Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pavement technology

Yesterday as I was passing some repaving work on the highway, I was stopped beside a young man with a box about the size of a laptop writing desk with an antenna on it. I asked what it was, and he said, “It’s to test the paving and make sure it is up to our quality standards.” Then he added, “It’s an expensive little box.” The traffic began moving and he changed locations to test another spot.

I am amazed at how much our lives are being changed by technology even when we don’t know anything about it. Certainly, if I had not been stopped beside this wondrous box, I wouldn’t have know that testing methods have changed.

When my brother was working for an engineering company on the bridge that spanned the Mississippi River between Lula, Mississippi, and Helena, Arkansas, (site of lots of floating casinos now), he tested soil and pavement by dipping out soup spoons of it and taking it back to his little office shack and running weight and moisture tests and such on it. The tests took a half hour, and the men who were packing dirt or pavement had to make adjustments.

Now, he could use this little box and the pavement wouldn’t have little holes in it, and adjustments could be made almost immediately. Our roads must certainly be in better shape because of such technology. And, that excites me.

I wonder how technology is changing our lives in other areas. Plywood doesn’t seem to be getting any smoother, and I understand that the better grades of lumber are still being shipped overseas. If you want top quality lumber, you must buy it from an independent dealer and, often, plane it down to size yourself. Home and commercial building construction companies can’t afford that; so our buildings are probably not benefiting in that manner from technology.

Our air conditioning, virtually unknown in my childhood, is now marvelously efficient due to better technology. Cars are changing. Look at the hybrids. I saw a hybrid Prius the other day with a license plate that said PDM SHFT, paradigm shift. And, that’s what has happened. The model of an automobile that RE Olds brought into being and Henry Ford make so ubiquitous has changed. Gasoline motors are being replaced in many areas.

Technology has changed food production – some say for the better and some warn about problems. Apples stay firm longer in my refrigerator, and potatoes don’t sprout eyes as quickly as they once did. I hear lots of stories about genetically engineered fruits and vegetables including wheat, corn and even cotton.

I’ll bet technology enhances the fabrics that we wear without our ever even suspecting that our jeans have been close to little boxes with antennas or thread testers for fabric moving at 10 miles per hour. My jeans don’t get holes as quickly as they did when I was younger. Of course, I’m not out climbing trees and playing in the woods either.

I am grateful for the ways that technology makes my life better, and I hope that we will use it responsibily.

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