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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Syndicated Rerun

Continuing from the previous post..... I'm not "back" yet, and won't be for probably another couple of weeks, but the rain is not falling so hard now.

Here's a handful of my favorite posts, in no particular order, if you just cannot live without a fix of my tripe-disguised-as-a-blog while I am off my game.

Thanks for your patience, and stay safe out there.


The Ladder 49 effect

Go Away, You're Bothering Me

Rewards and Insults

Identifying the T-Shirt Firefighter in its Natural Habitat

If Only We Knew How Stupid We Were

Crossing from Comfort to Quiet Terror

A Tale of Five Monkeys

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Short break

Sorry for the lack of posts.

I have recently suffered a rather traumatic and emotional personal crisis not related to either of my jobs.

The worst seems past, but some things are never the same even when all the pieces are picked up, you know. As such, right now, I'm just not into writing about anything.

Eventually, it should stop raining.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

They Waited an Hour to Call

We arrived a little late to the party.

As it turned out, it took the bystanders something along the lines of an hour for someone to decide a 911 call was in order.

An hour.

The three of us made our way into the Mayberry district and pulled up in Engine 56 at about the same time the Heavy Rescue from nearby Kinda Big City was unloading its crew.

A quick look down the trail to the river bank showed the surreality of a few local rescuers and bystanders frantically attempting to free someone from under a log in the river, who was struggling to get air while held down by the water, as well over fifty others continued sunbathing, only a few paying attention.

By the time we got down to the edge, the kid had been pulled free.

The kid.

And he was blue.

He had been weakly flailing and fighting to escape when we looked down. Only a few minutes had passed. Now he was limp. They broke his leg to get him out when he lost consciousness.


We worked him for a long time. The medics of course threw epi and lidocaine at him, but the monitor gave us nothing but asystole. Still, we kept working.

Now a few people were paying attention.

We loaded him onto a basket and rigged up to take him up to the bridge. No way were the medics going to call it in front of the crowd.

I thought of my own kids as I bagged him all the way up the grade. Don't we always do that?

His dulled eyes stared in different directions under drooping lids. One-handed compressions continued as best as could be done by the guy across from me as we stumbled over the rocks. It was a miracle that I didn't dislodge the tube with the BVM as I was climbing. There was blood coming up the tube, from the tissue damage we were causing while working him.

Tried not to look at his parents, but how can you not?

It was after the ambulance departed for the landing zone to the helicopter, when we found out about the hour delay.

The entire freaking hour, the kid fought, screamed, struggled, his head not quite level with the water as the few bystanders who found the capacity to give a crap tried to free him, to help him get air.

An hour. Good God.

So, for the record, and I think I speak for all 911 dispatchers as well as my brothers and sisters on the BRTs and bone boxes, we would all rather hear about a problem ten times than never.

For the love of all that is good and right, pick up the phone and CALL.

For what it is worth, against all odds, the medics got a faint rhythm on the way to the helo. The kid was hypothermic, so the chance was there. The helicopter took him. He survived. Expected to make a full recovery.

Are you serious?

God was looking out for this one. He was about as dead as dead gets.

I guess that's a save.  No thanks to the spectators.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Grasping Incomprehensibility

It's a geek post. You've been warned.

If you are a regular reader, you have some basic familiarity with how bulk power systems are run. The topic of this post involves generation and load balancing. That is, matching power output to power consumption, adjusted for the expected power flows to other systems based on purchase and sale agreements. If you're meeting your obligations, your instantaneous ACE (Area Control Error) is more or less zero.

So, once in a while, events transpire such as those documented in Of Yardsticks and Manly Measurements, but without the drama. Having a meter go bonkers and sending you out by a few hundred or even a few thousand is just something that happens once in a while, and part of why we're here. Someone has to fix the broken stuff, you know.

But this event was different.

The visual ACE alarm activated, meaning we were at least a few hundred megawatts out of nominal, so we stopped jawing and took a look. But instead of showing us a number that we could comprehend on the big monitor, we saw 1.42838E+15.  (Not that I memorized the number....I took a screen shot.)

What the huh?

I didn't even know that our software knew how to show gigantic numbers in that scientific notation format, let alone what to do with them.

Although I didn't dig deep enough to get the exact value until later, I can tell you now that it was 1,428,382,474,567,680.

That's 1.4 quadrillion plus.

Every application and system that was was paying attention to this number summarily disabled itself, having just had a clear view into infinity and needing to sit down with a cup of tea to think things over.

It wasn't long before we found the source of this particular problem. For typical meter oddities that crop up, the 100 here, 500 there, we sometimes have to poke around to find it, but 1.4 quadrillion is hard to hide in a closet. We quickly tracked it down to a faulty tie line value that represented a remotely-located power plant, and flipped it to its backup data source, problem resolved.

That was cool.

So, how big is 1.4 quadrillion, exactly?  Stay with me through this, because I promise this will get slightly amusing again after we trudge through the technical stuff.

First, let's translate what a megawatt is again, as a refresher.  Megawatts (MW) are a representation of rate, or flow, while a Megawatt Hour (MWh) is a representation of delivered totals.  Think of it in fire pump terms.  A pump flowing 500gpm will deliver 500 gallons every minute.  If allowed to run for only 30 seconds, it will deliver only 250 gallons.  Likewise, a power plant running at 100MW but online for only 15 minutes will deliver only 25MWh.

To allow you to get your hands around what a MW is, exactly, look at your power bill.  1 megawatt is equal to 1,000 kilowatts, and your monthly household electricity consumption will be shown in kilowatt hours (KWh).  A typical home might use roughly 1,000 KWh (or 1 MWh) per month.  So, a 100MW power plant produces, roughly, enough power every hour to supply one hundred homes for a month.

Back to the big number: 1,428,382,474,567,680

It isn't really accurate to call it 1.4 quadrillion megawatts, it's like saying a million billions or something.  Quantity steps of watts use the same system as computer memory storage measurements: kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte, etc.  1,000 kilowatts is a megawatt, 1,000 megawatts is a gigawatt (already moving into irrationality in power company terms). 1,000 gigawatts is a terawatt, then.... petawatt, exawatt, .... what we have here is 1.4 zettawatts.  Zettawatts?  L O L

How much theoretical power was this, really?

According to Wikipedia (the oracle of truth, I know), global energy usage is approximately 15 terawatts annually.  If this power plant had actually been producing 1.4 zettawatts and kept it up for just a single hour, it would have produced enough energy to power the globe for 95,225,498 years.

That is still beyond comprehension.

OK, it produced enough power every second to serve the Earth's energy needs for 26,452 years. Or to power Doc Brown's DeLorean DMC-12 time machine through nearly 328 million time-travel jumps.

Still hard to grasp, but we'll leave it at that.

For what it was worth, it was still only equivalent to 4 trillionths of 1% of the sun's energy output rate.

In real life it would probably have left a crater at that power plant's location a few thousand miles wide, and vaporized every power line on the continent in one trillisecond of glorious multicolored flame.

Good thing it was just a meter error. Feel free to allow a banking error of that magnitude on my account, as I am sure it will meet my needs for a several thousand years, too.

That was cool.  Thanks for letting me geek out a little bit.  My two jobs make me so serious on the clock, that I have to get a little goofy sometimes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Leave a Lasting Impression

Tonight is the expected peak of activity of the annual Perseids meteor shower. If you are fortunate enough to have forecasted clear conditions and have the ability to easily get to a dark area far from light pollution, it is reasonable to expect to see a shooting star every minute or so, maybe more. The current moon phase is also, very conveniently, nearly a new moon, so it won't interfere.

This is pure magic for children. Pure magic.

If you have kids, get them to bed kind of early tonight. Wake them again, make sure they have warm jammies, and get to your viewing location by about 0230. Bring pillows, blankets, reclining lawn chairs, and hot chocolate.

These are the magic moments that stick in the memory of a child forever. The kind of thing they will remember you for when you are gone, and that they will tell their children about, and that they will repeat for their own kids.

That's why we're going.

It's magic.

For more info:

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Couple of Demerits

Arrived by myself in Engine 51 to a truck off the road with some front end damage.

On the other side of the road, some people were kneeling in the ditch.

No one is in or by the damaged truck

Are you serious?  You whacked a deer and called 911 so we can save the deer?

Wrong.  Two demerits for me, for jumping to early conclusions.

I spent about ten minutes as the only firefighter on the scene, trying to get the guy to cooperate.  No seatbelt, drinking, smacked a tree, involuntarily used his lower abdomen to push the bottom of his steering wheel into the column. Wouldn't let me put a cuff on him or get lung sounds or anything. Pretty whiny when I touched his belly, though. At least his feeble struggle against me told me what I couldn't get from his vitals: Enough blood was still going round and round for him to function up to that point.

Sometimes those drunks walk away.  Not this time.  Though he gets two stars for trying, seeing as how he made it to the other side of the road before collapsing.

Eventually, more help started to finally show up.  About 25 minutes after that, the helicopter took him away. Dude was seriously messed up.

I will never, ever get tired of calling for a helicopter and watching them take my patient away.  I don't know what it is, but I always get goosebumps watching them take off with a hot one.

Last I heard, he's still alive.  Amazing.

And then I got to go to that housewarming party I was on my way to in the first place. They still had beer, so it was all good.


And by the way, I apologize for the misleading title of the last post.  There was nothing at all about the literal "truth" about lying.  It was just a catchy title that I wasn't bright enough at the time to realize was misleading.  If you didn't notice, then go ahead and forget you read this paragraph.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Truth About Lying

The time has come for my full time employer, the power company, to initiate the very complicated, bureaucratic, and inefficient employee review process. It is a colossal waste of time, and I won't get into too many specifics, because you don't care, and you've got your own problems, I know.

Suffice to say that as long as you're not trying to sabotage your career and being a clueless knucklehead, your COLA raise is going to be what it is going to be, no matter what your review looks like or what nice things you say about yourself. Just give me my raise and let me get back to work.

Anyway, I digress.

One of the elements of the process requires the employee to pick out a couple of company-provided classes to attend in the next year. I'm pretty weak on Microsoft Access, so I ran a search through the course listings for "microsoft".

I did a triple-take on the #5 result: "How to Lie with Charts"

Really.  You can click the image above to see the bigger version, or just look at this next one:

So is this "lie" like deceive, or attempt procreation with? Like you, I couldn't tell. Let's investigate.

I opened the description. It is a very normal description about a course on making useful charts for presentations to help get your point across. Nothing in the description turned the title into a witty joke. At least it wasn't a primer on creating little chartlings, though this company has taught me to not be surprised by anything.

All I can figure is whoever made up the course had to give it a title and couldn't think of what to use at the moment, just slapping in how they really feel. And forgot to go back later.

It made it through all the pre-publication reviews. And there it is.