as if we were free

August 23, 2009 at 9:46 pm (community, complex pleasures, mechanical engineering, out and about, queer, travel)

one of the things i got to do overseas that i haven’t for ages, was performance. in berlin i joined in a drag king performance at the very last minute, apparently there was footage filmed but i haven’t seen it. i also read out a poem. it was translated from slovenian and it took a lot of editing before it was readable, i only got the printout a day before, and i spent all that time walking around berlin, overshooting my destinations as i read bits out loud, gesturing the emphases with a red pen in hand. noone thought to mention that i’d be juggling a microphone too. five minutes before the show i find out that the translation was done by one of my new friends, and she didn’t like my editing, but she ended up agreeing that i had as much right as her to interpret a translation. and besides, it was about to start. here is the version i read, more or less.

As if we were free
Urška Strle

Somewhere in the centre of the small neglected town, which is, at the same time the capital of some small but relaxed East European state, in a newly cobble embellished street in the inner city centre where they just closed two pubs and a bookstore, I have met a man who ordered himself Culture as if he were ordering coffee with milk.

I have to confess, the cobbles are perfectly laid down, all the gaps are carefully clogged with quartz sand, and at the edge it is possible to recognise a slightly rounded pattern. In short, the street of some small neglected town, which is at the same time the capital of some small, cramped, and relaxed South European state, looks like the idyllic image on an old postcard.

Old bakeries arise in all parts of the town like mushrooms after the rain, as if they had decided one day and achingly wrested themselves out from old corner houses where they had modestly waited for decades unnoticed for their grand arrival, and which, on their frontage proudly show the inscription “Old Bakery”, which even more contributes to this idyllic look. I guess I’ve hurried past them for years and years without even noticing. I’ve walked past exactly this old bakery on the corner of this small idyllic street with carefully laid cobbles in the centre of some small neglected town and so on and so forth.

Suddenly an unbearable paranoia came over me, I got the feeling that somewhere out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of crinoline, and suspiciously I glanced towards the boys in white shirts with black bowties who were picking up the garbage. It appeared to me that time is curving itself as to the pattern of the new cobbles and that we will all find ourselves on that everlasting postcard from the end of the 19th century. Hastily I dashed towards the closest boy, that is, to the left edge, I ripped myself through the yellowish cardboard, and with a crash I landed in front of the doors to the pub which had, in the meantime, already disappeared in another reality.

To eat in this slovenly pub, which displayed insignia as a rallying point for all the enthusiasts of the sautéed potato, was akin to some special kind of masochism. Gnocchi Bolognese turned into spaghetti with tomato sauce, omelette with ham and cheese always remained without the latter two. The bills would be circulating around, they would be counted and discounted and finally there would come the conclusion that there are either too many or too few bills, the cash register is too far away and the next group of naïve tourists are just enough confused, hungry and tired and above all helpless in front of the board, on which specials of the day were written in complicated script.

But the slovenly pub that served for some special kind of masochism disappeared in that other reality, which was, to top it all off, mine. And there is no worse misery than when a person loses her own reality and therefore clings desperately to the handhold of some slovenly pub which went bankrupt, together with her lifestyle.

In the reflection of the filthy abandoned windows of my ailing lifestyle, I saw a mayor. All round and contented he was wiping sweat from his working face on the golden chain on which the city keys were jingling. He was shepherding a small squad of captured guest artists, some stoic, homeless ‘erased ones’, and from his pockets electric cables were forcing their way out, cables which NGO workers for the purpose of some obscure literary event negligently left in the middle of the street in the inner centre of the small neglected town, which is at the same time the capital of some small but relaxed Central European state. He ordered Culture as coffee with milk, and then stirred with a teaspoon an empty cup and grumbled about the bad taste.

I might be extremely happy about the new cobbles if I had to cross them in high heels, but, I think, the magic of the moment was ruined in the second when, under the sole of my beaten up sneakers, quartz sand creaked. Maybe my face would have lightened up if I had been on these new even cobbles with nicely clogged gaps and a slightly rounded pattern pushing a pram that would be running smoothly. But I just stood there at the beginning of that small street in the centre of the town in those damn beaten up sneakers, I was pacing around nervously, under my feet, quartz sand was nastily squeaking and I stared at the abandoned windows of the pub. All this with a newly cobble-embellished street of the inner centre of the small neglected town, which is at the same time a capital of some cramped but relaxed newly joined European state, and there was not a single space left for me to go.


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going back

July 4, 2008 at 6:21 pm (brain, education, gender, mechanical engineering, musings)

back at tafe again

back at my parents’ again

feeling more female again

discovering old friends again

hearing my voice lifting again

talking to people who knew me as a child again

getting close to an old partner again

sorting through forgotten belongings and memories again

letting my hair get longer again

falling into old habits again

but it’s all as an adult, walking around in my old life with recontextualising adult feet. reconciling more aspects of myself, again.

it’s much better than it used to be.

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November 19, 2007 at 9:03 pm (mechanical engineering, poly)

today i did an appaling exam, the kind i worry i’ve failed. that doesn’t happen often. we were all in the same boat, but that doesn’t help much when i don’t find out my marks till next monday, and if i failed i have to sit down there and then to do the retest, or fail the subject. i can’t really study just in case, i’ve worked on almost everything i could find already, and have seven more exams to prepare for anyway
the afternoon i procrastinated away pleasantly and productively, chatting to many people and mending clothes. when the sun started to set i finally attacked my work for the next exam, in front of a movie. cabaret is an old favourite, but i haven’t watched it since i read the book a year or two ago, and certain parts have suddenly become intensely personal. that’s thanks to my life, not my reading. how did i get myself into a situation so similar to a cautionary tale i know so well? did gender issues direct my focus the wrong way, or did i never actually consider it cautionary? i suspect the latter. it always spoke to me, but now it’s the pain, betrayal, vulnerability, internal conflict and compromise, irresponsibility, attachment and power relations, where maybe i used to see more of the freedom, risk, context, dissent, charm, integrity, intoxication, idealism, and waving the train goodbye with a smile.
these are still good, but did i think that i’d avoid the flipsides? or that they wouldn’t hurt? or maybe just that they pass? maybe. maybe i was right after all.

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textbook disappointment

September 16, 2007 at 5:50 pm (mechanical engineering)

every textbook i use is worse than the last. it gives me an appreciation of the first one, which gave me such trouble last semester. i’m using it for two more subjects at the moment, so i can compare it to all the others. i suspect though, that the book itself is variable, and that chapter five will still be incomprehensible.

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the rate of the flow of time

August 9, 2007 at 4:31 pm (mechanical engineering)

we did something interesting at tafe this morning! we stretched steel and aluminium till it broke, crushed concrete and bent wood. well, we watched these things happen while recording numbers; still it was a highlight. then in the afternoon it was back to the usual, reading and avoiding eye contact with the teacher, trying not to get too frustrated, trying to let go of the hope of learning anything in class, and to not get anxious and mourn, or calculate, the time that i spend there, every day, or the time i’ll need to spend to actually cover the work, later.

at least i’m getting through some reading, sometimes writing some workshops. i’ve already calculated the number of bricks visible in that room: there are a total of 4453 bricks, comprising 3630 pale whole bricks, 564 pale half bricks, 227 dark whole bricks and 32 dark half bricks. i’m not sure where the odd number of whole dark brics comes in, maybe there was an error, but no doubt i’ll figure it out sometime before the end of the year.

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nothing to say

August 7, 2007 at 10:59 pm (mechanical engineering)

things are happening, but i’m too tired to make my brain work. four days a week of tafe hampers my ability to construct sentences.

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July 18, 2007 at 10:28 pm (mechanical engineering)

i think i’ve found the solution to how to fit my twenty hour a week tafe course into my life. completely ignore the teachers when they’re mumbling and difficult to understand, and write those workshops i’ve been procrastinating on! i’ll have to do all the work at home before the exams anyway, so why pretend it’s worth doing twice?

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solar hot water heaters

July 3, 2007 at 9:39 pm (essays, mechanical engineering)

in my first semester back at tafe, doing mechanical engineering, i have been required to complete exactly one assignment. true to form, it was late. but that was ok. now that i’ve lost all my files i’m realising that there actually is a value to the work i’ve done, the research and compilation i’ve sweated over for countless semesters. value akin to that of a blog, in fact. so here is the assignment, in the blog. read it if you’re interested… but them’s the rules round here!

A solar hot water heater uses energy from the sun to heat water, thereby saving on non-renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions and cost. There are many ways to build a solar hot water heater. The focus of this paper is on a domestic system that a non-specialist could adapt form their existing home hot water.

The main elements of a solar hot water heater are the collector and the tank, which are connected by insulated pipes. Other components, such as valves, pumps and booster heaters are optional, depending on choices and circumstances.

The solar collector (also called the absorber) is what differentiates solar systems from other hot water heaters. It consists of a metal sheet with channels, which in an open system either house water pipes or conduct water themselves. In a closed system, the channels or pipes conduct another liquid, generally with a lower freezing point, and the heat is transferred to the water protected below. The simplest method employs pipes, generally made of copper, and set into a sheet of aluminium, or copper to avoid the corrosion which occurs when different metals are in contact with each other.

To maximise the absorbed energy, all the metal is painted black, or ‘solar chrome’, a silvery selective surface, which is even better, as it absorbs more energy than it emits. This is all set in insulation to avoid wasting energy by heating the tray and roof. The transparent cover is usually a high impact glass. Low-iron ‘solar’ glass is even better, as it transmits near infrared energy better than less pure glasses.

The edges of the tray and cover must be well sealed to avoid water and other damage, with holes on the underside to release condensation, and strong brackets to attach it to the beams of the roof, beneath the tiles. The whole construction must also be able to withstand impact, abrasion, ultraviolet radiation and temperatures of at least a hundred degrees centigrade.

The collector needs to be approximately one square metre for every seventy-five litre of tank volume, So for a normal three hundred litre tank you should have four square metres of collector, more if there is shading, the glass is not kept clean, or it is not mounted at a suitable angle. It must face between 45 degrees either side of true North in the southern hemisphere, and be mounted at a specific angle related to the latitude of the location. In Sydney, at latitude 34 degrees, an angle of 34-39 degrees is the most efficient averaged over the entire year. However, increasing the angle to 44-49 degrees maximises efficiency in winter and reduces the problem of overheating in summer.

There are three main kinds of tanks. The most common commercially available solar hot water heater has a close-coupled tank, which is attached horizontally at the top of the collector, on the roof. This avoids the need for pumps with the thermosiphon effect, where the cold water is drawn down from the bottom of the storage tank, to be heated in the collector, after which it rises naturally back into the top of the tank. Installation, however, is be much more difficult than in models with separate tanks. A 300L tank exceeds 500kg, which would require a crane to lift it, and often reinforcement of the roof as well.

There are several advantages of using the house’s existing mains pressure tank, if one is available. It can be left at ground level, which makes installation, maintenance and replacement much easier, and it is already equipped with a mains pressure pump. Also, it will be an upright tank, which has better stratification than a close-coupled model, by allowing more distance between the heated and unheated water, which sit in layers in the same tank. Disadvantages include the increased distance of pipe and insulation required to connect the storage tank to the collectors, and a small cost in the running of the pump.

A third option is the low-pressure tank. This is the only type that is safe for a non-professional to create or adapt significantly. Low-pressure tanks can be made of a simple sheet of copper, but will also benefit from insulation. They are mounted in the ceiling to take advantage of the pressure of a head of water. If it can sit higher than the collector it can also use the thermosiphon effect. This system could still require roof reinforcement, and the lack of mains pressure is often undesirable.

All pressure tanks require temperature, pressure and vacuum relief valves. Low pressure systems can get away with vents. Temperature control, or tempering valves are also good at outlets such as basins and showers, but can be bypassed for washing machines and dishwashers, where scalding isn’t a risk. These can prevent boosters from kicking in, or mix in cold water when the temperature in the tank rises past set levels. Non-return valves are required on thermosiphon systems to prevent the water flowing backwards at night, and frost protection will also be required in frost prone areas.

Another component that is useful where winter sun isn’t always adequate is a booster heater. If a commercial mains pressure tank is used, a gas or electric heater will probably be already installed inside. This can be set to come on at night, only if a minimum temperature level has not been reached.

If attention is paid to all aspects, it is possible in summer to supply a house its total hot water requirement without reliance on non-solar energy. This can reduce the average power bill by a third. In a Sydney winter boosting will be required, but energy consumption will be drastically reduced.


Fact Sheet 4.3 Solar Hot Water, from the Home Technical Manual: Design for Lifestyle and the Future

Introduction to Renewable Energy Technologies Resource Book, January 2003 Edition. Published by the Renewable Energy Centre, Brisbane and North Point Institute of TAFE

Australian Standards AS 3500.4.2:1997 and AS 2712: 1993

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hardware terminology

June 16, 2007 at 1:10 am (gender, mechanical engineering)

It seems Dr. James Holsinger Jr. who bush is about to nominate as next Surgeon-General of the US, wrote a very homophobic article for the Committee to Study Homosexuality of the United Methodist Church. in it, he used a metaphor “In fact, the logical complementarity of the human sexes has been so recognized in our culture that it has entered our vocabulary in the form of naming various pipe fittings either the male fitting or the female fitting depending upon which one interlocks within the other.” Hugh Robertson tells us this, in a blog snippet i came across, and argues well the importance of holsinger keeping his views out of his public office. of the quote, however, he says ‘Now I do not propose to argue hardware terminology…’

now i do propose to argue hardware terminology. wow, in a blog i can expect you to hear me out, before you tell me that i’m being a bit silly and trivial.

as a student of mechanical engineering, i am under a constant bombardment of gendered context. i spend my days in a class full of teenage boys, listening to male teachers make ‘harmless’ jokes at their wives’ expense, then having them accost me in the break to tell me how much they love and respect their wives, because they saw me roll my eyes. the kid who wears the ‘lesbos, where every man wants to be’ tshirt every week, didn’t really understand why i was amused the first week, and really wouldn’t understand why i get irritated now. the graffiti on the tables is of penises. i pull people up on their use of ‘gay’ as a term of abuse, but the gendered insults are too thick and fast and besides, i’m getting to know these people, and want to get along with them. i’m in conflict as to whether it’s better when we are addressed as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ or just ‘gentlemen’, as these are often the choices. am i being included or singled out? the only female staff member teaches computers and communications, a subject from which i am exempt, and which is generally considered light weight. when i get top marks in something, my gender is commented on. sometimes the teacher is expressing pleasure at having a girl in the class. that kind of sex distinction can occasionally feel like a mitigating factor, until it turns out i’m expected to do better because i must be more careful. sometimes the expression is of suprise, which simply makes me feel dirty. i’d hate to think what would happen if i did badly at much.

and fittings which are useless without their counterparts, and categorically don’t fit with their equals, are named ‘male’ and ‘female’. just because it is entrenched doesn’t mean it is benign.

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