Letters to the Editor

July 2006 » Letters
Letters for July 2006
CE News Staff

Photo essay

I can’t say I "enjoyed" seeing again the photograph of the West Branch Middle Brook Reservoir Dam overtopping in the June 2006 issue of CE News, but it did stir some thoughts. Regarding your comment about a failure of the dam without a core wall "causing much greater loss of life and property," please note there was no loss of life and minimal, if any, property damage caused by the actual overtopping, since only the top foot or so of the dam washed away above the core wall. As a result, there was only a small amount of stored water released from the reservoir because of the overtopping. This makes the core wall’s role in preventing a downstream disaster even larger.

Joe Skupien
via e-mail


In Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S.’s June 2006 article, "Photo essay: Progress and problems," several readers pointed out that the photo of the last traffic light on Interstate 90 was taken in Wallace, Idaho, not in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

Bob Drake
CE News Editor

Open source software

In response to your request in the May 2006 issue of CE News, I am letting you know where our firm is in the use of opensource software. Our firm is investigating the replacement of Microsoft Office with Openoffice.org’s software. It is a bundle of programs (offering spreadsheet, word processing, presentation, and database functions and more) comparable to the Office suite. So far in testing, no limitations have been encountered by the substitution, but it is early. Our firm will be able to reduce spending on software dramatically if OpenOffice becomes our company standard.

We would be interested in open-source software that compares to Microsoft Outlook, both the Exchange Server and workstation products. I hope if another firm volunteers information about such a product, you will publish it in a future issue. Although basic, I hope you’ll find my contribution useful. Thanks for providing a venue for collaboration.

Anna Youtsey
via e-mail

Report writing dilemma

Regarding the article, "An ethical dilemma regarding report writing" (February 2006), I would first like to state that the person asking Pagan to remove the text "result of …," is correct. First off, you should never use the word result in your writing. It is not a concise word. I have written a thesis, and anytime the words effect, affect, and result were used, the Ph.D.s reviewing my paper immediately redlined them for removal.

So, yes, Pagan should have changed/ corrected his report. This is a technical writing issue. And, yes, the second version sounds much better.

Additionally, yes, I have been asked to change reports many times, in addition to my thesis. Usually, I am asked to change overly technical reports to make them easyto- read reports for laypeople. I don’t necessarily think these changes are necessary, but I make them to please my boss. I do believe Pagan was being stubborn about his word choice. Sometimes people who are not engineers see things differently than we do.

As a helpful tip, one of the most intelligent people I have ever met (who is a Ph.D. in soil science from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo), gave me the following list of words that should never be used in writing: affect, effect, alter, impact, change, influence, amount, consequence, problem, also, back, kind, like, that, there, turn, well, and in order. Note that this list mainly is directed toward journal articles and thesis papers. Adding -s, -es or -ed to the end of these words is still the same word.

He states that these words cause you to be imprecise. Now these words may not sound like much, but they can direct your writing in the wrong direction for the audience.

I hope this helps.

C.Robin Cunningham
Santa Maria,Calif.

The published replies in the April issue make me want to hit my head to see if my brain is working. As engineers we are supposed to be above the rule of "money will buy anything." We are retained, not hired. We work with our clients, not for them. What good are our seals if they can be purchased? We are retained because we are expected, as engineers, to give unbiased opinions and recommendations. Our opinions may well be in error, but they are, and must be completely honest. If our clients do not wish to follow our recommendations, that is their privilege and their responsibility. They have no right to attempt to bulldoze or bribe us into saying what they wish to hear.

We are engineers, primarily; businessmen by necessity; and as such, the customer is not always right. He or she does not generally have our knowledge, and in my experience, there are very few reviewers who have adequate background to accurately critique my work. Most reviews are done using a check list, with the measure of the review’s value being the number of objections or "errors" that are found in the project. I fight this, which does not make me popular with municipalities that use excessive engineering review to control growth, but clients appreciate someone who stands up for their interest.

Henry Boesch, Jr., P.E.
Bolingbrook, Ill.

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