Second Day at APWA

The second day of the APWA 2007 conference started out with a general session given by Jeff Salz – a man who has spent his life traveling all over the world on adventures. He talked of change and how we can no longer continue to approach each day with the tried and true. Instead we need to be open to change. He also stressed the importance of service to our fellow man.

After the general session, I had the difficult task of choosing which educational session to attend. There have seemed to be so many interesting ones this year that are relevant to many of the issues we all are dealing with. Eventually I chose to go to the one dealing with “smart growth” and creating livable communities. Two gentlemen spoke about the neo-traditional subdivisions that are developing in Colorado. We saw examples where roadways are only 16 to 20 feet wide. All I could think of was how upset our fire chief would be – he is worried about the old 24-foot-wide roads we have that were built in the early 1900s.

My main worry about these new developments is that all of the infrastructure is set up to be owned and maintained by the development and the homeowner’s association. I just know that eventually the people would get fed up with taking care of their own infrastructure and would approach their alderman and the city about giving it all to the city. And I know from past experience with certain types of politicians that there would be the chance that the city would take ownership. Some members of the audience said that they had these types of developments and that their city had been approached to take back ownership, but they had required all improvements to be built to city standards, and they had set up a special taxing district to pay for this. One of the speakers had said in his case, the city he dealt with refused to take on ownership when this happened unless the development rebuilt everything to city standards. I think the possibility of taking on the ownership of the infrastructure within these types of developments at some future date is important to keep in mind when passing related ordinances.

The next session I attended covered fleet operations. The speaker, Prab Rao, discussed methods and procedures that can be established to make your fleet department more efficient and accountable.

The third session presented three public works facilities that had been built in Illinois. The architect for each and representatives from these agencies discussed important features that were incorporated in each building. The speakers emphasized the following points when designing a new facility:

  • Consolidate everything
  • Build a modern equipment maintenance facility
  • Replace chaos with order
  • Consider your employees
  • Enclose your vehicle storage
  • Be a good neighbor
  • Play it safe

The final session of the day was given by Aarvid Veidmark, the owner of Specialized Services Company – an Arizona-based contractor specializing in trenchless technology. He presented the different methods used to install underground systems and discussed what factors must be considered when choosing the right method of installation.


APWA Conference in San Antonio

Yesterday, I arrived in San Antonio for the 2007 APWA conference. Today, after registering, I attended my first educational session on right of way management. This talk was given by administrators from Hillsborough County, Florida. They explained how they worked to create a right of way management office for the county after having experienced safety-related issues and other problems with the existing system. By creating this office, they dramatically reduced the number of violations and incidents related to work in the right of way by other entities. This also enabled them to pass the cost of the remaining problems onto those responsible instead of having the county absorbed the costs as had been done in the past.  A CD was passed out at the session with forms and other information.

The next session covered selection of CSO controls and was given by Vincent Spada. This was particularly interesting to me because for the city I work in, sewer separation has always seemed to be the best solution to deal with elimination of our CSOs. However, treatment, collection, and storage of combined flows has instead seemed to be pushed as the better solution by several others in our area. Mr. Spada discussed a particular situation in Springfield, Mass., in which a more thorough analysis proved that separation was the more economic and better solution.

The final session covered pavement preservation and was given by David Hein, engineer with Applied Research Associates, Inc. This session was helpful because Mr. Hein, with his extensive background and research, was able to offer examples that better explained why specific methods may or may not be the best solution. Many times in our community, contractors approach politicians and try to convince them that a particular application is a good idea for certain roads. Often these solutions are costly and not appropriate – for example cracksealing a roadway that has extensive alligator cracking. This session offered information that can be used by a city engineer to better educate city leaders who are approached in this manner.

 Oh, and one of the best times of the day – a talk by Dave Barry in the morning. The man is incredibly funny. Based on his talk, I think every city should name a lift station after him like they did in North Dakota!


New Home for the Public Works Group

After operating out of the Crystal Islands group for the last several months, the Public Works Group has finally been able to acquire their own island. This has allowed for a greater expansion of offerings, displays, and provides one area in which the engineering/public works community can interact. While the island is under development, it will be open to the public so please excuse the disarray until it is more complete.

With all this room, there will be the opportunity for the following activities:

Continuing education classes, displays by vendors, renting of buildings by those looking for office space or storefronts or just a place to hang out, public meeting areas, and possibly an area for Second Life tips/help and a sandbox for building practice by those in our group (if there are enough prims left after the island is developed).

Eventually there are plans to build a short scripted tour for visitors that highlights the work done by public works professionals.

If anyone has any ideas or thoughts about what activities or builds could better enhance our experience on the public works island, feel free to comment here or e-mail the group at


Responsible Water Use in Second Life

The current issue of the SLEngineer magazine profiles the Center for Water Studies, a 3-D virtual build in Second Life that is owned and managed by Delia Lake. (Click here to read the issue: Lake not only has built a creative and instructive site where SL users can learn more about responsible water use, but she also has her group and center take part in real life events.

 This July, the Center for Water Studies took part in the Live Earth celebrations. Draxtor Despres sent me this link to a video about the celebration. You can view it on You Tube by clicking this link:

I think Lake’s build and her involvement in real life events is a great example of how SL users are integrating Second Life and real life in an effort to bring their messages to the public.


The Grand Experiment

I often read about the complaints in Second Life about the development that occurs in the “mainland” area of this metaverse. For those of you who are not familiar with the term “mainland,” Second Life has two types of land. Mainland is the virtual land that is owned and terraformed by Linden Labs and sold to individuals who can then subdivide and sell this land to others. (Much in the same manner that the United States created the Public Land System and sold land patents to generate income for the federal government.) The other type is estate land that is sold as a full sim or island with an area of 65,536 square meters. Private islands must be ordered and owned by an individual who then has the power to terraform the land to suit a particular purpose. The owner can rent this land to others or keep it for private use and always has control over what can be built on that island. However, an owner cannot subdivide this island and sell off parcels – only the entire island can be sold to another individual.

 (The photo below shows a typical private island development. Note the well-organized layout, attractive build, streets, public places, and landscaping. There is a distinct lack of objectionable objects and structures.)

Caledon Mayfair Development

The problem with mainland is that there are no subdivision, zoning, or building regulations, and people in Second Life are upset about what ends up getting built next to or near them. Now, I know that all of you who work with these issues in real life could have predicted that this would happen. Don’t we all hear it everyday at work, even with all the rules and regulations that we have in place. The bottom line is that everyone wants to do what they want to do, and they get upset and irate if the rules prevent them from doing it. But when their neighbor does something that may be allowed but that they don’t like, they demand a new rule to prevent it. This goes back to the challenge in our country of trying to ensure everyone the “pursuit of happiness” idea from our Declaration of Independence. What happens when your pursuit conflicts with mine. That is the eternal struggle faced by our politicians – who do they legislate for? Linden Labs has decided not to try to decide that – the pursuit of happiness is not guaranteed in Second Life.

(The next photo shows a typical mainland development where parcels have been subdivided into such small sizes that they only support ads. Although there is a public road here, there is no distinct route and there are images and builds that may be objectionable to some.)Mainland Development along Linden Road

This new frontier has been compared to the Wild West of the United States in how it is developing; people build what they want. If someone doesn’t like it, they try to use their own ingenuity to either ignore it or drive it away. (Of course, in the Wild West, the use of firearms seem to take care of a lot of these problems.) Linden Labs has created the ultimate experiment that illustrates how people will plan, develop, build, and inhabit their world when limited only by imagination, money, and time. This type of experiment could never have been done in real life. And now all of us who work with zoning, planning, and building in real life can watch as this experiment unfolds. We can observe the behaviors and outcomes that result from this type of development and learn from it. There are many insights that could come out of a professional analysis of development in Second Life. How these types of behaviors led to our own rules and regulations. What happens when all rules and regulations are suspended. How people attempt to resolve problems when they have no government to rely on. Perhaps there are some solutions here that can be implemented by those of us dealing with this on a daily basis.

Maybe next time that person comes in to complain about how her neighbor put up a bright pink fence, I can suggest a prim wall with a scene of her choice….


Round and Round

Although I have been enjoying the use and exploration of Second Life, I have to admit that it is beginning to make my RL  a bit more frustrating than usual. Aside from the usual perks of SL that simply cannot be implemented in RL  such as hovering names above avatars (great for people like me who have trouble remembering everyone’s name – particularly when looks can be changed so drastically) and the ability to teleport between destinations, there are many capabilities in SL that can implemented in RL to enhance or improve RL activities or tasks.

I recently attended a seminar given by the FHWA at the local DOT in Ottawa, Ill., which covered the design and implementation of roundabouts. Although the speakers gave an excellent presentation, I could not help but dwell on how SL would have made this class so much better.

First of all, classes and conventions held in SL do not require anyone to travel outside of their home or place of business. This provides the obvious benefits of not having all of the attendees use energy resources to get to the class. This also allows more people to attend even if they had a short conflict on that day – something which would have normally prevented them from being there that day. If attending in SL, they can easily take off for a short time to take care of this task and then return to class without causing a disruption.

Next, the class material which was presented through a powerpoint presentation could have easily been shown in SL on one of the many tools that have been created for this purpose. The third-party voice capabilities offer the opportunity to add voice, and of course, soon voice will be a regular feature on the grid. The books which were handed out to supplement the class presentation could have been mailed to us prior to the class.

SL also offers the ability for attendees to ask questions during the presentation, and if someone missed a certain point, they have the ability to IM a fellow attendee for clarification without having to disrupt class.

Also, If the FHWA had a permanent site in SL, an area could be set up to store these presentations, so an attendee could go back later to clear up any point or question that may have been missed.

Of course, all of you who have attended classes in SL already are fully aware of these benefits. In the case of this particular seminar, the ability in SL to build and interact with the topic of our class – a roundabout – would have greatly enhanced the class. Although roundabouts are widely used in England and other parts of our country, most of us in the class, which was held in Illinois, were not familiar with roundabout design or function. All of us would have benefited to have the chance to leave the class and visit an actual roundabout built in SL and then drive it with our virtual cars. The FHWA could have signed the roundabout and textured the pavement with the suggested striping to show us visually how a proper design looks. The agency could also have built one or more with design flaws and let us drive them to better illustrate why those flaws must be avoided in our designs. Then this exhibit could have been left in place for a while so that others  could benefit from the presentation.

I have to admit that I could not help but try to convince one of the presenters of these benefits and encouraged him to check out SL. But so far he has not been able to visit so that I can demonstrate the features of SL. I can only hope that with all of the other federal agencies setting up virtual spaces, that the FHWA won’t be far behind. And maybe the next time I need to go to a class, I’ll be able to bring my virtual Nissan.