Archive for farm

One Megabyte

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2012 by javedbabar

Alan and Patricia were always welcoming. As soon as he neared their forest cabin, Bobby began feeling happy and relaxed. His weekly trips there were a tonic.

There were things going on at the farm that he didn’t understand, and that worried him somewhat. Tomatoes grew better when exposed to advertising jingles, mushrooms were affected by satellite TV channels, and he was encouraged to drink a “healthy natural beverage” that somehow unsettled him.

Alan’s workshop was full of technology. Bobby wasn’t sure if this was the right word though. It was state of the art technology once upon a time, but these days of smaller, better, faster may now cause it to be labelled junk. There were many metal boxes with buttons, wires, levers and cogs.

“Do you still use all these” – Bobby didn’t know what to call them – “machines?”

“Sure I do! They still work. Why shouldn’t I?”

Bobby pulled out his smartphone. It never received a signal on the farm but here it worked beautifully. “This phone has more power than everything in this workshop. I’m not trying to show off; anybody with twenty dollars a month to spare can have one. I just mean that your machines seem outdated.”

“So you think I should donate them to the museum?”

“Not necessarily,” said Bobby. “But maybe. Wouldn’t you be better off with a small, simple gadget with multiple functions? And when technology advances, you can upgrade.”

Alan looked at him with seriousness. “What is the data limit on your smartphone? Ten megabytes? A day? So three hundred megabytes a month. Well, I transfer one megabyte a month.”

Bobby was about to be impressed, but then thought, hang on! He said, “Do you mean one gigabyte? So you transfer three times more than me?”

“No I meant one megabyte. That’s plenty. I do use some compression technology, but that’s it!”

Bobby was confused and stood blinking.

Alan pushed a few buttons and lights appeared on metal boxes. “In the early days there were radio transmissions for only two hours a day. When TV came along, we had only one hour a day. Telephone calls were very expensive; you’d watch your minutes carefully. With computers there was limited bandwidth, it was precious and you preserved it. A photo took half an hour to download, and a movie took all day.

“We appreciated those things. Our family would gather around the radio. We would watch TV together. Receiving a call would be a special thing.

“Now everything is always available. It’s too much. People receive endless news, data and popular culture. It is making them sick. They flick through these things as if they are empty boxes, always looking for the next one, hoping it will be full.

“Patricia and I pick one thing a day and focus on it, whether it is a message, a photo, or scene from a film. We enjoy that thing only. It is like a meditation. And we’ve found that after one hundred years, we’ve never been bored yet. Do you want to see today’s special selection?”

Bobby nodded.

Alan showed him a picture of the Lucerne Valley one hundred years ago, before the time of roads, factories and malls. There was just land and light. Its beauty made him weep.

T-Phone

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2012 by javedbabar

The farm was hot and full of bugs. Maybe the ecosystem wasn’t quite balanced yet, or the ladybugs were of a lethargic species, and the mosquitoes of a dynamic one, for the latter were winning hands down. The forest was cooler, with widely spaced Arcadian Firs. Their branches captured much of the light, which meant less vegetation on the forest floor, and thus fewer bugs. Bobby dozed in the forest daily from twelve to four.

On days off he’d visit Alan and Patricia, who said they’d lived in the valley for one hundred years. Alan was a prehistoric geek, obsessed by communications. He captured local transmissions via an antenna, many miles long, strung between firs.

“You always seem so happy together,” Bobby said to Patricia as she poured him Lady Grey Tea. She’d said it was a perfectly refreshing afternoon tea, which she preferred to the floral taste of Earl Grey. “What’s your secret? Is it just your time spent together? A hundred years in the forest has surely drawn you closer. Or is it something else?”

“Alan says that we are in tune. We have the same frequency. Do you know the difference between AM and FM radio signals? You don’t? Well, AM means Amplitude Modulation. The size of the waves rises and falls, conveying the information necessary to transmit a message. FM is totally different. It stands for Frequency Modulation. The size of the waves is constant but the distance between them changes, which conveys information. Well, Alan says that he is AM and I am FM, but we’re in tune with each other. It doesn’t really make…”

“Hello again, young man!” said Alan, bursting into the room. “So good to see you. How’s your teatime? You like it? Good, good.”

Patrician poured him a cup too. There was no need for her to ask him, as she was in tune.

“Has she told you about my new invention? I can tell him, can’t I, love?” Patricia nodded. “It’s the T-Phone!” He pulled out a mobile phone as big as a brick. Bobby had last seen one of those in the 1980s. Was Alan that much behind the times?

Alan smiled and said, “I know it’s not much to look at, but wait till I show you what it can do.”

Bobby said, “Please do.”

“I’ve tried various forms of information propagation – AM, FM – I heard Patricia telling you about those – and SSB, TETRA, amateur radio, unlicensed radio, even radio control, but they have never conveyed all the information encoded. There is always loss.” He stopped for a moment. “And digital information is even worse; its binary form removes gradation.”

Alan tinkered with the brick-sized phone. “Do you know Instagram? Well, what that does for your photos, the T-Phone does for your voice. It enriches the frequencies, avoids noise, and prevents fading. It creates a richer sound.”

“Why is it called the T-Phone?” asked Bobby.

“Because the technology it uses is Telepathy. There is no physical transfer, thus there is no resistance and loss. The T-Phone uses silence as a means of communication. Everything is contained within it.”

Bobby noticed that Alan said these last words without his lips moving.

Speaking Together

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2012 by javedbabar

Though he was surrounded by fellow workers, Bobby often felt alone at the farm. On his days off he went to visit Alan and Patricia, who he thought of like great-grandparents.

They claimed to have moved to the Lucerne Valley a hundred years ago, and made him feel welcome. The first thing was always a “nice cup of tea”. There were no cold mugs or tea bags for Patricia. She used heated teapots with quilted tea cosies, and bone china cups that were  rich blue with gold patterns, like ones that you saw on antique shows.

Patricia had a special shelf of tea caddies from all over the world. She ran her fingers along the shelf and stopped at the caddy that “spoke” to her. She selected a tea spoon in a similar way and dropped three spoonfuls of loose tea into a teapot, the tea leaves dropping, tinkling and crackling.

“Why do you always ask me how I take my tea?” asked Bobby. “You know I take it with milk and sugar.”

“Well, what if you’ve changed your mind? I don’t want to make assumptions. That’s poor form. It is not the way of taking tea together.”

She says some strange things, thought Bobby. He said, “On the farm, we drink tea with…”

“Never drink the tea on the farm,” she said seriously. “Don’t touch it.”

“But they tell us to. They say it is better than water. It is a healthy…”

She told him again not to drink it, saying it wasn’t what he thought it was.

Alan came in from the garden and said, “Good afternoon, young man! How are you this fine day? Well, I hope. Good, good.”

They took tea together, each adding some milk and one sugar. Alan said, “We’ve monitored the communications in this valley for a hundred years now.”

Bobby had found Alan’s antenna, a wire running through the forest, strung between Arcadian Firs. “At first I manually recorded the few messages sent daily, later by phonograph, then tape deck, digital recorder, and now computer. Everything is stored on hard drives and processed by speech-to-text software, and analysed semiotically.”

So that’s how they spend their time, thought Bobby. They don’t sit around drinking tea all day. They analyse communications. Maybe Alan is a shadowy consultant, working secretly for The Authority.

“But the voice always comes first.” He stopped and looked at Bobby directly. “Am I boring you, or would you like to hear more? You would? Good, good. Now listen to this.” He played a clip of a woman speaking about potato prices. “And listen to this.” It was a man talking about property prices. “Do you note their different frequencies? No? It takes a while to master, and later you can even hear things in what most people call silence.”

He led Bobby to his workshop, filled with electronic equipment. There was a monitor showing green waves reflecting, refracting and diffracting. “See what’s happening? They’re all out of synch. That’s why people never really understand each other. That’s the meaning of the Tower of Babel story.” He pointed to the house. “Patricia and I have spent one hundred years together. We are tuned to the same frequency. We fully understand each other. It is like Eden before the Fall.”

Healthy Natural Beverage

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village, Organic Farming with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2012 by javedbabar

Bobby remembered starting work at the farm, but only vaguely. It was possibly a year ago. He used to live in the city; he had a brother there who was married, and parents who were old.

He also had somebody here… a sister, who had a daughter – that’s right! – Naomi, who he enjoyed spending time with. When was the last time he had seen her? He couldn’t recall. He should see her more often, and swore he would do that, but it was hard to find time; he was busy working “Farmtime Fulltime”, as the boss called it. He often snoozed in the forest at lunchtime, but other than that, he rarely left the farm.

He should know his fellow workers better, but he barely knew their names. Beyond “good morning,”, “good afternoon”, and “good night,” they exchanged few words. They worked alone in the fields, and then went to trailers to watch TV. It was a lonely life, but somehow pleasing. It must be, as Bobby had no desire to do anything else.

Beers in town? He had some in the fridge.

A restaurant meal? Why suffer the noise and expense?

Meeting girls? There were plenty on the internet, who were much less trouble than wining and dining a real girl just to get her into bed. Who could be bothered to expend energy on sex anyway? He wasn’t married and wanting kids. What was the point? Pleasure was readily available, if he could be bothered.

Bobby had come to the farm on the WWW programme, a Willing Waterer and Weeder. Though his official working day was twelve hours, he watered and weeded only for 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours at night. That was all he could manage. It was hot thirsty work.

The farmer encouraged them all to keep well hydrated, and there were vintage signs in many places saying Drink Tea. He’d told them that tea was better than water, as it was a healthy natural beverage with vital trace minerals. In the same way that we should eat food containing nutrients, not just empty calories, we should also consume nutritionally enhanced drinks. Their minerals ensured optimal physical functioning.

He didn’t tell them that the tea was Silva Sanguinarus, which had been given to soldiers in European wars. It was an anticonvulsant and sedative, and an anaphrodisiac.

The tea kept them working steadily but reduced their desire to do anything else. It was the perfect dietary supplement for the endless watering and weeding required for industrial organic production. After all, they were only one step away from machines. Right now people were more economical to use but that could change soon. The farmer would then switch from tea to oil.

Tree Tuning

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2012 by javedbabar

If radio waves made tomatoes grow, and mushrooms acquired personality from satellite TV, then Bobby wondered what effects such signals were having on him. Were they helping or harming him? What should he do?

He worked hard, around twelve hours a day. “Fulltime Farmtime” the farmer called it, but as long as Bobby watered and weeded regularly, he could spend his time as he pleased.

In the middle of the day when it was too hot to work, it wasn’t worth going home. He lived too far away. He should get somewhere closer to town, maybe even live on the farm. Each afternoon, Bobby spent the first four hours sleeping or walking in the forest. The bugs were annoying but it was so cool there. The tent he’d bought from the thrift store was good enough.

It was strange to get good cell reception in the forest. His fellow worker, an electrical engineering graduate, had fixed Bobby’s smartphone to receive unlimited data, and he could stream TV and movies all day. But for this, of course, he needed a five-bar signal.

In the forest he got that, but it shifted around. He’d sometimes spend fifteen minutes walking around to find it. It was never far away, usually near the biggest Arcadian Firs. It was just a matter of tree-tuning.

One day Bobby spotted a wire in the forest, strung between two firs. It was very high up, maybe fifty metres. What was it doing here? Was it a power line or telephone line?

He followed the line for 500 metres but found no towers or transformers, just a wire stretching between firs. The signal near it was very powerful. There was never any buffer, just smooth, clear streaming of shows.

Bobby returned to the wire daily, and on his days off even followed it along. He told his fellow worker about it, but he wasn’t very interested. Instead he made poor jokes rhyming wire, tire, sire, dire, and forest fire. Bobby decided it was probably best to minimise time spent with him.

A month after he’d first seen the wire, Bobby found a cable leading off it, climbing the hillside. He followed it to a log cabin with a beautifully tended garden. There were masses of red, blue and yellow flowers; each seeming to greet him individually. He saw carved boards nailed to trees, stating Love Thy Neighbour and Strangers Welcome.

An old lady called out, “Hello there, stranger! We welcome thee! We rarely get visitors. Please join us for teatime.”

Bobby walked towards her. She said, “We moved here one hundred years ago, my husband Alan and I, Patricia. It seemed lonely at first with just the two of us. Later came radio but there was poor reception. Alan was very resourceful. He found abandoned spools of telegraph wire and strung the wire along the tops of young Arcadian Firs. As they’ve grown, so has our world, and we’ve listened to every bit of it. We’ve also watched the world’s TV. Our wires pick up internet signals too.

“Where is he?” asked Bobby, and then thought, I shouldn’t have asked that. What if she’s a widow?

“Oh, he’s just in the workshop, preparing for 4G transmissions.”

Radio Tomatoes

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village, Organic Farming with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2012 by javedbabar

Bobby liked his job on the farm. It was great to be out in the fresh air all day, even when it was raining or snowing; much better than being snowed under with paperwork. He recalled a time at year-end when his entire desk was filled with files, a foot deep or more. Now there was only rhubarb and squash to wade through.

“I’ll take care of the tomatoes!” he shouted to his fellow worker, pointing towards the eastern polytunnels. “You can do the peppers.” These were the two main hot house crops here, with two hundred metres of each in tidy rows.

The tomatoes had started the season really well, shooting up and flowering early, but they had slowed with balmy weather. Aphids were a bother too. The new batch of ladybugs had helped.

Bobby wondered why tomatoes in the corner were doing so well. The plants were taller and the fruits were bigger and brighter than elsewhere in the hothouse. He went to the western polytunnel to ask his colleague. “Did you use a special fertilizer in the corner? No? Any extra inputs? No? What? They were just the same as the others last week? Okay.”

Why were they so strong and healthy? So picture perfect, like the image on a seed packet. Yes, there was more light in that corner in the mornings, but when the sun crossed over there was more shade, so there was no real advantage. Maybe being near the door provided extra ventilation, the airflow helping to regulate temperature, and deterring pests. Or did they benefit from heat flowing past them?

There could be something special in the soil here, like a small rotting animal providing a sustained supply of nutrients. A microclimate? Other beneficial bugs?

The tomatoes looked like large coloured party bulbs. They were sunset red and fist-sized, with flesh like ripe mangoes and juices like nectar. Over a few days Bobby checked everything, but could find no explanation for why they grew better. He wasn’t a proud person, but would be pleased to get some credit for this. These were the healthiest, tastiest tomatoes he’d ever seen. The best ever. They would soon be ready to harvest.

He thought about the tomatoes on his day off, and found himself licking his lips.

When he returned to the hothouse the tomatoes had wilted, and some of the plants had collapsed. The fruits were looking sick and pinched, as if somebody had strangled them in the desert. He checked the drip irrigation. It was still working.

Bach provided a tender soundtrack to this sorry state of affairs. The combination of dying fruit and sad music could be a still life by a renaissance painter. Or maybe the bright colours were more Van Gogh. Tomatoes fell as he stood there; the ground was covered with dead bloody bombs.

Then he recalled something. Last week the radio in the corner of the hothouse had been tuned to a commercial station. It was another worker’s choice. There was inane banter and non-stop ads. Had this affected the plants somehow?

Maybe they didn’t like classical music as everyone supposed. Maybe they felt it was plain and boring. He re-tuned the radio to LVR. A chorus of jingles began immediately.

“Good climes with Arctic Vodka!”

“Generali Cigars – Get Smoky!”

“Double-double burgers – only at Quenchers!”

“It’s party night at Dirty’s Bar!”

“Half-price cars this month at Valley Cars!”

Bobby started humming along. The words and music were designed to please. The wilting tomatoes raised their heads.