02 December 2013

Capital idea!

In "Worst case", I said it is time to stop using uppercase font on drawings. Let's continue that discussion, this time looking at specifications. Not that we should be using one set of rules for drawings, and another for specifications; the same rules should apply to both. With a few exceptions, text should use sentence case - capitalizing only the first word of a sentence and proper nouns. This seems reasonable, but, as we will see, it rarely happens.

Let's start with the exceptions. Section titles, Part titles, and article titles typically are presented in uppercase, and though it's not necessary, it has little effect on readability or comprehension, as these elements have few words. In addition, we're accustomed to it, as it's common in many other publications to use uppercase in those locations.

Beyond that, however, use of capital letters is unnecessary, and can be misleading.

13 November 2013

Worst case!


One of the reasons architects and engineers have used only uppercase may have been the difficulty of learning to letter. I don't know what today's students think about lettering, but when I was in architecture school, developing a "hand" was seen as a critical part of the architect's identity.
Baudot keyboard - no lowercase letters!
Shortly after graduating, I wrote a check at a department store. I still recall my swelling sense of pride when, after looking at the check, the cashier said, "Oh, you must be an architect!"

17 October 2013

It worked last time! The perils of recycling specifications

Clovis' Taufe, by Meister des Heiligen √Ągidius
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For many years, I was one of the instructors for my CSI chapter's certification classes. In addition to explaining what CSI's practice manuals say, I liked to include horror stories - real-world examples of the ways people found to really mess up a project. One of my favorite stories came from a public sector waste treatment agency. The project was a relatively simple addition to an existing building at one of the waste treatment facilities, to provide shower and locker rooms for the employees.

The agency had hired an architecture/engineering firm to design the addition, and to prepare bidding documents. As the bid opening date approached, the owner began getting calls from mechanical subcontractors, who asked, "Did you want to use fresh water or effluent to serve the baptismal font?"

09 September 2013

Convention time!

Each year, as the annual CSI convention approaches, I can't help but think back to other conventions. I haven't been to all of them since I became a member in 1987, but I haven't missed too many, either. I suppose you could say they're all the same, and in many respects, they are, but each has its unique experiences. My first convention was in Chicago, in 1990; more on that later. The second was in San Diego, in 1991. I had never been to California before, and I discovered why everyone wants to live there. My third convention was in San Francisco, in 1994. It was the first time I brought my family along, and since then, my wife has gone each time, and one or both of our children - and their spouses - made it to a few more.

Many of today's CSI members missed the good old days. The education sessions and exhibit hall are much the same, but there were a lot more extracurricular activities many years ago. I'm going to reminisce about a couple of my early conventions, starting with Chicago.

The year was 1990. The Institute president was S. Steve Blumenthal. The president of the host chapter was Gary Betts, who later went on to be president of the Institute.

02 May 2013

When is a queen not a queen?

When is a queen not a queen? When she's a brick.

Worcester Guildhallfigure of Queen Anne
(ell brown on Flickr)
Several years ago, I got into a discussion with an architect about the size of brick he wanted for a project. He said he wanted modular brick; I asked for a specific size, and he simply repeated modular. I knew it wasn't quite that simple, so to prove the point, I compiled a list of brick names and sizes I got from several brick companies.

Although I knew there would be differences, I was surprised how many there were (see the list below - and that's not all). Now, some might argue that the differences aren't all that important; after all, the three lengths of Norman brick - 11-7/16, 11-1/2, and 11-5/8 inches - are all considered nominal 12-inch. Similarly, 3-1/2 and 3-5/8 inches would be considered nominal 4-inch.

11 April 2013

24/7; new use for smart phones - take control of your plane!

This is a little off the usual subjects, but it's something that puzzles me.

Some smart guy showed it's possible to bring down a plane by cell phone, without even being on the plane. I'm not sure; should we thank him for inspiring all the ne'er do wells who blindly assumed this couldn't possibly be done, or should we be thankful for this demonstration of technical prowess, and hope that maybe, someday, someone will figure out a way to prevent it from happening?

At about the same time, the brilliant people at TSA, who, for many years, would confiscate nail clippers

08 April 2013

24/7; infoglut

The recent demise of CSI's NewsBrief was not a surprise. In fact, I had decided only days before that I was going to unsubscribe. The reason? It didn't offer anything unique.
As a CSI member, I am already aware of its Practice Groups, certification program, and other activities. More to the point, as a subscriber to other SmartBriefs, from AGC, ASCE, and NRCA, and the SmartBriefs on Sustainability and Leadership, I found too much redundancy. Many of the same links appeared in many of the briefs, as well as in other information sources. It's possible that the CSI NewsBrief was intended more for non-members, but its termination suggests it wasn't of much value to CSI.

Infoglut is nothing new...

19 March 2013

No such person

After sending my latest newsletter article to my distribution list, I got the usual half dozen or so "undeliverable" messages. One of them stood out as an example of what such messages should be. Rather than the typical cryptic message:
xl4mhibx02.myunbelievablesite.com rejected your message to the following e-mail addresses:
Joe Blow (joeb@somewhere.com)
xl4mhibx02.myunbelievablesite.com gave this error:
... User unknown
I got this:

18 March 2013

24/7; gone fishing

My, how things have changed! The brave new world of 24/7 interconnectivity certainly is marvelous; each day brings new ways to learn more about everything, sometimes too many. I'm not going to give you the old line about "When I was a kid, we had to walk two miles to school, through the snow, uphill both ways!" And I'm not going to rail against progress. I am fascinated by new technology and new products, and I still enjoy learning about everything possible.

But I do wonder if we're giving up much of the adventure and fun of life in favor of trying to do as much as possible.

15 March 2013

Do what with the Owner?

Drawings and specifications often have many references requiring coordination with the owner. While that makes sense for some things, for example, location of grommets or selection of paint color (as long as it doesn't include non-standard colors), it doesn't work for quantities. The reason, of course, is that during bidding, the bidders have no direct contact with the owner, and even if they did, I'm sure owners would not appreciate a barrage of calls from various contractors and subcontractors, all trying to obtain information that should have been in the documents. If I were the owner, I'd be on the phone, asking the architect why in blue blazes those questions had not been addressed in the bidding documents.

Directions to the contractor, requiring coordination of various items, appear to make more sense, except for the fact that the AIA conditions of the contract make the contractor responsible for coordination of the entire project,

26 February 2013

Loose products and equipment should be NIC

While it may seem like a good idea to specify every last item necessary for a complete, ready-to-use building, specifying loose items - those that are merely set in place - in the construction contract incurs needless expense for the owner. 

In most cases, the owner is better off buying loose items directly from suppliers, with installation provided either by the supplier or by the owner's employees. Going through a contractor adds labor cost and at least one markup for overhead and profit; additional markups will be added by each subcontractor involved.

11 February 2013

National Engineers Week, CSI style

The Minneapolis –St. Paul Chapter, CSI, is participating in National Engineer’s Week by hosting a “Teach In” at Robbinsdale Middle School in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.

On February 20, CSI members will enter the 6th grade classroom of Robbinsdale Middle School teacher Todd Norholm to give interactive presentations on basic engineering principles and how they apply to construction. Students will receive instruction and build small structures using gumdrops and toothpicks. When completed, the students will have constructed their own geodesic spheres.