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Rube Goldberg and the Electrification of America

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the start-of-something-great dept.

United States 207

Hugh Pickens writes "Alexis Madrigal has an interesting essay in the Atlantic about the popular response of people in the 19th century to the development of the electric power industry in America. Before electricity, basically every factory had to run a bit like a Rube Goldberg machine, transmitting power from a water wheel or a steam engine to the machines of a manufactory but with the development of electric turbines and motors the public believed engineers were tapping mysterious, invisible forces with almost supernatural powers for mischief. 'Think about it,' writes Madrigal. 'You've got a wire and you've got a magnet. Switch on the current — which you can't see and have no intuitive way to know exists — and suddenly the wire begins to rotate around the magnet. You can reverse the process, too. Rotate the magnet around the wire and it generates a current that can be turned into light, heat, or power.' And that brings us back to Rube Goldberg, a cartoonist who was was shockingly popular in his heyday and whose popularity closely parallels the rise of electrification in America. 'I think Goldberg's drawings reminded his contemporaries of a time when they could understand the world's industrial processes just by looking. No matter how absurd his work was, anyone could trace the reactions involved,' writes Madrigal. 'People like to complain that they can't understand modern cars because of all the fancy parts and electronic doo-dads in them now, but we lost that ability for most things long ago.'"

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207 comments

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33776970)

frosty piss.

Understanding (5, Insightful)

dr_strang (32799) | more than 3 years ago | (#33776994)

I derive a great amount of personal satisfaction from learning and understanding how things work. I find I'm definitely a minority in that respect. It saddens me.

Re:Understanding (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777332)

I derive a great amount of personal satisfaction from learning and understanding how things work. I find I'm definitely a minority in that respect. It saddens me.

I actually find that most people are interested in understanding how things work. However, most people don't have time to learn advanced physics or learn how other things work because they are more worried being busy raising kids, feeding their family, maintaining social relationships, or dealing with crime in their neighborhood.

It's just the nerds that grew up in suburbia and never leave their computers who think that they are special.

Re:Understanding (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777438)

I actually find that most people are interested in understanding how things work. However, most people don't have time to learn advanced physics or learn how other things work because they are more worried being busy raising kids, feeding their family, maintaining social relationships, or dealing with crime in their neighborhood.

I find the opposite. Your average American wouldn't bother learning how things work even if they had all the time in the world. When I try to explain computer concepts to my kid-raising, family-feeding, social-relationship-maintaining co-workers, they usually just shake their heads and say "that's way over my head."

Given the extra time, most of them would probably spend it watching TV, going out to eat, or reading trashy novels.

Re:Understanding (1)

c_forq (924234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33779522)

I see where you are coming from, but I think a computer is different than most things in that it is all abstract. Explaining how a blender or a rear differential work is far more intriguing because there are actual moving parts and things that happen. I know I am constantly learning how different parts of cars work (valve engines and rotary engines for example) but have not spent any time trying to understand microcode or how cores on a processor work.

Re:Understanding (4, Insightful)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778022)

I actually find that most people are interested in understanding how things work. However, most people don't have time to learn advanced physics or learn how other things work because they are more worried being busy raising kids, feeding their family, maintaining social relationships

Raising a family and having a social life are choices. Nobody is forced to do either.

I generally feel that some of the basic human needs are (1) being loved and accepted, and (2) doing your own thing. Everyone has to balance between these two, since they are conflicting to some extent. I think nerds/geeks are simply the ones who choose to do a little more of (2).

Re:Understanding (1)

frog_strat (852055) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778484)

Raising a family and having a social life are choices.

That's a pretty simple version of choice / free will you have there. Check out the book The Illusion Of Conscious Will for another version,

Re:Understanding (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778634)

Obviously, a lot of choices are done under social pressures. There is a kind of positive feedback loop, in that social pressures usually favour the social choices. On the other hand, doing your own thing with sufficient success usually makes you stand out in a positive way, thereby increasing your social status as well.

But there are few external forces that drive you to do your own thing. For example, you don't become a great musician if you only think of the potential fame and fortune. There needs to be an inner drive for music.

Re:Understanding (2, Insightful)

Hans Lehmann (571625) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778274)

So it's only nerds that spend the time to understand how anything actually works, while you Real Americans can't bothered with such unnecessary details. No wonder our country is going down the shit hole, too many people think just like you.

Re:Understanding (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778352)

There was a time (at least in my region of the country) where knowing how a car works was just a natural part of manhood. Some knew more than others but all needed to know at least some to be a real man.

That was in addition to all of the other things.

That and many other things that used to make our society strong are victims of the growing number of hours adults in a household must apply to employment in order to tread water.

Re:Understanding (1)

c_forq (924234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33779544)

That time still exists in many (maybe most) places in America. It wasn't that long ago that I was a teenager, and when I grew up it was expected you at least knew the basics (how to hook up a battery to jump start an engine, change a tire, etc). Engines have become complex beasts though, and even the kids in the auto classes couldn't be counted on to diagnose a problem in a newer car without plugging into it.

Re:Understanding (5, Insightful)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778690)

I derive a great amount of personal satisfaction from learning and understanding how things work. I find I'm definitely a minority in that respect. It saddens me.

I actually find that most people are interested in understanding how things work. However, most people don't have time to learn advanced physics or learn how other things work because they are more worried being busy raising kids, feeding their family, maintaining social relationships, or dealing with crime in their neighborhood.

It's just the nerds that grew up in suburbia and never leave their computers who think that they are special.

Your mileage has obviously varied from mine...

I spent the last 7 years of my life working for a small IT shop providing support to local businesses, private individuals, college students, and anyone else with a broken computer.

It's been my experience that folks simply do not care to learn how things work. It isn't a matter of not having time, they just don't care. They've got their job, their set of tasks, and that's all they care about. They don't want to know anything more than that.

Obviously there's individual variation. I find computers interesting, so I've learned a lot about them. Some other person finds plants interesting and has learned a lot about gardening. And not everyone is averse to learning about new things.

But I've found an awful lot of people just aren't curious. They don't know how something works, they don't care how it works, and they'll actively resist learning about it.

I've tried to teach people how to work the computers they're sitting in front of... How to use the software that's necessary for them to do their jobs... And they'll almost instantly declare that something is beyond them as soon as you vary one hair from their daily routine. Try to explain that you can move an icon to a different place on the screen? "I just don't understand those computer things..."

I'm not sure that your average human being has ever been terribly curious. Maybe it's always been somewhat atypical.

But curiosity is definitely being discouraged these days. You aren't supposed to ask too many questions. You aren't supposed to do anything too unusual. Better not do anything suspicious...

Geeks, almost by definition, are curious creatures. Not just IT geeks. Anyone with the drive and passion to really find out how things work - be it a computer programmer, an automotive mechanic, a structural engineer, a geologist, or whatever - is going to fall outside of the social norm. That's why they're called "geeks".

Re:Understanding (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777478)

whomever modded this as redundant is an ass clown whose mod auth should be taken away. That person should also be sterilized so as not to pass on said ass-clownerey. How is the first real post possibly redundant?

Re:Understanding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777640)

It was a redundant elitist viewpoint

Re:Understanding (3, Interesting)

Locutus (9039) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778218)

I bet that if you asked a dozen people in their 30s what makes an electric motor work, you'd be lucky to get one who was even close to understanding the basics of how it works. The automobile is the same, people are not taught any of the basics of this thing they drive around in and control. And I constantly hear brakes squealing, belts squealing, and sometimes even u-joints screaming and clunking. The drivers are clueless as to what is going to happen as they keep driving the vehicles to the point of part failure.

Just look at how "computers" are taught in most schools. They teach the students what to click on instead of teaching the concepts of those things. This is also why I get so much opposition to teaching word processing using something other and Microsoft Word. They think it must look like MS Word or they don't feel the students are learning anything of value. Most all of the teachers are lacking in the understanding to teach anything but a step by step process and then checking off "Teaching The Word".

yes, it is very sad.

LoB

Re:Understanding (1)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | more than 3 years ago | (#33779034)

Clearly these teachers need a lesson in marketing! To explain why they should be teaching Word they need a qualifier, like "Word is good".

So, it should be "Teaching The Good Word". You can then thank Microsoft and Government for teaching a whole new religion in school.

PS - And for those who believe in inerrancy, "Teaching The Good WordPerfect"; is it any wonder lawyers stuck with WordPerfect for so long?

Lost the ability? (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777000)

I don't think the ability in the example is lost, it just wasn't part of everyday life or part of education.

Unlike the car bit, electricity is not a hard concept to get if it's not treated as something alien and new. Or maybe that's just the way it seems to someone like me that could understand basic physics...

Re:Lost the ability? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777028)

Well then, please explain to us peons how fuckin' magnets work!

Re:Lost the ability? (5, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777080)

It's a goddamned miracle or magic or some shit, clearly, as was explained to me in Physics class.

Re:Lost the ability? (3, Interesting)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778980)

Well actually, yes. That would be correct. While we understand magnetism as a force and how it can be generated, we still don't know WHY or HOW it even existed since the creation of the Universe. Pretty much like gravity and the strong force too.

So while we are very good at understanding our Universe compared to 100 years ago, fundamentally the laws are still "magic or some shit".

Re:Lost the ability? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33779132)

That's because the universe has order. Everywhere we look we see natural laws. We might not understand why they are, but we see them. Anywhere else we see order we logically conclude there was a designer. Well, of course in most cases. In this case we of course know that there is no reason for all of the order and structure we have observed. Cannot give the whacko creationists any thing to cleave to.

Re:Lost the ability? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777184)

It gay magic. you know, when like when you blow your load all over my chest and i lick the dribble from the bottom of your dong.

seriously, have you seen a sexy gay magnet? you aint a man till you had your tongue in another mans ass.

Re:Lost the ability? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777228)

Come out, come out, whoever you are.

They transmit force with photons (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777272)

They work with light.

Re:They transmit force with photons (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777612)

Virtual photons, actually. There's no real light being transferred.

Rrelativity is involved (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778350)

please explain to us peons how fuckin' magnets work!

Well, of course I don't know exactly how fucking magnets work, but ordinary magnets are a side effect of the Theory of Relativity (notice the capitals).

When electrical charges move, the charge is changed by the same proportion as masses are changed by the Lorentz contraction [wikipedia.org] .

It's quite weird in fact, relativistic effects on mass are barely perceptible until you reach a significant speed compared to the speed of light, but that's because mass (as far as we know) is always positive.

Electric charges are balanced between positive and negative, a very, very, VERY small change in them will disrupt the delicate balance and a force will appear: the magnetic force.

It'S sO sPiRiTuAl, AlL tHeSe mIrAcLeS aNd ShIt. (1)

terminallyCapricious (1838672) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778626)

No No BrO, i DoN't WaNnA kNoW, dOn'T eVeN tElL mE.

kNoWiNg ShIt JuSt StEaLs Up AlL tHe FuCkIn MaGiC fRoM mY mIrAcLeS lIkE a MoThErFuCkIn ThIeF.

AnD tHaT aIn'T cOoL.

Re:It'S sO sPiRiTuAl, AlL tHeSe mIrAcLeS aNd ShIt. (2, Interesting)

endymion.nz (1093595) | more than 3 years ago | (#33779546)

There's this algae that lives in some ponds in the Nelson region of New Zealand that you can't really see during the day but at night time it fluoresces when the water is disturbed.
It's incredibly awesome whether you think its magic sparkly water or whether you understand the biological processes that are going on but all the people in the former category were very angry with me when I explained it.

Re:Rrelativity is involved (3, Interesting)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778744)

Well, of course I don't know exactly how fucking magnets work, but ordinary magnets are a side effect of the Theory of Relativity (notice the capitals).

I see, the capitals are an important aspect of the incantation.

When electrical charges move, the charge is changed by the same proportion as masses are changed by the Lorentz contraction [wikipedia.org] .

I have a magnet, and I have a piece of iron, I have no electricity. What does this charge you speak of come from? And How is it moving?

It's quite weird in fact, relativistic effects on mass are barely perceptible until you reach a significant speed compared to the speed of light, but that's because mass (as far as we know) is always positive.

Hang about just a minute. Exactly what does the speed of light have to do with anything here? If relativistic effects are barely perceptible until you get near the speed of light, why bring up the topic in relation to stationary (or very nearly so) magnets?

Electric charges are balanced between positive and negative, a very, very, VERY small change in them will disrupt the delicate balance and a force will appear: the magnetic force.

I've already told you I have no electricity here with my magnet and my iron. So a force appears out of a change in some mysterious electric charges that have no source? It must be magic!

Re:Rrelativity is involved (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33778774)

Y'all motherfuckers lyin', and gettin' me pissed!!

Re:Lost the ability? (2, Interesting)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777426)

Well if something isn't working right one of the first things to check is "is it on"*. With something mechanical you usually have movement or sound to tell you the answer to that. For a circuit, you have to go get your multimeter- you can't really observe the circuit unaided. Anyone who has worked with breadboard circuits knows how tedious it is to debug a circuit compared to a mechanical device. It may not be magic, but it is always going to be more abstract than physical systems.

*As in you're checking if the "on" switch is actually doing anything.

Poem from the early days of electricity. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777012)

Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.

Hillaire Belloc

Re:Poem from the early days of electricity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777618)

In other words, tax the rich, and the workers go jobless.

Re:Poem from the early days of electricity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33778284)

Who's more motivated to create wealth: someone who gets to keep all their profits or someone who has to give up part of them?

Re:Poem from the early days of electricity. (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778818)

Neither by neoclassical economic thinking - both are rational economic actors who are purely motivated 'on the margin', ignoring any past losses or any future strategic thinking, and so both will be happy for whatever money they get regardless of the money that goes to tax. (Which as we all know is a huge empty pit of inefficiency containing nothing but jobs, roads, police and standards, none of which any red-blooded two-fisted industrialist needs.) Nevertheless, a tax dollar paid is in the past and off the margin, so they will both forget all about 'who moved their cheese' and simply adapt to their current short-term situation. So both should work at 100% motivation forever!

Oh wait, laissez-faire doesn't work when you apply it to capitalists themselves? Who knew!

Re:Poem from the early days of electricity. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33779210)

you and all of your let-the-market-sort-it-out tea party buddies forget one thing:

the wealthy are occasionally wealthy because of their own brilliance and hard work. For them, good job. However, in most cases, wealth and privilege begets wealth and privilege. Take for example a CEO of a major corporation. He does little for the day to day operations of the corporation. Sure, what he does has a major impact, but does it have such a high impact that he deserves 40x that of an educated professional who works for the corporation and makes significant contributions to the day to day workings? No. And yet, that CEO can leave the company, gutting it and just take the next big job. Having sat in the big chair, he will most certainly do it again. Have you ever looked at the board of directors listing of any corporations? Often, very often, its the same people who sit on multiple boards. These people are filthy rich and will never be anything but.

You're telling me that someone who simply sits on boards and collects money, and yet cannot be held responsible for evil done by the corporation somehow deserves a free pass just because he is rich?

Tea party people are often the poor and uneducated. It's sad to see them manipulated by the entertainment corporation backed by one of the super-rich elite (FOX News) into backing these super rich and their rights to not be taxed.

Re:Poem from the early days of electricity. (3, Interesting)

vakuona (788200) | more than 3 years ago | (#33779560)

Tea party people are often the poor and uneducated. It's sad to see them manipulated by the entertainment corporation backed by one of the super-rich elite (FOX News) into backing these super rich and their rights to not be taxed.

This is almost a uniquely American problem. Some Americans seem to have been sold the fantasy of the American dream, the one in which they _will_ (not "may") become fantastically wealthy and therefore they need to vote now, to stop these tax rises which will obviously hit them soon. (See Joe the plumber). So they will vote down their own interests now, because those will cease to be their interests when they become wealthy. Astonishing. Fox didn't even need to pay lobbyists to get such a result.

They didn't understand the machinery either. (4, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777016)

They were just familiar with it.

Re:They didn't understand the machinery either. (5, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777176)

They had to understand most of it to operate it properly.

Back in The Day, when Popular Mechanics literally MEANT "popular mechanics", machines didn't stay functional without understanding operators and frequent maintenance.

Get the spark advance and throttle wrong on a Model T Ford and it won't start, or won't run properly if it does start. Changing transmission bands was routine, as was carrying spares. The reason old machines had LOTS of CONVENIENT access covers was that they were necessary.

http://www.cimorelli.com/projects/relining_transmission_bands/relining_model_t_transmission_bands.htm [cimorelli.com]

If you drove a car, you were expected to be able to not only swap a spare wheel when you got a flat, but be able to repair the flat by patching the tube. Materials wore quickly and lubricants weren't very good, so a "grease pit" was a common feature of HOME garages. Brakes were trash by modern standards, so DIY brake jobs were very common for many decades.

High personal involvement with what one used and drove was standard through the 1950s.

Re:They didn't understand the machinery either. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33778040)

Ahhh the good old days! When having a woody had a different meaning.

Understanding is not the same as prediction (5, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777074)

I think Goldberg's drawings reminded his contemporaries of a time when they could understand the world's industrial processes just by looking

I think predict would be a more accurate description. Understanding is not the same as prediction, though it helps make better predictions.

I could could predict that something would fall in a certain scenario even though I don't understand much about gravity. Most of us nerds aren't satisfied with mere prediction, we seek understanding (which helps us make better predictions). But "normal" people don't care that much about understanding stuff, they are happy with just being able to predict stuff. So keep the windows and icons in the same places and they will be happy that they can repeat the same steps to get their stuff done.

So yes, from the electrical age to the computer age many things have become less predictable. A live wire that's deadly could look the same as one that has no electricity flowing in it.

But in the US anyway, flip a switch and you can turn the lights on fairly predictably. More predictably than gathering firewood, starting your own fire from a "magical match" or even a flint (do normal people actually understand how matches work?), or being able to get enough tallow to make your own candles for the night.

So other things have become more predictable.

Re:Understanding is not the same as prediction (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777240)

To be honest, I find matches easier to understand than flint + steel.

Re:Understanding is not the same as prediction (3, Informative)

slimjim8094 (941042) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777260)

Flint and steel is pretty straightforward, though a bit unintuitive. If struck right, you'll actually knock bits of steel off - these have a lot of kinetic energy since you were moving the (much bigger) objects pretty quickly. The blob of steel will glow red hot and light stuff on fire.

Re:Understanding is not the same as prediction (2, Informative)

AJWM (19027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778278)

If struck right, you'll actually knock bits of steel off - these have a lot of kinetic energy since you were moving the (much bigger) objects pretty quickly. The blob of steel will glow red hot and light stuff on fire.

There's a little bit more to it than that: tiny bits of iron (thus with a high surface area to volume ratio) will spontaneously combust in air, so they're actually burning, not just glowing. The kinetic heat helps that happen with somewhat larger bits. That's why it works with iron or steel but not other metals to which the same energy transfer argument would otherwise apply (like bronze).

Re:Understanding is not the same as prediction (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778470)

Yep, that's why steel wool can be dangerous in some scenarios...

Re:Understanding is not the same as prediction (1)

slimjim8094 (941042) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778750)

Quite right, I should've made that more clear. My main point is, the steel (ideally) isn't doing anything to the flint, but the other way around.

Re:Understanding is not the same as prediction (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778826)

Cool. Thanks.

Re:Understanding is not the same as prediction (1)

Guignol (159087) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777732)

What a nice, insightful post, I started reading it not getting it and pondering 'wtf' but eventually I got your point, thanks it was nice to read.

most people still don't understand electricity now (4, Funny)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777088)

Most people today likely couldn't explain what electricity is even if they remotely understand what it does... sort of.

I think it only makes sense to build a religion around electricity.

There could be a stone with some writings on it, like:

1. Thou shalt not touch naked electrical wires with bare hands, etc.

There could be real 'magic' performed, with things shining and flying and moving and doing some other work, even moving the dead carcasses of animals!

It'd be wonderful.

Re:most people still don't understand electricity (2, Informative)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777300)

There could be real 'magic' performed, with things shining and flying and moving and doing some other work, even moving the dead carcasses of animals!

Thomas Edison tried the electrocuted animal thing back during the War of Currents, when he and Tesla were in a huff about whether AC or DC was better: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_Currents [wikipedia.org]

Apparently, the folks back then were not terribly impressed. Maybe the ancient Romans would have gotten their rocks off at seeing an elephant being electrocuted.

O tempora o mores!

Sign me up!!!!!! (4, Funny)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777316)

Can I subscribe to your newsletter - I am going through a difficult time with my faith in the FSM atm, so I am desperately seeking the real truth. Someone sent me this as a present, and I still have nightmares that these things will haunt and eat me. Please help - I am at my wits end. :(
http://www.venganza.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/cupcake1.jpg [venganza.org]

Re:Sign me up!!!!!! (3, Funny)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778142)

sure you can, but my newsletter will be distributed via very high voltage and current, this way the recipient will be able to testify with actual physical evidence that he/she is talking to god through me and the mail. You'll be receiving the first transmission in 24 hours from now, all you have to do is stick 2 wires in the closest to you electrical outlet and exactly 24 hours from now you'll have to grab both of the wires and hold onto them as hard as you can.

The BIG ELECTRON, our GOD will be speaking to you directly right then and there.

This'll also take care of your FSM nightmares.

Re:most people still don't understand electricity (4, Interesting)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777360)

IMHO 'magic' is anything that the user doesn't understand (which is true at some level of everything) - for some folks, turning on a light switch is performing magic. But then there's this...

The Ark of the Covenant may have been a really big capacitor - two layers of conductor (gold foil) separated by acacia wood, with the two layers each connected to one of the cherubim that rose above and reached toward each other - essentially forming two points for an arc to traverse under the right circumstances. In the desert, this might well build up a pretty good charge. I think some folks at MIT once built a replica, borrowing the gold from somewhere - it could hold a one farad charge IIRC.

And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth [his hand] to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook [it].
And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for [his] error; and there he died by the ark of God.

(Blue Letter Bible [blueletterbible.org] .

Re:most people still don't understand electricity (4, Funny)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777736)

Might want to brush up on your physics. No way in hell it would hold a Farad (ie 1 coulomb per volt). Only very recently can you get 1 farad caps, and they have a peek voltage on the order of 10V or less.

Re:most people still don't understand electricity (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778200)

Only very recently can you get 1 farad caps, and they have a peek voltage on the order of 10V or less.

Tell that to the box of 47,000uF 100V capacitors I have sitting on a shelf in the workshop. You'd need 21 of those in parallel.

ATTENTION SLASHDOT JANITORS - YOUR SITE IS BROKEN. THE "u" IN "47,000uF" IS SUPPOSED TO BE A MICRO SYMBOL BUT YOUR BROKEN CODE STRIPS OUT NON-ASCII CHARACTERS.

Re:most people still don't understand electricity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33778372)

That isn't a bug, it's a feature, in ./'s eyes at least. They are so paranoid that people might use unicode directional markings to fake mod scores that they just block it all. They are also shitty coders. But I wouldn't want to maintain that clusterfuck of perl either.

Re:most people still don't understand electricity (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778644)

The same is true of electricians. Many don't know exactly what electricity is or how it works at the atomic level, nor do they need to. They know how it behaves and how it affects things at the macroscopic level. You don't need a degree in physics to figure out that drawing 10 amps through a wire rated at 5 is a bad idea. All the stuff about electrons and atoms bumping each other is unimportant to the task, "it'll catch fire" just about covers it.

That goes beyond the more typical understanding that is limited to flipping the switch and don't stick your finger in the socket.

Niagra falls (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777114)

Before the electricity generation station was built there, all the land above the falls was covered in factories, all with their own water wheels.
An alternative plan to electricity was to have around 100 mill races, each making about 500hp, and keeping the factories on site.
Also, they experimented with using hydraulic and mechanical power transfer as a way to transmit power to the nearby towns.

in the 80's (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777146)

when i did my mech eng BTEC we still had to learn how to design old skool belt drives :-)

Nothing wrong with belts for some things: (2, Interesting)

Hartree (191324) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777958)

Belts are simple, cheap and provide some useful slip and stretch in a power transmission system. For short range power transmission (a few inches, or so), they're great. They use a lot less material and can tolerate more misalignment than a gear set or chain and sprockets that span the same distance.

When you have to use lots of them, and transmit the power greater distances (more than a few feet), they become unwieldy.

New Complexities in Cars (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777168)

I don't think most people who have opinions against the computerization of cars have negative opinions because they don't understand it. I'm a programmer, and I have a negative opinion of the computerization and software control of cars for quite another reason ... it simply isn't necessary.

How do you know if your car is transmitting your location to a 3rd party ? Answer ... you don't.

How do you know if the software controlling the throttle doesn't have bugs ? Ask the Toyota owners who found themselves driving into buildings.

How do you make modifications to the vehicle to increase performance / increase gas mileage ? Answer ... you have to rip out all the un-necessary junk the manufacture put in it.

Mechanics at car dealers are already incompetent when it comes to servicing vehicles. I bought a used car from a couple, who had taken it to a dealer, and paid $100 for the dealer to say "Sorry, we can't find anything wrong with it." That is why the couple sold the car to me, without telling me the engine would spontaneously shut down. 15 minutes of searching on the web, and $60 later, and I fixed the car. This process would have taken much longer had the car had all it's systems "computerized."

Good luck fixing your On-Star'd ... Computerized transmission, computerized throttle control, computerized braking system, computerized POS on the side of the road. It's not gonna happen.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (4, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777222)

Isn't necessary? Electronic Stability Control and Anti-lock Breaking Systems are hugely important to safe drive, and they aren't something that you can do without computer systems of some sort. Likewise, systems to monitor the tire pressure, while not strictly speaking necessary, do go a long way towards avoiding blowouts.

And would you really want to drive a car where the airbag wasn't controlled by a computer?

Sure it means that you can't fix it yourself, but honestly, how many people are going to be able to do it themselves anyways? That's not exactly simple equipment to work on, and the results of getting it wrong are potentially lethal.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (4, Insightful)

bcmm (768152) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777406)

And would you really want to drive a car where the airbag wasn't controlled by a computer?

I'd like the airbag to be controlled by something too simple to be considered a computer.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (2, Insightful)

westlake (615356) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778078)

I'd like the airbag to be controlled by something too simple to be considered a computer.

I want the airbag to fire when needed and only when needed.

Simplicity for it's own sake is not a virtue.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778798)

The simpler the mechanism is up to a point, the more likely it is to fire every time it is needed and not when it isn't.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (2, Interesting)

GuyFawkes (729054) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777428)

My 1990 MB W124 diesel has ABS, yet it doesn't have a single computer anywhere on board, no ECUs, nothing.

The interesting fact is more modern cars with the same basic systems PLUS computers are LESS reliable, and always generating system problems and failures.

Often, the fault is not the "computers" themselves per se, hardware wise, not even software wise, it is the peripherals (eg MAF senders etc) that die, and then take the whole system down.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778982)

"The interesting fact is more modern cars with the same basic systems PLUS computers are LESS reliable, and always generating system problems and failures."

A few infamous failures aside, I think I'd confront you on our assertion that contemporary cars are less reliable in general than previous ones. You'd need to be specific.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777966)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-lock_braking_system#Early_Anti-lock_Brake_System [wikipedia.org]

Not a computer in sight... In the 20s computers were people. In the 40s they filled buildings... Anti lock invented in the 20s.

Computer controlled ABS lets for better stability in a turn and uneven slick surfaces.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbag#History [wikipedia.org]

Computer controlled air bags lets you do things such as figure out the velocity of the car and put just enough air in so you dont smash the person as much.

Small computers for cars did not come about until the early 80s (at least common place). As by that point they were small enough and reliable enough.

Dont let the fact you grew up with computers shade the fact that these dudes created some amazing things without them, AT ALL. Not even to calculate things we wouldnt think twice today about pumping into a computer.

Now on the other hand computers have made our cars a zillion times more reliable. But also a zillion times more complex. For example the AC/Heater control on my car just ate itself. Back in the day it would have been a matter of put a scope on it and find the short and replace the shorted wire/part. These days I will probably have to pull half the dash apart and then junk the whole part as it would take me a week to find the 1mmx1mm surface mount resistor that probably ate itself.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (0, Flamebait)

paulmer2003 (922657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778012)

Electronic stability control and ABS are hugely important to drive safely? Hahaha. Clearly nobody ever taught you how to drive. If you take a moment and learn how to properly threshold brake, your braking times will be LESS than with an ABS car if you just panic stop and hold the pedal to the floor. Traction control is just nanny shit...if you need a computer to cut throttle because you are losing traction obviously you can't drive for shit and should stay the fuck off of the road. This whole engineer cars to the lowest common denominator is a shame....do we really need all of these thoughtless morons commanding 4,000 pound hunks of plastic, metal and glass? NO.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (3, Informative)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778134)

Electronic stability control and ABS are hugely important to drive safely? Hahaha. Clearly nobody ever taught you how to drive.

If you take a moment and learn how to properly threshold brake, your braking times will be LESS than with an ABS car if you just panic stop and hold the pedal to the floor.

Traction control is just nanny shit...if you need a computer to cut throttle because you are losing traction obviously you can't drive for shit and should stay the fuck off of the road.

This whole engineer cars to the lowest common denominator is a shame....do we really need all of these thoughtless morons commanding 4,000 pound hunks of plastic, metal and glass? NO.

While it may be the case that a skilled driver can brake better than an ABS system, I'll just note that ABS isn't meant to help you stop more quickly - it's to give you more steering control during your stop. As much as they get derided, Consumer Reports testing experimentally demonstrated this behavior dozens of times over a decade ago.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33778296)

"Electronic Stability Control" ... completely unecessary, not to mention, lacking on most vehicles ever manufactured.

"Anti-lock Breaking Systems" ... does not need a computer to control.

"systems to monitor the tire pressure" ... completely unecessary

"And would you really want to drive a car where the airbag wasn't controlled by a computer?" ... airbag systems do not require computer control.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778786)

The car I learned to drive had no anti-lock brakes or airbags. Certainly no air pressure monitoring. I've never had a blowout. I fixed it myself whenever it needed it.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (3, Informative)

hardburn (141468) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777286)

It's very much necessary. There have been big gains made in efficiency by computerizing spark timing and fuel injector mappings. It's been a boon to reliability, too; how many people these days even know what the term "loose distributor cap" means?

Engines today almost never fail mechanically, precisely because of all those electronic sensors. They'll keep going even with shockingly bad maintenance practices [bimmerforums.com] .

Re:New Complexities in Cars (1)

hobo sapiens (893427) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777576)

60K between oil changes? That guy does not deserve a BMW. He needs a chevy vega.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777702)

If he did that to a Vega it would be a No Va pretty soon.

Re:New Complexities in Cars (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777394)

"How do you make modifications to the vehicle to increase performance / increase gas mileage ? Answer ... you have to rip out all the un-necessary junk the manufacture put in it."

Computers allow plenty of performance modification, and there is a thriving aftermarket for gasoline and diesel performance computer mods and related parts.

Computerized vehicles are different, but have been hotrodded for decades. Retrofitting computerized systems has big driveability benefits, which is why EFI is common on offroad trucks. I'm in the process of raping a TBI 350 from a wreck to stuff into my Chevy C-30 because I'm tired of fucking with carbs and want a clean idle for running my winch. If it were for speed I'd go TPI, but the donor truck was 400 bucks and TBI is adequate for the job.

Rube & the interwebs (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33777236)

Looks like ol' Rube rigged his web site [rubegoldberg.com] the way he rigged his machines, but this time it's broken [wikipedia.org] . ;-)

Distributor caps and a strobe light (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777244)

Tuning your car by rotating the distributor cap with a strobe-light "timing gun" aimed at the marks on the pulley.

Sigh...

It was nowhere near as efficient as the all-electronic, computer-based thingamabobs that tune your car 100 times a second; but it was something teenage boys could understand, and frequently did.

There are too many reasons now for them not to give teenage boys a USB interface to all the wonderful stuff going on under the hood. It would probably be even more fun than rotating that stinking cap...

Hate to break it to you. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777414)

But that is still the usual way to time a car.

You just don't adjust the timing every 3-6 months like you had to when you had points.

Re:Distributor caps and a strobe light (3, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777422)

Teenage boys are still car geeks, if car forums are to be believed.

They grew up with EFI and don't know they shouldn't be able to understand it.

Re:Distributor caps and a strobe light (5, Interesting)

Oceanplexian (807998) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778814)

I'm a car geek and also into technology and computers. I have arguments with my "mechanically inclined" friend about carbs vs efi all the time. If you understand integrated devices and can plug in a multimeter, it's actually easier to work with computers. I can diagnose a fueling problem on my VW by plugging in my laptop and getting statistics.

1 - Car is running like crap, bogs when driving
2 - Plug in computer and get code (let's say the Coolant Temp sensor is malfunctioning)
3 - Plug in multimeter into said sensor and get voltage
4 - If the voltage is not between x and y, replace the sensor.
5 - If all else fails, replace the ECU for a total of $50 at a junkyard

How is this so difficult? Technology makes cars easier to work on, it's just that tech hipsters don't want to get dirty and car-geeks don't want to use that new fangled computer stuff.

Re:Distributor caps and a strobe light (3, Interesting)

kaizokuace (1082079) | more than 3 years ago | (#33779300)

seriously! I don't have mod points so I give you high five!

These days being a techy or being a car guy crosses over. I can't believe you friend argues that carbs are better than EFI! Yes carbs are more manly cuz you can go in there and just tune it with your hands and it sounds awesome and smells badass. But carbs gotta be tuned all the time and arent exact and can't be controlled on the fly during the whole engine range. Computers can do that for us. Also electronic parts don't need to be tuned. You just replace! Easy as pie.
People just don't wanna have to learn something that they have no clue about. It makes me sad that there seems to be so many more people these days that dont know shit about computers. Like the kids now dont know shit! people think they should cuz they are all texting or using devices and such but all they are doing is using stuff. Knowing how stuff works is a trait that should be more popular but it is not.

Re:Distributor caps and a strobe light (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777566)

Car analogy to computer analogy to Rube Goldberg Machine.

Turn knob to tune latest thingamabobs and gimcracks.

I'm glad modern OS's aren't Goldberg machines! (5, Funny)

pigiron (104729) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777278)

Oh wait...

\lim_{tech \to commodity} = iMac (4, Interesting)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777290)

I find "visual" mechanics, i.e. anything which supposedly can be deduced by cursory visual observation rather than a consideration of theory and careful experimentation, most difficult of all. Sometimes I go so far as to wonder whether people who stare at an engine and start waffling in detail about what bit does what, how and why are simply regurgitating what they have read in a book.

Contrast with quantum mechanics, which may not be "intuitive" to those who find classical mechanics so. But it is precisely why it makes me feel more comfortable. I rely on the facts presented, not on everyone's favourite harbinger of prejudice, common sense, and her sister in arms, the crude analogy. Anyway, it would not have taken thousands of years of human civilisation, including a mathematical and scientific component, to reach F=ma if classical mechanics were really that obvious.

Re:\lim_{tech \to commodity} = iMac (2, Insightful)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777572)

"Anyway, it would not have taken thousands of years of human civilisation, including a mathematical and scientific component, to reach F=ma if classical mechanics were really that obvious."

You're forgetting systems of social organization and hierarchy have direct effects on whether scientific thinking is even possible. I'm sure many individuals of the ancient world made great progress towards scientific thinking but due to political or environmental (economic) circumstances beyond their control stopped this process. I see scientific progress as a matter of fits and starts area's of world history where it can incubate before some upheaval takes place that prevents reaching conceptual "singularity".

Actually, electricity is simpler (5, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777366)

If you read documents from the early history of the telegraph industry, you find that it was considered easier to hire and train "electricians" than "mechanics". People who could understand and fix printing telegraphs, which are complex mechanical devices, were hard to get. People who could wire up simple key-and-sounder Morse systems, maintain the batteries, and use the things were cheaper and easier to train.

Building working mechanical devices is hard, and designing complex ones is very hard. There aren't that many good mechanism designers, and there never were. Edison was one. All the good Teletype machines were designed by one man, Edward Kleinschmidt. Only a few people ever designed good mechanical calculators. It was really tough before CAD; when Burroughs was designing the first good adding machine, he had to draw on zinc sheets with scribing tools, because paper wasn't dimensionally stable enough. Even today it's tough. You have to design within the limits of what can be manufactured, what can be manufactured cheaply, what doesn't need an excessive parts count, what will wear well, and such.

Bad mechanism designers today tend to build things that have too many moving parts and are overly expensive to build. If you build mechanical devices from standard components, the way you build electronics, you get a big kludge.

Re:Actually, electricity is simpler (3, Insightful)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777758)

If you read documents from the early history of the telegraph industry, you find that it was considered easier to hire and train "electricians" than "mechanics". People who could understand and fix printing telegraphs, which are complex mechanical devices, were hard to get. People who could wire up simple key-and-sounder Morse systems, maintain the batteries, and use the things were cheaper and easier to train.

It's not that electricity is simpler, it's just that it leads to simpler solutions for telegraphs. Take something like a deadbolt lock and make an electric version, with a power source, switch, and solenoid, and tell me which is simpler to understand.

Re:Actually, electricity is simpler (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778194)

Take something like a deadbolt lock and make an electric version, with a power source, switch, and solenoid, and tell me which is simpler to understand.

Electromagnetic lock. One moving part - the door. [alarmcontrols.com]

Re:Actually, electricity is simpler (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778958)

Maybe you missed the part about it requiring a constant power supply of 400mA at 12V DC.

Another source of savings: (4, Interesting)

Hartree (191324) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778024)

Nowadays, they use the electronics to compensate for less robust mechanical design. A lot of work and expense used to be put into making mechanical control systems linear and well behaved.

Now, instead you use position sensors and servo motors or other actuators with a microcontroller doing the translation in between. Who cares how bouncy, slippy, or hysteresis laden the system is? You just compensate for it in the software that calculates the control outputs to the actuator.

Rube Goldberg... (2, Funny)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777398)

...Whoopi's foolish younger brother.

Hey (-1)

eyenot (102141) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777430)

What the fuck is this article about? What the fuck did this even get written for? Or the Atlantic article it's about? Any of it? Who cares? Some people are stupid, they don't understand why rain falls from the sky -- look THAT up! People are so stupid they don't understand how the fuck babies are made from crying out loud, to most of them it's just the unfortunate side-effect of too much fucking! We know people are stupid, already. Most of the /. readers are intelligent people. They're "nerds", remember? But this shit isn't even fucking NEWS! Especially not here! GOD I felt so fucking stupid just READING this god damn horseshit.

Old 78rpm records are a great example (4, Interesting)

ribuck (943217) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777434)

If you have an old 78rpm record, you can make a record player in about three minutes, to show kids how sound recording works.

Push a needle through an empty matchbox, put the record on something that you can spin (like the turntable in a microwave). Spin the record and touch the needle to the grooves, and the sound will come out of the matchbox. Kids love it! Then point out the wiggly grooves to them.

A compact disc isn't directly understandable like that. You can teach people how it works, but they can't see it so they just have to take your word for it.

not such "invisible forces" (3, Funny)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777452)

"'Think about it,' writes Madrigal. 'You've got a wire and you've got a magnet. Switch on the current - which you can't see and have no intuitive way to know exists - and suddenly the wire begins to rotate around the magnet."

You have no intuitive way to know current exists? My ass!

Turn on the current and then apply your fingers to the naked wire and then tell me there's no intuitive way to know if current is passing through!

Re:not such "invisible forces" (2, Funny)

rts008 (812749) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778908)

I'm shocked you would suggest such direct actions! My hair is positively standing on end!

Insightful Novel about EMP devastation to society (3, Insightful)

bagboy (630125) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777520)

Take a read on William Forstchen's One Second After [onesecondafter.com] for an interesting persepective on how we (as a society) would not do well if suddenly thrown into the dark ages. It is very enlightening.

radio waves (3, Insightful)

green1 (322787) | more than 3 years ago | (#33777608)

So now with this knowledge behind us, we are facing exactly the same thing again with radio waves instead of electricity.
All the people who can't conceive of how RF energy works are swearing that we'll all die if we use a cell phone, and much of the public seems to be buying it.

A generation from now radio waves will be common place enough that people don't worry about their cell phone killing them, but some new technology will come about and make everyone paranoid again.

Oh for a bit of science education of the masses...

Re:radio waves (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33778874)

An explaination of radio, attributed (correctly?) to Albert Einstein:

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

Monckton's long lost brother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33778210)

Certainly looks that way. Crazy as a bear who has been told 'no, you can't shit in the woods'

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