A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 70

Day 70

GIS Group Meeting

Today started out amazing then in the afternoon went to total frustration. I had to leave very early this morning to meet a co-worker for a GIS meeting of IMAUG – Illinois Municipal Arc Users Group. If you are into GIS, this is a great group to get involved with. Today's meeting was in Vernon Hills so pretty far away from Geneva where we work. But it was well worth going to. I was scheduled to speak first thing about QR Codes. Not sure it was a subject many were interested in, but hopefully I was able to offer some insight into their use in our industry. Below this post is the presentation I gave.

The other presentations were much more amazing! Will Rockwell from the village of Vernon Hills explained to us how to use Google Fusion tables and maps to make incredible GIS maps. Wow – they turned out great looking with very little work. Here is a link to more information from Google about using this tool: http://www.google.com/fusiontables/Home/

We also heard from a few other speakers who talked about applications for checking properties with liens, ESRI certifications, and a county web map service.

Parking Lot Project

After lunch and after we returned, I went with a couple other engineers to meet with a few people to discuss the design of the alley that will connect our proposed parking lot with one of the main streets through our downtown. This was a good meeting, and we look forward to getting a landscape design from the person we met with.

Water Main Project

My primary frustration hit when one of the engineers gave me a copy of the easement plats we had arranged to have prepared for our water main project. We had purposely hired a local firm to provide the surveying services because they have always produced such good work for us in the past. Imagine my surprise when the engineer gave me the plat and said, "we have a problem – they left off part of the property." Sure enough they had missed the fact that the property owner had acquired additional property over which our easement should have run. And as the engineer pointed out, the surveyor had actually shifted our easement over from where we had shown it to be because of missing this additional parcel. Well, when I looked at who prepared the plat, it was not the firm we had hired but another that we had specifically chosen not to use exactly because of problems like this. So I called the firm we had hired to ask why they hired another firm to do the work we hired them to do. All they said was sometimes they do that. No apology – no "I guess we should have asked if we could sub out the work." Nothing. I am not even quite sure how to respond at this time because I have never even heard of a firm doing such a thing. We are supposed to meet on Monday to discuss where to go from here.





A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 47

Day 47

As I had mentioned yesterday I took a vacation day on Thursday so I could attend the student-parent day at my daughter's middle school. But back at work today! And after today, I'm ready to say lock me in a dark, lonely room and hang a sign on the door with a big "IT!" Wow, did we ever get into running down some IT-related issues today. Read on to hear our problem, and how we went about discovering the solution!

First, some background!

Our engineering division oversees the GIS for the city. And we are in the process of structuring GIS so that we are primarily responsible for the geospatial part of  GIS and each city department is responsible for the data side of it.  We have set up a GIS team for the city, and each department has identified someone who is their team member and GIS liason. That person most likely will have GIS software on their computer and will be responsible for representing and managing the GIS data for that department.

And, now the problem

In addition to managing the geospatial side of GIS, we also manage the server and the web applications. And yesterday, my supervisor emailed me to let me know the web map was down. This had happened once before, and the GIS technician had to create a new web map to fix the problem. This time, she tried to just edit the existing map rather than create yet another map, but she could not save her changes. So I tried logging in and editing the map discovering that the software allowed me to do so. But it would not take my changes because it said it was locked out by another account. She mentioned that the only thing she could think of that was different was that our Windows system had required her to change her password recently. So I told her to ask our IT department to change it back so we could see if that was it. 

The research

In the meantime, I started researchig the error displayed when I had tried to edit the map. It appeared to have something to do with the user and permissions. It seems that when a user creates a web application, a config file is created that tells the app how to perform. Because the app must access data to display on the map, it must do so by "pretending" to be one of us. So the user name and password of the map creator is captured and stored in encrypted form in this config file.

And of course, the trial and error phase

So to test this, I made a copy of our map and edited the config file as directed in these instructions adding in my username and password. And although this sounds easy, the instructions are not as straight forward as they need to be for someone doing this for the first time. It took me longer than I liked to figure out on my own exactly what to keep or delete in the original file. Also, the fact I had copied the text from the instructions to paste into the file messed me up until I realized the quote marks had not copied over as quotes even though they looked like it. Once I got everything as it needed to be, the map worked!

The root of the problem

At this point, I found out from the GIS tech that the IT person told her he didn't need to change her password back because there was no way it had anything to do with our problem. But based on what I had found and tried, it appeared it has everything to do with the problem. And it seems to have explained some other issues we've seen over the past year with files being locked out. Apparently certain functions in the software lock in that username and password so when it changes, the file locks up for any other user.

And finally, the FIX!

Finally, the GIS tech remembered she could go in and change her password back from the log out screen. So when she did this, the original map came back online. Yay! It might have taken most of our day, but we solved our problem and in doing so learned more about how everything is connnected.


Whenever there is a problem like this, it always makes me think of the funny video, "The Website is Down." I embedded it below although I have to add the following – please read before you view:

WARNING: If you choose to view this, you should be over 18 and not offended by foul, risque language or comments and violence that could be found offensive by some.



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 26

Day 26

Coding payouts

I started the day going through some emails. Then the other engineers and I went over some recent pay requests and the budget line items to make sure we were coding everything correctly. We wanted to do this because our finance department has gone though and organized our funds into a better structure so this year we have some new codes to work with. This is one part of the job that I think is only learned through on-the-job training. Everything we do has to be paid for and accounted for in some way, so it's important to track it all through the use of account numbers. Having worked for a consultant for a while many years ago, I realize this also happens in the private sector. However, in government, we seem to have more rules and restrictions placed upon the accounts. So we need to make sure only certain expenditures are paid for by certain accounts. For example anything coded to the Motor Fuel Tax account must be an IDOT-approved expenditure. (There's actually a lot to learn about MFT accounting that I couldn't possibly cover in one paragraph!)

GIS – Address and Building Layers

Most of the morning was then spent meeting with staff from fire and police. We discussed some GIS issues and worked together to figure out how to best handle addressing and building footprint layers and updates. Right now we don't have a program to track our address assignments or changes, but we are finding we really do need something that allows everyone to know about a change in an address. And we need something that allows certain people to "sign off" when they perform an address-related function or allows them to "acknowledge" that they've received a change. The staff person for the police department came up with an excellent and easily implemented suggestion to handle this: an Adobe Acrobat form that we can all edit. So later this week, I am going to work on setting this up. Then we'll discuss it at our next GIS team meeting and finalize the format.

Road Resurfacing

This afternoon we went back out to look at the roads. Most of the sections we drove today were in good condition, but we did find a few that look like they will need to be resurfaced next year. 


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 22

Day 22

Parking Lot Planning

This morning a couple of us discussed the parking lot we are planning to build in our downtown. The project engineer for the job submitted the necessary documents to our planning department for the planning commission hearing we will have Sept. 8th. I also talked to a landscaper who will put together a preliminary landscape design for the lot and set up a meeting with him on site for this Thursday. The project engineer touched base with our lighting consultant to make sure we would have a preliminary lighting plan done in time for the hearing. And finally I reviewed the revisions we had all made to the agreement with one of the property owners from whom we will be getting easements for a portion of the lot.

Road Project

The contractor has been in this week finishing up some minor work on this year's road project. And the project engineer and our technician have been measuring quantities like crazy. But now is the time when our thoughts begin to turn to next year's road project. So today I set up some times this week for us to drive the roads. During this "road trip" we rate the roads, note the ones that could possibly be crackfilled, and check out any other issues or problems. It's the one time of the year we can really take a comprehensive view of all the  roads at once. I also updated the ratings in our GIS for the roads we improved this year and printed out maps to use during our drive.

Permit Review

I finalized the review of a small project someone had proposed for a commercial development in the city. Then I sent out the approval letter to the developer and a few staff members. Tomorrow I will work on another permit we have in that includes a stormwater permit application.

Sign installation

Water Main Project

During the morning, I also researched the property ownership for a parcel through which we would like to place a new water main. Then I contacted the business to set up a meeting with them to discuss the possibility of the city getting an easement.

Street Sign Upgrade Requirements Rescinded

Our city administrator also sent out a letter today that indicates we will probably not have to upgrade our signs to meet the new retroreflectivity requirements by the date that had been set by the FHWA. Instead we can upgrade the sign at the time of replacement. This will save a significant amount of money for many agencies. Here's a link to the press release by the U.S. DOT: 




A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer

Day 19

Another GIS day

Today was another day primarily spent on tasks related to GIS. Several of us discussed the structure and vision of GIS for the city. This has been important not only because our city is working on a succession plan, but also because GIS is changing so much as it evolves and is integrated with new technologies. (By the way, if you're interested in the evolution of GIS, you can read a recent article of mine on Acronym Online related to this topic: When Tools Converge to Help Cities Monitor their Entire Water System)

A couple of us spent our afternoon at the fire department meeting with the person there who will be handling all their GIS work. It was very interesting to learn more about the software they use to interface with the city's GIS data. And we talked a lot about how we can work together to make our datasets better, not only in accuracy but in how they help us do our jobs better. We also looked at a Flex application they would like to see developed to view some of the data.

The never-ending email challenge

Other than that, I did spend more time than normal trying to minimize the e-mails in my inbox. With us being so busy over the last few months, I had way too many in there and really needed to file them. So I made great progress today, and now only have just a little more to go before it is down to an acceptable level.


At the end of the day, I also met with someone who will begin an internship with us next week. He will be working part-time as part of his curriculum to learn more about engineering and what an engineer does throughout the day. Our city is a strong supporter of internship programs. Our department has had four this year so this will be our fifth, and there are about four other departments with interns working this year.



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 15

Day 15

GIS Maps

Yesterday at the very end of the day, our IT staff added a link on our Intranet site to the web map we had created. This is an online map of our GIS information that's accessed through a browser. Unfortunately we still haven't been able to make the web map in the Silverlight Viewer, so we instead put up the one we made with the default ArcGIS web map application. The map we published is only a beta version, and we are using it to find out what everyone thinks of the format and information. Over the next few weeks we will get feedback from users and incorporate their ideas into a new map. We've already had some great input!

The other task that our IT was able to take care of was getting us access to the county's internal GIS map. We added that link also because it will be a great resource for our users. We are so lucky in Kane County to have a great GIS staff at the county level. They are never too busy to talk to us about their GIS or data, they hold regular meetings of GIS users in the area, and they are so helpful when we have questions about anything.

Storm sewer project

I reviewed the storm sewer project design that our interns finished up. And because we need an easement from the property owner, I wrote a legal description for the easement. Now, we'll give it to the homeowner for his attorney to check and if ok, prepare the necessary documents. We ask homeowners to get the easements drawn up for us if they are the ones requesting a sewer to alleviate their drainage problem. And the city has only done this if the problem is significant and affects multiple properties. In this case the problem meets this criteria so if they can provide the easement the city will install the sewer.

Intern's Last Day

Today was the last day for one of our interns. He is returning to school next week. So we took both interns out to lunch. They both have done a great job helping us with numerous projects. I think they learned a lot of things that they normally would not pick up in school.

Research Property Records

The city is considering selling some of its property so we are researching the legal documents and making sure there are no restrictions on selling the property. Today I went over some more of the documents, verified our ownership, and went to the courthouse to get copies of some of the deeds. 

Grant for Road Work

The city has also received word that we are going to get a grant. So today I was able to talk to our grant liason at DCEO who helped us understand what we could use the property on. Now we need to fill out the paperwork and submit it for approval. This is something I plan to work on next week.

Plan Review

Last week, I received a re-submittal of plans for a development project in our community. So today I started going back through my comments to make sure they had addressed everything. Because I didn't have a chance to finish, I will work on them again next week.