Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Elements of Eloquence: a very short review

Perhaps my favorite holiday gift this year was a delightful little book that my daughter gave me: The Elements of Eloquence

In high school (or perhaps earlier), we all learned about some basic techniques of language, such as simile, analogy, metaphor, alliteration, meter, and rhyme.

If these things interest you, then you might (or might not) be surprised and fascinated to learn that they are just the start of an entire menagerie of techniques, studied and refined for thousands of years.

For example, there is synaesthesia, where one sense is described in terms of another ("music that stinks to the ear").

Or hyperbaton, in which the word order is intentionally incorrect ("Take you to him I will").

Or diacope, in which the same word or phrase is repeated, after a brief interruption ("Bond. James Bond.")

Or assonance, which is sort of like rhyme, and sort of like alliteration, except it involves the vowels in the middle of words ("a stitch in time saves nine", "high as a kite").

And on, and on, and on.

In this marvelous little book, which I recommend to everyone who has any interest whatsoever in the way that language becomes literature, Forsyth dives deeply into all sorts of little-known, but extremely powerful, techniques like these.

In the same way that learning just a little bit about music helps you treasure Beethoven, or learning just a little bit about painting helps you be astounded by Rembrandt, learning just a little bit about these language tools will enrich the next essay you read.

And the next book. And the next poem. And the next play.

Which is an example of scesis onomaton, and of anaphora, and of tricolon.

Thank you, Mr. Forsyth!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Old and boring

Periodically, I happen to fly into or out of Chicago, and, for various reasons, I often use Chicago's secondary airport, Midway Airport, located on the South Side of Chicago.

If conditions are just right, it's not uncommon that our flight path takes us along an easily-visible east-west trunk route in Chicago's far south suburbs, a stretch of Interstate Highway that is, simultaneously, I-80 and I-294, and which also connects I-90, I-94, I-57, I-65, I-355, and probably more freeways that have been built since I lived in Chicago.

Anyway, right in the middle of that part in the world, in between the cities of Harvey and Homewood, sits a Gigantic Hole In The Ground, with a 10-lane super-highway running right through the middle of it, which always fascinates me when I fly over it. (Yes, this is the sort of thing that fascinates me.)

I recently came across a nice article about what this hole in the ground is all about, and it spurred me on to chase some more links: Tunnel Vision

The history of Chicago can be told as a series of escapes from wastewater, each more ingenious than the last. Before the Civil War, entire city blocks were lifted on hydraulic jacks to allow for better drainage, and the first tunnel to bring in potable water from the middle of Lake Michigan was completed in 1867. In 1900, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River to protect the city’s drinking water, shifting its fetid contents from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, enraging the city of St. Louis (which sued, and lost) and, years later, making Chicago the single-largest contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the river reversal one of the seven engineering wonders of the United States, alongside such better-known undertakings as the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, and the Panama Canal.

By the mid-20th century, the metropolis was once again plagued by persistent flooding problems. In 1978, Illinois Republican Sen. Charles Percy, looking back at decades’ worth of damage, declared Chicago the site of “the worst urban flooding known to any major city in America”—structural damage in neighborhoods, plus sewage in the river and the lake to the tune of 200 million solid pounds each year.

I moved to Chicago in 1981, but I didn't really know any of this. Yes, they told us the stories about reversing the river, and how the city had terrible water quality problems, and I knew about dying the river green for St. Patrick's Day ("to cover up the sewage", the wags said).

But I don't remember hearing anything about the Deep Tunnel project, which is a bit odd, as it's the sort of thing that I would have remembered.

Meanwhile, the project went on.

And on, and on, and on.

Renamed the TARP, or Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, the project finally started to come operational about a dozen years ago.

Although the tunnel itself is enormous, what really makes the project work is the Thornton Composite Reservoir, which can hold ...

... brace yourself ...

8 BILLION GALLONS OF RAW SEWAGE!

The tunnel took a long time to drill (excuse me, to "bore"), but the reservoir was no simple project, either:

the north lobe of the Thornton Quarry was converted into a reservoir with the capacity to retain nearly 8 billion gallons of CSO prior to treatment.

It sounds nicer if you say CSO, rather than "combined sewer overflow," doesn't it?

You can see a great picture of the Thornton Reservoir partially full in this article, which has lots of other detail: Chicago's Deep Tunnel Project Holds 17.5 Billion Gallons of Sewage Underground

You may say that all of this could have been avoided if the city was not designed on a combined sewer system, but the problem is, that was the best thing engineers knew how to do in that day. You might be surprised when studying the past of waste engineering that modern day practices really weren't developed but in the last 50 or so years. Many places around the world have combined sewer systems, mostly stemming from successive waste management developments. As cities transitioned from open channel sewage systems, many places simply covered the channels with metal plates or concrete arches, creating 'closed channel' systems. For a long time, no engineers saw the need to manage and treat wastewater or stormwater, as the effects of maltreatment were largely unknown.

Well, those effects are known now, and we're finally starting to deal with the mess properly.

And even if sewage systems aren't really your thing, it's nifty to know those little details; for example, that you can schedule yourself a tour of a bit of the Chicago City Limits which is located 365 feet underground: This Is The Deepest Depth A Human Can Go In Chicago City Limits

How low can you go within Chicago city limits?

About 365 feet below ground, according to Kevin Fitzpatrick, managing civil engineer for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

That's where the floor of the Calumet TARP Pumping Station pump rooms rest far below Chicago's Riverdale neighborhood at 400 E. 130th St.

It's the lowest inhabitable point in Chicago.

The pumping station is part of the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, which is a component of a massive system in Chicago and the suburbs designed to protect water quality in Lake Michigan and the Chicago Area Waterway System and to manage stormwater.

And you can try to wrap your head around its size and complexity by contemplating strange metaphors, such as those shared by the Slate article:

“I’ve been hearing about Deep Tunnel forever,” Frank Pajak, director of the Central Stickney Sanitary District, told the Tribune after that February storm. “I was at the ribbon-cutting (for the reservoir), and it looked great. So why am I still getting calls about people standing in ankle-deep sewage in their basement?”

One retort from the MWRD: If you think this is bad, imagine what shape we’d be in without all these tunnels. Small storms no longer contaminate the river, and the capacity of the system is still increasing—McCook will nearly triple in size by 2029. That being said, on account of an EPA funding dispute in the 1970s, the final system will be smaller than its designers envisioned. The congested network of neighborhood sewers in Chicago and its suburbs—local roads leading to the Deep Tunnel highway—also remain an unresolved issue. In many storms, says Aaron Koch, who served as chief resilience officer for the city and now works as the Chicago director of the Trust for Public Land, the Deep Tunnel is helpless to empty undersized sewers battling against supersize storms and sprawl. “What the Deep Tunnel system represents is a bathtub, and if you don’t have big enough straws to get to the bathtub, it doesn’t matter how big your bathtub is.”

...

It’s a cautionary tale for a time when climate change has the nation’s planners, scientists, and engineers contemplating enormous endeavors like storm surge barriers or more radical, long-term geoengineering schemes. It’s also a reminder that any project that spans six decades from commencement to completion will be finished in a different world than the one in which it was conceived.

So, the next time you find yourself flying into or out of Midway Airport in Chicago, you can look out the window over the immense South Side of Chicago, and see if you can see that enormous quarry with the freeway right down the middle of it, and now you can understand just what exactly it is being used for, nowadays.

Friday, January 11, 2019

It's not just a game, ...

... it's an equine-bonding, ASMR-inducing stress release exercise: The Only Part of 'Red Dead Redemption 2' That Matters Is My Horse

Though I’ve put a lot of time into the game, I haven’t made much progress in the traditional sense. I’m still stuck in the early missions, but I’ve maxed out my bonding level with Jeffy, and she’s eaten better than the entire encampment of humans I’m supposed to be caring for. We’ve galloped beneath the arc of rainbows, lassoed deer, and ignored troubled citizens attempting to wave us down for assistance. The only time I dip my toe into the wilder aspects of the Wild West is so I can earn enough money to upgrade Jeffy’s saddle, stirrups, or stock up on horse reviving tonics in the event of the unthinkable.

My son watches me play, some weekends, and he says: "Why did you just ride by that person? That was a quest; you could have stopped and had a new mission to go on!"

And I say: "Yes, but I'm just having too much fun riding around on my horse."

I haven't had any ASMR, though.

Maybe I haven't ridden far enough on Penny yet.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Suspended Sentences: a very short review

Patrick Modiano was the 2014 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, which I think is often given for an entire body of work, not a single piece of work; Suspended Sentences is part of that body of work.

The three novellas in Suspended Sentences are all stories set in France, specifically in Paris, during and shortly after World War II.

Reading the stories, I felt very strongly reminded of the famous 1942 movie, Casablanca; in fact, one of the primary characters in "Flowers of Ruin," the third novella in Suspended Sentences, is a Moroccan man who is (probably) a smuggler:

He invited us to dinner, as was his wont, at the restaurant on Avenue Reille. His friend from Air Maroc was there that evening. And, as usual, he handed out "duty free" cartons of American cigarettes, perfumes, and fountain pens, and little souvenirs he'd brought back from Casablanca.

While the movie Casablanca, with its wide-ranging collection of miscreants, people on the run, and chance encounters, was in the end hopeful, Suspended Sentence is much grittier, much more honest, much more real, and, inevitably, much sadder. Things are lost, and not found. People come, go, and do not come back. Connections are missed; opportunities go wanting.

Still, it is somehow peaceful to follow along with Modiano as he tells the stories of ordinary people doing ordinary things, and what happens as they do so, even if they don't manage to actually save the world.

Life, after all, is not a movie.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Current score: Pacific Ocean: 1, Ocean Cleanup Project: 0

Well, darn: Ocean-Saving Device to Clean Up Great Pacific Garbage Patch Breaks, Will Return to Port

An ocean-saving device deployed in September to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has malfunctioned and will have to be towed back to port.

During a routine inspection on Dec. 29, crew members discovered that a 60-foot end section of one of the booms that scoops up trash from the surface of the ocean had detached, 23-year-old inventor Boyan Slat wrote in a Jan. 1 blog post.

"Although it is too early to confirm the cause of the malfunction, we hypothesize that material fatigue (caused by about 106 load cycles), combined with a local stress concentration, caused a fracture in the HDPE floater," Slat wrote.

There's a lot more posted on the Ocean Cleanup website.

Happily, they're not giving up:

We are returning to port with terabytes of data that we will use in coming weeks and months to develop the necessary upgrades.

It's not just a game, ...

... it's an interactive birding simulator: Birding Like It’s 1899: Inside a Blockbuster American West Video Game

I spent most of my time finding birds, and was impressed with the breadth and relative accuracy of the species represented. Birds change with habitat: Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets feed in the bayous of Saint Denis. Laughing Gulls and Red-footed Boobies roost along the coast, while eagles and condors soar over mountain peaks. Each of these are crafted with accurate field marks and habits. There are dozens of species I couldn’t even find, including Carolina Parakeets, Ferruginous Hawks, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Like real life birding, you’re never guaranteed to see anything.

...

But that doesn’t mean it’s a game for birders. This game exists in a time where humans mainly viewed birds—and all of the natural world—as ripe for exploitation rather than appreciation.

...

In fact, the disastrous intersection between humans and the environment is the game’s major theme. A sense of foreboding follows me around the lush world, knowledge that humans were at work destroying it all.

...

The trouble is, as a birder, it’s not a lesson I needed to learn. I know full well about the continued decline of bird populations, habitat loss, and environmental degradation. That the game could elicit such deep feelings of sadness and regret is to its credit, but I was often left feeling hopeless and wanting to get outside to enjoy real nature while I still could. My mom always used to tell me to stop playing video games and go outside, but this is the first game that made me want to.

(In my defense: it's cold and rainy this weekend. I might just do most of my birding indoors for a little while longer.)

Up up and away (on the ferry!)

The big new ferry enhancements funded by last summer's Regional Measure 3 are starting to roll out.

The new gate G is now open: Alameda/Oakland Passengers Now Board at Gate G in San Francisco.

All San Francisco arrivals and departures on San Francisco Bay Ferry’s Alameda/Oakland/San Francisco route now occur at the newly opened Gate G. Gate G is further south from Gate E and can only be accessed at this time via a pedestrian bridge that connects to The Embarcadero.

The dock expansions have been underway since 2012; you can see the original plan here: Downtown San Francisco Ferry Terminal Expansion. Make sure you scroll down through that large document to see the wonderful historical pictures of the Ferry Building as it looked nearly 100 years ago!

Meanwhile, the new maintenance facility is now in full operation: WETA Opens New Ferry Maintenance and Operations Hub in Alameda

The San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) Board of Directors officially opened the new Ron Cowan Central Bay Maintenance and Operations Facility in Alameda on Thursday, December 13, 2018.

The $50 million facility serves as an operations and maintenance hub for WETA’s San Francisco Bay Ferry fleet serving Alameda, Oakland, Harbor Bay, San Francisco and South San Francisco. The project represents the first new major construction at the former Naval Air Station Alameda and is a part of the Alameda Point development.

...

Features of the new facility include:

  • Marine facility with berthing slips for 12 ferry vessels
  • Equipment and working yard that supports light repair and maintenance work
  • Dispatch and operations hub
  • Emergency response center
  • Fuel facility with a total storage capacity of 48,000 gallons
  • Site improvements including expansion of the San Francisco Bay Trail
  • New harbor seal float to prevent habitat displacement

I need to find a good (i.e., a dry) day to go out and see if I can find this new trail expansion segment.

Also, the new ferry line to Richmond is beginning operations!

  • Richmond ferry to SF begins Thursday, ushering new era for water travel in the Bay Area
    Promising an alternative to the harrowing Interstate 80 grind from Hercules all the way down to the Bay Bridge, a new Richmond terminal will on Thursday begin offering weekday commuter service to San Francisco. It’s the latest upgrade in a series of expansions for the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), also known as the San Francisco Bay Ferry, which runs routes from Vallejo, Oakland, Alameda and South San Francisco.

    ...

    The ferry will also be a significant driver of development in a city that has largely been passed up by the Bay Area’s real estate boom, said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. A private operator had tried to implement ferry service from Richmond to San Francisco in the early ’90s, he said, but a sluggish economy and the lack of public subsidies made it unfeasible. It didn’t help that the ferry was slow, Butt said, with trips lasting just shy of an hour. WETA’s ferry will shuttle passengers in roughly 35 minutes.

    Brooke Maury and Sarah Rosen sold their San Francisco apartment for a condo in Richmond’s Marina Bay neighborhood, roughly a mile-and-a-half walk from the new terminal, in anticipation of the ferry’s opening. Both commute into San Francisco, packing themselves into overcrowded BART cars, an experience they’re looking forward to leaving behind.

  • SF Bay Ferry services starts heading to Richmond next month
    "The ferry really sells itself. It kind of goes around all that traffic that you experience there on I-80. You avoid the Bay Bridge and you come right into San Francisco after a nice, relaxing ride on the boat," said Hall.

Lastly, a rather confusing message from sanfranciscobayferry.com announces an additional run from Harbor Bay to San Francisco:

San Francisco Bay Ferry is adding an additional departure from Harbor Bay to San Francisco on weekdays beginning Monday, January 7. The vessel will depart Harbor Bay at 9 a.m. and arrive at the San Francisco Ferry Building at 9:30 a.m. This run will be in place on a trial basis -- we'll send out another BayAlert if anything changes.

Beginning Monday, the morning departures from Harbor Bay will occur at 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30 and 9:00.

The website, however, still lists only 4 morning runs.

What's this about a 8:00 morning run?

Perhaps the email meant to announce an 8:00 AM run, not a 9:00 AM run, and somehow the confusion turned into a message that listed both?

Who knows?

But ferries in the San Francisco Bay are the way to go, believe me!