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“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will”*…

 

Woodcut engraving from the mid-16th century depicting the process of distilling essential oils from plants with a conical condenser

Since ancient times, people have felt that eliminating the foul odors of human bodies and effluvia is an effective– indeed, in some times and cultures, the most effective–  way to improve public health.

Consider the sweet, intoxicating smell of a rose: While it might seem superficial, the bloom’s lovely odor is actually an evolutionary tactic meant to ensure the plant’s survival by attracting pollinators from miles away. Since ancient times, the rose’s aroma has also drawn people under its spell, becoming one of the most popular extracts for manufactured fragrances. Although the function of these artificial scents has varied widely—from incense for spiritual ceremonies to perfumes for fighting illness to products for enhancing sex appeal—they’ve all emphasized a connection between good smells and good health, whether in the context of religious salvation or physical hygiene.

Over the last few millennia, as scientific knowledge and social norms have fluctuated, what Westerners considered smelling “good” has changed drastically: In today’s highly deodorized world, where the notion of “chemical sensitivity” justifies bans on fragrance and our tolerance of natural smells is ever diminishing, we assume that to be without smell is to be clean, wholesome, and pure. But throughout the long and pungent history of humanity, smelling healthy has been as delightful as it has disgusting…

The whole stinky story at “Our Pungent History: Sweat, Perfume, and the Scent of Death.”

* Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer [an amazingly good novel]

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As we hold our noses, we might spare a thought for Sir Joseph William Bazalgette; he died on this date in 1891.  A civil engineer, he became chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, in which role his major achievement was a response to the “Great Stink of 1858,” in July and August 1858, during which very hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent.  Bazalgette oversaw the creation of a sewer network for central London which addressed the problem– and was instrumental in relieving the city from cholera epidemics and in beginning the cleansing of the River Thames.

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Written by LW

March 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be”*…

 

Concave drawing of the Getty gardens

 

David Hockney has famously pondered perspective in his work; when criticized for a lack of “reality,” he’s observed,

Cubism was an attack on the perspective that had been known and used for 500 years. It was the first big, big change. It confused people: they said, ‘Things don’t look like that!’

The twin brothers Ryan and Trevor Oakes share his adventurousness in seeing in the artwork that they create together.

As children in the back seat, Trevor and Ryan Oakes noticed that when they focused on the horizon, bugs on the windshield seemed to split in two. Twenty-odd years later these identical twins are still investigating the intricacies of visual perception. This show pulls back the curtain on a decade of their optical obsession. To avoid the distortions that occur when the world is traced onto a flat canvas, the twins have built a concave metal easel that allows them to sketch directly onto the inside of a sphere. Rather than using lenses or mirrors to project an image onto canvas, as the Renaissance masters did, the twins have devised an ultra-low-tech method for sketching from life: they cross their eyes until an object floats onto their paper’s edge — and then they trace it. Visitors can marvel at the plaster helmet (dubbed an “optical cockpit” by Lawrence Weschler) where the twins have spent hours with their eyes out of stereo alignment [cross-eyed], reproducing skylines and courtyards into curved paper with a supernatural sense of depth and perspective. During the exhibition, the twins will haul their curved easel outside the museum to trace the Flatiron building with their cross-eyed technique. “Our subject matter is as much an eye looking as the thing being looked at,” said Trevor. Ryan added, “We’re dissecting what it feels like to have two eyes.”

See more, learn more at OakesOakes.

[TotH to @MartyKrasney]

* George Carlin

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As we focus on the tips of our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1880 that the City of Memphis, Tennessee began construction of the first independent municipal sewage system in the U.S.  Independent sewer systems had been introduced in 25 years earlier in England; but American engineers at the time, still favored “combined” systems, in which storm water and sewage were handled in the same large pipes.  Memphis was the first U.S. municipal system to forgo the benefits of the natural “flushing” provided by rain water, opting for smaller, dedicated pipes.

Memphis suffered through several severe plagues of cholera (1873) and yellow fever (1878 and 1879) — over 10,000 lives were lost. The city recognized the need to get their sanitary sewage away from their water sources (then, primarily small private wells), even though the final decision was erroneously based on the belief that yellow fever was being caused by inadequate sanitation practices. The city and the state legislature tried to raise monies; the efforts gained some of the money they thought would be needed for a new sewer system — but not a lot.

The situation in Memphis aroused the sympathy of the nation and was largely responsible for the creation of the National Board of Health. The Board retained and sent Col. George E. Waring, Jr., [who had gained notoriety draining Central Park] to Memphis. He designed what he thought was a system Memphis could afford, but also one he felt would work: a separate system using 6″ diameter laterals, with sewers with 112-gallon flush-tank mechanisms placed at the upstream terminal end of each of the lateral (collector) sewer runs — to be flushed once every 24 hours. The house connection sewers were 4″ diameter. Both vertical and horizontal changes of alignment were routinely done along the long runs of manhole-less gravity sewer mains. No more than 300 homes were to be connected to each 6″ main. No rain water was to be made tributary to these sewers and the sewer system was to be vented through the soil pipe plumbing system in each house..

SewerHistory.org

Col. George E. Waring, Jr.

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Written by LW

January 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

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