Better Council Meetings

Fortunately, I haven’t had to attend too many council meetings in my life, however, in my new role, I am representing developers and clients more and more frequently in the capacity of a Civil and Urban Engineering Designer. My biggest complaint on how council meetings are run would be how difficult it is for the general public to follow on with the proceedings and to understand what the motions being passed or otherwise might actually be about. Apparently I’m not the only one… 

The vague and lackadaisical way that public meetings are often conducted can frustrate anyone who watches local government at work. When commissions or councils vote, citizens can be left in the dark as to what the vote was about and why board members voted the way they did.

A primer on public meetings

This article gives some tips to councils such as lose the jargon, explain to the public what’s going on, and why members are voting on an issue the way they are. Really, it’s all nicely summed up in the final two paragraphs…

Also, elected officials should keep in mind that the process by which a decision is reached can be as important as the decision itself. All the rules of order in the world won’t matter if elected officials do not value openness and accountability in conducting the public’s business.

Local governmental bodies should strive for good work habits and an open decision-making process. That is the least that the public should be expect from its leaders.

Send a copy of the article to your local council members if they are in need of a primer.

Customer Service

What would you say if you received an email like this? All for $19.95! Blog Archive Lycos SUCKS: they held my emails for ransom for $19.95, then deleted them:

I am the manager of all of Customer Service. There is no one higher than me that you will speak with. You violated our policy, which is, despite what you say, completely clear. No one is holding anything hostage. Your e-mails have been completely deleted, and no amount of money can now restore them.

It amazes me that people like this believe that they are doing something good for their organisation!

How do you respond when something is out of line or not quite the way it’s supposed to be? Could that response damage you or your company’s reputation?


Technically Training Engineers

Who loves training? Who loves training other people?

In my last job I spent the final few weeks attempting to pass on much of my knowledge of the design software and methods we use onto several EITs, (junior engineers).  This had been slow coming, mainly due to job requirements, and timings with other commitments. But finally we got there.  The guys got in and learnt some of subdivision design in 12D software.

When organising technical training, not everyone picks up things at the same speed, or in the same ways.  Some people can pick up software quickly with a couiple of pointers and the help files, other people learn by asking questions, others learn primarily by observing. All people gain from parts of each type of learning, and that’s why when training its a good idea to try to incorporate each method.  But first things first… preparing.

The hardest part of the process is definitely preparing myself. The ability to spend time working through what needs to be taught, how many sessions it will take and how I’m going to get these guys up to a standard where they can run. 
Roughly in accordance with the Manager Tools Training Method these are my steps:

Productivity in a New Job

Starting a new job is a great time to be thinking about methods and procedures for personal and corporate productivity. Over the past week as I’ve been getting over jetlag and getting my head around new software, people, places, regulations, methods, techniques and all the other bits that make up a move from one country to another or even one city to another.

I’m starting in a role with lots of new things, really, just about everything is new to me all with the backbone of Civil Engineering, Subdivision Design and Project Management as core skills. So where did I start? More after the jump…

Working Hours

How many hours do you work a week? This question is buzzing around the blogosphere at the moment, following a post by Mike from Freshbooks about the hours he works as an entrepreneur.


First up, cause it’s worth understanding who this guy is, what’s Freshbooks?

FreshBooks is an online invoicing and time tracking service that saves you time and makes you look professional – Fortune 500 professional. FreshBooks is easy to use and you can try it for free.

Online billing is a pretty simple way to keep track of hours done, invoices and payments, and Mike has done a great job with this tool that even has a free version.

Working Week

Now back to the hours Mike works (with a surprise at the end)…

Move Over Basecamp – Make Room for activeCollab

Who likes free productivity software?  We do!

Update #2: ActiveCollab is no longer being developed as free software. For a free branch of activeCollab that is a great community driven effort, check out ProjectPier.

Update #1: Read this interview with the developer of activeCollab to find out why he changed from free to paid software.


You have a choice

I’m sure many readers already know what Basecamp is, but for those who don’t, please don’t click this link, (unless you don’t like free)…

Rather, click this one

ActiveCollab has taken the best parts of Basecamp and other project management and document sharing software suites, and incorporated these into a powerful server based program that is free.  That’s right you read it correctly, free. Read more after the jump…


A Tale of Two Presentations

Bad Powerpoint presentations annoy me. Do you get mildly annoyed when you sit though a presentation that could have been a handout?  Do you feel like getting violent when people read off the screen?

Check out this photo from this photo from Presentation Zen of one of those moment in progress.


Lawrence Hargrave Drive PresentationIf anything in this picture looks good, (except for the Mac if you are that way inclined), check out any of the posts at PZ for tips, you need them.

I don’t get to present as much as I’d like, but I sit though lots of patched together presentations.  This morning was an exception, the Newcastle Civil/Structural branch of the Institute of Engineers hosted a breakfast presentation by Peter Stewart who was Senior Project Engineer for the design and construction Alliance Poject of the Lawrence Hargrave Drive reconstruction south of Sydney. There were parts of his presentation that were not the greatest stylewise, but generally the content was clear, the images were useful and the text was kept to a minimum. His manner and content were engaging and pitched well to a predominately technical audience.  I’m sure this was a well practised talk on Innovation in Engineering with some case studies from his career, but it was refreshing to see an Engineer present with style!

Working With Your Hands

As a boy, I loved to watch my Pop working in his shed, he was a carpenter by trade, and a good one at that. The skilled handling of timber and tools to create usable or functional items, or homes for people to live in was a skill I was in awe of. The smell of the sawdust, the feel of the ear muffs, the whir of the table saw, it was a joy to watch this strong man use his hands to create. I loved the fat pencils used with a square to line up cut marks, and the fact that he would let me into his working world. I would travel to worksites, sitting in the old Kingswood stationwagon, ham sandwich in a bag along with my Pop’s, packed by his loving wife. He was great with his workers, everyone respected him. I never aspired to be a carpenter, but I respected his ability, and the skills of the trade. His skill was far superior to the labourer on modern day subdivision housing sites, which barely represents carpentry as an art, rather more like painting by numbers.