It's 10:00 at night. You're still too wired to fall asleep because that electrical test procedure you're scheduled to run first thing in the morning has you a little worried. You haven't performed this type of test in quite a while, so you're starting to wonder if there might be a better way of approaching it. You know it's too late to pick up the phone and call someone, but you'd really like to get a second or third opinion from a fellow electrical worker. Where do you turn? To your computer, of course.

It's time to grab a cup of coffee, belly up to the computer desk, and head off into one of the many online virtual communities (VCs) that reside on the Internet. Don't worry, this experience doesn't require you to strap on any space age helmet or high-tech glove (that is, unless you feel the need to do so). Nor does it require you to put your shirt back on (that is, unless you plan to use a Web cam). In fact, this encounter doesn't even require you to speak. That's right, it's time to let your fingers and keyboard do the talking for you.

A new generation of electrical workers are settling into a second home of sorts on the Internet and forming online electrical communities with their peers. They're doing so because they realize the power these sites have to help them get advice on specific business or technical topics from others with more experience and knowledge, the opportunity to share their thoughts — business or leisure — and bounce ideas off others with similar interests. And as an added bonus, they're gaining a sense of pride from helping answer someone else's question. And they're doing it all from the comfort of their home or office.

The concept isn't difficult to grasp. Select one of the half-dozen or so sites currently available on the Internet, create a username and password, if required, and post a question or jump in and comment on someone else's question. It's that simple. And before long, you'll have learned some new skills, had a chance to impart your wisdom on others, and formed some new friendships, all via that little plastic box sitting on your desk. Who says speech is the best form of communication?

One VC in particular, the Electrical Contractor Network, has become the Internet hot-spot for contractors, inspectors, and engineers, alike. By mixing a strong focus on technical issues with a friendly atmosphere, it's become the most popular general electrical VC for electrical workers who want the answers to their questions and a little friendly banter. Managing Editor Matthew Halverson takes a closer look at this online enclave in “Mr. Addiss' Neighborhood” on page 50. And be sure to drop by the community. New faces are always welcome.