Monday, June 8, 2009

The Mouse Cage and the Birth of Subterraopolis

Sometime in 6th or 7th grade, I decided that mice were the perfect pets and was convinced that I was ready to start keeping and breading them at home. Unfortunately for me, I decided to ask my mother whether I could ($1 each for feeder mice) before I made the purchase. This is about the time I learned the phrase, "It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission". Too bad for my pet mice, I learned the lesson after I asked. She was not thrilled with the idea, as rodents are notoriously smelly creatures, and she has an incredibly sensitive olfactory system. My dreams as the Pied Piper were not meant to be.

However, being young and inexperienced, I thought that if I could solve the smell problem, I would be able to change the "no mice" policy. So, I started designing a simple mouse cage (1'x2'x3') that would be "odor-free". To do this, I had to do something about the source of the smell, the mouse leavings. My first step in this was to designed the cage as a source separator - one that separated the mouse droppings from the mouse drippings. I decided to try to use the simplest possible method - strictly using static mechanical means. This part was very simple, and basically involved 2 layers of mesh wire, one as the floor of the cage with holes large enough to pass the droppings, and the second underneath that was small enough to catch the droppings while allowing the urine to pass to a 3rd layer. The 3rd layer was slanted to on corner of the cage where it would exit the cage into a "sealed urine collection tank".

It was at this stage in the process that I had to approach the smell problem. As mice smell goes, the urine is the worst part. What I needed to get the smell down to a low enough level was some sort of flushing mechanism that would clean and clear the 3rd urine catch of the cage regularly enough to regulate the odor. The flushing system was to be self sustaining for a certain interval (one week was the goal), at the end of which the collection tank would be filled (and need emptying) and the flushing device would need to be refilled. I had a lot of options for flushing that worked. I was, however, not satisfied with this system. I thought that there might be a way to dehydrate the urine in the collection tank, recycling the evaporated water to be used to clean the urine catch. While designing this, I ran into a road block. It seemed possible, but I was too young and ill-equipped to find a solution that I would be able to design and build with my limited tools and resources. So, the project was eventually scrapped, in large part to the fact that even if I had decided on a flushing device for my "odor-less" tank, my mom thought mice were just creepy. Who knew?

In the process however, my design took on several different shapes, as I liked to draw scale blueprints, and made several versions as the ideas continued to develop. One day, while looking at one of the latest blue prints I saw something other than a mouse cage. Somehow, in some obscure way, the drawing - with its multiple levels, and its circulating fresh and waste water systems - reminded me of a city. More specifically, and underground city. I don't know why or how, but it did...

I blame television. Or perhaps all the crazy sci-fi and fastasy-adventure movies that came out in the late 70s and 80s (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, the Dark Crystal, etc.). Either way, out of this failed mouse experiment was born a passion for designing an underground city, which has evolved and taken on many shapes in the last... 10 years. I have never named any of my designs or ideas, but the name Subterraopolis seems to sum them all up quite nicely. And so it shall be named.

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