February 27, 2010

Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg, American 
cartoonist, circa 1914
proper noun,  adjective (1956)
Rube Goldberg  
The name of the American humorous artist Reuben (‘Rube’) Lucius Goldberg (1883-1970), used attributively  of any unnecessarily complicated, impracticable or ingenious device of the kind illustrated by this artist. Hence Rube Goldbergian adjective.—OED

A Typical Rube Goldberg Design:
"Local Government Efficiency Machine" by Rube Goldberg 

Taxpayer sits on pneumatic cushion (A)
forcing air through a tube (B)
blowing balloon (C)
into candle (D).
Exploding balloon scares dog (E)
which pulls leash (F)
dropping ball (G)
on teeter totter (H)
launching plans (I)
which tilts lever (J).
Then pitcher (K)
pours water into plant (L)
causing it to grow, which pulls string attached to hand (M)
that lifts the wallet (N).
Example Sentences:
But the shenanigans around the jobs bill provide an opportunity for him [President Obama] to break the mold of Rube Goldberg public policy, and to create real change for the American economy and our political process. —Ben Mangan, CEO of EARN. "Obama should channel Lincoln's steely resolve," On Jobs, SFGate, February 14, 2010.
Toyota has been stumbling so far in coming up with a robust accelerator fix; one dealer describes the current one as a Rube Goldberg solution that is hardly representative of the kind of work usually done by Japanese engineers.—Alex Taylor III, "Toyota's Tylenol moment," CNNMoney.com,  January 28, 2010.
And by the time the [Bill] Clinton plan . . . got fed through the congressional wood chipper, it would probably make Rube Goldberg's craziest invention look like the Lever of Archimedes.*  —Hendrick Hertzberg  The Talk of the Town, The New Yorker, Oct. 7 2007.
*Comment on "Lever of Archimedes"
"While Archimedes did not invent the lever," Wikipedia reports, "he wrote the earliest known rigorous explanation of the principle involved.  According to Pappus of Alexandria, his work on levers caused him to remark, 'Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth,' [meaning] there is no limit to the amount of work it is possible to do with the lever."  
Archimedes' remarkable words, over the centuries, gave rise to, so to speak, more than a few drawings and cartoons:

i.bs.blogspot.com; www.planet-science. com 
Antidote for Elaborate Design

An Antidote — if not precisely an antonym  — for the Rube Goldbergian design lies in the Principle of Parsimony, a.k.a. Occam's Razor.  WIII definesparsimony as "economy in the use of means to an end; especially economy of explanation in conformity with Occam's Razor," which, in turn, it defines as "a scientific and philosophical rule conceived by William of Occam (ca. 1837) stating 'that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily'."

I can't help but imagine Sir William, blade in hand, at work on a Rube Goldberg contraption, cutting, with the utmost efficiency and precision, each of Rube's carefully articulated strings.
Check out Chris Madden's clever cartoon:


1 comment:

  1. What an appropriate (political) time to bring up Rube Goldberg! LOve this posting and the fine cartoons!