Sunday, October 16, 2011

HV/AC Memo

HV/AC Memo
By Bobby Neal Winters
We are now in mid-October.  Summer has spent itself in an orgy of sunburned earth and seared grass, but winter with its cold rain, darkness, and snow is not yet upon us.  We are in a time of year when the weather is rather home.
At the university, by way of contrast, this has traditionally been a time of crisis.  Operating the HV/AC systems in large, institutional type buildings is quite a challenge.  It is a subject about which there are things to be known: beautiful things, difficult things, things about gages and air flow and all sorts of stuff.  It is an area wherein the objective, immutable facts of physics come into contact--nay conflict--the subjective area of human comfort.  
Think about it.  In any given building, you might have huge lecture halls and tiny offices; you might have young men coming in at six feet eight inches, three hundred pounds and women whose gross weight is no more than 75 pounds and don’t break 60 inches in height.
No matter how you slice it, someone is going to be uncomfortable.  
Now consider the situation that a large number of these people have been trained--indeed have doctorates--in being critical.  
In this crucible, it is clear that October (and March by way of symmetry) is not going to be a happy month for the folks who run the heating and air-conditioning on campus.
Over the last 22 years that I’ve been on campus, each October there has been a communication sent out to the citizens of campus: administrators, faculty, secretaries, coaches, custodians, and groundskeepers.  First it went out by campus mail with blue ink on white paper, rolled out of a ditto machine; then in black and white; then by e-mail.  It is a document that carries more meaning than its mere words convey and has survived through several changes of personnel and has accreted nuance as the years passed.  One semester  they didn’t send it out and the next semester, it was out all the earlier.  It’s like the Bible; it is a document unto itself.  
While, I will not reproduce it here, its main points are as follows:
  1. We are turning off the air-conditioner;
  2. At some time we will be turning on the heat;
  3. There will be hot days after the air-conditioner is off;
  4. There will be cold days before the heat is on;
  5. At some point you will be miserable.
  7. Does this look easy?
  8. Do YOU want THIS JOB?
  9. Yeah, YOU!
  10. This job would eat you up and spit you out you candy-a**ed bookworm.
  11. If you are cold, you might want to dress decently for a change and not like some over-the-hill hooker.
  12. If you are hot, bring in a stinking electric fan and maybe think about losing some weight.
  13. Did you ever think of anyone besides yourself?
  14. Did you ever think of sending a thank you card for the ten months out of the year you are comfortable?
  15. Do I look like your mother?  
  16. I hope you treat her better than you do me.

I may be over-reading the subtext here.
In any case, I am getting worried because it hasn’t come out.  In recent years, there has been some modernization in our HV/AC systems. We’ve put in some new windows.  We’ve generally become more sustainable.  It may be the case that they’ve figured out a way to take us through the transition seamlessly.  If that is so, I will miss the memo.  It meant a lot to me.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Charcoal Grill/Gas Grill Paradigm Shift

The Charcoal Grill/Gas Grill Paradigm Shift

By Bobby Neal Winters
I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern, middle-class, small-town, quasi-suburban lifestyle.  I am hung in the middle between professional university administrator and country boy. This means I still don’t water the lawn, but I don’t hang a snake on the fence to make it rain either. Mainly that’s because I haven’t killed any snakes in the yard lately, but no matter, you get my meaning.
Daddy did not charcoal.  The one time Daddy did any cooking outside, he hauled up a bunch of limbs in the yard, made a bonfire, and we had a weenie roast.  We didn’t use coat hangers for the hot dogs, instead we sharpened tree limbs.  It left a big, black, dead spot in the yard that reminded us of the cook out for years to come.
Daddy didn’t even cook out doors much on camping trips because he didn’t take us camping.  He’d grown up in a house with a dirt floor.  When the family got a house with a wood floor, it wasn’t big enough for all the kids, so the boys slept in the cellar.  This didn’t change until 1942 when Daddy was drafted into the army where he got his fill of camping.  
He took us camping exactly once.  He made a fire of limbs and boiled coffee in the bottom of a coffee can.  Whenever I tell this in front of a group, invariably there is one guy who pops up.
“Oh, yes, I’ve done that.  It’s not bad.  You put an egg in it to settle the grounds.”
Sorry, fellow, no egg for us.  You can pick most of the grounds out with your fingers and the rest will eventually work their way out from between your teeth on there own.
There is a verse in the Bible describing Jacob and Esau: The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. I figure after his time in the out of doors, Daddy wanted to follow Jacob’s example.
All of this to say, that I had to come up with the cooking out of door stuff from other sources.
Back when Jean and I first married, her folks had got us a Coleman stove for camping.  We lived in student housing on the OSU campus, and we used it to make blackened chicken.  We couldn’t make it in doors or it would set the smoke alarm off, so I set up the Coleman stove on the gate of my old Ford pickup and cooked it outside.
Eventually, we got a habachi and then gradually worked out way up until I got a grill big enough that I could put a whole sack of charcoal in at one time.  My friend Mikey gave me one of those chimneys to start coals in and I thought I was something.  It only took about an hour to get my coals going and then about 20 minutes to cook.
Damn!  I was there.
Then a month or so back we did a cook out and I discovered my coal pan had rusted through.  Well, no problem, I thought.  Just go to Home Depot and buy a replacement when I need it.
Jean mentioned this to me last week because Lydia’s birthday is coming up, and she wanted hot dogs for her friends.  So I made the Home Depot trip last Saturday.
Those of you who are wise to the ways of the world are a step ahead of me.  They don’t sell replacement charcoal pans anymore--if they ever did.  I found myself at Home Depot in the barbecue section at the end of the barbecue season.  There around me were gas grills marked to sell.
What to do, what to do?
I bought a gas grill and spent some quality time in the out of doors putting it together.  On Sunday, I turned on the gas, pressed a button, and had fire.  Ten minutes later there were hot dogs.
Daddy would be proud.