Quotulatiousness

October 13, 2017

QotD: The danger of sewer gas

Filed under: Health, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Confined space entry training dwells on sewer gas a lot. Sewer gas is the chemical equivalent of both barrels to the forehead, so it’s worth the attention. There is a long laundry list of things you need to be aware of, and equipment you need to have on hand to deal with potential sewer gas exposure. The first man is required to enter the confined space wearing a harness which is attached to a winch on a tripod placed over the hole. If he’s incapacitated, the second man yanks him out without doubling down on the problem by jumping in after him. This never happens. The first man goes in without any equipment, and the second man dives in after him and dies on top of him.

Here in Maine, it happened a year or two ago. OSHA prosecuted the owner of a business that lost two men in a sewer because of sewer gas. OSHA didn’t care that the company had trained the men for confined space entry. OSHA didn’t care that the company had supplied the men with all the equipment necessary to do the job safely. The workers left all the equipment in the truck and went in the hole and died, even though they must have known the risk. OSHA prosecutes the business because it’s easier than speaking ill of the dead.

I have a long experience with exactly the type of person who ends up dead in a sewer. Without knowing any particulars of the case, I can tell you that no workman will use any safety device of any kind that interferes with smoking cigarettes — and they all smoke. You can train them and yell at them and equip them to a fare-thee-well, but the moment they’re out of your sight, they’ll do exactly as they please. Texting while driving is the poindexter version of this phenomenon.

Sippican Cottage, “Interestingly, ‘Malfunction of Unknown Provenance’ Is the Name of My Men Without Hats Tribute Band. But I Digress”, Sippican Cottage, 2016-02-25.

April 5, 2016

QotD: The art of buying a house with real problems

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

My house cost less than $25,000 when I bought it. I wasn’t expecting a rose garden. As it turned out, I got a lupin garden, but that’s a story for another day. There was a lot wrong with my house, and I knew it. I even knew that the sewer wasn’t likely to be first rate. There was a patch on the concrete floor around the sewer pipe. There’s always a reason why the floor has been patched around a sewer line. All the reasons are bad reasons.

I needed a house six years ago or so after catching the poverty. It was my own fault. I foolishly went to the early-bird special at the Honest Work Buffet, but Wall Street had gotten there before me and sneezed on the warming tray with the regular economy in it. Lyme Disease didn’t help any, either, although I still find ticks less loathsome than politicians.

I believe that a house is the chassis of a competent family. We were broke but it was important to keep us together in a house where we would have some control over our affairs. I looked for a house that was as cheap as the chrome on a Kia, but didn’t have anything wrong with it that I couldn’t understand or fix myself. Our house fit the bill. It had been abandoned, and the bank wanted to get rid of it, badly.

The house was owned by a local bank that held the note from the prior owners, a real rarity back when the real estate leverage world was desolating the landscape. People kept predicting that housing would fall an additional X percent, and then they’d buy. They didn’t realize that the big banks holding the leveraged debt had no interest in the real real estate. The financial institutions were being made whole by logrolling the government. The houses were abstractions to them, and only the paper was real. The local banker had his tit in the wringer over our house. I could reason with him. Either I could live in it, or he could. No one in their right mind would want to live in my house.

I didn’t want an abstract house. I wanted one with real problems. Mission Accomplished. I tried in vain to make real estate agents understand that I wanted to buy a house nobody else wanted. They kept trying to show me houses that looked like Home Depot had exploded inside them. The current owners wanted me to pay for the privilege of ripping out all the silly stuff they had inexpertly selected and installed. What I really wanted was a neglected house. Neglect is easier to handle than active malice. That applies to real estate and elections, now that I think of it.

Our house had been neglected, that’s for sure. There was a hole in the back roof that I could stick my head through. The wiring was still partly knob and tube. It takes a long time to foreclose on a house, even if it’s abandoned, so all the pipes had frozen and burst while the bank went through all the legal steps to foreclose on an empty house. When we bought our home, it was essentially a poorly constructed shell of a house, not a dwelling.

Sippican Cottage, “Interestingly, ‘Unified Field Theory of Neglect’ Is the Name of My Left Banke Tribute Band. But I Digress”, Sippican Cottage, 2016-03-21.

March 14, 2016

Plumbing through the ages … in rural Maine

Filed under: Environment, Humour, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Sippican Cottage continues the tale of the busted sewer pipe:

… The cable was going to come out of the pipe, and it was going to bring things out with it. You don’t visit Beelzebub’s Disneyland without exiting through the gift shop. Over one hundred years of other people’s foolishness could appear from that pipe. I jerked my thumb to indicate REVERSE, held on to the whipping cable to avoid a proper drenching, and prepared to be surprised.

Out they came. The feminine pennants snapped in the breeze from the yardarm stay of my drain augur cable. Dracula’s teabags. The things no man is supposed to buy at the Rite Aid. Tampons emerged like an army on the march.

Now, it’s not up to me to decide exactly how tough a tampon should be. Smarter men than I have determined that feminine hygiene products should be able to withstand a shotgun blast and an acid bath at the same time. It’s a given that they should be more durable than space shuttle tiles. Fall protection harnesses and parachute cord should be made from the little strings, if you want them to last. Kevlar? Pfffffftt. That’s OK for stopping a high powered round and all, but if you need real protection, head to Walgreens and sew a vest out of these babies.

Every length of the sewer cable is ten feet long, and each one appeared from the poop soup with twenty-five or so little Tampax ornaments whipping around from it. I took a pliers and grabbed each one as it emerged from the pipe, but they held on like grim death. Some were tangled four or five in a bundle. I was required to return the machine as clean as I’d found it, so they all had to be yanked from the cables. They fought like Japanese army holdouts in a cave.

We pulled out fifty feet of cable, and the little devils made a substantial pile at my feet. I shoveled them aside, and we sent the cable back down the pipe. The second round brought out more than the first trip down the pipe. I could have stuffed a futon with them. I’ve slept on a futon, if you can call that sleeping. I just assumed that’s what a futon is stuffed with. I could be wrong. It could be dead cats.

I quickly realized I wasn’t playing Current Events. The little pillows were ancient history. They didn’t say Johnson and Johnson on them. They just said Johnson, talk to the Old Man. These were bungs from the Baroque, Always from the Jazz Age, postwar Playtex, Tampax from the Tang Dynasty, Ottoman Empire occlusions, Seleucid sanitary napkins, and stopples from the Silurian. This was a museum, not a sewer system. I wondered if I could get some kind of grant to look them over and catalog them.

I began to suspect that hunter-gatherer societies had been flushing these things down my toilet. The former residents of my house must have invited people over to join in the fun. They probably ran ads in the Grover Cleveland Craiglist to come on over and flush your troubles away. It seemed like a determined effort to my eye.

My son and I went back and forth, fifty to sixty feet of cable at a stretch. I don’t remember how many times it took. When we were properly lulled by exhaustion and repetition, it finally came. The magic sound. It was the sound a nurse hears while walking down the hall in the nursing home late at night. A horrible gurgle, as the whole organism lets go and slides away to a better world. The poop in the pipe was gone.

July 19, 2015

It’s the right answer to so many intrusive questions!

Filed under: Humour, Politics, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Sippican Cottage relates the tale of how the answer to life, the universe, and everything came to be discovered:

Excuse me, did you say “42”? Because 42 is so last week. I have discovered the answer to life, the universe, and everything, and it’s a lot more useful and comprehensible than 42.

My wife was accosted in the supermarket parking lot by some ill-mannered brigands, otherwise known as female high school students. Don’t get me wrong; people are more mannerly and friendly in Maine than in other places I have known. But there are many interactions between persons that have been bent by circumstance.

[…]

My wife is very quiet and reserved. She smiles a lot, but she doesn’t talk very much. I have always depended on her steadiness, because I am mercurial. I wonder if there is anyone in this world who has anything bad to say about her, other than she chooses husbands in lighting not suitable for buying off-brand bales of hay. Anyway, she was caught somewhat unawares, and didn’t have a moment to parse what she said carefully for its effect. She just asked, more or less politely, “Why would I want to do that?”

They backed up like people who had opened a mummy’s tomb and heard Egyptian being spoken. It was as unanswerable as a tax bill.

Don’t you see? Can’t you see it? It’s the answer to everything. It’s the Swiss army knife of life, with the little can-opener dongle on it, except instead of opening cans it opens universes. If everyone would answer 99 percent of the questions put to them every day with, “Why would I want to do that?”, the world would be a better place. Not just for the questioner. All manner of mischief would fold up and die and I wouldn’t get messages from Nigerian princelings anymore because every offer to send a million dollars tax-free would be met with, “Why would I want to do that?”

I recognized it like a lost friend. It’s the phrase I’ve been thinking but not saying, morning, noon and night, for years on end, whenever anyone asks me anything about anything. It is my default position for everything, I’ve just never uttered it.

Why would I want to do that?

But (and there’s always a “but”) … it fails the test of one critical question.

August 20, 2014

QotD: Maine

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The entire state is oceanside, just like in the video. There are rumors of some vast, undiscovered bogs or swamps or mountains or something out west, but no one would ever go there. LL Bean is in Freeport, and you’re not allowed to be in Maine more than an hour’s drive from there. If we had police, they’d check. Bean’s used to have catalogs filled with shotguns and fishing poles, but now they only sell banana hammock bathing suits for Canadians that go to Old Orchard Beach and think it’s the Riviera, and button-down men’s shirts for ladies to wear.

Maine has various slogans. They used to call it Vacationland, but Mainers couldn’t help themselves, and got to reading the Vacationland road signs while driving to work in the office park in Westbrook, and forgot the signs were for people “From Away” — the charming soubriquet Mainers use when they want to call someone a Masshole, but the guy hasn’t paid his bill yet. Anyway, everyone in Maine went to Disneyworld at the same time, on the same bus, and there was no one left in Maine to direct the tourists from Massachusetts to the best places to icefish in June, or where to find all the huggable bull mooses in rutting season, or how to properly approach a black bear cub. Note: Always get between Mama bear and Baby bear. They love that.

“Maine: The Way Life Should Be,” was another one. It was less of an overt threat than New Hampshire’s motto, it’s true, but it left too much room for rumination on its meaning. I haven’t been to New Hampshire in a while, but if memory serves, their slogan is “Live Free, Or Else,” or something to that effect. Maine’s sounds friendlier, but its ambiguity rankles some. It’s never wise to get the tourists thinking. It smacked a bit of “Your life is bad, and you should feel bad, and we’re here to tell you so.”

Sippican, “Maine Is Totally Like This, Totally”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-02-26

June 2, 2014

QotD: Realtors

Filed under: Business, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:04

I talked a few times with the realtor, and they were as helpful as realtors usually are: not helpful. They couldn’t answer any important questions for me, because realtors don’t know anything important about the properties they sell. Well, that’s not entirely true. They often know very important things about the properties they sell. Those are invariably the things they’re hiding from you, hoping to entice you into standing in the decrepit shack they’re listing while they perform their Svengali perorations about its potential. Weave a tapestry of possibilities in the air that’ll have you frisking yourself in no time, looking for your checkbook before that handyman that’s interested in the property snatches it from under your nose.

Oh, I know that handyman. That guy gets around. I never learned his name, but he seemed to be interested in every property I was interested in Maine. No matter where I went — Turner, Cornish, Peru, Livermore Falls, Norway, Rumford…

Anyway, that polymath handyman with the lead foot and the nose for diamonds in the rough was always one step ahead of us, ready to stuff our defeat into the jaws of his victory. He was very interested in Turner, I hear.

Sippican Cottage, “I’m Fixing A Hole Where The Intertunnel Gets In “, Sippican Cottage, 2013-11-13

February 13, 2014

“Minimize your therbligs”, or Taylor versus Gilbreth

Filed under: Business, History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:05

Sippican Cottage makes a strong case for Frank Bunker Gilbreth being the greatest man ever produced by Maine (republishing an older post from 2012):

Frank Gilbreth was born in Fairfield, Maine, in 1868. He never went to college except to teach at Purdue eventually. He’s famous, in a way, and anonymous in another. He’s the father portrayed in the original Cheaper By The Dozen, using a stopwatch to figure out how to make his family more efficient. That was his thing — efficiency.

He was a bricklayer. Built houses. He got to wondering if the repetition of laying one oblong slug of fired clay atop two others in a bed of mortar could be improved by observing the motions of skilled persons, breaking these exertions down into their component movements, and eliminating the wasted motions in the routines. It can, and he did. I’ve been a hod carrier and mason tender, and I can tell you that working off the ground or a platform the same height as your feet would be backbreaking and slow way to assemble masonry. We always used the footing form boards and leftover planks to assemble ad hoc shelves just lower than waist height behind the mason so that they could turn and pick up a brick and some mortar and go back to the next slot in the wall. I had no idea Clifton Webb, er, Frank Gilbreth came up with the idea less than a century before. It would be literally impossible to calculate how much time, money, effort, and how many worker’s backs Frank Gilbreth (and his wife, who was his partner and carried on after his early death) saved anonymously. His method is now universal and uncontroversial. How many people are incalculably useful to their fellow men?

I first heard of Gilbreth in my first college semester, and while the biographical detail is new to me, the basic idea is the same as my (post-strike replacement) instructor described. So who’s the “Taylor” of my title?

Frederick Taylor is the progenitor of so many things that are in the common language today that he deserves to be discussed with the most influential people of his time. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Almost all the fruit of Taylor’s tree is rotten.

Taylor is the guy standing behind dehumanized workers with a stopwatch, keeping track of bathroom breaks, and generally treating all work as a series of unrelated steps that any unskilled human could do, and constantly finding new ways of measuring it and subdividing it to harangue a little more out of the continually less and less skilled worker. “Scientific Management,” they called it. The Soviet Union loved it. They thought all people were just cogs in a big machine anyway. Most of the terms for malingering in dead-end jobs come from Taylorism. Goldbricking. Dogging it. Taylor observed that when normal people are in a group and everyone has the same duties, it is human nature for everyone in the group to devolve and perform at the level of the least capable and energetic member. His solution was a big expansion of management. He is the busted idol of micromanagement, and by extension, big government.

I have a lovely leather-bound copy of Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management that I’ve never actually opened … it was on the used book charity fundraising table at my local bank branch, so I paid $1 for it. From Sippican’s description, I may not bother to read it, as I think I’ve encountered most of the content in the working world.

Minimize your therbligs until it becomes automatic; this doubles your effective lifetime — and thereby gives time to enjoy butterflies and kittens and rainbows.

That’s Robert Heinlein in his “Lazarus Long” character voice. What the heck is a therblig, and why is it in this post? Therbligs are Gilbreth’s basic motions of physical work; the essential parts of any manual task. Minimize them to make the work more efficient. The name is derived, as my college instructor put it, by spelling Gilbreth sideways.

December 20, 2013

QotD: (Almost) Winter in Maine

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:44

I love the weather channels. Hair farmers and dime-store Kardashians waving their arms over an imaginary map, talking about WINTER STORM FABIAN or WINTER SEMI-BLIZZARD OSAMA or WINTER ARCTIC DEATHSTORM INGA. The least you could do is explain what the hell I’m suppose to expect on Monday on that forecast there. Is the weather going to be serrated on Monday? Will I be expected to swim laps in some sort of frozen pool? Is frozen angel hair pasta going to be made available to me? What are those squiggly weather lines? Should I make out a will, and make out with my wife one last time on Sunday night?

I got up this morning and it was fifteen below zero, car wouldn’t start, because the car is smarter than a person, and we were still shoveling a foot of “partly cloudy” from the day before. I didn’t really mind, exactly, because I didn’t move to Uppastump Maine expecting palm trees and grass skirts on the babes, but there is one aspect about it that rankled. Listen to me, you weather idiots. It’s not the winter. It won’t be winter for four days or so. The average nighttime temperature here in December is fourteen degrees Fahrenheit. That makes last night thirty bleeping degrees below normal. Thirty degrees is a lot, don’t you think?

Sippican Cottage, “I Was Considering Putting On A Sweater”, Sippican Cottage, 2013-12-17

October 17, 2013

QotD: Small town architecture

Filed under: History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Damariscotta, Maine, is a village about forty percent of the way to Canada along the Atlantic coast, with about 2500 people living in it, and at least that many gawping at it at any given time. It’s cuter than a baby trying to eat an apple.

Damariscotta is an Indian name that means something in Indian, I suppose. I don’t speak Abenaki, and neither do Abenakis, so there’s no use askin’, but I think it means: “Place we’ll burn down during King Philip’s War, and again a few times whenever we’re bored and the sheriff’s drunk during the French And Indian Wars.” The colonists got jealous of the Indians getting to burn the place down fortnightly, and burned the place down themselves so the British couldn’t occupy it during the Revolutionary War, or maybe so the bank couldn’t repossess it, I can’t remember, I was very young back then.

[…]

The restaurant was identified to me as haunted, anyway. I was likewise informed that there’s a tour that points out all the local haunted houses, which includes most every building in town but the Rexall. No one ever wants to die and haunt a Rexall. It ain’t dignified. I believe to a certainty that I was supposed to be interested in the fact that the building I was in was haunted by someone besides a man with a liquor license, but I have a defective nature and I wasn’t; but I was fascinated to learn that out-of-plumb doorframes, squirrels in the attic, and a hint of cupidity is enough to get you a paying job lying to people “from away.” And to think I’ve been lying to strangers for free all these years, and on more diverse topics.

There’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed in small cities in the East. The really nice looking cities are made of brick, and all the buildings look like one another, because everything that was there before burned down eleven or four or nine times, until the residents all decided brick buildings were cheaper than a fire department, and built everything at the same time under a regime of architectural and intellectual coherence that is not abroad in the land just now. Damariscotta’s like that; Providence, Rhode Island, parts of Boston, and Portland, Maine are too.

One likewise cannot help but notice that in Damariscotta, the rhythm of the lovely brick buildings, with the occasional gawjus neoclassical residence smattered in, is broken only by the public library, which is fairly new, and built in the Prairie/International/Cow Barn/Reform School style, because reasons. There’s a plaque on the sidewalk that declares the entire downtown a member of the National Register of Historic Places, so you have to check with someone official about the color of the mortar you’re using to fix a brick on your haunted ice cream parlor or haunted Kinko’s or whatever you’ve got, but the town can hire Frank Lloyd Wrong to design the library and place it there like a dead cat at a picnic.

“Innocents Abroad: The Damariscotta Pumpkinfest”, Sippican Cottage, 2013-10-16

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