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Quote of the moment

[NSD 3/11/04]

Science writer Fred Hapgood says:

"Engineering can be seen as a family of paths crossing a solution space—in this case a space defined by all the possible arrangements and combinations of geometry, time, and material properties that might satisfy the particular specifications of a design. Filtering a good design out of these possibilities by simple, direct calculation is impossible both because of the enormous number of variables and because there are always elements in the specifications—like aesthetics or ergonomics or compatibility with the corporate image—that can't be reduced to a number or folded into a common denominator. What humans do in these cases is: think up a completely wrong (but sincerely felt) approach to the problem, jump in, fail, and then do an autopsy. Each failure contains encrypted somewhere on its body directions for the next jump: 'strengthen this part,' 'tie this down next time,' 'buy a better battery.' Good engineering is not a matter of creativity or centering or grounding or inspiration or lateral thinking, as useful as those might be, but of decoding the clever, even witty, messages solution space carves on the corpses of the ideas in which you believed with all your heart, and then building the road to the next message."