Early Summer Artic Survival Skills

i spend somewhere between 40-50 hours/week* working in a research laboratory facility.  There are offices, along with lab modules, set up for chemistry, physics and engineering endeavors using big, shiny, stainless steel thingies** – many of which require some form of cooling.  We have chilled water lines plumbed into labs, as well as liquid nitrogen lines in some modules.  Many experiments require strict environmental controls, and managing humidity is often a challenge here in the midwest.

Our facility has an archaic complex heating and cooling arrangement – which amounts to a “push/pull” system.  The steam to the building (which provides heat) is always on, and the air conditioning runs constantly against it to allow control of building temperature and humidity.  This works reasonably well – unless something happens to the steam system, or something happens to the air conditioning system.  Over the past two decades, I’ve had the joy to experience sauna-like conditions and artic chill while attempting to earn my pay.

While i was on leave, staying in The Park with Mom, the steam shut down due to construction of another building nearby.  i was on travel for most of the following week.  With only brief visits in the office during both of those weeks – utterly sleep deprived and frantically busy – it didn’t fully register that my colleagues were dressed like members of Admiral Byrd’s party.***  Last week was my first full week dealing with an office environment cold enough to make my nose run wild and free.

There is an obvious solution, of course, since it’s Spring, and the weather is nice outside  Why not open the doors and let all that warm air in?  GONG! Condensation.  All that warm, wet air hitting those frigid bricks**** would lead to water everywhere.  Including condensation inside of expensive tangles of stainless steel equiment.  Which brings us to the second obvious solution – Space Heaters!  Surely people could bring in their own heaters to keep from turning blue during the day!  Wrong!  That would be a fire safety issue.  No space heaters.

On my first full day of hypothermia, i went home at lunch, coming back to the office with my “Camping Woobie” – a large, smelly, black-and-white plaid quilted flannel shirt – as well as a knit hat, a scarf and a pair of gloves.  For thermal footgear, i’m already in pretty good shape – keeping a pair of fuzzy slippers under my desk.*****  The brighter folks in the office – having already suffered through two weeks of sub-freezing temperatures, shared a great idea – heating pads and electric blankets!  Not specifically banned by the fire marshall, many people were sitting on electric bun warmers to survive the day.  i also brought my heating pad from home.

Wearing my big, grungy flannel shirt, a black knit hat, fuzzy slippers, a scarf and gloves, I went about my daily business – even conducting a meeting with a group of shivering, blue-lipped graduate students while looking like i’d just come from months in the wilderness.  By midweek, the boss wandered into my office – and recoiled in disbelief at the sight of me.  He said I looked like i should be holding a “Peace Now!” protest sign, or better yet, pushing a shopping cart looking for aluminum cans.  i suggested he take a picture, send it to the civil engineering office with a note saying “For the Love of GOD people, get the steam back on!  The horror!  THE HORROR!”. 

It got so miserable, i started taking my electric heating pad with me to meetings that would last more than 30 minutes.  One colleague made an observation that gave me pause…

Ninjaneer:  Do you think that’s safe?

daisyfae:  It’s not violating the fire code.  And certainly safer than if i go postal because i can’t feel my extremities.

Ninjaneer:  I meant at your age.  What if you sneeze?  You could be electrocuted…

*There are those who would take exception to both the number of hours claimed and use of the word “working”, but they can get their own fucking blogs.

** i apologize for my use of highly confusing technical terms.  i am a scientist, after all…. And we take great pleasure in confusing those without technical training.

*** They’re not generally known for their fashion sense. 

**** Not referring to our admin staff.

***** i wear these when it rains, when I’m having a crappy day, or when I’m in heels and my feet protest against pain for the sake of fashion.  Oh, and not just at my desk.  I’ve been known to wander the halls in them.  Especially on rainy days.


11 thoughts on “Early Summer Artic Survival Skills

  1. Oh thank god for daisyfae …

    Just turning a page of the stupid book (with chinese paper-thin pages), had another ADD moment and checked your blog, just when I was convinced I had lost the ability to laugh … 🙂

  2. I have another solution. Turn the freaking air conditioning down. Don’t they have thermostats there?
    Having spent a week in June in St. Louis a couple years ago, you have my empathy. I think I spent the whole week in my hotel room because this Seattleite couldn’t take the heat/humidity. But have vivid memories of going from the 100 degree desert heat of eastern Colorado into the frigidly air conditioned buildings, where I longed for your fuzzy slippers.

  3. tNb – glad to be of service! i really don’t know how you can read tax code without going batshit bonkers! loved the mixtapes, though! bet that one will keep your eyes open!

    annie – so frustrating when the buildings are so cold, and the outside air is so hot and wet that my glasses fog up when i enter the building! i have to dress in layers – even when things are working properly, our building is overly chilled.

    silverstar – there are two settings for the facility a/c — on and off. the thermostats only work when the steam is there to offset the cold air. Humidity is the killer – breathing in soaking wet steam is dreadful. And it’s not even July/August yet!

  4. nm – it’s the regional ‘steam plant’, which was down due to construction of a newbuilding nearby. And no, we can’t really go on strike… not organized (so true on so many levels). It’s fixed – and we should be back to normal.

    rob – yeah, i know. doesn’t make much sense. this area is like an industrial park, with an independent steam plant. all the buildings are pretty much like this…

    az – i did 2 hours on the bike today – and it was over 32C/90F here today… i’ll be ready for it by the time i get there! i may not look good – my hair doesn’t like humidity…

  5. nm – oh, that’s right! you’re dealing with ‘winter’…. and hanging upside down!

    dolce – they are a Stud-Magnet. I have to carry a big stick when i wear them… the men are pesky!

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