Jen lives in Catonsville, a commuter suburb of Baltimore, and as a resident, she gets the Pennysaver. She has actually made a habit of grabbing it on her way in and saving it for me, bless her heart, because I am one of those guys who loves to peer through the tag sale and Cragar van rim ads for that single gem, that nugget, that super deal. Browsing through this last week’s issue, I found an ad for a Laserwriter Pro 630, the printer I’ve been nosing through eBay for these past six months. I drove down to Crofton last night in the rain and traffic and looked at the printer, which occupied the corner of a neat upstairs office in a trim suburban house. The guy was real nice, obviously didn’t know what he had, but seemed interested in buying a Mac for himself; we talked for a bit, and I left $125 lighter, taking a chance on the unit because I hadn’t seen a test print (I forgot to bring an AAUI connector) but knowing I’d probably be able to fix anything that was broken. I got it home, connected it to my hub, and ran a test print. The engine has a total of 2,764 prints on it—this on a machine rated for 450,000 prints on one engine.

This last week’s New Yorker had a great book review article which made me stop and think, and bookmark a certain paragraph. David Owen reviews Measuring America, by Andro Linklater, which reviews how the shaping of the New Frontier, among other things, shaped our current measuring system, and illustrates why we are the only country not to adopt the metric system:

“The units in which American building materials are measured are idiosyncratic in the extreme—they include gauges, penny sizes, nominal dimensions, and a host of other anachronistic absurdities—but the over-all system works well, in part because it arose organically from human activity instead of being imposed from above by theoreticians. The standard metric measuring tape was clearly not designed by anyone who regularly worked with wood: a millimetre is smaller than the tip of a builder’s pencil and narrower than the blade of a saw, and the closely packed, uniform gradations on the tape are hard to make out at a glance except in bundles of five. In contrast, a customary American tape—with its easily distinguishable divisions of sixteenths, eighths, quarters, halves, inches, feet, and sixteen-inch framing intervals—is harmoniously suited to the way in which it is used.”

What struck me was the point that the system arose from human activity and not from theory. Many times I’ve had an design idea that I would like to incorporate into a site, only to test it and find that it was annoying or unusable. Simple things in my house, such as placement of appliances, have evolved over time to coalesce into usable patterns and methods (especially for me, someone who remembers visually.)

Date posted: October 18, 2002 | Filed under apple, design | Leave a Comment »

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