Water water everywhere but…

So, on the note of funny things Universities do, here are two emails I received today:

This one, titled “Water Main UPDATE” was received at 6:42pm

8/30/07 6:00 p.m. Update – Water Main Break Affects Campus:

Pittsburgh city officials are continuing work to repair a major water main break in Oakland near the corner of Centre Avenue and North Dithridge Street. The break is affecting water service to campus as well as to residents in Oakland, Squirrel Hill, Greenfield and Shadyside.

Available water is safe to drink and bathroom facilities may be used to the degree water pressure allows. Greg Tutsook, executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is asking affected residents with low water pressure to conserve water as much as possible.

It is expected that water service will be restored sometime after midnight, with full pressure in the system by 6 a.m. tomorrow. Campus buildings have either low water pressure or no water. To the degree that there is water, pressure is better on the lower floors of buildings, therefore the use of available restroom facilities on the lower floors is encouraged. Air conditioning capacity is also reduced in many facilities.

Portable restrooms have been delivered to the Morewood Gardens Parking Lot and in front of the Margaret Morrison Plaza on Margaret Morrison Street.

Temporary cooling equipment has been ordered to keep essential network servers and computing equipment working.

Bottled water is available at the various campus dining facilities.

Evening classes at the Heinz School have been cancelled.

Experiments dependent on water and air conditioning should be shut down as soon as possible.

Resident students with special needs should rely on their residence life staff for support.

A further update will be posted at www.cmu.edu and at my.cmu.edu [Me: link won’t work for non-CMU people] by 10 p.m. Thursday, August 30th.

And this one, titled “Water Main follow up” was received at 6:59pm

Dear Campus Resident,

Assessment and repair of the water main break in Oakland has begun, but we
still have no estimate on when full water service will be restored.

Campus dining facilities are almost all still open and serving for dinner
and late-night.

Port-a-johns have arrived on campus and have been placed behind Morewood
Gardens and on Margaret Morrison Street near the Margaret Morrison Plaza.

Please continue to check www.cmu.edu or the portal for regular updates.

Thank you.

Does this mean that there won’t be water by 6am tomorrow? On the note of servers kept cool, they’ve locked the cluster downstairs because of the water shortage. We were all confuzed until we realized that the water shortage was effecting the AC, not the computer’s internal cooling systems. For non-CMU people, “clusters” are computer labs. We call them clusters because it sounds cooler–and geekier. And the thing about the AC being shut down in kind of funny, since most dorms do not have AC and the dorms who do–did–have it were really obnoxious about it. Seriously, at spirit competitions, I think they had cheers about their AC. If you don’t believe me, try living in Pittsburgh without AC.

Inspirational quote:

John Maynard Keynes — “The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”

PS: go here for images of what has varyingly described as “gushing” water, “a river” and “white-water-rapids” in Oakland area.


A tea party without water

Today I held the first weekly tea party for my floor. And after planning it for a week, I hear from two separate sources that water is out at CMU. An article is here.

At 2:55pm I received an email which reads:

Dear Campus Resident,

There is a major water main break in Oakland that is affecting the availability of water and/or water pressure in many campus buildings. We do not have an estimate at this time on when full water service will be restored.

Please conserve water in cooking and in bathroom facilities. Do not flush toilets or wash dishes unless absolutely necessary. It is possible that you will experience complete water loss, so again, use any water that you have sparingly.

For residences that have central air conditioning that are dependent on water supply, that AC will stop working shortly.

Updates will be posted on the university’s website and on the portal.

Thank you.

(followed by contact info I don’t particularly want to post to save someone from spamming.)

I also heard from my RA that if water does not get turned on soon we might have to evacuate because the fire-sprinklers for the dorms will be ineffective against fire. He overview ed CMU’s evacuation plan, which involves moving students to pre-arranged spaces, like local high schools and dormitories.

But this is not nearly as immediately important as my tea party. I gathered about 3 liters of water from which to make tea and I had a tea party for my floor. Here are some of my left-over muffins. There is no more of the banana-strawberry-walnut bread (to make: use Baking Illustrated‘s Banana Bread recipe and substitute 1/3 of a cup of Danon Strawberry lite yogurt for the plain yogurt and vanilla) but there are some corn-bread muffins still left over. To make these, use Baking Illustrated’s Northern Cornbread recipe, but instead of the milk and buttermilk use 1 can of corn, complete with juices. Drain juices out of can into a bowl and add cornmeal to that bowl. Letting cornmeal (esp stone ground but even normal Quaker’s) soak before baking softens the sometimes grainy texture of the end product. Add corn kernels, now separated, to the dry ingredients, thoroughly mixing. As in any quick bread, coating fruit or vegetable additions with flour prevents those additions from sinking to the bottom during baking. Without a flour coating heavier ingredients will fall, potentially burning or sometimes simply making the end product uneven in its texture.

Corn muffins

The tea party went well, with the normally over rushed undergrad crowd sitting down and chatting over some tea and goodies. We chose Assam tea for the day rather than the Darjeeling. I had extra cups but as there is a cold going around I was only willing to share with “non-sickies”. However everyone on the floor brought extra cups and one even volunteered an extra water heater when my one was running too slow (10 people to a tea pot is a little hard for any water heater).

As people came and went I was reminded of the story of The Stone Soup. This is the version I remember from when I was small:

Stone Soup (Aladdin Picture Books)

And here is a version you can read without buying it:

Stone Soup in post-war Eastern Europe

It was great fun. And now to continue reading the 9/11 report.

Inspirational Quote:

No good opera plot can be sensible:… people do not sing when they are feeling sensible. ~W.H. Auden, Time, 29 December 1961

TSA update


Here are my notes from my most recent encounter with the TSA.

I flew on US Airways which contracts to PrimeFlight which part of G2 (I asked the woman—you will see why I cannot give me particular name—who checked my ID).

Flying out of SFO is never a particular treat but the trip made from home to a new college-home is sad in a way that has nothing to do with a bloated government security infrastructure. Approaching the second place where my ID is checked (my ticketer checked my ID when she gave me my boarding pass) I see the familiar maze of lines that characterizes SFO on most days. At approximately 10:45am on August 17 I approach the rightmost checker. I am carrying my laptop case (a thin affair only designed for a laptop, not one of those briefcase monstrosities of cowhide) my school backpack and a tote.

You may see the source of the problem already.

As I hand over my ID and boarding pass I ask if PrimeFlight (whose insignia I now recognize) is part of G2, remarking I offen get confused as to who is part of whom. My checker, a middle aged Asian-American woman confirms that PrimeFlight is part of G2. She is a bit surprised, but every ID checker I have ever asked that question of has been surprised so I didn’t worry. As I am about to walk through, having been handed back my ID and board pass she says

“Only two bags allowed carry-on.”

I stop. My tote is overfull. I knew I could shove my laptop bag into my tote, and she presumably had seen enough people do just that to know it too. I take scowl.

“Do you want me to put my laptop bag into my tote? It will fit but it will just take up time”. I had actually thought this through before entering the security area. Since getting my laptop out of an overloaded tote to put on the scanning belt would be a great deal of trouble I had figured it would be easier to not pack it in the first place.

“You see the sign?” (she points through a crowd of people to another post with a pealing notice from the TSA, presumably telling me I could only carry 2 articles of carry-on on board with me.) Deciding that pointing out the sign’s hidden location would be petty I said,

“Yes, but my laptop will fit in this bag.” I smile, trying to be ingratiating as I got irritated,

“You see the sign? Two items *only*” She has now come out from around her podium to glower at me.

“So you want me to unpack and repack my bag right here?” I asked. Ok, I was peeved and probably sounded it but I was hoping she would see the light of smooth traffic flow and let me through.

“Only two item per passenger.”

“Ok then.” So I proceed to sit down in the middle of her isle and start unpacking my entire bag. It was full to the brim with things I needed for college and I couldn’t just lay my laptop on top.

Then I have an idea.

“May I have your name please?” I ask her.

“What? Why?”

“My name is Jessica. What is your name?” She is standing over me and I peer at her dangling name-tag. “Os—” It looked Japanese but I was having trouble memorizing it.

At this point her hand flew to cover her badge, as she glanced down to make sure she was concealing her name fully.

“Why do you need to know?”

“I am just curious. May I have your name?”

“No.” She stared at me, with a look between a glare and wide-eyed panic. Shuffled behind her podium, now fully obscuring her name from my view.

“Why won’t you tell me your name?” By this time I was standing, because I just don’t like being stood over.

She stared straight ahead and completely ignored me. I sat back down to finish repacking my bag.

A PrimeFlight rep who was directing passengers to checkers says,

“Linda, you still open?”

She nods and another passenger walks up. Also carrying 3 bags. And again Linda repeated “Only two items per passenger”. And the other woman, a little older than me and much more over packed, sits down in the aisle next to me to unpack her bag. I starting talking with her as I refill my bag, saying she wouldn’t tell me her name and how silly it was to repack bags which obviously could fit within each other. I was mostly being polite since the other woman’s three bags were truly each packed to capacity and would probably inconvenience somebody on her trip. Linda continued to check Ids while we sat in her aisle repacking. Once I was done I got up and left.

And that was a big mistake.

As I went through security I casually complained to the TSA officer who was helping load my stuff into the X-Ray machine. I have found that being nice and chatty gets me more information and makes me feel better about the entire process. He nods, smiling and wowing at the oddness of her behavior. After having passed through the metal detector ( I was not poofed on this occasion) I asked the next man behind the conveyor belt if there was anyone I could talk to about her bahavior. I was not interested in complaining I said, but I just wanted to find out her name.

Now I probably sound like some kind of creep, harassing random strangers to give me their names. But part of me feels that if my personal information (state of origin; full name; ID number; address; sex; hair color; eye color; height; age; and that eternal global embarrassment, weight) is to be perused by someone not of my choosing who has control over when and how I get to college, and *who has no immediate government oversight* I should be able to get a name. My Name is Jessica; What is Your Name?

I end up talking to the TSA manager in that section. I explain the situation. He is courteous and repeats that I could only have two bags. I say I am not really seeking to complain, I just want to know her name. I ask who I could ask for her name. He says he has no idea and I should check with my airline as TSA had no oversight over the third party ID checkers. He also says TSA will be taking over ticket-checking in about a month.

And that it was her right to refuse to tell me her name.

I thought about that as I walked away. I know I have a right to not tell anyone my religion, to not tell anyone my political stance, but private employees in an ostensibly customer-service based industry having a right to not tell me their names? I am a great lover of anonymity, but something rings wrong for me when a “right” is used to hide from responsibility. What is it curmudgeons always say, “the right of free speech is not a right to be free from the consequences of your speech?” I am still not sure how I feel about someone who is being paid to interact with me having a “right” to refuse to identify themselves in any way.

As soon as I get to the United Airways desk I wait in line for the attendant. When he returns I ask who I can talk to about an employee of PrimeFlight. He says he has no idea. They are a separate company. I point out that United Airways contracts out to them. He counters that *everyone* in this terminal contracts out to them, a fact I knew. I ask if there is no number, no web address, no internal office I can go to to find out who was that woman? He says I should have asked her manager while I was there. I point out I was being serious encouraged to keep moving. He shrugs.

And so I am blogging about it.

Inspirational joke of the day:

A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons.

The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.

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