Nothing but a dull pebble

It’s cold these days and it’s windy. I guess it’s fine if it’s cold but the wind is the worst. Whenever it’s really cold we spend our days huddled together to keep warm. I hate it when we huddle together, I like warmth but some of our guys are weird. Every time the Chief calls for a cold huddle Jasper comes running over to huddle beside me. He knows that Johnny and I are serious, I guess he must really like me. Sometimes Bob joins him and he smells. I dunno if he doesn’t swim or what but it smells like he’s been on land for an eternity.

This morning all the guys went diving for fish. In our penguin community we take turns catching lunch. So Johnny is away catching some silver fish to eat. I want to go talk to Sandy but she’s been annoying lately. All she wants to talk about is her stupid pebble, it’s not even that big. Ever since Steve gave her that rocks she’s been a different person. I guess she’s right to be happy. It’s a big deal in penguin culture this pebble giving. It means that the guy promises he’s choosen one peguin that will be with him until they both die. Honestly I’m just jealous that Johnny hasn’t given me a pebble. I hope he does ! Maybe he’s thinking of someone else. I can see Sandy from here touching the pebble with her flippers and then her feet. I’ve even seen her sit on it like it’s an egg or a baby!
Instead I go to the ice cliff and wait for Johnny and the guys to come back. I can see them jumping out of the water onto the ice, they are all giddy and happy. Looks like all the guys are running around and messing with Johnny. I wonder what he did today, hes always trying to do something out there. Swim up close to a dolphin or a whale or shake flippers with a two legged land being on their big wooden floaters. Sometimes its the fish he goes for, I prefer to eat fish but not ones that are my size. They are coming up the ramp and I am sure we will know soon what’s up.
The guys seem crazy today, more than usually. They are almost at the top, I should probably walk over to meet them. The rest of the girls have also heard the flapping and noise and they are walking over as well. We are all intrigued by what is happening. I can see John clearly now. He has always looked very sharp after a day out diving. His black and white marks are sharp, brightly contrasting against each other. Around his neck there is a small black mark shaped like two pebbles adjoined. The guys are all jumping around him, wait it looks like he has something in his beak. A fish? No, why would he do that I just ate a few hours ago. Wait, could it really be? Johnny is right there in front of me, he lowers his beak and reveals a small dull pebble. He leaves it right in front of me and looks up at me. I love it! Its the prettiest and biggest pebble I have ever seen. Sandy calls over to me with her flappers flapping “Welcome to the club, you’re now engaged!”

(This lovely collaboration was made possible with illustrations by the talented Leila Charafeddine. For more of her work check her out on Instagram and Tumblr @leilach2491

My name is Amelie

(Illustrations provided by handletteredbylama for more of her work check her Instagram account @handletteredbylama
My name is Amelie, I am originally from England but I was raised in Germany. I still look very British. People mistake me for french because of my name and because of the way I look. I would be what you call a petite lady, I have short black hair and my favorite outfit is a short red dress with a short skirt.
I enjoy long trips along windy roads in between the mountains and the trees. I can’t keep the company of many people but that is fine by me. My family is still back in Germany but the extended family is spread out around the world. People tease me for my accent, I call it a boot and others call it a trunk, here in american they call it the hood but back home its called the bonnet.
My home in the US is Texas, I have been as far out west as San Antonio and Austin, I have actually spend countless weekends in Austin. Houston is my home but I have been as far east as New Orleans Louisiana. In the morning I listen to Audio book or to country music CDs, sometimes the radio.
Recently I just moved to Boston, Massachusetts, I am very excited to explore all these new places, people here are more my size which makes me happy but the roads are horrible and super bumpy. I am excited to get new sneakers I hear you need some bigger kicks for the snow.
My name is Amelie and I am a 2012 Mini Cooper, have 3 doors and an automatic transmition.
– Remember today is national name your car day, so if your car doesn’t have a name make sure to give him or here one.

(This was written on Oct 2nd, which is actually National Name your car day)

Ctrl + Alt + Del

It’s 7:15 and I’m running late for work. I grab my messager bag out of the car and rush through the double doors, the cold AC air pushing the muggy humid air off my skin. I scramble into our make shift office, grab my laptop and toss the bag onto the ground. With 50 seconds my computer is up and running. Its a rush to get the training agendas typed up before the 8:00 trainings with the owner.

I used be a very slow typer but work has shaped me into a master typist. I pull up the word processor and start my work. D… A…. TE: 2017-4-10 ENTER.

It’s a slow morning today we are barely getting up when all of a sudden our room shakes and the fan comes on. This is a pre-alarm that our day has started. We really never know what each day will be like it could be non stop rushing between the pulleys getting the blocks to move or we can go long stretches with no action.

I jump out of my bunk and put on my gloves as I anticipate the start of the day. Dave is our boss he calls out all the orders from his tower. We really don’t need orders our job is simple. Once the user, thats what we call the human that hits the buttons. Yes so once the robot hits a block we have to rush to our pulley stations and pull the block foundation all the way down so that his letters are sent a long the electric wires.

We work in teams of 4 and each team can do one letter block. We are a total six teams. The light comes on and that’s the start of our day and Dave calls out : “alrighty gents well start off with control+alt+delete… Team 1 to control, team 6 to alt and team 3 to delete. ” We see the blocks drop and we all start to pull the blocks down. Next we scramble to the different letters as Dave keeps us in tow. “6 to letter M… 3 to letter O… 1 to letter E.” I am on team 1 so I rush to the corner of letter E and I start to pull down on the ropes to the pulley

. Slowly the block foundation drops and drops until it finally clicks. Then we all release the ropes and run to our next letter.

Brad is from Kenya

Have you ever been inside a submarine? It is not a fun place at all. It gets really stuffy in here and if you are claustrophobic like me it can feel very small. I enjoy being outdoors and basking in the sun, but I guess we all have day jobs. Not only is the inside of the submarine rigorous and dangerous work, it is boring. We are not allowed to talk or make any noise whatsoever. If you think about it, we are in a tin can below water with tons of ships on the surface looking for us. Any sign, or even better, sound of us and they will drop depth charges to blow us to smithereens.

(Illustrations provided by @leilach2491)

I am crouched in my corner and my neck is getting stiff as I try to adjust it every once in a while. We are all wearing our combat outfits which are our beige pants and blazers. Everyone has their rank clearly displaced on their jacket with stars and medals for tours they have completed and other sorts of recognition. The lights are dimmed as we are slowly ascending to the surface. This will sound like a joke, but today we are looking for pirates. Not the ones with peg legs and eye patches but the real, dangerous ones that raid ships on the open sea and steal stuff, maybe even your stuff, you know, the things you ordered on Amazon from China.

(Illustrations provided by @leilach2491)

Soon it will be my turn to take the lead. Right now navigation is making sure we are headed in the right direction. The captain is directing the sailors to get us to ascend smoothly while monitoring the sonar, this is to make sure no one is catching on to our signal. I grab my goggles and head towards the center of the submarine. Above me, there is a small hole at the top of the ship that has two double doors. As soon as we are at the correct depth I will put my head through the first double door as it seals around my neck. Then the second double door opens up to the big blue ocean above. I snap my goggles on as the captain calls me over “Alright Brad, you’re up.” I squeeze my head through the first door and I can feel it close, nice and snug around my neck. The second door opens, my head is underwater and I can see fish swim around me. I then put my long giraffe neck to good use and raise it further up until I can see above the water level.

(Illustrations provided by @leilach2491)

I pivot my head left, then turn right scanning the horizon for the sign of any ships. It’s sunny outside and it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust. Aha! I see something, it’s a small tugboat with a half-dozen pirates. I kick my right hoof in the direction of the boat and start to lower my head back underwater. This is the only way I can communicate the location of the ships, you know with my head in the water and body inside the submarine. My job is done as the captain now knows which way to charge ahead.

(This lovely collaboration was made possible with illustrations by the talented Leila Charafeddine. For more of her work check her out on Instagram and Tumblr @leilach2491

There are two types of people in this world!

In this world there are two types of people, those who think there are two types of people and those who have a bit more creativity. I heard this on NPR this morning and it made me smile. The host was commenting about the World Series Champions, the Houston Astros. One of the commentators was talking about how there were two types of fans, those who get to the ballpark early for batting practice and those who don’t. He was poking fun at this guys and his comment and it made me stop and think about the phrases and expressions we use on a daily basis. We use several expressions on a daily basis in an effort to better express our selves, some make sense and come natural others we pick up and struggle to use because we like the way the sound.

(Illustrations provided by handletteredbylama for more of her work check her Instagram account @handletteredbylama)

I have always stopped to think about these expressions and they images they draw in our minds. My american professors had dozens of expressions up their sleeves that they would use to pepper their speech. You were supposed to hit the ground running with you work, if you worked late you burned the midnight oil. Hard work was referred to as keeping your nose to the grind stone. If something was confusing it was clear as mud, if you are dealing with something that is low quality you are scrapping the bottom of the barrel. When you want to tell someone to deal with an undesired outcome you tell them that’s the way the cookie crumbles. If you cant take something back its because the toothpaste is out of the tube. So all these expressions make sense more or less because we all presumably brush our teeth or have eaten a cookie and seen the crumbs. Some we have never experienced but can imagine, such as hit the ground running or what it would be like to work late night by candle light instead of electric light. I still fascinates me and these expressions jump out at me. There are also some more specific types of references that relate to a subculture and in the US the one that is most common is baseball. This is probably because baseball is the least common denominator because everyone has grown up playing it. So something unexpected comes out of left field. Ready to score means you have the bases loaded. Throwing someone a curve ball is a trick of something they didn’t expect. Third strike means the last chance. A lot of times we will hear someone ask for a ballpark estimate that means its relatively close or a rough order of magnitude. When you are encouraging someone to do what they are supposed to you will tell them to step up to the plate. The funny thing about these expressions is that you will hear people not from the US and who have never played Baseball use the reference. You would have to know that there are three bases in baseball and if the bases are loaded that means you have a runner on each plate waiting for the next hit to score a homerun. I guess these expressions form a meaning of their own and we will use them without even knowing why. It is somewhat like the word OK. My friend and I would always argue about the origins of the word. He said it was an abbreviation for All is Correct and was misspelled. The story I heard was that it was the signature of a famous middle ages king that got everything he wanted when he signed his initials O.K. I guess we will never know where it came from but everyone uses it. There are other expressions and references and I always like to incorporate them even though I am not part of the club that has had to use them literally. You will hear me say lets get down to the trenches, or everything under the sun, or everything and the kitchen sink. They are creative and descriptive ways to get a point across even if you have never stopped to count what the sun shines on. Do you catch my drift, or are you catching what I’m throwing. So lets throw caution to the wind and imagine it were a light feather that is getting picked up by a late autumn breeze and is tumbling and rolling away from us getting further and further out of reach as we start to use more and more of these expressions.

Street Vendors

Today was a day well spent, it was a day spent running errands in the heart of Ras Beirut. Despite the shinny new luxury high rises appearing left and right the city still has its old street vendors and Craftsmen.

First stop is the coffee Roaster in Aisha Bakar. The store owner sits behind a small desk with a cash register, a black and white picture of his father, sporting a moustache and a fez, hanging above him. Beside the picture is a yellow sign with prices for the three different coffee varieties, blonde, dark and with cardamon. The other half of the shop is two huge buckets of roasted coffee and a half dozen coffee grinding machine. In the back huge coffee bags are stacked ontop of the trap door that leads to the roasting room below. I place my order for half a kilo of coffee, my mix is special because I order it to have two thirds a blonde roast a third dark roast with cardamon and I pay extra for even more cardamon. As I order at the register the clerk has overheard me and already prepared and my coffee and so I head on my way.

Next stop is the baker, my favorite stop at anytime of the day. It’s started raining in Beirut so the clean crisp air carries the smell of dough, cheese and zaatar superbly. We park in a driveway by Faysals and leave the car blinkers on. The bakery or Forn, Arabic for oven, is very busy. This shop is even smaller than the coffee roasters. The store is dominated by a counter that is where the food is garnished and wrapped. This oven is obscured by a big glass window behind which are stacked veggies, meat pies, spinach pies and cheese pies. Behind the counter are two bakers busy with the oven. And through a small window you can see a back room where the dough is prepared. I order seven cheese pies and seven zaatar pies. I take my receipt from the cashier and hand if to the baker behind the counter. He sticks the receipt on a metal ruler stuck to one of the shelf on the counter. The receipt sits in line with a  bunch of other orders before mine. As I wait I watch the baker add cucumbers, olives and pickles to the orders before me, he then folds them in half and wraps them several times in meat paper. While watching the baker he pulls out a pastry I have never seen before it is a dome shaped pastry filled with cheese and coated in sesame seeds. My order is almost complete but before I leave I ask to taste this new pastry and the baker hands me one and says, “its called tarboush jebneh, a cheese fez, just like Abu Abeds fez.” Now I have a snack for the ride.

I drop the plastic bags full of pastries in the back seat of the car and walk across the street to the sweet shop, Taj El Moulouk, literally the Crown of Kings. The store smells of rose water and sugar syrup. The is a long L shaped marble counter with a glass screen that protects all the sweets from the nosy hands of kids and adults. Behind the counter there are around two dozen brass trays lined with all different kind of sweets. Most of them are baklava variations with different nuts and filling. I order 10 kenefehs. Kenefeh is a sweet cheese pie that is topped with a chewy sugar infused crust. Each piece is served inside a crunchy round bread that is dusted with sesame seeds. I grab the sweets and head to the car.

Now I rush home in a car that smells of coffee, cardamon, cheese, zaatar, rose water and sugar syrup. Good thing I have the cheese fez to snack on.

Engineering Eloquence

I don’t usually listen to NPR as much as I used to, but I happened to catch a segment today that was talking about plumbing.  They were talking about something that fascinates me but I always felt was too mundane to discuss myself. So you can expect I was pleased to hear it on the radio, hopefully some commuters stuck on the road would hear it too. They talked about plumbing innovations that were pioneered by engineers of the 90s those thorough and eloquent engineers who put a man on the moon.

One key part of plumbing is known as a P-trap. This is the u shaped piece of pipe found under your sink. Besides catching debris and fallen pieces of jewellery it is meant to eliminate the odor from the sewer. As all our plumbing drains to the sewer and the sewer creates foul smells this would travel back up into our houses. So the p trap, trapped water in this u shaped piece of pipe blocking the odors. Simple yet genuis yes I know. This p trap is found with every piece of plumbing even the toilet seat you can see it in the shape of the porcelain.

The second thing that is required to make the system work is venting. Because of the piping to the sewer a pressure differential can be created that will suck the water out of the p trap. To eliminate this a vent is added on the other side of the p trap this vent goes all the way to the roof. Now both sides of the trap are at atmospheric pressure and the water does not get sucked out of the trap.

Another key element of plumbing is that it is low tech. The whole system works based on gravity which means it works without electricity and is energy efficient. These aspects of plumbing seem straight forward but really they are good engineering design. Simple and fool proof that work time and time again.

Most plumbling lines will use different valves and pipe sizes to create press that powers the system. Say you carry water through the building in a 2 inch line you drop it to a 3/4 inch line now you’ve created pressure at your faucet that you want.

Because of the pressure created by water it is important to have a back flow preventer to protect the system. For example your house is connected to the city water line. If you’re house gets clogged up and you open the water into the pipes it will have no where to go and will try to push backwards into the city system so what does the back flow prevneter do it releases all the water right there straight out of the system to protect the piping and not damaged it. Because we all know large quantities of water under pressure will not stop moving and make a path for itself.

As an engineer it is these types of engineering design that we should strive to attain.