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April 03, 2009

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TJ

I love this post. These samples do resemble those props that health professionals whip out in front of a group and say, "Here is 5 pounds of fat, and here is 5 pounds of muscle."

Jeff

"...of the day, as we sat watching the Challenger story unfold, performed on of the most amazing feats I've ever seen in my life."

And ...?

Joy Holland

Yes, what was it? You can't tantalize your faithful readers like that.

John Ptak

Okay, sorry, I should've just told the story. In the early morning of the day that the Challenger exploded I went to buy some books from a man out in Middleburg, Virginia. his name was Athelstan Spilhaus. Dr. Spilhaus (1911-1998) was an insanely accomplished man--too much, really incredible (see below). He was a pioneering meteorologist, an oceanographer, an inventor, and artist, and so on. One of the things that he did was to discover the effects of the different temperatures in the layers of ocean water, and then invent the bathythermograph, (1937)--this would become extraordinarily important in pinpointing things that were far underwater, because stuff like SONAR doesn't necessarily go in precise vectors up and down. It gets sticky. And so if you really wanted to find the exact position of a U-Boat, say, you could do it.

And so Dr. Spilhaus invited me in and the Challenger quickly overtook everything. I visited for the whole day. During this time we (meaning "he") talked about just about everything. Eventually he asked if I had any interest in mechanical toys. He showed me some of his collection of 19th century (and earlier) toys. And then led me, fantastically, into an entire room of them. And then another room. And then another. It was extraordinary, just fantastic. And they all worked. Phenomenal.
But while all of this was going on, Dr. Spilhaus was tinkering with a box full of bits and junk and batteries and twine and spools and such. He was making a "visual aid" for a talk he was going to give for the American Philosophical Society at the Franklin Institute. Dr. Spilhaus of course was president of the FI for ten years or so.
And so he worked,seemingly absently, on this complex box of junk, carving stuff out of wood, winding twine, fitting, adjusting. At the end of the day, he was finished. His talk I think was oging to be about perception and perspective. And what he made to illustrate the talk was this box. He turned it over, revealing an opaque pane of glass and two articulated wooden arms. Into the end of each arm he fixed a grease pencil. He connected the circuit, and the arms moved the grease pencils to draw a decent likeness of the Escher print/painting of hands drawing hands. So as he was talking with me and watching tv and eating and joking, he had fashioned the gearworks for this thing out of scraps and no design. And then, when the likeness was finished, he reversed the pencils, and the thing erased itself.
It was a spectacular display of "tinkering', and an insight into a *very* strong brain. Oh yes, the other thing--he never had did a "test run". When he was finished, so was the machine. He knew it would function properly. All things considered--the ephemeral nature of what he was doing, the materials, the interruptions, and so on--I've just never seen anything like it.



Here's some stuff:
http://www.aps-pub.com/proceedings/1443/Spilhaus.pdf
http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/01/us/athelstan-spilhaus-86-dies-inventor-with-eye-on-future.html?sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
http://www.nytimes.com/1987/07/30/garden/life-with-3000-mechanical-toys.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/T/Toys

Joy

Wow.

Jeff

THAT is why I believe the movie "Men in Black."

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