Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Very Hot Rocks

My scout run this morning was only an hour long, mainly due to the sudden and ridiculous snowfall. We wanted to ride out further to look for supplies, but all we manged to do was tag a couple likely places before being called back to Jack's.

One of the great things about having a couple dozen people in our group with nothing do do other than scout is that things get done quickly. Jack's engineers have been working on plans to turn the storage building into a habitat for us since yesterday, and once we trucked in the construction materials we nabbed from the lumberyard  they started to finalize designs. It helped that they made a shopping list for us, to help us take the types of lumber and other supplies they'd been using in their blueprints.

So, our group is now heartily working on building a little home. It's pretty amazing what can be accomplished when people work together with plans laid out in front of them. I wish my brother Dave was here, but he and his family are out with Dodger and Jamie. I don't know how I missed out on telling you that. My own brother, and I forgot about him...

At any rate, I was curious about how the heating system was going to work, so I asked one of the guys who designed the longhouse on the factory floor. He's also one of the people who have helped design our own little place. See, I wanted to know exactly how they got heat into the structures without suffocating anyone or running the factory into a brownout.

The answer is in the title of this post: VERY hot rocks.

This might seem like a silly thing to write about, but it's pretty fascinating to me for several reasons. There are huge fire pits spaced around the edges of the wall of dirt and debris that protects this place. Jack's compound is big, and it requires a little creativity to keep the watchers on the walls warm and safe. Ergo, fire pits. In which large chunks of rock are heated, and then brought into guard posts to be set into makeshift hearths and the occasional small grill. An easy and clever solution, given just how much wood is around here to burn. They're constantly felling trees to fuel the fires.

As it turns out, the heated rocks also act as a handy weapon when zombies get too close to the wall. Some part of their instincts are still human, and recognize fire and extreme heat as a potential threat. So, when the undead get a little froggy, guardsmen dump buckets of burning gravel onto them. It's pretty brutal and scares the shit out of other zombies that happen to see the target get drenched. I've suggested they try the same thing with sand...

Those same hot rocks are brought inside and shoveled into a densely insulated compartment underneath the longhouse on the factory floor. There's a blower set in there, running slowly to keep from cooling them down too quickly, and there are people designated to shovel out the cool rocks from half the space and load in freshly heated ones, once every hour. It isn't perfect, as in it isn't central heat, but it definitely keeps the sleeping folks comfortable.

So why the post about it? Because to me, it's an encouraging sign of our adaptability. Mankind has been nearly wiped out with the coming of the zombie plague. Some people have pointed out that all of the real technological advances that matter have happened in the last century or so, and that we will be able to come back from this much faster, since we don't have to figure it all out the way our grandparents' generation did.

I say to that, think about manpower and infrastructure.

The reality we face is that there are just not enough of us left to make all the pieces and parts of modern society work again. At least, not in the way they did a year ago. We have tons of information on how to accomplish things, but most of us have no clue how a cell phone really works, or the best way to generate electricity on a large scale. The details of how most things are manufactured, as well as how they function, are all things we'll have to teach ourselves. That will take time.

Not to mention people to do it all. Power plants need skilled operators to work, and three shifts running all the time. Think about that. How are less than ten thousand (that we know of) going to make even half the things that took millions before, work?

We can't. Not yet. What we can do is innovate, and find ways to use the resources we have at our disposal that get the most from them. Heating up rocks to keep warm is a very simple, very old idea. Combine that with a creative ventilation system and the basic knowledge that heat rises, and you get a relatively simple but effective method of warming a medium sized space.

Brilliant in its simplicity. For right now, simplicity and functionality are what we need. Reliable things. If or when we get our compound back, this will be one of the things that we'll try to implement. We tried something like it, but here I see how we can improve on our original designs.

See? It's a perfect example of ingenuity, efficiency, cooperation, and functional adaptation. Exactly what we human beings need to do to not only continue to survive, but to thrive as the future unfolds. All of that from something as simple as very hot rocks.

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