Whatever Chuck draws, the result is neat, clear, and interesting. His techniques are equally so, as a close examination reveals. The drawings are usually executed first in pencil, and then finished in ink. I hesitate to say "traced," because the ink lines follow rather than exactly overlay the light pencil ones. Sometimes, after the ink has dried, he erases the pencil lines. These are techniques I learned in mechanical drawing courses in high school and in college as an engineering student, and seeing them used by a master brings back fond memories of those days at the drafting board.
A letter from Chuck is hard to miss in the mail, for the envelope is always addressed with either elaborate calligraphic flourishes or fancy and whimsical artwork. He does not consider himself an artist, and so when he draws cartoons of people or animals he often traces them from some source, such as a magazine. He also employs a lot of color on his envelopes, as he does on the drawings inside them. He typically uses either colored pencils or watercolors; something that was commonly done in nineteenth-century engineering drawings, making the best of them truly works of art.
I often wonder whether the postman sorting our mail stops for a moment to enjoy Chuck's entertaining envelopes. They may be but small packages among the plethora of slick and heavy mail-order catalogues that clog our mailboxes nowadays, but they always carry the distinct mark of being hand-addressed and hand-drawn -- hand-designed -- and that alone makes them something to admire among all the computer-generated and personalized impersonal material. I know that I stop to admire a Chuck Siple envelope before I open it, and I open it carefully so that I can preserve it along with its always interesting contents.
With the near-ubiquitous adoption of computer graphics, a meticulous draftsman like Chuck Siple may be a thing of the past, but to me his eye for detail keeps him as perceptive a critic of design as he ever was. Though he has the hands of a draftsman, he has the mind of an engineer. Computer-generated drawings may be the new standard, but I doubt that any graphics program will ever become an engineer's pen pal.
Nice article, Professor Petroski. I, too, was a paperboy. It was the early 1960s. I remember delivering the paper announcing Kennedy has been shot. I'd get to my pile of papers at about 4:30 a.m. and fold each one before filling my canvas sack. If you folded them tight enough, they stayed together when they landed on the front porches or sidewalks. I'll never forget the fold. It didn't work for the Sunday papers, though.
There are drivers everywhere who turn on their headlights or windshield wipers with no awareness of the development effort behind a switch. Yet from freezing winter to sweltering summer, on dull rainy days and in bright sunshine, switches are expected to function consistently for the lifetime of a car.
The standards electrical machines and components are required to meet in the food processing industry are far more stringent than those in traditional plant construction. For specialized production environments such as these, components must not only resist thermal and physical stresses, but they must also be resistant to the chemicals used to sterilize equipment.
The word “smart” is becoming the dumbest word around. It has been applied to almost every device and system in our homes. In addition to smartphones and smart meters, we now hear about smart clothing and smart shoes, smart lights, smart homes, smart buildings, and every trendy city today has its smart city project. Just because it has a computer inside and is connected to the Web, does not mean it is smart.
Was Steve Job’s signature outfit of a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers the secret behind his success? Maybe, or maybe not, but it was likely an indication of a decision-making philosophy that enabled him to become one of the most successful innovators of all time.
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