This is an ongoing concern of mine. My training is in mathematics and physics, and I’ve always been around engineers and techie types. Given that, it truly appalls me how little most people understand and appreciate the issues involved with infrastructure. This is especially so in light of our aging infrastructure, which is much more fragile than most people think. I had a couple of infrastructure-related posts here, and I just posted a couple of other infrastructure essays from a few years ago. I figured there are enough to deserve a category index, especially since I may return to the topic now and then.
This post was written a few years back, hence the reference to old news as if it were newly breaking. I’ve edited it lightly, but left it as is, by and large.
The horrendous collapse of the I-35 W bridge in Minneapolis is still all over the airwaves and cyberspace. I don’t watch TV that much and hadn’t been online most of the evening last night. Thus, as it happens, I found out when my sister, who lives in Minneapolis-St. Paul, called to tell me she was all right. My first response was a confused, “Well, that’s good…” She realized I didn’t know what was going on, and explained. My wife turned on MSNBC and we saw the footage. Truly awful.
Infrastructure is one of the hobby horses I keep returning to here. In addition to the original post, I have discussed aspects of the issue here and here. My basic thesis has been and still is that to most people infrastructure is A) a matter of no concern whatsoever and B) indistinguishable from magic. B is of course a reference to Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum about a sufficiently advanced technology, but the sad thing is that here I’m talking about current technology. The point is that we have power grids, plumbing and water systems, roads, bridges and so on that are forty, fifty, or even over one hundred years old in this country which have had little but the most cursory and cosmetic overhaul throughout most of their lifespan; and people in this country are OK with that! Read the rest of this entry
Written a few years back, lightly edited.
I was re-watching The Matrix Reloaded today; it was actually the first time I had seen it since its original theatrical run a few years back. It is still, IMO, the best of the trilogy. Anyway, as I re-watched it, something in it struck me that I had forgotten and which reminded me of my earlier post about infrastructure.
It is the scene about a quarter of the way into the movie where Neo goes walking in Zion, being unable to sleep, and runs into Councillor Harmann. They chat for a bit, then go down to the engineering level. Remember, Zion is the city of humans who have been freed from the Matrix. It is deep underground, and thus requires complicated life-support systems to provide air, water recycling, food (grown hydroponically? synthesized?), and so on.
The Councillor waxes philosophical, noting that the populace of Zion is just as dependent on their machines as the humans still unknowingly plugged into the Matrix are dependent upon the machines that run the Matrix. He says, “There is so much in this world that I do not understand. See that machine? It has something to do with recycling our water supply. I have absolutely no idea how it works. But I do understand the reason for it to work.” Read the rest of this entry
One of my persistent hobbyhorses over the years has been infrastructure. I’m convinced that it is both one of the most vitally important and completely overlooked issues in America today. I’ve pondered this for a long time, but first got to thinking about it systematically in the wake of the horrendous results of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. It never ceases to amaze me how much we Americans take for granted the infrastructure upon which our lifestyle, and often our very lives, depend. Occasionally a spectacular breakdown occurs (one thinks of–well, Katrina–also the blackout in the Northeast a few years ago) that makes national news, but after a day or two it sinks back into cognitive oblivion. The level of breakdown we saw in New Orleans and elsewhere should by rights force us to take an honest look at the state of our nation’s infrastructure.
I don’t mean to trivialize by using a pop-culture reference, but this does put me in mind of something I used to ponder in my (excessive!) free time years ago. Back in the 80’s one of my favorite TV series was Beauty and the Beast–the show with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. For those too young to have seen it or those who didn’t watch it at the time, its premise was that there is an entire culture beneath the subways and sewers of New York. Those discontent with the impersonality, venality, and general nastiness of modern urban life have dropped out–or better, dropped down–and have carved out a near-Utopian civilization.
There they live under the leadership of a wise old man, formerly a physician, referred to as Father (everyone there takes a new name, apparently). They live in peace and harmony, dressed in clothing that seems a combination of the Renaissance, Bowery street-person, and Road Warrior. Their chambers, hollowed out of the stone, look like Renaissance studies, all earth-toned, full of candles, and beautiful soft-focus shots. The protagonist is a tough New York lawyer who is shot and left for dead by the mob; she is found by Vincent (a mutant who looks much like a were-lion who lives in the underground civilization, adopted by Father), heals underground, learns the ways of the people there, falls in love with Vincent, but then returns to the above-ground world, where she (assisted by Vincent, whom she frequently visits) fights crime.