I’m looking for some good end of summer fiction reading. Inspired by the recent blackout, what I’d love to read is some good science fiction about the end of the world – not nuclear disaster, not war, plague, or pestilence – but a very mundane end of the world where the technologies that we use to sustain ourselves get so complex that when the network goes down for some mysterious reason it can’t put it back together again.
In parallel with this search for fiction, I’m after non-fiction (essays, papers, books) on failure in complex interconnected and geographically distributed systems. What really happens when a power grid goes dark, and what sorts of useful analogies describe that grid’s behavior (hint: it’s not a highway). What sorts of failure modes lead to widespread internet outages? What makes railroad switching networks seize up every so often? I’m pretty sure there are individual answers for any or each of these, the hope is to find someone who has knit the whole mess together into something sensible to speak of “network failure” to encompass not just one isolated building crumbling to the ground but the repercussions that move from here to there at the speed of light.
Power went out Thursday at about 4:00 pm; it was back on in our house at about 1:30 pm Friday. We don’t seem to have lost any electronics in the outage.
The power is said to be being restored slowly one piece of the grid at a time. We got word of people in more remote areas getting turned on first, and Detroit city proper is supposed to be last on the list. A neighbor was taking ice to his mother in Detroit.
Emergency preparedness score here: bad on spare D cell batteries, bad on bottled water, very good on food for the first day, unsure how we would have coped had the food situation been for 3 or 4 days. Some stores stayed open (CVS at S. Industrial and Stimson) using flashlight equipped runners to fetch things from the store.
Telephone worked (local and long distance). Cell phone didn’t (“no service” on AT&T Wireless).
I spent the evening wishing that I had just been shopping for Freeplay hand-cranked radios and flashlights.
My first mobile office rating guide was all about the process of finding acceptable space to telecommute from. I’ve been working in and out of the home but not always at a traditional office for going on a decade now, and things are generally getting better about this all the time.
Comparing two favorite spots, typing this from one of them –
Cafe Ambrosia on Maynard St. is a nice hangout. Power outlets at every table, good coffee and muffins, a cribbage table, pictures of the owners and their kids and postcards from customers up on the wall, and generally friendly. Saul and I are regulars there on Sunday morning. Alas the wifi connections are spotty, so it’s hard to be online, but it’s a good place to take the paper notebook.
Espresso Royale on Main St. is very functional. It’s a cavernous space with power outlets around the edges, three Macs for short term use, free wifi, some bigger tables, and a busy bulletin board. It’s part of a chain; the ERC on State St is notably more student-grunge. I can go here, plug in, put my headphones on, and be a net-head for hours getting work done.
Who knows what town will be like in 20 days when the students return.
Some more places nearby or on travel routes that might have or soon have wifi – Panera Bread (none in Michigan or Ohio), Starbucks (not at the Squirrel Hill, PA location). A generally acceptable second choice for travel is to find a Kinko’s – awful coffee and you’d hate to spend any time there, but net connections are reliable and there’s printing.
Thank you. Thank you for coming. I saw Grandma and Opa. Thank you for visiting us. That is OK. I saw a broken blue tractor. I saw frogs and butterflies. I saw one gecko. There are geckos at Phipps in Pittsburgh.
(Papa transcribed and edited for publication)
Recommended: the blueberry beer at the Vierling Restaurant in Marquette, MI. (It’s their brewpub wheat beer with a spoonful of blueberries in it, yum). The restaurant was packed when we were there, so we had dinner at the bar.
If I were to reproduce it here in Ann Arbor, my recipe would be something like
Freeze berries; thaw and crush slightly to release juices. Pour a glass of Oberon. Spoon the crushed berries in; they should float a bit.
Poems by Jim Johnson about blueberry picking in the north woods. Odes to the berry, and woes of the black fly.
Amazon has it I think in their “hard to get” section, so I’d recommend the bookstore I bought it at, Snowbound Books in Marquette MI. It was on a featured blueberry books shelf next to “Blueberries for Sal”.
At One Time the Intent of Poetry Was To Instruct
A Co-op coffee can makes a good bucket
if you drill two holes near the top
and fit them with any thick wire for a bail.
Be careful not to get the bucket wet or
the bottom will rust. If it does, it is
not much good. Use it, then, for picking rocks.
I'm keeping all the old stuff here, and transitioning to a new Vacuum weblog on Six Apart's TypePad. The new site has comments (woowoo!). There's an RSS feed available.