Knots in Spaaaaace
September 4, 2012 4:47 AM   Subscribe

The fine people over at the International Guild of Knot Tyers Forum talk knots. On Mars.
posted by Foci for Analysis (33 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, the clove hitch. Love it. I tie it 50 times a day some days.
posted by nevercalm at 4:58 AM on September 4, 2012


Why knot?
posted by fairmettle at 5:00 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love the fact that there is an International Guild of Knot Tyers! Back when the kids were in scouts I loved teaching knot tying. Younger kids were just entering into abstract thinking and knots were like magic to them, just on the edge of their ability to understand and replicate, when they were successful it was a joyful occasion.
posted by HuronBob at 5:02 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish I had a reason to tie basic knots 50 times a day. Because I keep learning them and then forgetting because I never use. I even spent like a week researching, drawing, formatting and printing up a wallet card with some basics on it but then I forget I even have it when I need it.
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on September 4, 2012


Astroknots.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:06 AM on September 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


That discussion is hilarious and awesome. It reminds me of a scene in Anathem where I think Fraa Jad doesn't recognize a single thing in the Saecular world until he finds a protractor. These guys are looking at images of literal space age equipment on the surface of another planet and have zeroed in on the knots.
posted by DU at 5:09 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


They're knot geeks - they were bound to focus on something like this.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:12 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"....and have zeroed in on the knots."

Yeah, I know what you mean! These wacky people on some internet discussion board, all focused in on an obscure detail and not seeing the fabulous bigger picture. I bet, if they were at a dinner someplace, they would lose sight of the filet and spend the evening talking about that plate of beans.

Damn, I'm glad we don't do that here!
posted by HuronBob at 5:13 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish I had a reason to tie basic knots 50 times a day.

Get a job onstage, where during an install you can tie them hundreds of times a day. Because of this, you will constantly have tieline in your pockets and then you will find endless opportunities to do it.

In fact, that's what we used to do before smartphones during taping or rehearsals. We'd stand around and teach each other cool knots. If you keep a piece of twine or cotton line in your pocket/backpack you can pull it out while you're doing stuff and practice. Again, before I had 50 books in my pocket, I used to tie them while riding the train. I'd read the ads on the train and do it by feel. I kind of miss that, actually.
posted by nevercalm at 5:20 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wasn't dissing them. I was delighting in them.
posted by DU at 5:24 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wasn't dissing them. I was delighting in them.

Sorry, DU, I knew that, I was doing the same...didn't mean to make it sound like I was disapproving of your remark, I was chuckling in that we do the same sort of thing here....
posted by HuronBob at 5:44 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The cabling on the Rover looked very familiar to me. A lot of cabling in the old days of mainframes was lacing like that. I think a lot of it got replaced by zip-ties. It's interesting to read why zip-ties weren't used on the Rover.
posted by MtDewd at 5:58 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


UV concerns maybe? I guess you could make zip-ties out of some uv-resistant material, but maybe it's just simpler to tie things with string.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:01 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm... none of those looked like the embedding of a circle in Euclidean space to me. Not knots!
posted by kmz at 6:06 AM on September 4, 2012


I love tying knots and making stuff with rope, but I always stand back and watch IGKT discussions -- and those at similar communities -- with a quiet wonder. It's like a chess tournament to me, where all I know is that I am missing a LOT of what's going on.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:27 AM on September 4, 2012


Needs more midshipman's hitch*

*does not need midshipman's hitch
posted by nathancaswell at 6:39 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Younger kids were just entering into abstract thinking and knots were like magic to them, just on the edge of their ability to understand and replicate, when they were successful it was a joyful occasion.

I suppose it's a meta-corollary to think of these as critical early advancements in technology, as humans learned to control the physical environment around them. As the link says, we have written records going back to ancient Greece indicating how important they were.
posted by dhartung at 6:48 AM on September 4, 2012


A lot of cabling in the old days of mainframes was lacing like that. I think a lot of it got replaced by zip-ties.

Exactly. Cable lacing requires a fair amount of skill and dedicated tools. You only used it on "standing" wire -- lines that was supposed to never be moved. Bundling and lacing, while making repair harder, made the entire bundle much more resistant to damage, thus, you didn't need to repair it.

For basic stuff nowadays, cable ties and stick-on cable mounts have replaced it, because it takes very little skill to use them.

Cable lacing, for the telcos, was sort of odd. They invested a lot of time and money building wiring techniques that reduced required skill and time - the most common example is punch-down blocks, where you don't need to strip or trim a wire to make the connection. Cable lacing was the big exception, but when you had a lot of standing wire that had to be reliable, nothing was better.

And, to be honest, nothing *is* better. Cable ties are, at best, a substitute, but it's easy to cause damage with them by pulling them too tight, and the cut ends can cause damage, esp. if there's vibration involved. You can get a tool to apply zip ties so that they're not over tensioned, but you still have the sharp edges. In many COs, cable ties are banned. Wires are only laced or free hanging, depending on if they're transient or fixed, and in almost all COs, transient wiring is *very* rare and confined to a set of punch-down blocks.

And, of course, on spacecraft, it's required. With rare exceptions, you can't repair them. They have to work, and zip ties aren't worth the risk.
posted by eriko at 7:03 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


My problem with zipties is removing them. It's far too easy to cut a wire if you use a knife or even a scissors. Weaker zipties + children's scissors might be the answer.
posted by DU at 7:16 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My dad worked for the phone company doing installation work in central offices in NYC. He was well-versed in cable-lacing like this. I learned it from him but dropped it once I discover zip-ties.

Interestingly, I was involved in a tear-down of a Korean-made (Samsung or LG, I can't recall) copier back in the mid-90s. It had the same cable-lacing I remember my dad using instead of zip-ties. That's probably no longer the case, of course.
posted by tommasz at 7:43 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fine people over at the International Guild of Knot Tyers Forum talk knots. On Mars.

More like Interplanetary Guild, amirite?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:56 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


It states that NASA should know better, of that NASA should tell us about what it knows, about the theoretical or experimental evidence that support the selection of the particular hitches, and not of any other else.
The knot discussion is fascinating but it's interesting that there's not an underlying understanding of how military/NASA technical documents are written. Specifications are fundamentally conservative (difficult to change) and based not on scientific predictions of what is best, but rather what has worked in the past. If we want a scientific analysis of whether some other knot is much better on Mars than the knot we've been using for the past 100 years, NASA's going to need a much bigger budget.

Now, what usually happens is that the IGKT will form a working group comprising knot experts and Mars experts. They'll volunteer their time and resources to do these tests and write a new specification document "IGKT 100.1: Cable Harnessing for Extraterrestrial Environments." Hopefully one of the participants in your volunteer working group is a NASA middle manager who need professional development hours to get promoted, so they can take this spec back to NASA and shop it around a bit. Then, new Mars contracts will start specifying the IGKT spec, you can sell that spec for $50-$100 per copy and use that money to fund further research into specific knot applications.
posted by muddgirl at 8:22 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Actually, this is really how it works in the rest of the DoD, not in NASA, which seems to still rely on internal specs rather than piggy-backing off industry standards.)
posted by muddgirl at 8:23 AM on September 4, 2012


Just one tiny fix to the process outlined above:

...they can take this spec back to NASA and shop it around a bit. Ten thousand myriads of years pass, the Earth grows cold and dark before the Sun goes nova. Then, new Mars contracts will start specifying the IGKT spec...
posted by DU at 8:36 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


If human civilization ends tomorrow, interplanetary landers, orbiters, and deep space probes will preserve evidence of both the oldest and newest of human technologies for millions of years.

I thought this was the coolest quote in the post. (& not just because I know bupkus about knots.)
posted by yoga at 8:43 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Knots were probably my favorite thing in Scouts. There are a _lot_ of them, and they're all good at different times. But you can cover about 95% of use cases with about six. A splice or two can be handy as well, if you need to join ropes; there are knots that do this, but if I remember correctly (and it's been almost thirty years), you always lose some strength with a knot, where a splice will preserve the whole pulling power of your cable or rope, and will also flow better onto a cable reel.

Sadly, no matter how much you love a subject, if you don't use it, you really do lose it. Right now, I think I could only properly tie two, the bowline and the square knot. But I do know a quick way to tie an emergency bowline around myself; that's buried in muscle memory. If I'm ever slipping off a cliff, and happen to have a rope with a free end, I'm so covered.
posted by Malor at 9:14 AM on September 4, 2012


Space aliens may learn as much about us from our knots as from our wires, lenses, and the funny little buggies we leave lying around.

Knots can be absorbing. For example learn the monkey fist, and you can amaze and entertain your friends. Okay, well, maybe. Sometimes you look up after yanking the last bend tight and notice that they all have walked off.
posted by mule98J at 11:23 AM on September 4, 2012


Great stuff. As a climber I've learned to trust my life to a few simple knots - clove, figure-8, double-bowline and of course the terrifyingly named European death knot. It's amazing how often these come in handy in other aspects of day-to-day life. For example, there is no finer knot for hanging a hammock quickly and efficiently that the clove-hitch. This has made me an Olympic-caliber napper on camping trip and for that I will be eternally grateful.
posted by misterpatrick at 2:12 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alpine Butterfly is a slick knot. In the bight. Real cool.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:23 PM on September 4, 2012


Heartwarmingly NERDTASTIC. Yay!

iirc, Make's blog (or maybe hack-a-day) did a small bit on cable lacing as "nearly lost technology" a couple of years ago.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:31 PM on September 4, 2012


Oh, hey, eriko linked to the blog entry. Missed that.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:40 PM on September 4, 2012


Talk about tying one on!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:10 PM on September 4, 2012


If you want to impress folks. learn the one handed bowline, heck it may save your live one day.

I'm struggling with Turks Head (on the center spoke of a wheel, just where to cross the spoke without loosing the pattern is just going to take a few more tries).
posted by sammyo at 4:33 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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