February 8, 2018

"The most obvious fix would have been to buffet the paper upward from below using a device called an air knife."

"This was off limits, however, because the bottom side was coated with loose toner. 'An air knife will just blow the toner right off,' Ruiz said. Another possibility was to place 'fingers'—small, projecting pieces of plastic—where they could support the corners as they began to droop. 'That might create a higher jam rate on different paper shapes,' an engineer said—it could be a 'stub point.' A mystified silence descended. A mechanical engineer named Dave Breed pointed toward the upside-down conveyor belt. 'The vacuum pump actually works by pulling air through holes in the belts,' he said. 'So what is the pattern of those holes relative to the corners? Maybe there’s no suction there.' On the whiteboard, Ruiz sketched a diagram of the conveyor belt—the V.P.T., or vacuum-paper transport—showing the holes through which the suction operated. 'Optimize belt pattern,' he wrote. 'If my understanding of air systems is right,' Breed went on, 'then the force that gets a sheet moving isn’t really pressure—it’s flow.'... By this point, Ruiz appeared to be vibrating. 'Here’s a stupid idea,' he said. 'Bernoulli!'"

This is why I love The New Yorker. Every once in a while it will get me to read — with interest and amusement — about something I wouldn't have thought about let alone thought I could get interested in.

This article is "Why Paper Jams Persist/A trivial problem reveals the limits of technology" by Joshua Rothman.

My all-time favorite New Yorker article like that is from 2014: "In Deep/The dark and dangerous world of extreme cavers" by Burkhard Bilger.

And I must admit that the only reason I actually do get into these articles is because I subscribe to an audio version of the magazine and don't have the option to observe that this might be one of those arcane, interesting things I love so much and then just keep flipping the page, vaguely intending to return and make a go of it.

39 comments:

rhhardin said...

Bernoulli reverses cause and effect.

The air is moving faster because it ran down a pressure gradient, not the reverse.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

I remember in the 1980s the joke used to be about the Shawn-edited New Yorker running exhaustive long-form essays about the history of wheat. Personally I find such things interesting although I doubt that I would have the patience to listen to them read aloud. I read faster than I listen and tend to skim at formulaic points.

LincolnTf said...

At our family cottage at c\Cape Cod, there are decades upon decades worth of New Yorker magazines on a den bookshelf. It's the go-to bookshelf on rainy days.

Ann Althouse said...

@Jeff with one 'f'

Yes, I think I remember reading a New Yorker article in the 1970s about the tomato, and it was just great. This was before it became a thing to publish whole books like "Salt" and "Cod" and "The Chair" which are great.

I also remember one about pencils.

traditionalguy said...

It seems to be self revelation day, so I will confess to being enamored of Modern Marvels TV show. Many are on YouTube. Try the one on Canning.

But when I really like one and try to show the wife, she seems uninterested and looks at me with pity.

Ralph L said...

How do you know an audio article is worth your time if you can't look in the middle first? So many opening paragraphs mislead, over-promise, or fall flat.

A lot of my tabs die on the vine after 12 hours or so.

buwaya said...

Long ago I went on a jihad against printers.
We got rid of most of them, and got everyone giant monitors, sometimes three or four of them.

Some technologies just need to be replaced, because there are better ones.

Ann Althouse said...

"But when I really like one and try to show the wife, she seems uninterested and looks at me with pity."

Maybe she would enjoy the New Yorker approach, which is to describe these things in words. A big part of what I am enjoying is the skill of the writer, describing things and making great, interesting sentences out of raw material that I would dread getting stuck with.

Often in legal cases, a lawyer or judge is forced to describe something complicated so it can be pictured and understood.

Making a film is a different matter, with its own challenges. But I think a film is easier than writing. I know recently we had to replace some complicated section of the upper rack of our dishwasher. I found a YouTube video that was soooo much easier to understand than the printed instructions, which were mostly diagrams. Anyway, I can't imagine trying to explain what to do in words alone. And that's in the context of actually needing to fix the dishwasher. Imagine attempting to explain it in words in a way that would invite readers who were not fixing something. That I admire.

Ann Althouse said...

"How do you know an audio article is worth your time if you can't look in the middle first? So many opening paragraphs mislead, over-promise, or fall flat."

I am trusting the New Yorker to deliver, and it's not really using my time, since I always go for a walk when I'm listening, so if it's a little boring... eh... win some, lose some.

The audio version only has maybe 4 items from the current issue, and I wish they'd choose more variety. They are most likely to choose a long article about an individual with a problem involving poverty, war, oppression, or health -- in a foreign country -- that builds empathy for handling some larger problem that this individual supposedly exemplifies.

These are usually very good articles, but continually choosing these for the audio hides what's best about the New Yorker: variety.

And they begin with a short column that is almost always bitching about those terrible conservatives (especially that madman Trump).

Jessica said...

I'm very conservative, but have been a subscriber to the New Yorker for basically my entire adult life. I skip the political stuff, which is about 1/3 of the magazine, but love everything else. A few articles I've enjoyed in the vein of "never would have thought about that" have been articles about:

the phenomenon of itching
the culture of long-haul truck driving
modern Siberia
the tsunami predicted to take out the Pacific Northwest
the likelihood of finding an enormous Nazi gold stash
cancer therapies focusing on the makeup of victims rather than the disease
prosecutors tackling the Calabrian mafia
the lost ancient ruins under the Guatamalan jungle being sensed by new technologies
super-long distance swimming

It's a great publication.

rhhardin said...

Every New Yorker article starts by reminding the reader that articles are paid by the word.

Jessica said...

And although I skip the overtly political stuff, I have noticed Trump Derangement Syndrome creeping into many seemingly apolitical articles. I hope this will subside as liberals very slowly absorb that the end of the world has not actually arrived.

Jessica said...

And I was just mentioning to my husband that I love the New Yorker's refusal to put in lots of graphics and photographs. Like Ann said, it forces the writer to really describe what's going on.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

This is why I love The New Yorker.

This is why I hate The New Yorker.

...descending mystified silences...engineers appearing to vibrate...

If I'm reading an article on a technical subject, I want to know the problem to be solved, including what made it difficult, and how it was solved, possibly including where the inspiration for the solution came from.

I hate the paragraphs setting the mood at that fateful dinner party where so-and-so was first introduced to what's-his-name, raising a question that would ever wander the recesses of his mind, until years later, when a young protegee brought up what at first appeared to be an unrelated issue, and in a sudden moment of clarity the diverse strands wove themselves into a unifying tapestry.

Blech.

buwaya said...

Btw, you could write such an article about any technology.
Or books.
The tech can get obsolete, or be obsolete already, and you would get the same wonderment. The people are always uniquely the same somehow. Its always the same take on the tech sort by the literary sort.

Consider "The Soul of a New Machine", Tracy Kidder, a fine, one of the best, examples of the genre.

And its still worth getting, regardless of the extreme obsolesence of the tech and the industry of that time.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

Buy some X-9 and fire the engineers. Watching the Falcon launch it occurred to me that my 8 and 9 year old self watched launches that were just as impressive and that, apparently, 50 years were wasted as momentum and will were frittered away on trivialities. That’s a bit of a tangent but, like your paper jam dudes, it seems we’re in an era of reinventing what we’ve so fecklessly misplaced.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Speaking of "Soul", I worked with Steve Wallach, the architect of the Eagle computer, after he left Data General. Our company was making a Mil-Spec version for use in places like nuclear power plants, oil-well data systems, and (duh) military applications.
Somewhere in a closet I still have a copy of his Eagle design document, about 200 pages of fanfold line-printer paper, complete with his selection of poetic and historical quotes on the chapter headings.
Kidder accurately depicted the environment and attitude prevalent in the small-computer industry c. 1980. Large portions of that mind-set are still present and driving folks in Silicon Valley and similar areas today.
In contrast, I found the vast majority of other authors' and journalists' attempts to describe the industry between 1975 and 2005 to be deeply lacking or distorted.
Kidder, like John McPhee, another New Yorker long-form author, actually spent time talking to the people doing the work, instead of merely finding people whose words could be used to tell the writer's story.

Robert said...

The New Yorker is now a leftist rag. This is coming from someone who read it regularly for fifty years. Hard to describe the excitement as each installment of In Cold Blood came out. A good way to get a grasp on American history of the early Twentieth Century is New Yorker Cartoons 1925 - 1950. Makes you weep what it has become.

chuckR said...

Cracker - the Falcon launches should be compared to the Soviet N-1 failures to launch, one of which wiped large numbers of the Russian scientists and developers. Both used a lot of main engines. A big difference is computing power that allows control of all those engines in the Falcons. The American Saturn F-1 engines were a better bet given 60's technology. It worked better to use a few honkin' big engines and several minor course tweakers to keep the pencil balanced on end as it went up. There was an effort a few years ago to create CAD documentation of the F-1s before the embodied knowledge and ingenuity was lost. IIRC, using advances in materials and manufacturing processes in the past half century was projected to reduce the part count by a factor of 5. The F-1s could be mass produced like the smaller Merlin engines instead of hand built. Maybe that's what Musk wants to create in Space-X's BFR. Gang together something like 27 F-1B engines and you'd have some serious thrust.... All courtesy of a half century of hard won knowledge gained incrementally. Much more exciting than paper jams.

TML said...

Eric Martin's voice is terrible!! I'm going to read it instead. He sounds like he's trying to blend Rod Serling's voice with an irritating NPR correspondent's faux gravitas.

Eric said...

My problem with The New Yorker is that what might be an interesting 2,000 word article is invariably 12,000 words that suck the life out of the topic.

Unknown said...

Well there went an hour to that caving article. It was fascinating and a bit claustrophobia-inducing.

Darkisland said...

Re reading later let me suggest a free app called getpocket.com

Works on phones tablets pcs apple and android.

So this article on paper sounds interesting but I didn't want to read it now.

I "save to pocket" and now have it stored on all my devices. Not the link, the full text, usually with pictures and graphics but no ads. Nicely formatted for reafing.

So wherever I am, connected or not I have a bunch of stuff to read.

I finish and delete from my phone it also deletes from my table etc.

One of the best apps evet

John Henry

Darkisland said...

I used to like Calvin Trilling a lot but because of his books which were new Yorker collections.

But the author I really associate with New Yorker is john McPhee. With few exceptipns, I would normally find his subjects pretty dull. A geological biography of interstate 80?in 3 thick books? But he maked it fascinating.

I think his first book wa "Oranges'which developed from a long new Yorker article

John Henry

Sebastian said...

Good article: one Puerto Rican, one woman, so diversity.

But I learned a new word: tribology.

chuckR said...

Tribologies died out at the end of the Cretaceous.

Gordon Scott said...

I dunno, chuckR. " Gang together something like 27 F-1B engines and you'd have some serious thrust...."

You would also have some serious noise. The Saturn V with five F-1 engines could instantly cause permanent hearing loss one mile away. With 27, well...sound waves work like any other wave, they can cancel or reinforce. I'm not sure you could build a rocket, a launch complex or a payload/crew section that could take the vibration.

Owen said...

John McPhee is a marvelous writer. He just came out with a small gem called "On The Writing Process," where he gives advice and shares stories of his career, much of it woven into the fabric of The New Yorker. Fun and useful.

Howard said...

Blogger Ignorance is Bliss said........
I hate the paragraphs setting the mood at that fateful dinner party where so-and-so was first introduced to what's-his-name, raising a question that would ever wander the recesses of his mind, until years later, when a young protegee brought up what at first appeared to be an unrelated issue, and in a sudden moment of clarity the diverse strands wove themselves into a unifying tapestry.
Blech

This type of personalizing non-fiction permeates everything. Most new books have this type of unnecessary crap filling out the pages and distracting from the interesting shit.

I was talking with my business partner about this very issue this morning. He said he thinks that because we no longer have the MAD Russkie Nuke Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, people have lost the sense of urgency.

Steve said...

I only get the New Yorker for the cartoons ----- to relax and not to engage in critical thinking. Actually, the New Yorker is what people in the 1980s thought was the future of journalism. Even then newspapers and magazines were hurt by electronic media, so it was thought that long, in-depth articles would keep the audience for the printed page. The problem with that is that requires journalists have the time and brains and dedication to create such work. Journalists seldom have those qualities, and there's not enough advertising revenue to support a large population of publications like the New Yorker.

Ralph L said...

The headline makes even more sense if you read it as "buffay."

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

For the service technician, the fix is to explain to the Customer that:
..Per the Owner's Manual, the paper is thinner and lighter than the machine was engineered to handle;
..We regret the inconvenience to them, but;
..The economic fact is, manufacturers engineer their product to fill the needs of the major body of potential customers;
..And it seems their particular needs fall outside those parameters.

- H. Gritzkofe; recollections from a previous life as dealership service manager.

Bad Lieutenant said...

I hate the paragraphs setting the mood at that fateful dinner party where so-and-so was first introduced to what's-his-name, raising a question that would ever wander the recesses of his mind, until years later, when a young protegee brought up what at first appeared to be an unrelated issue, and in a sudden moment of clarity the diverse strands wove themselves into a unifying tapestry.


Geez, Iggy, I live for that shit, piecing together the threads into a Great Scarf of Gestalt Satori. Who pissed in your cornflakes? ;)

Bad Lieutenant said...

...engineers appearing to vibrate...

And you never had that feeling? The "Ooh Ooh Ooh I know the answer but must wait my turn" feeling? Sorry for you, man.

'TreHammer said...

My all-time favorite New Yorker article like that is from 2014: "In Deep/The dark and dangerous world of extreme cavers" by Burkhard Bilger.

Ann, I followed the link to the 2014 "extreme caver" article in the New Yorker. I had to stop reading when I got to the part about crawling through tiny spaces. My claustrophobia meter hit the red zone at that point.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Mention of the F-1 reminds me - Here's an article and videos of a team which rebuilt and ran the "fuel pump motor" (technically the "gas generator") from an F-1. Bear in mind that what you are looking at is just the power for the fuel pump for a single F-1.
50,000 horsepower, if I recall correctly.

https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/f1_sls.html

Fred Drinkwater said...

Hmm. The article says 30,000 pounds thrust from the gas generator. Not that it was used as a propulsion device - this part was entirely devoted to spinning the fuel pump.
The old rule of thumb back in the 60s for straight jet engines was that you needed about 1.5 HP driving the compressor section, for every 1 pound of thrust out the back. So the 31K pound thrust capacity of the F-1 gas generator is roughly equivalent to 46,000 HP.
The F-1 engine as a whole produced about 900,000 to 1,200,000 pounds of thrust (depending on variant), burning about 6000 pounds of fuel / oxidizer per second.

Jeff Jennings said...

At the point where Ann stopped quoting, it goes on, "Because the top side of an airplane wing is flat, while the underside is curved, the air above moves faster than the air below, and the wing rises" OMG!

PeterK said...

"This is why I love The New Yorker. Every once in a while it will get me to read — with interest and amusement — about something I wouldn't have thought about let alone thought I could get interested in."

if only they would keep publishing stories like this one I might resubscribe, but sad to say these type of stories are as rare as unicorns in their pages