engineering, humor, STEM

Creativity Averted Catastrophe

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before-afterDesigned and built long before there were supercomputers, the great Gothic cathedrals often developed cracks and bulges.hernia-support-belt_200x206

When more buttressing did not look like it would be enough to avert a catastrophic collapse at Amiens, the engineers there devised a way to get the net effect of putting a really big and really strong hernia support belt around the cathedral walls.  Cathedrals don’t wear clothes; how do U hide such a belt?  How do U cinch it?  How do U accomplish all that with medieval technology?

The answers are sketched in the Wikipedia article on the Amiens Cathedral and visualized in a 2010 NOVA episode on PBS: Building the Great Cathedrals.  (To read more detail, look for “iron” in the transcript.)  U can blame me for bringing up hernias.

Dunno whether the engineers at Amiens were called ingénieurs at the time; at least one of them should have been called créatif.  The cathedral is an enduring monument to the faith of many and the creativity of some, including a few engineers.

(reblog), language, mundane miracle, photography

The Transition to Created Light

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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, said the Big Bad Bard.  That is a good approximation; one striking exception is a photo by Elusive Trope that is effectively reblogged below.   (I say “effectively” because there were technical reasons to avoid the [Reblog] button in this case.)  A really good title can enhance work that is already good.  (Giving a nice name or title to junk may help sell it but will not dejunkify it.)  When Mark Twain likened the difference between “the right word” and a merely adequate word to the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug, he was stretching the point.  In the case of Elusive Trope’s photo, however, he nailed it.

Originally posted on Elusive Trope:


The Transition to Created Light

View original (if link can be restored)

We look at the photo and see an austerely beautiful composition with strong colors.  One possible title (inspired by the actual title of Whistler’s famous painting of his mother) would be accurate but rather clunky and stuffy:

        Composition in Blue, Black, and Yellow: Light Fixture

Maybe we should use the time of day.  Saying just “Dusk” or “Twilight” would be accurate and mercifully brief, but those words have a sad or ominous connotation.  Our distant ancestors had good reason to fear nocturnal predators.  There is nothing sad or ominous in the light fixture’s defiance of the coming darkness.

Maybe we should be more specific about what is happening at dusk, with something close to the actual title:

        The Transition to Artificial Light

Adequate? Yes, but still not quite right.  The phrase “artificial light” has a milder version of the connotation of “artificial color” or “artificial flavor” as something to be confessed, not proclaimed.  Changing one word leads to the actual title used by Elusive Trope:

        The Transition to Created Light

Now the title reconnects us to the creativity of distant ancestors who invented campfires that discouraged their nocturnal predators.  Then there is the creativity of more recent ancestors who invented candles and lamps that let them mend their nets or write their thoughts during long dark evenings at high latitudes.  Still more recently, the creativity of people like Edison and Tesla made it so easy to light the darkness that nowadays we do it too much and appreciate it too little.  (The failing is ours, not theirs.)  Elusive Trope found the right word; we thrill to the lightning; Mark Twain’s ghost says “Told ya!” between puffs on his cigar.