I have often said that my physics degrees are primarily used to make more esoteric dumb jokes and puns, especially if I can find a way to work math in to them. As a coworker will be going to a new job soon, I want to immortalize two connected stories that show why I’ll miss him. This is also another moment of satori in my life. To help make sense of the joke, all you need to know is that Hormeisis Theory is borrowed from chemical exposures, which is the idea that a little bit of poison strengthens you. This turned into the idea a low level of radiation damage prompts your body’s cellular self-repair systems to action.
[SCENE – COWORKER 1 and Phil are working at the radiation detection instrument calibration range. The large Cs-137 check sources have been brought out of storage and the radiation area barrier tape has been put up. Phil is setting up ion chambers at set distances on the range.]
COWORKER 1: Are you finished setting up?
Phil: Almost. You can go ahead and get the smaller source out.
COWORKER 1: Alright! Time to get my hormeisis for the day.
Phil: [without missing a beat, without so much as a hesitation for thought, a perfect moment of satori] Your mom’s a hormeisis.
COWORKER 1: [drops the tongs before even opening the source pig, slumps against the range table] You yermom’d me!
Phil: Oh my god. I’m sorry.
COWORKER 1: Do you have any idea how many years it’s been since I’ve been yermom’d? That was amazing.
After that, we had a special bond as he had finally figured out I was a strange garbage person he could relate to. That I was, in fact, weirder than him and could enrich his life with things. Like getting the Picard Song stuck in his head.
A few years of good times pass.
[SCENE – Seated at a table during the departmental holiday dinner, COWORKER 1 and Phil are sharing stories while enjoying refreshing adult beverages. COWORKER 2 enters and takes a seat.]
COWORKER 1: Do you remember when you yermom’d me?
Phil: Of course I do!
COWORKER 2: [incredulous] You yermom’d COWORKER 1? How?
Phil: I said his mom was a hormeisis.
[COWORKER 2 has a spittake. COWORKER 1 recounts the previous scene to him.]
COWORKER 2: Well, you know what means right, COWORKER 1?
COWORKER 1: What?
COWORKER 2: It means a little bit of your mom is good for everyone.
COWORKER 1: [gently rests forehead on the table] Oh god it got worse. How did it get worse?
[Phil and COWORKER 2 make a toast to COWORKER 1’s mom.]
COWORKER 1: Howwwwwwww???
I’m gonna miss him. He’s the only person in the whole department who can properly Slav Squat. All the rest of us have Western Spy Squat. Oh, and he’s gonna be a kickass health physicist.
An amusing conversation happened on Twitter last night and this morning with regards to holy water, it’s creation, dilution and retention of holiness. While I may be an atheist, I am very happy to count both a Dominican and Jesuit priest as friends and can thus aim fascinating questions at them. In this particular case, Fr. Gabriel got to field this one:
In fact yes. If you have a bowl of holy water and you add to it, it retains it’s blessing unless you add more than half the volume. If you do that, it loses it’s blessing. Fun facts.
— Rev Sir Gabriel T Mosher OP KHS (@lukei4655) June 5, 2019
To answer someone else’s question, all the letters after his name signify that he is a Dominican (OP: Order of Preachers) and is a Knight Religious of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher* (KHS: Knight of the Holy Sepulcher). This means he is a level 2 cleric with a prestige class as level 1 knight. Being a knight religious means he is allowed to ride his horse directly into the Vatican but, as a cleric, is still not allowed to have a sword. If you remember from your D&D reading, only clerics of very particular gods are allowed to have edged weapons. Part of why he is my friend is that he isn’t in the least bit offended at being described this way.
Anyway, this leads to obvious questions about mass balancing and making sure that the fonts are always actually holy. The conservative answer would be “Always refill with holy water.” If you start making withdrawls of holy water from the font and then tank it back up with mundane water, without rigorous chain of custody accounting, you run the risk of accidentally losing that holy status in the basin. My Lovely Assistant, with her PhD in Chemistry, started trying to work out the calculus for this and a Theory of Constant Blessedness. She needs better hobbies.
Other people asked questions regarding the possibility of blessings per minute or holy flow if you wanted to try to piping some high pressure holy water on demand. In my reckoning, the limitations here are the available labor resources. There’s only so many priests and most of them are older, tired men unaccustomed to manual labor and this sounds like shift work.
Now, you could go for blessing in mass quantity instead. For places that go through a hell of a lot of holy water per day, they will make up entire vats worth. Depending on traditions, however, this does involve other consumables like salt and oil added during the sanctification. This is why you can’t have a reactor pool filled with holy water; all you’re doing is adding crap that the reactor will activate and the filters beds will immediately remove.
The way I learned that holy water has things added to it is a story of it’s own…
Because I like history, I was totally willing to play chauffeur for my grandmother, who was an at least one mass per day Catholic, to take her to visit some of California’s missions. Most of the original churches are gone, since they were made of adobe, congregations greatly outgrew them, and earthquakes happen. But in ONE CASE the original mission church is still there and it was the original hub mission for Alta California: Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.
So, we went. It’s tiny but neat. While grandma fully understood that I wasn’t Catholic, she also wanted to make damn sure I learned how to behave politely in such a space. When we walked in, she whacked me in the shoulder and gestured to the holy water to do a dab & genuflection.
For a moment, please imagine 18yo Phil, clean shaven, short hair, head to toe in black (probably wearing the Alapalooza Tour shirt), wearing SWAT pants and army boots, stepping up to the font, dipping a finger in, touching my forehead and then saying “Ow, fuck that burns!” more loudly than I should have.
The abuelas praying nearby began praying more audibly.
As I discovered, I had a small cut on my forehead because yay scratching tiny pimples and the little bit of oil and salt added to the font was enough to make it sting. Grandma whacked me again for swearing in church.
*: There will be more adventures with Fr. Gabriel this October as I have rules lawyered my way into visiting Israel & Jordan with him to help fulfill his knightly vows. Nowhere in the vow “Lead a pilgrimage of non-order members to the Holy Land” is there a specification that you actually need to take Catholics. I’m helping.
No, not that kind of D&D.
I’m feeling all salty today about underground services, subs to the nth degree subcontractors, shitty documentation and the tragicomedy poor communication between them all on Decontamination & Demolition projects. Most D&D projects follow a “graded approach” where they run three major phases:
Steal underpants. NO NO NO, what I meant to say was decontaminate all interior surfaces/components and remove fixtures.
Phase 2: asbestos & lead paint abatement as applicable, demolish the building, process the rubble for reclaimable material. At this point you have “taken the building to grade”. It is has been leveled to the ground surface. But you’re not done.
Phase 3: dig below grade to remove underground storage tanks (USTs), piping, and any contaminated soil.
I would like state that in 21 years of doing safety & environmental work I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen Phase 3 concluded. Even with a ridiculously contaminated building, it is much easier and cheaper to decon and take it down than to start digging holes in the ground. Because the first step in Phase 3 is asking the question “Sooooo, what’s down there and where is it?” And that’s where the tragicomedy kicks in as the questions you’re really asking are:
- Where are the original plans for this building?
- Where are the As-Builts?
- Do we have a building maintenance log of changes and events?
[INSERT SCENE OF PHIL SCREAMING AT THE SKY BECAUSE THE RETIRED BUILDING MANAGER JUST LEFT EVERYTHING IN FILING CABINETS IN THE OUTBUILDING THE EXCAVATOR JUST RAN OVER]
Yes, that happened once. No, I haven’t quite gotten over it yet. Of course, for my hypothetical, this assumes you had a building manager AND they maintained that information.
Assuming you don’t have it or what you have is utterly untrustworthy, you’re gonna have to resurvey (SEE ALSO: pre-1960s underground services & anything the US military has ever built, EVER). Do you have in-house survey teams with ground-penetrating radar, soil moisture density gauges, and analytical labs, etc.? No? I’m shocked.
Looks like you need a contractor! Possibly several!
Depending on the building’s size and how exciting the history of use was, you may need to be surveying deep. Which means you’re going to need those survey teams onsite *OFTEN*. Please learn from the mistakes of others and write your contracts “for the duration of the project”. Because you do not want to dig the first 2m down, realize you need a resurvey for this depth, discover that Procurement only contracted for the one survey, and when you try to get them to come back:
1) The price is much higher.
2) They aren’t available.
But it’s cool you can just get another contractor, right? Sure! Did all information from the previous contractor’s survey get communicated to them? Do they use the same equipment and procedures so you can compare apples to apples? I’m sure it will be fine and there will be no confusion or issues.
Now, assuming you successfully dig holes without immediately doing something silly like cutting a 15kV cable with your backhoe on the first scoop, let’s also assume you find things that you weren’t expecting. What’s the next step? Well, now you have to go back to the drawing board and revise your 3D D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) D&D (Decon & Demolition) site map to add the new discovery, revise all the time tables to deal with working around the new thing, and most importantly, find more money in the budget to cope.
Asking for more money to deal with $PROBLEM you had no idea was there does not compute to your management. Also, if you tried to guess beforehand what things you might see without any proof of them to try to get some contingency funds, you will be accused of padding the budget by them and be denied. Without that contingency, this means you are DEVIATING FROM PLAN & BUDGET. This is tantamount to a personal betrayal in the mind of bad managers. If you are a subcontractor, you are now eating into potential completion bonuses. Thus, there is an incentive to not find things.
And that’s just conventional work tweaking for things like “I found utility service that we didn’t know was here, I don’t know where it comes from or what it feeds yet, but I do know it’s live.” How about if you discover soil or groundwater contamination? The first thing you’ll be asked is “Is it from our former activities on this site?”
- If yes, then fuck. The scope of your work didn’t really change but it got harder and more expensive. And you probably have some reporting to do to regulators. Hopefully not to reporters too.
- If no, then IT IS ON to find who to sue and make pay for it.
- If you’re lucky, it’s your neighbor that has a leaky pipe or UST that’s crapping up your beautiful pristine soil.
- If you’re supremely lucky, your neighbor is still in business and has the financial resources to pay to clean up their mess and the legal fees.
- If you are the mostest luckiest, the contamination will be identifiably the federal government’s, probably the military’s, fault. Just remember, while the Fed pockets may be deep, they open reeeeeeally slooooowly.
But more often than not, that contamination is leftover from a company that folded before your grandparents were born just waiting to be discovered like the worst time capsule. Contamination for whom there is no responsible party to pay for it is why the Superfund Act, AKA CERCLA in the biz, was created.
Back to those legal fees. Below grade decon work generally stops, or goes into a “stabilize” mode, until the lawsuits are resolved. If you don’t already have a drink to cry into meditating on that thought, you should probably go get one. Because man oh man the amount of time & money people are willing to expend fighting over not having responsibility for surprise contamination is astounding. The legal arguments also pretty much boil down to The Bart Simpson Defense:
- I didn’t do it.
- It was like that when I got here.
- You can’t prove anything.
Except if you are the owner of the property, you are a very interested party even if you aren’t a responsible one. The whole reason you would’ve even started Phase 3 in the first place is because you wanted to use this land again for unrestricted use. This why so very few projects even start Phase 3, much less complete it. Instead, at the end of Stage 2, they put up a fence, declare a new brownfield or possibly pave it to get a new parking lot, and declare MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Once upon a time, there was a big celebration for the “conclusion” of the decon & demolition operations on an old chemistry building. It was a big event as the better part of a decade had been spent taking that palace of nightmares down.
With a cheery voice and drink in my hand, I went up to the management team and asked “How did the removal of all the pipes and USTs go?”
I did not make any friends that day.