They're not that different
For instance, during the summer of 2000, I received an e-mail from Rahi Moosavi, who, at the time, edited an engineering magazine in Iran. I don't know if he still does this because I'm reluctant to send e-mail to Iran, things being what they are nowadays.
When Rahi first wrote he told me that I am a one of the most widely read and highly regarded technical writers in all of Iran, which came as quite a surprise since I have never sent a magazine column to anyone in Iran. When I asked him where he was getting these columns, he explained that he was taking them from the Internet. "We want to thank you," he wrote. "You are very popular here in Iran. Very well respected and highly regarded. Our engineers love your stories. Would you please send us more articles? Our readers can't get enough."
I asked him about his magazine and this is what he told me. "Our magazine is called 'Sanat Tasisat,' which means, 'HVAC Industries' in Persian. It is the official monthly publication of ISHRAI (Iranian Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Industries. ISHRAI is one of the oldest technical societies of Iran, and has been established in 1973.
"Now ISHRAI has 85 members of the best manufacturers of HVAC, Piping & Plumbing equipment in the Middle East. These members are active in production of air filters, automatic fuel-burning equipment, burner controls, cast-iron boilers, convectors, electric motors, expansion joints, fans, furnaces, heat exchangers and hot-water generators, hot-water and steam boilers, liquid chilling systems, absorption chillers, packaged boiler units, pipe, fittings and joints, radiators, refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, solenoid valves, thermal fluid heaters, unit heaters, water softeners, air separators and deaerators.
"As the leading HVAC publication in Persian (currently we have published eight editions, but this magazine has been published since 10 years ago with a different name), we intend to expand our international relations, which one of its aspects is interviewing leading columnists from well-known HVAC magazines. Our first interview of this series we would like to be with you."
How about that? I figured I'd explore this a bit further. You'd explore this a bit further if you were me, wouldn't you? Sure, you would. So I asked Rahi if he had gotten permission from anyone to reprint my columns because he certainly hadn't gotten it from me. I explained that those columns are copyrighted materials, and that he should be getting permission from someone before reprinting. He explained that in Iran they don't honor the copyright laws of any other country, and that he was contacting me simply because he wanted to be my friend. "You are so well-respected," he said. "So highly regarded!"
"If that's the case, then I should get paid?" I said. "It’s how I make my living!"
How innocent I was during the summer of 2000.
"But these articles are free," he wrote. "They are on the Internet." And he was so sincere and so very innocent. Just like me. He explained that he wasn't doing anything wrong, and that he certainly didn't want to offend me, and considering the opportunity for international dialogue, we should be friends. Can't we just do that? "After all," he explained, "I am your editor in Iran."
And crazy as it seems, this all began to make sense to me. I couldn't stop the guy from doing what he was doing, and this would be an opportunity to learn from folks who were in the same business as I'm in, only in a faraway, exotic land.
So I made a new friend, and Rahi sent me a copy of the magazine, printed in Persian, and he asked me to have my photograph taken, holding the magazine. He explained that his readers would find that absolutely delightful. Imagine me reading their magazine!
So I stood in my backyard and held up the magazine as if I was looking at the cover, and I smiled at the camera as Marianne snapped a digital photo, which I immediately e-mailed to Rahi. He wrote back the next day and asked me to please turn the magazine around and have Marianne take another photo. And that's when I learned that Iranians read from right to left, just as Jewish people do. Who knew?
And it wasn't long before Rahi sent his interview questions. This is what he and his readers wanted to know. They’re not that different from us.
"It is for about two years now that Iranian HVAC engineers are reading translated versions of your articles in our Sanat Tasisat magazine and benefiting from your vast experience in technical fields. Please introduce yourself and provide us with your detailed technical biography (background, carrier, education, achievements)."
So I told him how I stumbled into this business, educated as a sociologist, not as an engineer, and how my father convinced me that heating was a great business because it gets cold every winter and I'd never be out of work. And how I read a lot, and am always curious.
"What has been the most outstanding leap of HVAC industry in the '90s? Your prioritized items?"
I told him that I thought it was the rediscovery of radiant heating (because of its ability to deliver comfort at a low operating cost), and the advances in radiant cooling. I mentioned that the cooling side, with its cold ceilings and close control over humidity (through the use of desiccants), is really more of a European phenomenon, and not something I expected to see very soon in the U.S. because of our relatively cheap fuel.
"Tehran is the mega-capital city of Iran, and in the last few years, there has been a lot of high-rise constructions going on in this city. What are your key advices for Iranian engineers involved in design and installation of HVAC systems for these complexes?"
I suggested that they all make their way to ISH Frankfurt and bring good walking shoes.
"Do you emphasize on usage of computers in HVAC design calculations? What is the impact of computers on engineering creativity?"
You bet I do because they let us all play "What if?"
"As we all know, the oil party will soon end and it's only a matter of years until that point. What is the solution? Renewable energies? Solar energy? How will the HVAC industry be affected and how will it survive?"
All of the above, and I told him that I believed new technologies would emerge as they became economically feasible, and I think that time has proven me right on this.
"Are you familiar with Iranian engineers or the situation of HVAC in Iran?"
I'm not, and I'd love to learn more (but as things are now I doubt if I ever will).
"You have seen one issue of our magazine. We know that due to language barriers, it is difficult to understand the text but from what you have seen (mainly advertisements), what is your opinion about the level of HVAC industries in Iran?"
It was a great-looking magazine. It looked similar to any of our trade magazines. Check out the cover above. The pages turned the other way, that's all. Same sort of ads. Same sort of systems. They're not that different. It gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer and professionals do their best to try to make clients comfortable, both here and there. Common ground.
Rahi asked me if I could put him in touch with some other American writers, and I did that. Some of them agreed to be interviewed, and others didn't want to get involved with the guy. Their choice.
On September 12, 2001, Rahi e-mailed me, saying that he was horrified by the events of the previous day, and that he hoped my family and I were safe. He wondered how anyone could do such things to other human beings.
I didn't write back to Rahi, and he never wrote me again. We simply couldn't. I think about him now, though, as I read the news each day, and I hope that he and his family are safe.
We’re not that different.