Sunday, February 26, 2006

3 technologies: Miniaturisation

It began as a manufacturing process for microchips.
Reduce the empty space between atoms and materials became tighter, stronger, smaller. Smaller components led to smaller machines, less resources consumed, less pollution.
The technology became an ideology:
More power, less waste.
And because the physics arrived before the philosophy, it was a unique environmental cause: you didn’t need to do (or believe) anything new to save the planet.
Small became the new big.

But the real tipping point was the mice. From the moment organic matter could be reduced to nano-scale – intact – there was no turning back. Four decades of animal testing before the first human trials, and now you can fit 50 human beings on a full stop.
In between then, we saw the pet industry bloom with everyone having hamster-sized dogs and cats that slept on computer monitors or work desks.
Animal protection agencies however found themselves fighting a new kind of black market – puppy-sized gorillas, cheetahs, pandas – which was worryingly easy to smuggle. But the trend died quickly. Smugglers focused on the benefits of shrinking the animals, and neglected the problems that came with their new size. Some animals just didn’t adapt well. The Great White Shark population has been effectively decimated after a short-lived but destructive period when poachers sold them as aquarium fish and they kept dying because of claustrophobia and stress.

Roughly a century after miniaturisation was perfected, the world’s full-sized population began to fall steadily as people began to migrate from the full-scale world – the ‘Big Bad’ - to build new lives in the Microverse: A nano-scale version of our world, our history, our species.

The first wave of pioneers had it rough.
Adaptation to micro-life was a steep, deadly learning curve.
  • Every little movement from the Macroverse (like walking) was magnified into earthquake-strength tremors. Steady rain brought tsunamis. Construction had to be rethought completely.
  • Crops grew differently in the Micro-verse. The proportions for everything from fertilizer to watering had to be rediscovered. Agriculture returned to its infancy.
  • Man was not the dominant species in the Microverse. Ants, earthworms, all caused unprecedented destruction of property and death. For the first time, man had to seriously think of defense on a near planetary scale. All those decades of planning for alien invasion, but not one scenario for giant termites.

In the end, the Microverse population, unable to cope with high human cost of adaptation (1.3 million lives lost in the first year alone) and desperate for a solution, decided to steal. They hijacked supermarkets for processed food, hospitals for medical supplies and transport vehicles from anywhere they could find. They came, they took what they could, and retreated back into the Microverse.

The UN, unable to effectively locate the Microverse population, passed a Security Council resolution banning miniaturisation. Thousands of miniaturisation substations across the globe were taken offline and disassembled over the next 15 years. Human rights groups criticised the UN for effectively committing genocide by choking off the Microverse’s only real supply-point: the world they so wanted to leave behind.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

3 technologies: Teleportation

Looking back, everything that happened after we perfected teleporting was like the technology itself.

Here one minute, gone the next.

The auto industry, shipping, air travel - all disappeared overnight. Pollution levels dropped like a rock and the air changed (nobody has smelled actual car exhaust for 53 years, except from simulators at some museums, and even then some of the old timers who once owned a car or two complained it ‘smelled fake’).

Some things stayed the same. People still used the word ‘shipped’ even though nobody’s sent anything by sea for close to 70 years. Too slow and risky even in its heyday, nobody gets on a boat now unless it’s to race. Planes - like cars - turned into a purely recreational thing. Bored ex-aviators flip the autopilot and read a magazine as rich eccentrics look out the window for about an hour (some of the more expensive tours have been known to run to about 90 minutes).

Oil companies were the hardest hit. Demand evaporated and suddenly you couldn’t give crude away if it came with the rig that drilled it. The energy crisis remains however, and during the first decade of the newly perfected telepod’s entry into our lives, state-wide blackouts were common, and riots became a global phenomenon.

The biggest winners? Courier companies. The ‘Big Four’ became sponsors of teleportation infrastructure in almost every major city across the globe. Offering federal governments to pick up most of the tab for building telepod stations meant that courier companies took over the role of public transport and 70% of all exports giving them enormous political influence. 1 out of 3 new tax hikes directly benefit the Big Four.

The world’s psyche changed too. Teleporting warped forever our perception of speed - and our patience. People quickly adapted to instant travel, instant delivery, and ‘not fast enough’ took on a whole new level of dissatisfaction. ‘Port rage’ – telepod services interrupted, late delivery of furniture or pizza more than 3 seconds past the advertised time - affects at least 1 in every 8 people in the U.S. And with teleporting eliminating messengers, bad news was taken out on whoever was present: colleagues, bystanders, but more often family.

Tele-theft has made people obsessive about protection. Magnetic shields are now standard in everything from houses to clutch purses, lest valuables be ’ported away by tele-thieves. The average household’s security system is closely patterned after the average prison where inmate ‘port outs’ are occasionally a problem.

Amidst all this, a strange new trend is emerging. Teens, ever eager to rebel, are beginning to walk – yes, walk - to school. Oddly enough, it’s the more developed cities with good telepod infrastructure where the phenomenon is most rampant. Tardiness ( but strangely not truancy) is up to record levels. These teens don’t want to skip class, they just don’t want to arrive on time. Unconfirmed reports tell of groups of teens getting together on weekends to run as far as 500 meters. 13 to 16-year olds are now going deep retro, restoring old mountain bikes and even skateboards.

It is a movement, in every sense of the word.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The tribe has spoken

I went to public school (or as we call it, government school). My main problem with school was that it was dull. As a rule, everything was exam-oriented and you passed by remembering answers, not solving problems. While getting young kids to open their minds leads to its share of Boston Public-style problems (contraception, lawsuits, raunchy cheerleading), it’s much better then sending a child to school only to have him/her love for learning systematically destroyed.

But every now and again, something interesting happens.

Towards the tail end of my stay, they had begun to introduce a subject called 'Pendidikan Moral' which means quite literally, moral education. Most of it was Sunday School Golden Rule stuff (always tell the truth, don’t steal) but one lesson stands out.

One day, our moral(istic) teacher gave us a scenario to work out. It went something like this:

"Earth is about to be destroyed and you must escape on a rocket ship that carries only 5 people. But there are 8 of you. Who do you choose?"

Among those in the running:

A scientist.
A farmer.
A teacher.
A religious leader.
A drug addict.
A convict.
A woman.
A soldier.

The ‘correct’ answer was as follows:

The scientist.
Because the scientist will know how to fly the rocket ship and will know how to search for a new world we can all live on.

The soldier.
To protect us on our new planet and to fight off any enemies we might encounter. The soldier is also disciplined so he will help make the laws.

The teacher.
Because the teacher will preserve mankind’s knowledge and teach it to future generations.

The religious leader.
Because we all need God in our lives.

The woman.
So she can choose a husband from among them and ‘continue the human race.’

It’s a testament to young kids’ innate curiosity that even under the mind-numbing tedium of our syllabus, our pre-pubescent minds were still able to question. Naturally, we wanted to know why the rest were left behind.

The teacher was confident in her answers, as if she’d anticipated every single question, analysed every possible argument and Solomon-like, rendered her opinions:

The convict.
He is a dangerous man (yes, a MAN) and he will want harm us. That is why he is in jail to begin with.

The drug addict.
He is doing illegal things. “Dadah itu haram,” she intoned gravely ('drugs are forbidden'). She also reminded us that in Malaysia, drug trafficking is punishable by the death penalty.

The farmer.
Because the scientist already knows how to grow things. A man who knows how to fly a rocket ship surely knows how to grow things for everyone to eat. We don't need a farmer.

I believe that children are our future.
Teach them well and let them lead the way.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

La Familia

As happens every Chinese New Year, I’ve seen every relative within driving distance.
This year’s reunions have skated quite close to the line marked ‘overkill.’ Rainy weather, food poisoning and an unusually patient sister have conspired to turn my house into The Truckstop for Family Solidarity, with rellies arriving one family at a time instead of all at once.

Any more Family Togetherness and I’ma slash my wrists with Mom’s kitchen knife.
As such, I won’t bore you with re-runs of 53 Reasons Why I Love My Big Happy Family.

But I will tell you who makes up the cast, some of whom have moved on to that big TV show in the sky.
  • Someone who’s won a car.
  • A gang leader. He had a territory and henchmen and cronies.
  • A mother who’s buried four of her children.
  • A guy with three thumbs.
  • A guy with only one ear, the other one completely severed in a car crash.
  • An ex-call girl. Quite a few doctors said her former profession was the reason why she can never ever have children. She now has a son.
  • A guy who taught math to his math teacher, who then proceeded to teach it to his students and had to be corrected.
  • Six kids born out of wedlock.
  • A guy who’s been carjacked twice and kidnapped once.
  • A man who was beaten because he was accused of being a Japanese sympathizer during the occupation. He never recovered but hung on for more than a year, shitting blood every other day til he died.
  • A premature baby, so tiny she spent two weeks in an incubator and then a month in a small drawer. The cot wouldn’t arrive for a while because there was no money.
  • Someone who’d had a threesome.
  • A guy who’s had the shittiest luck with maids. One kept stealing his wife’s knickers and writing ‘I love him’ on the crotch, the other somehow managed to do some light prostitution when he wasn’t home.
  • Someone who learnt Dutch one week, and moved to Amsterdam the next.
  • Someone who used to – briefly - sell pirated movies on VCD.
  • A guy who used to work at Disney illegally for eight years.
  • Someone who’s jumped on my stomach, bruising it and rupturing my bladder.
  • A guy whom I’ve punched in the stomach.
  • Someone whom I’ve left waiting in the rain for a full two hours because she said my house was ‘like a pigeon hole.’ I told her there was no space for her and her ‘bitching’ family. My dad told me it was wrong to do that - say ‘bitching.’
  • Someone whom I caught stealing money and kept quiet about it.
  • Someone who has a mail-order bride. Ok, maybe not mail-order. But definitely one in a series of options. Honestly, she’s too good for him.
  • Someone who’s eaten dog meat.
Oh, they're not bad.
They’re family.