Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Exorcising (Exercising?) the Procrastination Demons

I have a number of things to do. And exploring new topics of research is simply not one of them. I'm up to my ears with best practices for portal implementations, ERP security, and--of course--the history of technical handbooks. Regardless, I'm getting side-tracked by a few other projects. By describing them, perhaps they'll go away...

1. The Mahoney-Edgerton debate. Was linear perspective crucial for modern science or not? I don't know but the existing arguments deserve a more nuanced approach. Edgerton uses Ramelli (and his Chinese copyiests) to demonstrate the importance of representation; Mahoney responds with Tartaglia, Huygens, and Newton. Mahoney's approach seems to imply that engineers like Ramelli weren't numerate, or at least didn't use numbers or quantification. The work of Ramelli's colleagues Ambroise Bachot seems to present a slightly different take. Furthermore, Alder's discussion of artillery--and perhaps Henninger-Voss's--casts a shadow on the practical viability of the mathematical approach, particularly in terms of artillery.
2. SCOT, Hoover, and my Dyson. I love my vacuum cleaner. But why? How has Dyson been able to carve market share from the likes of Hoover? There seems to be an opportunity to explore issues like stabilization and interpretive communities in a manner that is more nuanced than previous attempts with objects like mountain bikes. There is even some interesting literature out there. In addition to the extensive business literature on Dyson, there is his autobiography "Against the Odds". There is also the Hoover paean from the 1950s: "Fabulous Dustpan."
3. The renaissance/modern gap. A number of critics have noted that a person would be hard pressed to actually create an item contained in the machine books of the Renaissance. But there is a huge gap in the systems (a la Hughes) that have been created in the interim. My thought is to compare one of Bachot's representations of a bridge to a modern counterpart and to denote ways in which the systems to support the realization of the bridge have changed (has Kranakis already done this?). Drawing conventions are one aspect of the change but so are a number of other things, notably the development of structural steel. While the development of technical drawing is well covered by Booker, etc. structural steel (and iron) is a slightly different story. Some decent references seem to include: "American iron, 1607-1900" and "Structural Iron 1750–1850." There is also some journal references, notably Jewitt's contributions to T&C: "Structural antecedents of the I-beam, 1800-1850" and "Solving the puzzle of the first American structural I-beam". Some random online references include: and