Ten Years of a Companion Site: vulcanhammer.net

Ten years ago today, I went online, logged onto my new GeoCities site, and uploaded the first page and images of “The Wave Equation Page for Piling,” my first website.  That website—which is still a part of the companion site vulcanhammer.net—was the beginning of a long odyssey which led to the site as it is today.

The original purpose of the site was to present a broader view of the whole subject of the wave equation as it is applied to piling, a view that was inspired in part by two decades in the pile driving equipment industry and in part by the recently completed thesis Closed Form Solution of the Wave Equation for Piles.  There were other personal factors as well.  Eight months before, our family had let go of Vulcan Iron Works after 144 years of ownership.  The future in the deep foundations industry looked problematic; the website was one attempt to remedy that.

Having a site on pre-Yahoo GeoCities was an interesting experience.  GeoCities was divided into communities with community leaders.  The sites were free but ads were inserted which usually had nothing to do with the content of the site.  GeoCities could be slow too; one community leader likened a T1 connection in those days to be like driving a Formula One racer on a Los Angeles freeway at 1600.  The site did well in spite of its clumsy URL; the community didn’t do much for it but it didn’t hurt either, and there were other geotechnical sites out there too.  Some of the earliest articles are still with us, such as A Short History of the Wave Equation for Piles and Efficiency and Energy Transfer in Pile Driving Systems.

Although the wave equation is what got things started, two additional factors led to the growth of the site.

The first was Vulcan’s complete lack of web presence, even to them allowing the vulcanhammer.com domain name to lapse in January 2000. Even before that, in May 1998 I began to offer some materials related to Vulcan on the site such as field service manuals and the Offshore Tips.  The construction industry was slow in warming up to the Internet, but the potential of having product information online was irresistible even in the late 1990’s.  Picking up the domain name drove moving the site to paid hosting, which helped the site’s visibility (and definitely its speed!) greatly.

The second factor was the addition of downloadable geotechnical documents to the site.  These in turn were an outgrowth of the free computer software offered such as WEAP87, MICROWAVE and SPILE.  No change wrought such an instant upsurge in traffic as the addition of such documents as NAVFAC DM 7.1 and 7.2 and other similar materials.  In many ways this formed the long-term vision for the site as a place where engineers, students and others could freely access such information without having to spend money for it (except to print it out!)  They transformed the site from an overspecialised spot on the web to a regular stop for those both in research and in the field.

The new decade saw a steady stream of new documents and other pieces of information, recitation of which would be a long business.  Some of the highlights are as follows:

  1. Use of the site for the geotechnical courses I taught at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2001, 2002 and 2005 led to the creation of an entire section of the site to hold the course materials, accessible to students and teachers alike around the world.  Both the use of PowerPoint and posting them on the Internet were pioneering in 2001.
  2. Acquisition of the vulcanhammer.com domain name by IHC/Vulcan Foundation Equipment in 2001 made vulcanhammer.net the main domain name for the site.
  3. Vulcan related items have been added on a regular basis.  They include Vulcan: The Offshore Experience in 2003, The First Hundred Years in 2004, and many other articles on the subject. They led in part to the 2006 appearance on The History Channel.
  4. This year documents have been added that weren’t in data format previously, such as Lysmer’s classic dissertation on soil dynamics and Soviet documents such as Vibro-Engineering and the Technology of Piling and Boring Work.

And the future?  If we think about how much the world has changed in the last decade, we understand how difficult it is to predict what might happen next.  The first purpose of vulcanhammer.net is to provide free information on geotechnical and marine engineering, and as long as Divine providence will allow it, it will be done.

Without a doubt the greatest jolt in the road in the last ten years has been 11 September 2001 and the events that have followed it.  When the geotechnical documents first went up, the idea was to provide free information so that those who could not afford it—students, engineers in Third World countries whose company/agency could not afford it (or those elsewhere whose employers were too cheap!) and the like could have access to important information necessary in the construction of civil works of all kinds.  No field of human endeavour has brought more benefit to daily life and human health at less cost than civil engineering and the water, sewer and transportation systems that have followed.  A world where everyone has a reasonable chance is one where this knowledge is widely disseminated and used, and experience at Vulcan demonstrated that the best way to accomplish this was to put the necessary tools in the hands of those who would benefit the most.

The combination of the continuing inequity of the various parts of our world suggests that the need for vulcanhammer.net.  But there are those on its “home front” that might take exception to such things being so freely available.  The course of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan provides a good example.  We know that the information is used by the U.S. military (they put most of it out to start with,) sometimes from the site.  We also know that many in the surrounding countries visit the site.  Is this dangerous?  Geotechnical engineering, while employing many computerised advantages today, is not considered “high tech.”  But no structure on earth can be built without a foundation.

Experience in the engineering profession teaches that knowledge cannot be kept locked up indefinitely.  The geotechnical and marine engineering communities, while relatively small, are worldwide and diverse.  Engineers, more than those in the pure sciences, are painfully aware that they and the decision makers for the technology seldom overlap.  The responsible use of technology is generally the province of others.  Linked to that responsible use is a reasonably rational economic and political system, without which technology doesn’t get put into use well if at all.  In other words, really crazy systems tend to get in their own way.  Those who want their destiny to be better need to take the proper decisions to make that happen, one way or another.

And that leads to the last point.  We mentioned that vulcanhammer.net continues by “Divine providence.”  There are those who would brutally separate the scientific from the spiritual to the end that the latter would wither away.  But there are many people of faith who visit vulcanhammer.net as well: Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and many others, and that faith animates their lives and their work.  The spiritual will not wither away any more than the state withered away under Marxism.

Although there are many of what we call “general humanitarians,” as mentioned elsewhere vulcanhammer.net is ultimately a Christian endeavour, driven by the belief that humans are created in God’s image and likeness with the dignity and potential the goes with it.  If the information here goes to those who don’t share this conviction, so be it.  Secularists want to construct a society based on purely “scientific” considerations, but there’s nothing scientific about wanting to redress the inequities in our world, or even wanting to improve it.  Some environmentalists have been telling us for many years that there are too many of us here, but problems are made to be solved, and solving them constructively is always the best.  Whether you agree with these ideas or not, without an external impulse there would have never been a vulcanhammer.net.

So we thank you for visiting our site, for supporting us by your encouragement and visiting our advertisers from time to time, and don’t forget to come back and visit again.

5 thoughts on “Ten Years of a Companion Site: vulcanhammer.net”

  1. My compliments on both of your sites. Useful and thoughtful information on both.

    When I first went to work in heavy construction about 20 years ago, the first six months I was a mechanic for a piledriving crew building footings for freeway bridges and work bridges. The bigger H-beam was driven with a KOBE and later with a DEMAG hammer, but the smaller stuff was put in with a model 1 VULCAN hammer, which we ran on compressed air. The hammer hadn’t had particulary good care, and suffered the effects of having been worked on by people who didn’t understand taper keys, so it behaved like a collection of loosely attached parts. Having worked on steam equipment previously, I knew how to make the parts and install them correctly, so that the hammer didn’t suddenly spit out a chunk of metal when driving. Doctoring hammers was a minor but fun part of my work.

    Later, I left mechanical work, and I now work for a state department of transportation, doing work on bridge electrical equipment. Seattle has lots of construction going on, and the sound of piledriving is often heard. I still love to watch and listen.

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