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vendredi 28 novembre 2003

I scarcely expected somebody as stratospherically clever as Professor Adrian Bejan to find time to reply to a slightly nervous e-mail where I expressed the hope that I'd made some sense of his "constructal theory of shape and structure".
So when the fellow swooped down yesterday not only to thank me for writing about it but to add that I'd done a "wonderful" job in so doing in 'Nature's "intelligence" & design revolutions,' (Nov 18) I was as flabbergasted as I was flattered.
The professor has indeed been busy, picking up a honorary doctorate last weekend during a large international gathering of minds at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich -- more details here, but only for people who can read German (ETH Life: Tagesberichte).
That came less than a month after Bejan gave an international symposium on his remarkable theory at Portugal's University of Evora (Eng.; fetching another honorary doctorate while he was there...)

Enough of the accolades, though.
The prof's letter, which he's confirmed I can publish, swiftly shows that while the honours may be nice, he's far more concerned with developing his ideas and breaching artificial barriers.
Remember C.P. Snow, the novelist, physicist and thinker who told us back in 1959 what a bad idea it was to make of science and the humanities separate worlds in 'The Two Cultures'?
Bejan gives us a contemporary echo of this false divide in education and outlook when he says that his

"only correction to what you wrote is that my book was reviewed, extensively and very positively (about 10 reviews, I think [...]), but, unfortunately, only in the engineering literature.
This is why what 'Science & Vie' and you did is extraordinary: to tear down the fence between 'science' and engineering is a most worthwhile and timely activity."
What my closer friends know is that my own hatred of such barriers dates back to a youthful realisation that some people who considered themselves intelligent and cultivated were fools who appropriated things like "classical" music and poetry as part of the odious class system that marked my English upbringing.
It soon become one of my missions in life to try to demystify such supposedly arcane arts and help, as best I could, to make them accessible and "user-friendly" to everybody, including those on whom the con trick worked, believing that such matters were "over their heads".

Bejan thinks on similar lines, going by his comment on the debate my article triggered at 'Blogcritics', which while interesting, strayed a long way from the theory I was writing about.

"Regarding the discussion that your article has generated, I just hope that they read what I wrote," he says, rather than taking off from "their own preconceived ideas and fights.
And I am very sorry to see that some believe that 'engineer' means 'not qualified' to speculate, to theorize. Such people should remember Sadi Carnot [MacTutor History of Mathematics].
In the book "Shape and Structure, from Engineering to Nature", I stated a 'constructal' principle of flow access maximization (pages xvii and 62), and then I used it to construct flow architecture in many domains.
The coincidences between what I deduced and what all of us observe in nature, justifies the speculation that the principle can be used to account for (to reason) the occurence of macroscopic flow structure everywhere, anumate, inanimate, engineered (the latter are us, 'man + machine' animals, not machines alone).
Darwin observed that the fittest survive. This is a circular statement, not a theory, not a mental viewing that predicts reality. The survivor is the most fit, and the most fit is the one that survives.
The question that should have been addressed is "the most fit to do what?" What do we mean by fit? Without an answer, there is no physics in Darwin. The constructal principle provides the missing physics, and, among other things, it accounts for why 'darwinian' selection/optimization works now everywhere, in inanimate and engineered domains as well.
In my book, I also noted that the same physics principle was missing from fractal geometry. Now, based on principle, one can deduce the algorithm, not postulate it. And so we have a theory of why trees are everywhere (animate, inanimate, engineered), and why they are euclidian not fractal."
Adrian loses me in those very last lines, since geometry and mathematics have never been my strong points, but I don't worry too much about that. What intrigues me the most is the sheer range of practical applications furnished by his theory.
In essence, the man invites us to reconsider our thinking about the design of our world, while the way his theory provides a "missing link", of sorts, to complement Darwin was a point I'd not touched on in the previous piece.

Anyone seriously interested in hearing more of what the remarkable Bejan has to say might want to take a look at the distinguished lecturers programme currently on offer from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, covering the next three years.
Adrian is one of 16 people who have made their keen minds available on subjects ranging from the "thermal treatment of cancer" to the "Flight Mechanics of a Spinning Dimpled Spheroid" -- more generally known as ... a golf ball.

8:03:24 PM  link   your views? []

SEt160My leap into 21st-century communications began with radical measures to slash what has become an intolerable 'phone bill.
After 35 minutes, I'd had almost enough of queuing at the local France Télécom agency, but once I had the attention of an agent, there was no looking back.
A big bad bill did have a surprisingly good side.
I'd acquired so many loyalty bonus points that I could change my mobile 'phone at no great cost for a T160, which would otherwise have been well beyond my means.
I've been reading about Sony Ericsson's new wireless invention for months. Now that it's being promoted on Macs, it occurred to me that a Bluetooth technology (explained by Apple) might be the answer to the cable outages that have plagued people in the weeks since my ISP began renewing its whole network.
This was just the beginning.

fantomesamIt was only a 'phone I wanted, but the new toy caused total chaos in the Canteen once Sam got his uninvited hands on it. You'd think he was the one on the Royal Jelly!
"It's a camera," he squealed. "Your 'phone's got a camera in it."
"I know, but I haven't got the remotest idea how it works. I haven't quite finished the manual. It's 95 pages long."
Well, the patron of the Pizzeria soon found out how it worked. The T160 probably takes better pictures than his first batch shown here, starting with a ghastly ghostly self-portrait of Sam, principal purveyor of my lunches for the past six months.

canteenBaudierBaudier, grumpier than ever, did his best to ignore Sam, who meanwhile had become all but oblivious to customers clamouring for dessert and coffee.
The literary lion was so disgusted by the day's French news that he was asking me whether I thought he would be allowed to renounce his nationality. I suggested that this would mean taking on another one, which he'd probably find just as bad. Even in France, I doubt that "citizens of nowhere" are allowed.
"Then I want to renounce my right to vote," he said.
"Abstaining isn't a strong enough gesture to express how it feels to be an internal exile!"

canteenJacquesWith Baudier droning to the left of me and Jacques the sage (in the corner to my right) deeply engaged in a different conversation with a couple of newcomers I was also trying to follow, I didn't stand a chance of getting my 'phone back.

Taking not the slighest notice of my insults and entreaties, Sam was behaving like an overexcited kid and had by this time drawn the whole restaurant into his antics.
It was a good job I'd arrived even later than usual, so there weren't too many victims around. I'd spent a long morning on my first Christmas shopping spree of the year. A couple more forays today and I can do the rest online.

canteenMeHe got me too, sitting at "taliesin's table" struggling to concentrate on my tagliatelle campagnola.
"You should be grateful, not peeved!" Sam said when he was finally done. "Now you know how your camera works."
Well, the pictures may not be very good, but I suppose Sam's timing was, since this, as Jacques will hasten to remind me soon, is BF-day -3, to be marked shortly by the last of my lunatic weekday lunches with this bunch and the other denizens of the Canteen.

Once back at the Factory, I'll do better than the sandwiches that had been my daily fare there for years, but I shall miss the inventiveness of Sam's puddings.
As for the madder side of these meals, returning to AFP strikes me as walking back through the door to a different kind of frenzy. Such is life.

Bluetooth AdaptorOnce I'd recovered the camera, this little device, a Mitsumi Bluetooth adaptor, plugged into Panther, took me into a whole new world last night.
Apple has made Bluetooth so easy in Mac OS 10.3 that I'd managed to get the cutting edge of communications up and running within about half an hour. France Télécom asked me to call them back this afternoon to sort out the last technical tweaks, if they're able to keep yesterday's promise about getting the eMac linked up their end by then.
Meanwhile, I swiftly discovered Sailing Clicker, an astounding Swedish piece of software. It's so remarkably clever that I paid for it within 10 minutes of trying it out.
With its help, the T610 is no longer simply a camera. It also runs several programmes on the Mac by remote control, including the iTunes music player.
This got automatically put on pause by the telephone when the Wildcat called, reminding me why I'd swapped mobiles in the first place.

12:55:09 PM  link   your views? []

nick b. 2007 do share, don't steal, please credit
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