An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

Fall Flying

Posted by xbanguyen on October 9, 2010

Absorbed in the integration of a new FPGA, I was unaware of autumn until I heard the beating wings of a flock of starlings flying  south past my window.  It was a sound both gentle and astonishing at the same time  because the whispering air holding the tiny bodies in flight was also capable of supporting a plane laden with cargo, mostly humans and their encumbrance. Even though the physics of flying is well understood, the words used in describing this accomplishment are no less satisfying on their own, especially the alliteration: vertical velocity, parasitic power, varying  wind vortex,  and the visceral viscosity of air.   Also satisfying is the paradoxical thought that we can fly because nature strives to be in equilibrium, to be still, as Newton’s third law is integral in lift generation.   The reciprocating nature of action and reaction brings to mind the piezoelectric transducers that can both transmit and receive sounds. As you know, a transducer is a device that converts small amounts of energy from one form to another.  Left alone, a piezoelectric crystal is still even though its atomic structure is not symmetrically arranged — their electrical charge is in perfect balance. Piezo means press in Greek.  When an electrical charge is applied onto this structure, the atoms within the crystal move to rebalance themselves electrically, causing the crystal to deform, generating mechanical vibration that could be in the form of sound. Conversely, when a mechanical force in the form of sound, for instance, is pressed into this crystal structure, the atoms are pushed closer or pulled farther apart, developing the polarization that creates electric current from the sound received.

So you see that one form of energy flows into another – Things are amorphous in many ways.  There are no boundaries that can’t be transcended. Looking at it another way as John Donne did a few centuries ago, no man is an island.  How then, are we, limited by nature, have enough empathy for all things big and small?  I mused over this question reading the following lines

The Seasons Have Unwound

and will not circle back again.
You pad like a cat through the changing
woods, trying to save what’s left before winter
swallows the red leaf, the yellow, the last
finger of the creek that passed
through August. It’s the question
you’ve answered and never answered:
What would you save from a burning house?

Once I hoped I’d save only
myself, naked and untraceable.
I wanted to stand in the mob of the curious
gathered at the curb and watch
the uniforms of recognition kindle and smoke,

to be absolved of owning.
The present is burning.
I know myself only
by what I’ve discarded, a vagrant’s
inventory of ashes.

Wendy Battin

I’ve found such pleasure reading the poem, especially the last sentence this rainy October evening. Having lived a number of years and not being able to discard things physical as well as emotional,  I imagine that the bonfire that would result  if I were a considerate pyromaniac could be spectacular, the heat radiating would be audible. But I feel blessed to have other obsessions, just as incendiary but far less destructive, to refrain, the desire for the illumination within not withstanding.

Happy autumn, dear muse.

Acknowledgement
1)  The airplane over the vortex photograph is from  http://www.aviationexplorer.com/
2) The piezoelectric diagram is from http://resources.edb.gov.hk/physics/articleIE/smartmaterials/SmartMaterials_e.htm
3) The autumn fire painting is the work of Scott Bennet displayed at http://rsbsmallworks.blogspot.com/

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One Response to “Fall Flying”

  1. Great Post!…

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    Like

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