Friday, December 29, 2006

Cloaca and Dagger

Various avian ceceum examples.

It was on the day after Christmas that the new owners of 391 16th Street gave the Armory Plaza Gang permission to cut down what remained of the 40’ tall White Mulberry (Morus alba L.) tree, growing just inside the fence line of their back yard. Well, maybe not all of the tree. They left an 8’ tall stump to use as an anchoring pin to tie off the old “antique” metal laundry pole that in the past week had started to drastically tilt and sink simultaneously.

Earlier last summer, the developer had aggressively exercized his legal rights to prune away every living bit of organic matter that extended out and over the mutual property line, regardless of the aesthetic aftermath. When the chainsaws stopped buzzing, what remained of that Mulberry tree was little more than an asymmetrical embarrassment.

Imagine three decades ago, some anonymous bird stopped to perch by chance and, in that exact spot along the fence where the stump now sits, vacated his bowels. It was in this selfless, humble gesture, that a tiny undigested seed was deposited, and in time growing into our previously mentioned White Mulberry… capable of feeding generations of his future offspring in perpetuity... Or that on this particular black day, the day after Christmas, his legacy would meet with such an inconvenient truth as the builders of the Armory Plaza.

Where you’d get that haircut?

As kids, my father gave out free haircuts to anyone in the neighborhood. He’d set up shop on the backyard patio, his barber seat a folding aluminum lawn chair, a bath towel would suffice as a smock. My two brothers and I were his usual, if only, willing customers. My father learned, as I believe, his barber skills in the Marine Corps, specializing in what he professionally referred to as ”the brush” . My friends, who never took up my father’s offer, would not miss out, however, on the opportunity to stand by and watch. They called it, "getting the buzz cut”, no doubt in reference to the noise the electric razor made while we were being sheared. My mother says that my father lost all his hair when he was still in his twenties…never leave your hair in the hands of a bald barber, or for that matter, never leave your tree pruning up to a bunch of foundation contractors.

Problems getting rid of that lingering holiday spirit?
Did you know that Mistletoe is considered a parasitic plant, and, like our eradicated Mulberry tree, is considered an invasive “weed species”? Of course, everyone is aware of the holiday tradition of kissing under the Mistletoe, yet do you know that mistletoe is actually an opportunistic evergreen that spreads from deciduous tree to tree, living in the canopy of it’s host, extracting moisture and nutrients from the sapwood of it’s victims by boring its roots through the unwilling tree's bark? Mistletoe doesn’t kill the infested tree outright. It does cause branch deformities, however.

In Australia there is actually a Mistletoe Bird, (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), that in eating the juicy red berries, aids in the dispersal of the Mistletoe’s seeds. Mistletoe seeds are covered with a glue-like substance called viscin that sticks to the bird’s beak. When birds try to clean their beaks, the seeds adhere to the limbs of other trees and shrubs. Mistletoe birds are said to perch along branches, rather than across them like most other birds, so that when the seed is passed, it falls onto the branch upon which the bird is perched. Mistletoe Bird droppings consists of three to five Mistletoe seeds with enough of the sticky flesh still attached so they stick to branches. In fact, this probably explains the derivation of the word Mistletoe, from two Germanic words: mista (dung) and tan (twig); referring to bird droppings on a branch or stem.

I'm dreaming of a...
Why are bird feces white? Unlike mammals, birds don't urinate. Their kidneys extract nitrogenous wastes from the bloodstream, but instead of excreting it as urea dissolved in urine as we do, they excrete it in the form of uric acid. Uric acid has a very low solubility in water, so it emerges as a white paste. This material, as well as the output of the intestines, emerges from the bird's cloaca.
Birds in general need to keep their weight as low as possible. This means that, except perhaps prior to migration, there is a limit to the amount of fat a bird can store.
Birds have an incredibly efficient digestive system in that they need to consume large amounts of food, yet maintain a low body weight in order to be able to get off the ground and fly. 'Efficient' means that birds must locate, ingest, & digest food as quickly and efficiently as possible. The Mistletoe Bird has a specially modified simple, tubular gut so the Mistletoe seed is not destroyed during digestion. Mistletoe seeds may remain inside the bird for as little as 25 minutes. For me the irony lies burried somewhere in the belief that kissing under the mistletoe was thought to ensure conception and childbearing. Gastro intestinally speaking, these days with two kids under 3 years of age, I’m lucky if I can get 25 minutes alone in my private “office” to skim the New York Times before my talents are needed else where. It's a good thing my familiy's survival doesn't depend on my ability to propagate future fruit bearing trees n' shrubs.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Give an inch and they take a yard

Damage Management Programs

Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery has its exotic wild parrots, Prospect Park a single white squirrel, Windsor Terrace and Green Wood Heights may have been taken over by raccoons, even Carrol Gardens can claim a 4 foot iguana...but no where else in the five boroughs has "nature" been more at odds with the local human population than in the South Slope.

Recently, vulnerable 16Th street residents have been infested with creatures, that if given an inch, will literally take an entire yard.
Having returned home from work to find their backyard gardens devastated, neighbors are now seeking relief from these pesky, nocturnal invaders. In this rare daylight sighting, intruding contractors were captured on film removing tree limbs and uprooting shrubs. Left unchecked trespassing foundation contractors can completely strip a tree of its foliage in a matter of minutes.

Nocturnal intrusions

These encroaching camera-shy no-see-ums have recently adapted as neighborhood pressure against them has increased, venturing out into resident's backyards only after the sun has gone down for the day.

Scare Devices

The options open to homeowners are usually limited to nonlethal combinations of control methods, such as fencing, repellents and landscapes designed with plant species less expensive to replace.
A combination of visual and auditory deterrents may be more effective than a single deterrent by itself. For the best results, try a combination of methods to prevent nuisance contractors from getting used to any one technique.

When 311 no longer works, try 37% putrescent egg solids .

Contractors are very adaptable, and can overcome their fear of some scare devices over time, if they learn that the device presents no real danger. Moving scare devices around, imparting movement to the device, and using repellents in conjunction with scare devices can help improve their effectiveness.

Some more effective devices actually encourage contractors to touch them, allowing them to administer a harmless electric shock to the contractor’s hands or mouth. For example, leaving cold beverages and soft-core pornography out in the open (A bottle of Yoo hoo and an old copy of the Victoria's Secret Catalog will suffice in a pinch.) is a time proven baiting technique. The shock conditions contractors to avoid the area, which prevents them from re-visiting and causing damage. These battery-powered devices can be placed in or around gardens, among flowers and shrubbery, or on a plastic lawn chair. Sometimes, something as simple as applying lipstick to a concrete garden gnome can cause confusion and delay until other more effective methods can be investigated.

Population mismanagement
Invasive contractor populations in Brooklyn, are capable of doubling within a few years if they are not controlled through D.o.B. initiatives. Unfortunately, with diminished populations of natural predators, the Brooklyn Buildings Department provides the most inefficient and, in many situations, the only type of population control available. Although other types of population control, such as infertility treatments, trap-neuter-release programs, and enforcing down-zoning initiatives are being researched, it is unlikely that they will become economically or biologically effective in free-roaming contractor populations. In the mean time, natural predators, such as dogs, and/or using additional D.o.B. inspectors out in the field may help to scare away nuisance contractors, but they need to be on the property during peak plundering hours, from dawn until dusk, 7am- 6pm week days, and possible even Saturdays to have any kind of lasting effect. We all know this is simply not possible.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Tool Box Full of Hammers"

I have decided to start with the punchline and work backwards into the story to the point where I say, "Man walks into a bar".

Todays Special Hot Lunch Menu will consist of:

#1) Stuffed Pizza Sticks with Fruit Cup and Short Video of IMT AF-80 Drilling Rig Boring Holes Inside Metal Pilings

#2) Mock-Chicken Legs with Choice of Dippin' Sauce, Carrot Wedges, and Short Video of IMT AF-80 Changing Drill Bits.

#3) Kosher Sloppy-Joe, Green Salad, and Short Video of IMT AF-80 Drilling Rig Being Used as a Pile Driver.

For those readers in a hurry, I recommend the Kosher Sloppy-Joe.

As a service to our loyal non-reading audience, please consult the Picture Menu below and respond by pointing to the appropriate picture.





As Seen on YouTube

So a short Homily on #3. It has recently come to our attention that the IMT AF-80 Drilling Rig is being used as a pile driver to pound in the piles for the foundation of the Armory Plaza. Who says? People living a few blocks away. Why all that pounding? It seems that this new technique, where the majority of the boring process takes place enclosed within the pipe, has a little flaw. Sometimes the pipe simply refuses to go in and then it needs to be "persuaded". It's kind of like pre-drilling a slightly smaller pilot hole in a nice piece of oak, placing the screw, and then using a hammer to pound it in. It works, but a screw driver would work a little better.

Putting the "N" back in "IMBY".

Judging by this collection of complaints from all over the neighborhood, pile driving in residential areas is still highly stigmatized, unfairly some might say, for its uncivilized, medieval nature.
Complaint, Complaint, Complaint, Complaint, Complaint, Complaint, Complaint, and Complaint.

Oh yeah, "Man walks into a bar."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The ground beneath our feet...

Long Island Iced Tea.
It seems like only 12,568 years ago since the Wisconsin Glacier retreated from New York City, leaving behind its scattered deposits of glacial till (a mix of fine silt, sand, gravel, and large boulders).
This Pleistocene Era debris pile has a name by the way...The Harbor Hill Moraine. The highest elevation it reaches in Brooklyn, a vista some 220 feet above sea level, is right up the slope from us at Battle Hill, in Green-Wood Cemetery's northeast corner, just above Seventh Avenue and 20th Street.

Glacial ice tends to sweep up everything in its path regardless of size or weight. Unlike a box of Lucky Charms, lightly shaking glacier till in a constant, controlled way, will not bring all the magically delicious marshmellow hearts, moons, stars, and clovers to the surface. I am looking forward to seeing if any large, fruity flavored boulders (glacial erratics) will be unearthed during the next stage of excavation.

Faraday Waves.
So last week, with constant vertical oscillations from the Armory Plaza construction, that "corn starch and water feeling" came over me, again. Even the slightest puff of air blowing against my skull opened up a small hole in my head that remained for some time, until the vibrations (f=120Hz a=15g) finally disappeared. So now, even though my perturbed brain is mostly a liquid-like substance, the penetrations are not closing at all until after 6pm each weekday.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The unsettling settling.

The last time we left off, the Armory Plaza Gang had finished installing the pilings for three of the four sides of the foundation, leaving only the rear lot line to complete.

It looks like the remaining foundation piles will now be installed using a alternative system where the drilling is done inside the pipe. This change may be an attempt to deal with the subsidence (sink hole) problem that has plagued the project from the very beginning. What can be done about the unsettling settling?

In the past the boring rig would drill down through the ground to the specified depth of 55+ feet and then a crane would lower the entire 60 foot length of hollow steel piling into this waiting hole. This involved repettively drilling a distance, removing the soil, drilling a distance, removing the soil, over and over again. In using this boring method, a hole is sometimes created that is much bigger than the 18 inch width necessary to accomodate the piling. Gradually the soil surrounding the piles sinks in as it tries to fill in the underground voids left by the repetitive "in and out" movements of the auger.

The new technique appears to work by first boring a much shorter distance, maybe 6 feet total, then with the help of a crane, a 12 foot section of pipe is imediately lowered into the hole. This section of pipe is then forcible driven down into the earth leaving the end slightly above ground level. By forcibly, I mean a metal or wood plate is placed over the end of the half burried pile to cover the opening, the drill bit is removed, and then the rig's mast is used to pound the pile into the ground. It can take 50 or more blows to set the pile.

Next a narrower auger bit is used, one that can fit inside the pipe during the drilling process. I suppose this short section of pipe acts as a kind of protective sleeve, surrounding the auger during drilling and preventing the surface soil from being excessively disturbed. After drilling down an addittional distance, the process repeats itself with the next 12 foot section of pipe brought over and welded onto the end of the previously placed pipe section, until the full depth of 50+ feet is reached. No more voids? No more sink holes?

How is it working out so far?
Not so well. Besides being a much, much, slower process, the piles now have to be driven into the ground causing considerable noise and vibration. One reason boring rigs are used instead of pile drivers is that they are "kinder and gentler". Pile drivers are not acceptable in residential neighborhoods, so using the rig to pound in the piles becomes counter productive.

The sink holes are still forming at the surface. Several large loads of dirt have been dropped over the fence into the backyards of 397 and 399 16th Street in an attempt to fill in the most recent sinkholes.

In this video clip 397 16th Street is being filled in by the backhoe with a worker on the ground redistributing the soil with a hand shovel.

This back filling may be in response to the recent 311 complaint made by someone living in the apartment building where the sink hole formed. (397 16th, is a 4 story walk-up that is, coincidental, for sale through John P. Burke Realty 718 768-1001).

After the recent heavy rains, another sink hole (photo below) opened up along the Memorial Baptist Church fence line. This is in an area where no one had worked around for some time, indicating that this settleing process continues, even after top fill has been added.

Cover Ups
Most recently, additional soil was again deposited over the fence at 397. This time the video shows the backhoe lifting a worker over the fence and lowering him back onto the ground. You can see him spreading the soil about, filling in the holes, and then, ... covering up the recently deposited soil with fallen leaves. Now I must point out that if the owner of the property has given his/her permission to make these repairs then there is nothing out of the ordinary with these corrections. Repairing damage to your neighbors property in the coarse of an epic construction project is commendable. But if the owner has not been contacted, this leaf spreading could be interpreted as something more duplicitous than just an obsessive case of Kenophobia manifesting itself through some bizarre "Rites of Fall" choreography.

Oh DoB, why have you forsaken me?

What can we expect in the near future? Is it polite to ask the bull to wipe his hooves before he enters the china shop? Looks like another month or so, at least, before this part of the job is finished. Recent conversations with the developer have been less than fruitful. He has recommended that we call 311 with our complaints. The Department of Buildings has more or less washed their hands on this sordid affair, claiming that they have done everything possible to insure our safety. Simply put, they just want to build their new building and we just want to hang on to the ones we already have.