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Petroski on Engineering: Made in Japan

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Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Making its mark
Ann R. Thryft   12/28/2011 12:52:22 PM
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Jack, I really agree with you on this one. Much as we hear that cursive writing is unnecessary and so rarely used today that many younger people cannot even read it--a concept I find astounding--I still think that it bears learning. At the very least, there are still lots of non-digital "texts" lying around written in cursive. Historians, for example, can't do without it. But there are also family documents and other materials written in cursive. 


Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Making its mark
Jack Rupert, PE   12/16/2011 5:51:40 PM
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I was thinking along the same lines as Ann when I was reading this article.  There is a big cultural component to the Japanese preferences.  Meanwhile, on this side of the Pacific, we're reading articles about whether or not to even teach cursive writing in grade schools.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Making its mark
Ann R. Thryft   12/6/2011 2:21:35 PM
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I'd bet that the difference here is definitely cultural. In Japan, the traditional writing instrument was a beautiful fine-pointed brush, combined with a block of solid ink containing a shallow well on top for adding a little water to mix the ink to the right liquid consistency. This toolkit is the same one used to create their exquisite brush paintings. I learned to use it in school back when we were studying Japan. It's also very Japanese to combine the new and the old.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Making its mark
Rob Spiegel   12/2/2011 8:43:52 AM
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Glad to hear you're still analog when it comes to pens, Chuck. I've always liked pencils, not because you can erase, but simple for the feel in the hand and the look on paper.

Yet I do find myself using pencils less due to writing on Word documents (or in comments such as this).

Maybe Japan is advancing the hand writing tool, but here in the U.S., I've seen that expensive pens do not surpass the efficiency of cheap pens any longer. They sued to. Over the past ten years, the cartridges in quality pens seem no better than they are in cheap pens. They still dry out and leak. Maybe it's because I live in the desert. 

Charles Murray
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Re: Making its mark
Charles Murray   12/1/2011 10:52:34 PM
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True, the paperless revolution has changed the use of pens and pencils. I do use pens, however, all day, every day. I also get ink on my fingers, all day, every day. I've yet to meet the pen that doesn't cause that problem. I'm wondering if Japanese pen makers have a solution for that.

etmax
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Re: Sel-rotating pencil --> Pens-In-SPACE !
etmax   12/1/2011 6:15:31 PM
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We always got punished by low grades if we used pencils for drafting, we were instead encouraged to use Indian ink based drafting pens. We had these little erasers that were a fibreglass bundle to scrape the ink off the drafting film. By was I glad when computer based CAD came along. For the last 10 years the only thing I used my pen for was signing a credity card receipt, I can't even do my signature properly anymore :-) thank GOD they allow use of a PIN now. :-). On the subject of erasable ink, the Germans have at least since the early 1970's had a chemical eraser that makes fountain pen ink disappear like magic. It was advised then to only sign cheques with a ballpoint pen to avoid cheque fraud.

ricardo
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Re: Making its mark
ricardo   12/1/2011 6:08:08 PM
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I use mechanical drawing pencils a lot, ever since university.  When I get a chance to visit a big stationers (rare as I'm presently a beach bum), I'll always browse through their pencil department to see if I can find a better one.  But the ones I like were chosen nearly 3 decades ago.

My favourite is a Staedler 0.7 mm with a cushioned lead.

Next is the ubiquitous Pentel in 0.7 or 0.5  Not quite as good as the Staedler (fixed lead) but more easily available & reliable.

A good pencil is essential in the eary stages of a design.  I don't think any CAD tool is as versatile in the important thinking stages.


I also use them for sketching and drawing. I pretend to be an artist at times.  It's a good way to get girls to take their clothes off.

My brother's archictectural practice achieved some fame as an early adopter of fancy CAD systems but he still impresses clients and his younger architects by sketching out ideas on the spot.

We underestimate the importance of tools which enhance creative thinking.  These have to be VERY quick, simple and expressive to keep up with human thought.

It will come but it will be some time before an iPad application (with stylus) allows the facility and sheer volume of info that can be expressed on the traditional back-of-an-envelope.



Rob Spiegel
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Re: Making its mark
Rob Spiegel   12/1/2011 2:51:04 PM
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Good point, Walter. Writing implements are simply not used as often as before. I bought a gross of pencils 10 years ago. I used the first half in the first two or three years. The balance will last for another 10 or 12 years, maybe more. Most of my writing has shifted to the computer.

Walter
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Re: Making its mark
Walter   12/1/2011 1:45:38 PM
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To be honest, who cares?  I haven't replaced the lead in my mechanical pencil in years even though I have a drawer full of leads of all types and colours.  I sharpen my wood pencil about once in six months.  A dispoable ballpoint lasts a year.  The paperless revolution is in the mopping up phase.

I've noticed that historically the biggest, most advanced of any technology is generally the last one before the whole concept goes obsolete.  Think of the Great Eastern, the B-36 and Cheop's Pyramid.

William K.
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Platinum
Petroski on engineering: in Japan
William K.   12/1/2011 10:24:12 AM
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I was taught to rotate my pencil about the same time that I was first taught to write, which was probably in first grade, although the turning lessons may have come in second grade. I have used a lot of pencils and pens since then. I was in seventh grade when ball-point pens became the fad, and there certainly was, and still is, a huge spread in quality. Still today I use both wood and mechanical pencils, and it is still true that the quality spread in mechanical penciles is huge.

Today pencils and pens are mostly commodity items that don't occupy much of engineering's attention. Rather than attempt to find some small nich, most of our engineering is involved with more important things, such as increasing efficiency and reducing the use of resources. Our engineering tends to be more toward creating what never was, rather than polishing some comodity item that many others have already improved on many times.

Of course, there is also the marketing wonk driven push for product differentiation that some find so very important. That does seem to be a different way to waste talent and resources.

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