Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Notes on Petroski: Remaking the World

  • Quote from James Nasmyth: "The truth is, that the eyes and the fingers -- the bare fingers -- are the two principal inlets to sound practical instruction. They are the chief sources of trustworthy knowledge in all the materials and operations which the engineer has had to deal with. No book knoweldge can avail for that purpose. The nature and properties of the materials must come in through the finger-ends; hence I have no faith in young engineers who are addicted to wearing gloves." (pg. 36)
  • Another: "In a like manner I executed several specimens of my ability as a mechanical draughtsman, for I knew that Maudsley would thoroughly understand my ability to work after a plan. mechanical drawing is the alphabet of the engineer. Without this the workman is merely 'a hand.' With it he indicates possession of 'a head.'" (pg. 39)
  • And another one: "Following out this idea, I got my 'scheme book,' on the pages of which I generally thought out, with the aid of pen and pencil, such mechanical adptations as I had conceived in my mind, and was thereby enabled to render them visible. I then rapidly sketched out my steam-hammer, having it all clearly before me in my mind's eye." (pg. 39)
  • Back to Petroski: "For all the civilization owes to engineering, even engineers themselves can fail to marvel at it and its seemingly ineffable history." (p. 46)
  • "Engineering is the rearrangement of what is." (p. 48)
  • In Britain it's not "back of the envelope" but "back of the cigarette box": "The cigarette box was a portable, miniature drafting board." (p. 50)
  • "But for all the individual bravado of an engineer's first design, it takes a small army of fearful calculators to bring any design to reality... A first design may be a triumph of elegance and individuality, but it is the drudgery and collective effort of the many designers, detailers, analysts, fabricators, constructors, inspectors, and a host of additional experts and specialists that can make engineering desings work and work safely." (p. 55)
  • "While some engineers may say their prayers before going to bed, they do not do so to leave the details to a deity." (p.63)