Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Information City

Both Thomson and Gartner are located in Stamford CT. In fact, they're only 1.4 mi apart (according to Google Maps). Thomson is probably the largest purveyor of corporate information products and Gartner is largest creator of IT-related information. Does Google have a Stamford office yet?
Inertia of Information

My review of de Certeau has led me into a side thought. Foucault claims that particular discourses or forces create form a grid of classification (quadriller--but not as in the BBQ). The net effect of this grid is turn people into information. But information itself has weight because it can only be instantiated and preserved in documents (assuming of course that electronic databases serve as documents in the broader sense). These documents are material: they must be created, maintained, preserved, and disposed. In a strict interpretation of information theory, the grid of classification requires a certain number of copper lines. In the sense recently elaborated by Bowker, it requires an entire apparatus of memory practices. Bowker tells the story of the Melbourne tram. Tickets originally carried a complete description of the individual purchaser: eye colour, height, etc. Administering this infrastructure required far too many resources so the ticket devolved into a far less structured document claiming only a period of validity. From de Certeau, we can imagine that this devolution in form led to the introduction of all sorts of different tactics as people gamed the system. In short, the intertia of information necessarily acts against the regime of the discourse.

Now I'm starting to sound like a theory and crit kiddy. Yikes!

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Archive Adventure

ArchiveGrid is currently available without a license. It's a very cool tool. Before its doors are slammed close, I wanted to take the opportunity to plan out an archival Haj of sorts:

The papers of Eugene S. Ferguson, at the Hagley Museum and Library. RLG Union Catalog Record ID: DEHX155748-A.

[nb. I'm the proud owner of one of Ferguson's books, notably his commentary on Ramelli. I actually own the presentation copy of his co-author, Martha Teach Gnudi. She seems to be unrepresented in the archives. The Edward Eyre Hunt Papers, 1902-1953 do, however, contain some correspondence between Hunt and "Mrs. Dante Gnudi" (Box 3 of Correspondence). The papers are preserved at the Hoover Insitution at Standford University. Hunt was a big wheel in the effort to restore Europe following the war and wrote about social welfare in the context of labour efficiency. The connection is interesting if only because of Hunt's connection with Hoover, the translator of Agricola's De Re Metallica.]

Additional holdings are available at the Smithsonian, as noted in the previous post.

Harold Reeve Sleeper Papers, 1911-1960, at the Cornell University Library. NIC #2135. RLG Union Catalog Record ID: NYCV85-A346.

I still have an abiding interest in Architectural Graphic Standards. Cornell also holds recordings of the Libe Cafe Events, including lectures by John Cleese, Oliver Sacks, and Jane Goodall. I wonder if they presented together. That would have been very trippy.

The Honeyman Ramelli.

Yale's Elizabethan Club currently owns the Honeyman Ramelli, a highly annotated copy of the work on machines. It was previously owned by Thoman Arundell and contains annotations written in English by two different hands. Steve Parks, curator of the collection, provided me with these comments (via the very helpful Kathryn James):

"I had a good look at the Ramelli yesterday afternoon. There are notes on the front endpaper and fly, notes and underscoring in the text, and quite a few pages bound in at the end. Some pages have been excised. The writing often goes to the margins, which are often somewhat frayed. The notes in the text are faded brown and often blurry, while the added notes are dark and more legible. These pages are bound pretty tightly, but I imagine that quite a bit could be read in microfilm, ...but not in xerox which would harm the volume. The notes are in Engllish. In short, I really think that the reader needs to examine the book to fully understand it. Thanks for responding to him."
Battison's Translation of Besson

Google Books has served up a tidbit of information. On page 51 of the Smithsonian's Report of the Secretary and the Financial Report of the Executive Committee of the Board of Regents, we learn:

"Associate curator Edwin A. Battison, assisted by summer intern Bruce H. White,completed the first draft of a translation of Jacques Besson's ..."

And that's it. We don't even have a year! There is one clue. In a 1966 article on Besson, Battison's bio reads:

"Mr. Battison, Curator of Light Machinery in the Division of Mechanical and Civil Engineering of the Smithsonian Institution, is enraged in translating and editing the 1578 edition of Besson's Theatrum Instrumentorum et Machinarum."

The 1966 volume may be a good to place. As for finding more details, consider this personal communication from Donald Brashear:

"Thanks for your email. I can now only vaguely recall the English translation project being mentioned when we first started the Digital Besson project. I seem to recollect hearing that someone had been working on an English translation but that it did not get very far. No one seemed to know if there was any partial material remaining, and there was no follow-up.

"I'll try to do some more digging here to be sure, but I think it's pretty likely that Battison's project must be the same one and that it never was completed. A search in the Smithsonian Archives' curatorial correspondence might turn up some clues if no one here remembers."

One place to start is in the archives. The translation may be lurking somewhere in the 10 cubic feet of exhibition records stored at SIA Acc. 95-116. It also contains some of the correspondance of Eugene Ferguson. The curatorial correspondence at SIA RS00536 may also be helpful since it contains copies of manuscripts... like the completed Besson translation.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cleaning the Eavestrough

No... it's not a euphemism for something else. I spent the afternoon contemplating the task of cleaning my eavestroughs. I live in a very tall house and the ladder is incredibly scary. I figured there must be an easier way to do this while staying on the ground. Using my skills as an engineer and librarian-type, I decided to figure out a way to do it.

My eavestroughs are still clogged but at least I have some leads (thanks to the USPTO) of how I could possibly build a machine to do it for me:

4,258,825: Powered Manlift Cart. 1981. P.L. Collins
3,961,681: Mobile Scaffold With Series-Connected Hydraulic Motor Drive. 1976. R.E. Fisher (some more scissor action)
3,817,346: Mobile Scaffolding. 1974. D.T. Wehmeyer (for a scissor lift comparison)
3,095,945: Overhead Service Unit. 1963. M.E. Mitchell
2,995,380: Camera Dolly With Arcuate and Crab Steering. 1961. J.F. King
2,989,140: Self-Propelled Tower Vehicle. 1961. F.L. Hill et al
2,632,530: Telescoping Tower Vehicle. 1953. E.A. Wagner
668,691: Machine for Stacking or Piling Boxes, Packages, Barrels, etc. 1901. G.M. French
Peter Dear, Galileo, Jesuits, and Material Culture

Several years ago I read a paper by Peter Dear. The overall gist of the paper--I can't really remember the title--was about the ways in which Galileo used rhetorical practice to defend his discoveries and methods against attacks from his Jesuit opponents. The details are hazy and my recollection may be completely corrupted but I do remember the point of the paper was about rhetoric.

In retrospect, Galileo's method seems a bit dodgy. I recall that Dear discussed experiments in which Galileo rolled cannon balls down planks to study the effect of gravity. The assumption is that this apparatus was an efficient analog for an earth-bound gravitational system. It was read as a perfect sphere interacting with a frictionless plane at a particular azimuth.

Forget rhetorical practice. From a technology perspective, this apparatus seems woefully inadequate. I'm reminded of an anecdote recounted in Adrian Johns's The Nature of the Book. At one point Robert Hooke apparently challenged the astronomical findings of one of his fellow Royal Society members by attacking his fellow's knowledge of how to actually construct a telescope. While I forget that fellow's name, I do remember that the challenge had something to do with which way the convex face of a lens should face in a reflecting telescope. Regardless, the member didn't know the answer and had to flee in shame.

Consider Galileo's apparatus. Lets start with the perfect plane or, as it were, the plank. It seems plausible that he had access to decent boards. Villard de Honnecourt's sketchbook from the thirteenth century depicts a water-driven saw mill complete with a multi-point linkage. Furthermore, Jacques Besson's theatrum machinarum of 1569 contains several designs for saw mills. Usher's A History of Mechanical Inventions notes that French charter references to mills began in the fourteenth century (1376, 1391, 1393, 1400, 1415) and that there are mentions of German sawmills in 1337 and 1389. Even milled boards can be rough and I'm unsure of when wood planes and scrapers became popular. Looking at the elaborate choir stalls of medieval cathedrals, however, would indicate that man certainly had the capability to produce a very smooth plank when Galileo conducted his experiments. Score one for Galileo.

A more challenging issue is the perfect sphere. Cannon balls are far from perfect. Indeed, the quality control procedures for mass producing nearly identical cannon balls weren't created until the Napoleonic era. As recounted by Alder in his article Making Things the Same, and in his book Engineering the Revolution, it was very difficult to mass produce the perfect spheres assumed by Galileo. It's possible that he had these spheres made especially for him, although the technology to produce a perfect sphere wasn't available until 1729 when the Russian Andrei Nartov made a lathe with the slide rest driven from the main shaft. This discovery is often (and incorrectly) attributed to Henry Maudslay who repeated Nartov's discovery in 1794. Skilled craftsmen such as clockmakers may have had the capability to create such spheres. But could Galileo--or his patron--afford the cost?

Of course, this discussion of tool making may be moot. After all, Galileo fabricated his own telescopes and gave them to nobles as gifts (accompanied, of course, by a copy of his Sidereus Nuncius [see Bagioli's Galileo Courtier]). Why would anyone attack such an obvious expert?
The Differences Between Science and Engineering: The Bingo Card Model

I've been kicking around some ideas about the differences between science and technology. A number of authors have noted the importance of the interconnection between the two (Zilzel, Smith, Merton, etc.), and a few have explored differences in methodology (Vincenti, Henderson) but we still lack a comprehensive explanatory model.

I'd like to present my own idea: The Bingo Card Model [PDF]. My thought is that the primary difference between science and engineering lies in ontology. Science in inherently ontologically incomplete; existing theories dictate a priori what should be explored and articulated. A corollary to this idea is that only those things that should theoretically exist are recognized (cf. Kuhn). Engineering, in contrast, is always ontologically complete. Only those things that have been created have any ontological significance. Furthermore, additions to the world of things come from adaptations and expansions of those things that already exist (i.e., affordances).

Of course, there are some problems with the model. I conflate engineering, technology, and many aspects of material culture. I will also run into a problem with validation. I'm not sure how to provide a rhetorical grounding for presentation. There may be something in my work on machine books (i.e., they show machines that may or may not exist).