The Fear of Asking in the Digital Age
Earlier this week I read a very basic question on a sprinkler design forum. Some say there are no bad questions. Those hypothetical people may never have been in a Facebook Group.
The question clearly showed the lack of understanding on the part of the person asking the question.
You can imagine what happened next – the keyboard warriors went to battle. They had fun blasting the novice into the internet oblivion.
And this happens all the time.
It doesn’t have to be Facebook. It happens on Facebook for Businesses (also known as LinkedIn), email forums, Reddit, and other online technical forums.
It is also not limited to the digisphere. A bad question in a conference room or in the field gets chided at best or embarrassingly criticized at worst.
Did we all not start somewhere with nothing?
I’m not a second generation Fire Protection Engineer, but my guess is those that are third and fourth generation practitioners don’t come out of the womb spelling escutcheon correctly.
I'm still not 100% convinced I spelled it right just now.
We all started knowing literally nothing. We each are on our own journey learning piece by piece and at different paces that never really ends. The best experts that have spent three decades in the industry are still always trying to improve.
Is there harm in asking a dumb question? Yes, but it’s not the embarrassment in the moment or the obvious display of misunderstanding. It’s the discouragement to ask the next question.
When Average Jim (I have to use Average Jim because Average Joe hits a little too close to home for me) actually seeks an answer to a basic question and gets lambasted – you know what he’s not going to do? He’s not going to ask the next five questions that he also needs answers on.
On the very first morning of my very first internship, I asked a bad one. I was maybe 15 minutes into that first day when the site project manager asked me to make copies of a handful of documents. I asked if the staples had to come out before making copies.
Dumb question? Yeah. Do commercial copiers appreciate hard metal through their sensitive little feeder claws? No. And had I ever used a commercial copier before? No.
If I hadn’t asked, would I have been the dufus that destroyed a commercial copier 15 minutes into his first internship? Yeah brah, that would have been moi.
I heard so much crap about asking that question, but I was glad I did. I also never had to ask it again.
Eventually my questions got slightly more sophisticated and a little better, but I did start at nothing.
I’m not going to change human behavior. I can’t help people act online like they would in a face to face conversation.
What I can do is provide a better avenue for those people who don’t want to be vilified but do need answers to their question.
With nearly a couple decades of internet usage we know now that it isn’t Vegas - what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet. Like forever.
It’s getting more and more difficult to ask a question that isn’t tagged to your name, your company, or your reputation. Your forum question you wrote in 2007 when you didn’t know anything on pre-action systems? Yeah it’s probably still searchable.
Goodness knows I’d rather not have my kids go post-by-post from what I put on Facebook during high school. Same would go for a client seeing questions I would have had early in my career.
So what can I do about it now? Create a quality avenue for the question - any question - whether it’s expert-level or at square one - and not tie a personal reputation to it.
If you haven’t checked it out, the Daily Forum is a place for a single, filtered, anonymous question each day. There are experts there from a wide variety of backgrounds and locations that have far more knowledge than I could hope to gain.
Experts from across the globe, from AHJs to Designers to Researches to Installers to Engineers. Last I checked we were approaching nearly 3,000 subscribers just to those questions.
If you have a "dumb" question, if you don’t want to ask your boss, if you need an outside opinion, and you don’t want your identity tied to something it? Send us your question here. Also consider bookmarking the page so you can send in that question the next time you're stumped.
The link toward the bottom of this email “Have a fire protection question?” is always there for exactly that same reason.
Chances are, if you have an interest or can’t find an answer, someone else is looking for it too. When you ask, we all learn. And that’s exactly what this site is all about.
Free NFSA Virtual Conference Tomorrow
This year's National Fire Sprinkler Association Business and Leadership Conference went Virtual. The virtual seminars are this week (Thursday the 30th and Friday the 1st). Registration is live, it is FREE, and CEUs will be awarded. Check it out here.
I had the pleasure to talk about the changing digital media opportunities in fire protection with the host of the Fire Sprinkler Podcast, Chris Logan, as part of the virtual conference. I believe we'll air at 2:35 pm Eastern Time on Thursday.
A New, Free, Fire Protection App
I've gotten asked a good handful of times - "Will you make an app?"
While I am quintessentially a millennial who disowns being a millennial, I have thought about making an app.
The good news is, there's already one that I was able to help beta test and can now share with you. It's free and was developed by Michael Swahn and the helpful engineers over at Sebench Engineering out of Atlanta. It's now live on both Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. Here's links to get it:
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=al.pragmatic.sebench.android
The app has quick-calculations for Fire Pump Tests, Hydrant Flows, Equivalent K-Factors, Flow/K-Factor/Pressure Calculations, and Friction Loss. Download it today with the links above.
Thanks & I hope you have a safe and great rest of your week.
New Sprinkler Obstructions Cheatsheet
There are a handful of rules in NFPA 13 covering how sprinkler protection works in and around obstructions. It's for good reason; we don't want objects getting between a growing fire and our best method of suppressing it.
The PDF cheatsheet this week covers options for throwing water below obstructions, where the top of the obstruction is at or above the sprinkler deflector, for standard pendent and upright sprinklers.
If the sprinkler deflector has the ability to throw over the top of an obstruction - different rules apply - which we'll get to in the coming weeks.
To get your free PDF download, enter your email below and you'll immediately have the PDF sent right to you. If you're already subscribed to the blog, check the Recent Resources section at the very bottom of your latest April email.
As always, any tips, ideas or feedback feel free to send my way at email@example.com. Hope you find this helpful and that you have a great & safe week!
The past seven days have been a very exciting time with the launch of CodeCalls.org. If you missed last week's article, here's more about it.
This week's post is a quick one with an ask.
In short, CodeCalls.org is a free database that brings together jurisdictions and designers to help clarify the parts of code that are not always written in ordinances. Jurisdictions can get what they need for operations while designers get a little more clarity and help in meeting local guidelines.
I've heard from many this past week about how they'd love to see this come together, and I greatly appreciate the input and encouragement. I've also heard a couple concerns that I'm optimistic we can incorporate as we learn and grow while working on this.
Our first goal is making sure the project is viable. Essentially we have to prove to ourselves that we will be able to provide enough valuable content that both designers and jurisdictions benefit. We're doing this by going all in on the State of Indiana. If we get things to work there, we feel comfortable that we can learn and expand into other areas.
I have a quick ask this week - if you have worked in Indiana, or know of people who do, could you put us in touch? My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, my co-founder Chris' email is email@example.com, or if you got this post via email you can just reply directly to it.
I'd love to have a quick conversation about how we can make the experience easy and that the benefits of helping will far outweigh the task of reaching out. I see that as the only way we can get this project rolling and I'd be thrilled to have that conversation.
Thanks in advance, and have a great week!
Today is a very big day for me. I am finally launching the start of an idea I've had and brainstormed and discussed and revisited for a number of years now.
Finally. I could not be more excited about it.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting the world around us I've been pressed to rethink my own operations and what I'm contributing to the world. Articles, design content, PE Prep, and trying to find ways to help the knowledgebase of the fire protection community is good, but I started the website around the idea of impacting the community in a real and tangible way.
Today's new project is the start of what I hope could be a major positive impact for AHJs, designers, and installers.
What is it? A Code Call Database.
What is CodeCalls.org?
CodeCalls.org is a free website that is bringing together local jurisdictions, fire protection designers, engineers, and installers to clarify and collaborate local code requirements.
We're taking the areas of code in fire protection design that need local input, and helping jurisdictions get what they need to help first responders do their work.
When we're done, we plan to have a searchable, filterable database where you can find local requirements based on a project's ZIP code, city or county name.
Where to Start? Indiana!
There tens of thousands of jurisdictions in the United States alone, how is all this data going to come together?
First, we're starting with our test case. If you work in the State of Indiana or have contacts who do, pay close attention today.
Our Goal is to gather jurisdictional requirements for 70% of Indiana's population by May 8th. That's in 30 days.
Indiana has a healthy mixture of urban, suburban and rural jurisdictions, so it presents a great test case to validate the concept. If we get enough momentum for Indiana, we feel confident in pursuing the project for larger coverage.
If we find that we can get enough momentum to clarify requirements for Indiana, then we feel that the project could be viable to expand to new areas beyond Indiana and beyond just the United States, too.
Why a 70% Coverage Goal?
In order for the database to work, the user experience has to be great. Both for jurisdictions and for designers & installers. We feel that if we can cover jurisdictions that account for at least 70% of the area's population, that we'll have enough data for a great user experience and a very helpful resource.
Is it Free?
Yes, the database will always be free for anyone to access. We're funding the development efforts as a joint project by MeyerFire.com and BuildingCode.Blog.
Why Should I Help?
If you're an engineer, designer or installer, why should you contribute?
For one - this is a way to clarify local requirements that will help in more fair and consistent bidding.
Second - we'll thank you by crediting your contribution with a link from the local listing directly to your company's website. If someone is looking for a local contractor or design outfit, they can search a ZIP code and immediately have contact information to you, the person who they know is already familiar with the local requirements.
If you're a jurisdiction, why should you contribute?
Simple - get your needs met. Are you tired of providing the same plan-review comments? Tired of answering the same basic questions in phone calls and emails? This platform is an easy way to clarify the gray areas of code and simply make your requirements more clear to those who are seeking them.
I Have Some Information for Some Areas in Indiana. How Can I Help?
You can contribute information for jurisdictions you're familiar with here. We'll thank you with a promotional link to your company's website and help get the information verified by the jurisdiction.
See The New Site!
Click here or the link below to check out the new project. Let us know what you think by commenting or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Would love to hear feedback on how we can make this helpful and accessible.
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Joe Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer out of St. Louis, Missouri who writes & develops resources for Fire Protection Professionals. See bio here: About