides development) dated 1992 did not include the susceptible areas
– The location of the house in which two people were killed was in one of the locations identified by the Province 25 years before

Sensationalism is not wrong, but it must be accompanied by sufficient considered news coverage and background to satisfy those of us who want to know not just the what, when and where but also the why.

The Plaidneck

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