Saturday, May 31, 2008

Building a bridge... 1

So, in the passage of time, I've run across many people who are interested in what I do for a living. Not just the interested that says "Hey, what do you do?" and rolls along to the next thought before the answer is fully formulated. More the answer of "Wow! You build bridges? That's cool. I wish I could see a bridge get built!"

Like some many things in life, it's easy to get bored with the familiar. Hence, I don't see the same fascination with my job that others do. But then again, I do enjoy my job and find it interesting.

As I'm stuck out away from Mrs. Spit for a while, I thought that I'd share a little bit of what my working life is like. In the process, I'll show you what goes on to build a new bridge - or two.

First off, here's the site. It's an old truss, 68.6 m /225' long, with two 11 m / 36' long concrete spans - one at each end of the truss. This bridge was built in 1945. Sometime in the early 80s it was moved to the present location, crossing the Pembina River approximately 85 km southeast of Edson, Alberta. The bridge used to do its job just fine. And then the industrial (read oilfield) traffic on the road increased. Along with this is the need for larger loads, both in mass and physical size. This bridge is a single lane truss that has a limited vertical clearance of 4.7 m /15'-5" - well below the standard in Alberta of 5.4 m / 17'-8". The design was done years ago, with the bridge being the last part of the puzzle to be built. The road was upgraded and done in 2002, but due to many factors, it had to wait until this year to get started on the replacement.

Here is the crossing for the new bridge. The road fill has already been constructed. You can see the heavy rock armour along the base of the bank. We call this riprap. It's an odd word that I had never heard before I started working in engineering. The online etymology dictionary says this for the origin:

"loose stone thrown down in water or soft ground as foundation," 1822, Amer.Eng., from earlier nautical meaning "stretch of rippling water" (often caused by underwater elevations), 1669, probably of imitative origin.

It protects the bank from erosion when the water levels rise. The biggest enemy of any bridge is, strangely enough, the water that it crosses. So much of what we do and how we do it has to do with protecting the bridge from the water - and in these enlightened times - protecting the water from the effects of constructing the bridge. As such, we won't be touching the river until the environmental folks tell us that we can - starting in July.

Looking at the crossing, you can see a nice gravel bar conveniently placed at the center of the river. Engineers being clever, they decided that this would be an excellent place to have a bridge pier. Not only does the river already not want to be in that particular stretch, but it left behind gravel for us. Of course, we don't found our bridges on gravel. It turns out that below the riverbed, there is a nice strong layer of clay shale, underlain with bedrock. That's what we will be founding the bridge on. Lots more on this in a future post.

The new bridge going into this site will be a fairly large one - one of the larger bridges that my company has built since they started having a bridge department about 12 years ago. It's what we call a "showcase" project. And for good reason - the bid cost for the new bridge is $6.7 million. You can build a lot of gravel road for that kind of cash. The final structure will have two spans, with each span being 49 m / 160' long. It will be built using steel girders onto which a high strength concrete vehicle deck will be cast-in-place. The pier will be a monolithic concrete pier. All told, it will be a pretty big beast.

Next stop, the foundations.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gabriel Remembered

My son, Gabriel Anton, is dead.

Most days I can function in this world in spite of the pain of his loss. But there are days when I just don't give a damn.

It's been hard few days. First Mrs. Spit and I attended the local memorial to infant loss. As I held her hand while I lit the candle in memory of Gabriel, I was sad. When I listened to people talking about the loss of their children, I was sad.

Last night, when we sat in our baby loss support group, I was saddened on multiple occasions after comments and stories told by members of the group.

Tonight I sit in a hotel room away from my best friend, my confidante, my cheerleader, my supporter, my wife. I read her blog tonight, and it left me sitting in a strange place with my eyes full of tears.

I miss my son. Gabriel went home early, and I miss him.

At the memorial service, one of the hardest parts for me was related to music. Music has long been able to elicit an emotive response from me. There are times when I am deeply touched by music. Imagine my surprise when I heard an old and familiar song for seemingly the first time, and found myself moved to tears as a result.

I heard the following lyric, and cried:
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

My dreams came true, I was going to be a father. But then the dream became a mist when Gabriel went on to meet his namesake before me.

At times, I feel that this is so poignant.
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

My Gabriel, like a bluebird, flew beyond the rainbow to meet his maker. And thinking of this, and his loss, left me crying in a room full of strangers who have themselves lost a child.

And it sucked.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some days you're the nail...

It's been a long day.

It all started with yet another morning waking up after a solid 7 hours of sleep feeling like I could sleep another 5. Been having a lot of those lately.

Why? Because I'm having a bit of a year. There's something about having to phone your boss and say "sorry, I didn't put that appointment on my calendar and now I'm inconveniencing you" to start off the week. Then have things go sideways with scheduling for a construction project that hasn't even started. I don't like where this is going.

So I drove almost 600 kilometers today. In the rain. Fatigued. It's not a nice sight when you have to change lanes quickly before you climb up the back end of a car that you didn't notice slowing down on the freeway because the eyelids were drooping. I tell you, the adrenaline shot kept me going for 5 minutes!

I think my boss is disappointed in me. Why? Because I want to ensure that I am home for the tree-planting event that we're having in two weeks. He's more worried that a new guy that starts on June 2nd won't be up to speed on pile driving after 5 days than the fact that I am still in mourning for my son. Good lord man, why did you hire this guy to work on a MAJOR freaking project if you didn't think he could handle it?!?!? I told him that I needed to be home for the planting... and that invites were sent and no, I can't more the timing - sorry. He asked if I had anything else coming up that I needed to attend to. Yeah... not so much. Sorry that my life doesn't fit into what you want me to be doing.

It wouldn't be so bad if they actually paid me overtime. Putting in an 11 hour day and I get paid for 8... not even an extra 3 hours at straight time for today. And this is just the start of the summer. I can see myself being busier that a one-armed paper hanger this summer.

I like parts of my job - really like them. Other parts I could part with now and never be disappointed. It's probably not the sanest thing in the world to want to change jobs so soon after my son died. I'm mostly dealing with life now. But why am I so tired? Is this my body's way of telling me that I'm not over it? I don't know...

I feel like the nail that sticks up... I get hammered down before I know what's up.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Another weekend, another set of home renos

My back!

I'm bloody sore from moving a bunch of dirt and paving stones yesterday. See, I have this area of my house where, if it rains, the basement gets wet. When we moved into this house, it had a GOD-AWEFULL deck. It was covered in roll-on roofing, and was functionally useless as a place to entertain, BBQ, do anything. Plus, it frickin' hurt to walk on barefoot. Who doesn't want to be able to walk into their back yard barefoot?

So we tore it down and a new deck was built. By me. Not quite done yet either. I still have to put railings on the stairs, put up lattice around the perimeter to keep the little dog (not the Mastiff) and the cat from out underneath where they like to hang out and get incredibly dirty. That's a summer project. After tearing it down, we found out why the old deck was put where it was. When it rains in that corner, water goes into the basement. Not really cool. Probably related to our brick foundation walls in a 96 year old house.

So yesterday, we hauled in a bunch of dirt and built up the little area that was left in the corner that wasn't occupied by the tiered flower garden and lattice fence that we put in last year and this spring. Had to slope it away from the house. Then I put down heavy duty poly sheeting, construction adhesive'd it to the brick foundation, and covered the lot with six bags of traction sand. You know, the bags that you put in the back of the rear-wheel drive pickup so that you get some purchase in winter? Where was I. Yes, to cover the sand, I placed a whack of paving stones that we had salvaged from under the grass in the back yard. Yes, under. So neglected was our backyard before we got here, that the grass was allowed to completely cover a paved path from the house to the garage.

So, after all of this work on hands and knees, or with a shovel, or simply porting around heavy stones. I am sore. Added to this a cold that I caught from a co-worker with whom I spent 4 days cooped up in my work truck, and Sunday morning isn't alright for fighting. More sitting around and doing nothing. Except, this isn't in the plans. We have plans to roto-till the garden, etc etc etc... because, thanks to the loss of Gabriel, we're boycotting Mother's Day! We're having friends over for a sirloin roast done on the rotisserie. Oye... I need to go to work to get some rest from work!!!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Never-Ending Story

If this were a real story, the subtitle would be "Or how Not to do home renos"

Back in September, we had a plan. The plan was to take our four Ikea Billy shelves out of the dining room and build the built-in-shelves that I had found in an old copy of Family Handyman. I didn't have the funds for oak, so the next best bet of painting the finished product is what we would do.

After I gave the Billy shelves to a co-worker, I went to our local Rona and purchased a whack of lumber for the construction. Trooping this into the house was an adventure, but I didn't want it out in the weather.

The first order of business was to take down the ceiling. This was supposed to work just like the adjacent living room ceiling. We had these ugly acoustic tile across the ceiling. We removed them, patched a few nail holes in the ceiling plaster from the nailing strips, and were off to the races - no big deal. Well, the dining room had the same ceiling - so same process, right? (The finished living room ceiling is pictured below. Mrs. Spit's handiwork!)

Not exactly. We pulled down the tiles, to discover that the plaster was missing from about 1/3 of the ceiling area. When I started pulling down the nailing strips, a whack of further plaster let go and went crashing to the floor.

Since the whole ceiling was not going to be a one evening job, we evaluated. We pondered. We decided to pull the whole plaster and lathe ceiling down and put up drywall. So, after putting up poly, to somewhat contain what was certainly going to be a mess, at the entrances, I started on demolition mode. Wow, what a mess!!!

This was also when we discovered that there was no insulation above the bay window in the dining room. It was installed well after the original house was built, and they apparently ran out of money and didn't install any insulation. No wonder it was so cold on the floor in that area when winter rolls across the prairies!!! This was one of many subprojects. The picture shows just before I closed in the drywall over the insulation.

Once all of the ceiling was on the floor, the world looked rather grey in the dining room. I had not only discovered that there was no insulation above the windows, but that there was what looked like knob and tube wiring to the fixture in the ceiling. Not good. Call to the friendly electrician we know to describe what we have. Phew... we don't need to rewire the HOUSE!!! Simple wiring that I can deal with. I did put in a proper connection box so that everything is according to Hoyle as far as I could make it.

The next thing to be discovered was that there was a soft section of plaster on one of the walls. Some poking and proding resulted in an area of wall that needed patching as well. Hmm... I know, let's look into pulling down the plaster and lathe wall! And then... we see that the wall insulation is not 3M Pink insulation, but rather, wood shavings. Thanks, but I'm leaving the lathe UP so that I don't have a much bigger mess to clean, more insulation to buy... etc.

Next we found an old newspaper up in the rafters of the second floor. Dated from the late 1920s. Yes, this was when the water was installed for the bathroom upstairs. The bathroom that was once a bedroom! I can't imagine a two-holer in Edmonton in the winter. The newspaper touted a new invention - Bombardier's new snowmobile! Pretty cool, too bad that some mice got to it years ago and ate out the center of the paper, leaving only a wide fringe...

So now it's time to get into the drywalling mode of things. Installing a drywall ceiling when you have a 5'-8" guy and a 9'-0" ceiling is interesting. A trip to the local Rona had me a truck full of drywall and a handy panel lifter. Would have been a touch more difficult without the lifter, that's for sure! So, here I go, learning another home-handyman skill, drywall installation. Note to self - leave any major drywalling to the PROS!!! I had to overlay the wall where the shelves are going with two sheets of drywall, as Mr. and Mrs. Idiot (previous owners) had ripped out a built-in buffet counter in the dining room, and patched the hole by placing a strip of drywall on that wall. So I had to build out the plaster wall to match it. Then there's the whole wall I stripped of plaster, and of course, the ceiling.

Mrs. Spit did her excellent ceiling treatment once I got the taping and mudding finished. Once it is coloured, it will look great. She's still waiting for me to finish the shelves... STILL waiting.

Off to Rona again to buy all of the lumber I need for the job. Bring it home, take over the living room further with a pile of dimensional lumber and plywood. Living in our little kitchen is soo much fun.

I got some of the frame constructed and installed, top and bottom. And then December happened. Funny how losing your infant son hits the brakes in a big way.

December rolled into March without a whole lot of anything being done. This led to much of the dimensional lumber taking on all sorts of new shapes! Warping, twisting, cupping... how much fun it is to watch money get blown to ill effect.

So I went out and bought more lumber. Thank goodness for my work truck!!! After more time, I got off my cheeks and have gotten the timber frame installed.

Of course, why keep on the original design?!? Mrs. Spit had an idea to modify the plans a bit and create a place where we could use the home laptop, including wanting power and an outlet to plug in phones etc...

Into this fell, literally, the bathroom tub. Or at least the taps on the tub. So now we have to replace the taps on the clawfoot tub. For the tale of Woe, reference Mrs. Spit's erudite description.

I've managed to find some hardware from Lee Valley - cue Wayne and Garth "We're not worthy... we're not worthy..." that will allow me to make this flip-out shelf. This was today, and wow... there's a lot of work to go. I want to finish and get the larger part of the main floor of my house back!!! As does Mrs. Spit and the fur-children...

Friday, May 2, 2008

On the path to geekdom

All my life so far back as I can recall, I've enjoyed books and reading. I would find solace in hanging out in the library reading whatever I felt like. I don't recall when I learned to read, but it was pretty young and I was hooked early.

When trailers for the movie Jumper came out, I remember thinking "that sounds like a cool book." The thing is, it seems that Hollywood has run out of ideas. Where are the good films coming from? Independants outside North America. So much that is coming out now is "let's turn that comic book into a movie" "... novel" "... old TV show" and of course "the first one made us a bucket of money, let's do a sequel"

It's truly sad... of course, what three movies are Mrs. Spit and I looking forward to right now? This month - Indiana Jones #4 and Narnia #2. Come November - James Bond #22. So I can't complain too vociferously... but I still feel that the majority of movies that come out aren't worth the rental fee at the local movie rental shop.

The other problem I have is that, with a very few exceptions (Lord of the Rings) I find that most movies don't do the book justice. This is not just due to the fact that you can imbue so much more depth to a character, or describe a scene in so much more detail than you can see on screen, it's more than that. For example, the Bourne Identity. Sure, the movie was cool, with lots of modern widgets. But the book was based in an early 1970's time frame!!! Things were different then! Why oh why do they have to take "artistic license" and screw up what was an excellent book!?!?! Oh yeah, I read this one in my teen years... in the 80's. The list could go on and on.

So of late, I've come to realize that I'm not reading enough. Sure, small surprise with all the net related stuff I've been caught up in. Unlike Mrs. Spit, I can't read before going to bed. I fall asleep, with few exceptions, very quickly. I've tried the read before sleep thing, but reading 1/2 page just is not my idea of how to read a novel!

Enter... the web. More specifically They have come up with a very cool, very usable digital book system - the Kindle. This is the present object of my geek desire.

Of course, being in Canada - they don't ship here. A minor problem, but one all the same.

So, just as Mrs. Spit has recently acquired a lovely ipod, I think I'm going to save my shekels and get a Kindle. I have tons of ebooks already, but trying to read on my phone (PDA) is a pain - and using the laptop is just awkward. This looks like a nice synthesis of my bookworm and computer geek background into a great symbiotic relationship.

So, on some rare occasions, it sucks to live in Canada. While looking further into the Kindle last night, I tried to find why it says that they don't ship outside the USA. Well, for one, the Kindle uses the Sprint EVDO network - no Sprint in Canada. Two, in order to purchase a Kindle, one must pay with a US credit card, with a billing and shipping address that are both in the US. There is some blah blah blah about copyright laws and such.

In short, my bubble is officially burst on this whole thing. Which is rather disappointing.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

In search of something meaningful

It's been a while now since I lost my son. Or rather, since the cruel hand of fate reached out and took him from me. I only had him a very short time before he went home, and there are days when this dwells over me like a miniature storm cloud.

Most of the time, I feel like I am moving forward. I am not, as some might suggest I should be, over it. I am working to get my life back in some sort of order. I get up and carry on with my day, interact with people, talk to people, do my job, go to the gym, eat healthy(ish) food, talk to Mrs. Spit, and generally live life in my new normal.

I've started to think that I'd like something tangible to memorialize my son. My darling wife has a beautiful memorial bracelet. Something about a man in a man's world (bridge construction and civil engineering) wearing a pretty bracelet just doesn't fit well in most people's world view - including my own. So I'm thinking about getting a ring.

I went looking at a jewelery store tonight, and my goodness, there are some seriously ugly men's rings on the market!!! I want something fairly simple, as I don't go for flash in much of anything that I would wear. I want to remember him, not look like a producer for an R&B record label.

Of course, they couldn't give me a good idea of how much things will cost. The fact that gold is reaching rather high values as the world continues to hold its breath about the world economy really is not going to help things. Of this I am sure!!! Especially as I have large hands and will need a size 12.5 ring for my finger... oh dear, this doesn't look good.

See, I'm looking for a nice man's ring. I thinking something with onyx and a small birthstone in the corner or something like that. Topaz, for December of course. I'll see tomorrow just how badly the local store wants to stiff me on this whole endeavor. An acquaintance of mine used to work there, but I haven't seen him in ages. Which is a shame, as I could use a friend in the business right now.

So, I'm looking for ideas. I am in a rut, and as the selection that I saw sucked eggs, I'm a touch disappointed. I want to have a touchstone that I wear, to remind me of all that is good in the world. So that when I'm feeling crappy, I can remember that even in the darkest days of this life, I have a certain hope that I will one day be reunited with my son. In short, I'm in search of something meaningful to memorialize the son that brought joy into my life for six months, and has left me with a persistent sorrowful echo ever since he died.