Posted: February 26th, 2023
Instructions on writing discussion post
How to write a good initial discussion post:
1. The purpose of writing a discussion post is to reflect on what you have learned from the assigned material. How does it support what you already thought? How does it challenge conventional wisdom? Where it conflicts with your understanding of the world, does it convince you? Where it agrees, what further understandings does it imply?
2. Your initial discussion post must include at least 300 words of your own material. Repeating the question, titles, quotations, paraphrases and other additions are not counted as your own material. Any discussion that does not meet the 300 word minimum will receive a grade of 0.
3. Refer to at least two of the assigned resources. You need to give some thought to what’s presented in the assigned material. For example, you might write: The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy explains Locke’s understanding of the relationship between simple and complex ideas this way: “Once the mind has a store of simple ideas, it can combine them into complex ideas of a variety of kinds” (
. Don’t make the class guess at the reference. We have to be able to find it. So it needs to be relevant and specific. People get busy and time is sometimes short, so it may be tempting at times to excerpt something from readings you haven’t considered carefully and stick it in your post to meet this requirement. Try not to do this. See point 5 on why. There is no need to use an MLA style citation to the end of a post. We need to read the quotation, and we need to know what in the material helped you arrive at the conclusions you arrived at and where we can find it. That means you need to include an author and a page number if it’s a printed resource, or a title reference for audio and video resources. Points will be deducted if the location of the reference isn’t obvious. To earn full points for your discussion, you need to refer to more than one of the assigned resources in the module if more are available. The resources work together.
4. Any discussion that includes sufficiently poor grammar or spelling to suggest that the posting was not proof-read and spell checked will receive a grade of 0.
5. The best way to meet the requirement to reference the readings is to quote them directly. But please do not quote lengthy sections of the readings. I am looking for your ideas concerning the readings and classes. See point 3. for a good example. Quotations are not considered part of the 300 word minimum.
6. Remember that you are reflecting on the material presented in the module and taking an informed position on the topic. It doesn’t help to simply repeat facts from the module. What do they mean? Use your existing opinion wisely. The distinction between research and opinion is an artificial distinction we don’t want to make in this class. Criticism is useful but only if it’s thoughtful and reasonable. If, at the end of every unit, you think exactly the same way you did when you started the unit, something has gone wrong.
8. You will need to post your own initial post before you can read the responses from others. It makes for a much more diverse conversation. After you have posted your initial post, I hope you will consider other ideas as well and comment on them. There is no grade-sensitive requirement to comment on other posts but, needless to say, your ideas on others’ thinking is the best way for all of us to learn. And feel free to respond to my comments on your post.
Be sure you read through all the topics in this module, and watch the videos, first. There are three videos – each about 30 seconds long. There is also a link to an animation of the four stroke engine to look at.
Then read chapter 5 of this article (Rise of the Machines). It gives a picture of what people began to think about when machines started to show their real potential in the 1800s. We’ll talk about the more practical application of machines in later modules, but this history of how machines were viewed in popular life and media looks kind of familiar.:
Note that there are other chapters to this article before and after this chapter. They are interesting but not required, so go as far as the bottom of the page, which is chapter 5. You do not need to click to the right or left for previous and later chapters.
Discussions questions for homework assignments
Machines and People. Is there a difference between how people perceive machines and what machines can actually do? The idea of the machine distinguished human beings from the rest of nature, and with this, came a relationship between machines and people that does not exist anywhere else in nature. And, while it’s mechanical, it’s more than that, too. What does this relationship imply? This is an ambiguous question, I know, and you will need both the Smithsonian article and the content in the topics in module 6 to address the question
There is one place where our perspective has changed more dramatically and more consistently over the centuries than it has in mechanics, education, art or any other human occupation. Time.
The changes we have undergone in our understanding of time are enormous. And the technology that most influenced these changes is the mechanical clock. Consider how time used to be measured. You began to work with the sun came up and stopped with it went down. Artificial lighting was too expensive and too unreliable to allow people to work at other times. So the work day was the only real measure of time – not the hour or the minute. When the day was divided up into hours, it was done based on its relationship to the work day. The day was divided up into roughly the same number of hours but the length of these hours changed based on how much light there was in a day. An hour was longer in the summer because the day was longer. In urban settings, there were bells that might indicate hours worked, but no one trusted them because they thought they were being cheated by their employers. And, even if they weren’t, how much time went by was anyone’s guess. There was no device to keep an accurate count of equal lengths of time over the space of a day.
Greenwich clock at Greenwich, England. Zero Longitude
14th century monastic alarm clock
The mechanical clock changed all this and it started in Europe because of one critical need that very few other places in the world had. The Christian church had established times for prayer, at least one of which happened in the middle of the night and the others were set to specific times of day. For this, monasteries needed an accurate alarm clock. Nowhere else on earth did there exist a religious view that was so tied to time. And, centuries ago anyway, people took religion very very seriously.
We are undergoing a similar change today, but in reverse. Our work day, or school day, isn’t dictated by daylight, time of year or any other time requirement. Classes you might take on line don’t even require a meeting time or a time at which you need to present an assignment. Time comes to mean less and less. You have to spend it, but how long and when is up to you. At the same time, we are obsessed with time. Someone, quite possible several people, in this course will almost certainly post a discussion which will include a line like, “we are so busy these days it’s hard to find the time to…,” or, “it’s hard to fit everything into our busy lives.” But when quizzed on what everyone is so busy with, it’s hard to find an answer. We produce and consume more entertainment, play more games and chase more random curiosities around the internet than anyone could ever have found time for a few decades ago.
And there is the confusion having to do with the length of time. We will spend five minutes watching a video of a cat in a dryer or spend 5 times that lobbing angry birds across a gaming screen or a few hours playing a video game or updating a profile on a social media site by liking some banal comment or publicizing a photograph we didn’t take of people we don’t even know. Then everyone wonders, “where has the time gone?” It’s likely more than a few of you are a bit annoyed by this module of this course already because it takes too much time.
Salvidor Dali’s The Persistence of Memory
David Landes qupoted Lewis Mumford in his article, Clocks – Revolution in Time as saying “the clock, not the steam engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age.” But it may be that it is not the key machine of the information age. It’s arguably the computer that is the key machine in today’s world. The mechanical clock separated us from natural measures of time and inserted us into an entirely made-up world of seconds and minutes. Today, as we separate ourselves from mechanical time and give ourselves over to time as it is dictated to us by information technologies. Can you image what losing this device has done to us and what the costs and benefits of adopting new understandings of reality as dictated by the information age might be?
Why does this matter? Because confusion is what causes change, or, at least, it’s often the outcome of change and influences how we deal with change. Look at Harrison’s solution to the longitude problem from last module. It’s a mechanical solution to a problem that many thought could only be solved through astronomy, perhaps only through religion. Harrison’s proposal caused plenty of confusion and not just a little bit of bitterness. And, not coincidently, the machine that solved the problem, and caused the controversy, was a mechanical clock. Soon we’ll look at other places where gears and cams and pistons and all manners of mechanical innovations changed the world. Then, later in the course, we’ll see how we just as readily abandon these mechanical solutions in exchange for solutions using bits of information on a wire and how we’re still in the middle of that transformation.
Gears and Cams.html
Changing Direction. This topic includes a number of mechanical models coming out of the Renaissance by Renaissance engineers including Leonardo Da Vinci. The point of the videos and models is to see these simple mechanical innovations in motion and to try to make sense of how these machines would be put to use. Each example is less than a minute long so play them a couple of times and see if you can get your brain around how innovative these things were. The last one is a simple animation of a typical 4 stroke engine. It’s a bit more complicated but it’s interesting to see how everything works together.
The gear and cam unlocked the potential of rotary power. In a nutshell, a gear is used to do four things:
To increase or decrease the speed of rotation
To move rotational motion to a different axis
Consider this model of a water wheel that rotates horizontally at the power source but rotates a vertical axel to turn the mill stones.
technology/unit11/Documents Never Go Away11.html
There are cultures that never applied the simple machine of the wheel to a problem. For example, Native American cultures rely heavily on the concept of a circle to explain the forces of nature and the passing of life, but, they never put a wheel on an axle as a mechanical solution to a problem. One explanation for this is that there are no wheels in nature. Your body is made up of a great many levers. People and animals role things down inclined planes all the time. The wedge is applied all over the natural world. But there are no natural wheels that do any real work. You might say, “ah, what about the example you just gave of rolling things down inclined planes?” Remember your physics. A machine applied a force to one place in the machine to overcome resistance at another place and something round rolling down a hill doesn’t do this until you put it on an axle and use the force the rotating motion creates. This application of the wheel doesn’t exist in the natural world.
So when the wheel and axel was finally used to solve a problem, it was used, not in transportation, but in pottery. The later application of the wheel to transportation is unrelated, and neither application went very far very fast for a very long time. Three things were missing that would make the wheel the essential component of most every mechanical development since about the year 0.
A way to power the wheel. One reason that the Romans didn’t bother developing mills as quickly as they did centuries later in Europe is that they had slaves to do their grinding. Once again, if you have no real problem, in this case a shortage of labor, you have no need to develop a technology to change it.
A way to control the speed of the wheel. In the case of the water wheel, you can imagine how problematic a river speeded up by spring flooding might be if it necessarily speeds up the mill.
A way to change the direction of motion from going around, say, vertically to going around horizontally.
The water wheel is an example of a solution to the first problem. The second was solved by gearing and the final was solved by the cam.
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