Monday, May 31, 2010

If wishes were fishes...

*Title inspired by one of my sister's favourite quotes, "If wishes were fishes..."

When I was young I found out about the Make a Wish Foundation when my parents took us for a treat at the local Dairy Queen. Paper hot air balloons covered the restaurant walls, with names of local kids helped by the Make a Wish Foundation and the wishes they chose printed on the balloon baskets. After asking my dad to explain the foundation, I decided to figure out exactly what I would ask for. You know, just in case I ever got a terrible disease and would qualify for one of those wishes. Thankfully, I made it through my childhood and teen years without anything too terrible, health or otherwise, happening to me. But just in case something did happen, I used to toy back and forth with ideas. My final two, and I could never manage to choose between them, were (1) to play the Phantom of the Opera, and violin solo in the second half, with some famous orchestra, and (2) to go to Cremona to witness authentic violin makers at work and hopefully get to see (and maybe possibly play!?!) some of Stradivari's famous instruments. Can you tell this was back when I had just fallen in love with the Phantom of the Opera, was keen on learning everything I could about Stradivari, and in the midst of my daydreams to be a world renown violin maker? Yeah, thought so.

For several years now those Make a Wish plans have been pushed to the back of my mind. But they all tumbled forward again when I read a news story this morning about several organizations that make wishes come true for elderly people. As I read the story, I was impressed with the idea. I would love to someday be involved in an organization like that, either for elderly people or for sick children. Wouldn't it be a great feeling to know you had helped make someone's greatest wish come true? I think so. Especially if it was someone who would never have had the chance to experience that wish without your help.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Engineering and earthquakes

As a kid, I was afraid of parking garages. Not that I had claustrophobia. I didn't. Not that I was scared of people who might be lurking in the shadows, waiting to take advantage of me. I wasn't. (Well, actually, I was. I was scared of a lot of things when I was a kid, but that still wasn't the primary reason for my fear.) The possibility that thousands of pounds of concrete could collapse on me was terrifying.

There was no real rational reason for this fear. Nobody I knew had ever been crushed in a parking garage. I had never seen footage on the news of a parking garage collapsing. I had never even heard about such a thing happening. But for some reason, the idea lodged in my head as a kid and tormented me every time I was in the car when my parents wound around the twisting ramps looking for a spot to park.

Tonight, I realized my childhood fear of a parkade collapsing on me wasn't exactly unfounded. I happened to turn on the TV and was greeted by an eerie, yet intriguing, documentary on the Discovery Channel. Pacific Northwest engineers - namely from the large west coast cities of Vancouver, BC, Seattle, WA, and Portland, OR and from several cities in California - traveled south to Chile to examine and investigate the destruction of buildings and bridges from the February earthquake. Some of their discoveries were quite astonishing and made me think twice about ever owning an condo in a mainly glass-front apartment building between 10 and 20 storeys tall. I was also convinced that living several hours inland is beneficial to surviving a megaquake (which, apparently, is expected at any time since they usually happen every 300-350 years and the Pacific Northwest is at about year 315 right now).

One part of the documentary really stood out to me. In this section, engineers talked about the two-mile section of I-5 that runs beside Seattle's waterfront. This portion is a double-decker road that was built before engineers and seismologists realized and understood how to build effectively in potential earthquake zones and is in dire need of repair. Some engineers even want to rebuild the entire section, using more quake-conscious methods. My old childhood fear returned as I stared at the screen. I travel on that portion of the interstate between two to four, and sometimes more, times a year to get to the SEA-TAC airport.

Hopefully, engineers and seismologists will be successful in reforming building standards in the Pacific Northwest before a similar-sized earthquake hits our coast. And hopefully they are able provide information to the public so we will have the knowledge to survive such a quake. If you want to read up on the documentary, Monster Quake provides more information.