Technology –v s.- Experience

Today’s cell phones have more computing power then the rocket that put man on the moon.




That is a statement that I heard over the weekend, during a television segment that talked about protecting your job from takeover by a computer.

There is no doubt that computers such as Watson, developed in IBM’s DeepQA project, and the increasing use of “Artificial Intelligence”, are raising the bar when it comes to human tasks.  In fact, a recent report showed that during the recession, the U.S. lost 2.3 million manufacturing jobs.  Starting in 2013, we gained back only 550,000 of those jobs (to a total of about 12 million), and interestingly enough we are just about back to the same productivity that we had in 2008 with fewer employees.  How did we do it…technology?  This is not Henry Ford’s assembly line.

However, despite all of the advances in technology, artificial intelligence or not, there are a lot of jobs that need humans.  And there is a lot to be said about humans with old fashion hands-on experience.

As an example; when I started my career in business, I was responsible for keeping the company books.  I had a fifteen column cash journal (that weighed about five pounds), whereby I posted all of the cash and check disbursements.  A general journal where I recorded the customer debits and credits, and a ledger book where I kept track of client billings.  Each month I added long columns of numbers using a 10 Key machine with a printer tape where everything was cross checked to make sure the numbers balanced.  You might call it Cost Accounting in longhand. Today, I simply put my account codes and dollar amounts into Quicken or QuickBooks and push a button and I am done. But it was those years of writing numbers into the proper columns and thinking through the process that gave me a true understanding of how things tie together and how to cross check for errors.

The same basic understanding is needed for more technical related professions such as engineering.  Before AutoCAD (Computer Aided Design), engineers used a ruler (they call it a scale), calculator (HP pocket computer), a T-square, special pens and pencils, and various sundry templates to create detailed drawings.

Many of today’s more experienced professionals (I didn’t say older), like Kent Anderson, P.E., Principal/Owner of NBD, spent years in the field surveying and monitoring construction projects while studying drafting and engineering. Upon graduation he worked as a team member on various building and infrastructure projects learning how to engineer projects that were both cost efficient and durable.  In addition, his time on the construction site gave him insight as to how projects were actually built.

It was not the computer that put man on the Moon; it was the years of scientific experiments and the experience of the human controllers on the ground and in the capsule that made that historic event possible.  And even though AutoCAD Civil 3D software puts a lot of computing power into the hands of designers and engineers, it would be useless without the basic engineering knowledge needed to make it work.  Think about trying to use an accounting program without knowing the difference between income and expenses, assets and liabilities, accounts receivable and payable.

Technology is no match to experience and human knowledge.

At NBD, we use our mind and then the technology.


At Your Service,

Craig A. Ruark, LEED AP (BD+C)


Clark County Fire Station 16


architectural rendering_Page_01Nevada By Design (NBD),  has just completed engineering services for the design of Clark County Fire Station #16, located on 1.5 acres of property at the corner of E. Washington Ave. and Fairchild St.

NBD worked with PGAL Architecture to provide parcel mapping; drainage, grading and utility designs; as well as, traffic control for the project.

While the project site was fairly strait forward, it was on the small side considering the footprint of the building and the size of the fire vehicles that would be assigned to this location.  So to make sure everything fit as it should, NBD used AutoTurn 3D software to calculate and simulate the turning radius of the individual fire vehicles to make sure that proper space was allotted for both ingress and egress of the station’s truck bays.


We thank both PGAL Architecture and the Clark County Department of Real Property Management for the opportunity to work on this project.


Pause to Smell the Roses

Civil engineers live in a world of “hurry up and wait.”   The pattern, though simplified for this discussion, is as follows:

Design something to 30% then send it to the owner and architect… and wait for comments.

  • Inevitably there are major changes so you rush to get back up to speed, make the changes, submit the plans to the government and utilities for their review…and wait for comments.
  • Comments come back and you rush to make the appropriate changes and resubmit for what you hope are “final” comments…and wait.
  • Once the final comments are received, you rush to complete the drawings to 100% and resubmit for approval to go to Mylar…and wait.
  • Once you go to Mylar, you rush to get all of the appropriate signatures, sometimes six or eight from various government and utilities, and submit for permitting.
  • Hopefully, this process is happening with two or three projects at a time so that you are keeping your staff busy, and all the while you are submitting proposals or searching for future work.

My reason for telling you this is to point out that as a business, we are constantly working to find more work, play catch-up, or to complete work without pausing to look at where we have been or where we are going.

This week, I had the pleasure of revisiting a project that we completed nearly ten years ago.  Jeffrey Yeagley, Director of Engineering for the Vegas PBS Educational Technology Campus was asked to speak at the lunch meeting of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) about the Vegas PBS building.  Because of the type of audience, Jeff asked Michael Crowe, Architect of Record for the project and Kent Anderson, P.E. Principal/Owner of Nevada By Design, and civil engineer on the project, to join him on a panel discussion giving perspectives from the design architect and engineer, as well as, the owner/occupant of this very special LEED Gold Certified building.

Now, it is no secret that architects and engineers are similar to cats and dogs when placed in the same room, their thought patterns are simply different.  You couple that with the pressure of designing a project within a certain scope, budget, and time period and you have a recipe for heated discussions, finger pointing, and things not working out exactly as planned.

But you put the architect and engineer in the room some ten years later to recap a project and something interesting happens… an appreciation for each other’s accomplishments.  In this case, the Vegas PBS Campus project site was a huge challenge for everyone.  There was a twenty-two foot difference in elevation from the NW corner to the SE corner of the property along with uncontrolled fill that had to be removed, a drainage problem, ADA Regulations, and building specifics unlike any other normal project.

I don’t have time to go into all of the design specifics here (it will be available on our NBD Blog) but needless to say the coordination between the architect and engineer was perhaps more important on this project than any other we have done.

As I sat in the room, helping to prepare the PowerPoint slides, I listened as Michael spoke about his understanding of the difficulty that NBD faced in trying to make the site work.  Since the broadcast studio portion of the building also serves as a local and federal communication hub during emergencies, it was built with special specifications some fifteen feet below the grade of the parking lot.  Kent spoke about how he had to be creative with retaining walls to assist the architect in his goal to allow natural light to filter down to the “basement” offices, all the while trying to maintain a workable grade for the parking lot above.  And the more the two spoke about the challenges overcome the more they each realized that their collaboration, whether or not they had a full understanding of each other’s design problems at the time, was indeed the one important factor that made this project possible.  Can we sing Kum ba yah?

By the way, I have to point out that the true visionary for this project and the one person responsible for its success, is Tom Axtell, General Manager of Vegas PBS.  He knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and worked tirelessly to convince a lot of people that this was a worthy project.  To learn more about what this facility offers the community, go to

We are all so busy moving from one project to another and trying to keep our eyes on the bigger picture that we don’t take the time to pause and say…”Wow, look what we accomplished together…and by the way…great job.”

At Nevada By Design, we have adopted the “Integrated Design Approach” as its business philosophy and as such, strive to work as part of a collaborative with the owner, stakeholders, and other design professionals, to understand the complete vision so that the project can then emerge organically, with the full benefit of each expert’s input.

At Your Service,


September Song

Here I am, sitting at my desk, staring at a simulated blank piece of paper on a computer screen.

Blank except for the line I just wrote…and this one.

My brain is racing through thoughts as I dig deep into the back of my mind…Ok, maybe not so deep…in search of some clever little antidote or story to write.  A story that will captivate you, the reader, and send you down a winding path to a poignant ending.  If that is…one can be poignant about civil engineering.  Never the less, a tail that is particularly penetrating and effectively relevant.

So, how do I begin? Do I use allegory, alliteration, or analogy to set the scene? Should the format be free verse or shall it be poetic with lyrical rhymes?  Or maybe, I will write in iambic pentameterOh but that would be too much work and Shakespeare might not approve.

Perhaps I will use imagery with a few euphemisms and metaphors to convey my message.  And just to keep you guessing I will throw in a double entendre and a simile or two.  Oh, and I love it when I have the chance to use onomatopoeia in a story to give it that dimension of sound.

Of course I want to avoid too much hyperbole and keep that sarcasm to a minimum at best. But a parody might work very well with a little paradox and a paraprosdokian sentence or two thrown in for good measure.

There are many tools that a writer has with which to ply his (or her), craft.  Knowing how to use those tools and which tools are appropriate is in a sense…art.  But then isn’t everything art?

You may not realize it, and certainly, no self respecting engineer would admit to it, but civil engineering is in a sense… art.  Yes, it takes artful skill to apply the scientific knowledge of the forces of nature, public safety, and constructible designs to a project. And it is even more of an art to create a design that is affordable for the owner, easily maintained, and will still stand the test of time.

For instance, to the casual observer a parking lot is a rather simple design but to an engineer, there are numerous elements at work.  Beneath the surface, is a base of material that is engineered and compacted to withstand surface pressure and provide support for the pavement without shifting.  The pavement is slightly sloped to prevent water from ponding and to direct rainwater away from buildings (toward the natural drainage off site).  The parking lot entrances and exits are located in such a position as to allow for logical traffic movement to and from the street and designed for access by automobiles, as well as, large delivery and emergency vehicles.   Parking lot striping and walkways are designed for efficient vehicle movement and pedestrian safety.  Yet, as simple as a parking lot design may seem, they can be over built or under built and configured in a confusing manner, all of which can cost the owner money in construction and maintenance, as well as, the possibly of the loss of customers.

While Nevada By Design’s civil engineering may not be the preferred subject of a “Gallery Event”, you can be assured that our designs are drafted with the precision of an artist’s brush.  And you don’t have to be an art critique to understand the simple and straight forward approach that we take to save you time and money both during and after construction.

At Your Service,

Craig A. Ruark, LEED AP (BD+C)

Integrated Design Charrette

Origin of the Term “Charrette”

The French word, “charrette” means “cart” and is often used to describe the final, intense work effort expended bycharrette-cart art and architecture students to meet a project deadline. This use of the term is said to originate from the École des Beaux Arts in Paris during the 19th century, where proctors circulated a cart, or “charrette”, to collect final drawings while students frantically put finishing touches on their work.

Work collaboratively

All interested parties must be involved from the beginning. Having contributed to the planning, participants are in a position both to understand and support a project’s rationale.

A multidisciplinary Charrette team, consisting of consultants and sponsor staff, produces the plan. Stakeholders – those being anyone who can approve, promote or block the project as well as anyone directly affected by the outcomes – are involved through a series of short feedback loops or meetings. Most stakeholders attend two or three feedback meetings at critical decision-making points during the Charrette. Note that stakeholders are not at the Charrette all the time. These feedback loops provide the Charrette team with the information necessary to create a feasible plan. Just as importantly, they allow the stakeholders to become co-authors of the plan so that they are more likely to support and implement it.

A major reason the Charrette needs to last at least 5-days is to accommodate 3 feedback loops, the optimal number for gaining stakeholder understanding and support. Projects with challenging design problems and/or politics can last for 7-days or more.

A Charrette for a public project can take place in a Charrette studio situated on or near the project site and usually lasts for 5 to 7 days.  The Charrette team first conducts an open public meeting to solicit the values, vision, and needs of the stakeholders. The team then breaks off to create alternative plans or scenarios, which are presented in a second public meeting usually a day or two later. The team then synthesizes the best aspects of the alternatives into a preferred plan that is developed in detail and tested for economic, design and political feasibility. The Charrette concludes with a comprehensive presentation at a final public meeting.

After the Charrette, the project enters into the Plan Implementation Phase. During this phase the Charrette team tests and refines the Charrette plan. Communication with stakeholders also continues through e-mail, websites, blogs, and possibly social media. During a follow-up public meeting, held no later than 6-weeks after the Charrette, the refined plan is presented for another feedback session(s). The results and process of all 3 Charrette system phases are summarized in a final project report ready for agency approvals.

Technology –Both the Good and the Bad

The events that took place last week in Boston were tragic for both the victims and their families, traumatic for everyone who saw the bombing either live or on television, and dramatic to watch as the clues unfolded leading to the death of one terrorist brother and the capture of the other.  What is absolutely incredible is the speed with which the entire event took place (from the time of the bombing to the capture took just five days), I don’t think that timeline would have been possible even a short ten years ago.

In reality what we witnessed, the bombing, the identification of the terrorists, and the capture, actually took more than fifty years to accomplish. The date was January 31, 1958, the place Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the event was the launch of the first U.S. satellite Explorer I four months after Russia orbited Sputnik.  The 18-pound satellite had a cylindrical shape, was 80 inches long, six inches in diameter and its small package of instruments were made possible by the discovery of transistor circuitry; primitive by today’s standards but a very important step towards the miniaturization of electronic components and essential to space exploration.

Over the years and decades, transistors gave way to printed circuit boards and the development of computer chips that have become progressively smaller in size with quantum leaps in the amount of processing power.  It is this technology –developed to explore the far reaches of space that has changed our everyday lives.  Today, digital technology is all around us.  We take photos and access the internet from our phone, send and receive text messages at the speed of light and communicate with people from around the world, both socially and in business. It is also this micro-technology that has made property surveillance cameras affordable for both residences and businesses, and it was one of these cameras that enabled the FBI to review the activities of the bomb site prior to the time the bombs were detonated and helplessly watch as the terrorists, emotionlessly placed their hidden bombs among the thousands of people who had gathered to watch and cheer the runners as they completed their marathon.  But sadly, it was also these same digital technologies that allowed the terrorists to arm and detonate their bombs using cell phone triggering devices.

Ironically, it was this same cell phone technology that would also be the undoing of these fugitive terrorists.  On Thursday night the terrorists ambushed and killed a MIT police officer and then carjacked a vehicle with the owner inside.  After being forced to withdraw at least $800 from an ATM, the car owner managed his escape but left his cell phone behind in the vehicle.  The police used that cell phone to track down the stolen car and the terrorists.

While technology played a huge roll in this case, equally important was the men and women of the law enforcement teams, experts in criminal behavior, that painstakingly reviewed a random jumble of photographs from thousands of different cell phones and cameras.  The goal was to construct a timeline of images, following possible suspects as they moved along the sidewalks.  One agent reportedly watched the same segment of video 400 times.  However, simultaneous to the police investigation, citizens joined forces on social media sites to also examine crowd pictures, and then virally distributing images of what turned out to be innocent people, complicating the official investigation.

Fortunately for us, there are many more good people in the world then there are bad guys and as technology continues to advance it will hopefully be put to use for the betterment of mankind, and perhaps make our lives easier.

At Nevada By Design, we are staying on top of technological advancements by updating our Computer Aided Design (CAD), software to AutoCad 3D.  This new software allows our engineers to better display underground utilities and visualize conflicts during their design.

In addition, we have acquired AutoTURN Pro 3D CAD software that simulates 3D vehicle turning maneuvers while accounting for the effects of different terrain, obstacles, and vehicle parameters. This software is great for projecting the turning radius of large vehicles and we are currently using it for the design of a fire station.

Perhaps future advances in technology will help us to prevent future tragedies like Boston and the chemical explosion in West, Texas.

How do you develop a property?

As a business owner or developer, your first priority is location, is this site situated in an area that will generate business or is convenient to my current customer base.  The second priority is zoning and will I be allowed to operate my type business on this property.  The third priority is what type of building will suit my needs.

After asking those questions the next step is usually to get an architect involved in the preliminary planning of the project, lots of pretty sketches of elevations and the overall site laid out nicely on the piece of paper, presented to the Zoning Board for approval and voila’ you are three months down the road.

Now you send out a request for proposals to civil engineers to find out how much they will charge to design the grading for a flat piece of ground that drains so the building does not flood, and a parking lot.  Oh, and most likely you want the “cheapest” price.


In reality, by waiting those three months, after you have already sited your building and gone to the planning commission for their approvals, you have already increased the cost of your project.

While the elevations and site layout might look pretty on paper how much of that previous three months of work will need to be changed because: the parking ingress and egress are too close to a traffic intersection and a center median prevents turning movements; there are not adequate fire lanes designed for the property; off-site improvements imposed by the entities such as a meandering or detached sidewalk or landscape buffer were not considered; the parking lot did not meet current code for proper sized parking spaces or handicap access; the sewer manhole on the street in front of the property is up hill from the site and sewer must be taken one-quarter mile in the opposite direction to a different connection point; etc. etc. etc.

There are so many variables that need to be considered when you are talking about the civil aspect of any project.  What looks right on the surface may not be as it should be below the surface both figuratively and literally.

To avoid making changes to previous work or receiving unexpected news about utility, traffic, or drainage issues; perhaps you should look at your planning and design approach.

Why not incorporate a Charrette process into your design

Building owners, architects, and engineers can use the Charrette process to save time and money by identifying and solving design problems before design and construction begin. A Charrette is an intensive workshop in which various stakeholders and experts are brought together to address a particular design project. It is the mechanism that starts the communication process among the project team members, building users, and project management staff. A facilitated discussion allows the team to brainstorm solutions to meeting the building user’s requests and the sustainability vision for the building design.

Communication and teamwork is the key to a successful project, and NBD would like to be part of your team.