Monday, August 31, 2020

The Fountainhead: an exploded view of one scene

We lose the past too easily. Ayn Rand was born in 1905. In The Fountainhead, anyone of mature professional status 1922-1942 would have been a generation older. Rand studied in an architect’s office, working for free in order to understand the craft and the business. I was pleasantly surprised to be informed by another book of an underlying tradition in engineering design. It was an eye-opener.

From The Fountainhead:

“You will kindly explain yourself,” [said the Dean].

“If you wish. I want to be an architect, not an archaeologist. I see no purpose in doing Renaissance villas. Why learn to design them, when I will never build them?” [replied Howard Roark].

“My dear boy, the great style of the Renaissance is far from dead. Houses of that style are being erected every day.”

“They are. And they will be. But not by me.”

“Come, come, now, don’t be childish.”

“I came here to learn building. When I was given a project, its only value to me was to learn to solve it as I would solve a real one in the future. I did them the way I’ll build them. I’ve learned all I could learn here—in the structural sciences of which you don’t approve. One more year of drawing Italian post cards would give me nothing.” 


From The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroski, Alfred A. Knoff, 1990:

Although orthographic projection was used in Albrecht Dürer’s 1525 book on the geometry of drawing, and theoretic foundations were laid down in Gaspard Monge’s 1795 book on descriptive geometry, the techniques and conventions derived from the work of these pioneers did not become universally employed in what has come to be known as mechanical or engineering drawing until the nineteenth century, when it became virtually indispensable for conveying information to machine shops and iron foundries. Up until about the middle of the nineteenth century, engineering drawing was learned in the long tradition of architectural drawing, and many early machines, such as large steam engines, were designed with iron structural elements cast in the forms of columns of the classical orders. Functional brackets were adorned with the classical motifs that students had learned in drawing classes, which consisted largely of copying increasingly complex architectural drawings, and one can only speculate on how much of what came to be known as Victorian architecture and structure was influenced by this practice. 


Through the middle of the nineteenth century architectural drawing was learned by most, though not all, draughtsmen by tracing. Hence technique was learned at the expense of theory. …  The mid-nineteenth century state of the art of engineering drawing was recorded succinctly in the preface to one of the earliest textbooks on the subject, An Elementary Treatise on Orthographic Projection, Being a New Method of Teaching the Science of Mechanical Engineering by William Binns. According to Binns…:

“… the usual mode of teaching… is from the ‘flat’—that is, from copy—the practice being to lay before each student of the class a drawing of some part or parts of a structure which he is requested to copy. This being done, another drawing, probably more elaborate, is laid before him; and the same course is pursued until he becomes tolerably expert with his instruments and brushes, and eventually able to make a very creditable or even highly finished drawing from copy. If, however, at the end of one or two years of practice the copyist is asked to make an end elevation, a side elevation and longitudinal section of his black-lead pencil, or a transverse section of the box containing his instruments, the chances are that he can do neither the one or the other.”



The Genius of Design 

Science Fair: A National Geographic Film 

Absolutes and Objectives 

There Really Are “Civil” Engineers 




Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Neighborhood Book Kiosks

The first one in my neighborhood appeared in February and I thought that it was unique. I saw another one a bit farther from home. It finally occurred to me that this is a phenomenon. I like it as an example of spontaneous order, an axiom in Austrian economics. Reading on Wikipedia revealed that other people think the same way that I do. And not everyone else is happy with us.  

This is the one in my neighborhood.
It has four sides with two panels of books and it rotates.
(I don't know who owns the easement.)

From The Atlantic

U.S. -- The Danger of Being Neighborly Without a Permit

All over America, people have put small "give one, take one" book exchanges in front of their homes. Then they were told to tear them down.

Conor Friedersdorf

February 20, 2015

Since 2009, when a Wisconsin man built a little, free library to honor his late mother, who loved books, copycats inspired by his example have put thousands of Little Free Libraries all over the U.S. and beyond. ... 

I wish that I was writing merely to extol this trend. Alas, a subset of Americans are determined to regulate every last aspect of community life. Due to selection bias, they are overrepresented among local politicians and bureaucrats. And so they have power, despite their small-mindedness, inflexibility, and lack of common sense so extreme that they've taken to cracking down on Little Free Libraries, of all things.


[Texans are a little more open to letting people do the right thing without permission from the government. Wells Branch is a neighborhood on the north side of Austin. Dell, HP, and others have campuses there.]


WBNA | Wells Branch Neighborhood Association

Little Free Library Boxes

Welcome to the Little Free Libraries Summer Scavenger Hunt!


Did you know there are currently 14 Little Free Libraries throughout Wells Branch?  LFLs are free book exchanges where anyone can “take a book, return a book.”  Join us in June for a LFL Scavenger Hunt.  You’ll have the opportunity to visit our neighborhood LFLs, find some great (free!) summer reads, and earn a chance to win a Barnes & Noble gift card.


Posted to Nextdoor dot com serving our wider subdivision

[ I found out that the Little Free Library boxes were not the first of their kind. “Book Crossings” appeared about the turn of the millennium.] 


Leaving reading materials in public places when no longer needed has long been a silent means of communication and sociability amongst bibliophiles. Ron Hornbaker conceived the idea for what is now known as BookCrossing in March 2001[2] and enlisted business partners and co-founders Bruce and Heather Pedersen[3] to launch on April 21, 2001.[4]


After two years the website had over 113,000 members and by 2004 it was prominent enough to be referenced in an episode of the Australian soap opera Neighbours.[5] The same year it appeared as a new word in the Concise Oxford Dictionary,[6] although as of 2017 only Collins of the major online dictionaries retained it as a word.[7][8][9][10]


On a busy backroad I take to the freeway.
It serves walkers well.
(Again, it seems to be on the property owner's
public easement.)

[From Wikipedia] Closely allied with the BookCrossing concept, the original public bookcases were conceived as artistic acts.[1] Very early examples are the creations of performance artist duo Clegg & Guttmann in 1991. Collections of bookcases were conceived as "free open-air libraries" in Darmstadt and Hannover in Germany in the late 1990s.[2]


Controversy and criticism[edit]

In 2003, BookCrossing was criticized by the astrologer and novelist Jessica Adams, who claimed that books were being "devalued" by the website as BookCrossing could lead to lower sales of books and, therefore, the reduction in royalties being paid to authors.[20] Most BookCrossers dispute this argument, however. They claim that the website introduces readers to authors and genres that they have not read before, that the website encourages more people to take up or reclaim reading as a hobby, and that some members, having read a book that they have enjoyed, will buy extra copies to distribute through BookCrossing.[21]


Another busy side road. 
You have to step up onto the property for this.

In March 2005, Caroline Martin, managing director of the publisher Harper Press, said in a speech that "book publishing as a whole has its very own potential Napster crisis in the growing practice of bookcrossing".[22] BookCrossers rebutted the link to Napster, saying that while music filesharing involves duplicating audio files countless times, BookCrossing doesn't involve duplicating books (and also does not involve violating copyright, as books can be sold or given away freely without permission of the publisher being needed). When BookCrossing was first launched, the founder of BookCrossing, Ron Hornbaker, originally wondered if people would make this comparison.[23]


[A related link on Wikipedia]

Give-away shops, freeshops, free stores or swap shops are stores where all goods are free. They are similar to charity shops, with mostly second-hand items—only everything is available at no cost. Whether it is a book, a piece of furniture, a garment or a household item, it is all freely given away, although some operate a one-in, one-out–type policy (swap shops). The free store is a form of constructive direct action that provides a shopping alternative to a monetary framework, allowing people to exchange goods and services outside of a money-based economy.


A neighbor told me about a different one.
I found this instead.
(Clearly on the front lawn.) 

[More from following the links in Wikipedia write-ups]

The anarchist 1960s countercultural group the Diggers[1] opened free stores which simply gave away their stock, provided free food, distributed free drugs, gave away money, organized free music concerts, and performed works of political art.[2] The Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers led by Gerrard Winstanley[3] and sought to create a mini-society free of money and capitalism.[4] Although free stores have not been uncommon in the United States since the 1960s, the freegan movement has inspired the establishment of more free stores.


Previously on Necessary Facts

Laissez-faire Criminology 

Spanish Coins on American Notes 

A Culture of Reality, Reason, and Freedom 

Tokens of Capitalism 


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Measuring Your Universe: Alan Hirshfeld’s Astronomy Activity Manual

This guide to hands-on learning instilled me with a sense of confidence about my ability to perform the basic mathematics of astronomy. The exercises start with measuring shadows to track the sun as evidenced by stone age monuments. Before the last one, the learner estimates the expansion rate of the universe according to Hubble’s Law. The learning does not end there. Prof. Hirshfeld is a good instructor, and the assignments come full circle. Having started with the Sun and Moon, the book ends by assigning the calculations to estimate the relative masses of Sirius and its dwarf companion. (Just to note: This is from the first edition of the book (2009); the second edition (2018) is a bit different; and a third edition is promised.)

The stars are pretty at any magnification. It is most important to understand what you are looking at. Following these structured exercises, I gained an intuitive understanding of how astronomy developed historically, and (more importantly) of my location in the universe.

First Edition. 2009.

It starts with the gnomon, basically a vertical stick in the ground. At the end of the shadow, you place a stone. In Chapter 2, several thousand years or generations later, you come to the conclusion that the angle of the Sun in the sky at mid-day is directly related to the length of the shadow relative to the height of the stick. Theta equals arctan(L over H). 


Hirshfeld provides good, simple explanations of the math, though not in depth. At the back is a tutorial on basic trigonometry. Neither is a substitute for a semester of trig. Hirshfeld just gives you the number 57.3 without telling you where it came from. Similarly, it is true that although you do not need much mathematics to benefit from the hands-on calculations, you do need some. Even so, Hirshfeld steps you through work that you will come back to again. The same basic formulas are applied repeatedly to new problems from measuring the diameter of the Earth to measuring the distances to the Moon and Sun and then to the stars.  


Even if you are completely math-phobic, you can still get a lot out this by at least reading through the exercises to appreciate how the Greeks, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and the astronomers of the 19th and 20th centuries came to their conclusions. If all of the arithmetic and algebra is “digital” then “Activity 15: Picturing the Universe—How Photography Revolutionized Astronomy” is “analog.” 


I put off the central exercise of “Activity 14: Parallax” until I finished the rest of the book. I could have just worked through it on paper, but I wanted to set up a yardstick in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room in order to take my own measurements. Alan Hirshfeld is the author of Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos; W. H. Freeman & Co., 2001. So, I wanted to give him his due and take my time with the work before reading the book.


Activity  1  The World's First Skywatcher - YOU!

Activity  2  Shadowland

Activity  3  Shadowland - the Sequel

Activity  4  Shadowland Follow-up

Activity  5  The Phases of the Moon

Activity  6  Eratosthenes Measures the Earth

Activity  7  Aristarchus Measures the Size and Distance of the Moon

Activity  8  Aristarchus Measures the Size and Distance of the Sun

Activity  9  The Copernican Cosmos

Activity  10  Kepler's Third Law

Activity  11  Isaac Newton and the Moon

Activity  12  Galileo Measures a Mountain - on the Moon!

Activity  13  Precision Astronomy After Galileo - Stellar Aberration

Activity  14  Precision Astronomy After Galileo - Stellar Parallax

Activity  15  Picturing the Universe - How Photography Revolutionized Astronomy

Activity  16  How Bright is That Star? A Tutorial on the Magnitude System

Activity  17  The Realm of the Spiral Nebulae

Activity  18  Hubble's Law - in the Kitchen and in the Universe

Activity  19  The Herzsprung-Russell Diagram

Activity  20  Binary Stars and Stellar Motions.

Appendix  Mathbits


In the second edition, Activity 19 is about Dark Matter. In fact, while I found the second half the H-R Diagram helpful, the introduction about height and shoes sizes was obvious. Perhaps plotting the land speeds and weights of various mammals would have been more analogous to the relationships between spectral types and luminosities. The second edition also replaced the work on Sirius A Sirius B with your own reflective essay. I believe that was a loss. The reflective essay could help the instructor modify the class. I still think that it would have been best left as extra credit. The H-R diagram is important to modern astronomy.

Although I have a calculator on my iPhone and my computer, I bought a new one just for this, a basic scientific TI-30Xa. It was $8.95 which is like 89 cents in 1978 dollars when we bought our first TI-30 calculators. The universe may not be expanding, but the money supply is. Still, I worked several of these in my head by approximation, 3 for pi, and so on. 



In Support of the Entry-Level Telescope 


Defending the Hobby-Killer Telescope 

Problems with Pop Sci from Sky & Telescope (Part 1)


Problems with Pop Sci from Sky & Telescope (Part 2)