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Making choices rates higher than following mandates.

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My son, Dylan, recently attended a punting camp at the University of Virginia. My wife, Linda, and I used our proximity to visit the home of UVA’s founder, Thomas Jefferson. Monticello (“Little Mountain” in Latin) is worth a visit, but the boot-camp rigidity of the visitation process greatly diminished our enjoyment factor. Tour by stopwatch; three minutes per room. I was surprised we didn’t have to hold hands with a partner.

After we left, we saw the sign (2 x 3-ft., out-of-home signage works!) for James Monroe’s house, Ashlawn, 4.5 miles away. There, “tours” are much more fun, due to their informal nature. We had four people; two others joined us midstream. We had time to actually look at objects and ask questions.

Tourist density necessitates dissimilar procedures for efficiency’s sake, but I didn’t have to like it. I wouldn’t go back.

More than three decades removed from my last American-history class, I’d forgotten Jefferson’s true genius. He was really the first person (with the power to shape policy) to consider that government might exist to serve its people. He was the first national leader to view economic sanctions as military tactics.

Monticello showcases his innovative prowess: dumbwaiters around his fireplaces, skylights in the ceiling, double sets of paned-glass doors, a “polygraph” for duplicating his prodigious writing. I loved the saying: “Washington fought the Revolution. Jefferson thought the Revolution.”

Much of September's ST issue concerns the federal government Jefferson helped craft. Included are articles and anecdotes about mandates and making choices with preemptive innovation. Our primary “environmental” article, written by Steve Aust, represents a mix, but it’s mostly about product and process choices. The article about mercury usage and recycling focuses more on obligations, while the companion piece about a biodegradable vinyl showcases conscious decision.

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Typically, the federal government issues macro policies, and the sign industry’s microscopic portion of whatever that market is gets swept into one-size-fits-all policies . . . unless it proactively recognizes impending change and communicates its unique nature.

The Clean Air Act of 1990 trickled down to affect paint, and then the sign industry by 1993. I wrote how OneShot’s Steve Becker helped stave off unnecessary regulation of sign paint’s VOC content in the March 1993 editorial. The following month, based on the Energy Policy Act of 1992, I wrote about impending mandates for energy-efficient fluorescent lamps (sound familiar?). That time, Osram Sylvania’s Norman Blake alerted the sign industry. More recently, Thomas Claus and the International Sign Assn. fought to protect the sign industry from federal mandates for Energy Star labels for signs.

Article 600 of the 1996 National Electrical Code began requiring secondary, ground-fault protection for transformers, which caused the late Paul Davis to write a January 1996 “Nuts and Bolts” column entitled “Neon Nightmares.” The following month, Underwriters’ Laboratories’ (UL) Jim Richards (I saw him at the 2007 ISA Sign Expo; he’s back in the sign portion of UL) wrote that the incidence of neon fires (plus the introduction of electronic power supplies) triggered the new requirement, even though the power supplies were not causing the fires. Shoddy field work was; the sign industry mostly brought it upon itself. And soon the sign industry learned about “nuisance tripping.”

In the October issue, this column will address the new Signage Foundation, after I’ve spoken with its new leader, Joe Rickman, the former ISA president. I hope it’s empowered to proactively improve sign codes and abate the sign industry’s unfortunate defensive posture.

And now we pause for a message from our sponsor, Signs of the Times. We now offer a new way (optional) to receive your magazine, an e-zine. Basically, it’s a PDF of the entire issue (minus the directories).

Domestically, e-zines will make sense for those who travel extensively or would like to read off their laptop. Also, the e-zine offers a distinct advantage: When an ad catches your eye, a hot link will take you directly to that advertiser’s website. (For those grooming a subsequent generation, an e-zine might help you bond with your MySpace/YouTube text messagers.)

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For anyone overseas, e-zines are cause for jubilation. Currently, for example, a Chinese subscriber has to pay exorbitant airmail to get the magazine on time. Or, if you opted for surface mail (this might be where the phrase “slow boat to China” originated), you would get the magazine much later. Now, you can get the magazine on time and pay the same rate as your U.S. counterpart.

One more thing about Jefferson: He died more than $100,000 in debt, partially because he served his country more than himself. His heirs had to auction off Monticello.

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