An elaborate ballet happens every morning in Bombay India, as more than 100,000 wives put fresh home-cooked food into cylindrical lunch boxes — "dabbas" — and give them to carriers who wend their ways downtown to present each color-coded container to its respective husband-recipient ... reputedly with fewer than one error in millions of deliveries.

"Tiffins" are packed meals, "wallahs" are men, and thus the thousands who gather, route, and drop off the boxes are called "tiffin wallahs" (or "dabba wallahs"). The service costs the equivalent of less than $1/week. That includes a return trip home for each container in the afternoon.

Tiffin wallahs come to mind one morning as I join a hundred thousand fellow travelers on the highway to work — accelerating, merging, changing lanes, and exiting. I also think of Gather/Scatter, a magazine published from 1992-97 by the San Diego Supercomputer Center. Its title alludes to a fundamental computer operation: the gathering of data together from diverse locations in memory, and the inverse scattering of a compact array of numbers back out to their proper residences. High-performance computers often have special hardware to gather/scatter with extraordinary efficiency. So, apparently, do societies.

TopicProgramming - TopicScience - TopicSociety - 2004-01-14

(correlates: CloserToTheMachine, OurLimitedExperience, KennedyCenterView, ...)