The Perfectionists

How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

[Amazon Link]

An interesting, somewhat quirky, history of technological progress viewed through the lens of the concept of precision: how things are manufactured just so the myriad pieces fit together just right, and everything just works. It's probably an underappreciated story, especially if you've ever tried to put something together yourself, and … yeah, my talents are not in that area at all.

It's a collection of interesting stories, roughly in chronological order; they don't exhaust the topic, but that's OK. The author, Simon Winchester, is a journalist, and has a good eye for the interesting detail, the flamboyant personality, the quiet heroism involved in "getting it right".

Topics discussed, among many: the Antikythera device (amazingly precise, totally inaccurate); locks and keys; mass production of personal weaponry; the different approaches to car manufacturing taken by Rolls-Royce and Ford; the near-disaster of the Hubble Space Telescope and its heroic rescue; clocks and watches; integrated circuits; the progress of metrology, defining standards of mass, length, and time.

And probably the most precise piece of equipment in history: the LIGO gravity wave detector.

It's all written well, and, if you're interested in technology at all, pretty darn gripping.

No tech expertise is assumed of the reader. In fact the one bit of math is botched; Winchester says (p. 349) that a simple pendulum's period is given by the formula

T = 2π√lg

Oops, Simon. Make that

T = 2π√l/g

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • I believe Kevin D. Williamson mentioned in a podcast that he had a difficult time writing this column in order to stay within National Review's language rules: Covington Catholic: Identity Politics in Action.

    Some people go out looking for identity politics. Others have it thrust upon them.

    The latter is the case with the defamed students — the children — of Covington Catholic, who have, thanks to the phantasmagoric alchemy of the progressive imagination, have been born again as stand-ins for . . . only everything progressives hate: “white privilege,” “patriarchy,” Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, kids who were mean to them in high school, etc. That so much of the progressive-media discourse on the Covington episode consisted of the emotional revisitation of petty (and some unpetty) childhood traumas has given the whole project a Freudian odor, and, like the work of Sigmund Freud himself, it consists largely of intellectual fraud bolstered by manufactured or distorted evidence — claims of fact that are said to speak to a higher metaphysical truth no matter how frequently and how thoroughly they are debunked as claims of fact.

    Among my lefty Facebook friends, only one sort of apologized for their original too-hot takes. (Hi, Ann!) A few doubled down on "smirk boy." Interesting. Sad.

  • On the LFOD front, we have Durham NH state rep Marjorie Smith weighing in: Gerrymandering happens in NH, but we can fix it. She writes in favor of House Bill 706, which (she says) will do that.

    We’re the first-in-the-nation state that boasts “Live Free or Die” as our motto, but you wouldn’t know it from the state of our voting districts. Partisan gerrymandering across New Hampshire is an affront to democracy and the values we as Granite Staters hold dear. It’s long past time we fix our district lines, and an independent redistricting commission is the only way forward.

    The usual gripe: Democrats are mostly concerned about "gerrymandering" when it's done by Republicans.

    Marjorie's major bit of gerryevidence is the "salamander" shape of Executive Council District 2, which runs from the southwest corner of the state, meanders up to Concord, then stretches a thin tentacle over to Rollinsford/Dover/Durham. (Hey, that's me!)

    Arguably, it's what's left over after mapping out districts 1, 3, 4, and 5, all of which seem relatively compact. Also interestingly, its current councilor is Andru Volinsky, Democrat. (There are currently three D councilors, 2 Rs.)

  • Also invoking LFOD is Steve Pomper, who is not a fan of other proposed legislation: De-Policing New Hampshire: State Republican Reps Propose Law to Revoke Cops' Authority to Use Deadly Force During an Arrest.

    I love New Hampshire. Spent a lot of time in the Granite State as a kid, vacationing at Lake Sunapee. My oldest son was born there, and I still have relatives who live there, including one of my brothers. Having said this, it’s very hard to believe the anti-cop legislation being proposed in the “Live Free or Die” state—by Republicans!

    HB 218 would rescind a law enforcement officer’s authority to use deadly force during an arrest. Franklin, N.H. Police Chief David Goldstein said, “It will make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for us to effect our jobs in certain situations.” He’s so obviously right.

    You might think the bill requires cops to throw away their firearms. Not quite. Reading the bill's text, it still allows officers to us deadly force to defend themselves or a third party, or to stop someone from using a deadly weapon while fleeing/resisting apprehension. The change is that deadly force is no longer allowed merely to effect an arrest.

    Or at least that's what it looks like to me.

  • And we have (unlikely source) Zac Kurylyk, writing in Canada Moto Guide, on his early-spring motorcycle tour of our fine state: The Ride of the April Fool.

    Everywhere I looked, licence plates and flags told me New Hampshire was the place to Live Free, Or Die. As a person of generally libertarian leanings myself, I couldn’t help but sympathize with the sentiment, but I wished the locals had been willing to shoulder a heavier tax burden in order to keep the roads up. State Route 25 turned decidedly unpleasant, as the DOT had decided signs warning of frost heaves were better than actually fixing the problem.

    I hear you, Zac. In our slight defense, April is a good month for frost heave tourism.

  • And Michael P. Ramirez takes aim at Fake politics, as usual.

Last Modified 2019-02-02 6:29 AM EDT