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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Of Decorative Knotting, Gift Giving and a bunch of Silly Geeks!

I came across the art of Decorative Knotting quite by accident. I was searching online for something completely different when I stumbled upon this art form.

So what is decorative knotting? It consists of creating different patterns of knots, loops and braids in a piece of string to create artistic masterpieces.

I liked this art form because:

1. It is relatively easy to do. Just requires a bit of patience.
2. Lots of resources online to help out a beginner.
3. Make for really good decoration pieces around the house (shameless show off that I am).
4. Great conversation starters 🙂

I bought a few rolls of different coloured string (The story of how my Wife and I went about getting the right type of string is a saga of epic proportions deserving a face melting guitar solo and another blog post). For my first attempt I decided to make this:

De Ana Star

I found the video instructions here:

Anyways, making this piece was not all that difficult. The video was very clear and well made and I am a great copy cat :). The challenge was something else.

Now we come to my wicked, ulterior motives for making this piece of art. My wife Pallavi had encouraged me so much to start with this that I wanted to do something special for her. I wanted to make this piece as a gift for her. The piece I selected was perfect as a cute little key chain or maybe even a funky necklace.

The tough part was to do it without her coming to know. Hmm…

Enter the office commute to the rescue.

I spend about 2 hours everyday commuting to and from my office. So the time was perfect for some sneaky surprise gift making. Or so I thought….

Working on an art project in a bus full of Engineers comes with (warning: groan inducing pun follows) a lot of strings attached.

After getting a few weird comments and questions from my co-passengers like:

1. Dude, why are you playing with string?
2. Dude, seriously! are you knitting a sweater?
3. Dude, you are an Aerospace test engineer doing artsy fartsy stuff with string. You have violated the code of geekdom! You will have to display the wallpaper of shame on your desktop for one month!

Wallpaper of shame.

Anyways after an interminably long duration (45 mins) of juggling an android phone(containing the video), 1 m of (Orange coloured. Shut Up!) string and (un)wisecracks from my co-workers (mental note: next project Build a Flamethrower), The Star Key Chain was done!

It looked like this.

The Completed Piece

Not a bad start even if I say so meself!

The look on Pallavi’s face was priceless.

Epic Win!

All in all a great start to a superb art form.

Anybody out there tried something similar? Please send me your pics and I will share them here.

Some resources for beginners:

Fusion Knots

Fusion Knots Videos

De’Ana Star Sinnet Image Courtesy of Fusion Knots.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2012 in Art Attack!

 

I Gotta Get Me One Of These: Curta Calculator

Curta Calculator is a piece of Mechanical Engineering Awesomeness so radical that it added a new term to the English language. Yeah! Thats right. The phrase “Cranking out answers” – which we associate mainly with with penny pinching accountants- came about thanks to this baby. I might be bluffing a bit there but never mind 🙂

This is what a Curta Calculator looks like:

Look Mommy! A Math Grenade!

The Curta Calculator story starts when a particularly insane Charlie Chaplin imitator called Adolf Hitler thought that it might be a really good idea to take his Panzer battle tanks and Messerschmidt fighter aircraft on a cross country hike across Europe and dump a crapload of bombs, bullets and bad German Martial music on unsuspecting Europeans till they died of it. Somewhere in this madness was his idea of killing Jews wherever he could find them. Anyways, during his tramp through the country of Austria, one of the Jews captured by the Nazis was a young Mechanical Engineer called Curt Herzstark.

Curt Herzstark was working on a prototype of a portable calculator when he was caught by the Nazis and thrown into the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in 1943.

Hmmm… Epic Suck.

Just when it seemed that Curt Herzstark was doomed to end his life sucking down poison gas in a Nazi gas chamber, his mechanical engineering know-how came to his rescue. His supervisor at the camp came to know of his portable calculator idea and asked him to develop it further. The idea was to present a completed piece to Hitler as a gift once the Germans won the war.

Well, as we all know, the war didn’t turn out all that well for the Germans and their leader. Hitler swallowed a piece of hot lead fired from a 9 mm Luger pistol, which killed him for some strange reason.

Curt Herzstark on the other hand survived the war and walked out of the Buchenwald Concentration camp with the completed plans of his calculator. It took him a few more years to start a company and begin manufacturing his calculator.

The concept of a mechanical calculator was not new. What differentiated the Curta was its compact size, relative ease of use and and a method to cross check your answers. It could perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and with a little extra effort, square roots as well.

Check out this video of a Curta in action:

You set your inputs, turn the crank and the machine just puuurrrrrrrrrs as it gets you the answer! Something deeply satisfying about that crank whirring around and generating the answer.

To return to Curt Herstark, he continued to make his calculators. Over the years he also continued to make improvements to his original design. These remained the preferred portable calculators till the 1970s when they were replaced by electronic calculators.

Today, nobody manufactures them anymore. The remaining Curtas remain highly collectible (and expensive) items. There are some of them for sale on Amazon and Ebay as well.

But looking at these I can almost visualize a half starved Jew sitting in an overcrowded cell, scribbling numbers and drawings on scraps of paper in the dim light. I can imagine the hope in his heart. The hope, not for wealth or material possessions, but hope for survival. Cliff Stoll describes it much better than me in this video:

All I can say looking at this baby go is: I Gotta Get Me One of These!

 
 
 
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