Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth A. Brown

The educated eyeball

with 3 comments

In the late 1940s, I read an article called “Soaring Over the Open Ocean” by an oceanographer named [Alfred H.] Woodcock. It really stuck in my mind because this scientist had been doing serious oceanographic work in the North Atlantic and began, as a hobby, watching various birds soaring over the water. But instead of just looking at the birds and thinking, How pretty, he began noting how they soared. Sometimes they soared in circles, sometimes in straight lines parallel to the wind, sometimes in straight lines perpendicular to the wind—and sometimes they couldn’t soar at all.

So he thought about it and began measuring the temperature difference between the air and water as well as the wind speed each time he saw a bird soaring a particular way. Then he plotted these variables on a scatter diagram and found that each type of soaring was always associated with a particular combination of wind speed and temperature difference. And it became evident that these different soaring techniques were illuminating the flow patterns of the convective cells in the atmosphere…What was going on in the lab in dimensions of millimeters was exactly analogous to what was going on in the atmosphere on a scale of kilometers. I thought this was a wonderful research project. Woodcock didn’t need a cyclotron or a huge radar. He just used some educated eyeballs, some insight, and he used birds as free sensors.

Paul MacCready, to Kenneth A. Brown in Inventors at Work

Written by nevalalee

July 7, 2018 at 7:30 am

Coding at midnight

with 2 comments

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs

I remember once that I designed a PC board for our disk interface. I did a rare thing for an engineer: I laid out the board myself. At Apple, we had departments that usually did that. But I came in many nights in a row, working very, very late. I laid out the whole board, and then I got an idea to save one feedthrough. So I took the board apart, I trashed maybe a week’s worth of work, and then I started over.

And I did it another way that saved another feedthrough. No big deal. Nobody in the world would ever know that I laid it out to have very few feedthroughs—three instead of maybe fifty. None of this would ever be seen, but for some reason it seemed important in an artistic sense. You can have a feeling that all these things are important, but you can’t necessarily justify them logically. The effort comes from being so close to your art…

I feel that I do my best work at night. But even though I’ve had a few all-nighters in the last couple of years at this company, some of them I spent wishing that this piece of code had been written at midnight like it should have been. The all-nighters I like aren’t the ones when you stay up solving a problem because it needs to be solved, but when you stay, after everything’s been solved, to put a little extra quality in, to add something here or there. Sometimes I wanted a code to be so perfect before I released it that I put in whole sections of code that were not even planned for the program and that nobody would even notice—so that it would be good and right. When something inside motivates you like that, you don’t even notice time. You can go without sleep and not even sleep the next day.

Steve Wozniak, to Kenneth A. Brown in Inventors at Work

Written by nevalalee

January 24, 2015 at 9:00 am

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