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Calc Reference Library - Concern for Caution?

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I received a private e-mail from a friend who was concerned over a number of
issues. I have taken his name off his post and placed it below - my comments
follow. I only removed his name and identifying information as he wrote me
privately and I assume he did not intend the discussion to be public.

> This is really none of my business, but you might want to think about
> things like accuracy and intended use. Are you intending to check any
> of the submittals? If mistakes in either arithmetic, interpretation or
> applicability creep into any submittals, it could get pretty rough for
> someone. I doubt if you'd be the someone, but someone using the examples
> might get seriously blind-sided, even if he acted in good faith. I
> daresay all sorts of untrained people will access the examples for
> roll-your-own engineering. Again, this isn't your responsibility, but
> it'd make me a little uncomfortable to think that my calculations might
> be abetting some ignorant hack.
> There may be some property issues here, too. I'd never make public any
> calculations I made for a client if for no other reason than I think it
> involves a breach of confidence. You can sanitize things but only to a
> certain point--if I were an owner or architect and recognized my own work
> or property in the library examples, I might be fairly put out. You might
> also want to think about the possibility of finding yourself in the
> middle of a pissing match over the results or interpretation of an
> example, or perhaps someone's using your site as ammunition, rightly or
> wrongly, to impeach another engineer. There's plenty of individual
> judgment goes into this stuff, along with garden-variety algebra.
> The SEAOC list has enough guardhouse lawyers to supply all the free
> advice you want, and I wouldn't dream of joining them, but you might also
> want to make sure that you're not setting yourself up for trouble in that
> area, too.

Your points are well taken and appropriate. I have considered each and every
one of them. Here is what I have done to address the issues:

Responsible Use:
This is the most difficult take to assure as it does not protect
non-professionals who decide to buy a computer program to do engineering
without a background or understanding. This is a great concern as on one
hand I don't want non-professionals from using the calculations and on the
other, I can restrict Architects who want access and have the right by law
regardless of my personal opinions. Second, students can benefit from the
calculations and I don't want to exclude them, nor do I want to exclude
non-licensed individuals who have the experience and education but may have
not concern or need of professional licensing. However, they be the
designers who are doing the "grunt" work calculations.

For the time being, the Cybrary is restricted to professionals as defined
above. Non-professionals will not be able to see the forum (try it since you
are not currently authorized access to the forum and will not find it on the
Bulletin Board). I require those interested to provide me with information
to make this determination and this alone may put me into an argument as who
is qualified or not, but better this type of disagreement than promoting
irresponsible use of the calculations.

I have established a separate committee coined the Cybrarian Council. This
is a small committee of members who have agreed to participate in resolving
the issues that you brought up. There are only a couple of us at the moment
but I would think as some calculations become available and the value of the
reference materials are recognized, more professionals will be willing to
participate. The members of the committee will review the calculations
before they are posted and as long as errors are minor, we will correct them
before posting. Discrepancies in code interpretation is an entirely
different issue - however, by documenting the intentions within the body of
the analysis by using embedded popup comments, we can establish a design
assumption and allow others to discuss it. If in discussion a consensus of
an appropriate interpretation is made, the calcs will be revised to reflect

Putting this into perspective, the professional who is using the
calculations is always responsible for the work they put out. These are
reference calculations which are not intended to replace knowledge of the
methods, but are there to remind those who do this type of calculation
infrequently and are looking for guidance. This is no difference that the
errors that exist in the ICBO Seismic Design Guide, the UBC itself and any
number of other important documents that we use daily to design by.
Furthermore, there is a certain amount of interpretation in the code which
can be used incorrectly. Our discussions on the Listservices are a perfect
example of how imperfect this profession really is.

Legal Implications:

As far as using the calculations as ammunition against the original engineer
in a liability case (due to interpretation) it would be my impression that
once the calculations leaves the hands of the engineer and his name and
project is removed, the information becomes potentially tainted - meaning
that it can not be conclusively proven that the information remains exactly
as the original engineer published it. I would doubt that this will be a
problem but these calculations can be changed as the replies by members who
are evaluating them create the thread that either identifies the flaw in
analysis or justifies what was done.

The goal is two fold; 1) Make the calc's available for reference to those
who are qualified to use them; 2) Allow those who are referencing these
calculations to identify errors or to debate the intent of the code. It is
an educational process intended to assist professionals to understand the
intent of the code. The calculation is an excellent starting point to
identify flaws. By documenting the thread, attempts are made to reduce
liability to others who may make the same mistake. This is an educational
forum with enough opportunities to encourage proper interpretation and
responsible use.

Let me point out that there are legal implications in virtually everything
we do - online and off. This was a concern of one of the employees of SEA
who tried to stop the creation of the SEAINT List and webservices. The
individual believed that the information on the list or web could be used
against SEA. I don't want to dwell on this any more than Shafat and I did in
the creation of the web services. Becoming bogged down in fear of legal
litigation is not on my mind - making the site as useful as possible and
doing so responsibly is the only thing that I am concerned about. Progress
is not made through the fear of acting.

The one thing that is difficult to do is to copyright a design methodology.
It is my intent that all identifying information is to be removed from the
calculations. The owner who may recognize his building from the calculations
performed is simply not a reasonable likelihood. However, what is a concern
is those who would submit calculations from their offices who do not have
the authority to do so. This is a big concern to me as I do not intend to
ruin a good idea by harming the trust of the professional community. Unless
the calc's are coming from a small one person firm, I am requiring a letter
of release from the owner of the calculations or a principle in the firm who
is authorized to make this decision. It's not foolproof but as long as the
steps to protect copyright or intellectual property are in place, it is
unlikely that I would be accused of violating the trust.

I would hope that those who participate will understand this - another
reason for keeping the forum restricted to members only. Violations are
easier to deal with by denying access to the forum, I would hope this will
never be an issue as I have only removed one person in the last year from my
other web services and this person was promoting software piracy.

I hope you are satisfied that I have not simply acted impulsively. The
Structuralist.Net has been an idea that I have carried for many years and is
now becoming a reality. It contains most of the idea's I would have applied
to the SEAINT Web Services that I did not have the freedom to do. This
motivated me in the same way the Online Journal, the SEAINT List and Web
motivated me (as it must have Shafat Qazi as well) - for the benefit of the
profession. I have spent many hours in private debating with those in the
profession to support the free exchange of information and I believe this
can be done without harming the revenue that organizations make from the
sale of documents. In fact, I've felt so strongly about the issues that I've
invested only my time and money into the creating something to leave as a
legacy to the profession. While we can not, for the moment, expect ACI,
AISC, ICBO, SEA or any professional organizations (Trade or otherwise) to
share information freely, we can do it through the use of a calculations
reference library (Cybrary - a term I did not coin).

Thanks again for writing.


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