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. For my hypothetical this, of course, 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 for 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, dicovery 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 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 sub, 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.
- 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 most luckiest, it will be identifiably the government’s, probably the military’s, fault. Just remember, while the gubmint 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 happened.
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.
I am pleased announce that after an absence of a mere month, the Philippine Barako coffee is back. I don’t have a lot of it and this is mostly to tide me over until the Filipino Cousin Network can get me a much larger quantity in a couple months, but the important part is that it is back. Barako is now a valid selection on all the listings on the store side of the house.
The more exciting news is that it didn’t come alone. Barako is a rather tasty representative of the liberica coffees that are awfully hard to find outside of the Philippines. And while liberica is tricky to find outside of the Philippines, the fourth standard cultivar of coffee, excelsa, was one of those things I’d read about but had kind of written off ever trying short of a trip to that side of the Pacific. And the FCN dropped 4 kilos of it in my lap to play with last week.
One of the bits about excelsa that it’s worth understanding for why there isn’t a lot of this on the market is to know a bit about the coffee trees themselves. We normally refer to coffee bushes when discussing arabica coffees as they don’t grow more than about 2m tall. Excelsa, on the other hand, comes from trees in the range of 10-15m tall. Harvesting excelsa comes with a level of personal hazard comparable to coconuts, AKA plummeting death, so I understand why this is rare.
Now, the exciting thing about the excelsa is the taste, which is also a southeast Asian adventure. The primary flavor note given from the grower was “jackfruit“. If you’ve never had the pleasure of the odd not quite pineapple, not quite mango, not quite banana flowery citrus flavor of jackruit I recommend giving it a try. This way, you’ll have a reference point when I tell you that first taste of excelsa BBotE had a strong jackfuit kick, a baking chocolate mid-palate, and a long coconut finish. I don’t know what booze I’d mix this with off the top of my head but it makes me want coffee based tiki drinks.
After saying all this about excelsa, this is all a bit of a tease as it isn’t available as a selection in the store until I nail down my exact process for this bean. It is likely to show up in Sampler Pack II orders as I’ll probably have leftovers from test runs to share with people. What this does mean is that I’ll have things nailed down the when the much larger shipment of excelsa comes my way in a couple months to share with all of you.
In other news, those of you who enjoy tales of Phil vs. Lasers may be happy to know I will be attending the 2019 International Laser Safety Conference in Orlando next month. I will happily tell tales of industrial-scientific horror and history in exchange fine drink and company when not actually at the conference itself. Drop a line and say hi!
[looks at calendar] Well, this is only four months late. Been too busy having other adventures. Sorry about that.
TL;DR version: I enjoyed the hell out of smart people sharing problems and solutions that I am not directly responsible for doing something about. Somebody else’s problems are the best problems.
So, as I mentioned previously, I made the somewhat last minute decision to attend DEFCON 2018. There was enough draw in the form of friends I knew were attending and, more importantly, available vacation time allowed me to actually attend. I’ve wanted to go since I first heard of DEFCON long ago but there’s only so much time in the year for all the adventures I might want to have. However, in the company of the former BBotE Ambassador of Chicago, Bill Weiss, and current BBotE Ambassador of Prescott, Dan Nowak, Black Blood of the Earth has been in attendance at DEFCON every year since 2011. While other people may have brought single bottles with them, Bill & Dan showed up with entire cases to keep their teams and all comers full of pep. So, in a way, I’ve been present in spirit.
But this year, in addition to the two they brought, my Lovely Assistant and I came with a third case as our luggage. You see, BBotE would be providing a special extra something to the cocktail repetoire for a Rift Recon‘s party. If you attended, you know how much fun those caffeinated cocktails were at 12am. I regret that there aren’t many pictures from this trip, but there are rules of decorum to be followed.
I have been informed that most people attend DEFCON primarily for the parties and just watch the sessions on youtube later. I was told I committed a rookie error by actually attending talks. “BAH!” I say. If I’d done that, I wouldn’t have had the chance to finally meet Aaron “I Should Have BLUE TEAM Tattooed On My Knuckles” Brown, AKA TheTarquin, in person after years of snarking at each other online. Aaron does infosec for Amazon at an interesting level where he gives the hard squint to new corporate acquisitions to see if it safe to plug them into the mothership. But that’s not what he was presenting on. He was here to talk about how H and H convey very different information to human brains versus computers and how you can use that for fun with and defend against homograph attacks. While I was there in person, you can watch his talk online and I highly recommend you do. It’s led me to have a lot of interesting conversations with my own IT, EECS, vision science, and philosophy folks, each from their different points of view.
In addition to the main talks, there are effectively conventions within the convention at DEFCON for specific topics called Villages. I was a little disappointed that the laser cutting village never even set up as I was looking forward to being VERY EDUCATIONAL to people there with an impromptu laser/product safety audit. Rumor has it that the company that was going to set up the village either broke something irreparable in transit or irreplaceable parts were confiscated by customs. The Social Engineering Village runs a competition to see if contestant can manage to talk their way to access to selected personnel in organizations purely through the power of bullshit (NOTE: there are some restrictions on how you can bullshit, Thou Shalt Not Impersonate Authority, which is my favorite gambit right out the window).
Then there’s Skytalks. If I have one important piece of DEFCON advice to give it is this: figure out what one Skytalk you absolutely want to see, plan your entire day for it, because much like anything at Disney you will be spending a significant amount of time in line for it. Unlike Disney, the experience will be rewarding and you will walk out the other end of the ride having learned something very interesting indeed. Chatham House Rules apply for Skytalks, so no recording, no photographs, and no bullshit which suits my own residual Q clearance habits just fine. So, while I won’t discuss the content of the presentation I enjoyed, let me just direct you to Faithleaks. Let your journey begin from there.
More dear to my heart was this long and grim talk about the state of the scientific journals and the shitty discourse/politics they end up supporting by muddying the waters of what “scientific consensus” is. Thankfully, it is a very funny presentation even if it feels a bit gallows humor at times as this team maps out the networks of sham journals, sham reviews, and even entire sham conferences, all driven by the publish or perish mentality. MORAL: if you make a data scientist cranky your organization will become their project.
And as threatened in this post, I did indeed act as a docent for an informal tour of the National Atomic Testing Museum. There was some trepidation from the folks at NATM at the idea of a couple dozen DEFCON attendees descending upon their museum. There have been Incidents™ in the years past related to DEFCON and Black Hat that the locals have a loooong memory for, but I promised that everyone would be on their best behavior. I am happy to say that we’re welcome to come back anytime. The fact that we may have broken a sales record in their gift shop could be a contributing factor.
While I don’t know if I’ll have the vacation time to go again in 2019, I can confidently say that I had fun and learned enough that it would be worth going again to take a vacation to someone else’s conference.