Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sundog Skills

Sundog skills are those skills that I have for working towards a more sustainable life. The skills of publishing chapbooks in a safe, clean and economical way. See my Instructables http://www.instructables.com/id/Sustainable_Living_Ideas/ and blog http://sundogpt.blogspot.com/

Nightshift--Power Plant

I truly believe in renewable energy. I have read a fair amount about this subject. The science is there. The technologies are good. There are alternative energies that can be of economic value to America. However something that we all should understand is that America is not going to get to that that Clean Carbon Free Hydrogen Economy without Grid Electrical Power. The energy we need to reach that future must come from somewhere—we are just going to have to burn a little more. This story is about burning coal.

Three hours left of a string of three night shifts. It had been a very long and uneventful night. What we called in the Navy, “Like sailing between the islands of boredom and tedium.” We could hear the rumble of the fire in the boilers and the whine of the turbines-- generating 220 megawatts of electricity-- white noise-- a siren of sleep. Three more hours and we would make it out alive.

We were all in the control room save Aaron. He was out emptying his oil buckets. We sat around quietly talking, trying to stay awake, Tony’s eyes going closed and opening, staying closed a little longer each time. Joe was talking simultaneously about his daughter, his past and present female relationships, why we can’t get enough air in the boiler, Denver Bronco football and his daughter. Frank was listening.

Jim and I were in our regular quiet little discussion about creationism and evolution with me losing to Christianity. No matter how much I told him of the geological evidence, I could not dissuade his deeply held beliefs in a 6,000-year-old earth. God bless America.

The discussion had moved to the division between church and state. I was about ready to quote--as best I could--from a Jefferson letter to those Baptist fellows. Tony’s eyes had been closed for three minutes. Joe had not stopped talking--Frank was still listening. God bless his soul.


Tony’s eyes opened up like a roller blind in a Saturday morning cartoon show and in his Alabama way of saying things, “That’s not very good.”

“What is it?”

“Lost flow on B Feeder.”


“We‘re on our way, boss.”

“So put some fire to it, boys. Jim, we can’t lose more than three megawatts.”

Tony took the fire by the hand and added fuel. “Got all the igniters in, boss.”

“You boys know what you’re doing –I’m going out to the feeder. “
“Remember, no more than three.”

Out at the feeder, the PSO’s-- these Prometheus men-- had an air lance in the feeder’s throat. They were in a shower of coal, the black rain filling their ears and shirt pockets. I had to yell above the staccato rapping of the coal pipe vibrators.

“What we got going? “

“Wet coal.” Frank put a ball of coal in my hand for inspection.

Wet coal. Operating a power plant is hard work-- it’s harder when it rains.

Joe, looking into the feeder, “We got coal back!”

“Let the control room know.”
“You got coal flow back, Tony!”

“Aye, aye. “

Back in the control room, boiler pressure was going up and the drum level was dropping. Tony already had the boiler master backed down and was pulling out fuel. Jim had taught him well. In three minutes he had the boiler back in auto.

“How many megawatts did we lose?”

“Brian! We did not lose a single one-- maybe 300 kilowatts-- if that.”

“Yeah, inertia and some damn good are firing.”

“Yeah, inertia.”

Two hours and 45 minutes left of three long and uneventful night shifts. The sleep we wished for so devoutly will not come so easily now.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Ruin

A translation poem
by Reed Underwood

Wall was well wrought when wild fate razed it down.
Stronghold ruptured…

Splintered roofbeams snapped towers
Giants’ work those workers in stone
molders and decays. Rime rots on gates
rots on mortar. Shattered shields
roofs collapsed swallowed under by age.
The builders? Buried in dirt grasp
long gone given to grave grip
while fifty fathers and sons pass by.
Wall weathered with grey moss
and red stone. Kings fell here and
withstood strong storms. Archway crumbled
but wallstone stands still…
…crafted stone shone
…sunk in frozen loam.

Witfull was one who wisely
bound wallbase in iron. Wonderful cunning.

Bright buildings halls watered by springs
high heavy gables resounding with rejoicing.
Many mead-halls filled by many men
revelers loud and long. Fate broke them.

Days of disease descended dead men all around.
Death stole away these people’s bright bloom.
Came to where they’d fought came in the waste lands
in the citadel in the ruins.
Strong tribes sank to dust.
By this battering the court is shadowed silent
and the red stone arch wrenched from roof side
dips to touch ground…
Blocks bashed broken…

This hold held many men golden garnished
gleaming glad feeling wine willful
flashing felling swords flashing gold and gems
the whole horde of this cold castle.
Into standing stone springs surged.
Basin filled full hot water held.
All these baths once whole hot hearth.
Pleased people it did…
Steaming springs loose ran on stone
into ring tub……it is a house….
…a thing for kings…

“The Ruin” was written in England during the 8th century. It describes the Roman ruins in the city of Bath. This “Giant’s work” must have seemed massive to the poem’s anonymous author, whose Anglo Saxon people lived in towns and semi-permanent encampments. This was the Dark Ages after all. People’s lives had returned to nature after the heights of Roman comfort. The achievements of the Roman architects of Bath were far beyond the Anglo-Saxons. Yet for all its grandeur, Bath still lay in ruins, and the poem is about this clear irony. But the real beauty of “The Ruin” is not in what is present, but in what is missing. The only original copy of the poem is a fragment, a piece of burnt and decayed parchment with whole lines destroyed and lost to history. (An ellipsis in the text indicates missing lines) Because of this loss, the poem becomes a sublime marriage of form and content. An architectural structure built and then ruined by nature and the passage of time is described by a poetic structure, written and then ruined by nature and the passage of time. Neither subject nor object can beat decay. I decided to translate “The Ruin” for Mr. Green Jeans because it is a chilling reminder of nature’s ultimate power over mere human creation. One day, seemingly very soon, even our gigantic works will begin to go the way of the Bath ruins. Green living ensures that we will be flexible enough to survive even among the ruins and that our “people’s bright bloom” won’t be snuffed soon