Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 1 February 2009

It's a block; it's a book

Here are some items I appreciate: growing things (galanthus nivalis, say, given the season), paintings (the cliff-top church in Turner’s “Folkestone from the sea” is where we got married), combinations of poetry and music (Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden, Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt…), great prose (“… bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air…”) and slightly obscure wine regions (the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon). Plus this.

This is an engine block. It contains the moving bits like pistons and valves. It is cast from molten metal and many external surfaces carry the rough imprint of the mould because there is no need to polish them. Other surfaces, which have precise dimensional relationships, are machined until this is the case.

Some areas requiring this work are circular holes. Yet circles cannot be precise since they depend on a calculation involving π (the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter) and π is not an exact value. So how come the holes end up the right size? The answer has to do with tolerances, a quality shared with the translation into English of the first sentence of Proust’s A la recherche…

My blog is linked to that of Relucent Reader whose father was a precision machinist. This seemed an admirable activity until RR pointed out his dad found the work stressful. And why not? Working to tiny fractions of an inch (and it would have been inches, then) is more demanding, and carries more responsibility, than the way I earned my living and which I fondly imagined to be an adrenalin job.

The block reminds me of these things.


Plutarch said...

Snowdrops,Turner,Joyce, Chateau Musar and an engine block provide an excellent testimony to the range of your interests, none more so than than the link between the diameter of the holes machined into the engine block and the first sentence of A La Recherche - a broad church indeed.

marja-leena said...

Plutarch said it better than I could! Your interest in machines is like that of my husband's, a very male preoccupation for the most part. I, a bemused observer, appreciating only that the machine works.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: You missed out Schubert's An die Musik, a terrific song, all the more so since it pays tribute to music itself.

Both: Posts like this look like showing off and probably are, deep down. But they are aimed at drawing in people who may be familiar with the first bits yet unaware of the fascinations of machinery. An uphill task. As M-L says a very male preoccupation yet the majority of links for WorksWell are, I'm glad to say, with women. So it can work.

Plutarch said...

I thought it might be Schubert, but as I was sure of the others, I thought that you would tell me; and you have. Thank you. If it is showing off, never mind, as long as your public applaud, and they do!

Nicely Very Unique said...

I have to make an observation here....
Cylinders are fixed and the pistons move up and down inside them making the engine work well.This i think is important in such a tolarance based subject..

Sir Hugh said...

Regarding the Proust, I presume you refer to the first sentence in "Combray" which starts on page 52 of my Moncrieff translation. The first sentence in "Overture" at the beginning of the book reads: "For a long time I used to go to bed early".

Barrett Bonden said...

NVU: Unless you're talking about a pre-epitrochoidal rotary engine, where the crankshaft remains stationary and the cylinder does the rotating. But I take your point. It was careless and I've now changed it. Perhaps you could find a similar flaw in the bit about π.

Sir Hugh: I've made this mistake many times mainly because in introducing his new translation Terence Kilmartin wanted to show how the difficulties started virtually from square one and used the sentence you quote as a means of underlining the ambiguities.

Nicely Very Unique said...

Your blog as always creates much interest,as for the workings of π You are on the money.However the size of a machined cylinder can be accurately made by the process of electroplating then re honed to the dimension required.
All this goes out of the window if the said cylinder was made by British Leyland where π was measured at 3ish and even more problems if you managed to own a Friday afternoon product.
As it seems en vouge to be in the "one out all out" gang in this country at the moment will this have the same effect again on British manufacturing?
Oh silly me...there is none left!!!hayho.

Avus said...

As Plutarch said...............

Anyway there is infinite poetry in machines. Kipling has a wonderful one, "McAndrew's Hymn" which brings out wonderfully the magnificence of great steam engines. (The whole can be read at: http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_mcandrew.htm )

"Mister McAndrew, don't you think steam spoils romance at sea?"
Damned ijjit! I'd been doon that morn to see what ailed the throws,
Manholin', on my back - the cranks three inches off my nose.
Romance! Those first-class passengers they like it very well,
Printed an' bound in little books; but why don't poets tell?
I'm sick of all their quirks an' turns - the loves an' doves they dream -
Lord, send a man like Robbie Burns to sing the Song o' Steam!
To match wi' Scotia's noblest speech yon orchestra sublime
Whaurto - uplifted like the Just - the tail-rods mark the time.
The Crank-throws give the double-bass; the feed-pump sobs an' heaves:
An' now the main eccentrics start their quarrel on the sheaves.
Her time, her own appointed time, the rocking link-head bides,
Till - hear that note?-the rod's return whings glimmerin' through the guides.
They're all awa! True beat, full power, the clangin' chorus goes
Clear to the tunnel where they sit, my purrin' dynamoes.
Interdependence absolute, foreseen, ordained, decreed,
To work, Ye'll note, at any tilt an' every rate o' speed.
Fra skylight-lift to furnace-bars, backed, bolted, braced an' stayed,
An' singin' like the Mornin' Stars for joy that they are made;
While, out o' touch o' vanity, the sweatin' thrust-block says:
"Not unto us the praise, or man - not unto us the praise!"
Now, a' together, hear them lift their lesson - theirs an' mine:
"Law, Order, Duty an' Restraint, Obedience, Discipline!"
Mill, forge an' try-pit taught them that when roarin' they arose,
An' whiles I wonder if a soul was gied them wi' the blows.
Oh for a man to weld it then, in one trip-hammer strain,
Till even first-class passengers could tell the meanin' plain!
But no one cares except mysel' that serve an' understand
My seven thousand horse-power here. Eh, Lord! They're grand - they're grand! "

Barrett Bonden said...

A heroic effort by Kipling, though I worry about "purring dynamoes". Unfortunately he's let down by the first line in which someone asks if engines spoil the romance of the sea. The implied contrast is with sails. And here we have a perfect rendering of the "1066 and all that" definition of the opposing sides in the Civil War. Engines taking the parliamentarian side, and sails the Royalists. Engines are more efficient but noisy and dirty; sails less efficient, difficult to use but more in tune with the attractions of the sea.

Avus said...

Why the worry about "purring dynamoes", BB?
I enjoyed your allusion to "1066 and All That". (Wrong, but Wromantic and Right, but Repulsive). You speak as a sailor, of course.