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RE: SEAOC Committee Meetings

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|-----Original Message-----
|From: Rick.Drake(--nospam--at)fluordaniel.com [mailto:Rick.Drake(--nospam--at)fluordaniel.com]
|Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 1998 4:41 AM
|To: seaoc(--nospam--at)seaoc.org
|Subject: SEAOC Committee Meetings
|
|
|     Dennis Wish wrote:
|
|     << The only necessity to have a physical meeting is for final
|     organization of work that is ready for publication. >>
|
|     --------------------------------
|
|     I disagree.  I think there is merit to having much committee work done
|     via electronic means, as part of the entire process.  However, there
|     are still many valid reasons for face-to-face meetings, with enough
|     benefits to justify the costs.

My comment was taken out of context and can be interpreted to mean that I am
in favor of desolving all physical meetings. This is not my position. I
believe that we are not utilizing the tools we have created to reduce
expenses that are, admittedly, over budget. If SEAOC were able to operate
within a $280,000.00 annual budget without SAC support, we would not be
having this debate. Where is the logic to maintain existing spending habits
rather than trying to be more productive and frugal at the same time. Where
has SEAOC attempted to "cut-the-fat" from their spending habits?
I am not advocating extremes. Instead I advocate using new tools to enhance
what has been done traditionally. This will reduce cost, increase input by
bringing new volunteers to committees that are advertising for members (see
this months SEAOSC Newsletter). It will also promote more discussion between
members over the period of time that we are not together in a meeting room.

|
|     1) Many of the SEAOC Committee meetings are attended by "observers"
|     who represent other organizations with a vested interest in the
|     matters under discussion.  They make a valid contribution to the
|     meetings by offering perspectives of ancillary industry groups.
|

They most certainly do contribute - no argument here. But consider how
productive the work of a committee would be if the volunteers could
participate at their own schedules (asynchronous) rather than in
"real-time". What if, Professor Serette of Santa Clara University, or John
Rose of APA, or Gene Coreley of PCA (SEAOI) in Chicago were able to help
shape the work that comes from committees that benefit from their specific
talents. We have the ability to overcome constraints that have affected
participation since SEA started in 1929.
If we considered this list a committee, would you agree that we are 4,000 or
more observers with something to offer our professional community. We are
not simply practicing engineers but are software developers, creators of
proprietary materials and products, experienced in alternative building
practices and much more.
So where is difference - in my eyes, we are a much larger and a far more
diverse group of professional observers.

|     2) Most SEAOC Committee meetings are open to the membership.  I don't
|     believe we want to deny the membership access.

Who suggested that by becomming an electronic committee we would deny
members access? I don't believe this to be a relevant argument. Nor would we
want to deny access to non-member who have valid contributions. It would be
a travesty to try and accomplish any goal based solely on the contributions
of "members" when some of our most creative engineers may not be SEAOC
members. We are fortunate that Professor Serrette (Reynaud) of Santa Clara
University is a member of SEAONC since his testing of steel stud shear walls
is what contributed to the '97 UBC. However, what if Professor Serrette
decided not to pay dues to SEAOC. Would we consider his work invalid because
he simply chose not to support the organization? Would we negate his work on
Light Gauge Steel Framing simply because he joined ASCE instead? I doubt it.
Yes it is necessary to have financial support for a professional
organization, but it is not a requirement to be a member in order to work on
committee's to improve the tools for our profession. To restrict a committee
to "members only" is equally as discriminating.
|
|     3) It is very difficult to make meaningful decisions via a collection
|     of E-mail correspondence, especially when the participants are at
|     their office desks with all the necessary distraction of conducting
|     the "bill-paying" business.
|
As a regular contributor to this list and former editor of SEAOC Online, I
did not write or publish during a committee meeting. Nor would I walk into a
meeting unprepared. I use the time between meetings to either absorb and
formulate opinions, questions and suggestions or - as in the case of
Online - spend over 40 hours per month writing the journal and preparing it
for publication once it received approval of the committee members.
Our listservice activity generates dialog at the convenience of each party.
It's not real time, where we need to sit and formulate rhetoric on the spot.
You wrote this post some hours ago and now, as I have the time, I am able to
respond, reread my comments, remove some of the extraneous rhetoric and hope
that my point is understood. I believe that the individuals ability to
respond within his own pace provides a level of refineness that we can't do
spontaneously.

|     4) Attendance at meetings focuses the participants on the issues at
|     hand, at least temporarily leaving the "bill-paying" business concerns
|     aside.

Asynchronous information means that we can choose when and how we wish to
respond. We need not respond during work hours or with other annoyances
surrounding us as you suggest. We can, if we choose, wait until the time is
convenient and let the information sit on the server until we are ready to
address it.
On the other hand, how much productivity is lost when a key member
experiences a scheduling conflict that necessitates his need to put business
over volunteer work.  I would think that it is much harder to schedule 10 or
20 members to a specific location, date and time and expect that 100% of
them are able to show. It was a very rare instance where all ten or eleven
members of the state CAC committee where able to show up in Oakland or Los
Angeles or San Diego together, even though the dates of the meetings were
scheduled a year in advance.
My point is that some valuable input was lost when even one of those members
was unable to attend. With asynchronous schedules, there are no conflicts
because there is no time contraint except to accomplish the work within a
reasonable period. If you can't do it now, reschedule and do it two hours
from now or tomorrow or next week. If you can't find the time to accomdate
an asynchronous schedule, you are of no value to the committee because you
have not found the time to express your consideration or opinion.

|
|     5) Electronic communications can never replace the human elements
|     necessary when an agreement must be reached.  Body language, voice
|     inflections, facial expressions, etc. cannot be replaced with
|     electronic communications.  (And no picture phones are not financially
|     viable for most SEAOC members.)

I disagree with you on this issue. Human beings adapt to technology.
Personal computers have changed our work habits and will continue to do so
whether we want it or not. Yet this argument is generally used by those
afraid of change or who wish to prevent acceptance of new ways to be more
productive. We have choices, we either stagnate and try to stall the
inevitable or embrace the technology now and make it work for us.
Body language, voice inflections, facial expressions often mislead our
senses. Interpretation of physical attibutes can lead to false assumptions
or misinterpretation of the facts.
The social aspects of a meetings do little more than create comfort among
the participants that can be easily distroyed by strong or overbearing
personalities. Many valid comments are lost from those that would rather
stay silent than be confrontational. Anyone sitting through a meeting with
Ben Schmidt and John Kariotis will know what I mean. However, it appears to
be much easier to be outgoing when there is a sense of anonymity to the
participant. You don't know if my actions in public match the tenacity of
my written comments (which you consider scathing) - and in my case they
generally don't. I am much less prone to be opinionated or confrontational
in public than by email. The reason is simple, I need more time to formulate
an opinion than is available at a committee meeting. I need the ability to
choose my words, edit my comments and prepare myself in a manner that I feel
best achieves my point. Most important, I need to do with in compliance with
my work habits and schedules.
A good educator guides us down the path of learning, but the information
that we absorb comes from books and electronic media - inanimate objects.
Human traits have a place in business or at a poker table, but may be out of
place when the object of the session is scientific evaluation. You don't
need not know if I am happy or sad about this conversation or if I look
disgusted or simply tired, you only need to weigh my argument against reason
and determine if my issues are valid or not.
Agreements should be reached by weighing the validity of the argument and
the facts presented, not soley upon popular consensus or a warm smile.

|
|     I'll use an example the recent 1997 UBC seismic provisions and the
|     1996 Blue Book.  There was a lot of good hard work performed by the
|     SEAOC Seismology Committee to develop the SEAOC input to these.  This
|     committee also has the interface responsibility with the 1997 NEHRP
|     Provisions and the 2000 IBC.  Much of this work was conducted at
|     face-to-face meetings where differences were aired and compromises
|     were reached.  I don't believe that their mission could have been
|     completed in a timely manner if only electronic communication was
|     used.  Observers and SEAOC members also participated at these
|     meetings.

Your assumption is that you don't believe that similar results are possible
via listservice seminars. What is missing here is the experience of testing
your assumptions. I've never stated that all committee work should be
electronic - but I am of the opinion that a dedicated listservice will
enhance the efforts and productivity of committees over conventional
methods.
Rather than reiterate my opinion I suggest you read my comments above on
asynchronous scheduling. The disemination of information needed to uncover
the facts and toss out extraneous data or invalid assumptions is easier to
do with a group that interacts continuously and asynchronously rather than
at scheduled events (synchronous). The personal meeting may be best once the
debates have ended and the facts are ready to be compiled. Debates can be
explored in much greater detail over a long period of time (say days rather
than hours)with the interaction of others who have prepared their arguments.

|
|     I was able to attend two of these meetings as a SEAOC member and was
|     able to educate myself on how the committee works.  More importantly,
|     I was able to learn firsthand about the changes in the works.  As a
|     result, the new provisions in the 1997 UBC were not a surprise to me.

Rick, you and I are learning about how changes occur by this very
discussion. We are interacting in exactly the same fashion as committee,
except that we are allocating more time to be as specific in our arguments
as we wish. Committee's are established under parlimenarty rules which are
not that difficult to comprehend and which lend themselves to electronic
formats very well.
What benefit is derived from reading through the code draft at a committee
meeting in order to identify problems with symantics, grammer or spelling
errors. For the most part this can be done by each member away from the
committee who can post their findings online for others to evaluate. In
fact, there will be more people who will want to participate and the final
product will be more refined and less prone to "errors".  I don't see the
benefit of sitting around a table 150 miles away from my office to do this
type of tedious work, yet I would not be adverse to it within my office and
at my leasure.
|
|     Hopefully, we can reach a balance on committee work between the
|     electronic communication and the "face-to-face" meetings.  To say that
|     it must be all one way or the other is not being very objective.
|
|     I patiently wait for the scathing Dennis Wish rebuttal(s).
|
|     Rick Drake, SE
|     Fluor Daniel, Irvine
|
|

Now, I agree with you. I enjoy seeing old friends and socializing at
committee meetings. There is something personal and special about meetings
that brings us closer together. The gathering is also more like a fraternity
which brings friends together who might otherwise never have the chance.
However, this comradely feeling tends to exclude others equally deservant of
participation simply because it establishes constraits in time, geography
and ecconomically (who pays for the time to participate). It creates
schedules that not everyone can conform to and establishes strict rules that
imply simply, if you can not sacrifice, you don't belong.
Those that sacrifice are respected for their efforts and the rest of us
condemned or invalidated because we did not meet the narrow time line for
compliance to the committee rules.
In this day and age, these types of constraints are archaic and unnecessary.
They do very little to enhance our profession. Time is precious as we have
more to assimilate today than we did ten years ago. Technology is evolving
faster than we can track and if we fail to acknowledge it's existence we
fall farther and farther behind. The longer we wait to embrace new skills
and tools the farther out of step with the world we become. Technolgy will
continue to evolve whether we want it to or not, simply because there will
always be a market for it. As this market grows so will the competition. Ten
years ago CAD was an advantage, today it is a necessity. Three years ago
virtually no-one had email, today we can barely survive without it and we
now expect that those who represent us participate in our discussions. We
have become the vocal minority to our profession but within the next few
years we will be the vocal majority.
Which is easier to develop - skills that start as soon as the technology
delivers it to us or at some point in the future when we are forced to
conform or quit? Do any of you think that this listservice should have
waited a few more years or do you obtain some benifit from it today.
I doubt that my skills would be as strong today if not for the education and
help I received from this list. So why is it so difficult to envision the
inevitable need to tie the work we do as an organization together via an
electronic community?
Bill Gates stated "I believe that because progress will come no matter what,
we need to make the best of it - not try and forestall it." I agree with his
perception - we have the tools in hand to change the manner in which we
evaluate and assimilate information in committees. We simply can not survive
as an international professional community without developing these tools
and creating guidelines from which to be productive with them. The longer we
delay, the more difficult it will be to work through the problems.
Therefore, we need to stop stalling and start acting.

Sorry to have taken so much time to state my opinions.
Sincerely,
Dennis Wish PE