People grouse about all the intrusions on their time placed by e-mail, the Internet, cell phones and all the other communications gadgetry of modern times, but I love it.

Conversation at a recent social gathering I attended turned to the topic of information overload. People were grousing about all the intrusions on their time placed by e-mail, the Internet, cell phones and all the other communications gadgetry of modern times. I chimed in with a decidedly minority opinion.

I love it. Yeah, it is a bit much when the e-mail message count runs into triple digits after being away a couple of days. Yet, to me, this is a reasonable price to pay to have the world available at a mouse click. Moreover, it leads to efficiencies in other formerly time-consuming tasks. For instance, I can dispose of a couple of dozen e-mails (especially via the delete key) in the time it takes to return and connect a single phone call, and I don't receive nearly as many phone calls as I used to thanks to e-mail.

My sermon won few converts. Maybe in my field I can keep on top of things, but not in various other hard-nosed professions represented at this gathering, the grousers shot back. After all, information is my stock in trade.

Information is the stock in trade of everyone in the white-collar world, I mumbled. It was a half-hearted response because I could tell the people at that party were into feeling sorry for themselves, and I didn't want to spoil their fun. But this article is my party, and I don't mind using it to remind my friends in the engineering community how good they have it.

Valve Selection Made Easy

I got to thinking about this recently when a valve selection CD-ROM from Powers Process Controls crossed my desk. I explored it and was impressed with the scope of information available and its ease of access. This inspired me to check out various other valve manufacturers who put similar information on CD-ROMS and/or their Web sites.

Writing a valve spec is a perilous undertaking. How does one determine whether a ball, globe, butterfly, check, RPZ or gate valve is the way to go? Oh, for some applications the solution is obvious, but for many others it's not. Then you must factor in different materials, and perhaps vendors, because no matter what anyone says, I have trouble regarding valves as just another commodity product. Their mechanisms are too complex.

Sizing valves brings into play a web of complexity unto itself, which is why so many vendors go to the trouble and expense of putting out that information on CD-ROMs and the Internet. How, I wondered, did engineers ever manage to figure out which valves to specify before the electronic wonderland came about? Catalogs and cut sheets, no doubt. Flipping pages until your fingertips got raw. Every so often your bleary eyes would zero in on the wrong line or wrong column, and that's when mistakes got made and litigation commenced. Electronic sizing and selection guides make life so much easier.

Something else I noticed in researching valve companies is that they have some of the most sparkling Web sites around. American, Conbraco, Nibco, Milwaukee, Hammond, Watts, Fisher, Victaulic and Bermad are among the sites that dazzle with their content and appearance. They go to show yet again how competition leads to excellence.

Another valve company's Web site deserves special mention. It is that of Red-White Valve (, which recently introduced a new section that should be of interest to everyone involved in the plumbing industry. Called Technical Observations, it shows pictures and detailed descriptions of various valve failures and probable causes. "Our intent is to educate the industry by explaining the cause and effect of why valves fail," said Red-White's senior vp sales, George Long. "Many times it is due to improper installation. We will update this section frequently, and will catalog the information and create a reference library."

Take some time to explore these Web sites. They are an industry treasure and an engineer's time saver.