27 February 2011

i shouldn't gripe so much about the weird weather here

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New Zealand has been hit by a couple of cyclones and a pretty damn bad earthquake so far this year. I think the death toll is already up to about a hunnert and fifty or so, with about two hunnert still unaccounted for. I find this shocking because the quake was "only" a 6.3 or a 7.1, depending on where you look, and we are talking about a Pacific Rim country, supposedly a first world one at that, so—yes, yes, I know we can't build against the really big ones—but still, I don't think this one should have had this big a body count. The Loma Prieta of '89 nailed sixty three of us, injured upwards of four thousand and put way more than that out of their homes, but aside from some glaring inadequacies in our bridge and road construction being made immediately and indelibly apparent, there were far less places in which to be squished. Things, especially buildings, held up better. I don't want to be smug, but I'm thinking the Bay Area is the only place in the WORLD where people still have IQs.

I know, I know, I don't live there. I spent the first half of my life there. I grew up in Marin County. I moved up into the redwoods because they are wiser than people and I'm a damn maniac who needs the remove for sheer nerve preservation purposes... and... now... of course... there's no possible way I could afford it anymore.

I think that might be part of why learning about the rest of the world has always been somewhat shocking to me. Not only did I need to be bludgeoned to get through my head that racism was still a big problem, but many other culturally backward or bent outlooks were holding the day all over the country. Amsterdam was held up to me as the progressive society, but that was by a bunch of doper men who were thrilled by legalized vice, by the notion of lingerie-clad babes lolling in shop windows... that sort of thing. New York and London were higher on the arts and museums scale, but too meretricious and too stressful. Los Angeles was crass money feigning chic vs. abjection not feigning hostility. Paris and San Francisco had forever seemed the only cities on earth where truly sane people lived... when you are talking the very wildest generalizing humanly possible, anyway. But this earthquake thing is bothering me big time.

Even knowing they were eating dirt cookies in Haiti didn't quite prepare me for the devastation there. I didn't think anyone lived in a structure heavy enough to hurt them in a quake. It didn't occur to me that the serious buildings there were NOT serious buildings. I'm glad I was not there to find this out the hard way. Chile recently had the biggest quake—by very far—and yet seems to have come out of it with about the same losses as we're finding in New Zealand.

You just can't depend on anything.

It's really hard to train your brain to live with that in mind, but if you don't, it's much harder.

love, 99


  1. The epicenter of Loma Prieta was down in the Santa Cruz mountains.
    The epicenter of the Christchurch quake was much closer to the city.

  2. Also, Loma Prieta was 11 miles deep - Christchurch's closer to 2 miles deep.

  3. Oh, leave it to you to get all persnickety about it! Bottom line: humans do have the knowledge and wisdom to construct vaaaaastly better constructions, AND the knowledge that quakes are frequent and often BIG on the Pacific Rim. CAPITALISM is the ONLY reason we are not radically more advanced and radically safer.

  4. Japan, since the Kobe quake, has made some big advances in earthquake-resistant construction, but nature can knock down any high-rise humans could build.

  5. We should NOT be building high-rises, for one. They should all have been torn down in favor of vastly smarter buildings, and could have been, and would have been, except for this money shit that squishes everything in its reach... which... is the ENTIRE planet.

  6. An interesting note on seismic retrofitting and design.

    The typical modern office buildings, strip mall stores and even large grocery and mall anchor stores have what is known as T-bar ceilings. Inverted T shaped channels of aluminum supporting light weight 2'x4' or 2'x2' panels of an acoustical material similar to bonded shredded paper.

    In the past these channels were suspended on wires from the structure above to form a grid for the panels.

    Current seismic codes and designs have added rigid posts from the intersections of the channels to the structure above and diagonal wires to stabilize the bottom of the posts forming a rigid grid.

    After the Loma Prieta quake the T-bar contractors were making a killing replacing the entire ceiling systems in the buildings which had been retrofitted or built to the new standards. Those ceilings had been torn to shreds.

    In the buildings which had not been retrofitted all that was need was to reposition dislodged panels and replace broken ones that had fallen out of the grid. In those buildings the ceilings floated with the waves whereas in the retrofitted and braced ceilings the posts tore the grid up to the point where it had to be replaced.

  7. When they tore down the Alaska Commercial Building in SF, our offices had to move, and we chose an old post-aught-six-quake brick building south of Market and had it retrofitted to do earthquake. The big boss, my only superior there by that time, refused to allow the stupid ceiling panel crappola and we had the most glorious ceilings with exposed brightly-painted ductwork and girders. We made that office a perfect blend of ultra-modern and antiques. It was a masterpiece. WTF is wrong with me never to have had a camera to memorialize some of my greatest works? Of course, that office didn't last us long enough, the big boss died, and I'd left, and they hired a few hunnert more attorneys and moved to, I think, the Wells Fargo Building, back inside the Financial District proper. No taste. Very chic, but still, not tasteful enough by a long shot. I could only visit the once. It made me wince, the look of the place and the feel of the people. Broke my heart, actually. What started out as THE firm, the boutique suite of THE best attorneys in SF, turned into one of those big city megaliths of mediocrity where all they actually do is think well of themselves....

  8. the most glorious ceilings with exposed brightly-painted ductwork and girders.

    That's actually becoming the IN thing lately. Quite a few restaurants and even grocery stores are taking on the look. One of the contractors we do work for has an office which appears to be in the mid stages of construction - lots of un-painted plywood, partially finished walls with exposed framing in some areas etc., ductwork and associated equipment in full view.

  9. That's me! At the vanguard of everything that turns into a fashion craze. Somebody should be paying me the BIG bucks.... :o]


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