Machinery’s Handbook and the Model 1911

Expl-1911A1 CompAssy

Today is the 100th anniversary of the adoption by the United States Army of John Moses Browning’s .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, the weapon known since as the Model 1911 or simply “the .45”. Browning designed many of the last century’s best-known guns: the ones that you see in your mind when you think “cowboy rifle” or “machine gun,” and “automatic rifle” among others. Paul Mauser had definitively solved the problem of the repeating rifle already in 1898; his design has yet to be improved significantly.

So today, the newest and most advanced military technology of the Great War is still in use daily for sport and war. It’s not just weapons, either. Trains and their tracks have changed little. Mechanical clocks and watches are a solved problem. There is a long list of mostly hidden devices around us, the design of which has scarcely changed since then.

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Machinery's Handbook

This centenarian mechanical layer can be described and mostly created with the information in Machinery’s Handbook, a 2,104 page double handful of small print and diagrams. Detailed description of tools and materials, hundreds of mathematical tables, weights and measures, testing, ratios for all sorts of gears and transmissions, pipe fitting, the whole mess of machine lore is dumped into this box. Paging through the handbook, one gets the feeling that the mechanical parts of modern civilization are all here.

With this knowledge, a source of power, and sufficient raw materials one could in theory build almost anything a wood-and-metal bashing factory makes. And most of it is still a century or more old. Lathes, screws, blowtorches, springs, grinders are all from John Browning’s world, and he wouldn’t take long to adjust to a 2011 machine shop.

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Office Worker with Two Monitors

The people reading this do not live in Browning’s factory. Welds, springs, bolts, castings, threadings, gears, and bearings surround us, ignored. The modern first world service industry worker lives from the neck up, floating in front of a screen. The entire world view is defined by a screen full of media filtered through an imagination. Technology is software, and a layer down it’s microelectronics.

This attitude shows up dramatically when our modern Internet resident is confronted with a problem from Browning’s world. When something goes amiss with wheat, or steel, or ships and trains, Internet Person looks for solutions on the screen, or assumes that they’ll arrive. The idea of technological improvement itself “ends” arguments about scarce resources and decaying infrastructure. Mechanisms themselves are taken for granted or reduced to the level of weekend hobbies.

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.45 ACP

We’re still in Browning’s world, though. If one 21st century digital ape dislikes another, a quick reset to a century ago is in the glovebox, and an intricate machine will slap a tiny brass box of explosives into place, set off the little bomb, and send a chunk of lead a off on a surprisingly fast and accurate journey to an even more surprising distance, causing an unpleasantly surprising wound on arrival. Surprise! Everything old is new again! And almost faster than we can see, it’s ready to do so again. The promise of an elegant software solution to our problems just faded a bit.

Take a look at Machinery’s Handbook once in a while. You may not care about Browning’s world, but it cares about you.

ballistic behavior! reverse planning! predator variable! MOTH POPULATION!

I just ordered The Logic Of Failure ( at amazon ) ( at )

I like Amazon’s SIPs, and I particularly like the ones for this book:

Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs):
storeroom experiment, bad participants, predator variable, reductive hypothesis, reverse planning, elaboration index, ballistic behavior, experiment director, good participants, moth population, problem sector, partial goals, regulator settings, watch factory, temporal configurations, experiment participants, planning game


Death of my AC Adapter (again)

The power supply for the Powerbook blows chunks. They fall apart in the same way each time.

For the second time I’ve had one die in flames, literally. This one was sparking and spewing clouds of smoke when I yanked the plug out of the wall.

They won’t replace them because they redefined their crappy design as customer damage.

Typically they’ve brought out a different power adapter for their newer machines but they refuse to acknowledge the problem with the older ones. The worst part is the patronizing way they blame the customer as though we were all swinging our computers around our heads like bullroarers.

$80 for a new one.

Rasputin is a truck.


There is one achievement of the last century that will stand without a doubt, and that is the 1980s era Toyota minitruck. In this Google video you see this greatness made manifest, as Jeremy Clarkson and crew do their best to destroy a 100,000 mile+ former farm truck with impact, seawater, fire, and other things.

Every broke person I hung out with in the 80s and early 90s drove one of these things. I’d buy one today. pbd had one that later the_silent_one had too. That was a 1980, wasn’t it? Greg’s was an ’88 and he put 100,000 miles of L.A. messenger/courier work on it before he sold it. The Chadian army blew up Libyan tanks with them. They. Will. Not. Die.

Is the Tacoma still that good, I wonder?