Ooooh! A book review!

October 26, 2009

Few are the people who think about such things, but Samuel C. Florman is one, and even wrote a book on the subject:  The Existential Pleasures of Engineering.  This book argues that engineers have been erroneously portrayed as stiff, uncaring, rigid people who do not enjoy life when, in fact, engineers enjoy pleasures of the body and mind that mere civilians cannot.  Florman admits that this faulty view of engineers is, in small part, due to engineers being so caught-up in their project they do not come across as pleasant.  However, most of his arguments are not so level-handed.

Samuel C. Florman is very much an engineer.  He is a partner in Borg and Florman, a co-owner of Kreisler Borg Florman Construction Company, and possesses B.S. and C.E. degrees from Dartmouth College.  It is apparent throughout the book that he loves being an engineer.

The first half of the book is spent “defending” engineers from people Florman terms “antitechnologists.”  This “defense” is little more than a meager cover for attacking and lambasting these people.  He states that Jaques Ellul is “[T]he founding father of the contemporary antitechnological movement” and claims that Mr. Ellul thinks that “all deliberate and rational behavior, all efficiency and organization”, “has become a Frankenstein monster that cannot be controlled.” (46)  This claim is so outlandish it boarders on parody.  Unfortunately, Florman deals with other “antitechnologists” in this manner.  Though he only (strongly) implies as much, he seems to think that anybody who takes issue with the field of engineering must necessarily be desirous of a miserable life herding some sort of animal.

Once the antitechnology philistines have been adequately chastised (parodied), Florman declares that the current trend of antitechnology is a novel development in human history and illustrates this by quoting several ancient Greek poets’ languorous and loving descriptions of armor, spears, etcetera.  He notes that “men are driven to technological creativity because of instincts hardly less base than hunger and sex.” (115)  Furthermore, he claims that “[T]he engineering impulse comes to man as gift from God.” (112)

Now that he has established that engineering is necessarily for the betterment of mankind, he extols the many pleasures that an engineer can experience.  Being well educated, as engineers are, is enjoyable in itself: “[p]eople today would get more pleasure out of the world if they understood more about science and technology.” (114)  In addition, just being an engineer is a pleasurable experience, apparently.  “The engineer does not find existential pleasure by seeking it frontally.  It comes to him gratuitously”. (148)  For engineers, it seems, “happiness arrives mysteriously as a byproduct” of going to work in such a sublimely wonderful field.

While I have no doubt that some people enjoy being engineers, I find Florman’s “argument”  plausible, but unpersuasive.  The way in which he addresses the complaints about engineering is so obviously one-sided, it makes the reader wonder how accurate it is.  Are there actually well respected intellectuals who despise technological advances?  Who yearn for the yesteryear of peasantry, hardship, and plague?  In what circles are these people well respected?  According to Florman, these are widely read authors, but I wonder . . .

Florman, Samuel C. (1976)  The Existential Pleasures of Engineering.  New York:  St. Martin’s Press, Inc.



October 25, 2009

The ARPAnet, previously DARPAnet, was the product of fear.  The name is an acronym for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.  It was the first large area network based on packet switching.  The first node came online on September 1, 1969, and by March 1977 there were 111 computers connected to the ARPAnet.  It was retired in 1990.

The Soviet Union beat the United States in sending a living being into space with Sputnik in 1957, carrying the dog Laika.  The US military peed themselves at the realization that Russia could reach American cities from outer space, raining down upon them unknowable numbers of dogs.  Or nuclear weapons.  Eisenhower directed the MIT’s president, James Killian, to devise a survivable computer network to enable communication in the event Something Bad happened.  Seven years, and several grad students, later, the ARPAnet was born.  It utilized packets instead of direct data transfer, which enabled different kinds of computers to communicate.  This protocol is the basis of the Internet we all know and love.

Peer’s blog URLs

October 25, 2009

This seems a bit silly, but okay, here ya go! Chris Canterbury Mayra L Salas Nicholas C MacMichael Jack Nie Chelsea Allio Monica Vorng Marshall Kraft Yoon Kyoung Kim Oleg Vakulchik Prokhor Gromov Elena Aryshtaeva Dave Dion Duncan MacMichael Corrine Grumbt Sylvia Yu Kristi Walker Anne Hornung Carussa Ciuchta

http://MEHMET1984.WORDPRESS.COM Mehmet Koseoglu Tatiana Erofeeva Andrew Matson Jenny Claflin Jen Rogers Brian Lam Jen Pearce Libby Hanaford Misty Light

Item: Braun 8985 shaver heuristics

October 23, 2009

Item:  Braun 8985 shaver

Visibility of system status:  This shaver has little lights that notify the owner if the foil and cutter need to be replaced, if it’s full (of bits of hair), if it needs to be charged, and another with some mysterious function.  Plus the hum states plainly that it is operating.

Match between system and the real world:  Everything on the shaver is plainly evident by the labels.  Even the setting labeled “fix” – it’s what you use when you need to fix your sideburns.  No jargon on this thing.  The only words are:  Braun, reset, 8985, empty, charge, replace foil+cutter, trim, fix, on, off.  What’s not to get?

User control and freedom:  Fairly straightforward:  Turn it off.  There is one sliding control, so it is readily apparent what to do at any point.

Consistency and standards:  See the above entry.

Error prevention:  Again, see the above entry.  How complicated do you think a shaver _should_ be?

Recognition rather than recall:  This is a simple device, so there is no memory load at all, other than recognizing it for what it is.

Flexibility and efficiency of use:  It has no accelerators, just a three-position switch.

Aesthetic and minimalist design: The aesthetic is subjective, but I kind of like it.

Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors:  Errors or faults are indicated by the little lights on the body.  They clearly pronounce the deficiency as one or more of three possibilities.

Help and documentation:  The help documentation is hardcopy, but it does have an index for ease of locating pertinent information.  If you need help in operating a sliding-switch, you need more help than a shaver can provide (and should stay clear of sharp objects).


October 20, 2009

I’m not sure if this posted when I wrote it (I can’t seem to work this site properly).  Here goes . . .

Mass media connected, in some way, to 2012 are many.  I basically live in the back of a cave, but I’ve seen mention of this film in many places.  Which places, you ask?  Well . . .
The internet in several places
and, obviously, cinema
If the trailer proves to be prophetic, then all mass media will be directly effected as they will be destroyed (except for those on the ships).

The trailer also gives some examples of mass communication:  A television “news” report, and one on CNN, the catholic (I think) church, some sort of religious ceremony with candles, there was a radio antenna on the aircraft carrier, a short-wave antenna on the RV and a little TV inside, the kid was playing a video game thing.  There was a brief shot of Times Square (I guess) with ads for Virgin Records, CNN, and some stuff I could not read, and all kinds of other silliness.

I saw an ad for 2012 in a copy of The Seattle Times that somebody had spread-out on a café table.  The affect on newspapers is the expected:  Something to advertise, maybe even review.

I heard it mentioned on KUOW at one point, but just in passing (thankfully).  I think that 2012 will have as much affect on the radio that I listen to as whatever that last big money movie was did.

I saw ads for it in several places around the interwebs.  On IMDB, Google search results, I think I even saw it on the Onion.  People all over the world will continue to get excited about whatever they’re told is exciting.  Currently they’re being told that 2012 is Really Exciting and that it Could Be True.

That a movie will have an affect on cinema is so painfully obvious, there’s not much to say.

Just as with other commercial media outlets, TV news people have something New and Shiny to crow about.  Once this movie is gone, they will go on about the next one.  No real change for the industry.

I’m not sure what affect this movie could have on CNN.

I’ve been inside a church 5 times in my life, so I cannot hazard a guess as to the affect on the church.

The affect on radio will be, I predict, the same as that on TV:  Something to advertise.

As for short-wave, it’ll be something for CB owners to chat about.  Unless it’s true, then short-wave will be the only way to communicate long distances.

I would contest the assertion that the Mayan calendar is a mass communication tool.  The calendar itself is not “speaking to us today”.  Commercial mass media are shouting at us all about the Mayan calendar, but the calendar is not doing much.  A thing cannot be mass communication without distribution – a song is not mass communication if only one person hears it.  Or so it seems to me.

I did a bit of reading on (ugh) Yahoo! and someplace called Gaia Community and the only controversy I could find is imagined.  A movie tells people that The End Is Near, and they freak out.  It’s a flippin movie!  This is why I try to ignore the pubic as much as possible.  Did the lemmings pee themselves when Independence Day was released?  (They probably did.)

Okay, so it uses the Mayan calendar.  BFD.  Did anybody do any research into the Mayan calendar system?  Apparently not.  That would not have made good copy.

The only possible controversy I can imagine here is over using the Mayan calendar, but even that is weak.  Is it sacrilege to use the calendar to entertain people?  To scare the cash outta them?  Is it blasphemous to use the calendar for anything other than determining the date?  If it were, THEN there could be some controversy.  As far as I’ve heard, there have been no Mayan demonstrations, nor protests of any sort, over using their calendar.  Therefore, I can only conclude that there really IS not controversy.

Unless they make a movie about the Boogie Man.  Cripes!  Then he’d be REAL!


Gaia Community

Yahoo! Answers

So I get to the “Rubric Checlist” and discover I needed to “accurately detail the historical background and details for all mediea.”  This is requiring a tome that I don’t have the time, nor inclination, to write.

I also found that number four:  “Did you craft a summary of how this cinematic event (. . .)?” made no sense.

New Media and My Background

October 20, 2009

New Media and My Background

1.  I experienced no genuine “a-ha” moments while reading page 135 of The Medium and the Message.  I did experience a bit of wonderment at the idea that the computer could be viewed as a “new type of book.”

Currently a book is a mass-produced item, as are most computers.  However, a book’s audience is limited to the single person reading it.  The ability of a book to distribute the ideas it contains depends on its circulation.  The ability of a computer to distribute its memes is vast, as long as it has an Internet connection.  Basing an argument on lone, unconnected, computers is fundamentally flawed in this age of nearly ubiquitous broadband connections.  (Finnish people now have a legal right to a broadband connection.)  When one burns a book, one is destroying the ability of those memes to continue.  Destroying a computer is every bit as effective as burning x copies of a book with infinite copies –  pointless.  Or a book that is instantly reproduced in the ashes, like a phoenix.  Also pointless.

True, books and computers are repositories of knowledge.  That, I’m afraid, is where the fundamental similarities end.  Books are not interactive.  Books are not connected to anything but the reader.  The ideas in books are dependent on the existence of the physical object.  These attributes are not necessarily true of computers.  As such, I do not think the computer can be viably seen as a new type of book.

I was bummed that the podcast never answered the question of physical changes in the brain.  They talked around the subject, but never addressed it directly.  Mostly they spoke of the “mind,” not the brain.  And, no, the mind and the brain are not the same (e.g. Consciousness Explained, Dennett, 1991).

While I, again, missed any “a-ha” moments, I did experience another “mmmm, that’s too bad” moment toward the end.  It seems that “people,” and their relationships, are becoming shallower.  Pinging and/or tweeting to folks is not a meaningful relationship, but folks seem to be tending that direction.  Meaningful interactions seem to be disappearing.  Sad.

As to how all of this relates to my field (mechanical design), um, . . .  The dependence of my field on computers insures that the collective knowledge gained will not be lost.  The tendency of people to escape their current environment via some techno-gadget, their shorter attention spans, their inability to maintain their focus, implies that either mechanical design will suffer terribly, or these types of people will not be able to find employment in the field (I’m hoping for the latter).  The “new landscape of interaction,” from the discussion, seemed primarily about fleeting, barely-qualifies-as, interactions.  In a field that requires minute details, slight interactions do not provide sufficient time or space to convey the requisite amount of detail.

2.    Cinema does not seem to have much of an impact on the field of mechanical design, aside from entertaining the designers and engineers.
This would be a very small field indeed, if there were not books to convey knowledge to the next generation.  Updates to protocols, etcetera, are provided in print, in part to keep a record of communications.  Pictures provide much of the requisite detail, too.

3.  Leaving aside the fundamental changes in the society as a whole (that is several dissertations right there), new media technologies have had significant impacts on my field.

Faster computers means designs take less time to complete.  Also, finite element analysis is possible.  Virtual prototyping saves huge amounts of time and expense.  Moreover, this also decreases dramatically the number of actual prototypes that must be made, reducing total waste.  The faster the computers in a design company, the more efficient, the less wasteful, and the more profitable the company will be (probably).

The Internet permits designers across the world to share designs and refinements, thus reducing the number of people who need to have the same insight.  This reduces their cerebral load, increasing their ability to discover a different-yet-brilliant resolution to some other problem entirely.  With good enough connection speeds, the new design firm can use a world wide office.

Wireless communications has only a moderate affect on mechanical design.  Most of the designing takes place in front of a computer – with a hard-wired Internet connection.  Wireless and/or mobile communications technologies simply permit designers and engineers to be reached wherever they are (not that they could do much without a computer).  The best one could get would be a designer with a laptop at some café with wireless ‘net.

Advances in processor bus and clock speeds have enabled mighty software.  This has enabled better designs, less waste, etcetera.  New media technologies have had a relatively minor impact on mechanical design.

Design “sharing”

October 20, 2009

Sifter Assy for APDZ 311As noted in the caption, this is the sifter I designed.  What?!  No caption?  Why did I enter it?  Anyway, this is my one-handed, rotary-action sifter design.  The image is supposed to be much larger (architectural D sized), and a PDF, but whatever.

Feel free to ask me any questions you might have.  And, yes, it does work.

Article review: EXACT Constraint

October 9, 2009

Aspiring product engineers such as myself, as well as employed ones, strive to make the best, most efficient products they can.  While this is not surprising, what is surprising is how few are familiar with the concept of Exact Constraint.  This is the lament of James G. Skakoon in his article EXACT constraint (Mechanical Engineering, September 2009).  This article outlines what exact constraint is, notes its conspicuous absence from most curriculums, and illustrates how it can benefit almost every design.  Even a cursory familiarity with the concept can be a tremendous advantage to a product engineer or designer.

Skakoon begins his article with an example of the overly constrained café coffee table wobble, noting that “[T]hree points determine a plane, and four is one too many.”  From this launching point, he begins a discussion of the benefits of constraining every movement of an object, and no more.  He shows how new product engineers are prone to using three bearings on a shaft, which is overly constraining it.  This leads to tight part tolerances, the inclusion of assembly adjustments, etcetera.  More experienced product designers, and those familiar with exact constraint, will only use two bearings and a sufficiently rigid shaft “because the third bearing will never line-up perfectly.”

The product engineers and designers to whom he spoke did not learn exact constraint in school, but picked it up along the way, or learned it from a book they happened across.  This is startling considering the obvious benefits of exact constraint.  I’m saddened to state that, in Engineering Graphics, this most useful skill is not emphasized.

The author gives a discussion of four-legged tables and explains that the flexion of the top is what makes them (moderately) stable.  This was highly intriguing and depicted the issue quite well.  He also used his printer as an example of exact constraint usage in everyday life.  He opened his printer and saw:  “a set of contacting points and nesting force springs constraining the ink cartridge into a repeatably exact location.”  How else could it deposit such tiny droplets so precisely and repeatedly?

James Skakoon presents a well-reasoned argument propounding increased usage of exact constraint.  Having learned of exact constraint and its benefits, I am now a True Believer and will utilize it whenever I can.  Though quite readable, Skakoon comes across as, at least partly, an engineer (if you know what I mean).


Skakoon, J. (2009 ). EXACT constraint. Mechanical Engineering, 131(9), 32-36.

A “story”

October 4, 2009

I’m burned out after slogging through those po-mo essays, so this is kinda pathetic as far as fictional works go.

A little girl and her father were walking along the Burke-Gilman trail when she looked up at her father and inquired “Daddy, what’s mass communication?  Is that like what people hear in churches?”

“In a way, yes.  Lemme break it down for you,” he smiled.  “Mass communication is simply communication on a large scale – to a large audience, that is.  The absolute, or actual, size of the audience is relative to (dependent on) the total number of people whatever is being communicated concerns.

“For example, let’s say only 50 physicists care at all about the latest discovery in quantumchromodynamics. If you attend a conference on the subject and reach 15 of them, that’s mass communication.  At the same time, though, if you have something to say that concerns, let’s say, people who wear shoes, you would need to reach far more than 15.  Some people could argue, though, that if you reach more than five or so, it counts as mass, and not individual communication.  But that’s another matter.”


“You also need to define what it is to communicate.  Is communication simply saying something to somebody, or showing them something?  Close, but no cigar.  For information or ideas to be communicated, you need to know that the person who heard you (or saw your sign, or whatever) understood what you were trying to tell them.  If I make the sound ‘frog’ and you understand that to mean ‘happiness,’ no communication has taken place.  Just like you cannot verbally communicate anything complex to somebody who does not speak your language.”

“So mass communication is just somehow telling a whole lotta people something they understand?”

“Yes.  You can see examples of this everywhere.  All advertizing is mass communication, as are magazines, books, traffic lights and signs, movies, and all of that kind of stuff.  It can even be argued that, unless it’s between one person and one or only a few others, it counts as mass communication.”

“This is not the same thing as mass media, though.  Mass media is simply the way that whatever is being told to the audience is told to them.  It gets a little odd since all mass media are forms of mass communication, but not all mass communication uses mass media.

“Think about a public speech or seminar.  That could easily reach the entire relevant audience, but has not utilized anything but a loudspeaker.  This is a more pure form of communication since the person speaking has complete control over what is said.”

“Why does that matter?  If somebody is going to report on what that person said, they’re just gonna say what he said, right?” she inquired.

The father shook his head and sighed.  “If only it was that straight-forward.  What do you think might happen if the person reporting on, or printing, what was said did not like what was said?  What if they were a corporate representative or a corporation itself?  Would it be in their best interests to forward the speaker’s views?

“There is so much information available all the time now that very, very few people would notice (let alone act) if some data were not reported on or was misreported.  We only know as much as we’re allowed to be told, for the most part.  There are other sources of information available, but it takes more work to acquire data from those sources.”

Thoughts on the essay authors

October 4, 2009

The first essay of Part III leaves me with several thoughts.  Foremost among these is ‘what kind of self-important, arrogant, smug “person” quotes French and Latin in their essay for publication in an American journal without providing translations?’  Ohthat’sright, the po-mo kind!

I earned my first bachelors degree from the UW in the mid 1990s, so was inflicted with much post-modern writing.  The primary purpose of post-modernist writers is to impress other po-mo people, it seems.  The style is to obfuscate the issue with as many Large Words as possible while using alternate and new (and more complex) definitions for more common words.  Catachresis seems to be the order of the day for po-mo writers.  The “arguments” are rarely well thought out, and often contradict themselves in places, or conflate things.

The second piece’s author, sadly, takes the same bus to nowhere.  This is clearly evidenced in the writing “[T]hus, someone well versed in twentieth-century art history might wish to glance only briefly at the materials on collage before concentrating on the materials about hypertext,” freely admitting that somebody (most bodies?) would or will be loath to read and/or engage their argument as a whole, and would prefer to simply focus on the viable bits of data when they happen upon them.

“In print, on the other hand, one feels constrained to summarize large portions of another’s text, if only to demonstrate one’s command (understanding) of it and to avoid giving the appearance that one has infringed copyright.“  Really?  And all this time I thought it was because any given reader does not have the time to read everything ever written that may, or is, informing the essay being currently read.  Silly po-mo mouth-breather.

Okay, the author of the third essay also seems to be crainially impaired.  They made it as far as the second paragraph before demonstrating their inability to read something that was not written, insert words into another author’s essay.  When I read Christian Metz’s words “[M]ost films today,” in my head I heard “most films today,” NOT ‘most fictional films, as the author seems to have read.  When the aim of one’s argument is just a few degrees off-target, it is WAY off by the time it gets there.  Such is the case with the words of the author.

A bit later, in the same paragraph, the esteemed (assumedly) author seems to have forgotten that animated films had been around long before 1970.  Also, in case they did not understand properly, animated films are NOT live action, but ARE fictional.  I do believe Fantasia was released in the states in 1940 – not live action, but fictional.

It becomes evident shortly that the author differentiates between cinema and animation.  Apparently animation has not, heretofore, qualified as cinema.  I see.

The author’s statement of “[T]his logic subordinates the photographic and the cinematic to the painterly and the graphic, destroying cinema’s identity as a media art” seems to imply that the advent of acrylic paints thus annihilated the ability of oil paints to be used to make media art.  Pure genius (jeen-yus?).