Tuesday, September 24, 2013

W38: The Scientific Basis of Illuminating Engineering

Those that have used the Biblio-Mat more than once will no doubt have noticed that the clicking of the machine gears directly correlates to the size of the book about to be dispensed. This week’s offering clicked long enough for a coffee break and a half.

Like a Dover Thrift Classic, without the thrift or classic.
Originally published in 1936, this edition of The Scientific Basis of Illuminating Engineering by Parry Moon was a 1961 Dover reprint. The simplistic blue soft cover hid the true nature of the tome well until it was opened. Razor thin pages contained bricks of text that bled through to the other side in regular light. At 596 pages, it was the longest book to have come out of the machine thus far. The back cover, though, assured that the paper was of the utmost quality and made to last, probably as there will always be a need for doorstops.

"Use" of some sort anyway.
596 pages was a lot for a book, but having read Stephen King novels in elementary, Moby Dick in highschool, War and Peace in university, and most recently George R. R. Martin’s 1016 page Dance with Dragons, sheer page counts had never scared me. 596 pages of textbook, though, was a different story. Or lack of, in this case. The reason I was an English lit major was that despite many attempts, science did not find me agreeable. Don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate the sciences, but the feeling has never been reciprocated. Reading through this textbook made me glad I choose the arts.

Playing with radiation and carcinogens was encouraged.
In addition to having an amazing name for a scientist, Moon was also a professor. An MIT professor. Yes, this was an MIT textbook. I budgeted four days to read this book through, twice as many as usual, and still barely finished it in five. The amount of information and scientific equations in it was enough to fill an undergrad and if I retain more than ten percent of the knowledge gleaned, I would have enough facts to kill the life out of any party outside of a science convention.

Because numerical facts are fun.
The opening chapter plunged into various fundamentals of lighting. Interestingly enough, the first few pages were about justifying the role of an illumination engineer, comparing it to other schools of engineering. It did not bode well that at the time they were looked down upon as lighting people that add the décor touches once other more useful engineers have built the buildings.

The next section delved into the question of ‘What is light?’. Forty pages of extremely convoluted explanations seemed to point to the answer of it being manipulable radiation, though it never outright said it for a single sentence explanation would be too simple and concise. The sections on wavelength and frequency were slightly more digestible, but this may have been due to the fact that I remembered enough about light spectrum, and how little of it was actually visible to the human eye, from high school to read the charts properly.
This was a cribsheet.
This was followed by a section on how said radiation is created from an atom. To understand this though, one would need to understand how atoms work, thus ensued a wild tangent that finally came back to how we can produce radiation from atoms in controlled environments. Thirty pages to explain how a light bulb works.

But that was not all there was to the light bulb apparently. Forty more pages followed in the chapter titled ‘Incandescent lamps’, going over details such as heat generation and lifespans of various filaments. This lead to a chapter on the measurement of light, which was littered with floating graphs and equations that charted out a variety of numbers. I read it over twice and still have no clue what I was looking at. Candlepower was brought up at one point as a measurement of intensity but the subsequent explanation of the calculations culminated to I = ED12 followed by some drawings of triangles and light bulbs.

Yep, that's a bulb.
Following this was an actual useful chapter – calculating illumination from surfaces. Various formulas and diagrams were given on how to reflect light off different types of surfaces to manipulate the amount of luminosity desired. Along with that came a section on shortcuts for the calculation of illumination that was anything but short.

The Scientific Basis of Illuminating Engineering did take a break from the mathematics, though, in a chapter called ‘Elements of Lighting Design’. Or it would have in a just and merciful world. Apparently cartloads of numbers were considered design elements back in the 30’s. It did, however, drift off into biology in the sixty pages dedicated to vision and the human eye. How it explained physiology with numbers and equations was truly impressive and utterly useless to anyone who hadn’t memorized all the formulas in the first five chapters.

Why are there measurements on the characters of measurements?
All in all, The Scientific Basis of Illuminating Engineering was not the worst textbook I had read – that honour would go to the micro economics book used to cure insomnia in my first year of university. At least this one had some interesting illustrations. Practical use, though, was something that did not appear to have factored into Moon’s work. While it may be true that an illumination engineer would be able to get better lighting out of any setting, it would take days, if not weeks, to go through all the calculations and micro adjustments necessary. A salesman or trade worker would probably be able to fix up something presentable in a couple hours through trial and error. The propensity for overthinking is high in this field.

Book rating: 1.5/10 (A softcover - you can’t even use this as a weapon)

Random quote: "The basic difference between a trade and a profession lies in the training required in the two cases. A craft or trade requires a much less severe period of training than a profession." (One is useful, the other not so much...)


  1. Sort of like Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory to explain physics...

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