Patents, pensions, and printing

By Gordon Rugg

The Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution are often portrayed as a flowering of bright new ways of thinking about the world, shaking off the dull orthodoxy of previous centuries. Well, in some ways that’s true, but there’s also a fair amount of unglamorous practical underpinning that usually receives less attention.

This article is about those underpinnings.

One of the striking things about technological developments before the Renaissance is how many of them spread slowly, if at all. Why was that?

If you look at the question from the viewpoint of a mediaeval inventor who has just come up with a bright new idea, then you start seeing the importance of various factors that don’t get much attention in popular history.

Unglamorous and glamorous views of how inventions happenbanner2

Continue reading

Advertisements

Intrinsic, extrinsic, and the magic of association

By Gordon Rugg

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have an awed respect for the ability of Ancient Greek philosophers to spot a really important point, and to then produce an extremely plausible but only partially correct explanation, sending everyone else off in the wrong direction for the next couple of thousand years.

Today’s article is about one of those points, where the Ancient Greeks didn’t actually get anything wrong, but where they laid out a concept that’s only part of the story. It involves a concept that can be very useful for making sense of consumer preferences and life choices, namely the difference between intrinsic properties in the broad sense, and extrinsic properties in the broad sense.

Here’s an example. The image below shows a pair of Zippo lighters. One of them is worth a few dollars; the other is worth tens of thousands of dollars, even though it’s physically indistinguishable from the first one. Why the difference? The answer is below…

zippo banner

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zippo-Lighter_Gold-Dust_w_brass-insert.jpg Continue reading

The 28 versions of the Golden Age

By Gordon Rugg

The idea of a Golden Age has been around for a while, in one form or another.

How many forms? There’s a good argument for there being 28 forms.

Why 28? That’s what this article is about. I’ll look not only at the idea of the Golden Age, but also at some of the related issues which ripple out from it, including archetypal plots in fiction, history and politics.

Gold, silver and bronze from the Classical Age

bannerv1Details of the image sources are given at the end of this article

Continue reading

People in architectural drawings, part 3; requirements, obsolescence and fashions

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the third in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life, by looking at images of dream buildings.

In the first article, I looked at why the obvious approach doesn’t work very well. If you just ask people what they want, you tend to get either no answer, because people don’t know, or to get low-aspiration responses, for various reasons that are well known in requirements acquisition research. If, however, you instead show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically.

So, in this series I’m looking at fantasy and concept art images of buildings, which explore as broad a range of possibilities as the artists and architects can imagine. I’m looking at them to see what regularities emerge within those dream buildings; what sort of world do the creators of those images, and the people who like those images, desire?

In the second article, I looked at how human biases affect our aesthetic preferences. I concluded that a lot of people like really, really big buildings. Those buildings look awe-inspiring, but when you stop to think about details like how anyone is going to clean the windows, you start to realise that maybe those buildings aren’t terribly practical. However, how can you tell what will be practical within the lifetime of a building, when the available technology and the functions of the building are likely to change? There’s the related risk that tastes will change, and that today’s beautiful building will become tomorrow’s eyesore.

In this article, the third in the series, I’ll look at the issue of practicality versus obsolescence, and at changes in fashion.

Thinking big, in fantasy and realitybanner pt3

Thomas Cole, the Titan’s Goblet, and a Vauban fortification; full image credits at the end of this article

Continue reading

Caesar on the aurochs

By C.J. Caesar, with Gordon Rugg

Here’s Caesar writing about wildlife again. By way of a change, this description isn’t particularly weird – there are no elks without knee joints, and no unicorns. It’s about the aurochs, a now-extinct form of wild ox.

XXVIII.-There is a third kind, consisting of those animals which are called uri. These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied. These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them. The young men harden themselves with this exercise, and practice themselves in this kind of hunting, and those who have slain the greatest number of them, having produced the horns in public, to serve as evidence, receive great praise. But not even when taken very young can they be rendered familiar to men and tamed. The size, shape, and appearance of their horns differ much from the horns of our oxen. These they anxiously seek after, and bind at the tips with silver, and use as cups at their most sumptuous entertainments.

Continue reading

Just the facts

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a popular belief that it’s possible just to “teach the facts” without getting into needless complicated theory.

It’s a nice, comforting idea. Unfortunately, not all nice and comforting ideas are true, and this particular idea is one that just doesn’t stand up very well to the facts.

This article is about the problems that you encounter when you apply this idea to reality. It starts with an apparently clear, simple example of a “fact”; the date when the American Civil War ended.

Shenandoah_destroying_whale_ships_

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shenandoah_destroying_whale_ships_.jpg

 

Continue reading

Don’t try this at home

By Gordon Rugg

If you’re interested in classic legal defences, you might like this one.

I’m very sorry about burning the cathedral to the ground. I only did it because I thought the bishop was inside at the time.”

(Alexander Stewart, at his trial for burning down Elgin Cathedral in 1390.)

Continue reading