JS: Until you learn to connect the pieces and stop taking things personally, you will never be more than a reporter. A journalist would not have been offended by my statement; they would have asked why?
SK: Why should I not take it personally? You keep talking about us like we are either savages or children. No, children would mean you were admitting we were not a lesser species than yourself, and obviously, you could never admit to being the same species.
JS: Or I could have been stating what would have been obvious to a journalist. Your electric motors were made by Leesan, which was in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is currently under an ocean. Even if you had the complete schematic for each and every electric motor, you don’t have any place to order the parts…unless your city happens to have an industrial supply store, which sold electric motors and had a large parts inventory before the cycle began.
JS: All knowledge builds upon that which existed before. When each cycle starts, only a subset of the prior cycle’s knowledge is available to the survivors.
Please look at the shelf behind you and to the right. The one with a section containing those square plastic cases. Yes, those. Some of them are CDs while others are DVDs. Ah, good. The one you grabbed is the complete Encyclopedia Britannica. All thirty-two volumes on one DVD. If it is still readable, it contains a large subset, but still just a subset, of all man’s knowledge. Much of that knowledge will cover history but some of it will be quite useful.
SK: How is history not useful?
JS: The cycle has restarted. The countries and the peoples who made war on each other no longer exist. While the personal achievement histories would be invaluable, since many of them will be people who invented things like electricity, paper, steel, etc., the scientific information will be much more valuable now.
SK: How so? What do you mean if it is still readable?
JS: Well, those electric motors we were talking about—their information would be squirreled away under various scientific topics. There would be one section showing you an example of an electric motor, its various components, and providing the theory behind building one. You can then search through for information about how to make each component in other articles, though it might not be obvious at first. Eventually, you can search through and find information about the various tools you need until you finally know enough to make all of the parts needed for an electric motor.
SK: You still didn’t answer the readable question.
JS: CDs and DVDs were supposed to be the ultimate storage solution. They were supposed to be impervious to damage and last forever.
SK: Supposed to be?
JS: Marketing lies. In this world, there is the truth, polite lies, true lies, damned lies and marketing. If the information you get comes from anyone involved in marketing—or politics for that matter—no matter how strong you are, you can’t throw it hard enough to even land close to the truth, let alone hit it.
Unlike magnetic media…don’t ask!…CDs and DVDs were burned. A very intense and narrow beam of light called a laser would shine through the outer layer of the disk and literally burn the binary information into one of the inner layers.
The outer layer was supposed to be made of a type of plastic, that was highly scratch resistant, which is where the “impervious to damage” idea came from. In an effort to cut costs, manufacturers ended up using really cheap plastic instead of the high-grade, scratch-resistant kind.
The inner layer of media consists of a series of dyes and materials, which degrade over time for various reasons. Heat, light or air through a scratch will let the inner media change shape, so it doesn’t correctly reflect the reading laser. This last forever media ended up lasting about two to five years for most people. The archival quality disks could last longer but nowhere near the life span of magnetic media. Magnetic media, kept at a proper temperature and shielded from magnetic energy, could store data for over a hundred years.
SK: So, why do you have these disks instead of that magnetic media you talk about?
JS: Oh, I have both. I just don’t have everything on both. Tape can become brittle and break. You also need cleaning kits for the tape drives. Besides, not everything was available in a form that was transferable.
JS: Yes. That particular disk in your hand is a shining example. It has software that runs when you place the disk in a compatible computer. That software allows you to navigate all of the documents and images found on the disk. It expects everything to be on a disk with that label in a particular directory order having particular names. It is a wonderful product as it sits but when it hits its lifespan, it will be lost. Longevity wasn’t in the manufacturers’ best interest. They wanted you to buy an updated version of the encyclopedia every year so they didn’t ship it on a massively expensive archival quality disk.
SK: So, even you are losing information as we speak?
JS: That would be correct. I have no idea what won’t work when I try it next. I’ve deliberately kept most things sealed away in their long-term storage containers, trying to prolong their life, but I seem to be suffering the survivor’s problem.
SK: How so?
JS: The computer you used and two others you haven’t seen are the only things that can read any of this media. While I did manage to store some spare parts and stuff, by and large, when these computers die, all of the knowledge they gave access to will die.
SK: But can’t we print it out?
JS: Do you happen to have a few million sheets of US letter-sized paper and several toner cartridges for that Lexmark printer over there?
SK: No, but the newspaper could read it all and transcribe it into bound books.
JS: Do you really think you can chisel stone that fast?
SK: I said print on paper, not chisel stone!
JS: At last count there were close to eight million books on that collection of disks over there. It was only a drop of water out of the glass of knowledge. There were said to be many hundreds of millions of books in the world of the last cycle.
SK: We could start with the ones that teach us how to build a computer!
JS: That would be a long tree of knowledge. There are literally thousands of topics people would have to become complete experts in just to build a facility capable of building the components of a single computer. I mean, that thin and colorful flat monitor you saw was the result of thirty years of research after we already had bright and colorful weigh-a-ton, tube-type monitors in large scale production.
SK: Don’t be such a defeatist.
You are reading a special promotional version of “John Smith – Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars.” This is the third book of the “Earth That Was” trilogy. You can obtain the entire trilogy in EPUB form from here: