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15 September 2008

The Making of a Curmudgeon

curmudgeon: A crusty, irascible, cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas or opinions.

It's about four years since I threw my hat into the ring and ran for Institute Director of CSI. I recall thinking at the time, "Holy cow, when my term is done, I'll be almost sixty!" There may not be a lot of difference between fifty-six and sixty, but those round-number, milestone birthdays somehow take on added significance.

Thirty was the worst. Until then, you're still young by any measure. But there's something about thirty that distorts its real effect beyond reason. With current life expectancy well over sixty, it's not even a halfway point, but still, you're starting to see the downhill side of the slope. Surprisingly, forty and fifty were no big deal, but sixty might be a bit scary. In my mind, I'm just a little past thirty, which seems strange when I think about my children, both of whom turned thirty this year. How the heck did they catch up to me?

I had a short period last year - about ten days - when life was even better than usual. My first grandson was born; my son returned from an extended tour in Iraq; and I got a letter from the mortgage company saying I owed them only a little over a hundred dollars.

It was only a short time later when everything snapped back to reality.
I received a letter from the State of Minnesota, saying "Congratulations! You're old!" (Actually, it was more like "You will soon be eligible to begin withdrawals from your retirement account.") In the space of a few days, I went from a state of euphoria to the stark realization that I was, indeed, getting old.

Fortunately, at least for those who aren't sleeping their way through life, with age come experience and perspective, valuable assets that cannot be acquired by reading what others have done. And for better or worse, we also tend to more strongly defend our opinions, firm in the belief that they are founded on fact and proven in the real world.

Being part of the Baby Boom generation, I recall buying gas at thirty cents a gallon, dial telephones, and homes with essentially no insulation. I also recall being taught to turn out the lights, not to leave my car run when waiting for someone, and not to leave the water run while brushing my teeth. Conserving resources had nothing to do with being green, but everything to do with saving green - of the folding type. Even though natural gas was inexpensive, the thermostat was set at about 66 degrees, and we had no air conditioning.

My goal in elementary school was to become a scientist. After entering the University of Minnesota, I joined the major-of-the-month club, moving through chemistry, physics, and astronomy, and finally settling down in the College of Biological Sciences. My final year was interrupted by a letter from my Uncle Sam, who invited me to leave home and move in with about a hundred other guys. I learned a lot in the next couple of years. Typing had the most immediate benefit, but having grown up in a thriving suburb, my introduction to the cross-section of society found in the draft-fed Army was an education in itself.

Although I got a late start in architecture, graduating at the age of twenty-six, it seems like I've spent my entire life in the construction industry. Along the way, I worked as a residential architect, designed and built geodesic domes, sold solar collectors and composting toilets, spent seven years in the University of Minnesota's Planning Department, and worked two years with the Metropolitan Waste Control Commission. In the private sector, I have worked for small, medium, and large architectural firms. I also had the opportunity to work in construction, something all architects-to-be should do.

Perhaps most important, thanks to my boss at the U of M, I joined CSI, and later had the good fortune to work on the Institute Specifications Subcommittee and the Institute Technical Committee. Thanks to the networking we enjoy, I now know experts of all types throughout the country. In theory, specifiers know everything; in practice, we know phone numbers, and most of mine are for CSI members.

And so, I have reached the point in my life - old enough to have accumulated a lot of knowledge about our business and young enough to still be an active participant - where I may become a curmudgeon. I have my share of opinions, nearly all of which are absolutely correct, and I'm going to write about them. Next month, I'll begin with one of my favorite subjects - "sustainable" design.

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