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Monday, August 18, 2003

  • UW's working with limited power
  • More about the blackout experience
  • An anecdote here -- and there
  • And a few other notes today
Chris Redmond

This week for students . . . in Thailand

[Big windows looking onto trees]

New home: Dana Evans and Kristen Bergen, students at Conrad Grebel University College, take a sneak peek into the new Grebel apartments, part of the college's current construction project. This bright windowed building (hey! light even when the power goes out!) will house 32 senior students starting September 1. Paul Penner, operations manager at Grebel, says the apartments are in the final stages of completion, and "this is the first time in 40 years that Grebel will have accommodations other than double occupancy dormitory-style rooms. We are pleased to offer a home to senior students looking for a bit more independence."

UW's working with limited power

UW is open for business today, but many things (such as the air conditioning) will be shut down to comply with the Ontario government's request that workplaces operate on half the usual amount of hydro power.

Premier Ernie Eves went on television last night to make the request, as the province continues to recover from the great Northeast Blackout of Thursday night.

On a typical workday, UW is using about 13 megawatts of power. That amount is already reduced this week because the residences are closed and some services closed for the period between spring and fall terms, and the plant operations department is making efforts to save still more by turning off equipment wherever possible.

The "base load", or minimum consumption, is about 4.5 megawatts, says vice-president (administration and finance) Dennis Huber. He thinks today's hydro use -- on a quiet day with no classes, no exams, and lots of people on vacation -- doesn't need to be higher than maybe 5.5. That's if everybody helps. Huber himself is sitting in an office without lights, and suggests that other people with windows in their offices do the same. They should also turn off unneeded computers, which waste power and generate heat.

Central plant staff have turned off air conditioning across campus, Huber said, but fans will be running and he thinks temperatures inside buildings will be fine. "If anybody feels the need, maybe they can go outside for a short walk," he suggests.

More about the blackout experience

The blackout struck about 4:15 on Thursday, as many staff were preparing to go home anyway. And I wrongly said in Friday's Daily Bulletin that afternoon exams had ended. Not so, as Dave Switzer, a computer science instructor, reminded me: "There was at least one exam scheduled from 2 to 5 -- CS 100. Luckily most of my class had finished by the time the power went out, and I moved the rest of my students to a nearby room that had windows so they could finish their exam."

Evening exams on Thursday were cancelled, after some uncertainty about whether the power might come back on after all, and rescheduled for Friday night. Unofficially, many students and faculty made other arrangements, and at least one exam was written by most of the class on Friday morning.

Officials announced at dawn Friday that the university would be closed for the day, like many organizations across Ontario. Although hydro had been restored overnight, the supply wasn't considered stable, and many systems weren't working properly.

I don't yet know a lot of what happened on Friday, but I do know, for example, that an information systems and technology staff member was on campus by 4:30 a.m. to work on the telephone system, which was completely out of operation for several hours.

Yes, there was a Daily Bulletin on Friday, even though UW was closed by the disaster. If you missed it, you might want to go back at leisure and read about the Miss Canada International pageant and about the MSBlaster computer worm.
Computer networks and servers were also badly affected. Says Martin Timmerman of IST: "A group of IST staff started computer and network systems that host communication or networking services for the campus and decided to leave application systems down. Therefore mail, web, DNS, UWdir services were enabled. However, Quest, HR, Trellis, CECS services were not started. Those systems rely on database systems which are more sensitive to database failure if power cannot be assured.

"Starting this morning, we expect to bring as many systems online as possible."

The libraries had stayed open Thursday evening -- without lights or computers, of course -- until it grew dark outside, but closed about 7:45. They weren't open at all on Friday, but reopened Saturday and Sunday at the scheduled time. The Trellis system upgrade that had been scheduled for the weekend was postponed.

Tom Galloway, director of custodial and grounds services, notes that custodians didn't work a Friday night shift. "As well, there was only a shortened shift on Thursday night. Therefore there may well be areas that have received no service since Wednesday night."

An anecdote here -- and there

When the power failed, so did a pipe in the basement of the Physics building: water smashed up against a valve that was suddenly closed, the pipe broke, and out poured the water. By Friday morning there was eight feet (2.5 metres) of water in the basement, which is taken up with mechanical equipment, the university's original heating and cooling plant. Plant operations staff pumped it out when the power came back on, and repairs are under way.

Angela Garabet writes from the Graduate Student Association: "On Thursday after the power went out, some people took the opportunity to sit outside on the patio of the Grad House, relax and enjoy a cold drink. If it's the end of the world, that is a great place to be. The beer taps were flowing since it runs on gas and didn't require electricity."

And I have e-mail all the way from Uganda, from independent studies student Avi Caplan: "I've been reading the Daily Bulletin most days this summer while on an Engineers Without Borders internship in Uganda, working primarily on an information and communication technology project in the northern town of Lira. Power failures and wild voltage fluctuations are quite common here, and power is cut off more often than not every weekend. We have backup batteries and an inverter at the learning centre, but after a few days of careful use (or even fewer of not-so-careful use) I can find myself living here with no power and no idea when I might be able to turn on the lights or send an e-mail. Cooking isn't a problem without power, except when there are fuel shortages, such as happened once a month or two ago.

"Interestingly, the power failure you experienced impacted me here in Northern Uganda, and continues to do so. Around 11 p.m. Thursday night (your 4 p.m.) I noticed that our Internet provider's connection to the outside world went down, presumably because of a failure somewhere in US after we're routed through Israel. Usually the connection goes down somewhere inside the country due to poor infrastructure and zero redundancy, and so this problem of the connection going down wasn't even on the troubleshooting checklist I've prepared for the staff here.

"I still can't check my e-mail as it seems the EWB mail server still hasn't had power restored, and the staff of the the NGO with which I'm working (CPAR -- Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief) can't access their e-mail either as it too is hosted in Toronto. Interesting how events half a world away can have such an effect."

And a few other notes today

The flags at the University Avenue entrance to campus are at half-staff today to mark the memory of Ardeth Wood, the graduate student in philosophy who was murdered in Ottawa on August 6. Her funeral is being held today (10:30) at Ottawa's Notre Dame Basilica.

Three students involved in the Certificate in University Teaching program are giving their research presentations this morning, starting at 9:30 in Math and Computer room 5158. The speakers are Vincent Hui ("Computer Visualization in Architecture"), Howard Li ("Group Work in Classrooms and Labs for an Engineering Course"), and Allison Sparrey ("How to Assess Students' Written Work: Can It Be Done Fairly").

All retail services stores will close at noon today, "to try to help with energy conservation", says director May Yan.
Today's the day that retail services switch back to fall hours -- does that really mean it's fall already? The bookstore, UW Shop and Techworx in South Campus Hall will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays. The CampusTechShop in the Student Life Centre will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. To deal with the beginning-of-term rush, the CampusTechShop will also be open Saturdays noon to 4 p.m., August 30 through September 27. The CampusTechShop and the stores in SCH will stay open until 8 p.m. each day September 8 through 11.

"The world championships of endurance running", under the title of EndurRun International, are under way this week in Waterloo. A half-marathon last night was just the beginning of a week of events leading up to a marathon next Sunday -- by which time the 200 participants will have run something like 120 kilometres under race conditions. Runners and other participants will be staying in the Ron Eydt Village conference centre, and Sunday's marathon will be based on campus. An awards ceremony is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at Federation Hall for those who can drag themselves there.

Subject to change (and I have a feeling that quite a lot of things involving the plant operations department are going to be changed this week), hot water will be shut off in the UW Place residence complex all day tomorrow to allow for maintenance work.

Tryouts for the women's fastpitch team at UW will be held August 24 -- this Sunday -- at 2 p.m. on the north campus fields (CIF diamonds). There's more information on a team web page, says organizer Vicki Ferguson.


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