I still remember the day I met George Zebrowski and Tim Fausch of BNP Media to discuss starting a new magazine for plumbing and mechanical engineers. They referred to it as serving the “wet” side of engineering.
It was intriguing to be asked to help start this new adventure. Being inquisitive, I asked what they had in mind. They said codes, for one. CODES? Yeah, codes. George and Tim said that their surveys agreed with me that engineers love to read about codes and code changes. Really?
My next comment was that writing and reading about codes is boring. They responded, “Not if you write about codes with an edge.”
With an edge? I admitted to being just a normal, boring engineer who likes the codes and standards profession. They laughed, saying they had heard me speak. They said I don’t hesitate to talk about the ins and outs of what is behind the code. George said that I have a reputation for calling it the way I see it.
I said that talking to an audience is one thing, but to write to tens of thousands of engineers is an entirely different situation. They both responded that no, it is not. Write the way you speak. Tell the readers what is really happening at the codes and standards meetings. Call it the way you see it.
Hmmm, this could get very interesting. My first comment was that we may offend a few people. The response was, “That’s OK, just remember who your audience is, your fellow engineers.”
With that, we launched this new adventure, PM Engineer magazine, in 1995. Here we are, 15 years later, still producing a top quality magazine for plumbing and mechanical engineers.
I will admit that I had to learn a new style of writing. But writing with an edge became fun. It has also gotten me (and other columnists) in trouble. There is always a segment of the industry that doesn’t want us to write with an edge. Yes, I have received calls from editors and publishers. Yes, I have had meetings where my columns were discussed. Yes, my columns have been reviewed by the publisher before they are printed, and, yes, I have changed some of my columns.
Some have accused me of not reporting the facts in a straightforward manner. I respond that I am not a reporter, I am a columnist. My columns are editorial opinion. I have editorial license, and I use it. As Editorial Director, I have received the same comments about other columnists. I give the same response; they are editorials.
When we started, PM Engineer was the only magazine writing about codes and standards with an edge. Now, other magazines have followed. That’s good. It simply means that George and Tim were correct more than 15 years ago. Engineers want to read the story behind the codes. They don’t want reporting, that’s boring. They want the inside scoop. Quite frankly, PM Engineer does it best. So keep reading.
I have now written 206 columns and articles for PM Engineer. My toughest column to write was “I Loved Ya, Pat.” It was a tribute to my good friend Pat Higgins, who died suddenly at the age of 50. It is hard to believe that Pat has been gone for more than eight years.
That column came three months after my previous most difficult column to write. The column was entitled, “Structural Collapse of WTC.” I wrote that column on September 12, 2001. It still brings me to tears.
As I look back, I ask, “Has PM Engineer made a difference?”
I think it has. We have seen changes in our industry. Those changes were first brought to light by this magazine. We took positions that were not always popular. PM Engineer was one of the first magazines to encourage the code bodies to accept non-water supplied urinals. All the codes now accept them.
We have provided a forum for new technology and new ideas. Many of the new technologies have been accepted in the codes. Some are considered mainstream. We encouraged the acceptance of air admittance valves. Millions have now been installed across the country. In many parts of the country, air admittance valves are considered commonplace, normal plumbing. Yet, one plumbing code still does not mention air admittance valves.
We encouraged the universal acceptance of the Philadelphia single stack. If it is good for Philly, it must be good for the country. Within the next few months, every code may have the Philadelphia single stack as an acceptable venting method.
Perhaps the single greatest change in the last 50 years of codes has been the mandate of residential sprinklers for all one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses. PM Engineer was the first plumbing engineering magazine to support the cause. We published many articles on the subject. We even asked for articles opposed to the mandate. No one has taken us up on the offer.
In this next year, we will continue to write about home builders working with politicians to prohibit the adoption of the residential sprinkler mandate. Whoever thought 15 years ago that we would see state politics, lobbyists and campaign contributions work their way into the code business. It is a sorry state of affairs in state politics. It’s time we vote these politicians out of office. (Oops, there I go, writing with an edge again.)
I would like to say that when we started PM Engineer, my hair was black. The truth of the matter is that my hair started turning white when I was 16. Now, many of you recognize me because of my white hair. As I travel the country, many of you stop me and say, “I read your column every month.” Then you follow up with, “I don’t always agree with you.”
My response is always the same, “If you always agreed with me, this would be a boring world to live in. We all need to express our opinions. That’s what makes this country great.”
After meeting and speaking with readers in my travels, I often hear: “You’re a nice guy. I thought you were such a jerk (I cleaned it up) by the way you write.”
Well, thank you. I try to be a nice guy. I just write with an edge. The purpose is to get you to think, and sometimes get you to act. We seemed to have accomplished our goal. Here’s looking forward to the next 15 years.
Keep reading! We promise to continue to publish a top quality magazine, with an edge.