Politics 101

I do not usually use this platform as a place to discuss politics, I believe my other interests should stay far away from this column for fear of polluting what I talk about here regularly which is green technology.

However, as many of you are aware, Canada’s neighbour to the south is having an election in a few weeks to elect the next POTUS. Many are watching with baited breath to see what happens to Donald J. Trump on November 8th. Below is an excerpt of a comment I made to a fellow Canadian recently in which I discuss it’s not the election I fear:

while many of my US friends (north and south) know that Drumpf will likely not be the next POTUS, the questions most scholars are asking how do you put this fire out. The complaint isn’t really the stupid stuff he is saying, it’s how the things he has said have negatively affected the melting pot of US multiculturalism/gender equality. These things have always been on thin ice but Drumpf has smashed the thin veil of temperance and tolerance, pioneering a MAINSTREAM public discourse full of bombastic nonsense & vulgar rubbish. Guys like Perry, Santorum and Romney could always be expected to toe a certain line and there are things they would never dare say on public TV, but Drumpf gain his popularity on TV by SAYING all that garbage. The masses love it and they think he will make as good as POTUS as he did being a mediocre TV personality. Those two things are mutually exclusive and good at one should not be equated to being good at the other.

How do you put the Genie back into the bottle? You can’t. I fear who will win on November 8th, I am scared shitless what happens on the 9th. Battle scenes from Gettysburg comes to mind.

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Another Page

In a few short days, I will be start another chapter in my life as I have chosen to join a general contractor. The type of work will be similar but I will be sitting across the table from consultants. I have no idea how this will go and those that do know is unlikely to divulge that information, I just have to trust my gut and do the best job possible. There are no promises at the other end and rather than changing careers, I am simply switching sides.

It may allow me to spend more time for this blog to create new exciting articles for everyone and those articles may also be imputed with new knowledge I don’t have now. Who knows, the future is unknown but I am excited.

More to come…

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Who ya gonna call?

Earlier in October, I listened with interest a story about the financial troubles plaguing a Toronto condominium corporation. Some of you know of my research in knowledge transmission and its importance in cultivating public awareness; I want to use this story as a springboard to talk about engineers’ legal obligation and social responsibility vis-à-vis condominium boards. They are a huge source of revenue for any engineering firm but through educational elitism, poor communication skills, general indifference and aversion to legal repercussions of saying or doing too much, condo boards regard the engineering industry with equal helpings of mistrust and fearfulness.

It is true that there are Board of Directors (“BoD”) with hidden agendas and as a group, or as individuals, may have motives beyond an engineer’s responsibility, e.g., interior amenities  renovation vs. exterior building restoration, ground keeping vs. building envelope upkeep vs. politics. However in many cases, my believe is that more can be done to educate and dissuade misconceptions. This type of service should be provided as part of the scope for engineering professionals when interacting with the general public, which many of the BoD members generally are. Here the differences between an engineer who deals only in facts & concrete conclusions and one who makes assumptions and trusts their intuition are chasmic.

I would argue that engineers are reluctant to provide opinions because they don’t understand the reason behind the line of questioning. I can tell you, as a member of a BoD, that the only one constant reason for the line of questioning is cost – now and down the road. Period. For an engineer, to overthink it is to let your own insecurities rule what you already know, stuff breaks and fixing them now costs less than the alternative. Your job is to sell the probability that the exterior building elements will break with more frequency than the interior building elements will need replacement; as engineers we know this to be true, we just have to translate this into a language that laypeople understands.

We can achieve that by being effective communicators. By writing articles, making presentations and various public knowledge disseminations, we can build client relationships and lay the groundwork for those educational discussions. Elder statesmen may not be well suited for these roles as it involves late nights and a lot of grinding but they have an abundance of information and a sense of dos and don’ts to keep the junior team members on track. My personal experience has been that board members are often ill-equipped to handle the challenges managing a building involve. Our assistance and the questions that we answer makes them into smarter board members and their likelihood to engage our industry grow accordingly.

As always, I would love to hear any of your comments on this and previous articles.

Posted in Building Code/LEED, Sustainable Neighbourhoods, Positivity, Technologies | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Combined products or old world craftsmanship.

BricklayerAs with many of my posts, this one came from a conversation I had with a colleague of mine. I had just saw a new building science product that combined an air/vapour barrier membrane adhered to a rigid exterior cement board. This product would be prepared in the factory. The idea behind this, and I am sure quite it’s the same for a few other products, is to take the “guesswork” out of construction and to make sure there are more safeguards site supervision isn’t the only thing standing in the way of a good job and a bad one.

I started asking myself – would the increased usage of more convenient (or foolproof) products affect the end goals of an energy efficient building, or never mind that, a properly constructed building? I feel that there are certainly negative effects to too many foolproof products since that would invite less capable contractors and labourers to construction, at the very least, I can see the following:

  1. It would give a false sense of security to labourers to be less conscious of what they are doing (“Hey, it’s prepreg’d!”)
  2. It introduces an additional level of manufacturer approval (which I have never felt adequate)
  3. If it’s a proprietary system, any repairs will likely have to be completed through “trained and authorized installers”

Most of you know the old adage “practice makes perfect” and most of you would likely agree that practice makes you work faster. So a product that supposedly save you time would mean very little to a guy with 15 years experience cause he’s pretty fast with the old process as is. I can see how a younger labourer would love the foolproof product. There is also the matter of warranty, it further complicates the matter when components fail and consultants have to determine the source of the failure.

I think at the end of the day, new convenient products might be better suited for DIY’ers replacing failed components in their homes. The scale of application and the expected users’ skills can better be managed by the products’ factory quality control.

As always, I would love to hear any of your comments on this and previous articles.

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Nth degree of connectivity.

I want to begin this by saying I am not a Luddite, I love technology and the convenience they bring me.

Owing to technology, I have eyeglasses that stay on my face and change colour when I am under the sun. I have a computer no bigger than my hand that can understand my speech and I have a desktop computer that creates a secure connection to allow me retrieve files hundreds, and presumably thousands of kilometres away.

I think technology is awesome but I am puzzled by the need for people to have access to these technologies no matter where they are. As with other articles in the past, I was prompted to write when I saw recently a new automobile that had wifi, Bluetooth and Internet connectivity using cellular data. This presumably allows people to work, to play or to occupy a van full of children for a little peace and quiet. I won’t argue with the last point, I can’t really argue with parents but there are no new technology provided in many of the new things you buy, you are not paying for things that are unavailable anywhere else. If a new car has a self-drive mode, or a new house has a food replicator, that’s a different story; however, we seem to be stuck in a loop where manufacturers include tech that are readily available elsewhere and consumers feel compelled to soak up these new things.

So earlier I said I am not a Luddite and I am going to prove to you. If for the sake of your job you have to be connected to the net, or your ear shape prohibits you from wearing an earphone then sure, buy the car that is constantly online or a $1500 bluetooth hands-free system. For me, I will keep my glasses and use my earphone to speak into the phone and leave everything else at home.

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Green buildings deserve a reserve fund too…?

With a bit of free time on my hands during the Christmas holidays, I get to explore a new topic in green building that is close to my present sphere of knowledge.

Reserve fund was one of the first things I refreshed coming back to engineering and in my interaction of various condo boards and board members, it seems like this is something both a boon and a bane. Before I go any further, I think it’s probably a good idea to go through the concept so everyone re-familiarize themselves with it. A reserve fund study, or RFS, is a way to forecast needed funds for the future by studying the building construction and the condition of various building components. By doing this, the client can be assured that when components fail, there is sufficient funds for construction projects.

As an aside, this is how it is supposed to work but it never ever works like that. This doesn’t consider all the human factors in the Board and the Contractors, so a reserve fund study should never be taken like an edict but rather as a guide in the general direction.

With new LEED buildings, words like efficiency and optimal condition are like words out of the Bible. A LEED building must maintain efficiency of its M&E systems, as well as keeping a close eye on the progress of deterioration of its building envelopes. Before writing this article, I completed a series of literature review and I was not able to readily find this information but I imagine RF departments all over Canada are starting to get calls about this. I know many other in the industry will just say I am paranoid or call me a tree hugger but I believe there are opportunities there to create a strong business relationship by educating clients on the importance of preventative maintenance and the risk posted by delayed evaluation of M&E systems and building envelopes. An excellent curtain wall example that I came across recently involves pressure plate/dry gasket failure that allowed water to enter the building envelope. I will admit that this did not cause a significant amount of damage internally but I am curious to know the effect this has on the building air changes per hour (ACH), associated indoor air quality (IAQ) and other energy efficiency parameters. There is a clear difference between something that has fallen out of optimal performance and something that has reached the end of its service life.

At the end of the day, I believe there is a need for our RF industry to acknowledge the emergence of this issue – green buildings (LEED or not) represent a significant time investment to document and predict when components will no longer function optimally as part of a green building, and when components will no longer function. Period.

As always, I would love to hear any of your comments on this and previous articles.

Have a safe and happy holidays, everyone.

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Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth


Professional Engineer

I don’t know how long that has alluded me, but last week and for better or for worse, I was given the title and all the rights and privileges that comes with it. Originally I wasn’t going to write about this but after spending a lazy Sunday watching old sci-fi movies, I was compelled to. The movie doesn’t matter, all you need to know is that the character (who is an engineer) is getting ready for a space walk. He said, “I am not an astronaut. I am an engineer, what am I doing here?”

All sorts of people go into engineering for all sorts of reasons, not all of them are crazy and not all of them are valid. Regardless of your chosen technical field, you have to expect technologies you understand to be in some pretty hard to reach places. Some are in space, some are at height, some are underwater and some are covered by some gross, nasty stuff. Many of us would say, come on HTFU, it’s part of the job; but there are people I know who don’t think going into difficult or dangerous places are part of the job for engineers. Truly, I feel sorry for them because their vision of what engineering is and what engineering actually is are vastly different, successful consulting firms are likely going to have the latter description and all sorts of interpersonal issues and conflicts could arise from this rift.

Well, that’s it for me. Back to the film as they say…

I would love to hear your comments and thoughts.


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