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Occam's Razor
2

Occam's Razor

Occam's Razor

(OP)
Occam's Razor

By John H. Lienhard

The University of Houston

 

You all know that wonderful old Shaker tune,

'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free;
'Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be

Those lines should make up the first chapter in any book on engineering design. But how do we find the natural threads of simplicity that run through the world around us?

Simplicity in design was a lesson I fell into when the Army drafted me -- after I'd finished college. They assigned me to the Signal Corps Engineering Labs and put me to work designing research equipment. There I met a fine designer, Jules Soled, a person who could clearly teach me things. So I said to him, "Teach me, and I'll work for you." He taught me many things I hadn't learned in school, and his central lesson was always this:

Do a first design. Then attack it. Your first design will be elegant and complicated, but it'll always work better when you get rid of complication. In a really good design you eventually make the very design itself unnecessary. And that is very hard to do because we like complication.

That idea is really quite old. The towering 14th-century philosopher William of Occam put it this way: "Multiplicity ought not to be posited without necessity." William was telling us we should make no more assumptions than we really need to explain anything -- the simplest explanation is best. We call that idea Occam's Razor because it helps slice away the junk in our thinking.

Look at the safety razor. For years designers fought with the problem of loading, mounting, and unloading a blade in a holder. If you're old enough, you'll remember Shick's "push-pull, click-click" advertisement for its mechanism. Keeping the action workable, and the blade solidly in place, was a big problem.

Then some bright person applied Occam's razor to the razor-mounting problem. That designer realized you could simply mold the blade right into the plastic packaging. Now who buys replaceable razor blades? Instead, the blades are set, very solidly and with great precision, right into a cheap throwaway piece of plastic. We've designed blade-holding mechanisms out of existence. That's what Soled meant when he said that good design makes the design itself unnecessary.

But to take that last step -- to walk the plank from a clever design to no design at all -- takes nerve as well as imagination. We're so tempted to look smart by mastering complication instead of simplicity. If we go back to our Shaker tune,

'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free;

the second line says:

'Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be

Good design exacts a price from our egos, but it really is a gift -- it really is freedom -- to find the simplicity in things and finally to reduce an engineering design down to where it ought to be.  

RE: Occam's Razor

To be honest I think the idea of using several grams of oil to replace the effort of changing a safety blade in a razor is going to be regarded as one of the stupidest manifestations of our oil hungry age.

 

Cheers

Greg Locock

SIG:Please see FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

RE: Occam's Razor

A star means I agree!

RE: Occam's Razor

Meh!  Plastic is cheap.  It is basically a byproduct of our fuel consumption.  Might as well use it for something besides fake dog poop.

RE: Occam's Razor

The disposable razor has been with us for some considerable time. It was right at the time but yes, times have changed.

A good design is one that most easily or simply or efficiently satsifies the design criteria as established at the time.... so all we can really say si we should be looking for new designs to meet the changing criteria.

In today's market we should factor in environmental criteria but back when they were developing the disposable razor the whole world thought everything that could be disposable should be.

But in any event, we have to be careful of what we consider a good design.

Take a look at a pair of scissors. Once upon a time you had two forged pieces, the blade and handle formed from the same raw component and joined by a rivet as the pivot - three pieces.

Today, there are five components. The handles are now separate and usually plastic, moulded to the blades.
So we have an apparently more complex product that is actually cheaper and more efficiently manufactured.
 

JMW
www.ViscoAnalyser.com
 

RE: Occam's Razor

..and then we ship the bloody things. Their packing density is woeful and they are fragile, so they occupy far more space for their weight in the shipping containers.

We really are crazy. There again we put soapy foam in cans to save people that oh so tiresome effort of applying soap to their faces.
 
Bah humbug

Cheers

Greg Locock

SIG:Please see FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

RE: Occam's Razor

From Greg's last reply,
 I have a mental picture of him shaving; Using a single edge stropped razor, mixing up shaving soap in a china cup , and applying it with a Badger bristle shaving brush.
B.E.

RE: Occam's Razor

Grins, well, I do use a shaving brush and soap, but I don't think it is actually badger bristle.

Cheers

Greg Locock

SIG:Please see FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

RE: Occam's Razor

Nah, there was an anthrax scare some way back to do with badger bristle brushes (possibly fictional - I mean as: it appeared in a work of fiction, not fictional as in most media scares when the truth comes out).

Hey Greg, I note you kinda ducked the disposable question and simply said you used a brush, soap and water... does that mean...a Bic?

JMW
www.ViscoAnalyser.com
 

RE: Occam's Razor

It's a plastic, disposable brush.

- Steve

RE: Occam's Razor

A disposable brush?
Dang, he ducked the disposable razor issue again! Greg must be a politician.
I won't push any further.
 

JMW
www.ViscoAnalyser.com
 

RE: Occam's Razor

Yes guilty as charged, and you are quite right to call me on it. My local supermarket doesn't even stock safety razors.
 

Cheers

Greg Locock

SIG:Please see FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

RE: Occam's Razor

The disposable mindset has only served to feed unnecessary cost and complexity into the mix.  People don't seem to desire simplicity any longer.  I tend to agree with you, Greg.  Whether I go to the DIY or the department store, I still look for the long term value.  Sadly, 75% of the time I leave frustrated with a sub-par quality product that, in better days, would have cost the same, but would have been built with superior materials and craftsmanship.  

RE: Occam's Razor

why shave ?

RE: Occam's Razor

My father shaved for years with a safety razor, and the twin edge blades.  When the first plastic disposables hit the market(I think Bic, but I'm not sure), I purchased a package and found them to be quite effective, as razors go.  I decided to take one apart and found that the mfgr had sheared a double edge razor blade down the center and mounted it in a plastic handle.  I guess there was a glut in the double edge market -- something had to be done.

RE: Occam's Razor

lets play "spot the engineer" ... who else would think to take a disposable razor apart to see what it looked like on the inside ... makes me think are mass murderers (of the particularly nasty type) wannabe bio-med engineers ??  (I only took them apart to see how they looked on the inside)  

RE: Occam's Razor

Gulp, I think you have me bang to rights, if I were a medic I'd be a surgeon, aka people mechanic.
 

Cheers

Greg Locock

SIG:Please see FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

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