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What's Your Pick for Best Engineering Movie?
1/25/2012

The PBS film 'Azorian' documents the construction of the equipment needed to raise a sunken Russian submarine.
The PBS film "Azorian" documents the construction of the equipment needed to raise a sunken Russian submarine.

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Alexander Wolfe
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Critics Redux
Alexander Wolfe   1/25/2012 9:11:27 AM
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Our first crack at best engineering movie came back in July, with Chuck Murray's story, which is here and which you should go check out. My pick then -- and I'll stick with it, is 1993's Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas as a sad-sack laid-off defense worker who goes postal.

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: Critics Redux
Jennifer Campbell   1/25/2012 10:01:51 AM
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Excellent choice, Alex. That was a great movie, definitely underrated. I'm going with one of Chuck's picks from back in July - 2008's Flash of Genius, a true story about a man named Robert Kearns (played by Greg Kinnear) who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. He wages a legal war on Detroit automakers after they implement the wipers on their cars, but don't give Kearns credit for the invention. Like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, Kearns basically loses everything in his quest for credit/compensation for the design.

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: Critics Redux
Alexander Wolfe   1/25/2012 10:11:49 AM
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Funny you should mention "Flash of Genius," Jenn. Like many a great, lone inventor (superhet and FM inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong comes to mind) intermittent windshield wiper inventor Robert Kearns basically lost every (his family, for one) in his quest to get credit for his invention. I wrote a blog post about this four years ago, under the headline, "How Inventors Always Get Screwed."

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: Critics Redux
Jennifer Campbell   1/25/2012 10:20:16 AM
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Interesting post, Alex. It's a sad commentary on our times that so many people before Kearns, and I'm sure many more after, have to fight the big corporations to get the credit/compensation they deserve. While it's sad that these people are willing to lose everything for it, I have to admire their drive and passion for uncovering the truth and corruption.

Charles Murray
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Re: Critics Redux
Charles Murray   1/25/2012 11:08:35 AM
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Yes, Flash of Genius is one of my favorities, Jenn. The original story (the basis for the movie) in The New Yorker is equally riveting. See it here:

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1993/01/11/1993_01_11_038_TNY_CARDS_000363341

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: Critics Redux
Alexander Wolfe   1/25/2012 11:10:01 AM
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The canonical case of the inventor who's been screwed is the most important yet least recognized inventor of the Radio era. That would be Edwin Howard Armstrong, who inarguably was responsible for more, and more significant, inventors than any of his peers. He did the regenerative receiver, superheterodyne, super regenerative, and FM. He had a love-hate relationship with famed RCA head David Sarnoff, who, though he helped Armstrong many times, also screwed him out of money and credit. Though Armstrong was eventually vindicated by the courts, it was after he committed suicide. See a short bio here.  I commend readers to a great, out of print biography, entitled "Man of High Fidelity." If you search enough, you can find a free pdf ebook version

Charles Murray
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October Sky
Charles Murray   1/25/2012 11:25:15 AM
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Based on your recommendation, Jon, I will watch Azorian. In the meantime, my favorite is still October Sky, which can only loosely be categorized as an engineering movie. It's about a high school student in the 1950s who is inspired by Sputnik and dreams of becoming a rocket engineer (it was based on the book "Rocket Boys"). Every time I see I can't help but think of the stories about the tired NASA engineers involved in the moon landing effort who, during their 16-hour days, would walk outside and look at the moon for inspiration. I like October Sky because it's one of the few movies that portrays a young, wannabe scientist as a normal person.

Charles Murray
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Re: Critics Redux
Charles Murray   1/25/2012 11:38:38 AM
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Alex: I looked at your story for Information Week. Good stuff. Two more great stories on that topic are about the late inventor Jerome Lemelson. One -- "Land of Wizards" -- was written by Tom Wolfe for Popular Mechanics in 1986. It is not on line, as far as I know. Another, titled "Lone Wolf of the Sierras," was written by our own Larry Maloney of Design News in 1995. Unfortunately, that ten-page article was written prior to our web presence, and the first paragraph is all that remains on our web site. 

Jon Titus
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Re: October Sky
Jon Titus   1/25/2012 11:39:22 AM
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I liked "October Sky," too.  The book gave readers many more details in particular about Homer's teacher; the Laura Dern character in the movie.  Homer's family life didn't get much attention in the movie, either. To anyone who wants to watch the movie I recommend you read the book first.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: October Sky
Rob Spiegel   1/25/2012 11:51:27 AM
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I agree that October Sky was a wonderful movie about catching fire with science. Tucker -- A Man and His Dream was also a good story about a small company with innovative technology going up against a large industry.

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