As usual the Martin & Ottaway Christmas present is late. But maybe I should call it a New Year’s present anyway.
This year it is a story. I wrote it late in the last century. It has sort of been published in various places, one of which was a website that I can no longer find, named something like the Short People’s Network.
There it was interpreted as providing moral support for people of short stature. I actually did write it as a response to one of my children who complained I had not created them taller. I was even confronted with their argument that taller people tended to be more successful. (That is true at first glance, but not necessarily so, as the story will indicate)
It can be interpreted as a policy story too and is quite relevant today in that regard, but I will first call it an engineering story. Strangely it became relevant to me again just a few months ago when I was designing Anne’s boat. I wanted to be keep headroom down to my maximum family height (5′-10″) as a reverse discriminatory act and to maximize esthetics of the boat. Strangely, once all was said and done, we still ended up with mostly 6′-4″ headroom on the boat. (Maybe it was an unconsciousness inclusionary urge)
We hope this tale will provide you with some inspiration for 2021.
Make Mine Half Size
Back in 1978 many of us thought that President Carter’s attention to energy efficiency would have made us all drive superefficient unexciting cars, at least that is what just about everybody in this world was thinking.
But reality is not just this world, reality consists of parallel universes and in one of our parallel universes, Mr. Carter’s plans actually turned out very different. How different? Instead of outspending the Soviet Union, Mr. Reagan decided to force the Soviet Union out of existence by being more efficient than they could ever be and he stuck with Mr. Carter’s fuel efficiency measures.
At first, in order to be more efficient, we started driving smaller cars, and people started to realize they did not want to be big anymore, because small people were much more comfortable in the smaller cars. When people started looking as to whether they wanted to be big or not, their appreciation for efficiency made them realize that in our modern world there is no real benefit in being big.
Before the advent of the firearms and the internal combustion engine it was nice to be big. A big person could dominate a small person, but today a small person with a gun makes a much smaller target than a big person with a gun. An airplane with a small person could fly further and faster than a big person. It simply was a better deal to be small.
With emerging new technologies, the armed forces soon realized that they needed soldiers with brains and not with brawn. Since brain capacity and body size are not dependent on each other to any significant extent, the Armed Forces soon (well actually it was not that soon, change is really hard for the military) realized they would be better off with smaller people.
The math was just fabulous. In theory, by simple scaling laws, a soldier half the height of a large soldier would also be half as thick as a large soldier and only half as wide as a large soldier.
Such a soldier would only be 1/8 (½ x ½ x ½) the weight of a large soldier, and only be ¼ (½ x ½) the target area of a large soldier, and only eat about ¼ as much as a large soldier. Those are pretty good numbers, and the Pentagon had to blow a couple of million dollars to see that while the actual numbers were not as good as the theoretical numbers they realized that this could be a good deal in war fighting.
So, in secret, they started to find smaller soldiers and started to train them for the most sophisticated pieces of equipment. Especially the Navy and the Air force wanted the small guys. A small guy in a nuclear submarine was a happier guy, and a smaller pilot meant a couple of extra rounds in the ammo box.
This selection was kept secret from the Soviet Union and large recruits were purposely sent to Germany to make the Soviets believe that Americans were purposely recruiting larger soldiers. The Soviets seeing these larger soldiers, concluded they might have a defense issue here and heavily started to invest in feeding their children to be as large as possible.
Meanwhile, the skunk works were started to develop planes and submarines just for small people, and these planes and submarines were designed to be scalable, for when even smaller people would become available.
The results were great. A fighter plane essentially is designed around a person. Most things in fighter planes are dependent on the size and weight of the pilot. If I can make the pilot smaller, I can make the crosssection of the plane smaller, the plane will be lighter and have less drag, it will be less visible, the ejection seat can be smaller, the parachute can be smaller.
The advantages just keep stacking up. The Air force could not believe how they had ever been so silly to set a minimum size for pilots. Women are smaller and they started to look for the smallest women pilots for whom they designed even smaller planes. These fighter planes were really small. To an average size male they almost looked like a toy. They did not pack a lot of punch, but once they were up in the air they could out-accelerate, out-climb and out-maneuver anything around. And boy, were they hard to see, and you can’t shoot what you cannot see. The Navy loved these pilots and these planes even more. Instead of having to build huge aircraft carriers they started to convert destroyers to specialty aircraft carrier duty. They still kept some large sailors aboard, because they were pretty handy for manhandling the planes on deck. But that lasted only a few years, because there almost was a fleet wide mutiny when the large sailors discovered that their racks were the same size as the pilot’s racks, but the pilots could easily sit up in their racks while large sailors had to use shoehorns to be able to slide into their racks. For the sake of morale it was decided to move the large sailors to the oilers and the shipyards, but even in the shipyards they could not be used on the ships that were designed for short people, because they simply did not fit.
On the submarines things were even more dramatic. At first the Navy did not reduce the size of the submarines, but they were able to put a lot more supplies aboard the submarine and each sailor had more space, which allowed for longer patrols.
But comfort does not win wars and soon the Navy realized that a submarine that is smaller in diameter can be stronger, which allows the submarine to dive deeper. A deeper diving submarine always is a better deal and soon the Navy started to build submarines for short people with 5 foot deck heights instead of 6 ½ foot working deck heights. This was the real deal. These boats were faster, stealthier and dove deeper.
During the coldest days of the cold war short people were now in high demand, and there was a shortage of short people, which resulted in the Navy’s decision to make all submarines coed. The Navy claimed that this decision was forced upon them due to personnel shortages, but it was widely suspected that the Navy wanted to breed more small people.
And sure enough, these small people started having small kids, and at birth the Navy reserved slots for them at Annapolis, because even a little smaller would be better.
These smaller people also were living luxuriously in smaller homes on the base, and with the money they were saving building, heating, and maintaining those homes, they were buying custom motor homes. The motor homes had the same outside dimensions as normal sized motor homes, but because the beds were smaller and the overheads were lower they simply provided more space for their users.
Instead of towing the car behind the motor home, a car could fit inside a garage inside the motor home. The canoes that were normally carried on the roof also fitted in the lower deck storage compartments. While these motor homes were extremely luxurious they were also extremely aerodynamic and did not burn a lot of fuel.
The continuous attention to miniaturization also had an effect on other industries such as the electronics industry and the power generation industry, which had an even more powerful effect on the United States’ ability to dominate the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union tried to compete, but they had exhausted themselves trying to feed their children as much as they could to make them as large as possible, and could not catch up in becoming more efficient. This resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile small people had become sort of the heroes of the United States. Instead of wanting to date the big guys in high school, girls wanted to date the short guys. Short girls were much more popular than tall girls.
Young short people, due to their greater efficiency, were found to have a much higher chance of success than young tall people and there was talk of a developing underclass of tall people.
This resulted in very severe tensions between tall and short people, but fortunately science came to the rescue. Genetic research had reached the point where it was possible to modify human genes to produce shorter children for tall parents also, and now parents could decide at conception how tall they wanted their children to be.
While initially organized religion greatly resisted such genetic modifications, they quickly realized that they had to support genetic modification or risk loosing a significant portion of their flock. In an effort to hang on to their advantaged position, short people supported religion’s resistance to genetic modifications, but it soon became apparent that everybody should have the right to be short, and that it was to everybody’s advantage to allow the trend to shortness to proceed as quickly as possible. Tall people simply were too expensive over their entire life span, down to the moment they had to be fitted for a coffin.
At first genetic modification was expensive, but soon it could be performed for no more than the cost of a good baby seat, and the cost difference between a large and a small baby seat and large and small diapers actually made genetic modification economically attractive for any parent.
Since genetic modification became so inexpensive, it became widely available even in third world countries, and natural conception became extremely rare. Since all pregnancies now were planned, birth rates stabilized very quickly. Instead of building forever more homes and forever larger homes, homes actually were reduced in size and the very largest homes simply were torn down to allow for restoration and enhancement of the environment. Less fuel was needed all around, less farmland was needed, fewer roads were needed, the skies became less crowded, and space travel became easier. Everything was better.
Efficiency had made this parallel universe of 3 ½ feet tall people a beautiful place to live.