My Dad used to tell me that a designer’s most valuable tool was the eraser on the end of his pencil.  This advice has proven to be invaluable to me as a tool and die maker running a one man shop.  Often there are multiple good ways to go about approaching a project.   As an individual,  the great trick  is to find the best of them without the benefit of a multi-brain sounding  board to build upon.  In my experience that usually means preserving as many options as possible before committing to a final and irrevocable choice.

In practical terms this means that often I only have a rough idea of where things are headed before a start is made.  Of course this approach only works if one has complete confidence that the foundation being laid down is versatile enough to support the variety of options that will no doubt present themselves as the work proceeds.   The weakness of this approach is that sequencing is everything.  Put the cart before the horse and the whole system crumbles into a unrecognizable jumble of poor planning and half baked flashes of discordant insight.

On the other hand, the great advantage of a fluid sequential approach is that the work that is completed can be used as a model to meditate on the next stage of design.  This is especially important if one is eyeballing the strength of materials and integrating them relative to the work that has already been laid down.  Firefly is largely a product of this approach.   I find myself wondering if the ancients didn’t use a similar methodology in constructing their catapults;  or did they have to submit detailed final plans to an uber-boss before work could begin?    Were their designs the work of inspired tinkerers or closely coordinated teams of designers and craftsmen working with bureaucratic exactness?  When it comes to Roman engineering, one suspects it was the latter.  Like so many things however, it was probably a combination of both.

As George Bernard Shaw observed, “The Golden Rule is that there are no Golden Rules.”

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