IN THE GARDEN
Some problems are
perfectly predictable—yet not
in the sense that allows a
preprogrammed machine to handle them—
BY KRIS NEVILLE
Illustrated by George Schelling
Eddie Hibbs reported for work and was almost immediately called out on
an emergency. It was the third morning in succession for emergencies.
This time a section of distribution cable had blown in West Los
Angeles. Blown cable was routine, but each instance merited the
attention of an assistant underground supervisor.
Eddie climbed down the manhole with the foreman of the maintenance
crew. There were deep pull marks on the lead sheath above where the
cable had blown.
"Where'd they get it?" he asked.
"It came in from a job on the East Side."
"Sloppy work," Eddie said. "Water got in the splice?"
"These new guys...." the foreman said.
Eddie fingered the pull marks. "I think she's about shot anyway. How
much is like this?"
"A couple of hundred feet."
"All this bad?"
Eddie whistled. "About fifteen thousand dollars worth. Well. Cut her
back to here and make splices. Stand over them while they do it."
"I'll need two men for a week."
"I'll try to find them for you. Send through the paper."
"I can probably find maybe another thousand miles or so that's about
"Don't bother," Eddie said.
That was Eddie's productive work during the morning. With traffic and
two sections of street torn up by the water people, he did not get
back to his office until just before lunch. He listened to the Stock
Market reports while he drove.
He learned that spiraling costs had retarded the modernization program
of General Electronics and much of their present equipment was
obsolete in terms of current price factors. He was also told to
anticipate that declining sales would lead to declining production,
thereby perpetuating an unfortunate cycle. And finally he was warned
that General Electronics was an example of the pitfalls involved in
investing in the so-called High Growth stocks.
Eddie turned off the radio in the parking lot as the closing
Dow-Jones' report was starting.
During lunch, he succeeded in reading two articles in a six-week-old
issue of Electrical World, the only one of the dozen technical
journals he found time for now.
At 12:35 word filtered into the department that one of the maintenance
crew, Ramon Lopez, had been killed. A forty-foot ladder broke while
atop it Lopez was hosing down a pothead, and he was driven backward
into the concrete pavement by the high-pressure water.
Eddie tried to identify the man. The name was distantly familiar but
there was no face to go with it. Finally the face came. He smoked two
cigarettes in succession. He stubbed the last one out angrily.
"That was a tough one," his supervisor, Forester, said, sitting on the
side of Eddie's desk. Normally exuberant, he was left melancholy and
distracted by the accident. "You know the guy?"
"To speak to."
"After I thought about it a little bit," Eddie said, "I remembered he
was transferring tomorrow. Something like this brings a man up short,
"A hell of a shame. Just a hell of a shame."
They were silent for a minute.
"How was the market this morning?" Forester asked.
"Up again. I didn't catch the closing averages."
"I guess that makes a new high."
"Third straight day," Eddie said.
"Hell of a shame," Forester said.
"Yeah, Lopez was a nice guy."
"Well...." Forester's voice trailed off in embarrassment.
"I wanted to remind you about the budget meeting."
Eddie glanced at his watch. "Hour and a half?"
"Yeah. You know, I feel like ... never mind. What about the burial
transformers, you get on it yet?"
"The ones we're running in the water mains for cooling? They're out of
warranty. None of the local shops can rewind them until the
manufacturer sends out a field engineer to set them up for the
"How long is that going to take?" Forester asked.
"They tell me several months. Still doesn't leave us with anything.
The plant says they've fixed the trouble, but between them and the
rewind shop, they can buck it back and forth forever."
"I guess we'll have to go back to the pad-mounted type."
"People with the Gold Medallion Homes aren't going to like the pads by
Forester uncoiled a leg. "Draw up a memorandum on it, will you,
Eddie?" He stood up. "That thing sure got me today. There's just
entirely too many of these accidents. A ladder breaking. I don't
Eddie tried to find something intelligent to say. Finally he said, "It
was a rough one, all right."
After Forester left, Eddie picked up, listlessly from the top of the
stack one of the preliminary reports submitted for his approval.
The report dealt with three thousand capacitors purchased last year
from an Eastern firm, now bankrupt. The capacitors were beginning to
leak. Eddie called the electrical laboratory to see what progress was
being made on the problem.
The supervisor refreshed his memory from the records. He reported: "I
don't have any adhesive man to work on it. Purchasing has half a dozen
suppliers lined up—but none have any test data. I don't know when
we'll get the time. We're on a priority program checking out these
new, low-cost terminations."
"Can't we certify the adhesive to some AIEE spec or something?" Eddie
"I don't know of any for sealing capacitors, Eddie. Not on the
maintenance end, at least."
"Maybe Purchasing can get a guarantee from one of the suppliers?"
"For the hundred dollars of compound that's involved? What good would
that do us?"
Eddie thanked him and hung up. He signed the preliminary report.
He turned to the next one.
At 2:30 Forester came by and the two of them made their way between
the jig-saw projections of maple and mahogany to the Conference Room.
Fourteen men were involved in the conference, all from operating
departments. They shuffled in over a five minute period, found seats,
lit cigarettes, talked and joked with one another.
When one of the assistants to the manager came in, they fell silent.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I think I'd better get right to the point
today. The Construction Program in the Valley has now used up two bond
issues. The voters aren't going to approve a third one."
He paused for effect then continued briskly:
"I see by the morning's Times that the mayor is appointing a
watch-dog commission. I guess you all saw it, too. The Department of
Water and Power of the City of Los Angeles is going to be badly—and I
mean badly—in the red at the end of the fiscal year.
"We're in hot water.
"We do not seem to be getting through to the operating departments
regarding the necessity for cost reduction. I have here last month's
breakdown on the Bunker Hill substation 115 KV installation. Most of
you have seen it already, I think. I had it sent around. Now—"
The analysis continued for some ten minutes to conclude with an
"We've got to impose a ten per cent across the board cut on operating
One of the listeners, more alert than the rest, asked, "That go for
"For personnel making more than eight hundred dollars a month it
There was a moment of shocked silence.
"You can't make that stick," one of the supervisors said. "Half my
best men will be out tomorrow looking for better offers—and finding
"I'm just passing on what I was told."
The men in the room shuffled and muttered under their breaths.
"O.K., that's the way they want it," one of the supervisors said.
"I've brought along the notices for the affected personnel. Please see
they're distributed when you leave."
After the meeting, Forester walked with Eddie back to his desk.
"You be in tomorrow, Eddie?"
"I guess I will, Les. I really don't know, yet."
"I'd hate to lose you."
"It's going to make it pretty rough. A man's fixed expenses don't come
"I'll see what I can do for you, maybe upgrade the classification—"
Back at his desk, Eddie looked at his watch. Nearly time for the
Safety Meeting. Lost-time injuries had been climbing for the last four
While waiting, he signed a sixty-three page preliminary report
recommending a program for the orderly replacement of all transmission
and distribution cable installed prior to 1946. It was estimated that
the savings, in the long run, would total some quarter of a billion
dollars. The initial expense, however, was astronomical.
After the Safety Meeting, Eddie prepared another memorandum indicating
the acute need for a better training program and an increase in
maintenance personnel. Shortage of qualified technicians was chronic.
At four twenty-five, the night supervisor phoned in to say he was
having engine trouble with his new car and would be delayed until
about six o'clock. Eddie agreed to wait for him.
Eddie dialed home to let his wife, Lois, know he would be late again.
A modulated low-frequency note told him the home phone was out of
Ray Morely, one of the night-shift engineers, came in with coffee.
"You still here, Eddie?"
"Yeah, until Wheeler makes it. His car's down."
"Market hit a new high."
"Yeah. I guess you heard about the meeting today?"
Ray sipped coffee. "Budget again? I missed the day crew. I got hung up
in traffic and was a little late."
"A pay cut goes with it, this time."
"Been by your desk yet?"
"I'm not kidding. Ten per cent for those making above eight hundred."
"Nobody's going to put up with that," Ray said. "We're in an engineering
shortage. We've got ICBMs rusting in their silos all over the country
because we can't afford the engineering maintenance—that's how bad it is.
"I don't think they'll make it stick. Ramon Lopez, one of the truck
crew, was killed today hosing down a high-voltage pothead."
Eddie told him about the accident.
"That was a rough one to lose, wasn't it?"
The phone rang.
Ray said, "I'll get it."
He listened for a minute and hung up. "There's an outage in the Silver
Lake Area. The brakes on a bus failed and took out an overhead
Eddie sat back. "No sense in you going. With work traffic on the
surface streets until the freeway gets fixed, they won't get the truck
there until 6:30 or so."
"Right." Ray drank coffee reflectively. "You going looking?"
"I'm an old-timer. I got a lot of seniority. How about you?"
"I got bills. It's going to cost me near a hundred a month—that's a
"I still think they'll back off."
"They'll have to," Ray said. "If not right now, when the pressure gets
on. You ask me, we've got them by the short hair." He settled into the
chair. "I see it as an organic phenomenon. When society gets as
complex as ours, it has to grow more and more engineers. But there's a
feedback circuit in effect. The more engineers we grow, the more
complex society becomes. Each new one creates the need for two more.
I get a sort of feeling of—I don't know—vitality, I guess, when I
walk into, say, an automated factory. All that machinery and all that
electronic gear is like a single cell in a living organism—an
organism that's growing every day, multiplying like bacteria. And it's
always sick, and we're the doctors. That's job security. We're riding
the wave of the future. I don't think they'll make a salary cut
"I hope you're right," Eddie said.
Eddie checked out at 7:15, when the night supervisor finally arrived.
As he left the building, he noted that a burglar alarm down the street
had gone off; probably because of a short circuit. The clanking set
his nerves on edge. Apprehensively he felt a rising wind against his
At home, he was greeted with a perfunctory kiss at the door.
"Honey," Lois told him, "you took the check book, and I didn't have
"Something come up? I'm sorry."
"We're all out of milk. The milk man didn't come today. Their
homogenizing machinery broke down. I phoned the dairy about nine; and
then, of course, the phone has been on the blink since about eleven or
a little before, so I couldn't ask you to bring some home."
"I kept trying to get you."
"I figured you had to work late again, when you weren't here at six,
and I knew you'd be here when you got here."
Eddie sat down and she sat on the chair arm beside him. "How did it go
He started to tell her about the wage cut and Ramon Lopez; but then he
didn't want to talk about it. "So-so," he said. "There was an outage
over in the Silver Lake Area just before I left."
"I doubt it," he said. "Probably a couple of more hours."
"Gee," she said, "when I think of all that meat in the deep
"I wouldn't stock so much," he said. "I really wouldn't."
She twisted away from him. "Honey. I'm jittery. Something's ... I
don't know. In the air, I guess."
The wind rattled the windows.
While Lois was warming dinner, his son came in.
"Eddie, when we gonna get the TV fixed?"
Eddie put down the newspaper. "We just don't have a hundred dollars or
so right now." He searched for matches on the table by the chair.
"Lois, oh, Lois, where're the matches?"
She came in. "They were all out Friday at the store, and I keep
forgetting to lay in a supply. Use my lighter over there."
"About the TV—"
Lois was wiping her hands on the paper towel she had brought with her.
"Replacement parts are hard to find for the older sets," she said.
"Anyway. I read today Channel Three finally went off the air. That
leaves only Two and Seven. And the programs aren't any good, now, are
they? All those commercials and all?"
"They do use a lot of old stuff I've already seen," the son admitted,
"but every once in a while there's something new."
"Let's talk about it some other time, Larry, O.K.?" Eddie said. "How's
that? It's almost your bed-time. Studies done?"
"All but the Library report."
"Well, finish it, and—"
"I got to read the book down there. Two classes assigned it and they
don't have the copies to let us check out. And I want to ask you about
"Daddy's tired. His dinner's on. Come on, Eddie. I'll set it right
now. And Larry, you've already eaten...."
After dinner, Eddie got back to the paper, the evening Times. It was
down to eight pages, mostly advertising. There was a front-page
editorial reluctantly announcing a price increase.
"They raise the price once more, and we'll just quit taking it," Lois
said. "You read about the airplane crash in Florida? Wasn't that
terrible? What do you think caused it?"
"Metal fatigue, probably," Eddie said. "It was a twenty-year-old jet."
"The company said it wasn't that at all."
"They always do," Eddie said.
"I don't guess the payroll check came today or you'd have mentioned
"Payroll's still all balled up. Somebody pressed a wrong button on the
new machine and some fifty thousand uncoded cards got scattered all
over the office."
"Oh, no! What do the poor people, who don't have bank accounts, do?"
"Just wait, like we wait."
"You had a bad day," Lois said. "I can tell."
"No...." Eddie said. "Not really, I guess."
"Still working on Saturday?"
"I guess so. Nothing was said. Maybe it'll get easier after the end of
"You said it was all that new construction work in the Valley that's
making you so shorthanded."
"That's part of it."
"They're not scheduled to finish until ... when, sometime next year,
"The end of '81 right now."
"Eddie! Listen to me! I hardly ever see you any more. You're not going
to have to put in all this overtime for the next two years!"
"Of course not," Eddie said. "Maybe after this month, that's all, and
the work load will level off."
Larry, dressed for bed, came in. "Eddie?"
"Your father's tired."
"I want to ask him something."
"What is it, Larry?" Eddie asked.
"Eddie, you know the little culture I was running for science class?
Something's wrong. Will you look at it?"
"I'll look at it, Lois." Eddie accompanied his son to his son's room.
"What do you think is wrong, Dad?"
"Well, let's see...."
"What is it?" Larry asked. "What made it stop growing?"
Eddie did not answer for a minute. Then: "You start with one or two ...
well, it's like this, Larry. I'm afraid it's dead. They grow
exponentially. Figure out how much money you'd have at the end of a month
if you started with just a penny and doubled your money every day. In just
a little while, you'd have all the money in the world. Figure it out
sometime. Things that grow exponentially, they just don't know when to
quit. And your culture, here, it grew until the environment could no
longer support it and all at once the food was eaten up and it died."
"I ... see.... Something like that could just grow until it took over
the whole world, couldn't it?"
Again Eddie was silent for a moment. Then he rumpled his son's hair.
"That's science fiction, Larry."
Later, while they were listening to FM, there was a news break
reporting a fire out of control in South Los Angeles.
"That's near Becky's, I'll bet," she said. "I better phone."
The phone was still out of order.
"I sure feel cut off without a phone."
After an interlude of music, Lois said, "Larry wants to be an
engineer, now. I guess after what you said, maybe that's a pretty good
Eddie looked up from his cigarette. "Why this all of a sudden?"
"One of his teachers told him what you said—there's a growing
"I thought he wanted to be an astronaut."
"You know Larry. That was last week. His teacher said we're not going
to start up the space program again. It's too expensive. We just don't
have the technical man-power and materials to spare."
"We are in.... But these kids, young kids they're turning out—they
aren't getting the education today. And if anything, I sometimes think
it almost makes our jobs even worse, correcting their mistakes. I
sometimes wonder where it's all going to stop."
There was more news from the fire front.
Fire fighters were having a very difficult time. Two water mains had
broken and the pressure was dropping. The fire was reported to have
been caused by the explosion of a gas main. Rising winds did not
promise to abate until dawn.
"I sure wish I could get through to Beck," Lois said. "Oh, I guess I
told you, did I? Her sister has hypoglycemia, they found out. That's
why she's been tired all the time."
"Never heard of it."
"Low blood sugar. It's caused by an overactive gland on the pancreas.
And treatment is just the opposite of what you'd think, too. I'll bet
you'd never guess. If you increase the amount of sugar in the diet,
the gland becomes just that much more active to get rid of it and the
hypoglycemia gets worse. It's what I'll bet you engineers call a
feedback. Isn't that what you call it? Well ... the way doctors treat
it is to reduce the amount of sugar you eat. And after a little bit,
the pancreas gets back its normal function, and the patient gets well.
I told you you'd never guess!"
After a long time, Eddie said, very softly, "Oh."
Just after midnight, they went to bed.
"I've been ..." Lois began and then stopped. "I don't know. Jumpy. The
market was up again today. Another all-time high. Do you think
there'll be another Crash? Like 'way back in 1929."
She could feel him lying tense beside her in the darkness. "No," he
said slowly, "I don't think so. I don't think there'll be a Crash."
In spite of the warmth of the room, she could not suppress an
involuntary shudder whose cause was nameless. Suddenly, she did not
want to ask any more questions.
The wind was rattling the windows.
This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction July 1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.