Fri. June 18, 2021 – yep, missed it. Dang kids.

Well, never got any rain, or even any real overcast yesterday, and temps stayed high. Funny thing is we have a TS forming in the Gulf, and due to impact the “northern” Gulf today. Heavy rains possible, and all that. No evidence of it when I went to bed. I guess we’ll see. (This time for sure!)

Spent the day at home with the kids and the puppy. Didn’t get any of my auction set up, nor am I likely to complete any of that today. I would like to get my pickup dropped off for repair, since I’ll be gone for a week, this would be an excellent time to have the work done. To be honest, I have no desire to spend a week in Florida. Getting the kids there, and spending time with mom/grandma is a good thing, much to be desired though. So I’m going. Life is what happens while we are waiting for something else. The kids are excited, and my mom is about to pop, so that’s cool. Puppy will stay with friends who used to watch our other dog and various small rodents. He’ll have some other dogs to hang with for the week too.

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Long time readers here will remember (if they cared enough to notice) that I have a fascination with infrastructure and why things are the way they are. OFD and a couple other frequent commentors did too, and we had some good recommendations for interesting books*. I’ve been involving the kids in my interest by pointing out stuff around us- the survey markers for underground utilities, the pipeline warning posts, antennas and cameras, sensors for traffic lights, that sort of thing. Or that the street layout in our neighborhood has weird angled streets, because there are pipelines that cross it, and they are ‘in between’ lot lines. In other words, the house lots and streets were laid out to avoid crossing over the pipelines. And then angled buildings got built on the odd shaped lots that sometimes resulted. If you didn’t know about the underground pipelines, you wouldn’t know why the buildings look like they do. I want the kids to understand that this stuff doesn’t and didn’t “just happen”, it almost always came to be the way it is because of other things, and sometimes what we see is the echo of something long gone, or the shape of something hidden.

The QWERTY keyboard layout is one of those. It was designed to slow down typists, because the mechanical hammers in typewriters would get jammed if you typed too fast. We’re still stuck with it, despite that reason going away long ago, even in mechanical typewriters when the selectric ball, or the daisy wheel were invented.

The relationship between film reels, the 33 1/3 RPM and album size chosen for LP records, and the length of pop songs (until recently) is another chain of choices that shapes the world around us, while the original reasons are gone. (The speed and size of LP records were chosen to hold the amount of sound needed to match a movie film reel – which itself was probably sized by other arbitrary factors. Pop songs were the length they were because that’s what fit on a 45 RPM single, which is what jukeboxes used, and you wouldn’t have a hit if people couldn’t play it on the jukebox…)

There are a ton of other things like that just in the music business (like the CD hole being the same size as a 5 pfenig coin, because that’s what the engineer thought looked about the right size, and then DVDs followed the same form factor, and blurays too, with all kinds of tricks played to fit the content onto them…) If you are old enough to remember when CDs came in tall sleeves, do you also remember when people started to complain about how wasteful the ‘excess’ packaging was? Well, the packaging was designed that size to fit in the same bins and fixtures that record stores used to hold vinyl LP albums in. As the stores phased out the vinyl and the bins, the CD packaging shrunk to its current form. DVD packaging fits on the same shelves VHS tapes used to fit on in the stores and the rental places….

These sorts of things happen in the built environment too, with past decisions echoing down through time, shaping the world around us in ways that we no longer recognize. I’ve been occasionally listening to a podcast called 99% Invisible, about just those sorts of things in design and the world around us. There is a book “The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design” that complements the podcast too.

James Burke’s Connections was the first thing that made me aware of these sorts of chains of events, leading to something that is very different from, but completely shaped by what came before. Connections also made it clear that you couldn’t just “drop back” to the lower level of technology, because the systems that supported that lower level wouldn’t be there. The older systems or design constraints were removed when no longer needed, but the influence remained.

I’ve been thinking about how to look at the larger world through the same lens, and also the smaller world of people and relationships. We know some of what shaped our world from history books. WHICH books, and which stories have left their marks on us is important. (I had no idea until relatively recently in my life that Lincoln wasn’t universally regarded as the hero President of the Civil War. Heck, I had only a vague notion that people in the South had reasons other than racism, and being ignorant, for fighting at all…) Some of those constraints and influences become embodied in our cultures, our shared history, our worldview, and our prejudices.

The people we know, our own relationships, the organizations around us, they are all shaped by those constraints and pressures and perfectly good choices (or bad choices) that came before, but that might now be completely arbitrary or even detrimental.

Looking for those things, identifying them, EVALUATING them, and discarding them if needed – that’s what we need to do to make our way in this world, to get through this period of great change. All of the crazy around us is there because of something. All of the things and people around us have been influenced and shaped by those prior events and decisions. We don’t HAVE to let the echos of the past remain unseen and unknown, shaping us without our knowledge or consent, in ways we wouldn’t choose if given a choice. Knowing that there is a ‘why’ is a place to begin. Look for those echos in yourself, your relationships, your institutions, your culture, and your beliefs. Choose consciously to accept or reject their influence. Try something new.

And of course, keep stacking.

nick

*
–I can’t find the one OFD recommended, but this one is good-
‘A Field Guide to Roadside Technology’ by Ed Sobey
–‘Connections’by James Burke — the book and dvds.
–I’ve watched a couple of this guy’s vids, and this one caught my attention last night.
“Why do hurricane lanterns look like that?” youtube channel
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tURHTuKHBZs — presenter is kinda annoying but his content is top notch.