The focus of this blog is construction-related topics. The purpose is discussion, so please feel free to comment! See Specific thoughts for thoughts from the daily life of a specifier.

25 July 2016

Time for some fun!

Each summer, boards of directors make plans for the next year, education and certification committees begin preparing study courses, newsletter editors start bugging chapter presidents for articles, and planning committees search for good technical programs and tours. All of these are serious, necessary things that must be done to provide the services members expect.

But as they say, all work and no play can make things dull and boring. Chapters, usually through region conferences, show other chapters what their committees are doing and discuss best practices. I wonder, how often do we show each other what we do to have fun? In the next couple of articles, I'm going to recount stories from North Central Region conferences; I invite you to respond with your own tales of mirth and merriment.

20 June 2016

How did we get here? Effects of the economy on membership, MythBusters edition

Among the things that have been blamed for declining membership is the economy. By the time I was elected to the Institute board, membership had already fallen about fifteen percent from its peak in the late '90s, and it continued to decline. As we'll see in a moment, my term of service on the board happened to coincide roughly with the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Membership did decline during that recession, though not as much as you might think. It's more significant that in the years leading up to that recession, the economy was good, yet membership was declining.

When I was on the board, and many times since, I have heard members attribute the loss of members to the economy. While I accept that as a possibility, it seems to me that if the economy does have an impact on membership, we should regain lost members when the economy improves. I didn't think that was happening, so I decided to do look at the numbers. Please note that I am not an economic or financial analyst of any sort, but what I found does seem reasonable. And what did I find? That the economy has had little impact on CSI membership.

23 May 2016

How did we get here? The good old days

A couple of years ago I wrote two articles about how the number of CSI members and CSI chapters How did we get here? Membership, which showed how total membership changed over the years, and How did we get here? Chapters, which looked at the change in the number of chapters during the same time.

One of the things that has plagued CSI for some time is a lack of a tangible something of value.
For a very long time, CSI offered useful things of real value. The first part of our membership curve suggests CSI must have had something that brought in new members and led to the creation of new chapters. Let's see if we can discover what that something was.

02 May 2016

Bylaws again?

I suspect most members have not read their chapter, region, or Institute bylaws. Until I became a chapter president in 2001, I gave them little attention myself; I figured they were someone else's problem. The general reluctance even to look at bylaws is not surprising; often written in the legalese we all love to hate, their very appearance can be intimidating, and it seems the only time we look at them is when we're in trouble.

Why revise them again? Because we are in trouble.

12 April 2016

Please - say "Thank you!"

Among the first things parents drum into their children's heads are the words please and thank you. Parents do such a good job that these words become automatic, and, to a great extent, they become white noise. If they are used automatically, without conscious thought, what good are they? Do they mean anything? Why do we insist children use them, even if they don't mean what they say?

29 February 2016

The cost of custom

custom car imageMany products offer not only a selection of standard finishes at a standard price, but offer more options at additional cost. Some will offer those options in price groups, such as Standard, Group 1, and Group 2, where each group is more expensive than the last. Finally, some manufacturers offer to match any color.

Unfortunately, the requirements for getting a custom color often are vague, and a minimum quantity may be required or other limitations may apply.

The result? I may tell a project architect that a custom color will cost more, but because I often don’t know how much, the response usually is, “It doesn’t matter; we want custom.”

14 December 2015

Election time

Photo credit: User:RadioFan
I remember being, as a new CSI member, somewhat confused by our election process. Having been a voter for many years, I knew that US presidents did not take office immediately, but were presidents-elect for a very short time, during which they did not work in the White House. So it seemed strange that, instead of voting for the next president of CSI, we vote for a person who won't take office as president for at least a year. The other problem I had had nothing to do with the process; I simply didn't know who was running for office! But we'll get to that later.

23 November 2015

Tell me again - and show me the money!

In the last few articles we looked at how redundancies needlessly increase the size of specifications. Another thing that affects the length of specifications is writing style. Even though CSI's mantra, "Clear, concise, correct, complete", suggests specifications should contain only the essence of requirements, commercial guide specifications and office master specifications alike tend to use words that aren't necessary.

In 1949, Ben John Small wrote an article titled "The Case for the Streamlined Specification." In it, he uses anecdote and logic to explain why terse writing is superior to verbose. He also cites previous works that show that streamlined writing is nothing new, but has been advocated as far back as 1896.

In his opening remarks, Small said, "Streamlining is not and never has been considered a panacea or short cut in the writing of good specifications. If one can write a thorough and competent specification using the long form one can streamline that same specification without the slightest adulteration, yet reduce its bulk by one-third or more." Briefly, streamlining is the removal of all words that are not essential to understanding the specifications.