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14 FEBRUARY 2012

A is for Atom: atomic giants released from within the atom's heart

"Although the 'Atoms for Peace' campaign was formally launched in 1957, corporate America began to promote peaceful uses of atomic energy as early as the first few months after Hiroshima. A Is For Atom, an artifact of this effort, takes this highly loaded and threatening issue straight to the public in an attempt to 'humanize' the figure of the atom.

A Is For Atom speaks of five atomic 'giants' which 'man has released from within the atom's heart': the warrior and destroyer, the farmer, the healer, the engineer and the research worker. Each is pictured as a majestic, shimmering outline figure towering over the earth. 'But all are within man's power – subject to his command,' says the narrator reassuringly, and our future depends 'on man's wisdom, on his firmness in the use of that power.'

General Electric, a long–time manufacturer of electric appliances, power generation plants, and nuclear weapon components, is staking a claim here, asserting their interest in managing and exploiting this new and bewildering technology. Its pitch: this is powerful, frightening, near–apocalyptic technology, but managed with firmness, it can be profitable and promising. This 'Trust us with the control of technology, and we'll give you progress without end' pitch resembles what we've seen in films like General Motors' To New Horizons (on the Ephemeral Films disc). But the automobile, of course, wasn't a weapon of mass destruction.

In its first two years of release, A Is For Atom was seen by over seven million people in this version and a shortened ten–minute theatrical cut. In 1953 it won first prizes in both the Columbus (Ohio) and Turin (Italy) Film Festivals, the Freedoms Foundation Award, an 'oscar' from the Cleveland Film Festival, and a Merit Award from Scholastic Teacher. In 1954 it won first prize in the Stamford Film Festival, a Golden Reel Award from the American Film Assembly, and a second Grand Award from the Venice Film Festival. The film was remade in the mid–sixties and is still available for rental.

Like other John Sutherland films, A Is For Atom presents a portentious message in a visually delightful and often self–deprecating manner. 'Element Town' and its quirky inhabitants, including hyped–up Radium and somnolent Lead, is unforgettable, and the animated chain reaction manages to avoid any suggestion of nuclear fear."

(Internet Archive)



19572D • A is for Atom • animated presentationanimationapocalypticatomatomic energy • atomic giants • Atoms for Peace • automobilechain reactioncorporate America • destroyer • eduction campaign • electric appliances • electricity • electricty • Element Town • engineer • Ephemeral Films • farmer • future • General Electric • General Motorsgiant • healer • Hiroshima • humanise • Internet Archive • John Sutherland • lead • mass destructionnew horizonsnuclear fearnuclear weapon • portentious • power • power generation • progresspropaganda • radium • science • Sutherland Productions • technologytrusturaniumvisual representations of scientific concepts • visually delightful • warrior


Simon Perkins
07 JANUARY 2012

Oramics to Electronica: Revealing Histories of Electronic Music

"The story of Electronic Music, from the sound experiments of the 1950s through the digital revolution to today, is one of invention and innovation. Developed with a team of electronic musicians, our exhibition charts this history with examples of music making technology spanning more than 50 years. ...

The story begins with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Electronic Music Studios (EMS), two organisations that broke musical boundaries in the postwar years. Objects from this era include the EMS VCS3, the first portable synthesiser.

Also on display is the Oramics Machine, a revolutionary music synthesiser that was created in the 1960s by Daphne Oram, founder of the Radiophonic Workshop. Daphne created this visionary machine that could transform drawings into sound, and it was recently acquired by the Science Museum in co–operation with Goldsmiths, University of London."

(The Science Museum, 2011)

Fig.1 "Oramics to Electronica", Directed, Produced, Filmed and Edited by Jen Fearnley & Nick Street, Commissioned by The Science Museum, London.

Fig.2 "Daphne Oram", Mick Grierson, Director of Creative Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Director of the Daphne Oram collection.



1950s1960s • Acid House • BBC Radiophonic WorkshopBritish • creative computing • creativityDaphne Oramdevicedigital pioneersdigital revolution • drawings into sound • electronic music • Electronic Music Studios • electronic musician • EMS • EMS VCS3 • engineerexhibition • Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument • futuristicGoldsmiths College (University of London)historyinnovationinventionmachine • Mick Grierson • musicmusic making technology • music synthesiser • musician • Oramics Machine • Oramics to Electronica • pioneering • portable synthesiser • postwar • Public History Project • Radiophonic Workshop • revolutionary • science and technologyScience Museum of Londonsound experiments • Speak and Spell • synthesiser • synthesizer • TB303 • TB303 bass synthesizer • technologytoyUKwomen in music


Simon Perkins
10 DECEMBER 2011

Women in technology: Limor Fried

"Limor Fried was the sort of third–grader who took apart VCRs for fun. Gradually, she discovered that a hobby could become a degree –– a bachelor's and then a master's in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. Finally, she discovered it could become a business. During her student years, Fried would post photographs and detailed instructions of her latest experiments in hardware hacking. First, she built an audience, and then a company, Adafruit Industries. ...

Fried's approach is sometimes called 'open–source hardware' –– similar to open–source software, but instead of the source code being open and malleable, the source materials are. Is there something anti–corporate in the way that she likes to encourage the hacking of consumer products?

'Absolutely not, I'm totally a staunch capitalist,' she says. She just thinks hardware hacking is good business. Adafruit has become something of a business incubator itself, inspiring others to start similar businesses."

(David Zax, Fast Company)



Adafruit Industries • businessbusiness incubatorbusiness womencomputer scienceDIYdo-it-yourselfelectrical engineering • electronic toys • electronicsengineerengineering • entrepreneurial generation • entrepreneurshiphackerhardwarehardware hacking • hobby • kit • Limor Fried • Make MagazineMITopen sourceopen-source hardwaretechnologiestoyVideo Cassette Recorder (VCR)womenwomen in technology


Simon Perkins
31 MAY 2011

Majority of contemporary practice-based design PhDs use methodological bricolage

"A recent analysis of doctorates in design has identified four common characteristics of research approaches found in the exploration of practice–based design research questions [1]. They are: 1) a 'bricolage' approach to research design, 2) reflective practices, 3) the use of visual approaches and 4) thesis–structural innovation. These characteristics have been derived from an examination of a range of design theses and using a number of design research frameworks [2–4] to identify the epistemological and methodological models applied. This paper has chosen to focus on one of the four characteristics, the bricolage approach to method construction, as it is seen to be a common feature evident in all six studies. The bricolage method consists of combining methods from the social sciences, humanities, and hard sciences to derive a suitable model of inquiry.

While we acknowledge that design research investigates different issues that require studies into a range of subject areas such as the material, historical, scientific, social and psychological, the focus of this paper is the exploration of research questions derived from practice–based questions. In other words, it focuses on design activities that are used to generate new knowledge and understanding in and of itself.

We posit that the adoption of methodological bricolage is a necessity in design research due to the indeterminate nature of design. ...

Although Levi–Strauss introduced the concept of bricolage as a mode of acquiring knowledge, it was Denzin and Lincoln's [23] articulation of it within a methodological context that offered insight into new forms of rigour and complexity in social research. Nelson, Treichler and Grossberg describe bricolage (in the context of cultural studies methodology) as reflecting a choice of practice that is pragmatic, strategic and self–reflexive [24]. While Kincheloe [25] uses the term to describe multi–perspectival research methods, not just as the usage of mixed methods but to acknowledge that using methods from different disciplines enables the researcher to compare and contrast multiple points of view. Just as designed objects have prescribed affordances, methods automatically imply ontological and epistemological affordances. This relationship between inquiry and method affords design a useful indeterminacy, where not–knowing becomes a constructive loop that the bricoleur appears to be exploiting. As questions arise so methods to answer them are sought, abstracting platforms for design knowledge rather than concrete answers. Bricolage is a useful and necessary concept for design researchers as it allows them to deploy available and established strategies and methods, but also grants them the license to create new tools and techniques in order to address questions that are beyond the realm of the established discipline. Methodological bricolage permits the researcher to look at the problem we have with problems, as well as their solution. The bricoleur views research methods actively, rather than passively, meaning that the researcher actively constructs methods with tools at hand rather than accepting and using pre–existing methodologies [26]."

(Joyce S R Yee and Craig Bremner, 2011)

Fig.1 Danae Colomer, Gazpacho video portion of Food as Opera project.

2). Yee, J. S. R. and C. Bremner (2011). Methodological Bricolage – What does it tell us about Design? Doctoral Education in Design Conference. Hong Kong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.



abstract knowledge • abstracting platforms for design knowledge • academic norm • academic studies • anthropological sense • bricolage • bricolage approach • bricolage method • bricoleur • Cary Nelson • case studiesClaude Levi-Strauss • complexity in social research • concrete answers • concrete knowledge • constructive loop • creative fiddler • creative tinkerer • cultural studies methodologydesign discipline • design PhDs • design researchdesign research approachesdesign researcherdesignerdisciplinary knowledge • doctoral studies • engineer • epistemological affordances • established research methodologies • established research methodsestablished research strategies • Joe Kincheloe • Lawrence Grossberg • making-do • methodological bricolage • methodological contextmethodologiesmixed methodsmodel of enquiry • modes of acquiring knowledge • multi-perspectival research methods • multiperspectival • multiple points of view • new forms of rigour • new objects • new tools and techniques • Norman Denzin • not-knowing • ontological affordances • Paula Treichler • PhDPhD supervision • pick and mix • practice-based • practice-based design PhDs • practice-based researchresearch designresearch methodsresearch modelresearcher • Savage Mind • select and apply • social research • spontaneous creative act • the scientific mind • tools at hand • useful indeterminacy • whatever is available • Yvonna Lincoln


Simon Perkins
09 FEBRUARY 2009

The engineer is a myth produced by the bricoleur

"If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one's concept from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur. The engi~eer, whom Levi–Strauss opposes to the bricoleur, should be one to construct the totality of his language, syntax, and lexicon. In this sense the engineer is a myth. A subject who would supposedly be the absolute origin of his own discourse and would supposedly construct it 'out of nothing,' 'out of whole cloth,' would be the creator of the verbe, the verbe itself. The notion of the engineer who had supposedly broken with all forms of bricolage is therefore a theological idea; and since Levi–Strauss tells us elsewhere that bricolage is mythopoetic, the odds are that thee engineer is a myth produced by the bricoleur. From the moment that we cease to believe in such an engineer and in a discourse breaking with the received historical discourse, as soon as it is admitted that every finite discourse is bound by a cenain bricolage, and that the engineer and the scientist are also species of bricoleurs then the very idea of bricolage is menaced and the difference in which it took on its meaning decomposes."
(Jacques Derrida)

Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass. London: Routledge, pp 278–294


Simon Perkins

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