The world was a much simpler place when I was in my early 20s. Back then, I was pretty darned sure I knew virtually everything worth knowing, not the least of which was the names of every member of the Jefferson Airplane. Now, despite more than a half-century of life experience, armed with college degrees, having researched and written thousands of articles and attended hundreds of seminars on diverse subjects, I am reminded every day of how much I do not know. What's more, the human brain turns out to be a porous container. Things you know sometimes leak out. Even worse, all too frequently you find out that what you know is wrong.

So, like Sisyphus incessantly rolling the rock back uphill, I am compelled to keep learning. Funny thing is, most of the time I'm not even aware of it. Information simply accumulates, and I don't often stop to examine what's there now that wasn't present a few moments before. However, introspection did rear its head enough to share with you a few things I learned by attending seminars and simply keeping my eyes and ears open at last October's ASPE convention and exposition in Nashville.

  • One size does not fit all with ADA regs. Our magazine's booth was across the aisle from Sunroc Corp., which was showcasing a new water cooler aimed at accommodating children with disabilities. It had never occurred to me that one size does not fit all when it comes to wheelchairs. Now I know.

  • The phosgene gas theory of Legionnaire's Disease. I made this the subject of January's column. Prior to attending an ASPE program, I never knew people had researched this possibility and not yet put it to sleep. I also learned a great many details about arguments pro and con, as I reported in my January article.

  • Multiple levels of medical gas regs. I learned that there are three different levels of regulations governing health care facilities under NFPA 99 pertaining to medical gas standards, depending on the size and role of the facility. This certainly makes sense, but I never gave it any thought.

  • It's not just about piping. At risk of revealing the depth of my ignorance, I learned that medical gas design must concern itself with alarm systems just as much as the piping systems.

  • Sound is pressure. From the "Acoustics in Plumbing Systems" program, I learned that sound is actually a manifestation of pressure, which can be measured as force per unit area. I also learned that the decibel scale is logarithmic, which I did not know.

  • There are at least five sources of plumbing noise. Hydrodynamic cavitation, water hammer, splashing, flow-induced noise and "noise from other sources." Alright, so that last one's a copout that encompasses any number of possible causes. But even that taught me something, i.e., that "noise from other sources" is a more elegant way of stating "etc."

  • Water hammer relates to length and diameter of piping. As you may have guessed, I'm not an engineer. I knew in a vague way some of the things that cause water hammer but never knew it could be prevented by increasing the diameter of the pipe or decreasing straight branch runs.

  • What value engineering is about. I learned that value engineering is a complex discipline encompassing much more than cost cutting. But you know what? I also learned that when all is said and done, it is still about saving money, and therefore to use "cost cutting" and "value engineering" in the same context is not exactly wrong. People who claim otherwise need to learn that sound bites serve a purpose.

  • All things in their proper places. It dawned on me how much knowledge I've missed out on attending so many trade shows where the educational programs are scheduled during exposition hours. ASPE's approach, which is to separate the exposition and seminar sessions, deserves applause. It helps exhibitors and visitors achieve maximum return on their investment.

  • Why code knowledge is important. From a seminar on construction law, I learned that engineers can be held liable for designs not conforming to code, even though the code may have changed between the design and construction phases, or new codes may have arisen, or there may be ambiguity in a given code. Life is not fair. I did know that much, but this reinforces it.

  • Lawyers were spawned by the devil. Who else would see to it that millions of dollars in legal liability could hinge on the difference between an engineer "observing" or "inspecting" a construction site? I had always suspected that lawyers sprang from the bowels of hell, but now I'm absolutely sure of it.