Whirr2006-04-18
Feynman
So someone on Metafilter linked to a bunch of Feynman stories, and they're awesome. They also linked to this video, which is a 49 minute long interview with the guy. I plan to take it home and watch it on my TV, assuming I ever get the necessary magic box to do so. But I figure you lot won't have time to watch the video or read the sotries, so here's one of them:

    They told me to come back in a few months, so I came back when the engineers had finished the design of the plant. Now it was for me to look at the plant.

    How do you look at a plant that isn't built yet? I don't know. Lieutenant Zumwalt, who was always coming around with me because I had to have an escort everywhere, takes me into this room where there are these two engineers and a loooooong table covered with a stack of blueprints representing the various floors of the proposed plant.

    I took mechanical drawing when I was in school, but I am not good at reading blueprints. So they unroll the stack of blueprints and start to explain it to me, thinking I am a genius. Now one of the things they had to avoid in the plant was accumulation. They had problems like when there's an evaporator working, which is trying to accumulate the stuff, if the valve gets stuck or something like that and too much stuff accumuluates it'll explode. So they explained to me that this plant is designed so that if one valve gets stuck nothing will happen. It needs at least two valves everywhere.

    Then they explain how it works. The carbon tetrachloride comes in here, they uranium nitrate from here comes in here, it goes up and down, it goes up through the floor, comes up through the pipes, coming up from the second floor, bluuuurp - going thorugh the stack of blueprints, down-up-down-up, talking very fast, explaining the very, very complicated chemical plant.

    I'm completely dazed. Worse, I don't know what the symbols on the blueprint mean! There is some kind of a thing that at first I think is a window. It's a square with a little cross in the middle, all over the damn place. I think it's a window, but no, it can't be a window, because it isn't always at the edge. I want to ask them what it is.

    You must have been in a situation like this when you didn't ask them right away. Right away it would have been OK. But now they've been talking a little bit too long. You hesitated too long. If you ask them now they'll say, "What are you wasting my time all this time for?"

    What am I going to do? I get an idea. Maybe it's a valve. I take my finger and I put it down on one of the mysterious little crosses in the middle of one of the blueprints on page three, and I say, "What happens if this valve gets stuck?" - figuring they're going to say, "That's not a valve, sir, that's a window."

    So one looks at the other and says, "Well, if that valve gets stuck -" and he goes up and down on the blueprint, up and down, the other guy goes up and down, back and forth, back and forth, and they both look at each other. They turn around to me and they open their mouths like astonished fish and say, "You're absolutely right, sir."

    So they rolled up the blueprints and away they went and we walked out.

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