wafting your way along the slipstreams of the Info Highway

from Bubbles = Tom Digby



Issue #32

New Moon of August 3, 1997

Contents copyright 1997 by Thomas G. Digby, with a liberal definition of "fair use". In other words, feel free to quote excerpts elsewhere (with proper attribution), post the entire zine (verbatim, including this notice) on other boards that don't charge specifically for reading the zine, link my Web page, and so on, but if something from here forms a substantial part of something you make money from, it's only fair that I get a cut of the profits.

For more background info, details of how the mailing list works, etc., look at issue #Zero.

If you email me a reply or comment, please make clear whether or not it's for publication.

What can I write about this time? Nothing great comes to mind, except that line about a mind being a terrible thing to waste. Or a waist is a terrible thing to mind. Or something.

And don't forget mining waste. Given nanotechnology and also mini- robots, we might profitably mine landfills and dumps.

Imagine robots about the size of badgers, capable of burrowing deep into old landfills. Maybe they're like mother ships, carrying a cargo of mole-sized robots. The "badgers", perhaps trailing power cables so they won't have to keep coming back up all the time to recharge batteries, tunnel down to some assigned depth, there to release the "moles". The "moles" then fan out, tunneling horizontally a few feet, and then stop and release "ants". The "ants" then search their immediate vicinity, within a range of a few inches, for whatever materials are worth salvaging.

If the "ants" find something they bite off small pieces of it to bring back to their "moles". When a "mole" gets full it goes back to its "badger" and unloads. The "badger" then somehow sends the material to the surface. Perhaps it makes the trip itself, or maybe it calls another vehicle down to take the load, or maybe it's trailing a hose or something that can bring the material up. But in any event, the material eventually finds its way to a recycling facility.

You don't need to spend much on safety equipment. Since there are no people down in the mine, if there's a cave-in or something all you've lost is mass-produced machinery. And other machines can be sent down sooner or later to salvage what's left of the "victims".

When a given stratum is mined out, the "ants" ride the "moles" back to the "badger", which then tunnels down a few more feet. Then the cycle begins again, until eventually the entire landfill is exhausted.

Once a given material (such as copper) is fully mined out of a given landfill, the "badgers" come back to the surface and exchange their "ants" for new ones designed and programmed for a different material. As the years pass and advances in technology make the production of micro- robots less and less costly, it becomes profitable to mine less valuable materials. Perhaps the first systems will do metals such as copper and aluminum. Then later ones will do iron, then later on glass and plastics, and perhaps eventually paper.

So future generations may recycle not only their own wastes, but those of their ancestors as well.

Another thought: Archaeologists consider waste dumps of any sort to be extremely valuable repositories of information on bygone cultures. So maybe the first generations of the mining robots I described above will look not for materials to recycle, but for data. They'll map out the dump in three dimensions, with locations of potentially interesting items flagged. Some areas may even be declared off-limits to the materials miners until their contents can be either studied where they lie or brought to the surface intact.

So some of our trash will turn out to be future generations' treasures.

"They're fumigating the office this week, and people are rather annoyed by it. The lunch room is closed, you can't eat at your desk, and the gas masks they gave us are uncomfortable and make everybody's voice sound funny over the phone."

One thing I once got to fantasizing about was some kind of mind-link with space aliens. Were they to inflict such at random, would I be more likely to survive it and come out relatively sane than the usual run of people? I was assuming so, but that's just fantasy. Could be true, could be false. I'm assuming my mental flexibility is enough greater than average to allow this, but who really knows? Maybe I'm more rigid than I think I am.

Or maybe complete and total rigidity would be what is needed to withstand the onslaught. Or maybe both ends of the spectrum would do OK in different ways and for different reasons, while the middle would be most traumatized: Strength of the oak and flexibility of the reed, both weathering storms, but in different ways.

But it would make an interesting story idea: Space aliens make contact, and some kind of mind-link is possible, but not everybody can do it. And Earth needs people who can mind-link, either to handle communications if the aliens are friendly, or to spy on them if they're hostile. Or maybe it can go either way, and mind-linking is our only hope of turning them toward the friendly path. But the only Earth people who can do it are the eccentric, creative, seemingly half-crazy artists and leftover hippies and such that "normal" people don't want anything to do with.

Or maybe ordinary mainstream people can mind-link, but the aliens don't like them. And that threatens to sour relations until it's discovered that the crazies can do it too, and the aliens are comfortable with them.

"Oh-oh. The cupboard is bare. Time to restockolate the chocolate."

I was speculating on Heaven a while back, and more recently I got to thinking about Hell.

The current popular image of Hell is of a place set up to torture people. That's what you have in cartoons and jokes, where, for example, Hell has a non-smoking section but the only people they put there are smokers. And they play [insert name of your least favorite radio talk show host or TV game show] 24 hours a day.

One origin story for Hell tells of an angel rebelling against God and being thrown out of Heaven. I don't think such a fallen angel would really be interested in torturing people. His goal would be more like making war on Heaven or else setting up a competing realm. In either case gratuitous tortures would seem counterproductive. If he wants to try to conquer Heaven, he needs efficient armies, not people wasting time inflicting pointless pain. And if he wants to run a competing realm, then torture is bad PR. Won't bring in the tourists.

Another view that's occasionally seen is that Hell is sort of under contract as an official place of punishment. That doesn't appear consistent with the older stories, but it would explain the Devil's seemingly non-optimum tactics as seen in the movies. There he's constantly going around making a show of being ominous and scary when he would probably snare more souls by total stealth. But if the Devil is sort of on God's payroll as a boogeyman, it makes sense.

But I still consider Hell a place to try to stay away from.

Cartoon I don't think I've ever seen anywhere: There's a long line for some amusement park ride, perhaps a roller coaster. Most of the waiting "people" look like crash test dummies. One of the few "real people" in the line is saying to another, "I have a bad feeling about this."

Sometimes when I hear politicians talk of "creating jobs" I think of the time I worked on the design of the California Aqueduct. I don't recall the exact figures, but the largest pumping plant in our part of the system was designed to pump more than 3000 cubic feet (85 cubic meters) of water per second up about 2000 feet (600 meters). The pump motors totaled almost a million horsepower.

I got to thinking about machinery putting people out of work, so I did some back-of-an-envelope calculations to see how many jobs that plant was costing the local economy.

Suppose instead of giant pumps you had bucket brigades. Build a stairway up the mountain, station a line of 4000 people on it, each six inches above the last. Give every odd-numbered person in the line a bucket holding one cubic foot (a little over eight gallons) of water. Leave the even-numbered people empty-handed. At a signal each odd-numbered person hands their bucket to the even-numbered person above them. Then at the next signal the buckets are passed another notch upward, from even- numbered people to odd. New buckets are brought in at the bottom, while the ones that reach the top are emptied and somehow sent back down to be refilled.

Give the signal once per second and the net effect is a flow of water averaging half a cubic foot per second. Since you want 3000 cubic feet per second you'll need 6000 such lines. That's 24 million people.

But that's only one shift. At peak capacity the plant would be running 24 hours a day. So you need three eight-hour shifts, or 72 million people total, each working 56 hours a week. Or if you want something closer to a 40-hour week you'll need four shifts. That's 96 million people averaging 42 hours a week each.

And I haven't considered supervisors, food service, payroll clerks, people to carry the empties back down the mountain, or anything else. That could easily bring the total to a hundred million people.

The figure of a hundred million jobs is conservative. A cubic foot of water weighs a little over sixty pounds. Throw in the weight of the bucket itself and the total will be close to 66 pounds (30 kg). You have to be in fairly good physical shape to manhandle something like that for eight hours at a stretch. You can use smaller buckets, and allow lunch and coffee breaks, but that will mean hiring more people. So a hundred million is a bare minimum.

And these are low-skill jobs. You don't need to be able to read or write, or even speak English. All you have to be able to do is take a bucket of water from the person below you on the stairway and hand it to the person above, every two seconds for eight hours a day. So maybe you do need to have passed Phys Ed in school, but not much else. Just the thing for semi-educated inner-city gang members with no real hope of anything better.

So the reason we didn't have a major employment boom in southern Kern County is that we built a pumping plant there that put at least a hundred million people out of work.

"He's working his passage on the gravy train."

As a chef's assistant, mixing metaphors in the dining car galley, perhaps?

Alternate Routes

He was crazy.
We all knew that.
All his talk of strange exotic lands 
     he would someday run away to proved it,
Since it was well known
That here was the only place there was.
Still, he could be quite convincing
So we had to keep reminding ourselves
That he was crazy.

Further proof:
One night late, driving home from a party or something,
As he approached the curve in the road
We saw him signal to turn right.
He tried to explain about another road to the left
They had taught us not to see
But that only proved
How crazy he was.

And so we went,
Being careful not to look too hard as we passed the curve,
One night late, driving home from a party or something,
As he approached the curve in the road
We saw him signal to turn left
And vanish.  

We all stood there, 
Telling each other that we could see,
Way down in the canyon,
His flaming wreckage.
I felt it best not to mention
That to me the faint red glow
Looked more like tail lights
Dwindling toward the horizon.

                                        Thomas G. Digby
                                        written 0420 hr  5/17/80
                                        entered 2115 hr  2/08/92

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