Archive for Death

Fun places to work #3

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, Mining, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , on September 21, 2011 by awickerman

The intermittent ‘Places I have absolutely no intention of working at’ continues and this time takes us to Africa and the sun blessed paradise of Zimbabwe. In particular the wonderful town of Zvishavane, whose name is derived from the ancient Shona word for “Hills full of deadly fibrous silica minerals” (This fact may not be technically true.)

An Asbestos Mine in Zimbabwe. I think that covers it really
If this looks familiar, well done. Most asbestos mines do look somewhat similar when viewed from above.

Being in the people’s paradise of Zimbabwe means there are a few twists to the usual logical contortions one finds at Asbestos mines. For starters the entire place is embroiled in an argument about who owns it, the government having taken it from it’s legal owner in one of those dramatic seizures the Mugabe government is justly famous for. Unusually in this case it wasn’t white farmers suffering but black industrialist, however the general thrust is similar. As you would expect it’s gone badly, almost as if government cronies know nothing about real work; production has collapsed and most of the workers have been sacked, so it’s not a pretty sight.

Following the typical pattern the locals are quite keen on Asbestos and have even roped in school children to look endearing and try and get the place churning our fibrey death again. However with a fairly racist empowered Minister of Mines in charge turning away offers of support on the grounds the investors are white and driving the rest away with barking mad mining laws I predict this situation isn’t going to change any time soon.

Now you might argue this is a good thing, after all most people do agree Asbestos isn’t good for you so while it’s a shame for the miners in the short term in the long term at least they wont die of a horrific Asbestos induced disease. There is but one flaw in that way of thinking, most of the locals are going to die of AIDS or Tuberculous before they get a chance to develop a long term Asbestos disease. Besides Zimbabwe has been importing vast quantities of Asbestos from Brazil and Russia in the intervening time, so I can imagine the locals thinking it might as well be local Asbestos being used as opposed to foreign imports.

On this basis I think I can safely say Zvishavane tops the previous efforts, yes its name might not be as amusing but the combination of AIDS, TB, Asbestos and Zanu-PF make it by far a less fun place to work.

Car Park of Death!

Posted in Engineering, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2011 by awickerman

Via Tim I discovered the Observer’s architect critic has joined the chorus demanding the horror of Preston Bus Station be saved. The main argument appears to be that it ” it embodies the spirit of its 1960s age”, you can argue if that is a good or bad thing visually but in the world of civil engineering, particularly those parts related to large concrete car park type structures, that is reason enough to flatten it. Indeed the man himself admits the reason before attempting to dismiss it;

“The bus station is not alone. It is part of a company of buildings from the 1960s and 70s that fall victim to a vicious compound of circumstances. They are tough, not obviously charming and carry a label no PR expert would have chosen, of “brutalism”. Some have serious technical problems, albeit often exaggerated. Some have serious technical problems, albeit often exaggerated

I will now demonstrate why those serious technical problems have not been exaggerated. We begin in the 1960s when reinforced concrete was a new idea and building huge civic structures in the brutalist style was all the rage. After the architect had produced his swooping lines and grand gestures for the new Preston depot he handed it over to the designers to do the actual hard part of making it work and not fall down, and here is were things went a bit wrong. To be blunt the concrete specifications of the time allowed fairly weak, porous concrete and didn’t require much cover to the reinforcing steel, for those interested in water/cement ratios and porosity of concrete I commend you to this handy government guidance. To add to the fun the design codes of the time were also a bit ‘optimistic’ on concrete strength in shear so most designs weren’t really strong enough and didn’t have the safety margins the designers assumed.

So fast forward a few decades to the 1990s and these chickens begin to roost, car parks start rotting far faster than planned and a few demolition contractors get nasty surprises when the buildings fall apart faster than expected. The big change is probably Pipers Row car park, the top floors of which quite dramatically collapse overnight;

Pipers Row Car Park, pride of Wolverhampton. It got it's own HSE report you know, where do you think I nicked the photo from?

After the HSE investigation a whole generation of material engineers relax knowing their careers will be safe for life, looking after corroding 1960s/70s car parks will be a job for life for anyone who cares to do so. While the collapses generally get avoided these days that doesn’t mean the buildings are OK, it just means they get demolished earlier than expected leaving the owners to try and explain the problem to confused punters looking to park. A good one was Heathrow Terminal 3 car park;

Once a car park stood here, not anymore obviously.

You may be forgiven for thinking this was just part of the ongoing 'permanent rebuild' strategy for Heathrow Airport. However this is the old T3 car park, the one that was conveniently opposite the terminal till it was condemned by a mate of mine due to massive corrosion. So this car park was demolished and a new one built further away. If you've ever been at T3 and wondered why the car park is so far away and why the pick-up/drop off area is so huge, that's why.

This is still a live problem, a quick google throws up a car park in Nottingham that got the old ’emergency closure’ treatment a couple of years back and only last month a Southend car park collapsed during demolition, the top five stories letting go as they had corroded far worse than previously thought. It should now be obvious why Preston Bus Depot has to go, it’s not going to last long in any event so better to take it out while it’s safe before it decides to do the job itself.

I will leave the final word for today to another article in the Guardian, quoting a former Secretary of State for culture when the first listing of the depot was rejected;

“It therefore appears to the secretary of state that the main attractive feature of the design was the result of a miscalculation which led to a poor quality of construction.”

Fun Places to work #2

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Mining with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2011 by awickerman

In this occasional series based on places I have absolutely no desire work in let us leave the frozen wastes of Russia and instead revel in the frozen wastes of Canada and the wonderful town of Asbestos. For those who have noticed a pattern, well done.

A Canadian town called Asbestos. Next to a giant Asbestos mine. Not a lot more to say is there?

Marvel at the giant hole! Be enchanted by the deep azure blue depths! Hold your breath. Seriously, hold your breath.

This town has much in common with it’s Russian cousin; It is fanatically proud of itself (indeed once had it’s own Corvette the mighty HMCS Asbestos) and is stuffed full of people who will bore you to tears explaining why white Asbestos is safer than the brown or blue flavours (which may be true, I’m sure 300ºC fires are safer than 600 or 800ºC versions, but that’s hardly the point)

But there are differences. First the amusingly mis-guided advert campaign and second the quite spectacular hypocrisy of the government, because Asbestos is illegal to sell or use in Canada but perfectly legal to mine and export to foreign countries. At least the Russians actually use the Asbestos they mine, which may not be better for the locals but is at least less hypocritical.

To end on a cheap joke I commend you all to go to one of the fine restaurants in the town of Asbestos, starting with the Canteen of Asbestos.

Fun places to work #1

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, Mining, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , , , , on January 15, 2011 by awickerman

The wonderful town of Asbest, a Russian one-industry town dedicated to the mining of Asbestos, the clue is in the name.

Leaving aside the whole ‘It’s an asbestos mine’ thing Asbest manages to be particularly horrific as the mine is on the edge of the town.

Beautiful hey? As an added bonus read this old article from Slate,where every local appears to be intent on boring the reporter to death by explaining the many different types of Asbestos and why you wont automatically die just by living in the town. All of which may be true, they certainly mine the least dangerous type of asbestos, but it is all a little ‘The lady protests too much’.

So there is Asbest, a town where the only industry is mining and processing Asbestos and the entire population will bore you to tears trying to desperately convince you the place isn’t instantly fatal. Yet another place to avoid seeing before you die. And to avoid after death as well to be frank.

Film of the Week

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Irregular Features with tags , , , , on October 24, 2010 by awickerman

Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. From the writer who brought you Under Siege and Pretty Woman, proving some people will do almost anything for money. I know I would.

A variety of deaths

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Tenuous Link of the Day, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2010 by awickerman

Breaking news from Saudi Arabia by way of Singapore! Why? Why not, that’s why.

As the traditional Islamic death trap the Hajj approaches the Saudi authorities have discovered a new way for vast numbers of pilgrims to get killed; H1N1 bird flu. This is something of a departure from the traditional methods of stampede, fire and heat stroke but will almost certainly be more fatal than usual disease of choice of meningitis.

I do concede H1N1 is a particularly pathetic pandemic, even by the low standards of such minor irritants as SARS, but this the Hajj in Saudi. If anyone can find a way to get vast numbers of people killed it’s them.

In which I despair about Journalism

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Almost Beyond Words, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , , on September 14, 2010 by awickerman

The Standard releases the news that the investment managers of various London council’s pension funds are investing in Tobacco company stocks while said councils are also running anti-smoking campaigns.

Is this news? Really? The fund managers are doing their job (maximising the return on their client’s investment) and the councils are keeping hands-off from the decisions (as they should, imagine the complaints if they’d tried directing the pension funds towards their own pet projects!). As the article points out most London councils have a massive pensions black hole that needs to be filled and tobacco stocks are good investments, especially in a recession. Now if smoking was illegal in the UK and every tobacco company had been chased out at gun point I could perhaps see the point, but at the moment smoking is still legal and I don’t think anyone is seriously proposing a total blanket ban.

There is no point to this story, no-0ne’s done anything wrong, and more importantly what the hell is Roy Castle doing there? Seriously WTF?

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