Friday, January 14, 2011



Interviewer: You'll have to love her. She's your symbol.
George: You mean that posh bird who gets everything wrong?
Interviewer: I beg your pardon?
George: ...Once we wrote these letters saying how
gear she was and all that rubbish.
Interviewer: She's a trendsetter. It's her profession.
George: She's a drag. A well-known drag.

- from A Hard Day's Night

Elements and principles are mingled... universal life comes and goes... A machine made of mind. Enormous gearing, whose first motor is the gnat and whose last is the zodiac.
- Victor Hugo

We got a can opener not long ago, since ours was starting to get dull and unreliable. Alas, it turned out that for many cans the new one, while not dull, didn't reliably engage the can's edge. The generic gear-with-embedded-cutter design is nice, however, and it got me thinking about gears.

I was sort of used to thinking about gears as being associated with the Industrial Revolution, or perhaps with those ingenious da Vinci inventions. But the first gearlike thing is handily B.C., at least as early as the Antikythera Mechanism, a gear-based astronomic tracker from the first century. How did this gear-thinking get going? It's easy to imagine the ancients contriving a wheel based on thinking about circular things in nature, from the moon to daisies; and a maple's seed pod helicoptering to the ground would make you wonder what else that shape could accomplish.

But the concept of, say, interlocking, rotating daisies, now that is a leap. But then, maybe it's like the memory trick of Metrodorus from around the Antikythera time, wherein you'd assign everything you want to remember to one of the twelve astrological houses, sort of equivalent to assigning to constellations really. So this fascination with the wheels-within-wheels of heavenly body motion seemed to shove those ancients into that sense of interlocking; their interlocking with the heavens, and their interlocking with human history. And perhaps even into the realm of a wonderful modern term, "Face Advance": "the distance on a pitch circle which a gear tooth travels from the time when at one end the pitch point contact is made till at the other end another pitch point contact is made." Meaning maybe, in human terms, a time in my relationship with another where my shared travel time advanced some cause. And gear play? It's called "backlash".

The same ingenuity that put the "gear teeth" of snipers into the notches of castle crenellations also engendered increasing recognition of the benefit of collaboration. And, perhaps George Harrison's recognition of some entertainment conglomerate's mismatched gear tooth.

Now consider that analogy in light of the Prius drive mechanism (search for "prius split device animation" and a clever animation of the gears is likely the first item.) It kind of led me to consider human relationships coupled with human cleverness, or constructiveness, as the way forward. So maybe the British Invasion short-lived slang "gear" - which may just as well have been derived from the fashion sense of gear, expands its domain. And maybe we just have to get better at controlling backlash to avoid the "well-known" gear "drag".

p.s. Hugo will have the last word here: The "zodiac motor" got a boost today with the umpteenth invocation of the precession of the equinoxes as astrology debunker, and the attendant hand-wringing about whether you're a Cap or a Sag. Methinks I hear a rattling in the planetary gears.
"cue theme music!"

No comments:

Post a Comment