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issue 06/01/2000

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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The Migratory Patterns of the American Umbrella

by Elizabeth Weaver Engel

Back in March, we threw a big party and invited all our various circles of friends. As often occurs in large gatherings of people, items were left behind. For the past two months, we've carried a bag of these orphans around in the trunk everywhere we went. As of last weekend, all items had been returned to their original owners other than a tupperware bowl (identified, but whose owner we haven't seen since March) and an umbrella. Since no one has claimed it in two months, I speculated to my spouse that it was probably now ours by virtue of squatter's rights. His response: "Do you have any idea how many umbrellas I currently have in my possession?" Well no, but judging from that reply, probably quite a few.

Which got me thinking: are umbrellas really the glue that holds our society together? I don't remember ever having purchased an umbrella. I'm currently in possession of two myself (turns out spouse has four, not including our new acquisition). I've never intentionally lifted someone's umbrella. How did they get here? Do they multiply when placed in proximity to each other, like in a hatrack or under a car seat? Do they have migratory patterns like songbirds?

This got me onto a whole six degrees of separation track. Could my umbrellas originally have been purchased by someone famous (or infamous)? And how would I know? Where do all the umbrellas that go wandering end up? Are they all in Kevin Bacon's coat closet? Could they be tagged and studied like endangered species? (Of course, no one thinks that umbrellas are endangered, but you know what I mean.) Could they actually be duplicating the movements of subatomic particles? In an alienating age, could umbrellas serve to bring us together? Picture it - a whole community of umbrellas circling the globe bearing if not good will towards humans then at least protection from the elements.

So I've decided to track one of my umbrellas. It's been tagged with my email address, so it's ready to be released into the wild, likely in one of my favorite bookstores. If it comes into your life, don't send it back - just drop me a line to let me know where it is and how it's doing. Bet it has a more interesting summer than I do.

b i o :
Elizabeth Weaver Engel, besides being a budding writer, is a stealth geek, a manager (but NOT the Pointy-Haired Boss) at a non-profit association, a distance runner, a "rabid" Lindy Hopper, and a connoisseur of fine B-grade movies.

Currently a resident of Washington, DC, Elizabeth grew up outside of Philadelphia and holds a Master's degree in political theory from the University of Virginia. She fell into working with computers by accident and has since been struggling to pull herself out. Writing for Mindjack is one of the steps she's taking to do so.


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