February 05, 2010


I was working on a water distribution project the other day involving a critical system. The extension supply line had failed and the loss of service was dramatically impacting the normal workflow. (The sprayer hose on the faucet of our kitchen sink broke.)

I have a pretty low expectation and opinion of the plumbing products industry when it comes to interoperability. When approaching a plumbing project my normal strategy is to buy three different sizes of each of the different major types of fittings, compression, fine and coarse threaded, and then return the ones I don’t use. This usually ensures that I only have to make two rather than several trips back and forth to the hardware store.

Jaded and cynical I made my way to the local hardware store looking to replace the hose endeavoring not to have to replace the faucet which we all know by domino effect can cause you to repaint the exterior of the house! …oh honey, the new faucet makes the sink look ugly, and that countertop, on those old cabinets that don’t match the floor, or the trim in the dining room, which would clash with the style of the sofa, and the entry way light fixtures, which shows the scratches in the front door which needs to match the exterior paint scheme!

At the hardware store I started looking first at a couple of brand name replacements, and then a couple generic hoses. None looked like they’d fit mine. Mine had a weird end on it. Then I saw the larger packaged hose labeled universal faucet hose replacement kit, it promised to fit all major brands including my faucet brand. Looking at the impressive collection of fittings jingling around inside the package I was compelled to purchase it with my faith in standards swelling. I opened the bullet proof packaging which always manages to leave a few cuts on my hands from the jagged razor sharp plastic that results from carving the product from the package. Spilling the contents of the universal adapter on the floor I removed the defective spray hose from the faucet and started matching up both ends to my universal adapter fittings. No, no, no… kind-of… if I attach this one, and no, ...not that one… this and that, …wait no, if I turn this around …then the male…no I need the female of that… no.

At the recent GeoDesign summit I attended an idea lab where the group discussed, among other things, the prospects and benefits of improved integration between GIS and BIM. The group tended to migrate towards two sometimes competing, sometimes cooperative suggested solutions. One idea focused on defining and creating information exchange standards through Web Services and the other solution was to embrace the defining of data-encoding, naming, exchange and storage standards. Both aproaches seemed to have some promising prospects.

The web services approach allows the data to be stored in whatever means is convenient, but puts the onus on some software service to extract answers to specific requests of useful data from those convenient data stores.

The data standards approach allows the information to be organized into a common pond, or more specifically discrete cups, buckets, bowls and the alike by defining what and where things should be named, stored and found. If everyone uses the same system of sorting, filing and stacking then different systems could leverage the same data.

Alas, plumbing standards had failed me even after some 5000 years of working on the problem. Defeated I went out and bought a new faucet. Interestingly enough the new faucet that I bought had a clever new-fangled quick connect hose feature that made installation a snap, it was easy. It made my installation experience quite simple and I appreciated the design effort that went into the solution. However, my universal hose kit adapters would not have worked with this new hose either.

Lesson learned: Apparently before you run out and buy a universal adapter you need to know which universe we’re talking about.
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