Archive for the ‘review’ Category

“Making Things Move”: Tinkering Manual Takes a Wrong Turn

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Tinkering seems a natural concomitant with the growth of the Internet: there’s a lot of information being shared out on the web and it makes a person think they can do anything . . . with tools.

As the old saying goes, “where there’s smoke, there’s a publishing opportunity” . . . or something like that.

Making Things Move,” by Dustyn Roberts (McGraw-Hill, TAB book, 2011) is a newly-published, self-styled book for tinkerers––whom the cover refers to as, “inventors, hobbyists and artists”––which aims to be the latest to take advantage of that opportunity.

The book starts by claiming that it is not about educating the reader in the sense of formal instruction; mysteriously, a lengthy introduction to the formulae, concepts, and theory of mechanical movement is presented immediately thereafter, and the discussion concludes with a homework assignment in creativity.

Sounds like formal education to me.

People don’t come to books with toy robots on the cover seeking homework assignments, particularly when those are stated as “build a Rube Goldberg device”. That’s not much to go on.

And that pretty much sums up “Making Things Move”: not much.

The text throughout is supported, seemingly on every other page, by lots of illustrations, at least half of which are hand-drawn (the inside cover lists “Sean Comeaux” as “illustrator”).

It seemed that the idea was to keep those from being “schematics” and therefore intimidating (to the “artists” maybe?), but I think that anyone picking up the book would already be beyond being intimidated by standard schematic drawings. (We might be confused by them, or misled by them, but definitely not intimidated.)

The book also refers the reader (on all of the other, unillustrated pages) to web-pages and Internet resources, (probably because there is very little useful information offered by the book itself).

There are a few tidbits in this book––the treatment of motor control is usable and a decent introduction to the problem of attaching objects like wheels and gears to bare motor shafts––but there is certainly not enough here to warrant a cover price of US$30. (The standard joke would be, “wait for the movie”, but nowadays it costs about that much to go to a movie, eh.)

Which brings me to my main negative criticism of the book: it’s all been done before. The discussion of simple machines, for example, has been done, and much more clearly so, by this Navy manual from the last century.

The bio for the author of “Making Things Move” says that she has a lot of formal training and education in engineering. That’s good because the world can always another good engineer; at the same time though, the last thing the world needs is another bad book.

After all, bad writing is what we have bloggers for, no?