Saturday, August 13, 2005

A failing cable; a collapsing relationship

As Euclid walked along the ancient roadway, he noted that forests on both sides of the road were already reclaiming the strip of land. Roots continually growing below the paved surface formed bulges and cracks, and what used to be a continuous surface of black bonded gravel had been reduced to grainy light grey coloured tectonic plates. Grass sprouted up in cracks between individual slabs of tarmac, demarcating the roadway with streaks of green. Where several cracks meet to form a larger gap, under-nourished saplings struggle to grow.

The ancient road came to a wide, lazy looking river spanned by an equally ancient cable-stayed bridge. The bridge’s concrete towers were heavily weathered by carbon dioxide in rain water, and bore ugly smear marks as evidence of the acid rain. Many of the supporting cables had their protective coatings worn away, and some of the cables themselves had worn through. At places where many cables were no longer load bearing, the bridge’s deck sagged visibly. Ages ago, these cables were woven from thousands of fine steel wires, braided into cables that were strong yet slightly flexible.

As he approached a supporting cable near the middle of the bridge’s span, he saw that a portion of the steel wires making up the cable had failed, unravelling parts of the braided cable into a frizzly mess. The remaining fibres that were intact supported a great proportion of the bridge’s load, putting the surviving fibres under high tension.

Looking at the failing cable, Euclid thought of his two friends who were together at the moment. While they were very nice and likable people, these two just did not go very well together. To Euclid’s eye, their relationship was fraying like the braided steel cable. A broken strand would cause the strands to take a greater load, and might aggravate the failure of further strands, thus accelerating the demise of other strands. One day, the tensile loads would exceed the fibres’ limits, and they would snap with exponentially increasing frequency until the entire cable disconnected.

He sighed. Nothing he could do but watch the unravelling situation, both for the failing relationship and the fraying cable.

As he watched the cable, a fibre snapped. Suddenly unloaded from the tremendous tension, both broken ends contracted away from each other with a sharp metallic ping, whipping backwards as the fibre unravelled itself from the main cable. The flying strand contracted into the existing mass of curly wires, causing the loose agglomeration to quiver in a stiff, springy fashion. Anyone whose finger got hit by that wire flying at the speed of sound would no longer be owner and master of that finger.

He sighed again. It’s really coming apart. He could only hope that the inevitable collapse does not injure anyone.

[Do not try too hard to find out who I am referring to. If you try hard enough, you might just find traces of yourself, just like finding your house number from a thousand numbers]

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