It’s Friday and y’all probably need a break from me trying to make a point using Axell Grell so…
I love absolutely everything about this article: https://www.npr.org/2019/01/08/683359201/massive-fatberg-found-blocking-sewer-in-british-seaside-town
We’ll get to the fatberg part in a minute.
First, there’s the measuring things with other things that aren’t actually units of measurement part.
South West Water reports the monstrous clump lurking beneath the town of Sidmouth in Devon measures 210 feet, making it longer than the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, more than 13 end-to-end Hummer H2s and 42 feet longer than the White House.
I’ve always loved this way of measuring things, ever since grade school textbooks would pull shit like measuring force in terms of “the force of 27 locomotives” or what have you.
It’s a valiant attempt at trying to convey something abstract and inscrutable in more specific, recognizable terms, but who among us has stood athwart railroad tracks to measure with our human strength the force of even one locomotive? Not I, though one of the most visceral experiences of raw physical power I’ve ever had was standing on a pretty low bridge while a multi-locomotive train went underneath at cruising speed. Just the way is shook the air was impressive.
Years ago, this way of measuring also inspired me to warn house visitors that my dog Malcolm would greet them with “the force of one hundred surprise birthday parties”, which always got a laugh. And he always did greet visitors that way.
This measuring inscrutable things in terms of other inscrutable things reminds me of dev shops that feel like their “we build elegant solutions for complex problems” positioning statements are a big leap ahead in clarity.
The article continues to detail the fatberg removal challenge:
“It is the largest discovered in our service history and will take our sewer team around eight weeks to dissect this monster in exceptionally challenging work conditions,” Andrew Roantree, South West Water’s director of wastewater, said.
I wonder how much the typical software project is like an exceptionally challenging fatberg removal project?
Like you’re in there, sizing up the situation, and the client asks for an estimate and you throw out “around eight weeks” and then you quickly follow up with something like the bit below, and—although you are describing a software project, unbeknownst to you basically the exact same words have been uttered by a civil servant during a press release about a massive fatberg:
“It’s the first time we have excavated a fatberg of this size and the confined space might mean it takes us a little longer or shorter,” SWW explains.
And just like you are prone to sprinkle in some tech terminology to assure the client you know what you’re doing, so do directors of wastewater systems:
It will take a sewer team using a combination of high-pressure jets and shovels and pickaxes to attack the fatberg, the company says in a statement.
Here’s the actual statement, which not only conveys the main idea of massive fatberg and reassures residents that their bathing water is fine, it also has a nicely formatted FAQ describing many fascinating aspects of the fatberg situation: https://www.southwestwater.co.uk/water-advice-and-services/sidmouth-fatberg/
The wording of the statement is even more exquisite than NPR’s reporting on the statement:
Alongside high-pressure jets and specialist equipment, our sewer workers will endure weeks of manual labour, attacking the fatberg bit by bit with shovels and pickaxes.
“Endure weeks of manual labor.” Really transports you there, doesn’t it? It’s almost like you can imagine yourself down there, shoulder to shoulder with those intrepid fatberg fighters, trading sweaty, anxious glances through your respirators and telling “your momma” jokes over your lunch break.
So what is a fatberg anyway?
It’s exactly what you’d think, that’s what. According to the NPR article, it’s “a giant obstruction made up of hardened fat, oil, wet wipes and other waste items”.
If your stomach can take it, do a Google image search for fatberg. It’s… informative.
And this most recent one in England is not the first by any means. It’s not even the largest ever.
The article ends with this, which taught me the word “hathos”, which I will deploy in casual conversation at the earliest possible opportunity:
A 130-ton fatberg was discovered in London’s East End in 2017. The massive chunk of congealed fat, oil, tampons and condoms elicited such widespread hathos – that is the attraction to something you really can’t stand – that it became a huge draw when it went on display at the Museum of London last year.
The “highly toxic” pieces of sewage were eventually added to the museum’s permanent collection where they are being preserved “to fascinate and disgust future Londers” on a live “Fatcam.”
In case you were wondering, the museum says:
“Whilst on display the fatberg hatched flies, sweated and changed colour. Since going off display, fatberg has started to grow an unusual and toxic mould, in the form of visible yellow pustules. Our collections care team has identified this as aspergillus. Conservators believe that fatberg started to grow the spores whilst on display and now … these spores have become more visible.”
If you ask me, visible yellow toxic pustules is exactly what you get for displaying a fatberg in a museum.
Have a great weekend, y’all!