Sunday, April 02, 2006

End of the Age of Oil, part 4

The following narration is a self-indulgent fragment of nothingness set in the era defined by previous essays:

End of the Age of Oil, Chapter 1: The Decadence of the Average 20th Century Dweller of the Developed States
End of the Age of Oil, Chapter 2: Towards 'E'
End of the Age of Oil, Chapter 3: Social changes

End of the Age of Oil
Chapter 4: untitled

Two figures emerged from the Meyrin* control centre. They were taken by the unexpected coldness, and zipped up their jackets to the last few millimetres. The sky was a glittering sea of sparkling stars, glowing nebulae, fuzzy galaxies, speckled clusters and unblinking planets.

"Nice, isn’t it?" Freyja asked the man beside her.
"I personally find it a bit too cold," Gowda replied dryly, seemingly huddled in his jacket.
"I mean the sky! Look at the stars, the constellations, clusters, super clusters, binaries, neutron stars, accretion discs!"
He raised an eyebrow. "You can tell the difference between a neutron star and an accretion disc?"
"Of course not. I don’t even know the difference between them."
"Yes, it is a pretty sight. My grandfather said the sky used to be less visible when he was young. I’m so used to this," he waved his hand at the sky, at first vigorously, but then quickly slowed down because he was cold from the breeze on his hand. "I cannot imagine it being drowned out by light."
"Yeah, just imagine the quantity of light that would need to be produced just so that the light reflected off the atmosphere was brighter than the stars..." she trailed off, engrossed in the NGC 2632 cluster. She suddenly pointed, "a falling star!"
He whipped around, but the meteor had already burned out.

They headed for the bike shed, currently shroud in darkness. When they got closer, LED lamps sequentially illuminated, giving the impression that the lights were slowly coming to life. It looked much friendlier than an abrupt illumination of the lights. The interior of the bike shed took on a dim white glow, with bright strips of lights along the floor directed at the bikes to clearly distinguish one bike from the other.

With the ever increasing cost of electricity, every Watt of power had to be spent carefully. First, incandescent bulbs were replaced with fluorescent tubes, then more efficient tubes, then motion sensors were used to replace the permanent on switches, then LED lamps were used. The latest cost saving measures had introduced very dim ambient lights with a few location-specific lights.

Somewhere in the past before the complete exhaustion of oil, people took to driving smaller and smaller cars as a reaction to the persistently rising price of fuel. After a while, motorcycles became popular. When even the petrol consumption of a motorcycle was becoming too burdensome, people took to cycling and public transport.

As fuel and energy prices soared well beyond the imagination of 21st century dwellers, cycling remained the only viable option for cheap commuting. With cycling suddenly thrust into the role to mass transport, various modifications were made to classical layout. Most human powered vehicles took on the general layout of the recumbent bicycle in an aerodynamically efficient shroud.

"Well, my bike’s here. I’ll see you next week," Freyja bid her farewell to Gowda.

His jaw nearly dropped at the sight of Freyja’s magnificent machine. It was a Prodrive .12R sports bike adapted from their racing machines, just barely street legal. The name .12R was derived from its fantastic drag coefficient of 0.12, and obviously R is for racing, as vehicle marketing had always been. Taking the recumbent position to the extreme, the pilot’s seat was moulded to fit the body in an inclined position. The cockpit was not a compartment; it was tight as a suit. There was no room apart from the single seat, pedals and numerous hand controls beside the seat.

"Wow! Mind if I take a closer look?" Gowda asked. Never in his life had he seen a Prodrive, much less a .14R with all the trimmings.
"Haha, it’s my brother’s. I’ll turn on the lights." Freyja found the switch that controlled the main lights, and the rest of the LED lamps in the shed glowed.

"So, this is a carbon-fibre monocoque?"
"Yeah, even the wheel rims are CF. This thing cost my brother a fortune. I only got to use it after much persuasion."
"I would guess so. What’s the drive train like?"
"Don’t know… some fancy Zeroshift gearbox. It’s got about 8 speeds and a 3 speed reduction gearbox. Weird thing, it shifts in a H-pattern like those cars back in the 20th century. It’s got a shaft drive to the rear though, which is nice since you don’t get the slack normally found with chains."
"Fantastic. The Zeroshift gives you no break in power transmission, is that the one?"
"Yeah. My brother is into drag races. He even changed the pedal crank lengths to fit his legs a bit better."

Gowda continued admiring the bike, peeking into the cockpit to see the pedal crank and the gearshift mechanism, running his fingertips against the various joints in the bodywork to feel the precision of the panel work, peering at the meticulously bonded cockpit canopy.
"So, where’re the wing mirrors? Or do you make do without?"
"Nah, we’d get in trouble with the law. Here, they pop out from within the nose cone." Freyja reached inside the cockpit, and tugged at a lever. A pair of panels opened inwards, and aerodynamic mirrors slid out on both sides. When she pushed on the lever, the mirrors slipped back into their cocoons and the doors sprung shut. "Nifty, isn’t it?"
"Very much so."

"Well, I’ll take my leave now, its too cold to stay out for long. Thank you for showing me your brother’s bike."
"No problem at all. Good bye."
"See you on Monday."


* The Meyrin site is the main access point to the CERN. It has conference theatres, computer centres, restaurants, dorms, security centres among other facilities.