March 1st, 2008

red panda eating bamboo

Nifty book - Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee

In my quest to understand how everything is connected to everything else, and how it is economically feasible to create very inexpensive products by shipping materials all over the world, I just finished reading (on audio) Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee. It's a set of essays mostly about shipping modalities, but each essay goes at the subject from a different angle (or several angles).

The book doesn't really answer the "how can things be so cheap?" question but it gets me a step closer to the "how everything is connected" part.

My favorite chapters were:
"A Fleet of One" and "A Fleet of One - II" about a guy who owns a chemical tanker.
"Tight-Assed River" about small boats that push strings of barges ("longer than the Titanic") up and down the Illinois River
"Out in the Sort" about the travels of live lobsters sold by a Nova Scotia company, Clearwater Seafoods (which may make you not want to eat lobster at Asian buffets any more) and the sorting facility at the UPS Worldport facility in Louisville, KY
"Coal Train" about 19,000 ton coal-laden trains more than a mile long and the Union Pacific engineers, conductors, and dispatchers who get them where they're going (the dispatchers sometimes quit the job and go into air traffic controlling, because it is easier).

There are also chapters about a ship-handling course that uses scale models, and a canoe trip; those are good too but they didn't fascinate me.

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