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Friday
Jul212017

precision and simplicity 

I am reading R.V Jones fascinating account of scientific work during WW2 Most Secret War. He talks baout the way committees (loathed by Churchill) in which 'experts' each had their say were far less efficient than a single polymathic figure able to see the bigger picture. The idea that a chairman could arbitrate the 'experts' evidence often fell down because the chairman did not know its full significance himself. He talks about the main figure behind radar, Watson-Watt, who later on in the war opposed anti-radar techniques against the Germans and even wanted to stop the bombing of German radar stations in case they 'retaliated'...in other words he was more in love with radar itself than winning the war. 

He also mentions the difference between German and British methods: "I had come to have 'feel' for the way the Germans did things. They would take simple ideas and put them straight into practice no matter what technical effort was involved, because they had a far greater command of precision engineering than we had (apart from a few notable exceptions such as Rolls Royce). When we contemplated a development we would take the simple idea, look for the technical snags in the way of its realization, and think of ways of getting round them without having to go to the trouble of great precision of design or workmanship. In the end I suspect we often took as much trouble avoiding the difficulties as the Germans did in overcoming them by good workmanship...as it turned out in the war, the advantage in the end lay with us because while the German equipment was technically very good, it was also less adaptable, and we could more easily changeours to meet a new situation." 

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