mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Friday, 9 April 2004

Elegance in Integration

Elegance in integration is multiplicity — solving one problem in ways that aid another. Elegance is optimization. Elegance is assembly — an apparatus readily put together and taken apart. Elegance is tolerance-ordering, where tolerance means uncertainty in some manufacturing operations. Elegance is simplification. As engineering designs evolve, they gain false sophistication — empty but seductive ingenuities. Ruthlessly, agonizingly, these must be stripped away. Elegance, finally, is work-arounds — minimizing the risks, endemic to all [projects], of… failures or costly delays during fabrication.

The latest from the service-oriented frontier? A justification of RESTful application architecture? No, it’s redacted from this remarkable document [pdf]. This is good reminder that “integration” is more than just software, and that some people have been doing it for longer — and with more rigour — than we think.

Even when you don’t try to read things into it, this is an amazing document, and well worth the read; they’re pushing a number of limits simultaneously. My favourite quotes:

Mechanically, the 1.5-inch diameter rotors are within 40 atomic layers (0.3 millionths of an inch) of a perfect sphere, rounder than anything within many light-years distant from us. if the Earth were smoothed to proportionate sphericity, then the corresponding radial span, from towering mountain to deep ocean trench, would be 16 feet. Only neutron stars are rounder.


Another factor in the telescope’s exceptional stability is that its twenty separate component parts are all held together by a technique known as optical contacting. No cements, no mechanical attachments; instead, the surfaces of it and the quartz block containing the gyroscopes are made so flat and clean that they become permanently joined through molecular adhesion, almost as if the entire structure had been sculpted out of one massive chunk of fused quartz.