Category Archives: Masonry

Where is Tesla taking us?

We know they plan a network of charging stations. How far will that go?

I want to see full-service pit stations that can change batteries faster than they can charge them. Even faster than you can fill a 15-gallon tank.

Customer: Car says it needs a lube. I’m going inside for a rest.

She has already accepted the service with a tap while rolling into the service bay. Her instructions echo what the mechanic has already downloaded from the car.

Station: Did you want to freshen these tires? We have a new set just like yours on clean rims. Takes about 10 minutes. If not we’ll park it over there with fresh batteries and lube.

The verbal offer echoes what the driver can already read on her car’s screen. With another tap the deal is accepted. She thinks for a second, then taps “Wash” and places her car in “station valet” mode. She reads the estimated time of departure from the screen and walks inside.

A station or its agent is equipped with a device that allows the vehicle to be driven around the station. After the mechanical work is finished, the car is pulled forward into a wash bay, then dried and parked. The on-board computer and the station have independent alarms which are triggered if a car in station valet mode somehow leaves the premises.

The customer’s account profile contains her billing and communication preferences. She has opted to receive a text message describing the location of her car. Thoroughly refreshed, they reunite to continue their journey.

That’s a nice visit to a service station, manned or unmanned. But the one you’ll do most often is this: pull in, sit there for half a minute while your batteries are changed, pull out.

The Case of the Surfacing Effluent

We bought an old house in the country in 2009. The septic system was so old that no documents could be found describing the locations of its underground components. A professional inspector found one small tank and assumed that the drain field must be close by in the general direction of the outlet pipe. The system passed a flow test which the bank found reassuring enough that they issued us a mortgage to buy the house.

Recently we noticed a small puddle near the septic tank. This was surfacing effluent. Effluent–the watery discharge that normally flows from the tank into the drain field for natural purification by the soil–had stopped flowing through the underground pipes and found its way to the surface.

Yesterday we had the septic company come out to pump the tank so we could begin working on the problem. The technician found a surprise. The inspector had gotten it wrong. The tank he found was only the first of two. The effluent had been coming up through a gap in the lid of the second tank which was set slightly lower than the first.

We still don’t know what is causing the stoppage. It could be a collapsed line, some other kind of blockage in the pipes such as tree roots, or the soil may be suffering from reduced hydraulic capacity for any number of reasons. Not only is the cause a mystery but we don’t even know where the drain field is. I suspected there might be one about 60 feet away where two or three strips of grass thrived even during last year’s drought. However, that area was not in the direction that the outlet pointed. I decided to dig in and see what I could find before asking for professional help. Here is the hole I dug:

pipes
Septic pipes

Of interest are the terra cotta fitting, the gaps and loose joints, and the 90┬║ elbow. (Incidentally, near the surface in the corner of the hole I found a dented wheel hub. I have no intention of moving it. Knowing this property, it would not surprise me to find it attached to a complete automobile buried upside-down.) The elbow turns the flow in the direction of the grassy patch, suggesting that our drain field actually is all the way out there.

After all of that digging by hand, I threw up my hands and called the professionals back. Tomorrow we should have a digging crew to unearth and inspect enough of the line to confirm the cause of the problem. If we get our wish, they’ll be able to fix it on sight and leave us with a reasonable bill. We really don’t want to pay for a new drain field or anything more major than a bit of digging and 4″ PVC.

Wish us luck.

Islamophobia is bad but it is a good step

A national ban on an architectural element seems silly but the vote to stop the construction of minarets in Switzerland is a real accomplishment. The people of a mature country have peacefully expressed a strong collective feeling against what they perceive as a grave threat. The tragedy is that they identified the threat as the Islamic religion.

The real threat is more general, more widespread, and more dangerous than Islam. It took something as extreme as Islamic extremism to trigger a cultural awareness of it. Unfortunately, like the ringing of an alarm clock, the first thing to awaken consciousness is for a time the only piece of reality about which we are aware. Islamic extremism is the alarm clock.

The supporters of the minaret ban see the growth of the Muslim population as an aggressive cultural invasion. They don’t see an immigrant minority that deserves state protection. They see settlers from a destructive culture claiming their country. They feel vilified within their homeland by outsiders and they are afraid that their politicians will continue to insist on irrational “religious tolerance” despite the intolerant attitudes spread through Islam.

National Islamophobia is a phase whose time has come. It is extreme, prejudiced, and wrong, but it is the natural reaction against the wrong actions of extremists trying to universalize Islam. Two wrongs do make a right when everyone learns a lesson. The lesson here is that no protection for status, be it religion, race, sex, or what have you, is deserved when it is used for harm.

Religions have been invoked to excuse atrocious behavior since ages before the life of Muhammad. So have other statuses such as race, color, nationality, and sex. The world tends to absolve these harmful trends after a reform and some generations. And the human race eventually learns a lesson.

I see the minaret ban as a sign that the world is just beginning to reject religion as an excuse for bad behavior. Peaceful Muslims will work with non-Muslims to prevail over the radical perversion of Islam. This time will pass into history and be replaced by a time of rational discrimination and careful tolerance. I hope I’m right, the sooner the better.