Sunday, July 31, 2011

Helifix Patch Pins

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PCLS Interview: Marek Baranski, Ph.D., M.Arch

I first met Marek Baranski some 16 years ago when he was introduced to me through our mutual friend and business associate Witold Karwowski. Marek was then in the United States to represent the Polish Ministry of Culture. As I recall he was attending a Restoration & Renovation Show (now known as the Traditional Building Exposition and Conference) in Boston in search of business connections between Poland and the United States in the historic preservation industry.

Subsequent to our first meeting Marek has made numerous visits to North America. On occasion he has brought with him a number of Polish conservators and associates in the heritage conservation network that radiates out into the world from Poland. Likewise I have with Witold and other associates made to date three trips to Poland.

My first trip was the one where I spent four days in cardiac intensive care in a hospital in Szczecin. That was an education.

The second trip was involved with the Annihilated Heritage project related to reconstruction of a 17th century log and timber Zabludow synagogue at a skansen near to Bialystok. That trip included an intensive tour of historic sacred sites, churches, synagogues and mosques throughout the Podlaskie Voivodeship. For me the the log and timber synagogues were like rocket science in log building when compared to the same era of work on rectangular-boxes with a trussed roof of Christian churches in the region. It was on this trip that I became intensively interested in historic preservation issues related to Chernobyl.

The third trip was for a representative group of Americans to present at a preservation conference in Krakow. This junket included Marek leading with whirlwind gusto a private tour of historic sites scattered around the countryside between Warsaw and Krakow. Having worked for a time after High School at a salt mine in the Finger Lakes Region of NY State I enjoyed the tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Of all places that I have visited in Poland I fell in love with Kazimierz Dolny along the Vistula River with the old buildings, igneous cobble streets and stone castle on the hill.

Marek has attended a number of conferences and events in North America. He has spoken at APTI conferences (notably the one in Montreal in 2008 where the film Srebrne Wrota that documents the reconstruction of the Silver Gate of St. Sophia of Kiev was shown) and Marek has presented at several Preservation Trades Network IPTW events as well as participated in several Traditional Building events.

It was in October 2001 at the IPTW held at Floyd Bennet Field, Brooklyn when Marek as a gesture of solidarity with the newly stunned Americans, right after 9/11, proposed an American contingent of timber framers and log builders to visit Poland for a workshop on the Annihilated Heritage for the Zabludow Synagogue. The Zabludow Synagogue project is a long and complicated story that continues to this day.

This interview was recorded on the event of Marek making a presentation in Philadelphia. It is shortly after his six year tenure as CEO of PPKZ. Trivia related to this particular trip is that Marek on behalf of the son of an associate in Poland returned from the United States with a Lego Death Star. If you are not familiar with this object suffice it to say that it comes in a very very large box. Much larger than two standard suitcases in my estimation.

PPKZ was the organization that at one time employed approximately 14,000 people and was responsible for the reconstruction of destroyed historic and heritage sites throughout Poland, most notably Old Town Warsaw. PPKZ included a widely diverse working group consisting of archeologists, architects, planners, stonemasons, carpenters and conservators. Subsequent to perestroika the network and connections of PPKZ became fragmented at the time of Marek's tenure the organization was down to roughly 200 people, but with a vast network of connections.

Marek now has his own firm, of which we are associated, for which you can find information here. Working with our business associate Witold Karwowski we provide support and representation for Marek on his various visits to America, as he so generously provides his time, support and hospitality to us when we visit Poland. If you have an interest to work with Marek and his associates, or would like to know when he will next make a visit to North America, then please connect with us.

There are 6 videos in a series.... each of less than 10 minutes in length.

Introduction, Those Stones, The Winchester Rifle, To Begin

The Over Material Approach

Chopin Birthplace, Salt Mine, Wyckoff House. Wyckoff House and More

Doors to Nowhere, Preservation Poland vs USA, Silver Gate of Kiev

Silver Gate of Kiev, New Company, PPKZ

PPKZ to Mount Everest

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ruminations on RFPs 001

One cannot get the best response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) just because one believes that it will happen – although that desire must come first. A person must communicate their needs into words and actions. This is the RFP – a document that puts needs into words and actions. “We need this and that done. Could you please provide us a proposal?” If one wants a good response to an RFP then the author(s) must be pro-active in their attempt to compose a document that will be clear, understood and well received by the intended recipients of the RFP.

It is not enough that the author understands what they have assembled; it is necessary for an RFP to be effective that the recipients of the RFP have a reasonable opportunity to understand what is intended to be communicated.

Unlike with a fiction story read for enjoyment and subject to a wide variety of personal interpretation an RFP is a document that by intent is designed to solicit an active and focused reaction. The intent of an RFP is that someone will read it, understand it well enough, and be able to respond with a proposal.

An RFP is a call for someone to do something in response.

The quality of the response to an RFP will be conditioned by the quality of the RFP to begin with. To compose a poor RFP, one that leaves out information that may be essential to the understanding of the recipient, is to invite a low quality of response.

If we ask someone to do something, which is essentially what an RFP does, it asks for someone to respond, this creates a one-sided negotiation where the person asked to do something will inevitably wonder what is in it for them. “If I respond to this RFP what is the likely result that it will be to my benefit and justify the expense of my time and resources for me to respond?”

If the balance of this knee-jerk Return on Investment (ROI) analysis comes up that there will be negligible benefit to the recipient in their response to an RFP then there will be no response. The action desired and put into play by the expense of time and resources on the part of the author will go to naught as nobody will be persuaded to do what the RFP requests. Nobody will respond.

That is one extreme and it occurs where there are situations where projects are put out for bid and there are no bidders. It is not necessarily in these cases that nobody wants to do the project or would not be capable of doing it; it can quite simply be that nothing was communicated in the RFP to persuade recipients to want to respond.

In a case let us say where a public agency regularly issues RFPs that are inadequate in the content of their information and where there is a patterned reputation of not answering questions put forward by informed and qualified recipients, then the tendency is, if there is anything better to do, for the more informed and qualified recipients to ignore the RFPs. This is an example of a situation where an individual author could assemble a very competent RFP and it be ignored for the fact that the reputation of the agency is not a very good one.

There are a whole lot of highly qualified practitioners in the historic preservation industry who will not even consider to look at work from public agencies in part because of the poor quality of the RFPs combined with a reputation for difficult to survive business practices. This is not to say that there are not plenty of people that will respond to the RFPs as much as to reinforce that a poor quality of RFP invites a poor quality of response.

An RFP needs at least two elements:

-- A description of what is needed.
-- An indication of the form of the response that is desired.

These may seem like very obvious elements but it is surprising how often one or the other, or both, is not included in an RFP.

It also quite often helps to include information as to why something is being asked for.

On historic projects we very much appreciate when the author of the RFP has assembled and provides a package on the history of the site. We enjoy it even more when provided with previous investigation reports from other design teams. If the author then includes a brief summary of why they are looking to do what they are looking to do then we tend to feel an investment to help them reach their goal, simply to show that they trust to let us in on what they need to accomplish and why it is important.

A good RFP in historic preservation reinforces that all players, the author and the recipients, have the mutual respect that everyone cares about a good outcome. If you care that we care then we will care even more.

If you want an RFP to work then regardless of any other element to the communication show that you care. Do a good job to communicate the essential elements in your RFP and prove that you give a damn.

The response to a good RFP is rarely only about cost and when cost is the only driving factor of a project then the worse an RFP is constructed the more likely the better it will attract cheap -- dumb people that have no clue what they are doing but are hungry tend to go cheap. The question though is cheaper for what? Maxim here is, be careful what you ask for. Or, know what you ask for and be very clear about it.

Too many RFPs that we get for historic projects never say anything about the history of the site. The focus of the author is on their interest, what is in their trance-head, what it is that they need done, and not on the goal to attract the interest of the respondent. It is like with authors of fiction stories who do not care if anyone on the planet now or forever gets it. They get it just fine, no bother, and the remainder of us can suffer, or go do something else like deep sea fishing.

One thing that we try to do when we receive an RFP is figure out if what is being asked for is anything that we can actually do. If the initial indication that we get from an RFP is that there is no chance in hell that we will succeed in a win-win with the project, that there is in the RFP a clear indication of something being asked that we can excel at, that we can provide our best product and response, then we do not want to be involved.

I say that because when a project goes sour we usually hate it terribly, end up not liking everyone involved, and have trouble to get rightly paid. I know this the hard way from having responded to all sorts of really terrible RFPs.

Beside all that, the time taken to read, evaluate and respond to an RFP is usually a loss. The more complex, difficult, or unmanageable an RFP the greater the loss, taking into consideration that no risk advanced leads to no gain. Then again, no risk advanced rarely leads to a negative loss.

If you really want to get me with an RFP then it would have a cover letter to go something like this:

Dear Ken,

We understand that you come from a family of electricians and that you were called Sparky. We see that you have been involved in three projects closely related to Thomas Edison. Edison Barn #11 at the Edison Memorial site that you moved from Greenfield Village, your assistance in the investigation work at the Edison Memorial Tower and that schoolhouse from Edison’s iron mine that you helped save and got turned into a Hungarian cultural center when everyone else thought it was a piece of junk. In respect of this we have been referred by one of our board members, Nathaniel Woodhull to send you the attached RFP for an on-site facsimile reconstruction of Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower.

Friends of Tesla

Now, the RFP itself for this project can be terribly structured but I will certainly perk up to respond not so much due to the ego stroking as that the author took the time to figure out who they were sending the RFP to and to align their need and their project with a relevance to our perceived ability and interest.

A closer on cost... if with an RFP well made you capture the imagination of a preservationist who has a passion quite often they will go out of their way to cut their costs so low that they can't survive on the work... but they simply love to do that.

Keep in mind it is not the number of dollars that is important, it is what you get for the dollar.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Got Goop? IPTW 2011

IPTW 2011, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, August 2-6, 2011

At this one PTN event we had in Delaware was where Glenn started on a rant about the conversion of trees into timbers. His education is in political science but his love is in timber framing. Glenn went on for a good twenty or thirty minutes with a small group of us hangers-on to move back through the steps of how timber frame materials come to the hands of the trades. Glenn claims he does not remember any of this. I believe that he does not remember -- but I certainly do remember as I was a captive of his audience.

I have always been interested in where the materials that we work with in our projects come from, how they get to us, and what are the networks of business and delivery systems that bring them into our environment.

I got in a bit of a controversy when I wrote a letter to the newspaper about our nearby Home Depot possibly closing. I had already seen it wipe out all of the small hardware stores and we would be left with no place to buy anything.

A fellow at a local lumber yard did not like what I had to say and claimed that real contractors don't shop at Home Depot.

Big box stores create controversy for how they push out small and local suppliers. I shot back that I thought I was for real a contractor and on a mahogany and lead-coated copper lined set of box gutters we had built for an historic site in Brooklyn I listed all of the sources of our materials. The project was paid for by a grant from Lowes, and we did buy a few of the materials at Home Depot. The mahogany came from a local lumber yard. The little copper nails we bought off the internet.

We invite all hecklers.

Ken Follett and Glenn James – Got Goop?
Tell us how you got it. Where do our materials that we work with come from? How do we go about procuring them? This is intended as a group discussion and not a presentation. Participants are expected to come with their own examples and questions about where their materials come from as it relates to their trade interest. Glenn James: Will focus on conversion of raw materials into usable building elements. Ken Follett: Will talk about why he likes to shop at WalMart, Home Depot and Lowes and why you can too. The intent of the session is to explore the supply lines that follow back to their sources for the materials that we use in our historic conservation work. If we can't get it then we can't use it, and if we can get it sometimes we wish we did not have to use it. What is your problem?

Ken Follett, Owner, PreCon LogStrat, LLC
Mastic Beach, New York
Ken Follett has been active in the construction and contract business for more than thirty-five years, with specific experience in historic conservation, exterior fa├žade maintenance and waterproofing for the last twenty-five. Projects, primarily in the NYC environment, have included work at the Brick House at Philip Johnson's Glass House (LSA. National Trust), High Bridge (JBC, LSA, TransSystems), Carnegie Hall, Grand Central Terminal (Bovis/LaSalle Partners), West Point Military Academy (EYP), City Center (BCA), New Amsterdam Theater (Tishman/Disney), Horace Greeley Barn, Chrysler Building (TT), General Motors Building, Cable Building, Puck Building, Huntington Hilton (Arnold Associates), Neiman Marcus (White Plains, NY), Edison Building #11 relocation (Edison Foundation/NPS, BBB), Edison Memorial Tower (FMG), and the award winning restoration of the Barnes & Noble headquarters at NYC Union Square (LSA, project received awards from Municipal Art Society, Victorian Society, and NYS Parks –SHPO 1996). As former executive vice-president and partner (1987-2002) of Apple Restoration & Waterproofing, Inc., a specialty restoration-contracting firm, Mr. Follett was actively involved in the varied tasks of marketing, estimating, business development and project management on small and large historic preservation and exterior maintenance related projects. Varied exterior envelope and heritage conservation projects ranged from $20,000 to $6M in scope.

Glenn James, Owner, Craftwright, Inc.
Westminster, Maryland
Glenn Allen James has been a woodworker since childhood and in business since 1983. After graduating college and discovering his passion for historic building techniques he established Craftwright and began producing custom-handcrafted timber frame structures, including barns, homes, chapels, museums and home additions. Craftwright also has restored many antique and historic timber frames structures throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Sand for Historic Mortar

On the premise that historic sand is local.

Duffy Hoffman A-Z Window Sash

Our friend Duffy Hoffman has been working on a DVD and workbook to instruct on wood window sash repair.

Duffy has always been hyper and moves along in his presentation sometimes at warp speed. One needs to either know a bit about wood window restoration, or want to know a whole lot about wood window restoration and play his DVD over several times to capture the details of the wealth of lessons provided.

Duffy is also a jazz drummer and the music on this promo vid is original.

Some years back a group of us purchased Duffy's giant steam box (5' x 10' double shelves, stainless steel}. It is one hell of a fine machine and works real well for shutter work.

Window Preservation Summit: Pine Mountain, promo

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lessons in Project Management

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sand in Mortar

A fine example of how it is the composition and mix of an aggregate that gives character and color to a brick mortar.
From the Greenwich, CT public library.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Strategic Psychological Intelligence

From Selling Power
Kerry Sulkowicz, Founder and Principal, The Boswell Group

Though this video is related to sales activity the exposition of the concepts portrays elements of a B2B service that we provide as a strategic consultant on projects. Quite often our associate in business will provide us a description of the players to a scenario where they are having a difficulty and based on our questions we respond with perspectives and tools with which our associate can better deal with the scenario.

It can be as simple as our responding, "Call them back and say no. Do not say anything else. Don't explain. Say no then say nothing. Let the target fill in their blanks." When the target asks why then tell them, "Because I said no." Be calm, don't be threatening, don't be emotional.

Often people do not really know why they are doing what they are doing and when you say no it can force them to step back and think about why they think that they need what they have asked for. In my example here, from an actual interaction with an associate, the goal is to let the target figure it out.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

John Weiss, Sr. died 07/02/2011

A memorial service will be held at the St. Stanislaus Church, 57-15 61st St., Maspeth, New York on Saturday, July 16, 2011 at 10:30 AM.

John Weiss, Sr., my good friend, mentor and former business partner, had been in poor health for more than a decade. He passed away due to a variety of health complications. He will be missed, and remembered by many for his kindness, patience, and willingness to share his trade knowledge with those around him and with those with whom he did business.

When I first met John in the early 1980's I had been assigned to work under him as a field supervisor on a project in White Plains that he was managing. His first thought on meeting me was, "What the hell are they doing to me now?" It was the beginning of a long friendship that for both of us led to a whole slew of curious adventures.

In his better lights John was always willing to play along with whatever games were afoot. He enjoyed time with children, and animals as he was always somewhat impish himself. It was often difficult to keep him out of trouble.

A child of Maspeth, Queens from a Polish-German background one character trait of John's has staid with me as the most valuable lesson. He had a blindness to ethnicity or race and he always saw past these false boundaries to reach to the core of an individual and encourage up their best merits to the fore. Through the years of our business partnership we held together a very mixed crew of employees and subcontractors of a multiplicity of race, nationality, background and life circumstance. Quite a few individuals John pulled up out of bad circumstances, supported, pushed, cajoled along and they remained loyal employees and friends for decades. In a few cases they moved on to steady and prosperous careers elsewhere in the construction industry. 

One time John walked around over near the Puck Building in Manhattan, back at a time when it was not exactly the safest place to walk around, a mugger came at him with a knife. The employee that was with him that day jumped in front of John and thwarted the attack. That was how it was with John. At times he could be a real pain but he had a very good heart.

He had a passion for dirt track auto sports, a passion he had inherited from his father, and one big trouble I could not help John with was when he drove a modified on a dirt track into a wall at 90 mph. This incident over time caused him considerable long-term health issues. For the remainder of his life he was in chronic pain. John, for all the years that I knew him, survived on coffee, twinkies, an ever-ready wry smile and chain-smoked Marlboros.

Here he is in one of our last shared adventures, a little shopping trip to the Home Depot where David and I brought John along for his advice.