Monday, April 5, 2010

Taffy and the Dowser

After returning to graduate school in geology in 1974, Taffy lucked out and got summer work with the county's Public Works Dept.  As it happened, a contractor paved all the roads in a subdivision, but did not mark the water shut-off valves.  Given a shovel, pick, and metal detector I was told to go find them all and file the data.  "Piece a' cake" I thought to myself.  But I was wrong. It was very difficult and very time consuming.

I went to the water treatment shack and met Earl, the operator.  Earl sat in the corner, behind a grimy desk, with a dozen or so porn magazines scattered about.  "How's it goin' college boy?" he said with a wolfish grin.  "Hard Earl, real hard," I said.  "I'll be by later this afternoon and help you out." True to his word, he drove up that afternoon, obviously enjoying a sweating, frustrated college boy.  He told me he'd watch me suffer enough and decided it was time to show me a better way.  He took out two welding rods, bent them at 90 degrees and proceeded to locate the line and shut-off valve.

As a teaching assistant in grad school, I had to grade about 30 or so three-page papers (per class) on the required reading, Water Witching U.S.A. by Evon Vogt and Ray Hyman (University of Chicago Press, 1979,  260 p.).  I laughed at Earl.  With the same grin he handed me the rods and drove off.  Under normal circumstances I would have tossed them in the nearest bush, but the summer job was rapidly coming to a close, and I wanted to be hired next year and get a good reference.  "Economic pressure" they call it.

Although I hid them in the back of the truck, I packed them along with my other equipment.  Over the next few weeks I gradually switched more and more to the dowsing rods, increasing my success rate dramatically.  The director was happy, Earl grinned, and I kept my mouth shut back at school.

Over my working career I quietly kept notes on what dowsing rods could and could not do.  I'd locate pipelines or flowlines made of plastic when other techniques couldn't.  I always did it alone and if anyone asked I'd make up something like "Oh, I got it from an old aerial photo" or "I used Thermal IR imaging."  My inquisitor, interested only in the pipe, tank or line would utter an uninterested, "Oh" as he/she turned and walked away.

But the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq changed my attitude and many of the findings are now published on YouTube.  Sure, they're unpopular with most DoD and DARPA groups.  So unpopular that they won't be tested.  OK, they're the ones in charge.  Of the hundreds of articles I've read on high-tech solutions to low-tech problems few have proved lastingly successful.  Let's start giving low-tech solutions a try.  After all, as the Counter Insurgency Commander told a group of soldiers about the Tamil Tigers, "Fight a guerrilla with a guerrilla." 

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