Archive for design argument

The Charm of Analog & The Design Argument

Posted in Reflections with tags , , , , on January 4, 2010 by Verge

I really do love technology.   But, it can really boil my blood as well.  I have punched my computers on several occasions as if they might work better if my knuckles were bleeding.

Sometimes, analog just works.  But what’s really charming about it is its simplicity.  Like a Rube Golberg machine, the harmony of specialized parts working together in unison is just plain romantic.

Monika bought me a steampunk pocket watch for Christmas, and I’m in love with it.  I stupidly believed it to be broken until I realized that I had to actually wind the watch to keep it functioning.  Now I can’t keep my eyes off of the spinning wheels, the mechanical way the crown winds the gears, the way the seconds jerks off each passing moment in a way that the smooth movement of quartz cannot.

Recently I’ve been fascinated with nixie tubes as well.  These vacuum tubes from the middle of last century predated LCD displays.  They could display any number from 0 to 10 by illuminating different coils in a tube.  The coils were stacked neatly inside, and when a charge was applied, they would glow a warm orange.  They’re not too useful these days but for the nostalgia of the pre-digital revolution.  If I had more soldering prowess, I might buy some of these on ebay and make something useless and wonderful.

Having come from a background in audio recording as well, I can tell you that the majority of audio engineers still use analog components when they can.  They’re not as clean, not as noise free, not as perfect…but they’re perfect sounding in a whole other way.  They’re warm, and actually sound like the 50’s through 70’s when analog tape was all that was ever used.

I’m not much of an antiques collector, but I’m thinking of becoming one.  I can appreciate the amazing capacity of a micro chip to solve equations, billions of time a second, and how much that that helps make our lives easier.  But I want to see the calculations, sometimes.

I want to see the wizard behind the curtain, to be sure that what’s going on is real.  It’s just fascinating to see the unobjectionable craftsmanship of a watch working, in the palm of your hand, dividing time into hours and minutes and seconds.  In many ways, it’s the same desire as longing  to stare into the face of God.  How can such beauty in the universe not be carefully manufactured?

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