M&M Engineering….Metro and Monument

Coincidently, this post gets published during National Engineer’s Week in the US. That wasn’t my intention when I started writing this, but it seems to have worked out appropriately, if not well.

This past year has not been a good one for engineering in the DC area.  While a major accomplishment goes unnoticed, two serious failures have rightly captured people’s attention.  Why aren’t things going better?

The good news story is the drilling of the DC Clean Rivers Project.  Two tunnels, 48″ and 108″, drilled under the city, will keep stormwater runoff from flooding the sewage treatment plant and contaminating the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.  An incredible undertaking of engineering and construction, it has been practically invisible to the public.  And it is going well (almost complete!).

Not so the other denizen of tunnels, METRO.  Nothing seems to be going right for them, and hasn’t for years.  Inspection not performed, repairs not made, maintenance left undone; from policy to execution nothing has gone right. When in the middle of the very-public, very-massive safety push you have train operators who still almost hit the Federal inspectors on the tracks, you know you have problems.  Surprisingly (and I am very surprised, as the horror stories keep coming out) no one has been charged criminally for the years of running a system that has apparently been so woefully unable to complete even simple task. Years  of falsified records and billed-but-unperformed tasks and no one has been charged?  Really?? Unbelievable.

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Commuters wait for their train at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

And then there’s the other major monument to problems in the engineering world, the Washington Monument.  Closed for almost 3 years to repair damage from the earthquake of 2011, it opened in mid-2014. Almost immediately it had problems with the electrical systems and elevators. The elevator problem is so serious that the Monument will now be closed until 2019 for repairs.  So in an 8 year period, our National Monument will have been close for almost 6 of them.  Not a very good track record, not at all.

I understand complex issues, interconnected problems, deficits of money, time, and manpower.  But to have to such major problems at the same time is a sad state of affairs.  Maybe some of the infrastructure money being promised by the administration can help both of these out.

I hope so.

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Dennis Cook/Associated Press

 

 

Winter felled

Marked in summer, demise foretold; Cut down at last, in a season cold

No more shade upon my walk; no more place for birds to talk

A part of the street for 20 years; Passed away with no shed tears

Nothing planted in their place to grow; Nothing to improve the barren show

It takes years and years to grow a tree; Who will see it, I fear ….. not me

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Holiday Thoughts

The holidays have come and gone, the last remnants of lights disappearing from the houses of those reluctant to lose the spirit of the season.  Since I didn’t decorate, there’s been no need to un-decorate, and so instead I thought about the time and what I learned.

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First, holidays are about others.  Until this year there was always a piece that involved receiving, but this year even that last tiny portion disappeared.  I’ve been discovering for the last few years that the best parts of gifts and giving was trying to find a gift that surprised or met a need. This year it came with a gift of a book to a friend who didn’t know I’d been paying attention, and to a late gift of 45’s (yes, records believe it or not!) that brought back good memories for someone.

I also discovered that the time can be highly productive.  Without having work lurking in the back of my mind (because almost all projects slowed to a frozen-molasses crawl during the last three weeks of December) I became free to focus on the things that I had been putting off for weeks or months but that I’d not had the energy to tackle.  From cleaning out closets to building new shelves, framing pictures, and catching up on reading, a whole list of things was accomplished.  (A word of caution however; don’t save it all for one week! I was exhausted after the first five days because I was doing so much!  Fortunately I had a couple of extra days to recover).

Finally, I acknowledged yet again that there is a difference between alone and lonely….although sometimes I don’t realize it until it’s too late.  Many of the days of tasks were done alone, and there were a couple of days that I probably didn’t speak to anyone because I was in the apartment taking care of things.  But while that’s good, the alone times tend to morph and change and become lonely times. And in the cold of winter darkness that can be especially trying.

Clearly this post has been percolating for a bit, because the holidays I’m talking about were Christmas and New Year, not Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day!

Library misconnection

It has turned out to be a bigger frustration than I ever expected. The new Central Branch has finally opened after renovation. I thought this meant I’d be able to once again easily and conveniently return to blogging!

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I was wrong.

While the library LOOKS great, the internet connection since the reopening has been terrible. Even before East Columbia closed, even when Central had very few patrons on the computers, it was s l o o o w loading anything. Even their own home page could take ten or fifteen seconds to load, and there were delays after that in loading Google, WordPress, etc.

Now that East Columbia has been closed, it’s really becoming quite annoying that sites that were formerly so easy to access now have become quite difficult to connect. For the past week or so they have even posted on signs that the internet is going in and out (although strangely when you call, they aren’t aware of this). I try to type, to search, to work, and I get……nothing, just a spinning circle trying to load.  Even this short post took 5 attempts to load a picture, and three attempts to get the editing done.

I know this is a first world problem. At the same time, I’m not the only person who needs the patron accessed computers to do work. Every time I’m in here now I see someone who is staring at a screen waiting for it to load. I know there are always bugs after these types of things, but after a couple of months I think they should be able to get the internet to stay up.

Come on award-winning library, let’s get connected!

#HoCoBlogs

Safe Zone Sillies

There has been no shortage of issues from the election that have stirred thoughts and irritation with me this year. One aspect of the past campaign that has bothered me (there were lots, but we’ll focus on just one for now!) was “safe places”.  Really, when did we become like this?

Let me start with an affirmation that I firmly and unequivocally believe that there are people who have experienced great calamities, events that truly are triggering.  An unexpected reference or description of sexual violence can trigger PTSD in a survivor.  Or a scene of physical violence that could provide a reaction from a domestic abuse survivor.  Theres I understand and support.  The trauma of what they have been through should be respected, and consideration given to how they would react if the trigger were sprung on them unknowingly. They have personally suffered something and there is an aspect of it that requires particular care and deference due to the nature of it.  For this type of situation, pre-notice for them of pending possible issues seems appropriate.

But, Jiminy Crickets folks, not every mean word, opinion, reaction requires a safe zone! Contrary opinions and mean people are a way of life (even more so now in the anonymous safety of the internet). Dealing with criticism and harsh words are a part of life. Dealing with angry, unkind, spiteful people is (sadly enough) a part of life.  We need to deal with it, learn to handle it, learn to let it roll off.  Yes, there should be limits on some things, but the protection should be for the people who have gone through a trauma.

When we claim too broad a privilege it diminishes the value and purpose for those that actually need it.  Call for it too often and for too frivolous a reason and it becomes “wolf”, except that it’s not then the false crier who suffers by the silent sufferer.  And much like surface tension in an overly full cup of tea, once broken the spillage is uncontrollable.

Let’s be more judicious in calling out the need for safe spaces.  Let’s learn to hear and manage those reactions, take away the power they have over us.  Be sensitive to actual people who have experienced actual harm.  But not call “safe zone” just because our feelings are hurt.

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Time change

Even though we’re on the upslope of daylight, even though we are gaining precious minutes each week, even though I have so far survived this….I still feel the need to rail against Standard Time and mourn the loss of Daylight Savings Time.  Because I need to save all the daylight I can, have it touch me all that I can.  I don’t know the full story of the creating of daylight savings time and standard time. But it’s time for it to stop. Let’s do Daylight Savings and keep it there, year round.

The world has changed considerably since Summer Time, as Daylight Savings Time was first known, was introduced.  Things have even changed since we codified it in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  At one point it made sense based on how we lived and the condition of the developed world.  Technology and society have moved on and the reasons for supporting the constant switching of time are no longer so valid. We now have a 24-7 existence where people do everything from telework (thanks to the web) to shop and even go to the gym at all hours.  I’ve seen the Washington Beltway as busy at 11 pm and 1 am as it is at 11 am and 1 pm. We have designed energy-efficient facilities, use LED lights, and drive higher efficiency vehicles.  The idea of saving energy….has evaporated like frost in the sunlight.  A working world that was ruled by 9-5 schedules is different from what we have now.  Now it’s ruled by 24-7, and people do everything at all hours.

The time difference doesn’t help with farming and crops.  We have lost the society where there were large number of people on the land, and farming was a manual chore.  Now we don’t have large portions of the population living on farms and rising up early to milk cows and till the earth anymore. Farms are still important, they just are just significantly more automated and mechanized, and less impacted by the clock.

The time switching doesn’t help protect kids going to school.  The most dangerous time for pedestrians and for accidents is when the clock changes and we have a sudden shift in light and dark and twilight.  And now, because of football, band, aftercare and numerous other activities, they tend to go home in the dark instead of leave from home in the morning in the dark.

Finally…..it screws with my SAD and ruins months of the year for me (what?….why yes, yes, it IS all about me!).  Seasonal Affective Disorder is more widely recognized and understood, more widely diagnosed than ever before. It is the depression that comes from lack of light and disruption of rhythms, and the shift of the day only brings the dark of night upon us faster and faster.

Yes I’m grateful for the extra minutes I’ve been gaining these past couple of weeks.  Yes, it helps with my mood and my exercise; with my energy and productivity.  So I say “Down with Falling Back!”  Change the rules.  Have Congress do something useful AND unify the country (since there are a couple of states that don’t participate in this Ponzi scheme of the clock.  Stay with Spring Forward….do it in the spring and keep it there!

Standing with….

The flow of history is strange, with the eddies and currents that form, disperse, and come back to form again.  I’m mindful a commitment that I made, and now need to fulfill.

I just finished an abridged biography of the amazing Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which reminded me of another  great German name, Martin Niemoller.  He is most famously known for the poem “First They Came”

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I made a post on a smaller social media site there I quoted this, and made a commitment to remember this and to support it. And so to fulfill my commitment, I need to speak out and state that….
I stand with the LGBT community, for civil liberties, for civil ceremonies of loving relationships, and against discrimination and hatred.
I stand with Muslims seeking the peaceful practice of their faith and their lives, the way I am able to practice mine in this country.
I stand with the immigrants, who seek the type of life that I have and are willing to risk everything in the journey to here to have it.
I stand with the refugees who flee all they have ever known, all that they have, in order to simply live.
And, I stand with America in continuing to be the land of Liberty, the land of welcome, the land of waves of immigrants assimilating into society, strengthening us, and helping us to be the beacon of light we have been for so many years.