Saturday, 27 September 2008

Bangkok sewerage works - PART 4

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2, PART 3)

Modernising an unplanned city of this size is a big task. Services are constructed, modified and bastardised to suit each person’s needs without any proper forethought or record keeping. Electricity is a nightmare of dangling cables, spliced and respliced a thousand times to disappear into the rabbit warren of twisting alleys and make-shift buildings they call a suburb. Water can be a low pressure lottery of uncertain purity. You sure as hell didn't drink it. Telephones lines are a rarity in the slums but it seems even beggars had a mobile phone.

We were bound to hit power and water every now and then. There’s no dial-before-you-dig number in Bangkok. The BMA (Bangkok Metropolitan Authority) was supposed to tell us where their services ran but hard information was hard to pin down. After the services went in, freelance cowboys would reroute cables and pipes to suit anyone who paid them. We relied on guess work and luck not to hit anything.

Any services that were near us were sure to be found by the bloke operating the pile driver. Sheet pile cuts through just about anything if he pounds long enough. We got used to blacking out huge areas of the city.

In the nineties a large section of Bangkok didn't have sewerage at all. They eject all their waste into a system of klongs, (canals), which riddle the city like Venetian streets. As the tide ebbs and flows the waste is supposed to be flushed out to sea and fresh water takes its place. A workable affair for perhaps a third of the 15 million people who generate bodily and commercial waste every day.

Even without the overcrowding problem, the klongs were in trouble. They had silted up, been build over and around and not maintained. An impenetrable forest of shanties and skinny streets blocked equipment that needed to get in and clear them out. King tides would overrun the banks and flood large parts of the city, returning everything they had dumped into the canals previously. The city festered in its own shit.

Like it? See (PART 5) Coming Soon.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Bangkok sewerage works - PART 3

(Return to PART 1, PART 2)

I eventually got a 101 for the proper operation of the Unclemole in English. Hearing the instruction from an Aussie helped me put together the pieces I hadn’t been able to nut out for myself by reading the Japenglish manual. In short, it went something like this.

Dig a hole. Throw in the guide rails and drop a huge thrust wall behind them. Attach hydraulic jacks to the thrust ring and position the machine on the launch rails. Line up a laser to keep it going straight. Push the machine into the earth while rotating the cutting face. Flush the debris away from the face back to a holding tank with low pressure water. At full extension the jacks are retracted. The cables and water pipes are disconnected. A concrete pipe is placed between the machine and thrust ring and all the paraphernalia are reconnected then you push again. Eventually the machine pops out into a retrieval pit a hundred metres or so away and is removed. That section of pipe work is complete and we move on to the next pit.

Sounds easy huh?

In reality, just getting the holes dug was like that movie Mission Impossible. So that you understand the difficulty we faced, here’s some ground structure information. Bangkok is sited on a huge river delta. A lot of city structures are sitting on wooden piles sunk deep into sloppy marine sand. In places, slow moving rivers of sand and mud snake beneath the concrete and asphalt that floats on top of this mess. It can really bugger up a micro-tunneller’s day when he hits one of these rivers. He can only watch helplessly as his machine drifts away, never to be seen again.

The pit walls were under great pressure and would leak large amounts of mud and water if not sealed properly. Dewatering was a constant requirement and a major headache.

The pit, being the lowest point in a given area, would also flood with sewerage. Human and animal waste typically runs down the street to a nearby Klong in the slum areas of the city. There was no way around having to stand knee-deep in shit, needles and condoms to get the pipes in. I put great faith in the many inoculation injections I had before leaving Australia.

Like it? See - (PART 4).

Thursday, 18 September 2008


I just watched a stand up comic making fun of kids who are allergic to peanut butter. I found out later at the end of his routine he copped an earful from a ‘concerned parent’ who has a child thusly afflicted. The mental image made me laughed even harder.

Then I got to thinking and had to agree with Gav on a few points. Exactly when did allergies start to take over our lives? When did we become allergic to cats, dogs and air? I don't remember a single kid getting crook from a sandwich spread when I was in school. No-one had ADD either. You played up; you got a belting. I should know.

I’m still allergic to sulfuric acid and speeding buses but I can’t think of a single commonly available food that I have to avoid or die. My lips blow up like balloons when I get mango sap on them but that shit will eat the paint right off your car too.

I like Gav 'survival of the fittest' analogy. People with extreme sensitivities just aren’t meant to survive. Doesn’t stop them from breeding though, does it?

I’ve developed a controversial theory of my own. It’s gonna get me in trouble like the aforementioned stand up comic. You wanna hear it?

Remember how you hated broccoli or pumpkin or some other food? What happened? Your parents FORCED you to eat it didn't they? (Ninety percent of people just nodded.) Nobody died did they. (Hands up everyone who died...uhhh...nope, not one hand.) See!

So maybe we should all toughen up and stop pandering to kid’s whims. If they can’t breathe after eating a peanut, just threaten them with the strap. The little buggers will soon snap out of it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

How much money do you need?

Large quantities of money bring certain responsibilities and dangers that extrapolate as the size of your stack increases. Finding that elusive balance of happiness and wealth when your money starts to become influential is tricky. How much responsibility and danger are you willing to take on? A fair bit most likely.

After thinking through some hypothetical scenarios, I figure being ‘well off’ is preferable to being ‘humungously rich’. This modesty stems from a certain amount of underclass cringe, (emulating the rich without being conversant with their airs and graces invites ridicule). A fear of losing control of my money at the hands of unscrupulous accountants and brokers is another reason. I would also be keen to avoid the point where the bottom line of my bank statement controls me.

Money’s most underrated purpose is freedom. It’s easy to miss. It hides in that tiny grey area between greed and need.

I’d find my freedom in purchasing a new car or two every couple of years, and having the quality time to enjoy them.

I’d like a comfortable home with decent furnishings, large enough to spread out into but not so large I couldn’t maintain it, or the gardens, myself. Worrying about damaging priceless antique carpets or screwing up a hundred year old hedge probably puts me out of the market for a castle or a historic home.

My home would be efficiently automated to the highest possible degree. No servants would run around after me. There are enough appliances available these days to make their presence a mere status symbol for the pretentious. Supporting the high-end tourist industry where I am waited on and cleaned up after is one thing, but home is home and who wants a bunch of strangers wandering around the place, privy to every small detail of your life?

So, looks like I’ve got it sorted. Now where did I leave my truckload of cash?

Like it? See - Money

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Tanami Desert Diary - PART 4

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2, PART 3)

Good luck ran with my new nickname as much as bad luck seemed to plague people with the name Michael at the Tanami.

We thought Mike had all the luck. He’s the only guy getting laid in the desert after he cracked onto the cleaning lady. Not as bad as it sounds, she was young and we were jealous.

One rare Mine Camp visit he must have stayed up late with his new sweetheart and felt a bit tired the next morning. Driving back to the workshop he somehow hit a boulder bigger than a Landcruiser’s wheel. He said he had his head under the dash looking for something.

After managing to drive completely over the top of the rock and getting catapulted into the roof and smashing his lips into the gear knob on the way down, he wasn't feeling too good. Lucky he didn’t knock his teeth out. Normally you’d hide the circumstances of an accident like this but the Big Boss had chosen that day to visit the Mine and saw the whole thing.

The ute’s transfer case didn't survive the incident. All that heavy armour plating we relied on to crawl over rocky outcrops and smash against tree stumps wasn't meant to hit boulders at 50 Kph. $11,000 and a few months later we got the ute back.

Mike got the arse.

(Like it? See - Part 5).

Monday, 1 September 2008

The end of books

The end of books.

The paperless office.

A new age of digital information.

Remember these terms? I do quite clearly from over 20 years ago. The purported paperless office would revolutionise the way we store and retrieve data.

I bet Rank Xerox shit themselves way back then.

Luckily for the pulp mills, computers proved to be so unreliable everyone used twice as much paper making backup copies of everything they did. Ever heard a room full of dot matrix printers going full blast for 7 hours 21 minutes a day. I did.

I took a job as a trainee with the Federal Government fresh out of school and was exposed to the full range of bleeding edge technology. The Government had a policy of purchasing the very latest advancements. (Even if the new gear only made the job harder.) Helped drive the economy.

So there I was at 16 years of age, photocopying millions of thermal paper faxes onto real paper and shredding the originals. (Had to do each one by hand since thermal paper wouldn’t auto feed. Lifting that heavy lid should have given me arms like Schwarzenegger.) The boredom was only relieved by reading some really personal information amongst this crap.

I got the awesome job after the archives building declared an emergency. They’d discovered the thousands upon thousands of important files they were storing were filled with barely discernable and blank thermal fax paper. Whoops. Who knows what information was lost in the 80’s and early 90’s.

The term ‘no more books’ came up as I was Stumbling around the web and brought this memory out. Got me thinking. Although we’re probably far enough along the reliability curve to make the rhetoric a reality, it’s convincing people to change their ways that will be the challenge. ‘Once bitten a thousand times shy’ in this case.

I’m still waiting for the next technological leap where we can have tiny, (painless), implants in the bottom of our eyelids that project an image or text directly onto the eye. Or, while we’re in dreamland, how about an interface directly into your head that can upload/download data.

I’d also like that to be painless and not in the middle of my forehead. I’m reserving that place for my barcode.