Saturday, July 21, 2007

Let It Roll, Baby, Roll

It is said that the ancient Central American Olmec culture invented the wheel for children’s toys but never made the jump to using it for transporting things. By today’s standards, such an important oversight seems difficult to imagine, but our modern society has its own versions of this story.

If you are a frequent traveler, you almost certainly have luggage with wheels. Compared to carrying your luggage, rolling it is a big advance. When did this advance occur?

From eBags’ Bagopedia:

Although the wheel dates back to pre-history, modern rolling luggage did not appear on the scene until around 1989. The story goes that Northwest airline pilot Bob Plath was tired of lugging his heavy overnight bag and flight bag through airports around the world. Being a creative kind of guy, Plath spent weekends working on a wheeled “pilot” bag in his garage. The new wheeled bag was an immediate success. Whenever and wherever Plath’s wheeled luggage rolled on the scene, everyone wanted one. Bob Plath’s company TravelPro was born and the rest is history. Before too long, TravelPro held 15 patents on a diverse line of rolling luggage. Other luggage companies quickly caught on and went wheeled.

“Alright,” you say, “our age of innovation didn’t notice this one obvious application of the wheel for a while, but surely it is an anomaly.”

No. I can testify to the next example, because our family is apparently an early adopter of the wheeled car seat: It’s like rollable luggage, except the “luggage” is your car seat, which attaches to a roller frame, like so:

The picture is the gogo Kidz Travelmate from GogoBabyz. I don’t know who the child is.

The scenario where a wheeled car seat applies is this: You are flying somewhere with a small child, and you will be driving at your destination. Normally, you would carry a car seat as a piece of luggage (or as carry-on if your child will be sitting in it on the plane). When added to the multitude of things you need to carry in support of a small child, a bulky car seat is not a welcome addition.

By adding the roller wheels to your car seat, you not only get the roller effect on the car seat, you can also roll your child in the seat. We have rolled our daughter through numerous airports, and similar to the story above about people stopping the roller bag inventor wherever he went, people always ask where we got it or comment on how clever an idea it is.

So, even today, a technology as fundamental as the wheel is still spinning-out new uses.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Pleasant Mystery of the Perfect Cut

Last time, I talked about The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje. Following is a final topic from the book that resonated with my background in electronic-music composition and audio engineering. (I studied those subjects in college. They ended up being a path not taken in my life, although still areas of interest.)

Back in the day, if I was deciding how to bring musical elements together, I found the best results always had a mystery to them. For some reason, things just clicked—neither by accident (it takes a lot of technique to create the conditions for things to click) nor by a fully analyzable formula.

On this subject, Murch drills the bullseye straight through:

To determine [where to make a cut in a scene], I look at the shot intently. It’s running along, and then at a certain point I flinch—it’s almost an involuntary flinch, an equivalent of a blink. That flinch point is where the shot will end....

The key, on an operational level, is that I have to be able to duplicate that flinch point, exactly, at least two times in a row. So I run the shot once and hit a mark. Then run it back, look at it, and flinch again. Now I’m able to compare. Where did I stop the first time, and where did I stop the second? If I hit exactly the same frame both times, that’s proof to me that there is something organically true about that moment. It’s absolutely impossible to do that by a conscious decision. Imagine—there are twenty-four targets going by every second and with your gun you have to hit [exactly the same one].

Why that works is one of the pleasant mysteries in life.