A Flaring Time

New standards are being developed for electrical devices. These standards will allow the same wiring and connections to be used for data transfer as used for electricity. In a seemingly unrelated area, recent solar flares have provided some stunning evening displays of Northern Lights....

"Hey, it's COLD in here!" Jack's skin nerves had had enough temperature torture many minutes ago, but it was taking a little more screaming than usual to get something done about it. Jack finally stirred from hibernation, heard the cold alert, and set about to correct things.

Of course, the brain neurons were in their own (slower) time warp, and it was taking some time for them to let Jack know why it was so cold in his house. Indeed, the eyes told him first. "Why is the balcony window broken?"

The brain finally awoke. "Oh, right, the door would not unlock last night, so I broke the window to get in." For whatever reason, the electronic, computerized, automatic "watch dog" had not recognized Jack as he passed his fingerprint over the doorbell when he got home late last night. His only other means of entry was a planter. Strange, he now thought, of how the alarm system did not detect this and promptly contact the police system.

He shuffled to the kitchen, as his stomach now had control over his legs. He fumbled for some bread, docked the slices into the toaster, and pressed down on the lever. "Strange," he thought, "I can see the bones in my hand." After several minutes, it was his stomach's impatience that caused him to pay attention to that last thought as he checked what was taking the toaster so long. The bad news was that he still had "raw toast"; the good news, if it could be called that, was the new X-ray machine now sitting by his mixer in the kitchen.

Jack reached for his phone. He dialled the number of his best friend from memory. He placed the receiver to his ear, but heard nothing. "Now what?!" He tried again, this time waiting for the dial tone... but the soothing dial-tone-buzz had somehow been replaced with the "dits" and "dahs" of the Morse code traffic that he last heard on a ham radio. Jack punched at the "S", the "O", and again the "S" key, but he heard no replies of assistance or consolation.

He knew what would work. From Nadi to Reston, his trusty electric shaver had never failed him. He made his way to the washroom, plugged the shaver in, and turned on the switch. To his shock -- no, it was more like surprised expectation -- his electric shaver promptly began to blow dry his sideburns.

Jack could not believe what was happening. He raced from room to room, trying every appliance and electrical device. Televisions hummed like aquarium pumps; aquarium pumps sounded like bass speakers tuned to a rock station; radios squealed like over-stressed smoke detectors. The closest thing he found to something acting the way it was supposed to was a vacuum cleaner that promptly exploded (and blew out a wall) when it was plugged in. "Nature does hate a vacuum," he moaned as he dug himself out.

Meanwhile, Jack's digital watch stirred with the voice of one of the hosts of his favourite morning news show. "Good morning. Last night, the sun erupted with flares that could not be missed, with brilliant Northern Lights seen as far south as the equator. The brightness, however, did not warn of a darker side as the solar activity, from 148 million kilometres away, scrambled computer circuits, overloaded electrical devices, and ground our Information Age to a halt. Although astronomy scientists say such flares are an expected and recurring part of the sun's cycle, there is electronic havoc on Earth today,...."

Jack stood, isolated in the middle of a disaster zone, longing for the days of primitive fires and raw meat in an ancient cave, and wishing that both Babbage and Edison were roasting.

Vernon R.J. Schmid


Your comments, suggestions, questions, or concerns would be very much appreciated. Please direct them to: vschmid@telus.net.

Copyright ©1989, 1997 Vernon R.J. Schmid. All rights reserved.
Web Page Created: 1997-09-07. Last Updated: 2005-01-28.