Sunday, September 5, 2021

The machine of severe injury or death

Once upon a time, people were sensible. It was that or become an evolutionary has been. I recently read a meme that said something like, the car owners manual back in the day told you how to adjust the points and carb, now the manual is full of safety warnings like, don't drink the battery acid. I can't source this.

In our own house, when the new gas stove was installed, there were more safety warnings than there were instructions on how to operate it. The main one, believe it or not, was the installation of a hold down bracket to prevent the stove from tipping over. This on an appliance designed to combine natural gas and air into a combustable mixture, and ignite it. 

As regular readers know, our neighbourhood is getting a bunch of streets repaved. It's only been 40 years for some of them. You've probably seen the machine that mills off the top layer of asphalt. One of them was parked beside our house and worked on the cul de sac, among other streets. I was surprised that it moved at what I think is a slow walk while milling, and a slow run when moving to another location.

I was not surprised by all the safety placards. There's many of them, all over the machine. The words 'severe injury or death' are prominent. This is just some of what the operator sees.

I was reminded of the big Star Wars sand crawler thingie.

The view from the operator's station.

In operation, the view from our kitchen window.

I can remember my mom's father using a tractor to power some bit of farm machinery. It might have been to blow silage up into the silo. Rather than using a grooved rod coming out of the tractor transmission, it used a wheel to drive a long belt that was fastened to the driven piece of machinery. There were no guards around any of the moving parts. As I think about this now there are any number of things that could go catastrophically wrong, but all I got told was 'stand well back, this is dangerous." 

About the same time, on the farm run by my dad's family, I was looking over a baler to try to figure out how it worked. (It's a machine that picked up hay and mashed it into a bundle, or bale, of hay held together by binder twine, about the size a big kid could pick up. Picking up hay bales in the field, putting them on a truck or wagon, and unloading it into a barn featured prominently in my childhood summers.)

I digress. As I was looking it over one of my uncles  said, "Do you have to be told to not put your hands in there?" Actually not. There were rotating metal spines to pick up the row of hay from the ground, and chomping mechanical arms to pound the hay into a bale shape. I got all that and the dangers of it in operation were obvious. The mechanism to wrap a pair of twine ropes and knot them were what interested me, and I never did figure it out. A farm is not a place to stand around and think. Boys who did that were put to work.

The photos of the Edsel a few days ago make it clear there isn't much safety equipment. There might not even have been seat belts, and when I say seat belts, I mean only the part that went around your waist. Shoulder harness would be much to expensive to ever put in a car because nobody would use them, of course. My first car was a few years after that model, and it did have lap belts. Air bags were not even dreamed of. Building a car to crumple around the passenger compartment and protect the people was barely a concept. The steering wheel mechanism was a steel spear pointed at the driver's heart. When I bought it, radial tires were barely a thing. Our driving instruction told us that almost anything was better than hitting another car, especially head on. We were taught how to pump the brakes to avoid locking them up, as well as a number of other things that flowed out of how cars were built. 

Cars are much safer now, but people eat into that margin of safety by driving more dangerously. Every time I drive somewhere, I see something along the way that prompts at least the thought "That was stupid." Sometimes there are obscenities and exclamation marks added in. 

Much as I hate advertising, one of the things we used to like to do was go to the Plaza Theatre and watch commercials for 90 minutes. These were the best commercials from that year, and some were hysterical (the croissant crossing it's little legs and shrieking no at the wrong brand of mustard, or the woman rolling a condom over her fingers, wrist, and forearm while telling the guy that if he's too big for the condom he's too big for her and might as well go home) and some changed our lives. Like the one of a somewhat banged up family standing in front of their car, telling their story, as the camera panned from the back of the car, all smooth curves and shiny metal, to the front as it gets more wrinkled, and past the drivers door it is completely destroyed. A drunk driver had swerved his car into their lane at highway speeds. Everybody in that car walked away from the crash, while the drunk died.

It's like people have lost all perception of what's dangerous, and what's an imposition. Many of my readers will remember the fuss about seat belt legislation. You might think I'm going to segue to masks and COVID, but no.  Do you ever watch the fail videos? Fail Army is, or was, one place videos were posted of people failing to do things, like skateboard tricks. Many of the fails almost certainly resulted in trips to the hospital. In the USA, that moment of stupidity might bankrupt your family. 

It's like none of the people involved paused for a second to ask themselves what could go wrong. It's not like the dangers were hidden or that it's impossible to mitigate the risks. All they see is the upside. It happens everywhere. People are blind to the dangers around them, especially if doing something about them might affect you personally. People believed the companies selling tobacco when they said smoking did not cause cancer.

Climate change is the biggie of my lifetime. Pollution was a huge problem when I was in high school. Companies and government said it was too expensive to fix. A river caught fire about then. We figure out emissions controls and it's better. We restricted the chemicals that were causing the ozone layer to deteriorate, in spite of the companies screaming about costs, and it's getting better. Carbon and methane releases into the atmosphere are driving climate change. Only idiots and people being paid to do so say otherwise. Even the big oil and gas companies know it, and are trying to diversify, while still wringing every penny out of the existing economic model.

Everybody screams about the costs and unknowns about de-carbonization. They say electric cars won't work because how do you recharge them in the time it takes for a gas fill up, and we don't know what to do with old batteries. Keep in mind that at the beginning of the automotive era, there were no gas stations. They grew as auto travel grew, and have been declining as the economy changes. There's a minor industry here in Calgary, and probably elsewhere, of turning old gas stations into commercial buildings. And while it's mostly true that dealing with old batteries isn't a thing, that's only true now. As usage grows we'll figure out ways to recycle them. 

Yes, there are issues, but none of them are show stoppers. If we'd had the same foresight 100 years ago that we have now, we might have sidestepped the whole internal combustion engine and personal automobiles thing, and done something different.

If humans can live in an orbital laboratory, we can live on earth almost no matter what the climate does. But we have to ask ourselves what the cost will be. It's entirely possible that in a century or so, this world that once teemed with all kinds of life, will contain only some humans and some zoo animals. Do we want that?

We're supposed to be the smartest critters on this planet. We can figure out better ways of doing things so we don't destroy the world. And if past examples hold true, it's good for the economy as a whole, if maybe not for some particular players. 

Of the Day







1 comment:

  1. As always, a fine post. I'm not a believer in conspiracy theories, as I am inclined to agree with your perspective that the only way two people can keep a secret is for one person to not tell the other. That said the current bombardment of caution, makes me think of some strange exercise in re-direction. Why would anyone need to be told that a very heavy machine that can melt and tear up a swath of pavement at walking pace has dangerous elements?
    Photographically, 11 is the one that captures my attention. It may not be a great photo, but it does have story and character. Cheers, Sean


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