Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Midnight in military ruins.

So Saturday night, my friend Tom and I decide to head over to the old Nike missile base, located on the Sandy Hook peninsula. This base was decomissioned in the 70's and has since been spiraling into an increasingly-decrepit state. While the majority of the land surrounding the base has been turned into a national recreation area and beach, the military history has been predominantly overrun by shrubs and debris.

Tom has spent the last year or so working as an intern for the historical preservation part of the park, and he has been involved with the reconditioning of these bases for tours and posterity. He has a key to get into all the old buildings, and he knows them better than anyone I know, so he's the perfect tourguide for a midnight adventure like this. With a strong south-easterly wind and rain approaching, we began to hike our bundled selves into the base.

Keep in mind, I love all these old buildings. The architecture of the Army Corps of Engineers isn't flashy or trendy, but it's certainly damn cool. The buildings are very daunting to look at, especially at night, and the layout makes them extremely fun to explore. Most people get really concerned at this point and begin to warn us of collapsing ceilings, weak floors, and drainage holes that will swallow people and cause massive injuries.

Come on. If it were perfectly safe, where would the excitement be?

The buildings we visited on Saturday are, for the most part, very well preserved inside. Most of the bathroom fixtures are still hanging, most buildings still have all their walls intact, and if you ignore the asbestos floor tiles and pipe insulation, it could almost pass for a modern (albeit messy-as-hell) establishment. None of the warnings passed on by wise old people really seemed to hold much bearing. In fact, I'd trust the remnants of some of these buildings more than I'd trust some houses I've been in.

This one communications trailer we explored still had many of its original circuit breaker panels intact, so by nature I felt compelled to flip a few back and forth. Just for the hell of it. Not that anything could have happened; these things haven't been powered in decades. And it's that last part, the length that they've been without power, that surprised me the most about my next discovery. In the breaker box I was playing with, one of the breakers was tripped.


This probably doesn't mean anything to 99.99730% of the people out there. But to me, I find it fascinating that something happened 30, 40 years ago to cause this breaker to trip, and it's been like that ever since. This isn't something that can happen on its own. Someone shorted something, or was careless in packing up equipment, and this breaker has been tripped since then. It's like walking in on someone's unfinished story from forty years ago.

So, partly out of reverence to the past history of this place, and partly because I wanted to see if the damn thing still worked, I reset it, and restored it to its 'on' position.

For me, this was the most outstanding thing of the night. It was almost like being part of a historical event, touching something that had once been significant decades ago. Sure, you can look around and see plenty of antique paneling and office furniture, but who knows how that got to be where it is. The only thing with a definite history to it is this little circuit breaker - a minor historical event between only myself and the person responsible for it, back when the place was still an active military base.

I'd be surprised if anyone out there appreciates this as much as me...sorry if that was an anticlimactic end. I promise future stories will be more exciting.

But I still think it's pretty cool.

Monday, November 29, 2004


First and foremost, I am a hopeless nerd.

I study mechanical engineering, but that isn't the defining characteristic here. I like computers, I've done my fair share of hacking, I think my calculator is really cool, and I can remember the very first time I completed an electical circuit that did something, with a switch, two C batteries, and a small lightbulb. All that is well and good, but there's something else too.

See, this stuff I study here in school, I live this stuff. And therein lies the problem.

I drive down a road, and everything I see becomes a study in design and engineering. That traffic light post there? I wonder how thick it is. I wonder how much wind it was designed to withstand before it falls over. I wonder about how it's bolted to the ground, and how deep the concrete base goes. And this isn't even trying - these thoughts all occur within the space of a few seconds.

To those of you who know Bijan Sepahpour - yes, I was thinking of these things well before he brought up this example in class.

Perhaps you can kind of see where I'm going with this. I guess I'm in a fortunate position where I actually like most of the things I learn about. To the extent that I actually think about and apply these things in my free time. To put it bluntly, I'm fascinated by engineering and all that it entails.

So, since you've gotten this far, allow me a few more sentences. The point of this blog, not that it really matters to anyone other than myself, is to share the more interesting observations that I have. Things that are out-of-the-ordinary, that I think are especially salient or just kinda cool. I'll attempt to minimize the technobabble and jargon so that people outside my general sphere of information can sort of understand what I'm trying to say, but also to keep it light enough that those of you studying this stuff aren't too burnt out to maybe enjoy it as well.

I'll close with this: I can't help the way I think. I can't choose to ignore these things any more than you could choose at any given moment to simply forget your own name. It's a function of my education, my upbringing, and my outlook on life as a whole.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.