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    Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

    Posted by Charles Gray on April 3, 2017

    I saw an interesting webpage yesterday, about using containers for indoor farming.

     

    From the company’s website:

     

    What is a Leafy Green Machine?

    Also known as the LGM, the Leafy Green Machine is a pre-assembled hydroponic farm inside an up-cycled freight container. It is capable of producing yields at commercial-scale in any climate and any season.

     

    It’s an interesting concept, and one that could be very important in coming years. In terms of society, it’s another example of moving from food as farmed, to food as a manufactured product. You don’t need to find good soil, or a place with decent rainfall/river resources, because you provide all of that inside the container. If you can get water and power, you’re good to go. Take a look at all the places in the city where you can fit a TEU and you’ll see a potential farming site.

    1200px-line3174_-_shipping_containers_at_the_terminal_at_port_elizabeth2c_new_jersey_-_noaa

    “Son, Cabbages are in this year. Better go add some more containers to the back 40…”

     

     

    Why should we care?

     

    Well, one thing that is likely to be coming for the world is increasingly unstable weather conditions, and understand, I’m not just talking about droughts.  Rain at the wrong time can kill a crop just as effectively as a drought can.  The more we can decouple food production from exterior weather conditions, the better off we’d be.

     

    Even better, using containers lets you avoid the question of “how do we get the money to build a big-ass skyscraper farm?”  This is an incremental solution that could be funded by a trickle, instead of requiring an immense amount of funding from the start. Believe me, that’s more important than a lot of people give credit for— it’s a lot easier to get the government, be it national or local, to fund something that isn’t demanding tens of millions or more for the initial start up. Even better, it makes it more open for private actors.

     

    But since this is a writing and sci-fi blog, let’s ask: what other developments could this see?

     

    Well, the big one is the further marginalization of rural America. Not now, not in the next year, but let’s look ahead to some distant time when A growing percentage of the nation’s food supply is provided by things like these designs. What happens then?  Does big agribusiness go away (note, before people tell me I’m full of it, I do know that the the “profitable price point” for lettuce and things like grain are radically different things. We are, after all, talking about the future.

    We’ve already seen how ugly the rural/urban divide can get, so does it get uglier? Or does the ability to decouple a city or a town from larger supply networks see a growth in smaller towns?

    I don’t know. After all, sci-fi writers have explored both concepts— the death of the rural society in favor of the megalopolis, and the death of the megalopolis in favor of smaller rural settlements.

    And the amusing thing is that many of them have something like our modern day developments in containerized or factory farming as the impetus for the change, or all that they usually fluffed it as “food factories”. It looks like, for good or ill, we may be moving into their future.

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    Posted in fiction, technology, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

    The Reliability Revolution

    Posted by Charles Gray on March 28, 2017

    We like to talk about technology in terms of the new and shiny. This computer can render things down to the molecule. This car has… an autopilot.
    But in all of that hype, laypeople and sci-fi writers alike miss another, likely far more important technological revolution.

    Reliability, or the growing of the Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF).

    For example, in the 1950s, MIT’s Whirlwind computer had an MTBF of about eight hours. What that would translate out to would be a computer that would be lucky to make it through a single workday. Then you get the interns running around with shopping carts loaded with vacuum tubes.

     

    640px-colossusrebuild_12

    Just imagine the poor guy in charge of fixing that.

    Today, your average laptop or desktop will have a MTBF measured in years. I’ve replaced far more computers because they became obsolete than because they failed. The same goes for cars— oh, we moan about the good old days, but today’s cars are more reliable than their predecessors were— they’re just a bit more expensive to fix, and major problems usually aren’t fixable by the owner. I overhauled the engine for my 1967 Dodge Dart— couldn’t do that with my 2013 Mazda.

    But on the whole, we spend less time fixing stuff today than we ever have, and that’s a tremendous revolution. The first computers weren’t just limited by the initial expense, but by the ongoing process of keeping them running. Most computer purchases in the 1950s and 1960s came complete with long-term maintenance contracts because you knew the beast was going to die.

    Okay, Jake, you tell the President what happened to the plan to eradicate world hunger.

    Today, that’s unusual short of some outside events like a disgruntled employee with a fire axe or a really cutting edge system.
    The fact that we can say malfunctions have become unusual, something we talk about, is a sign of just how incredibly this unsung technology of reliability has progressed, and one of the reasons advanced technology has become so ubiquitous.  After all, how many computer would you have if they broke down every day.

    Posted in fiction, Science Fiction, technology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

     
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