I couldn’t resist snapping this picture. One of the reasons I absolutely love working here is because you get to work on some of the craziest stuff. You never know what the next day will bring.
I actually have no idea why our prototyping shop is working with a model of a human pelvic bone but I know it’s going to be something cool and important.
On October 14 and 28, 2010, Design Concepts’ principals Stefanie Norvaisas, director of strategy & research, and Ami Verhalen, director of industrial design, led a Product Development and Management Association webinar series exploring the power of design thinking.
A coworker recently introduced me to the amazing work of Brad Litwin, a self-described multi-discipline artist whose work delightfully spans technical design, engineering, craft and the fine arts.
Brad’s latest brainchild (brainchildren?) are the wonderfully inspired Mechanicards – essentially playful mechanisms rendered as mail-able greeting cards. Stuff like this really inspires me!
You can watch Brad’s Mechanicards in action here:
Oh and if Brad’s artistic and design skills aren’t humbling enough, he’s also an accomplished ragtime, jazz and blues musician, playing the music heard on the youtube video. Wow. Very Cool.
Does a curveball really curve? Really???
For some reason I seem to have done a disproportionate number of baseball-related postings. I guess one of the benefits of being in the field of design is that I can pretty much turn anything into a design issue. Well either that or it provides me a plausible reason to spend a bit of idle time writing about sports. Ahhh the life.
Someone sent me a very fascinating link recently that probably doesn’t end – but certainly sheds some new and interesting light on the age-old debate of whether a curveball really curves.
For those of you who aren’t fans or fanatics, the curveball is a pitch that was “invented” around the time of the civil war by delightfully named “Candy Cummings” pitcher for the Brookly Excelsiors. Cummings found that by snapping his wrist forward as he released the ball, the trajectory would arc and then suddenly “break” or curve causing batters to lunge and swing comically at the place they thought he ball should – but no longer was. From that moment on the curve ball has bedeviled batters. Those who have seen it often describe it as looking like the ball has rolled off a table. I suspect the difficulty of controlling the pitch properly adds to the allure and baseball aficionados speak of “buckling batters knees” as they alternately swing at a pitch that darts out of the strike zone or watch impotently as a ball seemingly well outside of the zone drops in. Or does it?
You see, as long as pitchers have been throwing curves, ball players, engineers and physicists have been debating whether the curve ball really curves or whether it’s all just an optical illusion. Amazingly enough, given the arsenal of brainpower and technological sophistication that’s been brought to bear on the issue – the debate persists to this day.
In 1941 both two magazines simultaneously attempted to use stop-action photography to determine if curve balls really curve. Look Magazine concluded they do. Life magazine concluded that they do not.
Both General Motors and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been commissioned to investigate the phenomena (Why GM is a matter I can only speculate and I suspect they should have stuck to focusing on their cars).
My father-in-law – a pretty good player in his own right – claims to have faced pitchers who could throw a pitch around the side of an oak tree. Hyperbole? Perhaps… but when you’ve married his oldest daughter are you really going to argue pressure differentials? I think not.
My own baseball career sputtered to a halt sometime in elementary school when the only “curve” pitchers threw was in the vertical plane so I’ve never had the pleasure (or terror) of facing a real curve. Thus my own opinions on the issue are anecdotal at best.
As an engineer I can certainly understand the reasons why a curve ball would (or could) curve. The combination of forward velocity and rotation creates a pressure differential that would serve to “suck” the ball towards the direction of rotation. At the same time, physicist and engineers have struggled to empirically or analytically explain the amount of curve which pitchers and batters perceive.
As near as I can figure – and this is really just an educated guess – curve balls really do curve but (and with full respect and deference) NOT to the extent claimed by pitchers and batters. Sorry. And I can’t think of a reasonable engineering explanation for the real or perceived “drop” that curves seem to take towards the end of flights.
So that brings us to this fascinating study and demonstration by Arthur Shapiro, Zhong-Lin Lu, Emily Knight, & Robert Ennis of American University, University of Southern California, Dartmouth College, SUNY College of Optometry –which incidentally won the 2009 “best illusion of the year contest” from the Vision Sciences Society (I wonder what the trophy looks like… but I digress).
To quite from their entry…
In baseball, a curveball creates a physical effect and a perceptual puzzle. The physical effect (the curve) arises because the ball’s rotation leads to a deflection in the ball’s path. The perceptual puzzle arises because the deflection is actually gradual but is often perceived as an abrupt change in direction (the break). Our illusions suggest that the perceived “break” may be caused by the transition from the central visual system to the peripheral visual system. Like a curveball, the spinning disks in the illusions appear to abruptly change direction when an observer switches from foveal to peripheral viewing.
Make sure you follow the instructions and give it a look… it’s pretty amazing.
Well yes. As a matter of fact we do. Mostly. A surprisingly broad segment of our lives now runs in perfect chronometric synchronization due to wireless and internet accessibility to the atomic clock time.
I was reminded of this fact a while ago when I arrived at the front entrance to our building a few moments before 8:00 – the time when our automated alarm system unlocks the front door. After pulling on the door handle to confirm the door was still locked, I thought I’d try an experiment. I pulled out my cell phone and counted the seconds until ITS clock read 8:00, testing the door every now and then to ensure it was still locked. As my cell phone reached 8:00 (and zero seconds) there was a soft click as the building computer also reached 8:00, simultaneously unlocking the front door. Pretty cool. I’m not certain all our clocks are synchronized to that degree but a quick comparison of my cell phone clock with the clock in the corner of the computer shows they’re generally within 15 seconds. The digital display on the phone on my desk is surprisingly recalcitrant – lagging by a full two minutes which in today’s day and age seems scandalously unreliable.
For whatever reason, the virtual synchronization of time in our lives has pretty much come without much fanfare. I think it’s fascinating – not so much for the technological accomplishment as for the social and cultural ramifications. I suspect I’m not alone in remembering when plus or minus five (and sometimes 10) minutes was sort of the norm in our confidence level for timekeeping. When the meeting should start. When the movie would start. When class would finish. These were as much a product of guesswork, speculation, debate and negotiation as anything. Sure there was a number you could call at the phone company and listen to a delightfully (and somehow appropriately) robotic voice chant off the correct time. Well some correct time anyway. But mostly, knowing the correct time was a relative thing. Meetings started according to the bosses’ watch. Movies would start when the theater said it was time. Class was done when that damnable clock on the wall finally clicked forward to the last tick (only after first clicking backwards for some inexplicably nefarious purpose). Mostly that’s all gone now.
On the whole I think I mostly like this disambiguity. I distinctly remember early in my career once sitting in a meeting listening to people debate whether it was time to start the meeting for long enough that it most certainly was. That seems quaintly silly nowadays. At the same time, I recently sent my Grandfather’s wind-up watch off to have it tuned up. When it comes back I think I’ll most certainly wear it. I’m just not certain I’ll trust it. After all – as the old saying goes. A man with one watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is no longer sure. That is unless they’re synchronized over the internet.