Plugged In

Plugged In

More than wires - exploring the connections between energy, environment, and our lives

Infrastructure Spotting


When I began writing On the Grid, my book about the infrastructure systems that make our lives possible, I envisioned it as a sort of Peterson's Guide to the Infrastructure of the Modern World. It never became that -- for one thing, there's just way too much infrastructure to really contain in a single narrative book; for another, even if there was, I could never wrap my head around all of the specific pieces you're likely to run across; for a third, something like that Peterson's-style pocket guide already existed in an abbreviated form in A Field Guide to Roadside Technology.

The thing is, really, each system needs its own guide. You could have a guide just for different kinds of utility poles; a guide for the various pipes, pumping stations, treatment facilities, and biosolids handling processes for wastewater; another for the water towers, valves, and manholes of the water system.

And then you could have this one: The Container Guide, by Tim Hwang and Craig Cannon. Hwang is the founder of the Bay Area Infrastructure Observatory, which is just what it ought to be: a group of citizens dedicated to paying attention to the infrastructure surrounding them in the San Francisco Bay area, though they're hugely interested in infrastructure wherever somebody wants to point it out to them. They go on tours to places like local bridges and treatment plants. Their website has pictures of bridges from France and fishery ponds from Iceland, so they're clearly in this infrastructure thing all the way. Which, of course, is good news for everybody.

The shipping container guide is their first publication, and they have a whole kickstarter thing going on for it, which ends in a day or two. Of course it's already gone over its stated goal, because intrinsically cool stuff tends to do that. Cannon, by the way, was graphics editor of The Onion and is now coeditor of Cultivated Wit (the people behind the infinitely marvelous Fuck You Congress). So: cool guys.

Anyhow, the Container Guide will be printed on tearproof and waterproof paper, and it'll have essays by the fabulous Rose George and other cool people, and it won't be expensive and you will need to own it if you live anywhere near the type of harbor shipping operation that makes being able to identify shipping containers self-evidently important.

Plus: if you give their Kickstarter campaign $10,000, you fund at the Tycoon Level, and along with your copy of the Guide they'll send you your very own used shipping container, which come on now. Does the world get cooler than that?

Yours for a world where everybody is paying this kind of attention to their infrastructure.



The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Give a Gift &
Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription
as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now! >


Email this Article