Friday, October 30, 2009

Du calme, people!

As usual, the media has done its best to turn a complex social and medical phenomenon into a totoal clusterfuck. The general stupidity of the population hasn't helped.

I'm not going to go into any of this too deeply as it is such a mess. I just want to make two points:

1) it is a massive undertaking to attempt to distribute shots to an entire population in a short period time at the same time as the disease itself is still spreading


2) individuals need to follow the rules more than ever during times like these.

1. This is a hard job

For the first point, I am hearing lots of easy criticism from the public, the media (indirect, as usual, under the guise of "objectivity") and of course from politicians. I have no experience organizing anything of this scale or dealing with public health, but I have done planned and run events for several thousand people lasting from an evening to several weeks. These events involved a lot of logistics. It is a ton of very hard and detailed work. It is extremely difficult to get people to read a single sentence that explains what they are supposed to be doing even when they want to be doing it.

Take a moment to think about what has to go into this vaccination roll-out. The staffing has to be organized (where do we get the people from, who replaces them, how do they get paid, who goes where, etc.), the vaccines have to be distributed to the right locations (quantities need to be determined for each location, contracts made up with appropriately trained and supplied delivery companies, appropriate storage facilities must be one site), communications must be sent to the public (a ton of work, with many levels of approval).

It amazes me how so many people in our society are utterly ignorant of the work that goes into organizing something. One would think that considering we are evolving into a "service-oriented" economy that most people would be involved in this kind of organization at some level and thus have some awareness. Sadly, it is the opposite. In my own job, I encounter situations constantly where people just imagine that crucial elements of their work will just magically appear before them. This appears to be even worse at the broad social level where people just assume the government will magically have these super-efficient, highly-staffed, clearly-communicated vaccination centers up and running the day after the vaccination is announced.

We're in realtime here people. The government only decided to buy the virus last week. Can you imagine how the various departments are scrambling right now to get this thing working? Regular readers and those who know me will no I am no fan of government inefficiency and I'm sure there is a ton of unnecessary paperwork and annoying middle-managers, but we need to recognize that this is a huge and complex task. Let's give the government a break for a little while and let them do their job. After it is over, we can than look at what could have been handled better.

2. Let's follow the rules

We must recognize that this is a collective problem. Everybody is involved. Your need has been categorized and rightly or wrongly, you have to accept that categorization. This is not the time to be selfish. Thinking your need is greater than anybody else's only results in worse service for everybody. Wait your turn. Get in line and suck it up. Nobody else is getting more privilege than you are.

Look, I understand it is frightening to be a parent in this age, where you are being hit left and right by the baseball bat of fear (thanks again, supposedly objective media). But rushing out to the emergency room because your child has the sniffles is only making the problem worse. Jumping the queue to get the shot when it's not your turn only means that one person who may actually be more vulnerable than you doesn't get their shot that day.

There are cases where the rules are stupid or designed to favour the privileged. In such cases, I am not necessarily against breaking the rules. But this is not one of those cases. We are all in the same boat and if you start rocking it, you are going to make it tip over and others will suffer.

So be wise. Be informed. Remain calm. Take the best care of yourself as possible. Line up on the appropriate day. Bring a book or your iPod (or your phone, if you must) and be prepared to wait. Try to remain patient and upbeat. It will be a more positive experience for you in the long run and you'll make the lives of all the extremely busy health care workers that much easier.

Finally, a note on general health:

What has been completely dropped from the conversation is our own responsibility as individuals to ourselves and to society to stay healthy. Now is a great opportunity to remember to live a healthy lifestyle. Ensure that you get enough rest. Eat healthily (lots of fruits and vegetables to boost your immune system) and get some exercise. Especially get outdoors to get some fresh air and relax your mind. It is especially important to reduce stress, as that is what makes you the most vulnerable. So relax, don't push yourself, take a break and try not to get hung up on the little things. Leave work on time and enjoy life! Hell, you may be dead by the end of the year with swine flu, so you might as well!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Now that's a hole!

I think there must be some special technique to shooting deep holes, because it is really hard to see the real depth of the hole from the crappy pictures I took. I'll share them with you nonetheless, but I'll have to rely on my words to communicate the size of this hole. Because this is a good hole!

They are digging right through solid bedrock, drilling down in row of maybe 8" diameter holes. I haven't seen it in action yet, but I'm guessing they go down with that giant jack-hammer extension on the machine. But it is really getting deep! The deepest stage of the hole is at least 30' down from the surface of the road. The hole is getting narrower the deeper they go. You could probably fit a small car in the bottom right now. So I don't know how they are going to get the bulldozer to reach in there soon.

According to the homeless guy, they are going down to 80 ft, which seems hard to believe. He says there is an old aqueduct under there that they tunneled out. My neighbour also told me that they are changing the direction of the water. It used to come from the south, from Mont-Royal (the road, though I don't know from which side) and leave past Villeneuve. Now the fresh water is going to come from Villeneuve. I didn't understand everything of what he was saying, but I was in a rush. I'll find out more later.

The brick pipe here is the old sewer (not the aqueduct). The second shot gives a better sense of how far down it is. If you fell down there, you could scrabble out of that hole from the other side, where they have laid down a slope of broken rocks for the machines, assuming you weren't killed or badly injured in the fall, which was entirely possible. And they are going to go twice as deep as that!?

Check out the bloodstains on the inside of the bricks. Some rats probably pinned some sewer gnome or fleeing convict up against the bricks here, shredding him to pieces, grinding his blood into the bricks in their fury.

We had a dog freakout on the street today. My wife and I went down to take the neighbour's dog for a walk up on Mont Royal (it was a beautiful fall day) and when the neighbour's kid opened the door, this other little white las-apso type cutesy dog was there. It was quite excited as well (Charlie, the dog I walk always gets super hyped when I come over) and slipped out the front door. Before we knew it, it was running up the street and didn't look like it was going to stop. I started running after it and was gaining on it. It really was on the run, that little f***ing pooch. All of a sudden, Charlie comes bolting by me, thinking we're all playing a game. The little dog just accelerated like Percy Harvin on the backfield! Holy crap was it fast. And then this dude yells "Keep your dog on a leash!". Total dick move, but I was worried about Charlie and I yelled at her and then chased her down. As I was holding her, waiting for someone else to come get her, the little dog turned the corner on Villeneuve and was out of sight! My wife finally came and got Charlie and I took off but it was too late. She was long gone. We spent a couple hours with the other kids looking for him (his name was "Puffy") to no avail. I'm not a dog runaway expert or anything, but you could just see that this dog was running forward and was going to keep doing it until he couldn't anymore. Stupid ass dog!

Puffy was the dog of a friend of the neighbour's daughter. Her mother came and didn't seem too surprised. The dog had run away once before on a walk and went like that. They are going to call the SPCA and the city. Good luck, little Puffy! I hope you stay all right and that you get found soon.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Two frenchs for the price of one

Just a note to say that I am still following the construction story on my street. I have been quite busy this week while thankfully the construction has concentrated solely on digging the big hole at the south side of the street. It's going very slowly, as they are digging through solid bedrock and there hasn't been a lot of change, other than them digging deeper and deeper. I have some pictures and will go into it in a bit more depth this weekend.

In the meantime, I had a very interesting conversation about the french language during a work 5 à 7. I was told that the rule in french is that all anglicismes have the masculine gender. I was happy to hear that, but then I remembered that everyone hear talks about "la job". I asked and was told that the correct way to say it is "le job". My response was, that if everyone says "la job", isn't that ultimately the correct way for me to learn it, so that I can fit in better? I was told no. I badgered a bit and then they finally told me that harsh truth. Ultimately, I need to learn both ways!

To be able to truly and deeply integrate yourself in Quebec society, command the language and be successful, you have to learn to speak, read and write (especially these last two) correct, Academie Française french. But to be able to hang out comfortably, talk smack, laugh, joke and curse people out, you've got to be able to speak some good Québécoise. Our comms officer here told me it was a dilemma for her. She is quite well-educated but is also a Québécoise. When she approaches a journalist, she has to use correct french in order to present herself as a serious professional. But she is also wary about coming off as a snob.

Fascinating stuff and it's interesting how it took me this long to really hear this so directly for the first time. I think I have heard it hinted at and I'm sure this is old news for a lot of people. But I also think there is a certain reticence to reveal these things to outsiders. Why I'm not sure yet.

The challenge for me has just doubled. I had been sort of thinking that I had a base of correct french but that I could dump it and just concentrate on learning how to speak like the people around me (my job calls for very little writing, though I do interact with the public a lot). And I've been working on that! Now I realize I really need to maintain my base of correct french and start absorbing more than one way to say things, depending on whom I'm talking to.

Recently, since I've got married and been able to put the planning for that behind me, I have had a bit more time and energy to devote to my french skills. I've started reading again in french (not only in french, but I've got a book I'm working through) and I'm making an effort to write more at work, to speak and listen more and to take the time to look words and grammar up. I'm getting older. I can feel my brain slowly hardening. But I think I can push my french up to a higher level in the next year or so.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Bricks! The old sewer spotted!

They haven't dug much deeper in the big hole on the south side of the street, but they did create a plywood box to protect the cables running across Clark street (and parallel to Mont-Royal).

What's really exciting, though, is if you look under the black pipes of cables running north-south, you can see a bit of orange colouring. At first I thought it was just the rusty pipe they had blocked off, but upon closer inspection, it was a semi-circle of neatly stacked bricks that was revealed!

I find that very exciting! It's like they've just peeled back the road to reveal a time capsule almost 100 years old. I really can't wait to see more of it. And look at the quality of the workmanship! That's a fucking brick tunnel built by hand not long after WWI (yes One) and it still looks totally solid. Very cool.

Some of the old valves leading into homes

In my last post, I pointed out how all of our houses were being fed water from aboveground hoses. That was the setup as of Friday (October 9th) morning.

But what's weird is that on Thursday, they were re-digging out a bunch of the sidewalk squares where the household valves were and digging them really deep, much deeper than the first time. Below, I'll post some of the pictures. I wonder if whatever they discovered here was what made them decide to go with the hoses?

It's been really wet for the last week and after the machine got down to a certain depth, the men had to go in and dig with a shovel. It was pretty muddy and they had a pump set up on one of them to push the water out.

Here's a close up of two valves going into one of the apartment blocks at the south side of our block.

And here is a big thick complex pipe structure that I guess is bringing water into the commercial building here. This is on the other side of the street than ours (where they aren't using the aboveground hoses).

I think if you are confused by the end of this post, then I am probably accurately reflecting my own state of mind. I know real life is rarely neat and engineering jobs often reflect this, but there seems to be so many different ways of getting the water into the houses that I just can't make head or tail of it. I've been busy at work this week so haven't had the time to talk to any of the workers. I suspect they won't be around this weekend (especially since it's a long one), so expect the ignorance to remain for the time being.

I will post this final image, of a worker lollygagging, chatting up local young women!

Actually, this guy is a pretty hard worker and is one of the guys who has been quite friendly about explaining stuff. He was further protecting the trees, strapping them with 2x4s and this young Montreal woman stopped to ask him some questions just as I was heading back up my front stairs. A much deserved break for a working man!

One pipe forward two hoses back?

Okay, now what the hell? I get up this morning and this is what I see looking down from my front porch:

In the upper right hand corner you can see that it originates in the temporary pipe, which is exposed in an unfilled section of the gutter.

And runs to the little boarded window that leads to the crawlspace of our building, where I had noticed earlier last week that it looked like someone had added a valve to. I didn't have a chance to talk to my downstairs neighbour about it.

And then looking up and down the block, it appears that every single house on our side of the street has these crazy hoses attached to them.

What the hell? What was the point of digging up the sidewalk and unearthing the main valves to each of our houses? Have they not actually attached anything down there? Were they dug up for the future when the proper aqueduct is in place? This setup strikes me as very sketchy. All of our water is going to be supplied by a bunch of garden hoses just laying out in the street for anyone to trip over, cut, inject LSD into?

This job started out quite strong, but it's starting to get that old Montreal air about it. I think a call to mr. Fillip Foti is in order.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

It's On! (or off?)

So work has basically stopped in the first half of this week. The only excitement was the rumour that our mail was no longer being delivered. One of my neighbours went to our local post office (5 minutes by bike) to see why she hadn't gotten her mail for the last couple of days. They told her that it was probably because our street was too dangerous for the mailman and that she would have to go to the larger branch up on Jean-Talon (20 minutes by bike) to collect her mail, which she did.

I really, really, really found this hard to believe. We are all safely making it out of our homes to work or wherever. People are walking their dogs all over the street. I was extremely excited about a ripping investigation into the lameness of Canada Post. Was it a union rule or was our guy just really wimpy? I had visions of myself politely and steadfastly making my way up the Canada Post chain of command, hiding in the bushes to confront our mailman once I found out the rest of his route, caught between being outraged and sympathetic to a guy and his job. Then yesterday our mail came. So who knows what the truth was. Maybe at first he thought it was too dangerous. The thing is, there was no warning, no note saying that we should go to some other branch to pick up our mail. According to my neighbour, the people at the post office told her there wouldn't be one, because the mailman had no way of delivering it! It's really too good to be true.

I suspect the construction work has stopped because we are all waiting for the results of the tests on the quality of the water in the temporary pipes. Happily, shoved into our mail slot yesterday was the following note:

Basically saying that our water would be turned off sometime between 6 and 10 this morning and that we should run our new water for a little while before using it. I didn't notice any change during breakfast and the street was quiet, so I suspect they haven't started yet. If I have time, I'll swing by over lunch and see what happened. I heard a minor horror story from a friend in Toronto whose water was out for several days recently during similar work done over there. Extra fun when you have an infant and a new born baby in the house!

I'm also excited to have the phone number of the head of the project, M. Filippo Foti. Let's hope he will be as helpful as the people on the ground have been with my questions.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Big Hole getting dug up

So here is what it looks like near the end of the work day on Monday. It's a big rectangle, but it looks like the deep part is in the middle of the intersection. The big wooden fence is on the southside. You can see the cables that they are leaving intact here. I'm guessing those are power and data? I'll ask when I get a chance.

This is looking up my block, roughly to the north.

This is the other side of the fence, looking west towards the mountain (Mont Royal). I've never seen a view-blocking wall like this before when they are opening up the streets. Usually, they leave their giant holes open for everyone to see.

And this is looking at it as if you were driving from the south up Clark street. Road blocked sucker! They should really put some sweet graffiti murals on that plywood.

I'm really impressed by the size of the scoop, so I'll just show another picture with it next to the guys on the ground. It could literally scoop one of them up easily.

Lots of people love watching construction.

These are just some bonus pictures of a bunch of old pipes pulled out from farther up. I don't know what their original use was, but I suspect they were the old connectors between the main aqueduct and various people's houses.

Here's a close-up of one of the old valve caps. It's about 8" wide.

I looked up the name of that company on the web and could find very little information, but I did stumble upon this cool website: The Canadian Fire Hydrant and Waterworks Museum. It appears to be only in virtual form, but I guess the guy keeps all this stuff on his property in Southern Ontario. I contacted him and asked if he was interested in the valve cover, which he was, so maybe it will find a good home. He wanted to know if they had gotten rid of any fire hydrants, but no such luck. I would definitely have been on top of that! I'm sure those things weight a ton, but that's what the hand truck is for!

The Big Hole

So there was no work over the weekend, and the neighbours quietly took advantage and snuck their cars in. By Sunday, the street was half full of parked cars, though they were all gone early Monday morning.

At the bottom of our street, the south side, jutting right out into Mont-royal, is where they are going to dig the really big hole. According to the inspector, it's going to be 8 metres deep. They've already cut the starting slices and built a wall of 2x4's and plywood, to block people from coming into it. The wall is only on the south side, so I hope that we will have visual access for the duration of the work. The machine they are using on it is big!

Here is some sexy construction machinery porn for you! Amateur, too!

You can see the lattice of cuts made into the surface of the road. That job would be repetitive and boring but I can see a certain satisfaction in driving nice clean cuts like that into the road.

As I was taking pictures, my downstairs neighbour came by on her way home from work and shopping for the family. It's her awesome dog that I take out on walks. Here's a nice shot of Clark street benefitting from the lack of cars.

Finally, one of the holes near a larger commercial building on the corner revealed an awesome old valve.

Stay tuned as there is lots more to come, including a potential Canada Post scandal!

"Won't someone think of the trees!"

I'm going to drop the Day X prefixes at the beginning of these posts. They are a handy way of keeping these chronicles in order, but this project is going to last until some time in December and I'm not going to be reporting on every single day of action.

On Friday morning, not a whole lot of work was done. Someone dropped off a big roll of felt and a pallette of 2x4's and a bunch of trees were wrapped and protected.

I asked one of the workers why the trees were being wrapped and he went on a little mini-rant about how trees are more important than people to the city and that if we kill a tree, everybody freaks out, but if we kill a person nobody cares. It was done in that half-humourous half-aggressive way that construction workers always seem to have to behave. I said that that was as it should be, that there were too many people and not enough trees and he called me Mr. Schnitzel. When I asked him to repeat himself, as I didn't get what he was talking about, he said "you know, the guy who was worse than Hitler." "Do you mean Schindler?" "Yes, him!"

The inspector approached us at this point and the workers teased him about arriving late. I asked him about the trees. The reason I kept pressing about the trees is that they had already finished digging up the sidewalks next to the trees, so it seemed a bit late to be wrapping them up in protective 2x4's. The inspector admitted that they were supposed to have protected them at the beginning and that they had "gotten a reminder from the city".

The conversation then degenerated into complaining about the youth of today. This was a subject that we could all agree on, how lame they are. According to the workers, there are something around 6,000 skilled construction jobs available right now in Quebec and nobody to fill them. Considering that Quebec does have a pretty good trades education program and that those jobs are pretty secure and well-paying, it does seem strange that more young people aren't going in to fill the ranks. I'm sure it's not quit as simple as that, as there is probably a lot of union bullshit to go through. Their theory is that the kids just want to stay at home and play video games.

The final enticing thing I learned was that the original sewer pipe is made up of brick! I really hope that's the case and that we'll get to see it. Even sweeter would be some kind of souvenire, like an old plaque or something.

Sadly, as I was heading out to work this morning, I saw that one tree made the cut.

Looks perfectly healthy to me. I really would love to see the criteria for why a tree gets chopped down.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Day 4 - cleansing the pipes

Sadly, while I was at work, I completely missed the attaching of the temporary lines to our house's water intake pipes. I came home yesterday and here is what I saw:

It looks like they've done the entire block already. Quick work!

Here's a close-up of one of the valves that I got from the morning:

I guess maybe it's easier for them to just cut the hose off from the last time they used it. I can't think of any other reason why there would be those little stubs on each end. They must re-use all the parts for the temporary water inflow and it's just quicker to cut them when they are pulling them out. They probably have miles and miles of the small plastic hose they use to attach to these valves. I just really wanted to see how they connect to our house.

A weird thing I saw was this hose, connected to one of the valves, trailing along the sidewalk to the north, turning around the corner on Villeneuve (past the Kingdom's Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses) and eventually going into a drain.

Today, I spoke with the inspector, who was very friendly and forthcoming. He explained that once the pipes are put in place, they flush them out with chlorinated water. The hose that I saw was the output of that flushing. Once they are cleaned, they open up the hydrant to which they are connected and then take a bunch of water samples. These go to a lab and they wait until they get a positive result that the water is safe for drinking. He was hoping they would get the analysis back by the end of the weekend. Once they get that, then they switch the water source for all the homes on the street, from the old one to the temporary one.

Here is a picture of the hydrant from which our temporary water will be supplied. As you can see, the water is flowing (and leaking a bit!).

So if all goes well, Monday will be the day that we'll be drinking and showering from water provided by that very fire hydrant! I can hardly wait.