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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Shutdown Musings

I don't miss Michigan quite as much this week. We in the Washington DC / Baltimore / Northern VA region have had 3' +/- of snow dumped on us over the last week. Note - that's feet, not inches. And for the benefit of my readers familiar with different measuring systems, that's about 1 meter, 1/220 of a furlong, or 2/11 of a rod. Where I'm at, which is near Manassas, VA (population 40,000, 2 Walmarts, 3 gun stores, 5 pawn shops), we got about 28” last Friday and Saturday, and another 7” or 8” between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Most services, including the DC region of the Fed. Gov't, have been closed this week (as I write, it's Thursday, 11 Feb., and Friday's kind of iffy at this point. Most people by now have their electricity back, and most driveways are cleared, but as I understand, the major roads just aren't ready for high traffic volumes yet.

We've been lucky, all things considered. We only lost power for one night, and then only momentarily thereafter, just enough to un-set the digital clocks a few times. Shoveling has been a daily chore since last Saturday; I finally decided to concede to my back pain and take today off. Our driveway is clear and we have been gradually taking some of the snow off of our roof to ease the pressure thereupon. I would have been content to just let it melt off (our roof is mostly flat; such is generally rated to handle four feet of snow, believe me, I looked) but the wife and son of Bruck (WASOB) were paranoid following the collapse of the ice rink where said SOB, until recently, was working. He has a few friends from the rink who find themselves abruptly unemployed.

We lost a couple of trees. One was a pine in the front yard that was already listing about 30 degrees off normal, so that was no surprise. Cutting it up was a bit of a challenge though – I have pretty good chainsawing skills, but maneuvering the Husqvarna in 3'+ snowdrifts challenged my inner Finn. Another pine fell from the walking trail next to our backyard onto one of my small maple trees, reducing its size by about half.

So Bruck, what have you been doing with yourself? Sunday, I smoked a turkey and a London Broil (actually a hunk of sirloin something or other for use in the venerable London Broil). Both came out great. I did plan ahead by putting the smoker where it was accessible from under the deck overhang prior to the big storm; that way I only had to knock the snow off the top of it and fire it up.

Did some hunting Tuesday. We use a friend's property in Catlett, which is west of Manassas. It's normally a pretty leisurely stroll, but the couple feet of snow in the woods made it quite a workout. We didn't see a single deer, nor any married ones (haha just seeing if you were asleep), but I did manage to sanction a rabbit (don't tell mom) which now resides in my freezer minus skin, head, feet, and viscera.
BTW, I harvested it with my snubnose 38 revolver, not my deer rifle. That would have been unsportsmanlike, IMHO. I've also been doing some blogging, as you may have noticed, and today I've been reading an interesting book: We Almost Lost Detroit by John G. Fuller, 1975.

I sort of inherited this book from a late neighbor of my parents. This neighbor was a singularly interesting character; I'll just leave it at that – anything short of a full blog entry on him would not do him justice. Anyway, the guy to whom the illustrious neighbor bequeathed the house wanted nothing to do with the mountains of junk that said neighbor couldn't take with him, and this interesting book was part of the detritus.

When I picked it up, I thought the book would be about something cultural or historic, perhaps related to the race riots of the late 60's, but it's actually about an accident or potential accident of some kind at the Fermi nuclear plant south of Detroit in 1966. I'm only partway through it, but a few interesting things have popped out at me so far:

  • The governor of Michigan during the 1950's was named “Soapy.” (From Wikipedia: his name was actually G. Mennen Williams, but he went by “Soapy” as his family was in the personal products business. The “Mennen” part of his name, BTW, is the same as that of Speed Stick fame.)
  • The population of Detroit in the 50's was at or near 2 million.
  • They had no idea what they were doing with nuclear power in the 1950's. I mean literally no idea. We're lucky we didn't have a dozen Chernobyls.
  • A stellar example of realtime engineering (context – how strong do we need to build the containment vessels?): “It was thought that a 35-foot telephone pole weighing 1600 pounds, going 150 miles per hour, could be slammed against a nuclear power plant building by a tornado, and that the containment shell should be designed to withstand this. When it was discovered that it was practically impossible to design for such a contingency, the criteria were relaxed so that the shell would only have to protect against a 4-inch by 12-inch wooden plank.” (p. 40)
  • And this PR gem (AEC stands for Atomic Energy Commission, which is the precursor for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC); the context was the publicizing of a study of the effects of fallout: “...an exuberant AEC public information man once tried to soften the ugly potential for fallout by defining the radioactive poisons as 'sunshine units,' ...” (p. 58)

So... I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book, and have a renewed interest in nuclear power in general these days as it appears to be part of the current administration's energy policy, as a viable means of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels imported from countries full of people that harbor sentiments bordering on antipathy toward us. Meanwhile, dramatic as the book is, Detroit has not suffered any significant exposure to radiation from nuclear power plants. So... what did cause Detroit's population to plummet from its peak of nearly 2 million to its current level of about 900,000???

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