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Arbeitsfotos IV

This fearsome edifice (which would make a fine tower for a sorcerer) originally served as a water tower for the water treatment plant of Fostoria, Ohio, and was capped by a riveted steel tank demolished in the 1950's.  A standard asphalt shingle/timber roof was installed on top after the tank was removed but it has been leaking and rotting the last several years.  I was supposed to go up and inspect it, take measurements and design a new roof structure for it.

I could tell just by looking at it that it was an 1880's structure - the roughly hewn, cyclopean blocks of stone, the 3 foot thick walls were a dead giveaway.  Inspired by my favorite architect, H.H. Richardson, romanesque buildings in this manner sprouted up all over the U.S. during that time.  Almost every college campus has one.  The problem is that in the meantime, the ornate Victorian cast iron stairway on the inside had corroded and was partially collapsed and hence not usuable.  The solution was to have the local fire department come out with a ladder truck and hoist me up there.

Since there was piping from the plant buried in the yard outside the tower footprint the [very heavy] fire truck had to park across the street, extend the ladder over the street, and up the four story height to the roof.  A further problem?  The day I was at the site there were 35 mph winds!  After watching the ladder sway ominously back and forth in the buffeting gale, the fire chief said he was not willing to risk the safety of any of his men.  Of course, my project manager helpfully volunteered to still risk MY safety and said I would be more than glad to still attempt it!  Fortunately the fire chief shot down that proposal.  Someday I am supposed to go back up there and attempt to mount the apex and poke around - without falling through the rotten deck.  You can be sure that I am arranging my schedule such that someone else will have to go in my place!

Arbeitsfotos III (Doors Edition)

Finally, a door sufficiently secure and robust for my taste (No, that's not me in the photo).

It's in a 1920's era building that used to be a bank, but is now owned by Lake County, Ohio (I was on a walkthrough with a design team tasked with coming up with scope items for an upcoming renovation). That part is used by the county board of elections and they actually store voting documents inside. (Reminded me of Gringott's of Harry Potter fame.)  After barging behind the counter of the elections officials I then subsequently waltzed through the county prosecutor's office in the midst of an extortion investigation (apparently) and then in another chamber disrupted the meeting of the county commissioners. Finally i found an unlocked roof hatch and scaled several ladders so i could navigate various rooftops - all so i could closely examine some cracked masonry.  I'll be honest, it was inordinately exhilarating.

Lastly, this wins the award for the creepiest door to a basement - scratch that, sub-basement - that I have ever seen (same building).

Doubtless cobbled together by a sadistic blacksmith that specialized in dungeon hardware, it's like those old freezer doors (you know, the type that used to trap small children and suffocate them?) in that it is three inches thick, insulated to maintain temperature (and to muffle sound?), and can only be unlatched from the OUTSIDE.  Pulling the door open pulls the chain which lifts the counterweight; when letting go the weight insures the door slams shut. It was disconnected at the top, presumably because too many people had been locked in, only to die from starvation or thirst.

Arbeitsfotos II

On some level I knew it was probably wrong to wax rhapsodic to my coworkers about the light playing off the algae and dripping slime while being lowered into a septic tank, so I didn't.

Admit it, though, the mottled yellows and greens are striking!

Arbeitsfotos I (A New Feature)

I have decided to start posting some photographs from various projects at work that I deem interesting in some way.  I'm going to call these Arbeitsfotos (German for "work photographs").  Not saying my job is necessarily exciting or anything, but maybe some of you might get a kick out of them.

Here is a photo of a construction site in "downtown" Wellington, OH, a village that saw its prime in the late 1800's.  We were redoing a major intersection that went under a railroad line, and I had to design a large pump station (30 foot diameter, 40 feet into the ground) to remove any stormwater that could flood the intersection. While I was on site a train happened to pass by, and the arrangement of the scene had appealing geometry and colors (even the blue "port-O-potty"!).  I like old towns like this, where you can see the vestiges of past industrial activity - note the old clay tile grain silo, purposefully situated near the tracks so the grain could conveniently be hauled away. It just reminds me of some American Regionalist painting from the 1930's.
And a diesel locomotive going the other way while piles are being driven:
Just being at the construction site while all this was going on made me feel rather manly.

Kill It With Fire!

Recently I noticed something really strange happened to one of my coneflowers: an emerging flower, instead of turning pink/purple, remained a bright green - and then started sprouting little "satellite" flowers around the main one.  Weirdest thing I've ever seen in my garden.

The fact that it only occurred on one stalk out of over a hundred, and the "healthy" green color almost lead me to believe it was some kind of mutation heralding a new species rather than a disease, but I am not so conceited to think that my yard would be host to an emerging species, so I gave my older brother a ring and texted him the photo, thinking someone else has seen these bizarre symptoms before.  Sure enough, ten minutes later he informed me it was unquestionably a case of the dreaded "Aster Yellows", caused by a bacteria-like organism called a phytoplasma, that is spread by a gnat-like insect called a leaf hopper as they feed on the plant.


There is no cure for this, and it definitely spreads.  So, thoroughly freaked out that the rest of my otherwise thriving population would be tainted, I cut the offending stalk down to the ground and took it right to the trash can - no composting this time! (Sadly, due to proximity to neighboring plants fire was not an option).

So, this is a cautionary tale, I suppose.  Good thing I didn't adopt my usual approach of "let's see how this plays out"!  For all you gardeners out there, file this under "live and learn".

Sounds Like a Prison Sentence

Today is my 20 year anniversary with my employer (actually it's Sunday, but observed today because it's a workday :-P).  That means I will be obliged to ingest some cake of dubious quality - oh well.  There will be a little mid-afternoon gathering in my honor, probably 15 minutes in duration, which is fine - being in the spotlight for longer than that would surely wither an inveterate introvert such as myself.

Actually, though my firm commemorates employee longevity my case is hardly unusual.  About half the guys in my section have about the same years with the company, a couple have 25.  My division head has 35.  I have known a few people over the years who had over 40!

Still, in this day and age this is a remarkable milestone - which is probably a sad commentary on the state of the economy.  I have often garnered reactions of astonishment when I tell other people, certainly.  I still remember back in 1996 getting the letter offering me a position, and having only two weeks to find an apartment and make arrangements to move my stuff down to Columbus and get settled in before commencing work.  I even spent the two days before cramming from college textbooks, under the illusion I could make a good impression and "hit the ground running".  Hah!  And my poor mom (I was living with her at the time, as I did during grad school) - I told her the news the day before she was leaving for a vaction in Germany, and by the time she returned I was already moved out, and my old bedroom empty.  And I never saw her again.

Just joking.  I can't help but think I will feel some kind of existential angst or something when I reach that well-nigh magical point - usually considered when reflecting on a long-term friendship or relationship - where I will have been at the company longer than I haven't been at the company (i.e., worked there more than half of my life).   I guess that will occur four years from now.  I bet there'll be a trip to the liquor store on that day!

I hope I can tough it out 5 more years and get my 25 in and then maybe work part-time or finagle some kind of early retirement, like my older brother.  But without an accompanying bout of cancer.  That feels like a long way away, though, especially since I have been effectively living one day at a time for quite a while now.  Probably better for me to take life as it comes, and not succumb to the temptation to meticulously plan when so little is really under my control.

[Not My] Garden, Again

Last weekend I made my yearly pilgrimage to the Cleveland Metro Area for a nephew's birthday party.  Besides Thanksgiving this is the only time I see my younger brother and his family.  Every year, though, our relationship improves just a little bit more.  I bestowed upon them the painting I completed last year that features their boys, and that went over very well.

I stayed at my older brother's house, which is very close to my younger brother's house (we get along much better). As I have noted before, my older brother is particular and likes to have everything just so.  He has good - and expensive - taste, and always buys the best of everything.  As a consequence, his gardening efforts have produced much finer results than my own.  Also, his yard is literally 5 times bigger, so he has room for all sorts of things, like a small pond and multiple water features:
These are not exotic flowers by any means, but there is such a harmonious balance here that I thought was appealing:

He has a large combined flower and vegetable garden in the middle of his back yard. For a full half an hour we watched from the shade as hummingbirds took turns visiting the pictured red flowers (whose name I have already forgotten!).  It almost made me forget the wretched heat and beastly humidity...


Happened to see my next-door neighbor (who we share a driveway with) as I was on my way out the door this morning, and he informed me that they had purchased a home in Springfield, about an hour's drive west, and would be moving out soon.  I was rather astonished by this unexpected news.  We have been living next to them for the ten years the Wife and I have resided in our current abode.

The husband is a quiet but friendly fellow, Japanese, who travels quite a bit for work.  His English is not so good but we occasionally have limited conversations.  His wife (white) is very nosy, and tends to be a talker, but she has MS, and for the last several years has great difficulty leaving the house and she now speaks haltingly and only with effort.  But she always has been nice and jovial to me even though her behavior has been infuriating at times (she's one of those people who will watch as you go about your business, then corner you when you come by, forcing you to stop what you are doing for the next 20 minutes while she goes on and on about something you don't care the slightest about).

I assume I'll get the full scoop later - don't know why anyone would move where they are moving.  The last couple years their one son has been doing the Millenial thing of moving out, moving back in, moving out, moving back in, but I think he finally moved out for good a few months back.

It's been a regret of mine that I haven't been able to really connect with any of my neighbors.  The first year or so after we moved in I really made an effort to be social, but, as is usually the case with most people, daily obligations just took over and chances of establishing actual camaraderie withered.  Now there is an inertia in place that would be quite difficult to dislodge.  But I always had a cordial relationship with my soon-to-be ex-neighbors, they never made any disturbances (aside from the son getting a little rambunctious during his college years) and they maintained their property.  We even exchanged Christmas cards.  Now I'm nervous about who will take their place.  Our houses are only 20 feet apart and our side doors face each other, so we are guaranteed to run into whomever lives there on a frequent basis.  This has the potential to turn out quite badly.

We Need a New System, Part II

I mentioned previously that I have been doing some thinking about how to make America safer in regards to mass shootings.  There is one component of a new, improved system that would help prevent killings that occurred to me.  Here’s the outcome of my ruminating: We need to introduce a tiered system of citizenship, one where a lower class of citizen is denied certain freedoms.  I think we literally need to create a legal category for second class citizens.   And some of those second class citizens will not be allowed to own guns or perhaps fly on airplanes.

I know, that sounds crazy, right?  Authoritarian maybe? Un-American, definitely.  Completely beyond the pale of acceptable political musing, certainly!  Any libertarian-minded individual reading this is now doubtless seeing red.

And yet, currently:
We don’t allow 18 – 20 year olds, who are ostensibly adults, to purchase alcohol, or even, in increasing number of cities, tobacco products.

We don’t allow 18 – 24 year olds to rent hotel rooms or rent cars.

We take away the driver’s license of elderly people considered too infirm to safely operate a motor vehicle.

In most states we permanently take away the right to vote for convicted felons, even if they have been released from prison.

We prohibit labelled sex offenders from living near schools or daycare centers, and they are entered into a registry.  Sex offenders must also avoid playgrounds, recreation centers, gyms, bus stops, parks, swimming pools, libraries, nursing homes and certain places of worship (2007 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act).  Sometimes they must even reregister if they move residences, change their employment or enroll at a post-secondary educational institution.

There are probably many other examples that I am not thinking of at the moment.  Note that I am not necessarily saying doing the above is against the public interest or patently unfair, but we DO do these things to people who are citizens and theoretically of equal standing to the rest of us.  One of the main virtues of the law is that, in a justly organized and operated state, it is applied to everyone in the same way. The classic definition of political equality is being treated equally before the law.  However, in practice clearly these individuals are not of equal standing.  Said another way, there are different rules for different folks.  I think that deep down all of us suspect that this state of affairs is true, i.e., that it describes reality.  Furthermore, the way society is going I don’t expect this to change; if anything, this trend will intensify as long as the government has the power and resources to enforce its edicts.

Nonetheless, most people agree with the government-enforced restrictions listed above.  Thus, they implicitly support the existence of a piecemeal ad hoc “second class” of citizen.  My only proposed change is that I want to codify it and make the system explicit - one where everyone knows where they (and everyone else) stand, where there is transparency, the possibility of appeal, and some semblance of due process.  No secret lists.  No hidden agendas.

Therefore I advocate for an officially recognized group of “First Class Citizens” (Class 1), and another of “Second Class Citizens” (Class 2), the latter to be subdivided into distinct groups.

Examples of such subgroups might be:

2i – the infirm (includes the feeble and/or mentally retarded)
2d - suffering from dementia and thus not responsible for making medical or financial decisions
2f – felon
2s – sexual predator, must be kept from victimizing others (primarily by denying them access to potential prey)
2m – mentally ill 

This last one is very important, and ultimately is the main point that inspired this post.  We need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unbalanced – people who are delusional, schizophrenic, paranoid, “hear voices”, suicidally depressed, etc.  People like Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter.  I think this would help greatly in that regard.  We can quibble about the other groups and the prohibitions assigned to each later.  But we need to solve the intractable problem of how to keep guns out of the hands of would-be criminals while ensuring that the freedoms of law-abiding people are not infringed.

At Home, Doing Typically Normal Things

Work has been insanely busy as of late - had to be in the office Saturday and Sunday.  I'm treading water, but still around. Ugh, the house needs some tending to.  Here's a pic of me rooting about in the basement - there sure is some weird stuff  down there!