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.

29 December 2014

Is it time to brush up your resume?

It's been ten years since my firm took the plunge and began moving from AutoCAD to Revit. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes research and discussion in the preceding year, after which a test team was assembled and trained. A real project was selected for live-fire testing, and we were on the way. About two years later, we did our first all-discipline project. In the next two years, the entire production staff received a full week of training. By the time the economy collapsed in 2008, Revit was our primary program, and today, it is used for virtually all of our work.

When the decision was made to commit to Revit, a few of our users made a presentation to the rest of the office, showing some of BIM's capabilities. Many of those who watched were impressed by a simple demonstration that showed simultaneously a plan, an elevation, and an isometric view of part of a model. The presenter showed that moving a door in any one of the views changed the other views in real time. As I watched, I remember thinking, "Someone is going to be out of a job."

01 December 2014

Manufacturers' specifications don't follow CSI's Practice Guide; why are you surprised?

That spec is a real turkey!
CSI's practice documents - MasterFormat, SectionFormat, and the Practice Guides - present a unified and consistent approach to preparing and interpreting construction documents based on AIA or EJCDC general conditions and related documents. They also are applicable to documents produced by most other organizations, though some modification may be necessary. When teaching CSI classes, I emphasize the overall organization of these documents as a first principle; with that in mind, it's easier to understand why things are organized the way they are, and to see how they all work together. This sometimes leads to comments and questions, such as, "That's not the way my office does it!" and "Why don't this manufacturer's specifications follow those rules?"

27 October 2014

Celebrate the Fellows!

Conventions are like state or county fairs: it seems they're the same year after year, and yet, if you compare this year's to the one a few years ago, there will be small differences. But sometimes, significant changes take place between one fair and the next.

Until this year, the social highlight of the annual convention was the President's Gala. A black tie dinner, with all that entails - including formal dresses and tuxedos - along with meeting the new president and witnessing the investiture of Fellows, was the grand finale. This year we tried something different. The events of the Gala were separated, some being added to other events, some becoming new events. Instead of being among the last events, the investiture of Fellows was moved to Tuesday evening, and the introduction of Distinguished Members was moved to the opening general session Wednesday morning.

22 September 2014

You won't believe what happened!

In "Absolute nonsense", I talked about the lack of precision used in daily conversation, and the need for precision in construction documents. Nothing so serious this time; in fact, I'm not going to say much about construction documents, except for an interesting penalty paid by Lowe's to five California counties. Instead, I'm going to have a little fun and talk about some of my favorite social media peeves.

There are so many links from so many sources that it can be difficult to decide which to follow. In an effort to entice readers to follow the links, thereby increasing their value to advertisers, many updates and social media posts use headlines designed to suck you in. For me, these clever headlines are a red flag, but apparently they work.

Does anyone really believe headlines or links with phrases like "what happens next will shock you",

05 September 2014

How may I serve you?

Institute Director Wolfe serves Director-Elect Janet Piccola
and member Betty Chavira at the Las Vegas Convention
At this year's annual meeting, CSI members will discuss a change in the way Institute directors are elected. I find the proposal interesting, as something similar was discussed by the Institute board in 2006, and probably before that. Briefly, the proposal would have all Institute directors elected by the entire membership, because directors are expected to act on behalf of the entire membership, rather than for the members of their regions.

I wrote about this issue in a Mr. Wolfe Goes to Washington articles in 2006. It was written before the passage of the governance amendment, so it talks of two directors per region, but the reasoning remains valid. I used yellow highlight to add emphasis that was not in the original article.

19 August 2014

More specifications history

In the last post, "Where have I heard that before?", I used several excerpts from a 1920 edition of the American Architect magazine. The comments showed a general concern about the importance of specifications, and about the absence of specifications in architectural education, stating "the preparation of specifications receives less study and attention in proportion to its importance than any other phase of architectural or engineering practice."

While investigating the history of specifications, I was surprised to find references like this, as I had learned next to nothing about specifications in school (I think the word was spoken the first day of Professional Practice class, never to be mentioned again). It wasn't until I became a specifier that I understood what specifications are, thanks to my local CSI chapter. However, as good as the education and certification classes were, my understanding was that CSI pretty much invented specifications.

23 June 2014

Where have I heard that before?

"It is probable that few members of the profession will disagree [that] the preparation of specifications receives less study and attention in proportion to its importance than any other phase of architectural or engineering practice. It is generally conceded that there is need for accurate, concise, yet comprehensive specifications in order to secure the best results from any set of plans. In our architectural schools … instruction in specification writing has been neglected to such an extent that those to whom the task of specification writing has fallen have usually been forced to educate themselves. As a natural sequence of this condition we find too many inaccurate and incomplete documents accompanying drawings under the guise of specifications."

If you participate in or visit CSI groups on LinkedIn, or follow discussions on, or talk with just about any specifier, it's likely you have heard similar comments. Most of those who work with specifications appreciate their value, and believe that, to be effective, they must contain all the information needed by the contractor, they must not contain irrelevant information, and they must be easy to understand. Following is more of the comment from which I took the opening quotation.

29 April 2014

Excuse me, but your slip is showing!

I don't know how this issue has escaped me for nearly forty years, but I'm not alone. In that time, I have occasionally talked about coefficient of friction for floors, but I just discovered there has been no widely accepted standard for slip resistance. Not only that, but neither the IBC nor ADA define slip resistance, even though both require slip resistant floors and walkways.

How the heck is that possible? Think of all the very specific requirements in the building code. How did they miss this one? And think of ADA, with its Byzantine combination of Spock-like precision in some areas, and a "Take a guess and we'll see you in court" approach to other requirements. How can it be that the good folks who write the ADA requirements know exactly what so many dimensions must be, but they have no idea what they mean by slip-resistant? It seems to me that not falling on your arse is a lot more important than a quarter inch difference in the location of a water closet, but this apparently - no, this obviously important performance characteristic has had no definition.

22 March 2014

Return on investment

I recently received an e-mail from CSI, encouraging me (and, I trust, thousands of others) to volunteer to work on an Institute committee or task team. It reminded me of how I became involved in volunteer work for CSI, and how much that work meant to my career.

When I became a specifier, in 1985, I had not written any specifications, nor had I heard of CSI. I knew that I had a lot to learn, but I have a natural interest in finding out how things work, so I was confident I could figure out what to do. Fortunately, my boss suggested I join the local CSI chapter, and within a couple of years I studied for and passed the CCS exam. So far, my interest was self-centered; I wanted to be the best specifier I could be, and I saw the benefit of networking with product representatives.

23 February 2014

How did we get here? Chapters

In the last post, "How did we get here? Membership", we looked at a graph showing CSI's membership curve. I'm using the same graph this time, with a second curve to show the number of chapters. As was the case last month, it was hard to find accurate information, but the overall curve is close to what it would be if I did have all of the correct dates. For sources, I used charter dates that were given to the Bylaws Amendment Review Task Team, responses to an inquiry I sent to all chapters, Walter Damuck's history of the Institute, and 50th anniversary notices that appeared in various CSI publications. Along the way, eleven chapters were lost, a few by merger, and others because they fell below the minimum number of members required to keep their charters.

31 January 2014

I want you!

A couple of years ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article titled "3 reasons to not get certified". My intent, obviously, was to explain in what I considered a humorous way why a person should get certified. One or two of the given reasons for not getting certified might apply to a very few people, but those looking for a real reason to avoid certification would not find it in that article. 

I'd like to revisit the subject, this time from a more practical perspective. To put it bluntly, I want you to be certified. Of course, if I never see you it won't make much difference, but if we're going to work together, I'd like to have some confidence that you know what you're doing. Regardless of whether or not you are certified, it will take time to establish the level of trust that allows both of us to rely on the other.

21 January 2014

How did we get here? Membership

In the LinkedIn CSI Leaders group, Joy Davis recently began a series of discussions under the heading #CSIStats. The goal, as expressed in the first post of the series, is "helping CSI leaders understand where CSI stands by sharing facts about the Institute … to help you start and  participate in discussions about who CSI is and where the Institute should go in the future."

Each discussion has started with a few membership statistics about who members are and what they do, followed by links for recommended reading, and a question to start a discussion.

As often happens, each discussion has had a brief flurry of responses, then died. Part of the problem, which affects everything we do, is the limited number of participants. Because this is a locked LinkedIn group, discussion necessarily is limited to members of the group, who number 503. Still, these are by definition leaders of CSI, so it's not a bad place to have a discussion, though it would be good to seek input from the general membership. That is being done through the Institute website, where the posts are available to all. To date, they have garnered a total of three comments. (Contrary to popular belief, posting something to a website does little to get the word out, as few people visit websites except when looking for specific information.)

In Week 4 I posted a few statistics about the discussion.