A world-wide phenomenon, geocaching is a treasure hunt in which participants use GPS coordinates to find hidden caches. As an engineering firm, geocaching seemed like the perfect organizational activity, pairing technical skills with technology. Through a two-hour race on a hot July afternoon, I learned that there is more to geocaching than a simple map and treasure. Below are the five ways in which I believe geocaching can improve your staff:
1. It encourages team building For our Calibre geocaching event, we split participants into teams of 3 or 4. Doing so encouraged interaction between staff members, regardless of title or position in the firm. We put principals with junior engineers, and we paired people who do not always have the opportunity to work together. This built new relationships and strengthened existing relationships.
Further, the geocaching encouraged people to work together as a team. Our geocaching event utilized both a mapping application and a compass, which required one person to hold the map and one to hold the compass. Other team members were lookouts or scouts. This format encouraged people to practice communication skills and to learn how to work together as a functional unit.
2. It teaches staff to read GPS coordinates Working in the engineering industry, learning how to read GPS coordinates is essential. It helps with mapping skills and planning skills, and it helps our staff understand blue prints, maps, and AutoCAD. Further, through this geocaching exercise, our staff also practiced using their compasses, a skill that comes in handy living in a state like Colorado. Both tools improved critical thinking, site planning, and mathematical skills.
Afraid of getting lost on a mountain hike, or looking to quicken your Google Earth skills, or having trouble “seeing” the grading lines on your AutoCAD drawing? Take a look at geocaching.
3. It hones problem solving skills When our teams initially started out on their geocaching adventure, they were given minimal instruction on utilization of the GPS application and compass. They were also given minimal instruction in terms of what the geocaches looked like. This limited information allowed our staff to practice their problem solving skills, working together to determine the optimal way to use the tools at hand to execute the task at hand.
In addition, some of our team members utilized an Android app, while others utilized an iPhone app, and some of the geocaches were across fields, while others where across bridges. Our staff figured out how to use their applications and the best routes to get to each geocache. They also assigned responsibilities and learned from one geocache to the next, honing their problem solving skills and growing with each cache.
4. It identifies natural leaders for future development While out on the trail, teams naturally fell into roles. There were leaders, there were scouts, there were technical experts, and there were cheerleaders. Dividing the staff into teams allowed our management team to see the natural skill and comfort level of each employee. This is extremely valuable when it comes to recognizing leadership qualities in quiet team members or witnessing how certain staff can motivate other staff members.
Looking to identify the natural leaders or cheerleaders in your firm? Geocaching might be a solid option.
5. It improves cat-like reflexes to respond to wildlife While geocaching, you’re bound to run into wildlife. One of our teams specifically greeted a slow-but-steady bull snake. Say hello to their team mascot, videoed below.
If you’re looking for an activity for your next corporate team-building event, consider geocaching.
Out of the box, AutoCAD Civil 3D provides its users with numerous tools to help make the process of modeling pipe networks, alignments, profiles, and surfaces, faster and more efficient. One such tool I use quite often for surfaces is known as the “Paste Surface” command. Pasting a surface allows you to seamlessly blend the contours of one surface (Say a stockpile, a finished grade surface, or even some topo from a surveyor) into, and on top of, the contours of another surface (Perhaps the existing topo you’re currently working with). The end result being a seamlessly blended surface that you can show off to your friends, family, managers, and clients.
Ideally, the process of pasting surfaces can be completed in 7 quick clicks of the mouse. Unfortunate for us, things don’t always go so smooth. From time to time, you may receive the dreaded “Error Performing Edit” window. What does that mean exactly? Nobody can say for certain. Using perhaps the vaguest warning humanly possible, Autodesk leaves you with no direction on how to remedy the situation.
Thanks to Brad Kanther, a Technical Consultant at A2K Technologies and the moderator of the Cee Three Dee blog, a possible solution may have been found. He believes that the cause of the “Error Performing Edit” window 99% of the time is a result of a boundary that needs to be cleaned up (i.e. Removing overlapping segments, deleting duplicate points, weeding, etc.). In his blog post from September 18, 2015 titled Diagnosing the Surface Pasting Problem – “Error Performing Edit”, he reveals his technique to clean up boundaries using the Overkill and Steppedoffset commands. Once the boundary of the surfaces has been cleaned, the paste command should work as intended! I hope this tip from Brad helps those of you scratching your head about this incredibly vague error!
Civilizations have endeavored to improve their condition through modifications of their environment for millennia. Often, these advancements have resulted in unforeseen consequences due to a lack of foresight. As a southerner and lover of Mark Twain, when I thought of these concepts my mind wandered to the Mississippi River and all that has been done to tame its mighty waters. Included below is a brief history of river engineering projects that have been undertaken in the Mississippi River Basin (MRB) and some of their unintended consequences. The reader is directed to the USGS report linked at the conclusion of this entry which provides greater detail on these issues.
Mississippi River Basin The Mississippi River Basin (MRB) covers portions of 31 states and two provinces of Canada. Comprising 41% of the contiguous United States, it is bound by the Rocky Mountains in the west and the Appalachian Mountains in the east. The Mississippi River itself runs 2,340 miles from its headwaters in Minnesota to its outlet in the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans. It is both one of the longest and most engineered waterways in the world. Left solely to the physics of nature, the Mississippi River represented a wild and unpredictable force affecting great portions of the country through course migration and regular flooding. A complex system of manmade dams, levees, floodways, and dikes have tamed the river significantly by providing protections from flooding and fixing its channel more or less on the course it had around 1900 when river engineering projects reached a colossal scale. While the August 2005 flooding of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina brought the city’s geographical challenges to the attention of much of the country, the devastating effects of the hurricane were exacerbated by many of these civil engineering decisions tracing back to the 18th century.
Fluvial Geomorphology Basics As rivers flow downstream they tend to meander in a circuitous path, depositing sediments on the lower velocity regions inside of a bend, and scouring out the bank on the higher velocity regions towards the outside of the curve radius. This process results in a phenomenon in which the river tends to further migrate across its valley in the direction of the river’s outer edge. As the channel slope and velocity decreases along with the widening of this arc, the river will ultimately cut off the loop, shortening the length of its channel again, leaving behind an oxbow lake in its former path as the process starts all over again. In this manner the course of the Mississippi has exhibited great variability even in anthropologic times. Energy decreases as the river widens along its path from higher to lower elevations. Much of the Mississippi River delta region is a result of sediment deposits ultimately turning into solid land. High discharge meteorological events periodically raise a river’s surface level above the banks of its channel, resulting in flooding of adjacent lands. Left untouched by man, thus, a river such as the Mississippi is a dynamic and unpredictable entity of great power.
River Engineering of the MRB Following a series of devastating floods, The Flood Control Act of 1928 galvanized existing localized engineering efforts within the MRB into a more comprehensive basin-wide project to be implemented by the Army Corps of Engineers. The results of this ongoing initiative are obvious. Most of the river miles within the MRB have been improved for transportation purposes. These alterations include removal of obstructions, deepening of the channel through dredging, and channel straightening for more efficient travel. Articulated concrete block mattresses or rip rap revetments cover and stabilize existing banks throughout the MRB. Dikes have been constructed extending perpendicular to the river’s path from the banks, directing flow towards the center of the channel where it creates a high velocity and deep scour zone. Levees and floodways act as measures against flooding in high discharge events throughout the basin. Levees made of compacted sediment, impermeable clays, or concrete function essentially as high water dams running parallel to the river, while floodways are simply engineered channels that may be opened to redirect water threatening densely populated areas to locations where a flood would be less devastating. All of the Mississippi’s tributaries are impounded by dams and reservoirs which are used to control discharge for navigation, flood control, irrigation, hydropower, and water supply purposes.
Effects of River Engineering in the MRB These river engineering projects have resulted in significant socioeconomic benefits for the United States, including boons to transportation, agriculture, hydroelectric power, and flood control which has made the existence of cities along the rivers practical. However, these advancements come at a cost as these projects have resulted in many unforeseen negative consequences. The overall sediment load of the MRB has been reduced by more than 60% due to the combined effects of reservoirs built on the Arkansas and Missouri Rivers, dike field sedimentation, a reduction in upriver flooding, and stabilization of channel banks with revetments. Coastal wetlands and bogs which rely on this influx of silt are sinking into the Gulf at an alarming rate, currently equivalent to the area of a football field with each passing hour, or 1.2 million acres since the 1930’s. The importance of these wetlands cannot be overstated. In addition to providing habitat for an incredibly diverse array of plant and animal species, these wetlands naturally act as an overflow mechanism, providing a flood buffer for coastal communities by absorbing great volumes of water during storm surge events. In the case of the Mississippi, not only is historic New Orleans at stake, but also the entire Port of South Louisiana. These facilities serve as the point of entry to the nation’s internal waterway system and provide vital infrastructure to the country’s oil and gas industry. Looking offshore, the coastal wetlands of the MRD also support the largest commercial fishery in the contiguous states. Taken as a whole, preservation of the coastal wetlands and communities of the MRB is truly an issue of national security.
Conclusion Civil engineers have played a significant role in both the advancements and ecological degradation associated with engineering of the MRB. Since it is both impractical and undesirable to return the MRB to its natural state, solutions will need to be developed which counteract the negative effects of these alterations. Civil engineers will remain at the forefront as remediation, stabilization, and water resources projects are undertaken. With population growth and climate change magnifying existing stresses on our environment, the need to build holistically with a broader understanding of how the built environment interacts with the natural one is more important than ever.
As an engineer, I immediately gravitated toward the episode entitled “Bridges: Nature Abhors Them.” This episode focuses on bridges, both the various kinds of bridges and the basics of their designs. While it may not be the kind of overview you’ll need to pass your impending PE exam, the podcast gives a great overview that will surely reignite any interests in bridges you had, even those that drove you to build that popsicle stick bridge in 6th grade. Even if your only known fact about bridges is that they are the chosen dwelling structure for territorial trolls, Bryant and Clark’s summary will surely enable you to impress your friends with a few factoids about tensile forces. A particular highlight for me was the discussion of the “living bridges” in India.
Please note that because this is a free podcast, there are intermittent advertising plugs throughout the podcast, including one at the very beginning of the episode.
As the HR Manager for Calibre Engineering, I am responsible for performing exit interviews with all staff who journey on from Calibre. Upon performing a literature search on employee exit interviews, I found resources for questions, dos and don’ts, forms/paperwork for resignation, prevention of litigation, and benefits of exit interviews for the company itself. But, there was little to no literature about the needs of the employee with regard to emotional “closure”. In my experience as an HR Manager and prescriptive therapist, I find the emotional needs of the employee to be a vital piece of the exit interview process.
Thinking back on the exit interviews that I have done, I find a trend in the needs of the departing staff member. I have found that the emotional needs of the employee are to generally say “good-bye,” or to have some sense of closure. Personally, I accomplish this at the end of the interview by thanking the employee for all of his/her hard work for the organization/company. Often, I will even acknowledge specific projects or tasks that the staff member did during his/her employment. Then, as the employee is leaving the building or office, I always wish him/her “good luck on your life journey.” This gives the employee a sense of closure and allows them to leave with a positive impression of the company and the exit interview process.
Importantly, as each employee leaves my office, I find that I remember most clearly the closure process and little about the rest of the exit interview. I think this is because the “closure” portion is the most impactful part of the exit interview. Because of this, I would highly recommend offering the employee a sense of closure as s/he leaves the exit interview.