The manatee watches...

How to Scare People for 10,000 Years Apr 07, 2018

In 1993, Sandia National Labs published a document that contained the following words:

The danger is still present, in your time, as
it was in ours.

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

The form of the danger is an emanation
of energy.

Sandia National Labs had undertaken the task of designing a radioactive waste facility in New Mexico meant to last 10,000 years — the US Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Plant (WIPP). The contents of this facility is toxic and harmful to humans. They needed to find a way to keep people out.

They setup expert panels to help design sugh a facility. In 1993, they published their findings

First they importantly recognized that, past 100 years, there is no guarantee that there will be organized oversite of such a facility:

Active institutional controls are considered effective for no more than 100 years. (F-19)

In other words, they recognized that, past 100 years or so, Sandia National Labs may not exist. For that matter, the United States of America may not even be functioning. They therefore recognized not only a need to make the facility structurally last, but also a way to communicate to future civilizations about the dangers contained within the facility. They wanted to prevent intrusions by future treasure seekers:

Certain time periods after the end of the expected 100 years of active institutional control after closure (100-300 years, 300-3,000 years, or 3,000-10,000 years after closure) [...] were considered [...] (1-9)

Physically keeping people out for 10,000 years was considered impractical, so the teams set out instead to deter would be intruders. Some intruders, it is presumed, may inadvertently discover the site while others may intentionally excavate it. They complete there survey by assuming three different levels of technology: High (beyond 1990's), Medium (on par with the 20th century) and Low (the intruders may have regressed into a more primitive technological state). Everything from future archeaeological investigation to simple drilling for water was considered.

The teams got a little carried away, it seems. When describing how the site should be marked, one team stated:

The method of site-marking must be very powerful to distinguish this place from all other types of places, so that the future must pay attention to this site. The place’s physical structure should strongly suggest enhanced attention to itself and to its subelements. To achieve this, the volume of human effort used to make and mark this place must be understood as massive, emphasizing its importance to us. The site’s constructions must be seen as an effort at the scale of a grand and committed culture, far beyond what a group or sect or organization could do. (F-50)

It's not entirely clear what that team expects Sandia or the US DoE to be able to accomplish. The real fun comes right before that, however. When describing what the architecture of such a site should convey, they came up with this bit of prose:

    This place is a message... and part of a
    system of messages... pay attention to it!

    Sending this message was important to us.
    We considered ourselves to be powerful culture.

    This place is not a place of honor... no
    highly esteemed deed is commemorated here
    ...nothing valued is here.

    What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us.
    This message is a warning about danger.

    The danger is in a particular location...
    it increases towards a center... the
    center of danger is here... of a
    particular size and shape, and below us.

    The danger is still present, in your time, as
    it was in ours.

    The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

    The form of the danger is an emanation
    of energy.

    The danger is unleashed only if you
    substantially disturb this place physically.

    This place is best shunned and left uninhabited. (F-49)

Oddly enough, I disagree with the framework of their assessment. They try to call attention to the site by waving a big danger flag over it. Yet, no structure is going to last 10,000 years; it will either end up toppled over or buried. If it does somehow last, it will surely be forgotten about in the middle of the desert. And if it's not forgotten about — if responsible entities keep watch over the site — then the exercise will have been for nought anyways.

A better idea, it seems to me, is to hide it for as long as possible. Make it inconspicuous. Bury the material deep and make the entrance inconspicuous; perhaps bury that even.

However, also build a large wide antechamber over the site. Ensure that anyone inadvertently digging or drilling in the area first enters the antechamber. Put all your big scary warnings in there. I agree with some of their specifics — ensure that your warnings are foreboding but cheaply constructed.

In the end, the site was built in 1999 and is rather dull looking. You can see a few images on their website. It seems to me that they have in fact completely failed at their initial goes. Were the building abandoned today in its current state, it would be highly intriguing to future civilizations, having nothing foreboding or alarming about its structure. It's clearly of value to those who built it. Why not have a look?


Golly What a Day Feb 25, 2015

I Stopped a Fight Today Feb 06, 2015

I stopped a fight today. I was on my way from work, at the Downtown Crossing T stop, getting on the orange line.

It was crowded and the train in the station was too full for the entirety of the would-be passengers to get on. I was following behind a woman who had a suitcase in tow. She appeared to be in a frustrated hurry, as she was making her way haphazardly through the crowd.

Near one of the too-crowded doors, I believe she bumped into someone — evidently someone of short temperment. There may have been a quick back and forth shove that I did not see. As she passed, the lady she had bumped into made an angry remark, turned, and pushed luggage toting lady.

At this point, luggage lady, yelling herself, fell into the crowd and I found myself between the two sudden adversaries. Most people in the crowded space seemed surprised or confused. I immediately stepped between them and instinctively found myself repeating, "It's not helping", towards each one in turn as they hurled expletives.

The luggage lady quickly righted herself and advanced on the shover. I found myself a pushing proxy, attempting to hold my ground between the two as they lunged for each other, each yelling insistently that the other had pushed first. I still found myself stating aloud to both, "It's not helping".

A moment later some of the other passers-by collected themselves and assisted. The situation diffused without much further clash. The luggage lady continued down the platform, more flustered than before, but with less of a crowd in her way. I continued as well, passing her further down the platform. The next train came, and I assume we all boarded separate cars.

As I sat on the train, I felt the onset of adrenaline in my system. It was neither a rush nor a high as some experience. It was simply a mildly unpleasant shakiness that I felt. I found myself wondering if I had done the right thing.

Not that stopping the fight was wrong. Au contraire, I wondered if what I was saying, "it's not helping", was in fact helping. Could I have diffused the situation more deftly? I intentionally demonstrated only modest physicalty; I had no intention of escalating the scuffle. Neither woman looked at me as I spoke, the locus of their glare focused on each other.

What could I have said that would have broken their intensity? At least one person claims to have worked to confuse their assailant, but that trick presumes the attention of the attacker. Maybe it would have worked, but it would have been uniquely awkward had it failed. And getting both women to hear me simultaneously only serves to reduce my odds of success.

I did find myself coming to the question of whether I should have interfered at all. I happened to be in a logistically optimal spot to step between them, but I could have easily stepped out of the way. I asked myself this only because I am a father now and my own safety is more paramount than ever before.

I have found myself coming to the aid of the physical distressed several times before. I've driven a drunk stranger to the hospital simply because he asked which way it was. I've helped the impaired on escalators, (a barely functioning drug addict who had scared everyone off). Recently I had a conversation with a man who, by his own accord, was suffering from withdrawl of some sort, as evidenced by the vomit he was leaving on the train floor. A favorite of mine was a delirious man who was scaring some tourists; I struck up a conversation to distract him in which he told me how magnets will protect the United States from foreign invaders. I've stood between my friends and those who look like they're about to become physically violent.

I never hesitate to do it and, to my good fortune, it's always ended well. But now I find myself asking: what if? What if the person I help sees me as a threat? What if the person I assist attacks me? It's always been my instinct to run towards these folks. It is a combination of the fact that I see everyone else running away and my own naive assumption that bad things won't happen.

I don't want to change this habit of mine. Helping people is inherently good. Good not only for the people helped, but for the public around them. My vitality has given me some assurance that the worst I am likely come away with is a bruise. As I get older, that will change. I will also start having my son by my side more frequently. I will not put him in harm's way. This is a question I believe I will find myself asking more seriously as time progresses.