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

Friday, 1 April 2011

Dumbness: a lifestyle choice

Ignorance comes in different forms. As a child I was unaware of how the gyroscopic top (see inset) or the radio worked. Magic, I said. But fate in the form of RAF national service forced me to recognise that the radio is not magic. By arranging electronic components - resistors, capacitors, coils and (in those days) thermionic valves - in a certain manner you can create a superhetereodyne, a name more exotic than the circuit’s comparatively mundane function.

An aerial responds to electro-magnetic waves sent from afar. The aerial is linked to the superhet which is adjusted to pick out a selected frequency from these waves. This tiny signal is made more powerful and its variations are duplicated in the coil of a loudspeaker. The coil vibrates the speaker cone, duplicating sounds imposed on the EM wave. Thus Desert Island Discs.

Since no one forced me I never bothered to explain the top although I think I could. Left to myself I might have investigated the radio. One was a visible mystery, the other invisible. Watching and touching the spinning top taught you things. The radio remains inert and getting to know it involves maths which usually blunts casual curiosity.

Understanding electronics is chic and I’m vain enough to want this. The forces at work in the top are strange but not, it seems, strange enough. I’m at ease with my ignorance.
GORGON COVER The pro tem design for my novel Gorgon Times cost £100. I challenged commenters to better it for the same sum. FigMince responded and here is his idea. He says he doesn’t want the money, but we’ll see about that. Anyone else?

7 comments:

The Crow said...

I like FigMince's design more than the other one, BB. Ties title and con-rod together beautifully.

Anne said...

The older I get the more ignorant I feel. I think I used to know a lot, but I seem to forget faster than I learn, so the result is negative. I know a little about radios, a little about sound, and a little more about the human ear. The mystery to me is that animals (us) have figured out how to capture the sound in radios and listen to it with comprehension. How weird is that?

Book covers are a problem. I am drawn to covers that look organic. Years ago I designed a cover for my daughter's book that had a taxi in a field of cabbages. We both liked it, but it was rejected by the publisher and they put a close-up painting of part of a truck. Perhaps that was a better idea. Who knows?

Julia said...

I vote for FigMince's too. It works well together, particularly the contrasting colors with the very nice gradation of blue and the gorgon head tied into the con rod.

Lucy said...

Well done Figmince, give the man the dosh I say.

We used to have wonderful gyro tops called whizzers when we were kids, they had a rounded metal point surrounded by some kind of rubber/plastic flange (not sure if that's the right word, sounds a bit rude but that might be connected with a very smutty story by the poet Rumi...). You wound them u rather like a giro toy by running the rubber bit fast over a hard surface, like a giro toy and they spun and spun. Now I keep a very small wooden top made in oak by a wood turner in the pocket of a jacket as a worry thing.

I'm not very good on how things work really, except language. I tend to zone out as soon as anyone talks about things like that, and as you say, once things get mathematical it's discouraging. I suspect much elementary science was simpler than I gave it credit for, but I tended to assume it was impenetrable to me, so the switching off response came on early.

Plutarch said...

If there is a vote I prefer the first cover. I might be more inclined towards FigMince except for the type face which links the story too much to a particular period.

Barrett Bonden said...

Anne: It is of course very weird. Nothing about the radio explains its function; the mystery seems wilful. As to book covers I fear we have to bend the knee to the person who takes on the rather more distasteful task of selling the thing. Should my novel be accepted I doubt whether anything I suggest would carry any weight; these two designs are to backstop the more likely event of rejection, after which I'll need a cover if I go in for vanity publishing.

Julia: Whatever I do it always seems you're one step ahead. I hadn't lnked the face to the idea of a gorgon; now you've expanded my universe. Score another point for No. 2.

Lucy: The top. But did you ever think about the interesting forces at work when the top was spinning? I mean what you saw was surely impossible. Didn't impossibility race your motor?

The radio. Remember how we discussed occasions when we changed our minds. I went into the RAF virtually ineducable; worse than that, I'd concluded that physics was beyond me and that I would no longer even try. However via the threat of a range of punishments the RAF changed my mind. I was forced to learn. And as I did so the beauty of the invisible technological world gradually exposed itself. Until that moment all I'd done was read books. I tried to capture this marvellous moment in a very early post which only Plutarch responded to:

http://bbworkswell.blogspot.com/2008/05/marvellous-mathematical-moment.html

If I had the skill I'd make it my life's work to bring you to that same moment because I'm sure you have that same vulnerability to beauty, provided it comes in an appropriate frame, hangs in a gallery where you're comfortable, is well lit, and is explained by somebody who speaks your language. But:

An idle wish, alas, for he
Was blind and nearly ninety-three.


I lack the pedagogical skills as I've just proved to myself by re-reading the post. There are hints, but no great force to sweep you off your feet. Alas, Indeed.

Plutarch: So score one pojnt for Number One.

The Crow said...

Thank you, Julia, for explaining what I meant better than I did.