The Slow Harvest Forest

Imagine a coastal forest, managed for its storm-twisted trees, using precision digital mapping to select the optimum shape and age of tree for making the curved hulls of sailboats.

In the 1980s, when dinosaurs and Sun workstations roamed the Earth, I toured the McMillan Bloedel lumber mill in Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Our Portland computer hobbyist club was invited by the computer geeks working there. Storm-battered coastal British Columbia grows some of the straggliest timber in the world, too knotted and twisted to make good looking dimensional lumber "the normal way".

So, the enterprising engineers found a better way to maximize the value of the felled trees; they made 3D X-ray images of the incoming logs, stored the images on the computer, then bar-coding the logs and stored them in the log pond. As orders for specific quality cut-to-size lumber came in, they could match multiple orders to multiple logs in the pond, using a few Sun workstations to compute optimal saw patterns through the trees that entirely eliminated blemishes from some boards while cutting lower quality boards from what remained (with the worst wood and sawdust becoming paper).

The very best grades of blemish-free, uniform-grain lumber were sent to Japan for the repair of ancient temples ... with huge prices for this temple-grade wood.

Thursday evening 2018/01/11, I talked with a carpenter and boat builder (also visiting, who told me how the very best boats are constructed from wood that grew naturally in trees of just the right shape for the curves of the hulls. He said that master boat builders walked the woods and selected the specific trees needed to build the boats they had in mind, and cut the curved trees to shape the wood to fit the hull.

Imagine a forest managed over decades and centuries to produce trees and wood like this, not clear-cut to the ground but only thinned occasionally, with trees extracted at the best (or merely least-damaging) time in their lifespan for the health of the forest. Imagine a system of supports for temporary rails, allowing robotic timber cutting and transporting machinery to enter, cut, extract, and leave specific trees without road construction; the robots (with human help on foot) could also extract or control-burn fire-prone undergrowth to manage against uncontrolled wildfires.

With enough acreage and adaptive design software sorting through millions of trees for optimal individual trees, while massaging hull designs to optimize for the trees available, the boat production process could optimize forest health while maximizing the value (and the brag rights) of the boats produced. Indeed, the boat's owners might have naming rights (and perhaps live camera feeds) for the areas of the forest their hulls came from.

I've met (and later avoided) a few dollar-wealthy individuals who pursue vast piles of showy toys. I've met (and continue to appreciate) others who focus on service (satisfying customers and advancing employees) and legacy: attempting to leave the world better than they found it. Contributing to well-managed forests isn't for the showoffs, but for the visionaries eager to share beauty with countless others into the far future, without having to write their name on it. In an open source world, able to cheaply preserve vast troves of data, the quiet threads connecting these far-sighted individuals to their philanthropies will endure. More capable minds than ours will discover and weave those threads into a "tapestry of appreciation" for the best works of the past; with enough minds, all good deeds will find loyal fans into the distant future.

And what does this have to do with server sky? Much computation required, much power dissipated, including those capable minds perhaps. Moving this dissipation into space leaves more room for forests.

SlowHarvestForest (last edited 2018-01-12 21:42:32 by KeithLofstrom)