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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Old Books

There's this remark variously attributed to Harry Truman, David Henderhan and Anonymous. The quote appears in several forms as befitting, I suppose, the number of speakers it is attributed to, but it is more less like this: "If you want a new idea, read an old book." It's a great idea. Except, of course, when it gets in the way of progress. That would be MY progress, of course.

"How might this be?" you ask. Well, it started with the paper I wrote for the engineering conference I attended in London in September. I've done quite a few such papers in my career and, after some struggles early on, have figured out how to write the report and prepare the presentation for the allotted number of pages and time, respectively, in pretty short order. Having conquered this small challenge, I have decided to move on to something a bit more ambitious. My latest attempt was this last paper. You can see the title (this is where the challenge is, but we'll get to that later) on the first slide of my presentation:

So, what's my current mission regarding these reports? Just this: I am trying to see if I can put enough content into the title that I don’t actually have to write a paper to go with it. And you might think I've come pretty close to achieving this with my latest attempt. I'll have to say, I was feeling pretty good about it myself and thought one or two more stabs and I'll set some sort of new standard.

This is where the old book comes in. Wanting to be sure I was really setting the pace in this endeavor, I searched the internet for long titles, although I was pretty confident that my recent efforts would have me well up on my competition (it is fierce, let me tell you). So you can imagine my disappointment when I came across this contribution from Édouard Lagout, written in 1877:

Takimetry: concrete geometry in three lessons, accessible, inaccessible, incalculable. Fundamental takimetry: a resumé of conferences held in the primary schools in connection with the Ministries of Agriculture, Commerce, Public Instruction, Interior, Finance, War, Marine, taught in the industrial schools of Alais, Creusot, Lille and in the celebrated Ecole Trugot, Paris

I might as well hang it up as this one will be hard to top. Oh well, it will give me more time to concentrate on reading old books.

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