Posted tagged ‘Engineering’

Worst use of technology nominee: Food and Beverage Division

June 18, 2008

Caution: bad tempered vent to come.  Coors is the target, and their advertising goons.  Avoid if such old-fogeydom  annoys you.


I love science.  I really love technology.  I’m a toy and gadget freak.  I think it is amazingly cool that a bit of engineering mojo produces stuff like this.

But I have become truly sick of this.  Leave aside the raw contempt the associated ad campaign has for both stupid wives and boorish husbands…just stop to think about all the engineering talent that Coors brought to bear on  the design problem involved in making “The new vented wide mouth directs airflow into the can to enhance the swigging experience for can drinkers.”

Enhance the swigging experience?

Excuse me.  Just say it.  Time to chug.

Pity the poor team, up against the launch deadline, doing their 18/7s, working out the perfect size and shape and airflow and the rest, and then suddenly looking up and realize that their accumulated decades of person-years of study and experience had just been devoted to the task of speeding frat boys (superannuated, if the ad series is to be believed) towards their desired level of alcoholic coma.

All those problem sets and robot labs for this?

Just for the record:  it’s not beer that’s the problem (though it remains an open question how much violence one does to the language by calling Coors “beer”); what bugs me is the sheer mindlessness of the product differentiation game being played here.  Does anyone out there really care about the hole in the top of their beer cans?  If you want to gulp it down faster…just put it in a plastic cup or ten.  Otherwise, just shut up.

Image:  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Monsieur Boileau,” 1893.  Image:  Wikimedia Commons.

Just in Case You Were Wondering…

June 11, 2008

…When a lab created black hole might next form and end life as we know it….

(Joke, folks, in case you weren’t sure.)

…Follow this countdown to the activation of the Large Hadron Collider. (h/t Peter Steinberg via Planet Musings.)

Given that by pretty much any standard I can think the LHC of is the most complex machine ever built, this seems like a milestone worth noting.

One thing that does strike me in this last month before lift-off (or perhaps better, dive-in ) is the seeming reversal of roles in the fact of how often, and how frequently breakthrough science turns on top-flight engineering.

That is: a ton of science turns on instrumentation. A leap in the power of key instruments produces not just better data, but qualitatively new information. Think of how much of modern astronomy — and really, modern cosmology – turns on the twin transformations in the size of the light buckets of modern telescopes, and the enormous increase in the resolution and throughput of spectrographs. Everything from exoplanets to the fundamental questions raised by the observation of dark energy emerges directly from the engineering advances that produced the observational astronomy renaiscance of the last two decades. (Many of which, to be sure, were led by scientist-engineers, among whom Jerry Nelson may be taken as the type specimen).

High energy physics is in the same boat, perhaps more so: when and as observation of the universe fails to supply sufficient data (see above) only large machines focused on very small spatial interactions can do the job. It’s a cliche to call accelerators as the telescopes of the microcosmos, but the analogy ain’t bad. It is precise in this way: each significant increase in the power of the two types of instruments yields new science. The making of the tool precedes the discoveries that we then, rightly, celebrate

Which is my point: engineers take their lumps for, in the phrase I remember from a now-mislaid Seth Lloyd interview, trading in science so well established that even engineers can understand it. See xkcd‘s take for the succinct version of the basic trope:*

Well, for the last ten years or so, it has been the engineers ascendancy. In a few weeks and over years to come, physicists will again dominate the life and meaning of the LHC. Consider this a tip of the hat to the extraordinary creative skill that will permit the glamorous side of high energy physics to strut the catwalk once more

*There is also J. Robert Oppenheimer’s “compliment” to the chemist George Kistiakowsky, whose leadership of the implosion group was essential to the completion of the Manhattan Project’s plutonium bomb. In an interview late in his life conducted by Carl Sagan, ultimately edited and broadcast on NOVA, Kistiakowsky said that Oppenheimer told him that as a chemist, he was a very good third rate physicist.