The missus and I enjoy the movies, but we find ourselves watching fewer and fewer of them in the movie theater. Why? Well, the inappropriate talking, the prices, and the having your seatback kicked by some unrepentant kid haven't helped. Heck, if I could find a used theater-quality popcorn popper and then retrofit our sofa with a cupholder, we might never leave the house.

Nevertheless, we recently found ourselves with a free afternoon and set out to see The Inside Job at a local theater. This cinema has some years on it - three big screens, bigger rooms than you usually find today, and none of the stadium-seating or electronics of the new facilities. Its relatively spartan style reminds me of the theater where I saw Star Wars (you know, the first one).

Thus I was quick to blame the theater's (and its equipment's) age when we settled into our seats only to recognize that the room was surprisingly warm, and it felt a little muggy on top of that. We grumbled a bit while the rest of the matinee crowd shuffled in but resigned ourselves to accept it for the next couple of hours. Then, two previews in, the place was more comfortable, and I realized that when the lights went down, the air conditioning had come on. Not only was the equipment working, but the management was trying to consider occupancy when managing its HVAC operation.

That industry clearly always remembers what I had forgotten as a lapsed moviegoer: People expect (i.e., demand) cool air in movie theaters. Not that a cool theater is necessary to the experience - after all, a few more degrees won't melt the film or the Milk Duds - but patrons simply have come to expect a cool or even chilly theater as a matter of tradition, tracing back to the days when cinemas were dark, climate-controlled refuges from warm, naturally ventilated homes. Residential units are the norm now, of course, but the collective memory remains. In that sense, I suppose the public's expectation is a matter of, well, conditioning.

(Have you ever been surprised by a level of HVAC sophistication somewhere? I'd be interested to hear about it.)

LEARN AND EARN

Another reason movie theaters have to focus on customer satisfaction is that customers, as alluded to earlier, have more delivery choices and have embraced more control over when and how they enjoy films. We are too busy to adapt to rigid screening times; we'd like you to work around our schedule, thank you very much. Any why not?

Why not, indeed. And why not apply that convenience to professional education? ASHRAE asked the same question, and they've teamed up with Elsevier to launch a new eLearning offering that allows users to learn, brush up, and then earn professional credits on their own schedules from their computers.

We heard about this project at the ASHRAE press breakfast in Chicago during the AHR Expo, and I'm happy to see the three inaugural courses being launched. Each course balances online instruction with "Learning Burst" simulation exercises. Current offerings include "Fundamentals of HVAC Systems," "Understanding Fan Selection," and "Understanding Psychrometrics." This project should spread quality professional learning beyond those who can afford to travel enough or who happen to live near physical course offerings, and that should in turn improve the level of engineering performance for facilities and clients everywhere.

For info and an interactive demo, visit www.cyweb.co.uk/clients/ashrae/.

DO YOU KNOW THE WAY TO SAN DIEGO?

I asked that question last month on the blog, with apologies to Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick, and now I can ask you in print as we formally announce our next Building Automation Conference. Our first West Coast foray is set for September 12-13 in San Diego, at the Westin Horton Plaza (a venue chosen quite coincidentally but well after this month's cover story was scheduled).

As mentioned, the debut conference in Baltimore was a hit, fueled in part by the strong Q&A between attendees and panelists at the ends of the sessions in both tracks. That's one dynamic you can't quite recreate in cyberspace, and we expect more of the same along with two days of great speakers and nice weather in San Diego. Drop by www.bnpevents.com/ES/BAC/index.htm to get the scoop and sign up.