I’ve been reading the book Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape and I’m constantly amazed at the great ideas it contains. Ideas from other disciplines, that might well translate into programming or design or whatever you’re working on…
In the Railroad chapter, I found the story of George Westinghouse’s breaking system clever:
The air pressure is carried from the locomotive throughout the train by an air pipe that runs under all the cars, and is joined by rubber hoses at each coupling. In the earliest air-brake systems, the brakes were applied by letting pressure into the pipe; the pressure moved pistons, which in turn forced brake shoes against each wheel. There is an obvious problem with the scheme: if the compressor quits or the air pipe springs a leak, the train is left without breaks. Westinghouse turned the whole idea upside down. The brakes are activated not by applying pressure but by releasing it; that way, most malfunctions will lock up the breaks and stop the train—an inconvenience, but preferable to not stopping.
What ideas can you turn upside down today?