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Stumbleupon Referrals

The Blogger's Pit Stop

One of the first things I learned as a blogger was how important it is to put your blog out there on every social media platform that is feasible.   Stumbleupon was on that list, and quite frankly, I had never heard of it before I started blogging.  But after learning a few tricks here and there, and learning how to check the analytics of my site,  I saw just how important Stumbleupon can be in creating referrals to my blog.

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For one thing, Stumbleupon is SO easy to use.  Just set up your profile, pick some interests, and start stumbling.  When setting up your interests, set up things that are most relevant to your blog first, then things that are relevant to your niche in general.  Thumbs up if you like what pops up, thumbs down if you don’t.  You can link your profile to your Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ profiles.  And Stumbleupon is one of the many social media buttons that can be added to your blog to generate traffic.  You can follow people just like on other social media platforms.  I try to  follow back the people who follow me, and  follow friends when I find them.

Even if you aren’t adding new content, Stumbleupon can be great when you have a few minutes here and there.  You can pop on, stumble and move on.  I like the fact that you can stumble very generally, or be more specific and stumble just within one of your interests.  It is important to stumble in relation to YOUR content, so generate solid traffic to your blog.  You can share articles you like with others as well.   A Stumbleupon button can even be added to your browser, so that you can stumble as you surf, not just stumbling within the site itself.

I add similar content when I stumble, not just my own.  In fact, if you promote ONLY your content, you may be locked out.  You can even check out if others are liking what you have added to be stumbled. That way you can see what is interesting to others, and drive your focus.  I have not done it yet, but you can use their ‘Paid Discovery’ service, which will send users directly to your site.

I have been very happy with the traffic generated so far, with a few minor complaints.  I notice a LOT of articles that come up are old; for some reason, articles from 2009-2011 pop up quite a bit.  I’m not really sure why, and maybe it is just a coincidence within my interests.  Also, when I stumble using the app, after a few minutes it seems to lock up or start behaving slowly.  Again, this could be specific to me as my phone is two years old today (yeah, ancient I know, I might as well be using an abacus, right??) although I do regular maintenance to make sure its operating correctly.

Thanks for checking out my article.  Hey, maybe even stumble it for practice, then check out my Stumbleupon profile at http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/mtheengineersadv

By adding Stumbleupon to your social media strategy, you should be able to generate many more hits to your blog.

Let’s hear how Stumbleupon drives traffic to YOUR blog!

Rant of Rants-GE microwave handle replacement

First, let me apologize for this post not being on topic of my typical blog posts.  But I have been served a great injustice that I thought this rant really needed an audience.  Ok, so in the grand scheme of all that is wrong in the world, it is probably no big deal.  But in the smaller scheme of ‘C’mon are you kidding me???,’ it’s a real big deal.

So…picture this..my son is making popcorn in the microwave.   He opens the door; mind you, he is not hanging on or otherwise doing acrobatics on this door.  The handle breaks.  Well, not even the handle.  The ‘handle support’.  (WHY not just make the handle one piece???).  So at the thought of an appliance breaking, my engineering instincts come in to play.   Locate the problem.  Done.  Its a broken handle-support.  Next, how can we alleviate this problem most efficiently?   By doing what most people do.  Google it, see if someone else has already done this, and copy what they have done.

 

The Culprit

The Culprit

 

Temporary Solution

Temporary Solution

Well the search turns up a short 3 minute video about replacing it.  Minimal tools, level one repair.  I am feeling great at all the money I am going to save by doing this myself.  (Engineers are VERY cheap by the way, hence the roll upon roll of duct tape around any engineer’s house.)

The next series of events was like a bad dream.  How much will this broken piece be? $5? $10 at the most?  Its not even the handle, its a thumb-sized piece of plastic.  Imagine my horror and shock when I find the handle-which is $123.50!! Then I take a breath, and say to myself, its not even the handle, its the handle SUPPORT.  Whew.  Then disbelief sets in.  And denial.  The handle SUPPORT…this thumb sized piece of plastic.  Is $50.25!!! A piece!! After I woke up from hitting the floor, my engineering economics kicked in.  Lets see…I paid roughly $200 for this microwave; The support is $50.25.  That means this PIECE OF PLASTIC is 1/4 the cost of the microwave!! If I had to replace both pieces plus the handle we are talking almost $175, or 88% the cost of a NEW microwave!!!  What bizzaro world are we living in?!?

What in the heck is this thing made of??!

What in the heck is this thing made of??!

Diabolical!! I KNEW I should have been a mechanical engineer.

Diabolical!! I KNEW I should have been a mechanical engineer.

Ok, so for the purpose of shock value, I have used the highest prices I could find.  Even so, the cheapest piece I have found is $27, or 14% the cost of the microwave.  Diabolical.  I really wished at this point I had invested in thumb sized pieces of plastic.  Since I am a civil engineer, I have no idea the parts it takes to make a microwave, but I know not to put metal in it, and that it has some sort of nuclear device in there.  But apparently these insignificant parts cannot hold a candle to the importance of this handle assembly!!!

So, anyway, I guess my rant is over.  I’ll be out $27  (before tax, and shipping and handling), and there will be $27 less dollars to spend on Black Friday.   I don’t really have a point to this story, but I hope maybe some of you found it entertaining in your break from pre-holiday preparations.  Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Vacate of Public Roads by Abandonment in Illinois

abandonment

Abandonment vs. Vacate

A fairly common question/concern that our office faces is what to do with a road that has been ‘abandoned’.  Some landowners want roads that are no longer being used to be permanently vacated to restrict access to their property.  Sometimes these old rights-of-way can become an issue of a property dispute when accessing private property.  Some people put gates on the road.  The road may be totally grown over with trees and brush.  In some instances, the road was platted out, but never actually built.  In Illinois, a road is considered public until it goes through the legal vacate process. Illinois does not consider ‘non-use’ to be a sufficient enough reason to consider a road vacated.

Anyone contesting that a road  is not open to public travel because it has been abandoned by non-use, has to have the issue resolved either through the local highway authorities or in the courts.   The simpler process is to go through the local highway authorities and proceed with a formal vacate process.  If it goes to court, the court is the entity that determines whether a roadway has been abandoned. The Illinois Department of Transportation has no policy or guidance in this area.  Issues of this nature are referred to the county engineer and the county state’s attorney.  IDOT would not be involved in any legal proceedings regarding this matter, since this is handled between the highway authority, the public, and the courts.  The courts would then consider three factors in determining if a road has been abandoned by non-use.

1. Non-use of the road for a period of time (the length of time is not defined; it is up to the court to decide that based on each case);

2. Whether or not the public acquired the legal right to use another route, either new or existing, for access;

3. Whether the necessity for the road has ceased to exist.  When a court finds that a highway has indeed been abandoned, the highway reverts to the original property owners.

The Vacate Process

For the complete process, please visit the Illinois Department of Transportation’s website.  This link will take you to the document that outlines the process of formally vacating a road.   The vacate process can be found in Chapters 10 through 20.

An important thing to remember is that the vacate process shall not deny anyone access to their property.  Even if the road is not being used, if it provides the only way of access to a property, then it cannot be vacated.  Once the road is vacated, the property should go back to the original owner if possible.  If this is not possible, then the property should be split equally and given to the owners on each side of the road.  This property should then be added to the tax rolls.   In a ruling that was passed in 2005, if the property owners refuse the rights, then the highway authority may sell the vacated property to a third party at fair market value.

So as a reminder, at least in the state of Illinois, abandonment or non-use of a public road does not mean it has been vacated.  Check with your local highway authorities, County Engineer, and possibly with your county’s mapping office on the ownership of a property before deciding if you wish to have a road vacated.

 

 

Ameren Power Smart Pricing

power-smart-pricing

I just wanted to post today to talk about a money-saving program that is available to those electric customers in Illinois that have Ameren as their service provider.  Ameren offers a program called “Power Smart Pricing“.  This program allows a customer to pay electric rates per hour based on actual rates, instead of an average hourly rate.

Speaking from experience, this program could possibly save the consumer a lot of money.  I just got my notification today, and I saved $3.95 last month.  Not whopping, but better than nothing.  I see most savings in the winter when the air conditioner is not running.  I have been a member of the program for 103 months now, and have saved a total of $2,546.80.  On average, I have saved 20.3% than if I was using the standard average hourly rate.

Another benefit to the program besides just saving money is that consumers tend to shift their peak electricity usage to lower priced hours.  This can help reduce peak electricity demand, which may ease stress on the power distribution system.

The electricity rates can be checked by phone or online.  This is helpful to find peak rates when determining if you wish to shift some of your peak usage.    Setting your thermostat higher during the day can help with the electrical consumption as well.   In addition to shifting usage, I have found that replacing lights with compact fluorescent bulbs or LED bulbs has also had a significant effect on my bill.

The best way to find out if you are eligible or if changing to Power Smart Pricing is feasible, is to check their website, or give them a call.  Once you join the program, you do have to stay enrolled for 12 consecutive months.  If you wish to remain in the program, you will be re-enrolled automatically.  There is a $2.25 a month participation charge, but to me it has definitely been worth it.

I hope others are able to take advantage of this program, and I hope that there are similar programs available in other states.

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Bridge Load Rating Checklist

In the state of Illinois on April 15, 2016 Circular Letter 2016-10 was sent to all agencies concerning Load Ratings for bridges.  New truck configurations are being allowed, causing there to be more load per axle.  This letter stated that new load ratings are to be assigned for ALL bridges.  Engineering judgement is no long an acceptable form of bridge rating, and new ratings are to be assigned based on actual calculations.

bridge-load-rating-checklist

To help identify the structures that need in-depth analysis, a checklist has been established for all structures.   In response to changes in the AASHTO Manual for Bridge Evaluation (MBE), a September 29, 2011 FHWA memo allowed assigned load ratings so long as the following conditions are met.  The checklist is due for all identified structures by December 31, 2016.  IDOT has set up an Inspection Date Notification System in which the following checklist may be answered.

1. The bridge was designed and checked using either the AASHTO Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD) or Load Factor Design (LFD) methods to at least HL-93 or HS-20 live loads, respectively; and

2. The bridge was built in accordance with the design plans; and

3. No changes to the loading conditions or the structure condition have occurred that could reduce the inventory rating below the design load level; and

4. An evaluation has been completed and documented, determining that the force effects from State legal loads or permit loads do not exceed those from the design load; and

5. The checked design calculations, and relevant computer input and output information, must be accessible and referenced or included in the individual bridge records.

Question Number 4 was done by IDOT and results complete on October 5, 2016.   Our county alone has almost 200 structures that need the checklist submitted.  If all 5 conditions cannot be met, bridge plans MUST be electronically submitted to IDOT.   Item 5 is very difficult for our agency in general to locate because most of our bridges were built using IDOT’s standard bridge plans which have since been retired, or by using consultants.  Access to calculations which may be 40-50 years old in some cases just isn’t feasible.  That leaves the only option of submitting bridge plans.  The main issue will be FINDING the existing bridge plans.  This could potentially be a logistical nightmare.    Some of the older plans were large-format (24″x36″), and access to a copier/scanner that large may not be an option for some agencies.  And some agencies plain and simple may not have bridge plans for older structures.  There will be THOUSANDS of sets of bridge plans that will be submitted.  I cannot imagine who will be responsible for sifting through all of these, not to mention the space it will take to electronically store them.

There are approximately 26,000 bridges in Illinois.  Lets guess that half of them have the information available.  That leaves 13,000 bridges that must have plans submitted.  The bulk of that will be up to local agencies that may not have the personnel or equipment to make copies of everything.  My point of view is this:  Isn’t every set of bridge plans submitted to IDOT? Why don’t they already have copies?

I have sent a couple of e-mails to the IDOT Bureau of Bridges and Structures with questions about this last item.  So far no one has returned my message, but when I find something out for certain, I will update this post.

UPDATE 10/17/2016

The IDOT Bureau of Bridges and Structures has responded to my email.  They say if plans identify the loads as HS-20 or HL-93 and have the stamp of a Licensed Structural Engineer (Licensed Professional Engineer before 1989), then conditions One and Five are met.  If Standard Plans were used, they are considered signed by a Structural Engineer.

Finding Your Niche

The more I blog, the more I come across terms that I hear repeatedly.  Niche is one of those terms.  Blog in your niche.  Follow blogs in your niche.  Branch out to other niches.  Niche, niche, niche.

Engineering

Blogging within your niche is very important.  I blog (mostly) about engineering, because that is what I know.  I don’t want to come across that I am an absolute expert, or know everything, but I just want to throw some useful information out there.  What I am discovering however, is that maybe engineering isn’t that exciting of a niche.   Or a lot of us engineers already know everything, so why would I need to seek out a blog to learn anything else? (Ok, so we aren’t known for our sense humor either.)  But I’m hoping enough people want to know a little more about how things work, not just taking for granted that they do.

What I am discovering, is that blogging itself is a niche.  And a very big one!  I googled ‘engineering blogs’.  46,200,000 results showed up. That’s a lot! (I think mine must be about number 46,199,998).  Then I googled just ‘blogs’ 2,670,000,000!  So just 1.7% of blogs are about engineering.  And that is misleading, since many of those results may be for the same blog, or matching just one word in the search.  But offering tips, shortcuts, hacks, and advice about HOW to blog is definitely a topic in itself!

Following other blogs in your niche can help you out too. Commenting on other blogs is a great way for others to find out about your blog.  Especially if you are commenting on other blogs in your niche.   Others may see your comments and decide to check out your blog too.   You can do internet searches for similar blogs, and see what those at the top are doing right.

So yes, I think you need to blog what you know about, but also don’t be afraid to branch out.  Blog about things you kinda know about.  Or maybe even just about things you like.  Offer reviews, tips, etc. about what you know.  If I can answer one person’s question, I feel like my blogged has helped out.  Maybe you aren’t an expert on a topic, but maybe you know a great hack or shortcut to help out.  That to me is one of the things blogging is all about.   Don’t just blog to be blogging, but blog with a purpose.

Whatever you decide to blog about, enjoy yourself.  Yes, you want readers and subscribers.  But blog for yourself too.   It is definitely work, but don’t make yourself frantic and miserable.   Have fun and good luck!

 

Right of Way

There are many questions that arise when referring to right of way.  Who has ownership?  What is the difference between fee simple and common law ownership?

Right o

 

First of all, Right of Way can be defined as follows:  The land, interest therein, acquired for and devoted to a highway.  The problem in this definition can be what constitutes ‘acquired’.  I will address this issue with respect to the state of Illinois;  Check your local and state regulations before making any kind of final decision on right of way.

Right of Way can be dedicated to a highway authority through a statutory or common law process.  Statutory dedication would of course be the preferred method.  This would consist of a platting process, and the end result is the fee simple (ownership) interest in the public jurisdiction to which the right of way is dedicated.   The landowner and highway authority will agree to a purchase price, and the process is recorded to make it legal.

Common law dedication occurs when there has been public use over a prolonged period of time.  Many times this may consist of privately owned property.   This would actually result in a right of way easement: the landowner still owes (and pays taxes on!) the property, but has transferred the authority to the highway authority for as long as it remains a road.  Some landowners do not realize this.  They think that by owning this, THEY have authority over the property.  Utilities can be an exception here.  When a utility company wants to install or repair utilities on ROW, they must contact and may even have a permit from the highway authority.  If the property in question is of a common law dedication, they MUST also have the permission of the land owner.

The land in a common law dedication may be quit-claimed to the highway authority, making the public body the landowner for that property.

Before doing any work in the right of way, the local highway authority MUST approve of any work performed.  This includes fences, culverts, mailboxes, signs, and even plants.  Each state or local agency may have its own rules for ‘setbacks’, or how far from the right of way construction should be.

To find out what the right of way is contact the proper highway department.  Many times a township may not know what the answer is, and might consult with the County Engineer for their county.  A search should be done for any dedicated right of way.  Some counties have mapping systems, or GIS, that map out where the right of way is.  In Illinois, the Illinois Department of Transportation has a field report record for every road that shows the right of way.  There can be conflicts between one or all of these methods, and the final answer can be engineers judgement at times.  To be conservative, I would say in case of conflict, use the smallest right of way.  In Illinois, the absolute minimum right of way by law is 40 feet.   This is for both dedicated and prescriptive right of way.   I have seen subdivision plats showing 30 feet, but that is in violation of the law, even if accepted by the local government.

I hope this has cleared up the differences in the kinds of right of way.  It is not always an easy answer, or one that a landowner wants to hear.

 

Advice for Growing my Blog

As I continue to blog, I keep running into some recurring questions. Ironic that a blog with ‘advice’ in the title is looking for some.  I can

The whole SEO is really new to me.  I’ve followed a few suggestions, heeded some good advice, installed the Yoast SEO plugin, and went through the steps.  I’ve noticed a few more hits through Google, but NONE through Bing.  I know my site is still very new, but I thought by now I might be generating some traffic.  I have researched, and just can’t figure out what some of these terms even mean.  I need to add a meta-description.  Cool.  What is it?  Besides ‘a snipet of code, blah, blah, blah.’  More work is definitely needed on my part on this topic obviously.

The other BIG problem for me is E-mail subscriptions.  I have none.  I have a subscription form on every page, and a pop up.  I’m coming to the realization that maybe my site just isn’t that interesting, that there just isn’t much interest in the whole engineering thing.  Maybe I’m just not very good at coming up with content.  I’ve been doing fairly well with ‘hits’ to my site, but no one is subscribing.

Need Ideas

Facebook groups.  This has been driving me nuts.  I have a personal page.  Have had it for years.  So now I create a page as ‘theengineersadvice‘.  Simple.  But Facebook wont allow me to join groups as my page?  They will not allow multiple profiles, but at the same time, you can’t use your ‘page’ as your business effectively.  Maybe I am missing something, but I really have no desire to link my personal page to my business page.

So this post is pretty much a cry for help, desperate plea, or whatever else you might want to call it.  Maybe I’ll start a new page called “Blowing off Steam Saturdays.”

Thanks in advance for any help and advice!

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Tips and Links for New Bloggers

So far blogging has been a little more work than I expected.  I by no means expected it to be easy, but I thought my engineering background would make the computing part a breeze.  Wow was I wrong!  I probably feel like my dad does when I try to explain to him what the heck e-mail or even the internet is.  There are so many terms that I don’t have the faintest clue what they mean!  The marketing and social media promotion of the blog seems to take up more time than working on the blog itself.  And SEO? What the heck is that? (Search Engine Optimization…would love a guest blogger to explain that one!)

Luckily, there are TONS of other helpful blogs out there.  There are so many topics, it can be overwhelming at times when looking for an answer.  One thing I can’t seem to lock down it Pinterest.  I know its a valuable tool, but literally making a decent pin seems like a mystery.  And for every part of a blog-social media, SEO, etc., there are many blogs with great tips.

Here are just a few that have really helped me get off the ground:

Janice of mostly blogging has really been helpful.  One of her best posts in my opinion is the 89 free blogging tools that will save you time blogging.  She has answered questions, and is very active on Twitter.  She hosts ‘linky parties’ and a link exchange, and is very open to cross promotion.

I have recently discovered the site www.successfulblogging.com by Sue Anne Dunlevie.  She has tons of information on blogging.  What I like about Sue’s blog, is that she tells what apps and websites she uses on her own site.  For example, through her site I discovered Canva, which has lots of ideas for all kinds of graphics.  There are several templates for different kinds of social media, including Pinterest.

Another great blogger is Marc Guberti.  This guy is only 18, and has over 305,000 followers on Twitter! He has lots of great advice on how to grow your blog including Youtube tutorials.

These are just a few of the many helpful sites I have discovered.  You just have to make time.  You can start out and say, ‘Ok, today I will grow Twitter followers’, and the next thing you know you are on your 17th Pinterest page of the day.  Making a schedule would probably help.   Explore all options that are out there.  I use the following:

Twitter:  Myself, I don’t just follow everyone that follows me.  Make sure the topics or person are relevant to your blog.

Pinterest:  The hardest part about Pinterest is actually making a pin!  But like I said above, Canva has a lot of templates and even some free stock photos.  Pinterest is great too, because the titles are right there on the pin.  You have some sort of idea what you are going to be reading even before clicking on the pin.  I am going to be looking into rich pins soon.  I’m still not sure what they are, but I hear they are better than non-rich pins.

Facebook:  Facebook is supposed to be great at driving traffic to your blog.  So far I haven’t really figured out the difference between a ‘page’ and my personal profile.  You can’t just ‘like’ pages as your page without taking a few extra steps.  It shouldn’t be that hard to understand that most people who run a blog or business would want to have a page separate from their personal profile.  Unlike other social media, Facebook will not allow you to have multiple profiles.  And apparently you cannot join groups with a page, just your profile.  Yes, confusing I know.

Google+:  Well, this one is pretty new to me, but I thought what the heck.  To me it feels like a cross between Facebook and Pinterest.  I still have a lot to learn about this one, so I can’t really offer much feedback.  Still, its social media, and worth joining to promote your blog.

Instagram:  This is another social media platform that I am very new to.  For one thing, I take pretty crappy photos!   But if I can snap some things that are relevant to this blog, or that people find generally interesting, then its worth a shot if it will help drive more traffic to my blog.

Stumbleupon:  Stumbleupon is unique, because you are searching mostly topics, not people.  You simply ‘stumble’ until you find something you like.  Then you like it, or save it to your pages.  You choose topics you wish to stumble.  This one really has helped drive traffic to my blog.  I’m still trying to understand why exactly, but I’m glad I joined!

There are still several platforms that I haven’t joined yet.  I’d like to get the feel for a few before I branch out.  But I encourage you to get out there and promote!  If anyone has any other suggestions, feel free to comment.

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Culvert Collapse: Not Only Bridges Can Fail

When you think of a ‘collapse’, you normally think of a bridge. This is not always the case. Pipe culverts can collapse also, leading to devastating consequences. Just because there may not be a ‘structure’, does not mean there cannot be a collapse. I think when we imagine a culvert, we are thinking of a small pipe. But these pipes can be up to 10 feet in diameter, and maybe even bigger. So if a 10 foot pipe culvert would collapse, that could mean a 10 foot hole in the road! There are several factors that can lead to the failure of a culvert, with some failures happening suddenly, and some happening over time.

Culvert Collapse

Culvert Collapse

Some pipe culverts collapse due to material weakness. Metal culverts can become corroded from either chemicals from runoff, or from water sitting in them for extended periods. After time, the bottom may rust, then the culvert may fail.  Even though these culverts are typically designed for a 50 to 75 year service life, and have some type of corrosion protection (galvanization, asphalt coating,) corrosion may take plus much sooner.  This can be sudden, or may take years. Concrete culverts have a tendency to separate at the joints. One section may start to separate, maybe even causing a chain reaction. Sometimes an end section or even more than one, may fall completely off. This can lead to the road being too narrow and steep at the culvert. Groundhogs can even make the joints weak by burrowing on top of them.  Plastic culverts (HDPE, etc.) may also fail from joint separation, or possible material weakness. They can be affected by different factors such as sunlight.  Proper cover must be over the culverts as well, or loads can be transferred directly to the pipe without being distributed properly over the soil/road on top of the pipe.

Culverts that become obstructed can also pose a problem.  If debris is blocking a culvert, the water will find the path of least resistance.  The water may try to go around the culvert, or even under it.  In these instances, the pipe may be intact, but the soil around the culvert may wash out, creating a hazardous situation.  This could happen during a flood, at which point the soil may wash out and cause a sudden collapse of the road.

It is a good idea to set up some kind of inspection schedule and inventory when it comes to pipe culverts. If you notice a dip in the road, or cracking above a culvert, it probably needs to be inspected.