Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Solving problems

When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I am finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.
—Buckminster Fuller


  1. Oh alright then, I'll post a comment, I was waiting to see what came along.....

    Dymaxion man. Buckminster-Fullerene...

    Geodesic domes were well beloved of hippies, but were not really very useful as living spaces, being somewhat awkwardly shaped. However, the area in which they have proved most successful is the protection and screening from view of military radar equipment. The DEW (Distant Early Warning) line, which watched for Soviet over-the-horizon missile launches, was screened from view and protected by huge geodesic spheres.
    Not too far from where I live, on Fylingdales Moor, in North Yorkshire, the domes were known as "the golfballs", because that's what they looked like.
    When they were built, people complained that they were ugly and intrusive, but when their demolition was announced, people campaigned to save them. Now in their place, we have the pyramid. It does the same job, looks very sci-fi, and is also rather beautiful.

    However, I disagree with Mr Fuller. Beauty is no guide to the fitness of an engineered solution.

    (I might have already submitted this, but i'm confused)

  2. Geodesic dome? Is that what this is? Is that what he did?

    Why do you know about the DEW line?

  3. I just had a foray up to the top right hand corner of the room one back wall bookshelves, to pick up "The Buckminster Fuller Reader"
    Unfortunately, the blue-spined book up there at ceiling level was "An Introduction to the Study of Man", by J.Z.Young.
    Bucky is obviously somewhere else. Maybe I lent him to someone.
    Buckminster Fuller was an engineeer, first and foremost, but an engineer with a fascination for the future, and a polymath.
    Geodesics, geodesics are... Oh, let me cheat, term from geometry, calculus... "A geodesic is a locally length-minimizing curve. Equivalently, it is a path that a particle which is not accelerating would follow. In the plane, the geodesics are straight lines. On the sphere, the geodesics are great circles (like the equator). The geodesics in a space depend on the Riemannian metric, which affects the notions of distance and acceleration."
    Fuller was fascinated by ways of mapping curved surfaces, and one of his great leaps was in looking at all the ways in which we map our world.
    A globe, of course, is the most distortion-free method of mapping our earth's surface. But it's not easily folded away in the chart drawer. In Fuller's time, as aircraft flew around the globe, and as missiles were plotted over the pole, the Mercator projection, and all the other projections in which we unwrap the globe to turn it into a flat plane west to east, were less and less applicable to modern needs. Surveying, of course, is done by triangulation. Why not, thought Fuller, make the measurement grid of the globe not rectilinear, but triangulated, by intersecting great-circle lines?
    Then all the triangular segments, no matter where they were would have no variation in the distortion of data. The globe could be unfolded on a traxial basis, making minimal distortion great-circle routes easy to plot between any two places on the earth's surface. Are you with me so far?

  4. Having plotted his geodesic map, Fuller then mused on the engineering properties of a structure with a framework based on those principles. Every part of a great circle arc, and the intersections would render the intervening segments as triangular, and thus having maximal structural rigidity for minimal weight.
    That flat projection led to him designing domes and spheres of triangulated structures, that could withstand huge windloads
    but with lightweight materials.
    These properties became extremely importnt when, with the cold war growing, radomes had to be built as far out as possible from americas heartlands, on great circle routes from likely soviet launch points. The Distant Early Warning, or Dew line.
    I grew up, pretty much on the dewline.
    Like I said, Fylingdales Moor in north Yorkshire was topped by "The Golfballs", three vasy geodesic spheres, housing the antennae that costantly monitored the sky over Russia, looking for the first arcs of a missile launch.

  5. I became interested in Buckminster Fuller, via another guy who shared some of his interests and beliefs. I'd been learning about Barnes Wallis, an engineer who became very famous in Britain for his wartime work. He designed a great many things, the first "Bunker-buster" bombs, designed to penetrate deep into hardened nazi control centres, designed to shake mountains which housed rocket factories and heavy-water plants, a bouncing bomb, designed to skip along the surface of the water, until it hit a dam, then roll under power sixty feet down the dam-face, and detonate where it could use the pressure of the water around it to amplify its blow, and destroy the dam.
    Using geodesics, Barnes Wallis had designed the Wellington bomber. Not a particularly heavy bomber, but important in one way. It was loved by its crews, because the structure, though flimsy looking, compared to other similar sized bombers, could absorb tremendous amounts of flak damage or fighter shells, and still, despite gaping holes and shot-away spars, remain strong and rigid enough to get the crews home, where a conventional airframe would have spiraled down to death.

    Next subject for your homework: Dymaxion.

  6. The Dymaxion Car, by the way, is worth a look-up.
    Its main flaw seems to be that Buckminster Fuller was obsessed to have it steered by the rear wheel.

    As an engineer he should have kown better.
    Without the rear-steer it might have been a winner.

  7. Well, oddly enough, I DID follow you, mostly, in comment number one. That's why when you fly from Tokyo to, say, San Francisco, it looks like the vector is a curved line if you are looking at a flat piece of paper showing air routes. Because of Earth's spherenicity, heh, it is shorter to veer northward and then come down to San Franciso (making the arc, following a great circle.) Or, alternatively, I may simply be full of crap and the earth is really shaped like a pear. Sigh. Fuller must have gone to school before American schools went to hell. There were originally three radar defense lines: The DEW line, the Mid-Canada line and the Pinetree line. After the system switched from tracking Soviet bombers to tracking Soviet ICBMs, obviously the southern two radar lines became obsolete. But I drift off-point. Though not technically the DEW line, your Snod Hill station is part of the BMEWS (bemuse) line joint UKUSA agreement, which, together with the DEW line, it is hoped to gain 4 minutes reaction time from the point of the initial radar contact with the Soviet ICBM, though 3 minutes warning is more realistic today. In reality, 3 minutes is barely enough time to do much more than simply trigger auto-retaliation. Hence the reluctance of both parties to launch the initial attack during the Cold War (and even today.)

    On this same subject, I am of the mind to detonate a hydrogen thermonuclear device off the (southeast) coast of North Korea tomorrow, just to educate the odd-haired dear leader what a REAL one looks like. I don't think a second one would be needed for Iran, as they would likely be taking notes furiously. But we probably won't.

    The radome is, of course, only for the purposes of providing a weatherproof enclosure to protect the actual microwave antenna inside. The material used only minimally attenuates the radar signal. I'm an old Air Force radioman, though not specializing in microwave/radar equipment, but I know enough to pretty much agree with Wikipedia on this one. So you live relatively near the RAF Fylingdales 40-meter golf balls? Cool.

    The rest you said is WAY over my head. But the car is interesting and I will study it.

  8. Dammit, you got me there. BMEWS, not DEW. I knew that, long ago, but I'd forgotten.
    Snod Hill. It's NEVER referred to as Snod Hill, it's always referred to by its airforce designation, RAF Fylingdales. The 40 metre golfballs are gone, though google images still has them.
    Golf balls remain at Menwith Hill, which is a Royal Air Force base, officially, but is almost totally populated by US personnel. What it does? Spying. Listening.
    There are always "peace-camp" protesters outside. They think they make a difference, with their chanting, candlelit vigils, and crystals. I doubt the base really notices them at all.

    Those Soviet bombers are still there. They aim for british airspace on a regular basis, so our interceptors have to burn fuel and go meet them, they get told to go home, and hear a missile lock, and obligingly wave and turn away.
    I'm told the russian crews have taken to holding up placards with their facebook pages, in the hope the interceptor crews will "friend" them. What a bizarre world.

    The earth is not pear-shaped, it's an oblate spheroid.
    Or a Geoid. Which means.... "earth-shaped"!

    Of course, the BMEWs line is unable to defend against the joker in the pack, submarine launched ballistic or cruise missiles, which can pop up from all manner of random bits of ocean.


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