Saturday, March 29, 2008


Thought a lot about infrastructure on this trip. Truth to tell, it's something I think a lot about, anyway. ;-)

Maintaining infrastructure really is a never-ending battle. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge was undergoing some kind of construction. Someone said it was for corroded cables or something like that. Along I-95, two of the rest areas I stopped at had no restroom facilities due to infrastructure problems. One was undergoing repairs for a broken sewer pipe, one had no water due to a water main break.

I talked to one of the security guards at the rest area with the broken sewer pipe. He said it had actually been leaking for months, and no one did anything about it. Finally, it got so bad they were forced to fix it. Wonderful.

I paid no tolls on the way down. I went the long away around NYC and Philadelphia, to avoid congestion (not least because of the I-95 bridge failure near Philadelphia). But on the way back, I was anxious to get home, and I figured the bridge repairs would be done. I took the shortest route...which meant lots of tolls. Good thing I had an EZ-Pass, or I might have run out of money. They charge $5 to cross some bridges. Good gravy! I think I must have paid $30 in tolls. All those cars and trucks, paying all those tolls...and they're still having trouble funding maintenance.

I stayed in cheap hotels like Lodge of America and Quality Inn. Basically, all I was interested in was broadband Internet access and a reasonable standard of cleanliness. I was pretty happy with my digs, but I was reminded of what someone at The Oil Drum said: poverty is inefficient. In Florida, there were billboards everywhere reminding people to conserve water because there was a drought. Yet the toilet in my hotel room ran constantly, no matter what I did.

I got a room with a microwave and fridge. (I highly recommend it. You can save a lot of money on food that way.) When I first entered the room, the fridge door was not closed. The refrigerator was running, and dripping condensation on the rug, but the door would not close. A little investigation revealed that a rack meant for holding cans of soda or beer was preventing the door from closing. I'm not sure why; maybe it was actually meant for a different model of fridge. In any case, I removed the rack and solved the problem. And tried not to think about how long the fridge had been running with the door open before I got there. I was seriously tempted to throw the rack away so they couldn't put it back in when I checked out, but I was afraid they would charge me for it, so I left it on top of the fridge.

1 comment:

Steve ( TOD:hardhat) said...

I would think "the infrastructure problem" is going to be the lead weight around our neck dragging us into the abyss as we lose the "lift" we are getting from our depletion of fossil fuels.

We have made a whole mess of stuff that requires constant maintenance, instead of building stuff that lasts.

We have mortgaged our future to "planned obsolesence", which assumes we will always have even more resources to replace what we have. This will prove to be a terrible assumption.

I stand in awe and envy of countries where I see architecture that dates back centuries, then I look at the machine I am typing on and wonder if I will even be able to use it in five years, and will all the information on it be rendered unusable because the digital locks protecting copyrighted information are no longer supported.

I can still play old vinyl records, as far as that goes, I can still play an old Edison cylinder with a cup and pin.

I can still read centuries old books and some of my friends can even read the old Greek, Syriac, and Hebrew of the Christian Bible.

Yet soon I will not be able to read computer files because their DRM licenses are being obsoleted... ( Yes, thats my jab at "Plays for Sure" by Microsoft).

I am an old engineer.

I hate these new paradigms of expiring works. When I build ANYTHING, I want it to last as long as its function is desired...millenia if need be.

We HAD good stuff. ASCII. HTML code. JPG. GIF. MP3. MPG. DivX/XviD.

This new stuff coming out in the computer arena is terrible. Its laced with all sorts of technology which renders it terribly unresilent and vulnerable to all sorts of failures from undue complexity. And slow as all getout.

Its like trying to use some newfangled contraption that takes hours to set up, and often does not work at all the way I want it to, when what I wanted in the first place was a plain old fashioned screwdriver.

I feel for the new generation of kids who never got the "fun" I had in the '50's and '60's when we could build anything we wanted with vacuum tubes, transistors, and later, integrated circuits. I got to build everything - and know exactly how it worked - from radio receivers/transmitters to my own computer - and I mean at the gate level with wirewrap.

Today, I can't even fix the newer stuff. Its not made where it can be maintained without specialized rework equipment costing thousands of dollars - and even then it would be uneconomical to do so.

It concerns me that the knowledge of how stuff works will be isolated to several people - and that knowledge will go to the grave.

I have already had to throw away way too much stuff because the technologies required to maintain it were no longer available. So far, I have always had the resources to replace what I had - but I am concerned the day will come when what I have expires and I have no resources to expend to replace it.

As far as my personal stuff goes, I can still design, albeit completely nonstandard, stuff I can maintain as long as I live.

An example is my home's cooling system, which will use an ice bank and use propane as a refrigerant. In order to isolate the obvious fire hazard, the ice bank hardware is outside. Only the ice water is circulated to the house for cooling.

Both my barbeque and my cooling system use the same amount of propane... and if need be I can use the barbeque's propane as a refrigerant, or use my refrigerant in the barbeque.

I will also use the "high side" of the compressor to feed a heat exchanger to preheat the water feeding my water heater. So if I am going to take a bath or wash clothes in the summer, I will make some ice while I'm at it.

Its the little things of building things to last that will be really appreciated when things are hard to replace because I simply do not have the resources to buy new, or likely from an economic viewpoint, the item I want may no longer be available. What I need will likely be in the junkyard.

We will make things far easier on ourselves by knowing what is coming and preparing for it NOW, while we have resources. I do not want to wait for winter and be under three feet of snow before I begin to "prepare the woodpile".

I know I got wordy here, Leanan.

You and The Oil Drum have struck a lot of chords in me, that I agree with wholeheartedly.

If I am out of place here, feel free to delete, but I wanted to share how frustrated I am with the way I see things going these days.