Engineering Advice for the Star Wars Dark Side

I’ve just seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I really have some questions for the Dark Side about how they construct their bases. Look, I like science fiction and fantasy. I am willing to look over the fact that the Laws of Thermodynamics and the Laws of Physics are routinely violated. What I have trouble overlooking is that the Dark Side designs their bases in bizarrely unsafe and inexplicably useless ways.

Let’s ignore the fact that the Dark Side is completely incapable of learning from its mistakes. It’s called redundancy by design. Your enemy should not be able to find one thing to destroy and take down the entire base. So stop putting the same flaws in base designs. Also, for goodness sakes, get better computer network security.

No, what I really want to talk about are the catwalks. The Dark Side has completely inexplicable, unsafe catwalks installed in their bases. I am ignoring the huge, unused, exists-for-no-reason chasms that always seem to be in the bases. Most bases are about using all the space they have. Good to know the Dark Side has space to waste. Anyway, those chasms always seem to have one or possibly two catwalks. The catwalks don’t seem to exist for productive reasons because if so, there would not just be one when the chasm is something like 50 stories high. You would want to move people or things on more than one level. Also, the catwalks are about the width of one person. They never seem to be wide enough for two people to pass. That is fairly stupid design. If it was a narrow chasm, then that might make sense, but when the chasm is a hundred times bigger than the catwalk, surely you can make the catwalk a little wider.

Now let’s talk safety. Yes, I get it. These are bases, so they are not designed for children, disabled, or comfort. That doesn’t mean you can’t have handrails, safety rails, safety cages for your wall ladders, etc. Safety is not just to protect stupid people, although that at times is a big part. People trip. People are holding something (like a prisoner, say) and can’t completely see where they are going. Don’t try to tell me survival of the fittest. From what I can tell, the Dark Side seems to most appreciate Storm Troopers who just follow orders and don’t think for themselves. They are prime candidates for people who need safety rails. People who blindly follow orders are prime for lemming-like activities. [Although lemmings don’t actually do that mass suicide thing that many people think they do, but I regress.]

If you have the resources to build the most amazingly large and destructive bases in the universe, then you have the resources to put in proper safety rails and catwalks wide enough for two people to pass.

Is there an Intergalactic Building Code? Does the Dark Side follow it? Does the Dark Side have licensed Professional Engineers? How did they get building permits? Were there inspections? Does the Dark Side have any common sense? Any engineer who approved these designs should have the license revoked. Any organization that can’t learn from its mistakes to deserve to have their stuff destroyed over and over again.

One more thing I have to say as an environmental engineer. Has the Dark Side heard of recycling? I don’t just mean because it is good for the environment. I mean why waste perfectly good resources, like I don’t know all the leftover resources on a crashed battleship? Use old resources when rebuilding, especially when you keep rebuilding the same thing over and over again.

Half Bathroom Renovation Finished

I have finished renovating the half bathroom! It is pretty much the last room in the house that needed renovation. [I say pretty much because I still have a few projects I want to do in the laundry area and storage room.] The plumber installed a new toilet and also the vanity. I bought a vanity that came with a white glass countertop, a white ceramic vessel sink, and a matching mirror. All it needed was the faucet. I installed a new three-bulb vanity light and also replaced the outlet and wall switches for new white ones. I also installed two glass shelves above the toilet. Finally I replaced the door hinges and door knob with hinges and a lever that match the rest of the house.

Full view of half bathroom

Full view of half bathroom

New toilet

New toilet

New vanity and matching mirror

New vanity and matching mirror

New vanity with vessel sink

New vanity with vessel sink

New glass shelves, mirror, and vanity light

New glass shelves, mirror, and vanity light

Big Maze

I went with some friends to see the Big Maze at the National Building Museum this weekend. The maze is giant, square, wood and plywood structure that is highest at the outer corners, about 18 feet. The walls then slope downward towards the center. Like any good maze, there are all these twists, turns, and dead ends. There is one incredibly long dead end, but most of the turns are much shorter. The maze also has an incredible effect of turning everyone, ok me, into a five year old upon entering. It is really fun to go through it.

The structure is also interesting as placed inside the museum. The museum’s structure is what I would call a classical, somewhat Roman design. It kind of felt like the maze was in the Coliseum, and Roman spectators should be standing on the second and third floor watching gladiators go through the maze. Perhaps I just have a weird imagination.

View from 3rd floor

View from 3rd floor

View from 3rd floor

View from 3rd floor

View from 2nd floor

View from 2nd floor

View from 2nd floor

View from 2nd floor

Maze pattern as seen from above

Maze pattern as seen from above

Maze pattern as seen from above

Maze pattern as seen from above

View from middle of maze

View from middle of maze

Bad Restroom Design Example

Some time ago, I wrote about female public restroom design basics. I am so tired of walking into badly designed female restrooms, and I wanted to give a primer to what women in need in a public restroom. We don’t need fancy. We need functional. Based on the comments to my post and also one of the most hilarious Twitter discussions I have ever had, men’s restrooms are badly designed also.

Last month one day, I was working in an office building that was not the one in which I normally work. It was an older building. I won’t say which office building it was, but it was in Washington, D.C. It was the perfect example of bad public restroom design. It was the perfect example of not updating elements that could be easily updated. Thus, of course, I had to take photos and share with everyone why it is a perfect example of bad restroom design.

Toilet stall so short, one must climb on the the toilet to close the door

Toilet stall so short, one must climb on the the toilet to close the door

First, it had toilet stalls so short, a woman has to either stand on the toilet or squeezed in between the toilet and the stall wall to close the door. I still don’t understand how the original designers just can’t understand door swing distance and the area of a human footprint needed to be in stall length calculations.

The sinks: 3 sinks with separate hot and cold water faucets and 2 working soap dispensers at the ends

The sinks: 3 sinks with separate hot and cold water faucets and 2 working soap dispensers at the ends

Then it had three sinks with only two soap dispensers, both of which were on the far ends of the sink areas. Thus, a person who uses the middle sink needs to either go to the end or reach across another sink to get soap. In defense of the original design, each sink did originally have a soap dispenser above each, but those are now non-functional. Instead of replacing the non-functional soap dispensers, they just put new ones at the end. It should be noted that by either changing the mirror or finding a smaller soap dispenser, the middle sink could have its own soap dispenser. Thus, the renovators of this bathroom do not get an excuse for the soap dispenser stupidness.

Next, also shown in the above photo, there are separate cold and hot water faucets. I am not sure if separate faucets originated before mixing valves were created, but that is the only reason I can think for their existence. However mixing valves exist now, and thus there is no point to the continued existence of separate hot and cold water faucets in a public restroom sink where a person is never going to be filling the sink with water to then wash their hands in the water filled sink. While it would obviously require taking out the sink and faucets, to change the plumbing to include a mixing valve, it could be done. Depending on the piping, it is possible it would require taking out some tile to change the plumbing, but it could be done, and it is not a massive renovation, and it would make the sinks so much more functional.

The inexplicable couch

The inexplicable couch

Finally, the restroom had a couch. Old buildings always seem to have couches in the female restrooms. Because women often get the vapors and need a lie down while we clutch our pearls until some savior arrives with smelling salts. Or something like that. Could you lie down on most of these couches? No, they are generally love seats. Would I lie down on any of these couches? No, I would never even touch most of these couches. But it fills the space, which seems to be only point of these couches.

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

While visiting Old Montreal, we visited the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal (Notre-Dame Basilica). In my opinion, while the outside is pretty, the outside is somewhat deceptively plain compared to the beauty inside. The inside is gorgeous. There is just amazingly detailed decoration everywhere. There is beautiful wood, gilding, colors, paintings, stained glass, statues, and more. You name it; it is there. Much of the detailed decoration on the walls and ceilings is really well done trompe l’oeil. Then behind the church is the chapel, which has a sort of gilded modern decoration. While the church is bathed in a blue light, the chapel is bathed in a gold light. The builders and artists who built and decorated the basilica really did any amazing job.

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, looking towards alter

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, looking towards alter

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, looking towards organ

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, looking towards organ

sanctuary

sanctuary

top of alter

top of alter

wall behind alter

wall behind alter

alter statue

alter statue

Pulpit

Pulpit

confessional

confessional

Alter on side of the church

Alter on side of the church

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal Chapel

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal Chapel

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal Chapel

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal Chapel

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal Chapel

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal Chapel

When an engineer gets to comment on building maintenance

One nice thing about where I work is that we get to fill out surveys about how we like the building we work in and comment on it. I have my doubts about how much they act on the survey results, or how much they pay attention to the comments if an employee bothers to give comments, but hey, it’s a great place to vent. I actually for the most part like my building. It is relatively new and doesn’t have the problems that many older buildings that my employer has has. It is kept clean and and looks nice. One big problem I have with it is the same that I have with almost every other office building: the temperature is set at a temperature that is comfortable for men not women. By about 11 am, once the HVAC has fully gotten the ambient air to the set point (as opposed to earlier in the day when it is ramping up after having been off during the night), the vast majority of women are walking around in sweaters, jackets, or blankets that all of us keep at our desk. [Spoiler: When I rule the world, I will dictate two things. Office buildings will be set at temperatures that are comfortable to women, not men. Also, public restrooms will be designed better. In particular, the stalls will be longer so that women don’t have to climb on the toilet to close the stall door. Truthfully there are many things that need to be improved in public restrooms, most of which I and many other people have covered is this somewhat comical, somewhat serious past blog post.] However, the building I work in has some of the worst plumbing issues I have ever seen, especially for a building that is less than ten years old. Ironically it has LEED certification, but whoever certifies it appears to ignore the obvious water wasting issues it has, as I detail below. I’ve decided to share below the comments I gave in the building survey, not because it will really accomplish anything, just as a way to vent and possibly to serve as a warning why if you let an engineer comment on a building with design and maintenance issues, you may get more than you wanted. Thus, my full comments are as follows.

With all the dual flush toilets, only one flush button actually works. With some toilets it is the half flush button, with some the full flush button. However whether or not the working button is actually whichever button it appears to be is unclear, or if they have possibly all been disabled and all converted to full flush. They constantly run. Almost every time I enter a restroom, I have to push the flush button on at least one toilet to get it to stop running. The restroom auto soap and water sinks are like sink roulette. Which sink will give me soap? Which sink will not continuously squirt soap at me? Which sink will give me water? It takes forever to get repairs done on issues in the pantry/kitchens. It took them two weeks or so to put a new aerator in the sink faucet. A part that can be bought at any time at Home Depot. It is not special. Maintenance blames pantry sink issues on reasons that are not the problem. On numerous occasions, water has come bubbling up from the drain pipes into the sink. Sometimes so much water has bubbled up that the sink has overflowed with disgusting brown wastewater. Then maintenance posts signs saying not to put coffee grounds down the drain as that caused issue. While coffee grounds will cause a sink with a bad garbage disposal to not allow the sink to drain (and putting coffee grounds down the drain is a bad idea), it will not cause water to flow up from pipes below. (I’m a chemical engineer I can prove this with fluid dynamics equations!) There is obviously some issue with the drain pipes below our floor, which any competent plumber or chemical engineer could tell you.

While there was no place to attach photos or videos, below is a photo of the backed up kitchen sink and video of it overflowing.

My office's pantry/kitchen sink when it was backed up and overflowing with wastewater. Photo was taken 1/8/2013.

My office’s pantry/kitchen sink when it was backed up and overflowing with wastewater. Photo and below video was taken 1/8/2013.

Burlington Houses

While I spent much of my time walking around Burlington, Vermont, in the downtown area, I also spent a good deal of time walking around some of the residential neighborhoods. Burlington has some historic, large, gorgeous houses, and many of them are painted in various, traditional colorful schemes. However, Burlington also has plenty of not quite as old, not quite as nice houses painted in not quite so traditional colors. Some of them are painted in almost blindingly bright color schemes, and I loved them. They are not traditional at all, but in my opinion, they are completely fun. I don’t even like some of the color schemes, but I love that someone cares enough about the house and what it looks like to paint it something other than all white.

The day that I spent much of my time photographing these houses, I walked into the Fletcher Free Library. While I was admiring the architecture of the old section of the building, Lorrie, one of the library workers asked me if I was enjoying the architecture. We had a lovely conversation about the library, Burlington, and Burlington’s houses. It turns out she knows the owner of many of the colorful houses that I was admiring. You have to love small towns, because of course I would run into someone who knows the owner of many of the houses. According to her, Stu lives in the brick house with purple trim that is situated between the two purple-painted wooden houses, and he has the purple Camino. These were some of the houses that I was admiring the most, especially since they featured the color coordinated purple car in-between them. Also, his brick house has a duck family walking on the ceiling of the entry porch because of course it does. He and his wife own and rent many of the bright houses, and he paints them that way just because he likes it and doesn’t care what others think. Stu, I am an admirer of your work. I don’t like all the color schemes, but I love that you painted them that way.

Post has been edited to correct the spelling of Lorrie’s name. Thank you Stu for the correction, and thank you for your comment!

lavender houseblue and orange house blue duplex brick and purple trim

purple house and camino

clay color house fancy blue house fancy cream hosue green and creme hosue lime green store orange and purple houses pink and red house primary color apartments purple and blue houses sage green house sunset trim wood and metal house yellow houseWell played Benjamin Moore, well played.

Benjamin Moore

Reykjavik’s Harpa

Every so often I encounter something that as a photographer I become completely obsessed with and can’t stop taking photos of. Recently, it was a glacier that I hiked. Sometimes it has been a building of very unique design. Reykjavik’s Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is one building I became obsessed with while in Iceland. While walking around Reykjavik, I took a few photos from the exterior, and then I went inside and took many, many more. It is a real interesting building of unique design, and it is a fantastic subject for photography.

Harpa

Harpa

Harpa wall from exterior

Harpa wall from exterior

Harpa wall from exterior

Harpa wall from exterior

Harpa wall from exterior

Harpa wall from exterior

Harpa wall from interior

Harpa wall from interior

Harpa wall and ceiling from interior

Harpa wall and ceiling from interior

Harpa walls from interior

Harpa walls from interior

Harpa wall from interior

Harpa wall from interior

Harpa wall from interior

Harpa wall from interior

Harpa wall from interior

Harpa wall from interior

Harpa wall and ceiling from interior

Harpa wall and ceiling from interior

Harpa wall from interior

Harpa wall from interior

Master Bathroom Renovation Is Finished!

The master bathroom renovation is finally completely finished. The bathroom is small, but it has all the features I need and want. It is functional, and I love it. I previously wrote about the cabinets, but the final piece, an open shelving unit that sits on top of the countertop has been installed. All the cabinetry is from Tuscan Hills, and while most of it is standard cabinetry, some of it, especially the false bottom of the wall cabinet for access to the bath mechanics is custom. The tub is an MTI Andrea 14, and I must admit, after having taken a bath in it, it is even bigger than I realized, but it has whirlpool jets and air bubblers and is quite lovely in which to soak. I used frameless glass for the shower and simple, clear glass vessel sinks, so that visually they take up as little space as possible. I previously wrote and posted more detailed photos of the shower, so I am not posting too many here. The plumbing fixtures are all Grohe’s Atrio line. I used Moen’s Iso line for the towel bars and rings, robe hooks, and toilet paper holder, and I used Thomas Lighting’s Pittman fixtures for the vanity lights and wall sconces in the water closet.

Newly renovated master bathroom

Newly renovated master bathroom

Shower

Shower

Tub

Tub

Wall cabinet next to the tub

Wall cabinet next to the tub

Water closet

Water closet

Vanity

Vanity

Vanity

Vanity

Open shelves on the vanity

Open shelves on the vanity

One of the sink areas

One of the sink areas

Vanity faucet

Vanity faucet

Vanity lights

Vanity lights

Radiant Heat Installation

After the master bathroom framing was completed, the plumber installed the bathtub and the shower liner and drain. Then I was able to install the radiant heat. The electrician then came to connect the radiant heat wiring, and then I was able to get all the concealment inspections done. I am so happy the renovation is really starting to progress. On a side note, the plumber poured water into both the bathtub and shower liner to test that neither leaked and left it in there for the inspection. While the inspector was here, Ferdinand the basset hound came in, found the water in the shower liner, and proceeded to drink said water. He then came back several times later while there was still some water left to drink. He has deemed it a fine water bowl.

Laying the radiant heat was fairly easy. It comes in a roll, so all I had to do was unroll it and cut the mesh in places to make turns. Figuring out the turns was a bit of a geometry problem. It is only laid where a person will actually walk and not under the cabinetry. I bought a programmable thermostat for my radiant heat, so I can have it automatically heat up in the morning before I wake. It will be so nice in the winter. Because of the thermostat, there is a sensor that sits in between the electric wire to detect the temperature on the floor. It will also be covered by mortar and tile like the heating wire. One minor problem I had was that the wire that connects the radiant heat coils to the thermostat is rather thick, too thick to be buried in the mortar. I finally bored a canal of sorts for it in the Hardi backer board that serves as a subfloor. Now it lays flat, or at least does not pop up any farther than the radiant heat coils.

Radiant heat installed down walkway but not where vanity will be on right.

Radiant heat installed down walkway but not where vanity will be on right.

Radiant heat installed down walkway. Tub and shower liner have been installed.

Radiant heat installed down walkway. Tub and shower liner have been installed.

Radiant heat installed down walkway but not where toilet will be.

Radiant heat installed down walkway but not where toilet will be in background.

Radiant heat installed down walkway.

Radiant heat installed down walkway.

Sensor lays within radiant heat to detect temperature.

Sensor lays within radiant heat to detect temperature.

Wiring connecting the radiant heat to the thermostat in wall. I bored a canal for it to lay flat.

Wiring connecting the radiant heat to the thermostat in wall. I bored a canal for it to lay flat.

Radiant heat wiring connected to where thermostat will be in wall.

Radiant heat wiring connected to where thermostat will be in wall.