Seth Goldstein's Why Not machine is a glorious Rube Goldberg device that can tie (and untie) a necktie. It's a kinetic sculpture, slow and beautiful and inefficient in a way that can only be called artistic. It's headed for exhibition at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. Its inventor, a retired engineer, revels in its unuselessness: "That's not something you can economically justify, but if you're a retiree, you don't have to worry about that anymore. I'm free!"
After earning four degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and working more than 40 years as a mechanical engineer -- including three decades at the National Institutes of Health designing biomedical instruments -- Goldstein decided to create Why Knot "for the hell of it."
Others have more lofty explanations, however. Tom Perry, managing director of education for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, whose foundation provided $30,000 for the project (including $10,000 for the development of educational materials) and arranged its permanent exhibition at Sir Isaac's Loft at the Franklin Institute, believes that Why Knot forces people to confront the complexity of the human body.
"Just the mechanics it takes to reach up and scratch your forehead" is amazing, says Perry. Then you look at Goldstein's machine, and all those infrared lights and optical sensors and the 10 electric motors that propel a series of 350 laborious movements to tie and untie one standard knot -- all that shaft rotation and energy conversion, all that controlled motion and heat.
In 1948, the Institute of Applied Science commissioned an unknown illustrator to depict a fistful of squirming, terrified criminals caught in an authoritative fist, under the headline “CAUGHT BY THEIR FINGERTIPS” — they were advertising a home Criminal Investigation and Identification course.
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