Continuing Aftershocks

Twitter has certainly changed how we deal with disaster: why, journalists used to have to write a whole story all by themselves. It’s a good thing the laws of copyright and politeness are suspended for text on web pages, and that everything on the Internet is thus in the public domain, or reporters would actually have to attribute all their quotes. But if only—if only—there were some means of magically creating a link from the unattributed quote to the writer’s original words… perhaps someone can come up with an elegant software fix. Until then, with newspapers suffering the way they are, it’s good to know that writers on deadline can pluck witty concise quotes from an inexhaustible stream to help make their word count.

In line with Marx’s quip about history repeating itself as tragedy and farce, the three-coloured sticker system used on Christchurch buildings has been adopted by my workplace’s photocopier technicians. It’s not clear exactly what will happen if you try to use a red-stickered photocopier. Presumably it’s life-threatening.

Part of the difficulty in talking about the quake was that the Richter scale isn’t linear. Some people realised that 7.0 is ten times as “wobbly” as 6.0, but thought that meant that 6.1 was twice as much as 6.0. Logarithms aren’t intuitive: 6.1 is about 25% more than 6.0, but 6.3 is 100% more. And it doesn’t help that the Richter scale, despite being widely bandied about by the media and even some of the quake-data services, is not really used by geologists, who like to talk about the moment magnitude or the amount of energy released. Poor Arts majors were getting very confused, so with the help of @kevinpurcell I developed a Qualitative Earthquake Scale™.

5: WTF
6: OMG
7: OMFG!

It was interesting to notice people’s decreasing sensitivity to aftershocks, and the increasing accuracy of their inner seismometers. In the 19th century, Galton studied the “wisdom of the crowd”; the remarkable accuracy of averaged non-expert estimates, for example in guessing the weight of an ox. Eventually we’ll be able to average the flurry of guesses on Twitter that follow each tremor and use the “crowd seismometer” to get a pretty accurate estimate. It would certainly be faster than waiting for GeoNet.

We’re starting to see debates in the newspaper and online about rebuilding Christchurch. Some property owners are racing in to demolish unwanted heritage buildings, presumably to build a nice profitable McDonalds, but it’s often possible to save something like the Harbour Light theatre, for which everyone who saw its cracked wall predicted doom. What I hope emerges is an actual Vision for the city, a rebuilding programme with a unified, distinctive Christchurch style that will hold up for another 100 years. Now would be the time to get a group of New Urbanist architects to emulate the success of Napier and create durable, sustainable, beautiful buildings that will not embarrass our descendants. So keep Sir Miles Warren far away from it. Perhaps we could disqualify architects whose own houses fell down.

This is all very high-minded, but I confess to being preoccupied with the more mundane question, “What are we going to do with all those bricks?” Fallen chimneys could be certainly converted into brick paths or patios—walking on bricks seems to be the only safe thing you can do with them. Perhaps an annual brick-throwing festival, as they do in Stroud? The best suggestion I’ve heard is building a Quake of 2010 Memorial Barbecue, so everyone can tell earthquake stories as they burn the sausages. The fire next time.

The most awe-inspiring visuals of the quake for me were the flyover photographs of the fault line near Burnham (well described by Mark Quigley’s home page—start a blog, Mark!). The 3 m slippage showed up as a dent in fences and a kink in shelterbelts; a line of mature trees would suddenly shuffle over, and continue as before but displaced. Long after all the other visible evidence of the earthquake is repaired, these offset trees will remain. If I were a farmer, I’d be putting my location on Google Earth and a donation box on my gate, so the rubberneckers can help fix my fences.

A review of several earthquake simulators:
★★★☆☆: Turbulence on the flight to Wellington
★★★☆☆: Earthquake Room in Te Papa
★★★★☆: Bumpy touchdown at Christchurch Airport

There were of course no shortage of crazy theories about the origin of the quake, which Matthew Dentith has been cataloguing in his conspiracy-theory blog; my favourite is that “perpendicular gravitational waves”, caused by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, travelled right through the Earth to cause mischief. There’s also the persistant idea that divine intervention of some kind protected the good people of Christchurch (while at the same time not preventing the actual quake itself of course). Perhaps Bob Parker was praying too hard for an election campaign miracle? Or did he engineer the quake in the first place?) The most convincing theological statement, though, seems to be the one made by my bookshelf when it fell:

1 thought on “Continuing Aftershocks

  1. Debbie Roberts

    Loved this article; particularly the earthquake perception scale.

    I’ve taken the liberty of suggesting a couple of extensions:

    3: WE [what earthquake?] 4: DTEMFYT? [Did the earth move for you too?]

    I would however acknowledge the latter suggestion may already be overused in other scenarios to be legitimately included in the scale.

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