Bill Hammack of UIUC built and built-up the “Engineer Guy” Youtube channel into one of the most popular and respected technology-focused sites on the platform.
Then, he disappeared for four years. His audience checked in periodically in the comments section but there was not much information to be had other than hints that he was still with us and might someday return.
The pendulum of modern engineering has swung to asserting that digital models can always represent reality faster, cheaper, and better than any physical manifestation of it. Mockups, prototypes, and test articles are out, “Digital twins” and augmented reality are in. More’s the pity. While much can be represented in CAD/CAM, the compute horsepower required to mimic the real world drains budgets as fast as it drains the power grid. Very few have the savvy to accurately represent the range of physical phenomena in bits and then know when the model can be trusted. The craftsmen who enabled the preceding revolutions are in retreat and in exchange we get ever increasing development times and costs despite the glowing promises of hype men and the C-suites that golf with them.
In that spirit, Oregonian Peter Dibble looks back fondly at Modulex, a Lego spinoff for architects to present concepts to their clients. An ingenious change in dimension yielded bricks ideally suited to metric and Imperial drawing scales. Sliceable parts, slopes, ridges, and custom colors yielded a system that grew well beyond its original intent into project management and signage. A Mark-1 eyeball can look at, around, and into such a physical representation and get some idea of its strengths and weaknesses. Digital design software and Lego’s surprising hostility to the product line unfortunately sealed Modulex’s fate as a modeling tool. The company lives on for signmaking.
Clockwise from center: Erika Soto, Trisha Miller, Rafael Goldstein, Cassandra Marie Murphy. Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations
ANW’s tribute to myth, art, and engineering is both visually dazzling and a chutzponic choice for this temporary breather from the pandemic. Water is everywhere – onstage and on the audience – as a gifted cast seamlessly weaves eight stories and a coda from Ovid to impressive stagecraft. The play is sufficiently well-known that there’s no point in recapping the fables-for-grownups by Mary Zimmerman, a brand unto herself. Locally, Stephen Legawiec’s long-departed and much lamented Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble did exceptional service to myth. The Sacred Fools and Coeurage also deliver technical miracles on a budget. Zimmerman ups the ante requiring an onstage pool central to her theme. ANW has built the resources over the years to afford the rights, the engineering, and the resident ensemble to pull it all off. The costs must be astronomical especially for a barely four week run, an oddly appropriate leap-of-faith in art over economics.
Nicole Javier (top) and Rafael Goldstein (bottom). Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations
On top of the usual artistic concerns and choices, director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott has to see to the safety of her performers who are feet, knees, and backs in the water as much as they are out of it. This is no mean feat given costumes (Garry Lennon), props (Shen Heckel), walking continuously on a wet stage, and a disease spread by droplets. The company has hewn to its resident artist model (six of the nine performers) although it seems to have gone away from its roots in repertory. It is interesting to note the changing of the guard having followed the company closely in the 90s to mid 2000s and sporadically thereafter. Geoff Elliott remains a constant of the motion with Rafael Goldstein and Erika Soto now regular members along with unfamiliar faces with extensive company and classical credits. That Shakesperean training pays off handsomely with uniformly rich, resonant, and nuanced voices inhabiting instead of reciting the text. It’s a heady mix of comedy, drama, pathos, and bathos. Trisha Miller is excellent as Alcyone, Sydney A. Mason as a nasty Aphrodite, and DeJuan Christopher as Ceyx. Elliott is all the fathers; Pythonesque as Helios negotiating with Phaeton (Kasey Mahaffy) as well as Midas and Cinyras navigating daughter problems. The physical demands are great as the cast have to carry one another in and out of the water throughout the piece where one slip could end many careers. The level of trust engendered by long and close collaboration must be off the charts and hard to conceive with a team assembled for one production.
But, oh, that engineering – Francois-Pierre Couture (design), Ken Booth (lighting), and Robert Oriol (sound) – deserves a loud, two-syllable, “Damn!” Even if we take the pool for granted, electricity, water, and people don’t mix. This constrains the high powered lights to surround the stage and there again from safe a distance – yet nothing essential is in shadow. Glowing orbs are undoubtedly enabled by LEDs. Their collective play off the water and onto the walls are a splendid touch – carrying the audience along waves of action floating on Oriol’s effective yet unobtrusive soundscape. And we should not take any of this for granted. Going from page to stage is a tough artistic job but no easier than taking a technical concept through design, build, test, and delivery. ANW’s timelapse shows the large uncredited crew that made it happen and glimpses the kind of backstage preparation area accessible to very few of the city’s theatremakers. Yes, there are a couple of songs but … what are you going to do? Barring extension, only five performances remain so act accordingly.
Note bene: While there are no bad seats at ANW, the raised stage does obscure the water’s surface from the front rows. There is a benefit (and certainly no harm) in going to the middle or even the back of the house. Those up front will get splashed.
As the man said after the Eagle landed: “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
The James Webb Space Telescope, largely designed, built, and tested at Space Park in Redondo Beach, has launched, raised itself from the spacecraft, deployed its 5 layer sunshield, and put its primary and secondary mirrors into place. It will take another few months for the telescope to cool in the shade and then to commission the instruments before science measurements can begin.
It has been a long and contentious wait but the magnitude of this accomplishment is worth celebrating.
Playing the piano is damnably hard. I have accepted that I will never practice consistently or wisely enough to reach my original wildly unrealistic goals of competence and am contenting myself with slow progress and occasional discoveries. Coaxing a good sound requires talent, coordination, flexibility, and freedom of movement. There’s nothing that can be done about the first item but occasionally something in the joints unsticks enabling a small improvement in the rest. I feel kinship with weekend athletes who get that occasional moment of grace amid hours of futility.
One of the many frustrations is pressing a key in the same place with the same pressure five times in a row and hearing no sound two of those times. The hammer misses the strings by a fraction of a millimeter and flops back with a click and a dull thud. This makes any kind of phrasing next to impossible for the duffer. He either settles for good enough or goes nuts trying to adapt as the instrument itself changes with the time of day and the weather. It never bothers the professionals who figure it out on the fly.
The piano action itself is a bizarre marvel of wood, felt, physics, and prayer. It is surprising that it works at all and there are eighty eight of the bloody things that have to work consistently. It is a lot to ask, perhaps too much. Robert Grijalva of the University of Michigan explains it in painstaking detail using a model of his own invention. For those with less time, a Dutch animator posting as Hoe Ishetmoegelijk (hoe is het moegelijk = how is it possible) has a concise summary.
The third video from Corning’s Museum of Glass shows that the path to science is not always smooth and that learning from mistakes is the norm. The original 200 inch pyrex disk for the Palomar primary did not go according to plan and had to be recast. The second attempt succeeded and even so, it took ten years of painstaking grinding and polishing at Caltech before it was ready for use.
The web’s archive of older industrial films is a recurring delight. Jam Handy, Coronet, and other firms crafted these with an attention to detail, calm explanation, and rigorous science that is harder(*) to find today when most equivalents are about sales rather than fundamentals. Jeff Quitney has uploaded a wonderful 1954 cleaned-up film to his Vimeo page on color theory and practice by the Interchemical Corporation. It begins with the importance of color to society – especially in packaging goods and people – and then gives a marvelous account of the optics involved. I’ve worked in the field for years but I learned to see things (pun intended) differently thanks to it.
The second film from 2016 looks at color in packaging through its emotional impact and its influence on design and designers. ‘Color In Sight’ resembles like Hustwit’s ‘Helvetica.’ A number of prominent designers talk about how they use and think about color in order to evoke a response, surface a memory, or reveal a part of the spectrum to the color-blind. I have no idea what I’d say to a nail-polish maker but Suzi Weiss-Fischmann (8m18s in) comes off as a fun seatmate on a long plane trip. I had a similar feeling about Helvetica’s Paula Scher. Interestingly, it is produced by TeaLeaves, a Canadian company specializing in very high-end teas for hotels. Judging by their Youtube page, they must spend a fortune on short films – many of which have little outward bearing on their products. I’ve never understood the appeal of tea but the videos are well worth a look.