Archive for October, 2007

I haven’t written anything much this past couple of weeks because life intrudes and there are always a zillion things [I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate] to look after – figure out – pay for – sort out – not least of which is getting up at the crack of dawn and doing my job.  Fortunately for me I work at home and can come and go as I please although that means mostly ‘going’ as I deliver kids to school, run the endless errands, take the dogs for walkies, feed the birds, feed the fish, feed the turtle and the gerbils and the guinea pigs, take a few courses at the university, sit on a few committees and generally run around all day like a chicken on crack.  Figure into that runs to the doctor and the pharmacy to pick up another few dozen bottles of all these heavy duty pills I’m on for all my various ailments – and how the HELL did I get so old!  When I look in the mirror there’s this old hag staring back at me.  What happened to that trendy bright eyed, blue-eyed girl from the 60’s with the frizzy blond mop [courtesy of Revlon], the high-heeled winkle-picker shoes  and the skirts so short that she had to become adept at the bunny dip to pick up pencils off the floor?  Life is cruel chaps – but perhaps I don’t have to tell you that?


Anyway all this is leading up to a major life-decision that I’m on the brink of making – or at least I’m on my tippy-toes at the end of the diving board peering at the water.  For a few years now books and articles have popped up under my nose on a frequent basis, causing me to shore up some of my sagging beliefs – one or two of which have to do with fate.  It started a few years back when Shirley MacLean started churning out her books on spiritualism, the cosmic consciousness, Karma [I’ll get you Dorothy and your little dog too..], and something called the chakra centers which I assumed were Indian social clubs of the time.  She’s quite the gal is Shirley – she travels all over the globe solo and can be occasionally spotted hiking up some mountain pass in the Himalayas or wreathed in fog at Machu Pichu.  Not your average self-absorbed celebrity at all.  She sometimes even neglects to visit her hairdresser and her manicurist for weeks at a time – gasp.  However, one book in particular caught my eye.  She had just come back from Spain [Shirley not the manicurist] where she had spent a month walking the Camino.  Now vat is zis Camino I thought to myself [..with a fake German accent.  I often do this don’t you?  It makes mundane thoughts so much more interesting] as I scanned the back cover for the – hopefully discounted – price.


Well what it is apparently is a very long walk through the northern half of Spain.  And I mean a *very* long walk.  So long in fact that you have to have special hiking boots, special hiking shirts, belts, socks and undies and a very trendy back-pack and possibly some Lycra skintight something or other holding in your tum.  No not really – in fact this goes completely against the spirit of the Camino which was – and is – a pilgrimage route running from the border of France at one end to the border of Spain and the sea at the other.  Chaucer himself walked – or rather rode – the Camino, which is possibly where he got the idea of writing about that other famous pilgrimage to see Becket at Canterbury.  Not the play – the saint– or rather his rather moldy bones by now I would think.  Although if you’ve seen Becket the movie with Peter O’Toole and – erm – another actor – the Archbishop was a rather naughty boy and a decided pain in the bum who practically forced poor King Henry to have him offed in the vestry by several overly enthusiastic hangers on who were more than happy to oblige.  But I digress – as usual.  The Camino has been traversed for thousands of years – long before the Church got the decidedly modern capitalist idea that relics wuz BIG business  – Oley!  No sooner had some monk in a cell with nothing to do but play with his abacus all day worked out the details of such a vastly untapped market than the Holy Roman Church practically fell over itself to encourage poor pilgrims to make the trek from far and wide as often as possible and to part with a few groats  – or preferably more – along the way.    I mean – all those crusades were becoming bloody expensive and they were probably running out of heathens to convert or slaughter even though the local Swords r Us was making a mint.  And all the church had to do in return was offer time off from purgatory.  The longer you walked the more time you got off – and of course the more money you spent – Voila!  Business school grads take careful note.


The modern Camino is almost as popular now as it once was and you don’t even have to be a religious nutbar to do it.  This is the bit that intrigues me.  I’m an agnostic you might say – or you might say that I prefer to hedge my bets and not commit myself totally to either side just on the off-chance that they’re both wrong.  However I do think – along with Einstein – that there is some intelligence to the universe [not here obviously but out there somewhere beyond the stars].  The trek to visit the church of Santiago de Compostella in fact means ‘St. James in the field of stars’ – wonderful.  Therefore I’m going to undertake the Camino as a spiritual exercise – both literally and figuratively.  Since I can’t get off the planet – although I’d certainly like to – next year in May  I’m going to opt out al la Shirley for a month’s walking.  500 miles from France to Finisterre [end of the world – and I’m sure it will feel like it].  Perhaps the solitude and the connection to nature – or the dust, the rain and the heat – will [un]focus my mind away from this rat-race I live in – just for a little while.  Thoreau did it in the woods – I’m going to do it in Spain.


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The Numa-Tube [patent pending] – a Proposal to Save the Planet

The Problem

We have too many cars. Cars pollute the atmosphere, deplete our stocks of fossil fuels, promote competition and greed, capitalism and rampant consumerism, disrupt both our mental and physical well-being and enable a constant search for oil which leads to price-gauging, invasion and war.

The Solution

Get rid of cars. Hmm – a bit too simplistic. We are in love with our cars. We strive to procure the biggest, the flashiest and if not the most extreme, at least the latest model – the one with the most knobs and dials, the back-up camera, the OnStar GPS, iPod dock, heated leather seats and the lumbar support – not to mention the drop-down video screen, the programmable AC and the dashboard designed by NASA . Entire industries worldwide are inextricably entwined with the production, the maintenance and the manufacture and sale of a million different accoutrements that go along with the ownership of cars. Huge conglomerates, i.e. primarily the oil companies and their subsidiaries, make trillions of dollars per year in profits, investors become rich, governments pay down the national debt with gas-tax dollars and dealers spend their winters in Hawaii with the proceeds from the buying and selling of cars. The car has become an iconic symbol of Western culture. We must have a new one if not every year then at least every couple of years at the very least because we tire easily of the old ones and must have the latest, the biggest, and the best. We ‘wear’ our cars like we wear our clothes – they signify success. The owner of a car more than five years old is pitied as poor, unaccomplished, un-ambitious and in every sense of the word a failure. Therefore any full or partial replacement for the car must be subtle, and sneaky – a very gradual change over time.

So the question becomes “if we want to supplant the car what do we put in its place?” Simple – provide cheap, fast, reliable, attractive, safe and comfortable public transportation – an alternative transportation network that not only services immediate local areas but is easily expandable to become trans-continental as well.

Therefore, I would like to present to you the “Numa-Tube” – a system of interlocking transparent tubes [imagine a series of interconnected brightly coloured ‘hamster’ tubes], that can be subterranean or not depending upon aesthetics and cost-effective design. Inside the tubes are a series of ‘ball-shaped’ cars containing seats for 4 [see diagram], mounted on gimbals for stability and comfort. Extremely fast forward motion is produced by expelling air at various points along the tunnel in order to create a partial vacuum. This has the effect of ‘pulling’ the cars forwards until an optimum speed is reached. The slowing of the cars at each ‘station’ is accomplished by allowing less air to be expelled. Of course, sudden violent forward motion – not to mention any sudden stops at the end – would obviously have a detrimental effect upon any human body – much like the end-result of jumping off a tall building. Therefore gradual acceleration and deceleration is produced by a series of ‘on-ramps’ powered by, possibly, a mag-lev system – an arrangement of magnets in series along a track.

The ball shaped cars travel rapidly and continuously through the tunnels [which are pleasingly lit by ‘rings’ of phosphorescent crystals]. For safety and security each car is equipped with state-of-the-art video surveillance and a two-way voice system. The walls are sound-proofed to the extent that any loud or sudden extraneous noises are filtered and soft music, climate control and subtle lighting provides a relaxing ambient effect. Four comfortable recliner seats upholstered in organic, plant-based fabrics in neutral colours are arranged around a table/desk containing a computer console that can be activated to provide on-board games, movies and music as well as Internet access. Power is generated by the movement of the cars through the tunnel by means of a dynamo system in contact with the external tunnel wall, making the ‘energy foot-print’ virtually non-existent. The air under pressure expelled from the tunnels to create the partial vacuum can be directed to wind-farms which in turn produce the power to expel the air and power the tunnel system. Any energy produced that is surplus to requirements can be channeled off for other uses – providing ‘power-docks’ for small electric cars that may be used for traversing city streets for example [because people will still require/prefer cars to reach out of the way places no doubt].

Numa-Tubes can cross oceans by the simple expedient of sinking the tubes to neutral buoyancy depth, far below any turbulent waters, but not so far down that extreme pressure and cold presents an obstacle. The extreme speeds produced by the full or partial vacuum can be easily tolerated by the human body once full acceleration has been accomplished. In fact, the occupants of the cars would probably have no sensation of speed at all, much like travelling at supersonic speeds on an aircraft like the Concorde or the Space Shuttle. Lengthy travel times will become a thing of the past because speeds reached will be in excess of two thousand miles an hour – making a trans-continental trip that used to take 8-10 hours [from Toronto to London say] possible in less than two hours.


The immediate, and possibly loudest, objection will come from the oil conglomerates and subsidiary industries that support the present car-based infrastructure. If the Numa-Tube system [ultimately] obviates the need for gas-guzzling cars and planes then the oil and gas industries dependent upon them – the oil companies will say – will collapse, making millions of auto-workers redundant and throwing social support systems, not to mention middle-eastern governments, into an economic tail-spin from which there is no return. The world as we know it will end.


Any savvy Business Studies Grad type worthy of the price of his Ivy-league admission will realize that vast revenues can be made from diverting oil-based industries into other modes of production – into plastics for example [as the Graduate would have said]. It is to be hoped however that oil production companies would simply re-tool their lines to produce ‘green’ products instead and collaborate with other industries to find alternate power sources, produce electric, solar powered or hybrid cars for about-town use – producing ‘green’ fabrics that are non-animal based, building Numa-Tubes and ‘train stations’, digging tunnels, maintaining and servicing the transportation system as a whole. Line workers by their very nature can be retrained to work on any line – whether it produces cars or solar panels or widgets of any shape or size – it really makes no difference at all – and if GM can retool its lines to make a different model of Land Crusher each and every year as it does now then it can always churn out Numa-Tube cars instead.

Existing sub-way systems can easily be adapted, extended and modified to hold Numa-Tubes and since the entire system is, ideally, underground, more green-space and arable land is freed up, roads and expensive road maintenance infrastructures become redundant, saving millions of dollars in road maintenance and repairs, not to mention salting and sanding equipment, and pollution falls to manageable or hopefully non-existent levels within ten years.

To wrest such a symbol of success and power that is the fast expensive car from the hands of the wealthy may be more of a challenge however than getting GM to retool its lines. The car is the ultimate signifier of power in many minds therefore Corporate types must use the power of advertising to ‘sell’ consumers on the idea of environmental not to mention fiscal responsibility. We need to sell the idea that dispensing with your car is to act not only as a role-model to the masses but will gain you status, kudos and approval as well – akin to donating to some worth-while charity or travelling to Africa to work with orphans or adopting a child from a third-world country. You and your corporation will be viewed as heroes of your time.

If we have more green space we can have more bike paths, more village greens, more community, ample and less crowded inner city housing and therefore less crime, and thus far less strain on essential services and social supports. Biz Grads will immediately recognize the revenues to be made from populations that are living longer through healthier living, a clean environment and no pollution i.e. retirement communities, travel, fitness clubs, leisure industries, bicycles and other modes of ‘people powered’ transportation systems. For the young we will have more playing fields, more stadiums, more swimming pools, more athletic clothing – and all the commercial opportunities that go along with that, the Ivy grad would say.

Remote working with the Numa-Tube is a distinct possibility. Presently we are restricted to work places that are within a certain narrow ‘transportation’ range – just as many of us are restricted from extensive international travel due to time constraints and cost. However, if I can travel a distance of a thousand miles in under an hour then I can conduct work searches over a much wider area. It may even be possible eventually to live on one continent but work on another. This will have several distinct advantages from a social standpoint. If I can work in any urban centre and live in another – or even live in my log cabin in the back woods of Lake Superior but work on Wall Street this will have the added effect of – eventually – breaking down international boundaries and barriers as well. What will this do for commerce and trade? I would say it would open up hitherto undreamed of possibilities for trade on a global scale. Similarly the population as a whole will ultimately become amorphous which will have the effect of breaking down race barriers as well. If we are citizens of the world and not one particular country or another there are no boundaries left to fight over.

Consumers in general will adapt to the system readily provided it remains reliable, fast, comfortable and inexpensive. If, for example, I can travel from Toronto to Paris or even from London Ontario to Ottawa for a fraction of the current price, not to mention a fraction of the time, then I would opt for the Numa-Tube over Air Canada or CNN any time. I would also readily dispense with my environmentally unfriendly car, as I’m sure most of us would, if I could replace it with a convenient cost-effective alternative – particularly during an Ontario winter. Fighting traffic, breathing fumes and paying exorbitant prices for gasoline will become a thing of the past – as will pollution related illnesses such as Asthma, bronchitis, various cancers, many allergies and possibly even colds and flu too.


It is obvious that the Numa-Tube is the way of the future. With the Numa-Tube in place we can dispense with cars and therefore roads, and of course the main by-product of the automobile, pollution. No pollution means fewer health-related issues and lower medical care costs, a healthier planet, healthier children, an emphasis on ‘green’ production, the global workplace, breaking down of race barriers, the dissolution of borders, more green space, more arable land, more leisure, less stress. We can then perhaps make our planet into the garden it once was.

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