Archive for March 23rd, 2012


Finding richness online

Post by Jean Thilmany:

In the early days of the Internet (so about 15 years or so ago), it seemed that all universities, libraries, and museums were rushing to digitize their collections. By spending money on making their artifacts available on the web they gave museumgoers a way to browse interesting collections of interest without the need to travel.

Digital collections make museums of many types around the world accessible to all, the same way that libraries make books available to everyone, regardless of income. But times, especially regarding copyright, are still in flux, according to the Digital Library Federation.

“In the digital library, collections are transformed through the integration of new formats, licensed content and third-party information over which the library has little or no direct curatorial control. Collection strategies and practices are not yet fully developed to take account of these changing circumstances, nor are their legal, organizational, and business implications fully understood,” a DLF statement reads.

Nevertheless, collections continue to move online.

The April issue of Mechanical Engineering magazine includes an article about advances in reverse engineering, which includes references to the Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library, or K-MODDL, an online repository of kinematic mechanisms designed by Franz Reuleaux more than 130 years ago.

The Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., owns 220 of the more than 300 Reuleaux models manufactured. Cornell librarians recently digitized the collection to make it available for all users, whether they have the time and means to stop by the engineering school or not.

The cool thing about digital collections is that—like the K-MODDL mechanisms—they frequently include capabilities to home in on the artifact for an up-close view. The Cornell online mechanisms can even be printed in three dimensions by viewers who want a hands-on view (this comes thanks to reverse-engineering technology).

A quick web search for digital collections show those for Duke University and their women’s travel diaries—photographs of early Soviet Russia, and R.C. Maxwell Company records from 1904 to the 1990s. Cornell also houses online its collection of 715 digitized pamphlets documenting a century of Bolivian literate culture, beginning in 1848. Another Cornell collection boasts 21 different versions of the Bible in English.

In a time when we can instantly “YouTube” a commercial jingle from the 1950s, it’s nice to keep in mind that the vastness of the Internet includes the richness of these collections—check out the John Mazza Historic Surfboard Collection, made available online at the Pepperdine University web site, today.


Human Rights and Engineering

Jessica Wyndham, associate director of the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights, and Law Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), spoke with David Walsh, editor of, about the changing role of engineers in the 21st century and the growing opportunities to work in the field of human rights. Read this article here.

Ms. Wyndham’s has agreed to author an article on the thought-provoking topic of the intersection between human rights and engineering. Look for it in the SEPTEMBER issue of MECHANICAL ENGINEERING magazine.


Birdman Confesses: Flight a Hoax

Post from Alan Brown:

I guess I (and a large segment of the world’s media) wanted to believe there is still room for a garage tinkerer who can set the world on fire with some completely unexpected breakthrough.

The news is out: Jarno Smeets, who claimed to he could fly in a motorized set of birdlike wings, is really Floris Kaayak, a Dutch filmmaker, digital special effects expert, and artist. One of his films, The Origin of Creatures, was even up for an Academy Award this year.

It turns out video of his 60-second flight was a fake, and a very good one at that. Wired’s Rhett Allain did a very thorough analysis of the Kaayak’s video and could not really tell if it was a fake or not.

Then two other reporters, Dave Mosher and Daniela Hernandez, checked out his story by calling his purported employers and the school he said he graduated from and no one had heard of him. When they called and e-mailed about the discrepancies, he did not reply. That is never a good sign.

The two reporters quoted a researcher “Smeets” had apparently visited, who summed it up best: “He wanted to chase a dream, as most artists do. He wanted to inspire people and I think he succeeded,” said neuromechanics scientist Bert Otten of the University of Groningen. “As an artist he has succeeded, but he has fooled most of us. We all want to fly, don’t we?”

The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

March 2012

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